A view of the bay helped lure the maestro

Photograph of San Francisco opera music director Nicola Luisotti by Cory Weaver

Photograph of San Francisco Opera music director Nicola Luisotti by Cory Weaver

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Maestro — and neighborhood resident — Nicola Luisotti opens the San Francisco Opera’s summer season this month, conducting eight performances of Verdi’s heart-wrenching Rigoletto.

Italian to his core, Luisotti, who’s been music director of the opera company since 2009, is particularly renowned for conducting the works of his most famous musical countrymen. He will open the fall season conducting Puccini’s beloved Turandot in early September and Verdi’s romantic La Traviata later that month.

But if not for the charms of the neighborhood, he might not be in San Francisco at all.

You’ve worked in opera companies all over the world. What brought you to San Francisco?

I will never forget that important moment of my artistic life. I was in L.A. in 2005 conducting Pagliacci, by Leoncavallo. I’d been invited to conduct La Forza del Destino, by Giuseppe Verdi, in San Francisco, and I had to start the rehearsals. But I was so tired, I was close to canceling my engagement.

I decided to come here for two days; my wife, Rita, remained in L.A. When I entered the apartment S.F. Opera had arranged for me in Pacific Heights, the windows provided a spectacular view of the bay and Alcatraz — a view I couldn’t have had in any other neighborhood. I immediately called Rita and said: “You will love this city!”

And it was one of the best musical experiences in my life. The S.F. Opera orchestra and chorus were just amazing. Four years later, when I was asked to become music director, I was in paradise.

And back in Pacific Heights.

I fell in love with what the neighborhood first gave me — that view. Our apartment building in Pacific Heights was built in 1932, and I thought it was truly fate, since that was the year the Opera House opened. And Pacific Heights is so quiet, beautiful and elegant — just a perfect place for a musician to be inspired.

You began your career at age 10, playing the organ in your village church in Tuscany, learning to read music by watching the priest — and a year later you were conducting the church chorus. How did you become an opera conductor?

The first time I attended an opera, it was Madama Butterfly, when I was 12. But the first time I fell in love with an opera was La Bohème, when I was 21. When I saw it, I understood that one day, I could become an opera conductor. For sure, a bit of talent, a lot of work and some luck can contribute to achievement. Perhaps being Italian is why many theaters ask me to conduct Italian works, and so it can be said that I bring my Italian traditions to the music.

What exactly does an opera conductor do?

My colleagues in the orchestra pit and on stage each knows his or her own role intimately. But the conductor brings his knowledge of the entire opera, acting almost like a medium, channeling the composer through the score. When everything works, we have magic.

What do you enjoy on your time off?

Rita and I love to cook and we do not eat out very often, although we have been many times, either on our own or with visiting friends and family, to Pizzeria Delfina. We walk all over Pacific Heights and shop at Sur La Table on Union, the Apple store and Lucca Deli on Chestnut, and go to Whole Foods on California several times a week. We love the services of Deluxe Cleaners on Laguna, and Rita attends Pilates classes at the Dailey Method in Cow Hollow. We bike from home to Crissy Field and beyond and like to hike in the Marin Headlands.

Alas, you’ll be moving on after next season. What are your plans?

I have just been named director asociado at the Teatro Real in Madrid. I will also conduct a lot in New York at the Met, and in Paris, London, Munich, Rome, Turin and many other places around the world.

What you will miss?

I will simply miss everything about this fantastic, charming city that gave me so much. But I will come back here as a guest, and sooner than expected. Remember that all who have lived in this city have left their hearts in San Francisco!

A world premiere on Fillmore

Michael Conley: Strip mining "is a tragedy that diminishes us all."

Composer-conductor Michael Conley: Strip mining is “a tragedy that diminishes us all.”

“APPALACHIAN REQUIEM,” a new work for chorus and orchestra responding to the environmental consequences of strip mining in Appalachia, will have its world premiere on Sunday, May 7, at 3 p.m. It will be performed by the Calvary Presbyterian Church choir and orchestra at the church at 2515 Fillmore.

Composer Michael Conley is also the music director at Calvary. He assumed the position in 2015, succeeding Alden Gilchrist, who served the church for more than 60 years until his death in 2014.

“I went to college on the outskirts of Appalachia and my parents still live there,” says Conley. “It was important for me to give voice to the farmers and miners whose homes, lives, hopes, traditions and physical environments have been permanently erased,” Conley says. “It is a tragedy that diminishes us all.”

