Music News: Jan. 22, 2013
Among all the pomp and circumstances yesterday at President Obama's second inauguration, one musical moment stood out for me: Carol Cymbala conducting the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in a performance of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
It was my first experience of this exceptional chorus, well-known on the other coast, singing about truth marching in, sounding different, taking liberties with key changes, at times almost going off key, and then hitting the spot with thrilling resolutions.
I wish I knew the amazing alto soloist's name, maybe a reader can help out. (Lisa Hirsch to the rescue, with the message: "Google is your friend. Her name is all over the place: Alicia Olatuja.)
As to what I at first thought to be new-ish harmonic treatment, San Francisco Symphony Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin set me right:
"The chorus used mediants, the third note of a diatonic scale, midway between the tonic and the dominant, which can be used to go up or down a minor or major third from the key you're in, and thus create a sudden shift of tonal focus.
"Schubert and Schumann were the first to start using it seriously. I heard the Tabernacle performance just once, and spotted only one instance of what could also be described as a deceptive cadence. Call it what you will, there was a lot of interesting harmonization going on there, for sure."
The Tabernacle website speaks of "The novel rendition ... arranged by [chorus Founder and Conductor] Cymbala and Music Director Jason Michael Webb, with majestic orchestral accompaniment that's punctuated with innovative new harmonies while maintaining the classic feel of one of America's most beloved anthems."
Look up the chorus' website, and marvel at the great talent of "the 280-voice choir, whose members are mostly vocally untrained church members, [who have won] five Dove Awards and six Grammy Awards."
The always-adventurous, never-compromising Left Coast Chamber Ensemble is exceeding its own high standards of programming for the next pair of concerts, Jan. 31 in Mill Valley and Feb. 4 in the S.F. Conservatory.
"Cool Water Clear Water" is the theme, and other than a couple of indispensible Debussy pieces — "Reflets dans l’eau" (Reflections on Water) from Images, and "L’isle joyeuse" (Island of Joy) — it'll be a wild ride with five contemporary composers: Toru Takemitsu, Ramteen Sazegari, Eun Young Lee, Jen Wang, and George Crumb.
To respond to Crumb's Voice of the Whale, Left Coast commissioned emerging composers Lee and Wang to write companion pieces, exploring the ocean, nature, and time. Samzari has written a response piece to Takemitsu's Toward the Sea.
Takemitsu's Toward the Sea, written as a contribution to Greenpeace, protests the hunting of endangered whales. The composer viewed the sea as a "spiritual domain" and cited Herman Melville's Moby Dick: "Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries ... and he will infallibly lead you to water ... Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded together."
LCCE's flutist Stacey Pelinka, featured in the concerts, comments on the program:
The Takemitsu was the first piece I ever played with Left Coast (in 1998). The Crumb was the first piece I played as an official member of the group. I've always been attracted to water and these two pieces have been favorites for a long time, but my performances with Left Coast were my first chance to play the pieces. I recommended Jen Wang for the commission because of a piece of hers I played and really enjoyed at UC Berkeley called The Garden of Forking Paths.
Left Coast founder Kurt Rohde says of the upcoming concerts:
Left Coast has had a deep commitment to young, emerging composers. For me, and a lot of us I am sure, it is one of the most important and exciting things we have been doing for the past 20 years. Asking someone who is a gifted composer to write a new work that will get significant rehearsal and a few performances is a real opportunity for everyone involved. One of the points we like to focus on with these new work is to ask the composer to base the work on an existing piece from the standard repertoire.
Both the Takamitsu and Crumb are basic rep these days, works that hold the revelatory quality that all great music achieves. By asking Ramteen Sazegari, Eun Young Lee, and Jen Wang to create these new works based on the Takamitsu and Crumb respectively, Left Coast is taking a thrilling risk: We are going to get music by someone most people have never heard of, and that most of our players are not familiar with.
I think these types of programming projects exemplify the value and contribution to creating art by new artists that is deeply lacking in many areas of our culture. These new works bring a vitality to the new-music scene in the Bay Area, and beyond, as many composers who were unknown at the time when we first commissioned them have gone onto great things.
Left Coast's next series, March 21 and 25, is called "To Schumann With Love," concerts celebrating the romance of music in a special tribute to Schumann, featuring Andrea Plesnarski and Tom Nugent, Left Coast's married pair of oboists. Schumann’s Violin Sonata will be presented along with works by his wife Clara, and their great friend Brahms, as well as a tribute to Schumann by Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas and a new work by Eric Zivian, composed for and dedicated to Plesnarski and Nugent.
West Edge Opera's upcoming production of Monteverdi's L’incoronazione di Poppea is recommended for a $12,500 National Endowment for the Arts grant. The award is one of 832 grants totaling $23.3 million in funding nationwide, announced by NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. (Having served since 2009, Landesman stepped down as chairman in December, his senior deputy, Joan Shigekawa now serving in an acting position until a successor is nominated by the White House and confirmed by Congress.)
