Music News: Dec. 18, 2012
There he was last week in the lobby of Davies Symphony Hall, at the intermission of a superb Messiah performance (see below), talking proudly of his birthday. "It's my reverse 18th," said Horacio, beaming with pleasure and looking like a real 18-year-old, not a reverse one.
And yet, the truth is the San Francisco Symphony's head usher, a restless dynamo, the man everybody calls Horacio, rather than Mr. Rodriguez, has turned 81, celebrating his 53rd year as the ever-present, ever-helpful, ever-cheerful usher/major-domo, now for SFS, and before at the city's opera and ballet companies.
One of the many remarkable things about Horatio is that regardless of which side of Grove Street he worked at, he has always been present — officially or as a civilian music fanatic — at symphony, opera, and ballet performances. That, of course, goes back to the time before Davies Hall opened, and all three companies occupied the War Memorial. Since the birth of Davies in 1980, he has been in charge as head usher.
What does that job entail? Much, much more than meeting and greeting: He hires and manages the hall's many ushers, is in charge of handling the crowds coming and going, up to 2,739 in the audience, 4-5 times a week, even more during the holidays.
A subscriber to local theater companies, a film buff, and passionate music fan, Horacio's greatest passion (besides pianist Martha Argerich) is opera. He has fallen in love with dramma per musica seven decades ago in the famed Teatro Colón of his hometown of Buenos Aires. He arrived in San Francisco in 1958, while in Argentina the Perón regime held sway, started as a volunteer with San Francisco Opera, met and — six years later — married Angela Quigley from Cork, Ireland.
There are still some music lovers around who remember the Opera's legendary head usher, John Galindo. It was Johnny who hired Horacio, first for the War Memorial, then to manage Herbst Theatre, and when Davies opened, to be the Symphony's head usher.
As to Horacio's management acumen, most of the ushers he hired in 1980 are still working there.
Last weekend's San Franciso Symphony Messiah performances were wondrous. Chorus director Ragnar Bohlin, who has honed the SFS Chorus to an instrument of precision and affecting sensibility, conducted with his usual understated, self-effacing manner, which masks palpable understanding and passion for the great masterpiece.
I have lost count of my Messiah attendances over the years, but there was no sense of "same old" here, of listening to something overfamiliar. All the talent and dedication that went into the music was communicated clearly to newbie and veteran alike in the audience.
Chorus and orchestra were flawless at the Saturday final performance in every aspect: balance, dynamics, and tempos. Bohlin's choice of soloists, including three Merolini and mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano, only underscored his reputation for vocal expertise. Tenor Andrew Stenson, bass Michael Sumuel, and — above all — soprano Joélle Harvey sang gloriously.
When Dave Brubeck died two weeks ago, my first thought in looking for sources of information locally was journalist and music historian Carolyne Crawford. Her recorded interviews with artists over decades have added up to a major contribution to UC Berkeley's Regional Oral History Office, part of the tremendous Bancroft Library.
Sure enough, Crawford had two extensive interviews with Brubeck, in 1999 and 2001, with a wealth of information. Brubeck's comparison of preparation for jazz and classical performances is a good example:
Usually something like this they put into the pops category because it’s a jazz combo with soloing, and they don’t allow the same amount of rehearsal time as they would if someone was coming in playing a concerto. This is totally unfair, really, because the soloist is playing the concerto with an orchestra that has the piece in their repertoire, usually. It could be a premiere, but most of the time whatever they’re playing the orchestra has played many times before for other soloists, so it’s a matter of working that out. But there’s never enough rehearsal time to do something as ambitious as the Dialogues, for example.
Still, performing with an orchestra remained one of Brubeck's favorites:
We’ll play it with the London Symphony Orchestra again on my 80th birthday. We played there with four of our sons on my 70th birthday, and on my 57th they invited all the sons again, and then on my 80th, we’ll be back again. We’ll probably do one movement because it’s so good and the brass section loves it.
Crawford: I remember reading the story that Bernstein came to the rehearsal 10, 15 minutes late, and said, "Gentlemen, you’ve had your free time."
Brubeck: That was the recording session. Yes, we were scared to death. It was costing a fortune, the New York Philharmonic sitting there, and no Bernstein. Everybody in place. He walks in the door and he hollers, "Gentlemen, this session started with a 15-minute break."
Crawford: How was it to work with him?
Brubeck: Oh, he was great. Howard was amazed by how great a memory Bernstein had, because they were arguing about something, and they’d both gone to the back of Carnegie Hall to listen to the balance and Howard said to him, "Why are the brass so loud at this point?" and Bernstein said, "Why did you mark a double forte there?" And neither of them had the score. They were just listening, and Howard said, "It’s not double forte." And Bernstein said, "Come and look at the score." It was my brother’s piece and Bernstein — he had a photographic mind to remember everything — had seen a ff when Howard had meant to write pp!