He says of his new composition: “The piece follows the normal order of a Latin requiem mass, but I draw its texts from Appalachian poets and inspiration from traditional Southern hymns, folk music and Native American chants.”

The concert, entitled “From These Mountains,” will also include performances of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and “Southern Grace” by  Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon.

A pre-concert talk, “Of Mountains, Mines and Music: Appalachia in Crisis” will be presented on Saturday, May 6, at 3 p.m. at Calvary by Conley and Earthjustice attorney Marie Logan. The talk is free. The suggested donation for the concert is $20.

A musical journey

Chris Nichols performing at Oxford Lieder Festival in 2016.

Chris Nichols performing at Oxford Lieder Festival in 2016.

FIRST PERSON | CHRIS NICHOLS

My day job in the tech world is rewarding, but music is my passion. And much of my musical journey has played itself out on Fillmore Street.

It started two decades ago with a friend’s invitation to a Thursday night rehearsal of the choir at Calvary Presbyterian Church at Fillmore and Jackson. Alden Gilchrist was directing — my first encounter with this world-class musician and wonderful human being, who was at the heart of Calvary’s musical excellence for more than 60 years, until his death in 2014.

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Sheba keeping jazz alive on Fillmore

Sheba owner Netsanet Alemayehu is almost singlehandedly preserving live jazz on Fillmore.

Sheba co-owner Netsanet Alemayehu presents live jazz nightly with no cover charge.

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

The Queen of Sheba, the Old Testament tells us, was a stunning Ethiopian temptress who dazzled King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. with a caravan of camels laden with gold, jewels and spices to promote lively trade between Israel and Arabia.

A mere 31 centuries later, the co-owner of Sheba Piano Lounge at 1419 Fillmore Street is a regal Ethiopian promoting live jazz in the Fillmore every night of the week with no cover charge.

Netsanet “Net” Alemayehu and her sister and business partner, Israel, aren’t trafficking in gold and jewels. But they jet into SFO from their homeland three times a year loaded down with hundreds of pounds of fragrant Ethiopian spices for the Abyssinian dishes and creative cocktails on their reasonably priced menu.

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Coming home to Fillmore

Kim Nalley performing at the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

Kim Nalley performing at the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

FIRST PERSON | KIM NALLEY

Being a musician is kind of like being a foodie. If you grew up poor, you’re really excited just to have food. Then, after you get accustomed to having food and are exposed to good food, you want something better. You eat at great restaurants and become able to distinguish the different components and learn which wines are best paired with each. Your palate is ruined for fast food. You seek better food experiences and make better food at home. But every once in a while you get misty-eyed for mom’s mac and cheese, made with government cheese, because it tastes like home.

In the beginning, I really just wanted a gig singing. I was cleaning houses at the time. I gave the owner of Harry’s Bar on Fillmore, Keith Provo, a demo cassette tape I had made by exchanging house cleaning for studio time. There were only three songs on that demo: an R&B song, an uptempo jazz scat and a ballad, “Moonlight in Vermont.”

Mr. Provo loved the ballad. His son Chris called on a Thursday morning and offered me a weekly gig — if I could put together a band and play that night. I had to stiff the owner of the house I was supposed to clean, but I did get that every-Thursday gig. They paid me $400 a night, and my rent was only $250 a month. I could hire A-list musicians who were much older than me to be my accompanists. I thought Harry’s Bar was the center of the universe and I felt really important at age 18 having a regular gig on Fillmore.

But soon I wanted more. I wanted to play the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

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JazzFest a tribute to lost icons

FJF2016

By JASON OLAINE
Artistic Director, Fillmore Jazz Festival

In Tribute. That’s the theme of this year’s Fillmore Jazz Festival, coming on July 2 and 3.

Perhaps it would be fitting to hold a tribute festival every year. Invariably, some artist who changed the game or played with unbelievable virtuosity or defied genres or created timeless art passes on to the next stage — literally — leaving behind a legacy for others to build upon, be inspired by, or just enjoy.

