Music News: Nov. 20, 2012
Cal Performances is hosting an extraordinary meeting of El Sistema originators, leaders, practitioners — and world-renown alumni of the program.
It is a two-day conference on music education, called "Reaching for the Stars," held in conjunction with the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Orchestra Residency of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, Nov. 28-29.
Dudamel, a product of El Sistema and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is Musical America's 2013 Musician of the Year, for his "charisma, tireless advocacy for music education, and expressive music-making." He is honored alongside his mentor, El Sistema's founder José Antonio Abreu, named 2013 Educator of the Year.
Dudamel, Abreu, Gillian Moore of London's Southbank Centre, Leni Boorstin of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Stanford Thompson of Philadelphia's Play on Philly, and the hosting Cal Performances Director Matías Tarnopolsky are participating in the conference. Tickets are priced at only $15 per day, and the event is open to the public.
"For the children that we work with, music is practically the only way to a dignified social destiny," says Abreu. "Poverty means loneliness, sadness, anonymity. An orchestra means joy, motivation, teamwork, the aspiration to success."
"During this residency we will discover for ourselves, through our conference on music education, the essential nature of music education and how it transforms lives," says Tarnopolsky.
El Sistema has spread around the world. But among local projects created in the same spirit even before the Venezuelan method began to spread was the Young Musicians Program, founded in 1968.
Its mission has been "to identify musically gifted students who cannot afford the specialized training essential for the development of their innate abilities, and to provide them with a comprehensive music education, academic reinforcement, and personal guidance, on a full scholarship basis."
Frederica von Stade is among major YMP supporters, participating also in numerous similar education programs, such as Oakland's St. Martin de Porres.
In the photo shown here of Flicka at a San Francisco Performances presentation of the Young Musicians Program last year, participants are: mezzo Therese Chaix, now a sophomore at Manhattan School of Music; tenor Adam Green, now a sophomore at University of the Pacific and a voice major, he also plays viola in the orchestra and is its librarian; soprano Christabel Nunoo, now a freshman voice major at the University of Michigan; soprano Priscillia Alva, now a freshman in high school, sang also in Martin Katz's masterclass for YMP last summer and "blew him away," according to Katz.
The Dudamel/Bolivar concert program is a departure from the European orchestral canon, showcasing works from Latin America by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chávez, Julián Orbón, Silvestre Revueltas, Esteban Benzecry, and Antonio Estévez.
One of the greatest singers' farm teams anywhere — San Francisco Opera's Merola Program and Adler Fellowship — produced an extraordinary number of accomplishments last week.
- Melody Moore (Merola 2005; Adler 2006-2007) made her debut in the title role of Tosca in San Francisco, stepping in for the indisposed Angela Gheorghiu (more about that below).
- Leah Crocetto (2008; 2009-2011) received nine curtain calls in Venice's fabled La Fenice, in her debut as Desdemona, in Verdi's Otello.
- The three leading roles in San Francisco Opera's second cast of Tosca are all program alumni: Patricia Racette (1988; 1989-1990) as Tosca, Brian Jagde (2009; 2011-2012) as Cavaradossi, and Mark Delavan (1985; 1986-1987) as Scarpia. The stage director is Jose Maria Condemi (1999-2000; 2001).
- Elza van den Heever (2003-2004; 2005-2007), a member of the Frankfurt Opera, sings leading roles there in Verdi's Sicilian Vespers, Mozart's Idomeneo, and Donizetti's Maria Stuarda.
- In the Donizetti opera in Frankfurt, van den Heever sang Elizabeth, with David Lomelí (2008; 2009-2010) as George Talbot. Karen Ames, publicist for both singers, attended the Nov. 14 premiere, and says: "The performances were magnificent. Things bode very well for Elza's Met debut on Dec. 31 in the role."
Much has been written about Moore's dramatic Tosca debut on Thursday, a career-making event for a singer already well on her way to fame, but what was it like to her? She wrote to friends and fans:
I am blogging today and will post that blog after I gather together what remaining brain cells I have left. I had NEVER rehearsed with orchestra, I had run through staging ONCE and got about 10 minutes warning. Here's to adrenaline and preparation and to a mind that deals very well with splitting apart and still functioning. Thank you to every single person who has indicated or flatly told me that I cannot do this ... and thank you to doubt. You have all taught me how to fly.
She wrote on the following day:
I have sat here steeped in adrenaline for hours and hours and also steeped in gratitude. I want to throw out a few names and thoughts as they come. I think a night like last night demands gratitude at an almost meditative level. I could not be here without two very vocally gifted parents. I could not be here without every single high school, college, and grad school professor who saw more in me than I saw in myself and who pushed me.
