that of San Francisco Lunchtime concertsTuesdays at 12:30 p.m. Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, have a distinguished heritage. When London suffered air raids during World War II, theaters and museums were all closed, pianist Myra Hess used the empty National Gallery to stage free daily concerts – 1,700 over six years.
The tradition has continued in New York and Chicago, and 33 years ago singer Alexandra Ivanoff started it in San Francisco. More information about her and the beginning of the concerts below.
“I need space for silence, peace, harmony and pure joy,” says Robin Wirthlin, Executive Director of Noontime Concerts. “One of the places where I take refuge is in my work. Presenting live midday concerts and online programs is like offering soothing balm to a wounded world.
“The concerts have been a haven of inspiration and peace for thousands of concertgoers and musicians in San Francisco and around the world. [The series’] the performances transcended relative illusions of the best and worst of times. It is truly our privilege to provide these free, world-class programs every week to anyone who wishes to attend.
In addition to serving the public, the program also benefits artists and, with the establishment of the Helen von Ammon Fund for Emerging Artists, provides early-career musicians with an important performance opportunity, as well as exposure and recognition.
The midday concerts are free, but donations are sought to ensure that all can enjoy the performances, regardless of their ability to pay. In addition to Tuesday concerts in Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, another program, Sunday concerts in the historic San Francisco Mint, may also be revived.
When COVID hit, the program switched to streaming concerts but continued work. Now, with the pandemic easing, live performances are resuming and there are big plans for the future.
Following today’s concert with violinist Iris Stone and cellist Evan Kahn, the concert on June 14 will feature cellist Angela Lee, accompanied by pianist Evelyne Luest. The program features Andrii Didorenko Postcards from Ukraine and the Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40.
On June 19, the series streams a Juneteenth video program of spirituals, art songs, and solo piano pieces written by African-American composers, presented by prominent Bay Area artists.
The Telegraph Quartet and mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer perform the music of Grażyna Bacewicz, Robert Sirota and Maurice Ravel on June 21; followed by violinist Martin Stoner and pianist Miles Graber on June 28 with Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, n° 2, and the music of Fritz Kreisler, Lukas Foss and Gabriel Fauré.
On August 28, Noontime Concerts will hit the road and present a full live concert at the Herbst Theatre, titled “Majesty of the Spiritual”, featuring sopranos Hope Briggs and Shawnette Sulker and baritones Robert Sims and Bradley Kynard, with pianist Carl Blake. The program will include works by Florence Price, Hall Johnson, Jacqueline Hairston, Harry T. Burleigh, John Carter, Margaret Bonds, Lena McLin and others.
The program is similar to that of Lincoln Center”masters of the spiritualfeaturing a program of spirituals written by three African-American composers and performed by renowned African-American opera singers.
Noontime’s home in Old St. Mary’s provides an environment that matches the locations for which many classical compositions were originally written.
Upon its completion in 1853, Old St. Mary’s was both the first cathedral and the tallest building in the new state of California. Restored after the devastating San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, it was rededicated in 1909. The historic cathedral remains an important San Francisco landmark and a beautiful, serene setting for concerts.
Ivanov— singer, teacher and journalist – who now covers the European music scene from his home in Budapest, founded Noontime Concerts in 1988 “on the kitchen table with my typewriter and a bottle of Wite-Out” with her then husband, the organist /composer John Karl Hirten, who had just started his new job as music director at Old St. Mary’s.
“We had recently moved from New York, where I had sung in the professional choir at Trinity Church on Wall Street (which is also where we had met). We both took the idea of Trinity’s popular midday concerts home with us when we wandered around the beautiful interior of Old St. Mary’s, [which] also had a Steinway grand piano. On December 4, 1988, we held our first lunchtime concert there with a solo pianist.
“From that date, I saw a win-win situation both for the historic church and for the hundreds of fine musicians in San Francisco. We began scheduling weekly concerts on Tuesdays after Mass in noon and we soon added a second one on Thursdays just for pianists.Finally, we expanded the concert schedule to St. Patrick’s Church in Yerba Buena and the Giannini Auditorium at the Bank of America.
Among the highlights of his midday concerts running was hosting the SF Symphony at the church while they were on strike. “They gave six weeks of free concerts to the public; the final performance was their gift to the church for hosting them, and to me for my volunteer work with the orchestra.
“In my 11 years as a concert manager (and sometimes performer) I have met hundreds of lovely, generous people who have become regulars. I enjoyed meeting thousands of tourists stopping to listen to music, and I was very proud that we were contributing to the stature of Old St. Mary’s as a welcoming place to the world through the language of music.