This past year, though, we witnessed a jaw-dropping exodus of some of our most visionary and visceral musical artists: Prince, David Bowie, Ernestine Anderson, Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire, trumpeter Mic Gillette of Tower of Power, Dan Hicks, Natalie Cole, Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, alto sax jazzman Phil Woods, Allen Toussaint. We also said goodbye to R&B and soul icon Otis Clay, jazz singers Mark Murphy and Frank Sinatra Jr., country legend Merle Haggard and, sadly, many more.

The artists performing during the weekend at the 2016 Fillmore Jazz Festival were chosen not because they sound like or exclusively play the music of the icons we lost, but for their own creativity and talent. However, most will be playing and paying some tribute to one or more of these fallen heroes. As you wander up and down the Fillmore, you’re likely to hear songs by artists you may want to learn more about, including the Cuban trumpet marvel Chocolate Armenteros or the adventurist jazz pianist Paul Bley. You’re also certain to hear new arrangements of songs by familiar artists who are no longer with us.

It is with gratitude we salute these music masters who left us with a legacy of music to soothe our souls or make us want to dance or scream or jump and shout.

In Tribute. We give thanks and honor their spirit by offering new music for all to share.

ENTERTAINMENT SCHEDULE

Hello from the other side

WHEN SHE’S NOT at her day job in a medical office near Fillmore, singer-songwriter Candace Roberts can often be found on the stage or in a cabaret.

Her recent music video, “Hello Ed Lee” — an adaptation of Adele’s mega-hit “Hello” — is a plaintive cry to the mayor of San Francisco about what she calls “a tale of two cities, and not the book, but reality.” Over images of street tents housing the homeless, she sings: “Oh this city is filthy rich, yet there’s crisis in the streets.”

Hello Ed Lee” follows Roberts’ 2014 video, “Not My City Anymore,” which strikes a similar theme.

First look: 2016 jazz festival

FJF2016

NOTED SAN FRANCISCO graphic artist John Mattos has been selected to create the poster for the 2016 Fillmore Jazz Festival, coming on July 2 and 3, and this week he revealed his design.

“Like good jazz, it’s unexpected,” said Mattos. “There isn’t a guy with a horn in this, so it’s not replicating the experience of the festival. After all, the real function of the poster is to get attention, and a complete departure like this might get more attention than visually interpreting the aural experience — plus, it’s kinda light-hearted.”

Mattos follows other top poster artists who have offered their take on the Fillmore festival in recent years, including Michael Schwab, Craig Frazier and David Lance Goines.

MORE: John Mattos nails it in London

City owed $18 million for Fillmore Heritage Center

The showplace club and restaurant that once housed Yoshi's now sits empty.

The showplace club and restaurant that once housed Yoshi’s now sits empty.

IT HAS NOW cost more than $18 million in city funds to build the Fillmore Heritage Center and keep it afloat.

There is no new tenant in sight for the huge empty spaces formerly occupied by Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant. The garage is losing $10,000 a month now that the building has few visitors. The Lush Life gallery also sits empty and has no potential new tenants. The restaurant 1300 on Fillmore continues to operate, but its future is in doubt.

These are some of the details that have finally begun to emerge about exactly what is happening with the project opened in 2007 to revitalize the stretch of Fillmore Street south of Geary once known as the Harlem of the West. Public hearings on July 13 and July 27 brought out scores of restive neighbors, and a thick “informational memorandum” laid out the sad financial facts, complete with spreadsheets, term sheets, notices of default and lease terminations attached.

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At Yoshi’s, only the sounds of silence

The club formerly known as Yoshi’s closed only 75 days after it was rebranded The Addition.

By CHRIS BARNETT

As a gaggle of City Hall lawyers and bureaucrats scramble to sort out a massive financial debacle of their own making, the cavernous jazz club, restaurant and bar complex at 1330 Fillmore formerly known as Yoshi’s San Francisco, dark for the last six months, isn’t likely to come alive again anytime soon.

The city of San Francisco has now seized control of the venue from developer Michael Johnson, who built the Jazz Heritage Center complex housing Yoshi’s, 1300 on Fillmore restaurant, an exhibition space and a theater, plus 80 condominiums above.

Johnson had taken charge on July 1 of last year when he forced out Yoshi’s owner Kaz Kajimura.

In the months that followed, Johnson eventually renamed the club The Addition and added more eclectic musical acts to the marquee, but never came up with a new concept for the restaurant. Then 75 days after the new venture was officially launched on November 1, it was abruptly shut down and its staff all sacked. Since then, it’s been a ghost building.

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