Founded in 1979, San Francisco Performances is the Bay Area’s leading independent presenter of chamber music, vocal and instrumental recitals, jazz and contemporary dance. Under the artistic direction of its founder, Ruth Felt, the organization presents internationally acclaimed and emerging performing artists, introduces innovative programs, and builds new and diversified audiences for the arts through education and outreach activities that also strengthen the local performing arts community.
SFP is also committed to presenting artistically important programs that influence the development of the arts. This includes commissioning new works, offering programs featuring 20th and 21st century compositions and premieres, and presenting important American and international contemporary dance companies.
San Francisco Performances has grown from a first season in 1980–81 of seven performances to its current season of over 200 memorable performances and programs by some of the world's most exceptional artists.
Story of San Francisco Performances
When pianist André Watts walked onto the stage of the brand-new Davies Symphony Hall on November 23, 1980, more than 2,500 people witnessed the birth of what is now internationally recognized as a remarkable success story: San Francisco Performances.
André Watts, Ruth Felt, and James Schwabacher at the reception following San Francisco Performances' inaugural concert, November 23, 1980.
From the beginning, San Francisco Performances has been much more than just another arts organization in a city that is a world cultural capital. Founded by Ruth A. Felt and a small group of dedicated music patrons, San Francisco Performances set out with an ambitious program designed to make an important contribution to the growth and vitality of an already vibrant arts scene.
In 35 years we have presented hundreds of acclaimed and emerging touring artists in classical chamber music and recitals, contemporary dance and jazz to complement the Bay Area’s own live performing arts.
From a first season of just seven performances, our seasons have grown significantly to now feature more than 60 mainstage performances, and we are proud to have presented over 100 important debuts and premieres. In addition, there are dozens of arts education and community outreach programs that take San Francisco Performances and our artists beyond the footlights directly into schools and neighborhoods.
San Francisco Performances has led the way in presenting today’s great artists in solo recitals, most often in the intimate acoustics of Herbst Theatre, giving audiences the up-close and personal experience for which we are well known.
Artists whom San Francisco Performances has introduced in San Francisco recital debuts include cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, pianists Evgeny Kissin, András Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida and Ivo Pogorelich, soprano Dawn Upshaw, violinist Gidon Kremer, violist Yuri Bashmet, and bassist Edgar Meyer, to name just a few. Important San Francisco debuts in dance include the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Ballet Preljocaj from France, Sweden's Cullberg Ballet and Batsheva from Israel.
SFP Chair Gussie Stewart and her husand John Stewart greet Wynton Marsalis after the Gala concert September 21, 2001.
Our unique multi-year Artists-in-Residence programs sustain an ongoing presence in our many communities. The Alexander String Quartet -for more than a decade our String Quartet-in-Residence in association with San Francisco State University -established innovative chamber music studies for high school students and created an inspiring Saturday morning series with lectures by Robert Greenberg for adults.
Important education programs developed by jazz artists Regina Carter and Stefon Harris, guitarists Manuel Barrueco and Antigoni Goni, the Stephen Petronio Dance Company, and baritone Christòpheren Nomura continue and thrive.
None of this could have happened without the leadership of a committed Board of Trustees and professional staff and the generous support of an ever-growing number of subscribers and donors. Beating all economic odds, we continue to fulfill our role among the city’s top performing arts organizations, surpassing the hopes and dreams of all those assembled when André Watts walked onto the stage to open our very first season.