Another change is at the opera company, where Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky has been named General Director. He and MusicSources Artistic Director Gilbert Martinez are creating a reduced performance version of the 1642 L'incoronazione di Poppea, based on an orchestral edition by early-music scholar Alan Curtis. Streshinsky is stage director, Martinez will conduct a Baroque ensemble from the harpsichord.
The production will open West Edge Opera’s 34th season on Feb. 1, with repeat performances on Feb. 2 and 3. Compressing the run to a single weekend is an unfortunate decision, especially as the Sunday 3 p.m. matinee coincides with the 2013 Super Bowl, featuring a team of interest to most people in the Bay Area.
Christine Brandes, Emma McNairy, Ryan Belongie, Tonia D'Amelio, Erin Neff, Brian Thorsett, and Paul Thompson are featured in the cast. Streshinsky speaks of the production:
[We are] reducing the personnel involved and bringing the opera down to its core plot line, removing unimportant characters and focusing the piece. Gilbert is creating a performing chamber arrangement, utilizing nine instrumentalists, to be lead by himself at one of two harpsichords.
Our intention is to create a documented piece that can be done economically, not just by us, but by small companies and schools throughout the country. As with our 2010 performances of Xerxes, the production will make use of purely Baroque period instruments.
While the orchestra will be period, the production most definitely will not be. It is my intention to bring across to the audience the consequences of a leader gone wrong. Emperor Nero betrayed his people and his country and we will use projections and modern plot devices to create a production that resonates this theme. Our lighting designer, Lucas Krech, will use video and still imagery to create an immersive performance environment in which to place this fascinating and hauntingly beautiful work.
Honestly, I don't know if this is going to work, but let Diablo Ballet try to become the first professional dance company to create a new work from ideas suggested by internet users.
The Web Ballet (that seems to be the name, at least temporarily) will be based on choreography suggestions submitted to Diablo Ballet's twitter page @DiabloBallet through Feb. 14, and performed March 1 and 2. Robert Dekkers and Artistic Director Lauren Jonas will select choreographic suggestions to go into the work.
As explained on a website page, suggestions are solicited for:
- Emotion of the dancers (happy, sad, etc.)
- The mood of the entire work (intense, lighthearted)
- Specific dance moves (turning, jumping, specific steps)
Participants can also help select the music of the piece by voting on the three selections found on Diablo Ballet’s YouTube page.
The Web Ballet will be presented as part of Diablo Ballet's Inside the Dancer's Studio series March 1 and 2 at the Shadelands Arts Center Auditorium in Walnut Creek. Those submitting winning suggestions will receive tickets to the performance and a photo from the created work, autographed by Dekkers.
The project was created by Dan Meagher, Diablo Ballet director of marketing, who says "We want to show people the creative process of dance and help make ballet accessible to all."
Chamber Music San Francisco's 10th season, February through May in three locations, will have an impressive lineup: Sarah Chang, Richard Goode, Garrick Ohlsson, Tokyo Quartet, and more. But here we are focusing on Founder and Director Daniel Levenstein, who has created and is maintaining single-handed an enterprise vying in artist presentation with numerous organizations in the area, some bigger by a crore or two.
Levenstein says his career is not merely checkered: "You would need stacks of checkerboards to do it justice." But, he firmly believes, "each step of the way has been an essential step towards doing what I do today."
In 1993, after working with the late choreographer Michael Smuin on dozens of projects (including Anything Goes on Broadway, the Geena Davis film Angie, and — this is true — a show for Siegfried and Roy) Levenstein co-founded Smuin Ballet and served as its executive director until 2001.
Besides managing the operations of this $2 million arts group, he was responsible for its marketing, fundraising, and touring efforts and, until 1997, was also Smuin Ballet's music director:
Working with Michael was like earning a post-graduate degree in arts management. His artistic standards were the highest, and, since he had a strong Bay Area following, when we decided to create Smuin Ballet I knew we could harness that to build a strong organization. It worked out pretty well. Plus it was fun — you sort of get addicted to having sold-out houses.
Before Smuin Ballet days, Levenstein operated a music software and equipment distributorship, a music booking service, and a school of musical theater. He wrote and produced shows for the S.F. Conservatory of Music, the S.F. Convention and Visitors Bureau and such corporate clients as Toshiba, Seagram Classics, and Silicon Graphics.
He also composed works performed by artists ranging from The Mommies to the Kronos Quartet, and produced soundtracks for such clients as blues singers, a Charles Schulz ice show, country bands, Hartford Ballet, and a ventriloquist.
That many-checkered career went from being a bassoon major at the S.F. Conservatory (where he studied composition with John Adams) to a 13-year "sideline" as associate music director of Beach Blanket Babylon:
I was the understudy band leader — without someone sitting in that seat leading the band, they would have to cancel a performance. So I was paid a retainer to be on call, and could do other things in the meantime. Again, I learned a ton from playing that show, seeing what worked and what didn't work onstage.
In 2003 he founded Chamber Music San Francisco, which not only survived the early startup problems, but expanded to regular seasons in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Walnut Creek. The issue of venue in San Francisco has been an especially difficult one: Now that CMSF has graduated from 300-seat houses to 900-seat Herbst Theatre, Levenstein — and his colleagues/competitors — will have to find alternative dwellings while that building undergoes seismic restructuring over the next two years.
