Music News: Feb. 26, 2013
[An announcement from the S.F. Symphony on Thursday said Bennett died. Apparently, he did not regain consciousness after taken to the hospital Saturday night.]
William Bennett, struck by a cerebral hemorrhage Saturday night in Davies Symphony Hall, is still in intensive care at the time of this report, in guarded condition.
The Symphony's principal oboist had just started his solo in the Richard Strauss Oboe Concerto, completing the famously difficult 57-measure opening phrase, when he fell to the floor.
His wife, a physician, immediately came to his side, paramedics arrived about 6 minutes later, and Bennett was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
The audience heard an announcement about the concert to be paused, but it turned into an early and longer than usual intermission. At 9 p.m, the concert resumed with a performance of Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 1, a bright, zestful work, conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier, and performed with special dedication by the musicians under adverse circumstances.
"Many thanks to all of you who were able to keep calm in a horrible situation and carry on with the second half of the concert," Rebecca Blum, orchestra personnel manager, e-mailed the musicians after the concert. "Please keep Bill and his family in your thoughts and prayers."
Oliver Theil, SFS director of communication, wrote: "Bill is a brilliant musician and wonderful colleague and our thoughts and best wishes are with him and the entire Bennett family. Any cards or well-wishes can be dropped off in person at the Symphony Box Office or sent to Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F., CA 94102."
Bennett, 56, has been with the orchestra since 1979, was named to the Edo de Waart Chair as principal oboist in 1987. He was diagnosed with tonsil cancer in 2004, underwent nine months of radiation and chemotherapy, returning to the orchestra the next summer.
Besides many appearances as soloist here and elsewhere, Bennett has made several recordings, and is frequently featured in his own realizations/transcriptions and orchestrations of such works as the lost Beethoven Concerto and music by Debussy, Ellington, and Pasculli.
He is on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; one reason for his wife being in the audience Saturday was that she accompanied several of his students to the concert.
SFS oboists include Associate Principal Jonathan Fischer (on leave, serving as principal oboist with the Houston Symphony), Pamela Smith, Russ deLuna, and Chris Gaudi.
Robert Commanday commented on Thursday, when Bennett's death was announced :
It was evident early in William Bennett's 26 years as the San Francisco Symphony's principal oboe that he was a star of that orchestra. His artistry, his style, the grace and lyricism of his playing were such that it had to have been influential in the ensemble, absorbed by his colleagues, yes, and catching the imagination of the conductors. It certainly did that out front.
When we would encounter him in his commute, on BART, his face was as always, like his playing, wreathed in a smile. He talked about anything but himself, oboe repertory, the satisfying performance that night, about his teacher (and predecessor in his chair in the orchestra), urging that an article be written about Marc Lifschey, not about himself.
Bill will be with that orchestra for a long time, whoever sits in the Edo de Waart chair. As a colleague of his said two days ago, he was a star on the stage and off. I know that when I hear a oboe solo coming up, I'll be hearing Bill play it, his style, his sound. It'll be the Bill Bennett Chair.
Sara Jobin — who led the San Francisco Opera/Cal Performances coproduction of The Little Prince five years ago, and was the first woman to conduct mainstage productions in the War Memorial beginning in 2004 — returns to her former home to lead another joint SFO-Cal venture, The Secret Garden, March 1-10.
She says of the Nolan Gasser-Carey Harrison opera:
It is a sweet and touching piece bringing the book to life, in a musical language that will be very easy for American audiences to take in.
We have a great cast of young and talented singers, with members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in the pit. I think kids and families will really enjoy it.
Jobin's local history goes back two decades: She conducted the Peninsula Symphony in programs where the music ran from Mancini to Elgar to Stravinsky, she was the accompanist for a South Valley Opera production of Don Giovanni, she headed the Tassajara Symphony, was active in San Ramon Valley educational programs (Frederica von Stade helped her raise funds), and worked in several positions on the SFO musical staff.
After conducting the SFO Orchestra in a quirky Opera Center triple bill of Jack Beeson's Dr. Heidegger's Fountain of Youth, Ernst Toch's Edgar & Emily, and William Walton's The Bear, Jobin appeared in the War Memorial pit to lead Tosca and The Flying Dutchman — the first woman in the company's then 81-year-long history.
Jobin's female predecessors at SFO, none at a mainstage subscription performance, included Kathryn Cathcart, who conducted student and family matinees of La Traviata in the Opera House, and others who led Showcase performances, and four appearing on the podium for Spring Opera: Fiora Contino, Paulette Houpt-Nolen, Judith Somogi, and Thea Musgrave.
Jobin went on to conduct SFO in Norma and one of the world premiere performances of Philip Glass’ Appomattox, numerous productions in the Bay Area, including a West Bay Opera Macbeth, and premiered a suite from Stewart Wallace's Bonesetter's Daughter with Musiqa Houston.
Her current East Coast and European activity includes being music director of the Center for Contemporary Opera, where she premiered Michael Dellaira’s The Secret Agent in New York, reprising the work at the Armel Opera Festival in Hungary, and in Avignon, France.
Jobin's many credits include a rare series of American operas: Our Town, The Ballad of Baby Doe, upcoming productions of Susannah, The Tender Land, and Dead Man Walking as music director of Opera Idaho's Made in America Series. Also, the premiere of Philip Glass’ The Bacchae for the New York Shakespeare Festival; John Musto’s Volpone with Wolf Trap Opera; Der fliegende Holländer with Arizona Opera, and a "fire opera" version of The Seven Deadly Sins at the Crucible in Oakland. Jobin also appeared with many orchestras, premiered a suite from Stewart Wallace’s Bonesetter’s Daughter with Musiqa Houston.
