Music News: Oct. 16, 2012
In a happily circular manner, Ballet San Jose's inaugural gala on Nov. 3 will have music by Symphony Silicon Valley. It is a benefit to create a live music fund for the company, and to take music and ballet classes into local elementary schools.
With the exception of a few large dance companies, such as San Francisco Ballet, dance is most often performed to recorded music for the simple reason that few have the budget for an orchestra or even a chamber ensemble. Ballet San Jose intends to bring back live music for its entire 2013 season.
The gala, in between dinner and a party, features the company's encore performance of Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 from the spring repertory season. Symphony Silicon Valley takes its place as resident orchestra for this performance, and the entire season to follow, under the baton of recently appointed Ballet San Jose Music Director George Daugherty.
Rachel Lee is the busy soloist for the Bruch concerto, in the second movement from Bach's Violin Concerto in G Minor, the music for the final movement of Stanton Welch's Clear, and Massenet's Meditation for Ashton's Thaïs Pas de Deux.
Soprano Kristin Clayton and the Golden Gate Boys Choir Master Singers perform Mozart's Lacrimosa; Clayton also sings "Doretta's Dream" from La Rondine. The finale of George Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes is staged by Elyse Borne.
Also on the program: the "Waltz of the Flowers" from Ballet San Jose's new production of The Nutcracker, with choreography by Karen Gabay; Lacrymosa by Edward Stierle, staged by Parrish Maynard; and the grand pas de deux from Petipa's Don Quixote, staged by Wes Chapman.
Celebration Polonaise features some 100 pre-professional students of BSJ School in a staging by school principal Dalia Rawson to the "Grand Polonaise" from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty.
The company is in the process of recovering from the crisis less than a year ago, following the ouster of founding director Dennis Nahat. The executive director is Stephanie Ziesel, Raymond Rodriguez is principal ballet master, and Wes Chapman the artistic consultant. Says Chapman of the gala:
I am very excited about this gala on so many different levels. First of all, this spectacular evening not only celebrates — and helps perpetuate — the return of a full, live orchestra to Ballet San Jose’s orchestra pit, but also the rebirth of this exceptional company as one of the Bay Area’s preeminent performing arts institutions, and one of America’s major ballet companies. I am also thrilled by the diversity of ballets, music, and performers to be spotlighted during the gala.
405 Shrader, the Haight's 34-seat concert hall, is located on the corner of Oak Street, just a block away from Golden Gate Park. Here is the inviting season for these free intimate recitals, all starting at the eminently civil hour of 7 p.m.
- Oct. 22: The Delphi Trio performs three American piano trios — Pierre Jalbert’s 1998 two movement piano trio ("Life Cycle" and "Agnus Dei"), Henry Cowell’s 1965 Piano Trio in Nine Short Movements, and Charles Ives 1911 Piano Trio.
- Oct. 26: Violist Don Ehrlich plays Bach unaccompanied Cello Suites Nos. 1, 2, and 3. (Recent scholarship suggests that these pieces were written for viola da spalla, rather than viola da gamba, thus an instrument more akin to the viola.)
- Nov. 2: Soprano Greta Feeney-Samuels and pianist Robert Mollicone perform George Crumb’s Apparition based on "Death Carol" from Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd; light sculptor Heather Carson and butoh dancer Michael Curran participate.
- Nov. 9: Violinist Petr Masek and pianist Ian Scarfe play the Copland Violin Sonata (1944), plus Gypsy music for the violin: Dvořák’s Sonatina, Vittorio Monti’s Csárdás, and Fritz Kreisler’s La gitana.
- Nov. 23, pianist Ellen Milenski plays the Copland Piano Fantasy (1957) and Samuel Barber's Excursions.
According to Michael Milenski, creator and overloard of 405 Shrader, aperitifs (yes) are offered at these concerts, there is no charge to attend a performance, "however often a hat is passed to benefit the artists." Reservations are required by e-mail to 405Shrader@gmail.com.
But in this universe, it is now Opera Parallèle — now that Artistic Director Nicole Paiement's adventurous organization has renamed itself. The organization is also expanding its operation to a full season.
Opera Parallèle begins 2013 with the Bay Area premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, Feb. 15, 16, and 17, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Soprano Marnie Breckenridge heads the cast as Margarita Xirgu; mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez is the poet and playwright Federico; the choreographer is La Tania.
On April 26, 27, and 28, the company presents the local premiere of Garth Sunderland’s re-orchestration of Leonard Bernstein’s 1952 Trouble in Tahiti "in a double bill" with Samuel Barber’s 1959 A Hand of Bridge at ZSpace. (The quotes around double bill, which is what the announcement calls the event, is in consideration of the fact that the Barber runs under 10 minutes; the Bernstein is about 40 minutes, so there may be an attempt here for a record-short double.)
