Music News: Jan. 8, 2013
Making jewelry is an unexpected subject when interviewing a singer, but then Laurie Rubin is unusual in many ways, not even mentioning her skill as a skier, which we won't because there are too many other subjects to cover.
Joined by Frederica von Stade, Rubin is featured at the Jan. 14 Meyer Concert Series 10th anniversary Ingrid Tauber Celebration at Temple Emanu-El. But before talking about the concert, the 34-year-old mezzo — blind since birth — answers the question about how she manages to have her own line of handmade jewelry, The LR Look:
I always joke with people that I must have seen colors in a past life because I have an innate understanding of colors. I think also hearing people over the years telling me what colors look nice together, and describing their visceral associations and reactions to colors of the ocean, sky, etc. have really rubbed off on me.
As for the jewelry itself, I do a lot with textures. I love going to bead stores and just listening to the beads clinking against each other, making all sorts of lovely sounds, and I love the different shapes and textures, how they all feel juxtaposed with each other.
I do a lot of jewelry making based on the contrasting textures of various stones, and the neat shapes. My favorite stones to work with are turquoise, pearls, and swarovski crystal for that magical shine and sparkle.
But is she responsible only for the design? "I actually craft it myself as well. I have no elves at my disposal. I enjoy the process though. It's relaxing, sort of like knitting, or so I've heard."
Unlike some other singers, Laurie Rubin loves and masters computers. She is a whiz with e-mail, using Voiceover on a Macbook Pro. "Thank goodness for a revolutionary in technology," she says, "who believed that every computer right out of the box would be accessible for the blind."
From high school in Los Angeles (where she first met Flicka), to Oberlin, and beyond, Rubin has had an acclaimed singing career, appearing in such top concert venues as New York's Carnegie Hall and London's Wigmore Hall. She received high praise from critics, including a Anthony Tommasini review in The New York Times, describing her voice as having "earthy, rich, and poignant qualities."
Besides her singing career, she has just published a book, has traveled worldwide, and recently, with her partner, Rubin became co-founder and associate artistic director of Ohana Arts, a performing arts community school and festival in Hawaii.
The von Stade connection has held fast since the time when Rubin was student and "Flicka gave a master class, then always kept in touch, we sang together at benefits, and she sent me flowers when I made my opera debut, singing Cenerentola in Oberlin. Each time she helped me, Flicka asked me 'to do her a favor'," Rubin laughs, "and she taught me always to remember who you are and stay close to your family and community."
Flicka says of Rubin: "She is amazing. Combination of a beautiful voice, a great sense of music, and the most wonderful spirit of generosity. What is miraculous is her light which is all the more amazing as she's lived in darkness."
A centerpiece of the concert is Bruce Adolph's song cycle written on Rubin's poem, Do You Dream in Color? The composer met the singer in Switzerland where they both participated in the Lucerne International Human Rights Forum.
The concert, part of the series created by Cantor Roslyn Barak, also includes songs by Liszt, Faurè, Sibelius, Jennifer Taira; and arias by Meyerbeer and Gershwin.
Rubin's book is also entitled Do You Dream in Color?, with the subtitle "Insights from a Girl Without Sight," published by Seven Stories Press. Poem, book, and Rubin's activity all focus on her intent "to share with people in very visceral way that I — along with everybody — can have a rich life."
In her poem, she describes the way she experiences colors when creating jewelry:
"There are perfectly smooth round pearls in a midnight blue.
There are raw nuggets of turquoise
whose veins of brown running through each stone
can be detected by my fingers as I feel the beautiful imperfections.
Then my fingers find the stick pearls in an iridescent bronze and green."
Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar is the product of an extraordinary group of artists. It's coming to San Francisco in an by Opera Parallèle production, Feb. 15-17, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (OK, call it "Lam Research Theater").
The opera combining singing, visual arts, and flamenco to portray the struggle of Federico Garcia Lorca against Spain's fascist regime in the 1930s has a brilliant libretto by David Henry Hwang. Under Nicole Paiement's music direction and Brian Staubenfiel's stage direction (with scenic and lighting designer Matthew Antaky and video artist Austin Forbord), the production will feature singers Lisa Chavez, Marnie Breckenridge and Maya Kherani, along with La Tania and her flamenco dancers.
Nine years ago, I attended the West Coast premiere with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Disney Hall, and the memories are still fresh:
... you catch your breath during the opening bars and, seemingly, hold it for 65 minutes. The audience did even better, sitting silently after the music ended, before exploding in a 10-minute ovation.
Ainadamar is the Moorish "fountain of youth" near Granada, where Federico Garcia Lorca and other civilians were executed without a trial. This was in 1936, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Unlike another recent work about the poet, Nilo Cruz's complex, lengthy Lorca in a Green Dress, the opera doesn't deal with Lorca's psychological/political history, but presents characters and relationships and, above all, moves the listener. The music has many sources — from flamenco to early, lush Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss at maximum intensity — but Ainadamar is all of one piece and it's all Golijov's.
