Music News: Dec. 11, 2012
[...without regard to Michelangelo; a reference, of course, to T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a magical work of poetry ... still without appropriate music written for it.]
At the Wednesday concert of the San Francisco Symphony, unveiling Mark Volkert's outstanding Pandora, the observant listener (that would be me) first noticed Volkert sitting in the orchestra during an excessively boisterous performance of Richard Strauss' Till Eugenspiegel (a rambunctious/satirical work that doesn't need to be pushed beyond what it is), then he moved into Davies Symphony Hall's poor substitute for a royal box ... and finally Volkert went to work again in the violin section after intermission; in the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5.
The orchestra's longest-serving musician is also one its hardest-working, and that's one major reason why Volkert as a composer is known for the quality, not the quantity, of his music. More would be very welcome.
Another sighting on Wednesday was also in the violin section: A rather unfamiliar face turned up in the elite front section, normally occupied by concertmaster Alexander Barantschik (joined 2001), Associate Concertmaster Nadya Tichman (1980), Assistant Concertmaster Volkert (1972), and Assistant Concertmaster Jeremy Constant (1984).
There is a fairly strict pecking (and seating) order among them, so who was the young woman in the second chair in the first half of the concert, in the fourth chair for the other half?
It's In Sun Jang, who received a one-year substitution contract in the first violin section two years ago, a regular contract last year, and is now on tenure track; part of that two-year process is to have the candidate spend a week in the front section. So every time you see an unfamiliar face in the higher regions, that means another musician may be joining permanently the 101-year-old orchestra, following the path of 40-year veteran Volkert.
But just to show how difficult it is even to begin to long road to become a member of SFS, consider Jang's background: The Seoul native and holder of a graduate degree from the New England Conservatory (where she studied with Donald Weilerstein) won a top prize in the prestigious Henryk Szeryng Violin Competition, and she has been soloist and recitalist in Korea, Japan, and the U.S. She was also invited by the late Isaac Stern to perform in Carnegie Hall during Stern's Chamber Music Workshop.
Meanwhile, there was a serious loss in the orchestra, thanks to the Chicago Symphony "poaching" SFS principal timpanist David Herbert, according to a Slipped Disc report:
Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra announce the appointment of David Herbert as its new principal timpani, effective July 10, 2013. David Herbert is currently principal timpanist of the San Francisco Symphony, a post he has held since 1994.
He served as a guest principal timpanist with the Berlin Konzerthausorchester in 2007, 2008, and 2009, and prior to his appointment in San Francisco, was the principal timpanist in the New World Symphony from 1992 to 1994. Herbert has given numerous solo performances, appearing with the San Francisco Symphony as soloist four times over the course of his tenure, as well as with the St. Louis Symphony, Shanghai Symphony, National Repertory Orchestra, and the New World Symphony.
Probably without precedent, La Scala's 2012 opening night on Dec. 7, with Wagner's Lohengrin, is available on in its almost four-hour-long entirety. It is a major event, featuring Jonas Kaufmann in the title role, with Evelyn Herlitzius, René Pape, and Zeljko Lucic; Daniel Barenboim conducts.
Anja Harteros was to sing Elsa, but both she and her cover came down with the flu. Annette Dasch was flown in the last minute, and she rescued the evening. Claus Guth's staging in the Victorian era can be overlooked, just as the San Francisco Opera's Lohengrin-in-the-Soviet-Bloc last month was enjoyable otherwise.
"It was full of surprises even for us," Kaufmann said. "Usually the surprises are for the audience, but this time also for us, for me certainly, another soprano, whom fortunately I already knew [from performances in Germany]. I have to say what she did was truly a miracle. To keep calm, she was fantastic."
At one point, Dasch's long dress is caught in something on the stage. She just circled around once until it freed.
The event — a big social-artistic point in Milan's season — was surrounded by controversy because this is the bicentennial season for both Wagner and Verdi, and to feature the German over the Italian composer for the occasion upset many.
La Scala management countered by pointing at the season's seven Verdi productions, against "only" five Wagners. At any rate, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano did not attend, though he called the Wagner-Verdi debate "futile".
"These two musical giants of the 19th century both belong to the history of European culture and creativity and they cannot both take center stage," Napolitano said. Prime Minister Mario Monti was in attendance, even in the midst of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party trying to oust him from office. (Why is there still no opera about Berlusconi?)
Speaking of Verdi, La traviata will be streamed from Jan. 5-25 in Andrea Breth's new production from La Monnaie, with Violetta in a brothel, the victim of Eastern European sex traffickers. Didn't San Francisco have a bordello-red production of Rigoletto ages ago, well before Europe started to muck about with opera?
The 37th annual Richard Tucker Opera Gala on Thursday will honor the memory of the great tenor (1913-1975) by enhancing careers and celebrating today's stars.
The program will be telecast at 6:30 p.m. EST from Avery Fisher Hall on PBS. Locally, KQED ch. 9 will show the program at noon on Sunday; KQED Life at 7 p.m. Monday.
Performances are scheduled by Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Gerald Finley, Olga Borodina, Marcello Giordani, Ildar Abdrazakov, Erwin Schrott, and (2005 Merolina) Ailyn Pérez, 33, first Latina to win the Richard Tucker Award.
Audra McDonald will host the telecast, which includes a feature on Pérez, and backstage interviews with the artists, including tenor Stephen Costello, Pérez's husband.