I could not have done this last night without the direct support of the S.F. Merola/Adler Young Artist Program and without the unwavering belief of Sheri Greenawald and Mark Morash. I could not be here if David Gockley, our general director, had not asked to "hear me again" during an audition. I would not be here if Gregory Henkel, our artistic administrative director did not believe in me ... I thank the wig and make-up department, especially Gerd M Mairandres, for teaming together to get me ready in record time. I thank musical staff John Churchwell and assistant conductor Giuseppe Finzi for walking through cues and tempi with me.
Jim Meredith's Sonos Handbell Ensemble leaves on Dec. 6 for its seventh tour of Japan. The itinerary is for 18 days, includes giving nine concerts in major venues, "all over the Honshu and Kyushu islands from Morioka in the north to Fukuoka in the south," says Meredith.
Of particular interest is our concert in Sendai, a city almost completely destroyed by the recent tsunami. We played there five years ago and it seems the city concert hall is still standing. It will be a deeply moving experience for us to see most of what we remember no longer there. On that last trip there was an earthquake in the middle of the night which was strong enough to awaken us in our hotel.
This Christmas concert tour will repeat traditional repertoire for the holidays, but Sonos will also feature new works written by Meredith. "Sonics" pays tribute to the Japanese taiko drumming tradition:
Two players are seated on the floor, each having a semicircle of bells around them playing with mallets. Standing behind them in two lines are the other 10 players who move on the stage into different positions throughout the piece.
The second piece, Smirti, is for handbells, handchimes, and solo cellist Emil Miland, who is on the tour. The title means "remembrance" in Sanskrit; it is a tribute to the suffering of the people of Japan during recent disasters. Sonos will also perform Japanese music, says Meredith:
We love traditional Japanese music and also music composed by Japanese composers who, after the Meiji Restoration went to Europe to study western traditions. In addition to Hamabe no Uta, the Sonos Quartet will play an arrangement of Sakura in the lobby during intermission and, if the audience claps enough for us to play encores, we might play Aka ton-bo or Sen no Kaze.
Handbell sets used by Sonos can range from a single octave (12 or 13 bells) up to seven octaves, though most ensembles perform on five octaves, or 61 bells. Skilled handbell musicians can play as many as six bells at one time or in quick succession. Sonos performs on four and a half octaves of Malmarks, an octave of bass Schulmerichs, five octaves of Malmark handchimes, and five octaves of English-made Whitechapel handbells, as well as a variety of other percussion instruments.
While Sonos (see item above) and the San Francisco Symphony (item below) are touring in Asia, the San Francisco Ballet was performing in Washington, D.C. in a six-night stand at Kennedy Center, concluding on Sunday.
Sarah Kaufman's review in The Washington Post was pretty much a rave, including kudos for the company
... offering a beautifully persuasive defense of the mixed bill — on artistic merits. Which is, after all, the argument that looks best onstage.
More than any single work, what stood out on this program was breadth and the depth of talent. The evening did not rest on the strengths of a single ballerina and a few soloists, as a full-length production might. Instead, here was the proof of a great artistic organization: range and ability.
In four vastly different pieces, we saw dancers of all ranks fill the stage with terrific momentum, with speed, energy, a refined finish to the steps and — even better — a shared esthetic. With its range of backgrounds and nationalities, the San Francisco Ballet is nonetheless cohesive. Its members are well rehearsed, technically polished, united even in their lean, ribbony physicality.
Then there was the spread of dance expression on view. None of the four works was familiar. Three were Washington premieres: Trio, by artistic director and principal choreographer Helgi Tomasson; RAkU, by choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokhov; and Number Nine, by Christopher Wheeldon. All three were created last year. [The fourth piece was Frederick Ashton's Voices of Spring.]
The same reviewer was less complimentary about the company's Romeo and Juliet, missing the passion natural to the work, a characteristic previously pointed out in local reviews:
This production, choreographed by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, is aesthetically of a whole. It is tasteful, visually handsome and civilized in manner from start to finish. (The hookers are emphatic but never vulgar.) The dancing was clean, crisp. In the leading couple, Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada, it was fully elegant. All the ballet lacked was dramatic vibrancy, the kind that draws you deeply into the story not merely as an admirer of the mechanics but as a participant in its emotional unrest.
Of course, that’s hard to do when there is little emotional unrest.
Throughout the ballet, one senses Tomasson’s ambivalence to Shakespearean passions. Clearly, he believes in beauty. This is everywhere in evidence: in the attention to details of technique and in the spaciousness of the choreography. The stage picture is never messy.
An eye for beauty is clear in Tomasson’s opening-night choice of Kochetkova as Juliet. The Moscow-born, Bolshoi-trained dancer possesses exquisitely shaped legs and feet and an overall quality of physical lightness. But in this role, one of the most glamorous in the ballerina catalogue and one that typically oozes with expressive possibilities, she stayed safely on the surface.