The Brubeck interviews, not on line yet, reveal a wealth of information about Brubeck's life and work.
Run by Interim Director Neil Henry and Acting Associate Director Martin Meeker, ROHO covers many subjects, ranging from Pacific Rim cultural history to the American West to gender and politics.
Scores of music and dance interviews include those with Madi Bacon, Jean-Louis LeRoux, James Schwabacher, Joaquin Nin-Culmell, Kurt Herbert Adler, Sándor Salgó, Ruth Felt, and Donald Pippin, among many others.
Bass-baritone David L. Tigner, 61, died of congestive heart failure last week. Born in Santa Rosa, he had an extensive performance and teaching career in the Bay Area, New York, and London.
He spent 27 years as an instructor in UC Berkeley's Young Musicians Program, admired by colleagues and students. James Meredith, on the YMP faculty, met him three decades ago:
I met David in a practice room in Morrison Hall at UC Berkeley in 1981. I had just come to the Bay Area and we were introduced by a friend of mine who was studying voice with him. He was told by my friend that I was a good pianist who could sightread well. He said, "let's try you out!"
So he pulled out the Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers, plopped the volume in front of me and opened it to "Absolom" by Eugene Hancock. I played, he sang, was satisfied and we became friends and colleagues from then on.
He was a personality bigger than life, both physically and metaphorically. He loved his students, he loved singers and he loved singing. He was a very fine bass-baritone, well-known to the Bay Area musical community and beyond. He had a laugh and a passion that shook the room. He felt deeply about the talent in the African-American community that did not get recognized and supported. His life's work was trying to rectify that situation.
He had struggled with multiple medical issues in the last few years but had managed to pull through each of them. They did take a toll on his health. He has students around the world in the music business, both classical and jazz.
Shannon Dillman sent this message:
A gentle giant of a man, beloved of so many Bay Area singers whose lives he molded, passed away yesterday. His was not a name you'd see often in the press, but he was the rock behind so many. My daughter Kendra (Dodd) is quite inconsolable, and I'm having a rough day myself. He was the big beating heart of the voice students at YMP for ages, and much more besides.
Another message (name withheld): "A lovely man. Heart of gold. His students loved him. He had a lot of admirers, if Facebook is any indication."
Not that I knew that before coming across this item, but pandiatonicism is the technique of using the diatonic (as opposed to the chromatic) scale, without the limitations of functional tonality. Perhaps not especially useful information, except to appreciate this amazing pandiatonic random orchestra website.
The collection of videos coming up can be used individually or in combination — just click on the starting arrows, and then use the sliding scales to adjust the volume and create your own mix.
"In Bb 2.0" is a collaborative music and spoken-word project by Darren Solomon, developed with contributions from users, in collaboration with NSU in South Dakota.
When this documentary first started going around, about people living on a landfill in Paraguay, who create music instruments from trash and their children play them, I suspected a hoax.
It appears true, however, with many reports confirming this phenomenon, which outdoes the El Sistema miracle in Venezuela.
The young musicians are from Cateura, a vast landfill outside Paraguay’s capital where some 25,000 families live alongside reeking garbage in abject poverty.
The youngsters of the Orchestra of Instruments Recycled from Cateura performed in Brazil, Panama and Colombia this year, and hope to play at an exhibit opening next year in their honor at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.
For a few more days, Laurent Pelly's new Covent Garden production of Meyerbeer's rarely-performed Robert le diable is available for free streaming on BBC. The program runs almost 5 hours, duration of the opera itself is 3 1/2 hours.
Merolini Bryan Hymel (who is expected to appear in the Met's production of Berlioz' Les Troyens, replacing Marcello Giordani, see next item) and John Relyea appear as Robert and Bertram, respectively.
Daniel Oren conducts the production, which also features Marina Poplavskaya as Alice and Patrizia Ciofi as Isabelle.
The story: Robert, Duke of Normandy, father of William the Conqueror, was so notoriously cruel that he was regarded as the son of the devil. The opera places the story in Sicily, where an exiled Robert, accompanied by the mysterious Bertram, is trying to regain fame, fortune, and the hand of the beautiful princess Isabelle. Robert is pursued by his childhood friend Alice, who is trying to deliver to Robert the dying words of his beloved mother, and her minstrel fiancée Rimbaud... and so on.