Patrick Summers conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Choral Society in selections by Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Massenet, Mascagni, Handel, and Wagner.
Former Tucker winners include Renée Fleming, David Daniels, Joyce DiDonato (Merola 1997), Deborah Voigt (1985), Lawrence Brownlee, and Angela Meade.
Ragnar Bohlin is not only a superb chorus master, he is also a brilliant man, coming from Swedish intelligentsia, in the country smart enough to give Nobel Prizes.
And yet, ask him (as I do, every year) what's new about the season's Messiah concerts he conducts, and there is a moment's hesitation.
"Yes, it's tricky to come up with something new," he admits, but then he finds the words, just as his interpretation, leading the Grammy Award-winning SFS Chorus, is fresh each time:
Messiah is in a way always "new" because of all its wonderful melodies that leave one musically fully satisfied. Written by a master at the height of his powers, it is the pinnacle of all his oratorios and operas.
It is also a challenge, requiring the very best from soloists, chorus, and orchestra. The chorus needs to be flexible, malleable, to sing in each of the piece’s different styles convincingly.
Even within the first section, "Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation," each part has a different sound and style, from the contemplative orchestral opening to the lyrical tenor arias of "Comfort ye my people" and "Every valley shall be exalted" to the rousing chorus "And the glory of the Lord." Throughout Messiah, there is variety and a constantly shifting musical focus.
This year we have a cadre of young, very talented up-and-coming soloists: soprano Joelle Harvey, mezzo Jennifer Johnson-Cano, tenor Andrew Stenson, and baritone Michael Sumuel.
"Much in the way Edgar Degas captured the backstage realities and onstage glory of the dancers in the Paris Opera Ballet in his impressionist paintings, a New York city photographer has chronicled the everyday scenes of dancers in the New York City Ballet in an upstairs/downstairs-like collection," says a Daily Mail story about Henry Leutwyler.
Allowed unprecedented and unfettered access to the workings of the company for 30 days, Leutwyler compiled his work into Ballet, a 488-page book with more than 270 photographs.
These beautiful, often haunting, photos of dancers back stage and from the front row fill the book; fulfilling a passion for the art form that has consumed the photographer for more than 30 years.
Selections of his pieces are also on display at the Foley Gallery in New York.
Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, featured at Cal Performances a week and a half ago, have just reached New York City for performances of the same programs in Carnegie Hall Dec. 10 and 11, and Dudamel appeared on the Charlie Rose Show for a 30-minute interview well worth watching.
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have received yet another Grammy nomination in the Best Orchestral Performance category, this time for the in-house recording of John Adams' Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine.
When you look through the Grammy nomination list, you have to look through more than 60 categories, including some arcane/exotic ones, before arriving at classical music, reflecting the genre's status in the recording world.
Of local interest:
- Marina and Victor Ledin, Producer of the Year, Classical, for several recordings, including Delibes Sylvia and Coppélia (Martin West, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) and Mind Meld (ZOFO Duet)
- ZOFO, Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, Mind Meld
- András Schiff, Best Classical Instrumental Solo, for Bach Das Wohltemperierte Clavier (part of his San Francisco performance series)
- And here's a sure winner: Music Of Ansel Adams: America, Chris Brubeck and Dave Brubeck, composers, in the Best Instrumental Composition category.
HK$ 2.7 billion in local currency, the budget for Hong Kong's Xiqu Chinese Opera Centre is $348 million, and that will be just the first of 17 cultural and entertainment venues to form the HK$ 23.5 billion West Kowloon Cultural District.
Vancouver-based Bing Thom Architects and local firm Ronald Lu have beaten out rival studios headed by architectural superstars Norman Foster and Moshe Safdie to build the opera house. The preliminary design features a spherical theater that appears to float above an atrium. The exterior covering of the structure appears to undulate as if it were a theater curtain. It is scheduled to open in 2016.
Plans are also being made for M+, Hong Kong’s future museum for modern and contemporary Asian art, competing architects include Herzog & de Meuron from Switzerland with TFP Farrells of London, Snohetta AS of Norway, Renzo Piano of Italy, Japan’s Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects and Benoy Ltd., Shigeru Ban and Thomas Chow Architects, and Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA.
Also known as the Museum of Visual Culture, M+ will house 20th- and 21st-century art, design, architecture, video, and sound installations. It is intended to be Hong Kong’s answer to the Centre Pompidou in Paris or the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and will address the longstanding complaint that Hong Kong remains something of a cultural desert.
Bay Area's Sonos Handbell Ensemble arrived in Japan last week, and were greeted by a 7.3 earthquake, which caused relatively little damage and did not harm the Californians. Director James Meredith focused on work, not the tremors:
We played our first concert on the 9th at the beautiful wooden Itami Aiophonic Hall (600 seats) in Itami City. We played there first in 2005. The hall is 20 years old, just one of the many venues built during the 90s economic boom. Wish the Americans had done the same with their money.
I wish we could pick this hall up and bring it home. The acoustics are so incredible. I heard my two works with all of the sounds and sonorities I have only heard in my head up to this point, and we have been playing these works for several years all across the U.S., Estonia and Finland. What a thrill for me.
The ensemble went on to Niigata to give a concert in nearby Uonuma City, identified by Meredith as the birthplace of George Takei. They will perform in Fukushima and Sendai, returning to places they visited before, and now probably damaged beyond recognition by the great tsunami of March 11, 2011.
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