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Music News

August 7, 2012

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Mega-Concert of the Year. Or Years.

The assembled forces for the "really big concert" at rehearsal Photo by Michael StricklandOscar Wilde's observation that "Nothing succeeds like excess" is true enough, as far as it goes. The unstated part is that success depends on execution; the more excessive the work, the greater the requirement for keeping up with the earth-heaven-hell-shaking forte-forte-fortissimi.

Sunday's Berlioz Requiem and more in Davies Symphony Hall — consisting of some of the "biggest" music in all literature — exceeded all expectations. Anticipation was tempered by a perusal of the components: the expanded Redwood Symphony (over 100 players), 80 singers from New York, and 140 from the San Francisco Lyric Chorus and 34 other choral groups in the Bay Area. All volunteers, coming together for this one-time event, rehearsed in tutti only for a couple of days. Hmmm ... how did it go?

The concert started with the Fanfare from Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, Eric Kujawsky making the rafters shake with the 2001: A Space Odyssey "Sunrise," and the orchestra playing as one. Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture (conducted by Eric Townell) was followed by the chorus' first, impressive entrance with the Shepherds' Farewell from Berlioz' L'Enfance du Christ (Robert Gurney).

Then came the glorious Finale of Boito's Mefistofele (conducted by event organizer and former San Francisco choral maven Adrian Horn), which you may experience in a similarly splendid performance here in a better-financed venue (no solo singers, sets, or costumes on Sunday, but the effect was the same).

One quibble: The Devil's derisive whistle at the angels is disruptive enough (that's the purpose), but it can and should be musical, not as crude and "atonal" as it was at this concert.

Eric KujawskyThe Berlioz Requiem took up the second half of the concert, the complex masterpiece conducted by Kujawsky in a consistent, unaffected, unhurried, and from-the-heart performance. The huge chorus performed well throughout the concert, especially in the Requiem, sopranos leading the way with a clear, beautiful sound. Unlike the somewhat slurred text in the Boito and the other Berlioz, diction in the Requiem was excellent.

A startling discovery, at least for me, was the orchestra. In context, it is one of the finest community orchestras around. In general, terrific performances all the way through, with first violins and woodwinds leading the way, no section slacking off, and the quickly recruited extra brass doing well.

When I first read the Redwood Symphony repertory, I was surprised and a bit wary (two Mahler cycles, lots of difficult, big, and contemporary works over the years), but after the Davies Hall concert, I'll be heading south to the peninsula to hear the orchestra for myself. If the expanded Redwood Symphony could do this well with Boito and Berlioz, the regular core group must be heard to be believed.

And look at the 2012-2013 season: Corigliano, Beethoven, Theofanidis, Revueltas, Bernstein, Brahms, Rodriguez, Gruber, Daugherty, Debussy, and a concert version of Sweeney Todd ... Goodness gracious me! (Are you reading this, big, commercial orchestra to the north?)

A comment from Kujawsky about the Sunday concert, something that may well be suspect of self-aggrandizement otherwise, is simply the truth in this case: "It was the kind of concert one dreams about having as a peak musical experience, which most musicians never experience. Only with volunteers!"

To give credit at least to the first-chair players: Heather Katz, concertmaster; Sarah Moskovitz, second violins; Doug Tomm, viola; Ellis Verosub, cello; Brian Link, bass; Patti Harrell, flute/piccolo; Joan Hebert, clarinet; Doug McCracken, bassoon; Jim Millar, horn; Larry Heck, trumpet; Erik Dabel, trombone; Dave Silon, tuba; and no principal in the program, but 11 percussionists.

Nightclub Doubleheader: Barbara Cook, Keiko Matsui

Barbara Cook Nightclubs are not venues frequented frequently by this column, but two exceptions are gladly made this time, considering the exceptional musical values presented by these artists.

In a couple of months, Barbara Cook turns 85, an age at which few singers remain active. Cook does. From Aug. 21 through Aug. 26, she presents the program "Let's Fall in Love" in the RRazz Room.

If you are familiar with Cook's Cunegonde (Candide), Marian the Librarian (The Music Man), Amalia (She Loves Me) or any of her 18 solo recordings, and an equal number of cast recordings, including the six-CD Essential Barbara Cook boxed set, this note should be sufficient.

