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October 12, 2016

Youth Orchestra’s New Director, New Season, New Competition Winner

The organization has a pedigree of years (35) and acclaim (worldwide), but its members are teenagers, albeit with stunning musical maturity. San Francisco Symphony’s Youth Orchestra — over 100 Bay Area musicians, ranging in age from 12 to 21. The orchestra is about to open its 2016-2017 season, Nov. 13, with a typically sophisticated program: the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6 ... and a work by Henze. Yes, that’s Hans Werner Henze, an edgy contemporary composer (1926 – 2012), who is still not heard frequently in concert halls.

SFSYO’s new Wattis Foundation Music Director Christian Reif will conduct Henze’s “Maenad’s Dance” from The Bassarids to start his tenure with the Youth Orchestra. (His first appearance in Davies Hall was last year, conducting Ted Hearne’s Dispatches.)

Reif, who has also been named the Symphony’s Resident Conductor, is active in leadership positions with the Juilliard Orchestra, Salzburg Chamber Soloists, Georgian Chamber Orchestra. the Israel Chamber Orchestra, and the Meiningen Court Orchestra. He completed his master of music in conducting at the Juilliard School under Alan Gilbert, and received the Charles Schiff Conducting Award. For two seasons, Reif served as conducting fellow with the New World Symphony in Miami, mentored by Michael Tilson Thomas. Last year, he conducted the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in several world premieres and was named a Tanglewood conducting fellow for 2016. Reif says of scheduling the Henze work for the Youth Orchestra:

I love his music because of its power and energy and his imaginative musical voice. I thought it would be a great way to start the season, because he’s one of the great German composers of the 20th century, and I want to share his music — music from my home — with these students. Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler is also one of the pieces that is dearest to me. It’s a phenomenal work, with music from his opera of the same name. It gets played far too rarely.

The soloist in the Sibelius is Jason Moon, winner of the Youth Orchestra’s 2016 Concerto Competition. Co-principal second violin of the California Youth Symphony Senior Orchestra for five years, Moon is now a senior at the Menlo School in Atherton, studying with Wei He in the S.F. Conservatory of Music Pre-College Division.

The Youth Orchestra’s schedule for the season includes the annual Peter and the Wolf presentation on Dec. 11, this time with Linda Ronstadt as narrator. The program for March 5, 2017, is Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, along with Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra. On May 14, 2017, Reif will lead a performance of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 2, Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, and Brahms’s Symphony No. 4. 

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Summer Festival Music@Menlo Plans Ahead for Winter

Music@Menlo announced its seventh-annual winter series of “familiar festival favorites and distinguished artists making their highly anticipated debuts.” The first concert encompasses both: Ukrainian-born pianist Konstantin Lifschitz performs Bach’s complete Partitas for Keyboard (Clavier-Übung I). Born in 1976 in Kharkov, Ukraine,  Lifschitz was educated in Moscow, England, and Italy, with distinguished teachers including Alfred Brendel, Leon Fleisher, and Charles Rosen. He has soloed with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, and other orchestras, and has headlined major festivals.

Composed while Bach served as Cantor at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, the Six Partitas were the first of ultimately four installments written to explore the keyboard instruments. The partitas have been recorded on harpsichord, piano, and guitar. Lifschitz’ performance was acclaimed in The New York Times: “To say that Mr. Lifschitz made his playing look easy would not be quite accurate. What he offered was a performance of such poetry that the question of whether executing it was difficult hardly came to mind.”

The Winter Series continues at the main festival venue, the Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton, on Jan. 11, with the Pacifica Quartet playing Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 18, No. 6; Shostakovich’s Third Quartet, and Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major.

For two decades now, Pacifica has received acclaim for performances in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Violinists Simin Ganatra and  Sibbi Bernhardsson, violist Masumi Per Rostad, and cellist Brandon Vamos reside in Bloomington, Indiana, where they serve as quartet-in-residence and full-time faculty members at the Jacobs School of Music. Prior associations include the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and the University of Chicago.

The Sitkovetsky Trio and clarinetist David Shifrin are due at the Center on May 21, with a Music@Menlo-commissioned work by Andy Akiho, winner of the 2014–2015 Luciano Berio Rome Prize. The new work is paired with music for the same instrumentation, Olivier Messiaen’s iconic Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), the 1941 chamber music classic that received its extraordinary premiere in a prisoner-of-war camp.