Her recordings include Volpone by John Musto, nominated for a Grammy in 2010; on the Koch label she recorded the premiere of Chris Brubeck's Convergence, sung by Frederica von Stade.
At age 16, Jobin attended Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, where she was a Leonard Bernstein Music Scholar. She has a black belt in judo, and was the 1998 and 2006 National Champion and 1999 World Master Athlete Champion in Ju-no-kata.
Last Sunday, Jobin dedicated a broadcast of Madama Butterfly she conducted in Santa Barbara to her judo sensei, Shihan Keiko Fukuda, who died last month in San Francisco at age 99. "She was a 10th degree black belt, the highest ranking woman in the history of the sport," Jobin says. "I loved her very much, and Butterfly was her favorite opera."
In her spare time, she says, so to speak, she has been a member for a dozen years of the Glide Ensemble, the gospel choir featured in the movie The Pursuit of Happiness. Oh, and organic farming too — except on March 11, "when I speak to a group of Seattle Opera donors about 'the joys and challenges of being a female conductor in today’s opera world,' as they've advertised it ... then I fly to Shanghai to present excerpts of Amy Scurria's Pearl, an opera in development, with Carol Gilligan, John Bellemer, and Chinese singers at the American Culture Center at the University of Shanghai for Science & Technology."
The lineup for the 38th annual Jewish Music Festival promises great variety. The 10-day-long festival, beginning on March 12, presents jazz, folk, classical and contemporary works from around the world in several locations.
Poland is the focus of this year's festival, but as the True Life Trio's appearance on March 3 shows, the representation of a thousand years of Jewish life and legacy is truly global.
The trio — Leslie Bonnett, Briget Boyle, and Juliana Graffagna — formed from the ranks of the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble, sings music "connecting Bulgaria to the bayou of Louisiana." They perform folk tunes from Poland, Macedonia, Albania, South Africa, Ukraine, Mexico, Poland, Italy, and Georgia.
On the same program, the Real Vocal String Quartet — violinists Irene Sazer and Alisa Rose, violist Dina Maccabee, and cellist Jessica Ivry — plays and sings a broad repertory, embracing West Africa, Brazil, and rural America.
Festival director Eleanor Shapiro says the focus on Poland and Eastern Europe highlights Jewish history, "which includes the roots of most Jewish Americans. Like most Jewish Americans, my family roots were in Poland and Ukraine.
"The murder of more than 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population in the Holocaust ruptured that continuity within living memory. Music offers a compelling and universal gateway into Polish Jewish history."
Festival highlights include appearances by Theodore Bikel, David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz, and the West Coast debuts of the Polish jazz ensembles Shofar and Polesye.
Bikel, who made his debut in the Carnegie Recital Hall 57 years ago, joins Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco, and Shura Lipovsky, a famous Yiddish singer from Amsterdam on March 7. The program embraces Yiddish and Bosnian/Sephardic cultures.
Opening night salutes the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, soon to open in Warsaw. "A massive undertaking, the museum brings to light Jewish life in Poland over the course of a millennium," says Shapiro.
"This year, we mark the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with a world premiere, by David Garner. Crushed a month after it began on April 19, 1943, it was the largest and symbolically most important Jewish uprising in World War II, and the first urban revolt in German-occupied Europe."
Garner's "Vilna Poems" is performed by soprano Lisa Delan, pianist Kristin Pankonin, cellist Matt Haimovitz, and clarinetist David Krakauer. Vilna, in Lithuania, had a large Jewish population, and the uprising of some 50,000 in the ghetto there was followed after a few months by the events in Warsaw, where the ghetto held more than 400,000.
San Francisco Symphony, often getting into the business of its neighbor across Grove Street, the San Francisco Opera, is now offering a Mozart novelty. It's not easy to find something virtually unknown by one of the most performed composers of all time, but Michael Tilson Thomas has found one and he is now boosting Zaide on both coasts — in a very different fashion. Performances in Davies Symphony Hall are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening this week.
Zaide is an unfinished opera by the 22-year-old Mozart, who by 1779 had written numerous music dramas, and was about to create one of his greatest operas, Idomeneo.
A forerunner of Abduction from the Seraglio, Zaide (originally titled Das Serail) is a rescue play about enslaved Europeans in a Turkish harem. Only arias and ensembles from the first two acts were composed; a planned third act wasn't even begun.
So last week, MTT staged a fascinating production of Act 1 of the opera in Miami, with the New World Symphony, serving as narrator, with an assistant conducting.
Now comes the San Francisco version: a two-minute orchestral introduction (Mozart didn't write an overture), two arias, and ... intermission! The entire first half of these concerts will run a little over 15 minutes, before the 20-minute break, which sounds very much like a ballet repertory evening.
At least, the two Mozart arias, performed by Nadine Sierra in her SFS debut, should be exciting. One is the only familiar excerpt from Zaide, the dazzling soprano aria "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben" (Rest in peace, my sweet life); the less familiar "Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen" (Tiger, sharpen the claws).
The concert's second half should make up in time and gravitas whatever is missing before the intermission. It's Anton Bruckner's magnificent Symphony No. 7, running about 65 minutes, according to SFS program notes — unless MTT follows the somewhat slower (67 minutes) tempos of his Bruckner-expert predecessor, Herbert Bloomstedt, or that of Otto Klemperer or Riccardo Chailly, who didn't bring it in under 70 minutes.
While audiences are getting used to Gustav Mahler's demanding symphonies — especially in San Francisco, after MTT's repeated performances of all of them — Bruckner may still be subject to members of the audience abandoning the hall during the performance. Once a chronic occurrence, walkouts are getting more sporadic. Stay and relish the uniquely rich harmonic language, dissonances and unprepared modulations that still seem radically new.
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