If you're not yet a fan, here's your chance to experience her signature songs — pop, jazz, and Broadway — that make up the RRazz Room program.

Cook's 80th birthday was marked by the unique combination of three concerts with the New York Philharmonic and a solo concert debut in the Metropolitan Opera — the only female pop singer to be so presented in Met history. Last year, she received Kennedy Center Honors, along with Meryl Streep, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma and Sonny Rollins.

Keiko Matsui — or, by her stage name, Keiko Doi — is a justly popular Japanese jazz/jazz fusion/R&B/ambient music producer-composer-pianist, best known for her Forever Forever, and Light Above the Trees.

Keiko MatsuiShe will appear on Aug. 17 in George’s Nightclub in San Rafael, playing at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Although she looks less than half of Cook's age, Keiko's career spans over three decades, during which she has produced more than 20 albums, selling some 1.5 million copies, and her performances are packing concert halls.

Among her albums: Under Northern Lights, No Borders, Night Waltz, Cherry Blossom, and Doll. She counts Stevie Wonder, Rachmaninov, Maurice Jarre, and Chick Corea among major influences.

She is also an activist, playing a major role in the United Nations World Food Program, the Be March Marrow Registry, and the National Donor Program and Marrow Foundation.

 

Ruggiero Ricci Dies at Age 94

Ruggiero Ricci The last of the trinity of San Francisco violin giants is gone. Ruggiero Ricci (born in San Bruno, close enough to qualify as a San Franciscan) has joined Yehudi Menuhin (who was born in New York, but moved here as a toddler) and Isaac Stern (born in Krzemieniec, Poland, but his family moved to San Francisco when he was 14 months old) in violinist heaven. He died in Palm Springs, his residence even before his retirement just a decade ago.

Just as Menuhin and Stern, Ricci was a child prodigy, making his debut in San Francisco at age 10, and touring around the world as an acclaimed young musician.

Shortly after Menuhin receiving the first Pacific Musical Society award, the young Ricci was also supported by the group. He made his first tour of Europe in 1932 at the age of 14, appearing with the world's greatest orchestras. At the beginning of World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Force, and became an "Entertainment Specialist," playing and broadcasting hundreds of concerts in the service.

Ricci was also notable for presenting new solo violin repertoire, playing works by Kreisler, Ernst, and Bartók, in addition to the classics. He performed the world premieres of such contemporary composers as Alberto Ginastera, Gottfied von Einem, Alexander Goehr, Joseph White, Gerard Shurmann, and Carlos Veerhoff. By the time of his retirement, he had performed over 5,000 concerts in 65 countries.

ODC Family Day

ODC DanceWhen ODC says its Family Day on Aug. 26 and welcomes anyone with an interest in dance, regardless of age, the organization known in the distant past as the Oberlin Dance Collective really means it. From 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., as in open houses before, children and adults are invited to learn about the ODC School Youth and Teen Program.

In the splendid ODC Dance Commons, there are free sample classes, refreshments, and the opportunity to talk with faculty and returning parents about the programs.

Placement classes for ballet and contemporary classes will be available for new students with dance experience interested in enrolling in the fall curriculum.

Free classes offered this year: Hip Hop, Little Rabbits, Tap, and Pilates.

South Bay Concert Venue in Jeopardy

Le Petit TrianonA small, but vital concert venue in downtown San Jose is in "the 11th or 12th hour [of its life] and without a new mortgage the current lender will foreclose on the theater in early September," according to its owner. As reported in The Mercury News, Keith Alan Watt, who has owned the 90-year-old converted church building since 1982, is listing the property for sale at $4.2 million in a last-ditch effort to pay off a $1.9 million mortgage.

Inspired by the miniature château on the grounds of Versailles, architect William Binder designed Le Petit Trianon in 1923 as a church. Watt purchased and converted the 342-seat auditorium for theater use, investing an estimated $4 million into the building and surrounding properties over the past 30 years.

In San Francisco terms, a cross between Herbst Theatre (which is bigger) and Old First Concerts (smaller), Le Petit Trianon is the center of activities for some 34 performance groups, with a combined annual budget of about $3.2 million, and it also serves as a performance outlet for dozens of nonprofits.