Near the end of the season, CMSF will move to Marines Memorial Theatre, a 650-seat venue with merely adequate acoustics (that's my take, not Levenstein's). At least, the soon-to-be disbanded Tokyo String Quartet will make its last appearance in San Francisco in Herbst, on April 18.
Robert Birman, Executive Director of Philharmonia Baroque from 2001 to 2008, has resigned as CEO of the Louisville Orchestra after leading the orchestra through bankruptcy, and a "bruising labor battle ... with attempts to hire non-union replacements via Craigslist," reports The Louisville Courier-Journal.
Birman and the orchestra announced Saturday that he would step down Feb. 1. An interim CEO will be named soon while the orchestra launches a search.
Birman, 45, became the face of orchestra management as the organization sank into bankruptcy in 2010 and weathered a protracted labor dispute with its musicians that silenced the 2011-2012 season and angered many longtime subscribers.
The current 30-week schedule under the orchestra’s $5.3 million budget compares with a nearly $6 million budget during the 2010-11 season and a 37-week schedule.
Sunday, along with the Niners making their way into the Super Bowl, and Monday, at the same time with the Presidential Inauguration, the country's first concert hall dedicated to jazz made headlines too.
At a preview of the SFJAZZ Center, the $53 million low-rise building in the heart of Hayes Valley was called a temple "to the national art form," which — bandleader/percussionist John Santos added, "is generally disrespected in this country more than anywhere else." Santos has been intimately involved with SFJAZZ, ever since participating in the organization's first concert 30 years ago.
The 700-seat, 35,000-square foot facility is radically different from its many performing-art neighbors within a few blocks of the Civic Center, such as the War Memorial Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall, Herbst Theatre, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and the new San Francisco Conservatory Concert Hall.
The others are built for performers facing an audience; somewhat similarly to Stanford's brand-new Bing Hall, SFJAZZ Center brings artists and audiences together in a community, listeners surrounding the stage, performers having the experience of playing music at close quarters. There is no clear separation in the hall, the place seems a hybrid of theater and jazz club.
SFJAZZ Founder and Executive Director Randall Kline, the dynamo driving both the organization and the creation of this unique facility, and architect Mark Cavagnero spoke about visiting Unitarian churches and other "meeting-based facilities" for inspiration.
Len Auerbach's theater design (with some questions, see below) and Sam Berkow's acoustics are splendid; heard from various spots around the hall, Santos' music came across clearly, intimately, and very well.
"Community" is emphasized over and over again, and the words are made good through such practical measures as a window that provides Gough Street passersby with a view of the stage, famed Slanted Door owner chef Charles Phan setting up the Center Cafe-Bar, to be open day and night.
Phan is considering what kind of breakfast people in Hayes Valley may prefer, he juryrigged a way to brew coffee, instead of getting it ready in advance, has a whole system being set up for serving drinks fast for show audiences. Seats — sleek, comfortable, acoustic-friendly — all have movie-theater style cup holders.
A few nitpicks about the theater design:
- Against the simple, unadorned wooden floor on stage and the main floor, upstairs is all concrete, with a corresponding harsh look.
- The walls, slotted, painted wood are prison-gray; green exit signs provide the only color in the hall.
- Long central rows have 20 seats without aisles; upstairs, there are "false aisles," with entrance from one side, the innermost seat against a barrier, including some structural obstacles where there is space for an aisle.
- Several steep rows upstairs are accessible by steps without a handrail — that, if anything, could and should be corrected.
But on to the meat of SFJAZZ Center, the music. After a big-name opening night on Martin Luther King day (with Bill Cosby, Chick Corea, Jushua Redman, John Handy, Peter Escovedo, many, many more), the opening week features resident artistic directors Regina Carter, Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, Santos, and Miguel Zenon; also McCoy Tyner, the SFJAZZ Collective, and a Bobby Hucherson birthday celebration.
Lineup for the second week, "Jazz in the City," includes Paula West, Kim Nalley, Jamie Davis, the Marcus Shelby Quartet — all in one program; Rebeca Mauleón & Afro Kuban Fusion; Lavay Smith & her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, and Hot Club of San Francisco. Tickets are $25.
The variety of programming is impressive: Ana Moura, Meklit Hadero, Patricia Barber; the music of Weimar Germany, with Ute Lemper, Max Raabe’s Palast Orchester, and San Francisco’s Club Foot Orchestra, performing at the screening of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis.
Coming up in the spring: percussionist Zakir Hussain, conga player Giovanni Hidalgo, jazz drummer Eric Harland, jazz-rocker Steve Smith, bassist Edgar Meyer, banjoist Bela Fleck, and many internationally acclaimed musicians.
Dave Holland will be in residence for four nights, solo, with his Quintet, with Kenny Barron, and at the premiere of his new project, "Prism."
Bill Frisell and Miguel Zenón are scheduled at the center, Frisell presenting Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish and Hunter S. Thompson’s The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved.
- Wed May 29, 2013 8:00pm
- Sat June 1, 2013 8:00pm
- Wed June 5, 2013 (All day)
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