The 2003 work, premiered at Tanglewood last fall, is a glorious contribution to the genre of musical theater. Its simple melodrama, gripping story-telling, sense of sorrow, tragic conclusion leading to true catharsis put it in the same class with Sondheim's Passion. (Sondheim's opera is called a musical, while Ainadamar is presented as an opera, although it's clearly a zarzuela. Categories don't matter; whatever makes you hold your breath does.)
The answer is easy here because you see the photo, but if you received an unidentified MP3 from the album, you'd say Piaf or Cotillard. Shockingly, a world-famous mezzo and friend of Patricia Racette since her far-away Merola days said, apparently frustrated, "I don't have a clue!"
Patricia Racette: Diva on Detour, soon to be released, but already available for preorder, is both obvious and a big surprise. It reveals the soprano in all her vocal splendor, but in a repertoire wholly different from how we know her.
And, while she sings French chansons, Broadway hits, and cabaret standards, there is none of the awkwardness, the inappropriate sound of "stars of opera sing musicals," à la the 1998 West Side Story (Te Kanawa! Carreras! Troyanos! Horne!).
Harold Arlen, George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, and others get regal, but unpretentious treatment in Diva on Detour.
Produced by Glen Roven, with Craig Terry's occasional overloud piano accompaniment, this live recording places a defining Cio-Cio-San, Kát'a, Violetta, Jenufa, Emmeline for our times in a cabaret environment where she sings as if she never stopped perching on a barstool in a smoke-filled room.
It's not completely unexpected; an early stage of her career is clearly at play here for this alumna of the University of North Texas, where Racette originally enrolled to study jazz.
The result is well described in Bill Madison's blog:
[This is] a CD that exuberantly proclaims Racette’s mastery of an altogether different idiom. While she brings to bear certain assets of concert singing — particularly extended range and breath control that permits her to hold notes far longer than the average chantoozy — she gives herself over freely to the demands of the art form, exploiting a gutsy chest voice, alert attention to rhythm, and expressive devotion to language. She manages Billie Holiday’s trademark, singing on consonants, and she belts as if she was born to do nothing else.
Looking over the playlist of pop standards, almost all of which are associated with legendary stars of the past, you admire not only Racette’s good taste but also her courage. How the hell does any "diva on detour" open her act with a medley of Judy Garland numbers? Well, it takes her about less than two bars to dispel any doubts you may have, and once she’s got you in her grasp, she’s not letting you go.
Even in a set of Piaf numbers, she catches exactly the right style. She doesn’t imitate so much as invoke the Little Sparrow’s gargles and growls, her moans and roar, not to mention her flawless French diction. The only time she isn’t completely convincing is, paradoxically, a rendition of "La Vie en rose" delivered in what we will call her Opera Voice: though you can’t deny her emotional connection, the song becomes altogether too plummy. It’s nowhere near as bad as Renata Scotto’s legendary "Over the Rainbow," but nevertheless it’s a mistake she won’t make twice in the course of this album.
From chamber music in royal palaces to symphony and opera in large contemporary halls, music has always been a social function.
A large and growing local group is successfully combining internet social media and the natural proclivity of music fans to get together.
Classical Music Friends of the Bay Area is a branch of the international Meetup.com, which helps people find others who share their interest.
Meetup has more than 8 million members in 100 countries, involved in thousands of subjects and causes. A basic difference between it and other internet groups is the emphasis on regularly meeting face-to-face, not just online.
Erika Kim, an East Bay high school teacher, started Music Friends two years ago, and membership is now over 500. Activities include attending classical music events together, socializing before and sometimes after concerts; meeting once a month for a jam by members who are amateur musicians; and attending monthly seminars and discussions.
Examples of ongoing Music Friends discussion groups are music salons, run by music critic (and contributor to SFCV) Jeff Dunn, and lectures series, the current one on "The History of Western Music," by John Smalley, a musicologist, formerly a professor at Columbia University.
Dunn's salons generally fall in three rotating categories, all followed by discussions: viewing a biographical film or a video or film of an opera, and listening to several performances of the same work by different performers. The jams take place in a senior center in Berkeley, where residents also attend and even participate in music-making.
Kim says the group is "very dynamic in that you get to do just about anything that has to do with our classical music theme and friendship."
Another local meetup group focusing on classical music is Bay Area Classical Music Meetup, run by Robert Friedman, a concert producer. It has about 1,700 members, and it concentrates almost exclusively on attending concerts, many of which are produced by Friedman. Kim had been a co-organizer of Friedman's group, but she decided to start her own group so she could have greater flexibility of offerings.
Music Friends fees — charged in addition to admission prices to commercial events — are very modest: $3 per event or $24 a year, which allows attendance to all activities. Examples of activities: casual drop-in at the Revolution Café, 3248 22nd St., S.F. (8 p.m. every Monday in January), and the monthly concert/party/jam, Redwood Gardens, 2951 Derby St., Berkeley (4 p.m. Jan. 26).