Early reviews about the revival of Francesca Zambello's staging of Berlioz's Les Troyens are harbingers of bad news about one of my favorite operas. I just hope the David McVicar Vienna-Milan-San Francisco-London co-production will rise above this by the time it arrives here in a couple of years.
Martin Bernheimer writes in The Financial Times:
... it sprawls well over five hours, aspires to mythological profundity, requires massive choral and orchestral forces, dabbles in balletic divertissement, and makes unreasonable demands on a presumably high-powered cast. Yet there it was Thursday night at the Met, looking awful and sounding uneven.
Zambello’s staging, first and last seen in 2003, manages to accentuate the negative. Given a semi-abstract unit-set by Maria Bjørnson, it plods along, cluttering the narrative with endless parades and irrelevant detail. Everyone makes unison gestures on cue, usually arms stretched in the air. Everyone comes and goes, rises and falls, runs and struts, poses and preens without apparent motivation.
The role of Cassandra seems to lie low for Deborah Voigt’s now somewhat threadbare soprano, and she was awkwardly partnered by Dwayne Croft, who sang Coroebus despite indisposition. Marcello Giordani tried bravely, also loudly, to cope with the heroic thrust and lofty tessitura of Aeneas. Susan Graham brought keen compulsion to the plaints of Dido despite occasionally edgy tone. Karen Cargill exuded sympathy as Anna, Eric Cutler soared as Iopas, Kwangchul Youn grumbled darkly as Narbal, and Paul Appleby sang sweetly as Hylas. Everyone worked hard, but in vain, to validate a performance predicated on much pomp and little circumstance.
The company’s busy principal conductor, Fabio Luisi, showed little feeling for Berlioz’s romanticism, offering accuracy but not a flicker of passion.
Worse still was Francesca Zambello’s 2003 production, a jumble of running, jumping and spear-waving in front of Maria BjÃ¸rnson’s tatty set, which made both Troy and Carthage look like an explosion in a Venetian blind factory.
Of nearly an hour of Doug Varone’s clodhopping ballets, the nadir was a listless dance-off between boys in hammer pants and girls in yoga pants that dragged the fourth act to a screeching halt.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra has entered the the holiday-music market with the release of a compilation album, Christmas in London.
Big orchestras rarely produce such seasonally oriented records, and the LPO does it with a playlist running from the standards ("White Christmas," "O Holy Night," "The Drummer Boy") to the Norwegian "Stjernesludd" and "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming."
Soloists include Kati Raitinen, cello; Urban Agnas, trumpet, and Cecilia Zilliacus, violin.
From James Meredith, on the Japanese tour of his Sonos Handbell Ensemble:
We received an icy reception from Mother Nature on our way to the second concert in Uonoma on our 7th tour to Japan last night.
Heavy snow from a formidable blizzard accompanied us on the bus trip from Niigata to Uonoma, a city known for its premier rice, situated amidst a winter vacation area with hot springs and ski resorts. Over six feet of snow lined the icy roads as the snow fell heavily at a 20 degree angle. The trip, which normally would take an hour and a half, took well over three. Coming back was even worse.
Cellist Emil Miland's 19th-century cello, "Nestor," took the frigid weather in stride and had no complaints after warming up in the 1,000-seat concert venue. Again, the hall had amazingly wonderful acoustics. Built in 1998, the sound was brilliant and alive at every point in the room. I don't know why the Japanese can get it so right time after time in their many halls and in America we have such consistent acoustical problems with the few halls we do have.
It might have been icy outside, but inside the people inside were warm and unusually demonstrative for the typical Japanese audience. It's not that they are not feeling it, but their culture reserves large displays of emotion for the TV soap opera series and game shows.
They especially appreciate "Smirti" (Sanskrit for Remembrance), the work that I wrote for Emil in honor of 9/11. It begins with the cellist entering the stage quietly and sitting with his eyes closed. A community of people sits around him. He begins with music from another world, a world where spirits who have lost their life are trying to understand what just happened to them.
A deep low song comes from the cello as the other players bring the support of the whole community and recount the events that have just happened. The cello reflects these events in a very strong, agitated section which eventually returns to the deep consoling song that brings strength and courage.
Smirti was dedicated to the Japanese people in honor of their deep strength and courage.
Uonuma experienced a severe earthquake six years ago so this sentiment was especially meaningful to them. The manager pulled me aside after the concert and said that many top ensembles come and perform in this hall, they play beautiful melodies expertly, but that they do not touch his "bliss" (his word), they do not touch his heart. The joy of music making that Sonos displays did. You can't hope for any better reaction than that. That's why we do what we do and it appears to be working.
- Sat May 18, 2013 8:00pm
- Sat May 18, 2013 8:00pm
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