Left Coast Out of the Green Room Echo Chamber

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble is giving itself a wonderful 20th birthday present: no more War Memorial Green Room, with its echo-filled din through which music came through darkly or not at all.

Of the Left Coast: Anna Presler, Kurt Rohde, Phyllis Kamrin, Leighton Fong Photo by Lydia ChenFor the 2012-2013 season, the customary Mill Valley location (142 Throckmorton Theater) will be paired with either the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, or the Dennis Gallagher Arts Pavilion, at 66 Page Street. I hope it's the Conservatory, but apparently talks are still going on.

Left Coast's 12 musicians include five of the founders, and for the 20th year, the ensemble's winning format remains: important chamber works from the past, along with new works by both well-known and emerging composers. "We showcase new music, but we always link it to music of other times," says Artistic Director Anna Presler.

In 20 years, Left Coast has commissioned and premiered close to 100 new works, and it holds an annual composition contest. "It is great to be a part of the vibrant Bay Area music community and we are proud of our contribution to it," says Presler.

The new season's include masterpieces by Debussy, Schumann, and Ravel; alongside new works by contemporary composers Ryan Carter, Young Lee, and Jen Wang; as well as premieres by Left Coast’s own Kurt Rohde and Eric Zivian.

Any Dummies Here?

Classical Music for DummiesI don't think so, but just in case:

EMI Classics has announced licensing agreement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc. for release of a new Classical Music For Dummies series. Five single albums, each about one composer, and a box set of six CDs, with a 48-page booklet will be available for purchase or digital downloads.

The five individual albums are about Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, and Chopin. The six CDs of music trace the historical development of different classical styles from the Middle Ages through Romanticism to Modernism and the present day.

"Wiley is thrilled to have EMI Classics once again partnering with ‘For Dummies’ to make enjoying classical music easier for everyone," said a Wiley executive. "The original EMI Classical Music For Dummies enhanced CD series released in 1996 was a great success, with Beethoven for Dummies reaching #2 on Billboard, the entire series winning a national homeschooling award. With that series long out of print, and a new generation of music listeners and Dummies fans to be served, the time is right for a new series."

West Edge 2013 Opera Season

I haven't heard official word from the company yet, but, but an insert in the program for the double bill says the next season will have:

* Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, Feb. 1-3, with Christine Brandes, Emma McNairy, Ryan Belongie, and Tonia D'Amelio

* Fabrizio Carlone's Bonjour M. Gauguin, April 6, 12, 14, with Shawnette Sulker

* Britten's The Turn of the Screw, July 20, 26, 28, with Laura Bohn

Two Mosses Make One Other Acronym

Ann Moss Photo by Debra A. ZellerI apologize in advance for the profusion of acronyms in this item, but it cannot be helped when new-music folks decide to be organized.

It's about M2B, which is the trio consisting of two unrelated San Francisco sopranos, Ann Moss and Heidi Moss (M+M=M2), and pianist Steven Bailey (B). The three will be making their collective debut at a CMASH (Chamber Music Art Song Hybrid) event at Old First Concerts (never known as OFC) on Aug. 26. And, to make an alphabetic sweep of it, the concert will represent the fifth installment of New American Chamber Music (NACM).

These NACM concerts aim to "enable performers and composers to work in close collaboration to create each new piece." At this concert, the Mosses 2 and Bailey are including mezzo Alexis Lane Jensen and baritone Paul Murray to offer an impressive program: Facing Forward/Looking Back (2007) by Jake Heggie; Funny Napkins (2011) by Liam Wade; the world premiere of excerpts from Gertrude & Alice: Scenes from a Shared Life (2012) by Sanford Dole and Chivalry (2012) by Weslie Brown; Nerd Songs (2012) by Kenneth Froelich; and Song of Solace/Song of Regret (2012) by Kurt Erickson.

Composers Wade, Dole, Brown, Froelich, and Erickson will attend the concert and participate in conversations with the audience after the program.

"This concert is a celebration of five years of close collaboration yielding over 18 premiere performances" says Ann Moss, who is also CMASH artistic director. "We’ve all grown together as artists and the works on this program display that growth. I have to believe it is in part the safe, nurturing environment we’ve created with CMASH that is letting these artist create without inhibition."

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