Kochetkova’s interpretive qualities were limited in a way that suggested she hasn’t been coached to develop them. She can flick her leg high up to the back, like the spreading of a great wing — but then you see that no, it’s not a symbol of flight, it’s just a shape. There is no reciprocal freedom in the rest of her body, no ripple of response in her waist or shoulders. She gives the impression of having dutifully learned when to show expression, rather than drawing on internal, spontaneous impulses. Her interpretation seems to begin and end with what she has been told to do.
The orchestra's Asian tour will soon end in Japan, but last weekend, it was time for Shanghai and the San Fracnisco Symphony debut in Beijing. In Shanghai, several musicians conducted master classes at the conservatory in addition to performance and sightseeing, then it was time for the capital. SFS Public Relations Director Oliver Theil writes:
It is a city of extremes, from the picturesque Forbidden City, harking back to Ming Dynasty emperors, to the giant portrait of Chairman Mao portrait overlooking Tiananmen square and its own and more recent ominous history. We arrived as the Communist Party Congress has just anointed a new leader, Xi Jinping.
Aside from much international media coverage about the new regime, the timing has meant very high security measures and spotty internet connections for the usually well-connected orchestra, with much access to our usual media blocked, with severe restrictions on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and anything Google. Television and phone calls home that mentioned the transfer of power were mysteriously cut out.
But one thing censors and filters cannot block or, at least should not block, is great music. Chinese audiences and their enjoyment of western classical music is growing and a visible example of this commitment is the very impressive National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, or as it is affectionately called, "the Egg." The building is as impressive from the outside as the inside. With its gleaming curved shell, its wide open lobbies and warm and welcoming interior, the NCPA is a stunning structure.
After the morning of master classses, MTT and SFS musicians took part in the Asia Society's U.S./China Forum on the Arts and Culture, aimed at cultural exchange. The concert included members of the SFS, Beijing Central Conservatory, tour soloist Yuja Wang, Chinese artists performing on traditional instruments such as the guqin and sheng, the SFS Jazz ensemble, and friend of the SFS, writer Amy Tan.
The concert itself was a triumph. Anticipation for the concert had been building steadily, the concert was sold out and in attendance were U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke and his wife Mona, China Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cui Tiankai, and San Francisco's First Lady, Anita Lee.
For tour soloist and Beijing native Yuja Wang, it was a homecoming, her parents in attendance at the NCPA. After the concert, SFS President John Goldman hosted a dinner for the orchestra and dignitaries in attendance near the Forbidden City.
A memorial service in honor of Susan Rose, community leader and important supporter of the arts in Alameda County, will be held at 3 p.m., Nov. 24, at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts at Ohlone College, 43600 Mission Boulevard in Fremont.
David Sloss, recently ousted as music director, along with Rose as general manager, will conduct the Fremont Symphony, according to the family's wishes.
A key supporter of the Fremont Symphony since its founding in 1963, Rose served variously as board member, treasurer, secretary, president, and general manager. She also chaired both the Alameda County Arts Commission and the county's Public Art Advisory Committee. In 2009, she received an Arts Leadership Award from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.
She died of Lou Gehrig's disease, at age 72. The family suggests donations in her memory to be made to the Fremont Symphony Orchestra, P. O. Box 104, Fremont, CA 94537.
Apropos of President Obama's visit to Burma/Myanmar and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week, The Los Angeles Times reports on the important role of her piano tuner to get through years of home arrest:
Ko Paul had been warned that the old Yamaha piano in the upstairs sitting room of the dilapidated lakeside mansion was in bad shape.
Tropical climates aren't great for pianos. Heat warps their sound boxes, humidity swells their pin blocks, reducing string tension, and termites savor an easy meal. But this one was worse than the piano tuner expected that day in 2009.
"Pretty much everything had to be changed, the pins, the dampers, all the hammers," he said in a coffee shop in Yangon. "It was pretty bad off."
Ko Paul spent a week scrounging for low-quality Chinese replacement parts with Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, under crippling economic sanctions, they were the best he could find and patched the Yamaha together before tuning it. As he worked, he chatted with the slight woman in her 60s who owned the piano.
It was Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who had been forced to spend years in the heavily guarded mansion under house arrest.
"She wanted me to tell young Burmese not to be afraid, don't live in fear, things will change," he recalled. "And they have."
Ko Paul's contribution was a small footnote to an epic struggle, keeping the old piano alive and lifting the spirits of a brave woman surrounded by hard men intent on breaking her will.
During Suu Kyi's decade and a half of isolation imposed by generals enraged by her opposition party's victory in a 1990 election, the piano had become a symbol of Myanmar's struggle for democracy. A few brave people reportedly slipped past the roadblocks around the mansion on University Avenue to try to hear it, and reassure themselves that she was still alive.
The piano was also on occasion the object of her frustration. In 2004, after hearing that her friend and Burmese poet U Tin Moe was also under house arrest, she reportedly banged it so hard that keys broke.
And in a 1997 interview, she told of bashing its pedals with such vigor in another moment of weakness that a string snapped. "I told you; I have a hot temper," she said to British journalist John Pilger.
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