Avedis Chamber Music Series celebrates its 28th season with fourm Sunday afternoon concerts in the Legion of Honor in San Francisco — Jan. 20, Feb. 10, March 17, and April 28. Entry to the museum is included with concert tickets, which range from $16 to $22.
On the program: Bach, Vivaldi, Ravel, Poulenc, and more, performed by some of Bay Area's prominent musicians. Among Avedis' unusual offerings: Andreas Jakob Romberg's Quintet in D Major, Op. 41 No. 2; André Jolivet's Petite Suite; Jean-Michel Damase's Quintet; Louise Farrenc's Sextet in C Minor, Op. 40; Leland Cossart's Suite, Op. 19; and Jean Françaix's Hommage à l’ami Papageno.
Founded by flutist Alexandra Hawley in 1985 as a tribute to the late pianist Robert Avedis Hagopian (Avedis means "good news" in Armenian), the ensemble's attraction for participants seems irresistible.
On this season alone, the amazing lineup includes SFS pianist Robin Sutherland, pianist and violist Paul Hersh, S.F. Ballet Orchestra concertmaster Roy Malan, and Stanford Woodwind Quintet members Hawley, oboist James Matheson, clarinetist Mark Brandenburg, hornist Lawrence Ragent, and bassoonist Rufus Olivier.
Ives Quartet members violinist/violist Susan Freier and cellist Stephen Harrison are joined by harpist Emily Laurance, soprano Shawnette Sulker, tenor Michael Dailey, baritone Daniel Cilli, flutist Beverly Radin, oboist Peter Lemberg, clarinetist Gregory Dufford, and hornist Eric Achen.
Michael Tilson Thomas was featured on Saturday's Praire Home Companion, when Garrison Keillor's show was broadcast from the War Memorial Opera House.
MTT sang Thomashefsky-era pop songs, reminisced about his Yiddish-theater great grandparents, and played the Schumann Arabeske in C Major, Op. 18.
Listen to his delightful uptempo renditions of "Tutankhamun," accompanied by the Shoe Band, and "Who Do You Suppose Went and Married My Sister? Thomashefsky!"
Keillor's program-opening tribute to San Francisco to the tune of "O mio babbino caro" was hilarious.
BBC Radio 3 begins its "Verdi 200" celebration this week, broadcasting all Verdi operas. The programs start at 6:30 p.m. London/10:30 a.m. Pacific time. From this week's schedule:
- Monday, I Lombardi: Roberto Abbado-Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; Dimitra Theodossiou, Ramón Vargas, Erwin Schrott (this and all recording should remain available for a while)
- Tuesday, I Vespri Siciliani: Gianandrea Noseda-Vienna State Opera; Gregory Kunde, Angela Meade, Gabriele Viviani
- Thursday, Simon Boccanegra: Daniel Barenboim-La Scala; Plácido Domingo, Anja Harteros, Fabio Sartori, Ferruccio Furlanetto
- On Saturday, BBC-3 will carry the live Metropolitan Opera's live broadcast of Il trovatore, conducted by Daniele Callegari, and featuring Patricia Racette, Marco Berti, Alexey Markov, and Stephanie Blythe.
Another David Denby gem in The New Yorker blasts the movie version to hell and beyond:
I came to the material fresh, without preconception, and throughout the entire hundred and fifty-seven minutes I sat cowering in my seat, lost in shame and chagrin. This movie is not just bad ('bombast,' as Anthony Lane characterized it in a wonderful review in the current issue of the magazine). It’s terrible; it’s dreadful. Overbearing, pretentious, madly repetitive.
I was doubly embarrassed because all around me, in a very large theatre, people were sitting rapt, awed, absolutely silent, only to burst into applause after some of the numbers, and I couldn’t help wondering what in the world had happened to the taste of my countrymen — the Americans (Americans!) who created and loved almost all the greatest musicals ever made.
Didn’t any of my neighbors notice how absurdly gloomy and dolorous the story was? How the dominant blue-gray coloring was like a pall hanging over the material? How the absence of dancing concentrated all the audience’s pleasure on the threadbare songs? How tiresome a reverse fashion show the movie provided in rags, carbuncles, gimpy legs, and bad teeth? How awkward the staging was? How strange to have actors singing right into the camera, a normally benign recording instrument, which seems, in scene after scene, bent on performing a tonsillectomy?"
And of the music:
The music is juvenile stuff — tonic-dominant, without harmonic richness or surprise. Listen to any score by Richard Rodgers or Leonard Bernstein or Fritz Loewe if you want to hear genuine melodic invention. I was so upset by the banality of the music that I felt like hiring a hall and staging a nationalist rally.
My fellow-countrymen, we are the people of Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin! Cole Porter and George Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Burton Lane! We taught the world what popular melody was! What rhythmic inventiveness was! Let us unite to overthrow the banality of these French hacks!" (And the British hacks, too, for that matter.) Alas, the hall is filled with people weeping over Les Mis.
- Wed May 29, 2013 8:00pm
- Sat June 1, 2013 8:00pm
- Wed June 5, 2013 (All day)
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