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In Miami, Music Is “Writing on the Wall”

Michael Tilson Thomas’ New World Symphony, a “training orchestra” in name, but so much more in fact, has introduced numerous innovative approaches for fostering community engagement, and among the best is their free WALLCAST™ concert series. They have just announced an extensive program for the season and an upgrade to 4K Ultra-High-Definition cameras.

The fifth season’s 11-concert series will be projected on the 7,000 square-foot eastern façade of the New World Center for audiences in adjacent SoundScape Park, which is equipped with some 160 Meyer Sound speakers. The series launch also commences the first full season of NWS’ Sensory Friendly Environment (SFE), which offers children and adults with Sensory Processing and Autism Spectrum Disorders the opportunity for a full concert experience in conjunction with each WALLCAST™ concert in a space that caters to their special needs.

At the Oct. 15 season-opener, MTT leads performances of Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major, K. 449, Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto, with Emanuel Ax as soloist. and Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. The rest of the season offers works by Beethoven, Britten, Delius, Mahler, and Mendelssohn, among others. Guest soloists include James Ehnes (violin), Ingrid Fliter (piano), Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Lydia Teuscher (soprano), and Alisa Weilerstein (cello). Guest conductors will be James Conlon, Bernard Labadie, Juanjo Mena, Peter Oundjian, and Dean Whiteside.

A year-long study, recently completed, found that WALLCAST™ concert attendees are both younger and more ethnically diverse than those who attend traditional concerts, with 34 percent self-identifying as people of color, compared to 12 percent of traditional concert attendees.

As part of the 4K upgrade, NWS has installed 12 Hitachi SK-UHD4000 cameras with new robotics and lenses in the concert hall of the New World Center, replacing the HD cameras used since the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed building in 2011. The cameras, which excel in low-light environments, will have an immediate impact on programs inside and outside the concert hall, allowing for more theatrical lighting indoors while boosting the quality of the image shown on the outdoor wall for WALLCAST™ concerts. The multiformat capabilities of the Hitachi cameras will allow the NWS production team to operate the cameras in 1080p HD mode until Phase II of the upgrade in summer 2017, when the remaining infrastructure will be upgraded to enable a complete end-to-end 4K experience.

Will anything like that happen around Davies Hall?

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In Brief: Ohlsson Master Class; R.I.P. Peter Allen; The End of Opera As We Knew It?

Ohlsson Master Class

San Francisco Conservatory of Music is honoring Garrick Ohlsson with an honorary doctorate and a three-part residency. They are calling Ohlsson, 68, “one of the world’s greatest living pianists.” The San Francisco resident will give a free master class in the Conservatory’s Sol Joseph Recital Hall, at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14. Other events in the residency will take place in January and April 2017.

From the announcement:

“Ohlsson is widely known for his comprehensive grasp of repertoire from multiple stylistic periods, an attribute rooted in artistry and intellectualism that opens up a world of knowledge to those he teaches. From Bach to Scriabin, Ohlsson gives advice that never goes stale, offering a take on the meaning behind the music and a sense of time and place.”

R.I.P. Peter Allen

Peter Allen, who introduced more than 500 performances for the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts over a span of three decades, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 96.

As reported in The New York Times. his response to being called “the voice of the Met,” was typically humble. “With all those voices out there on the stage, to call me ‘the voice of the Met’ is very odd,” he said in 2000, sounding about the same in conversation as when the on-the-air light was on: conversational, avuncular, and warmly authoritative, and not at all pompous or pretentious.

The End of Opera As We Knew It?

Politically correct, otherwise clueless. That would be the students of Bristol University who demanded — and the administrators who implemented — cancelation  of Verdi’s Aida as a potential instrument of “cultural appropriation.” That refers to casting Caucasian (or even Asian) singers as Egyptians and Ethiopians.

Aida, of course, is an Ethiopian princess, who is held prisoner in Egypt, but she falls in love with an Egyptian general. One of the protesters said, “Whitewashing still exists, it’s been done enough in Hollywood, look at Liz Taylor in Cleopatra.” (In San Francisco Opera’s current production of The Dream of the Red Chamber, the Chinese-American creators of the work specified all Asian or Asian American casting.)

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Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at janosg@gmail.com.

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