BERKELEY -- When Sarah Cahill sits down at the piano at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive's annual gala on May 6, the 10-minute excerpt she will perform will leave an indelible mark.
Although the highly acclaimed Berkeley pianist will not play with her elbows -- something she can do and has done -- the concert paraphrase of Thomas Adès two-plus-hour chamber opera, "Powder Her Face," will signal a final curtain.
"Honor the Past -- Celebrate the Future" will be the final gala hosted in the Bancroft Way building.
The building was deemed seismically insufficient in 1997 and making the required upgrades would have eliminated gallery spaces. Culminating a successful capital campaign, BAM/PFA will christen its new 82,000-square-foot facility in the renovated Art Deco—style former printing plant at Center and Oxford streets downtown in early 2016.
Cahill said that she and BAM/PFA Director Lawrence Rinder selected the showy, virtuoso work because it is "all over the keyboard" and contemporary.
In other words, it follows two BAM/PFA traditions. Putting big, artistic works into the two hands of individual performers or curators has been standard practice since the venerable institution was founded in 1963.
Establishing the PFA in 1966 and sharing still and moving art with the masses -- often in unconventional, celebratory fashion -- the visual arts center has long sought to be a social mirror. Whether reflecting the smudge or shine of humanity, looking back into a collective past or peering into future's unknown, Cahill said the cement structure that could seem cold and unwelcoming has always been, instead, "a fantastic place, a cultural institution."
Growing up in Berkeley, she said, the chance to see and hear prominent artists like composer Terry Riley in 1976 was typical of the BAM staff's adventurous spirit. "They just take an idea and make it happen," she said.
Cahill was herself part of BAM/PFA's feverish pursuit of art that is not passive or simply a respectful observation of paint on canvas: she curated the first "L@TE" event in 2009.
The affordable, Friday night, Gallery B series premiered with her presentation of Riley.
Cahill recalled audience members bringing sleeping bags to the "all night" show.
"He didn't play all night, but at midnight, when he stopped, everyone -- about 1,500 people -- clamored to their feet for a standing ovation," she recalled. "There he was, right in the middle of them."
In a pleasing bookend, the final L@TE show in mid-December will see Riley returning, again curated by Cahill. Longtime supporters and individuals integral to the institution's history have been named honorary co-chairs of the gala and are expected to attend: Jacquelynn Baas (former director); Rena Bransten (former board member and longtime supporter, owner of Rena Bransten Gallery); Jane Green (former board president); Mary Robinson (longtime supporter); Peter Selz (founder and first director of the museum); Barclay Simpson (board chair and longtime donor); and Roselyne "Cissie" Swig (board member and longtime patron of the arts).
In a news release announcing gala highlights, Rinder said, "We look forward to toasting to over 40 years of memories in this space and to making new ones in our beautiful new home.
"To have so many artists, supporters, and others who have made such an extraordinary impact on BAM/PFA's history on hand will make this a truly special occasion."
Sixty artists whose work has been exhibited or resides in BAM's permanent collection have made their art available for purchase in the gala's online and live auctions. To view and bid, visit: paddle8.com/auctions/bampfa.
BAM/PFA Gala and Auction on May 6 starts with 6 p.m. cocktails; 7:30 p.m. dinner, entertainment, and live art auction. Wines selected and donated by Narsai David. Vodka donated by Blue Angel Vodka.