The season closes June 7 at San Francisco Conservatory of Music with a public workshop reading of the company’s first commission, Dante De Silva’s Gesualdo, Prince of Madness.
During the fall, Opera Parallèle launches community engagement activities beginning with a return visit on Oct. 26 to the Friday Nights at the de Young program. The company's Hands-on Opera Program begins next month, with and at Drew School, with The Araboolies of Liberty Street on Nov. 2 and 3, at 7 p.m., free and open to the public. With music by Ronald Perera, libretto by Constance Congdon, the opera is based on Sam Swope's book about the neighborhood ruled by the mean couple, Gen. and Mrs. Pinch.
Opera Program interns, guided by Paiement and Stage Director Brian Staufenbiel work with Drew students on the production, with the participation of Maya Kherani (musical preparation), Brandon Hartnett (stage director), Ian Scarfe (piano), and McKenzie Camp (percussion).
The Maoris' permanent face and body markings look like tattoos, but they are ta-moko, the skin carved with uhi (chisels), rather than punctured as in tatau. The result is grooves in the skin, whereas a tattoo can have a smooth surface (and is removable, with a lot of trouble).
Why this dermatological pondering? One of the most (of many) striking visuals in Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick, now at the San Francisco Opera, is Jonathan Lemalu's Queequeg and his rich ta-moko.
The bass baritone is a New Zealand-born Samoan, of Maori descent, but those markings are not permanent. Otherwise, he may have a problem singing Scarpia or Escamillo, although this look for Wotan could be interesting.
What you see are temporary silicone tattoo transfers, created by Gerd Mairandres, SFO wig and makeup supervisor, and his team. The application process — with water, not chisels — takes about two hours, and lasts for two performances. Which means that you may bump into Lemalu one day in or around the Hayes Street Grill, ta-moko in place.
The SFO press department also reveals the secret of Ahab's peg leg that Jay Hunter Morris wears effortlessly, at least by the look of it. The peg leg is "created from a single piece of unpainted beech wood; Morris kneels into it and it is attached to his upper thigh with straps." What the audience sees is a believable peg leg and fine balance by Morris. What would opera be without the makeup and prop wizards?
Barbara Heroux, artistic director of Lamplighters Music Theatre will be stepping down from that position next spring, at the end of the company's 60th anniversary season. She has been a Lamplighters company member since 1974, with 13 of those years in a management role. In the announcement, Heroux said:
I’ll always be a Lamplighter — you don’t resign from your family — but it’s time for somebody else to take the reins, somebody with the passion and energy to take this wonderful company to its 70th anniversary and beyond.
Heroux will remain a stage director for the Lamplighters and other companies around the Bay Area, and continues as executive director of Volti, the San Francisco-based professional choir. As a singer and actress, she has received four Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle awards (one each as director and performer, two as playwright), as well as awards for Best Director and Best Production (Princess Ida) at the 1995 International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton, England.
On the Lamplighters' schedule: Oct. 21, Herbst Theatre, 60th anniversary gala and auction. Princess Ida — Jan. 25-27, Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek; Feb. 1-3, SF Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Feb. 9-10, Bankhead Theater, Livermore; and Feb. 16-17, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
For its 13th season of free concerts, the Mill Valley Philharmonic goes Nordic and, as usual, remains remarkably new(ish) and unusual in programming.
At the Nov. 9-11 concerts, Music Director Laurie Cohen conducts works from Finland (Sibelius' Symphony No. 6 and Finlandia), Estonia (Arvo Pärt's Fratres for Violin, Strings, and Percussion), Norway (Johan Svendsen's Romance for Violin and Orchestra), and Denmark (Vagn Holmboe's To the Seagulls and Cormorants).
Iceland is represented by violin soloist Hrabba Atladottir, well-known in the Bay Area, where she served on the faculty of both UC Berkeley and UC Davis, and was a part of the Empyrean Ensemble.
Pärt’s Fratres was featured in the film There will be Blood. The two works that are probably unfamiliar to audiences here are by Holmboe (1909–1996) and Svendsen (1840–1911). The former is the most important Danish symphonist after Carl Nielsen, known for his neoclassical style, and great productivity: 370 works, including 13 symphonies.
Svendsen was a close friend of both Wagner and Grieg, and achieved fame for his orchestration. Romance remains his best-known work, while his symphonies are rarely performed outside of his country, where his Norwegian Rhapsodies are also popular.
All concerts — at Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church on Nov. 9-10, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center on Nov. 11 — are free, but the first two are walk-ins. Advance free ticket reservations are required for the JCC.
"A new opera titled Usher House will have its stage premiere at Welsh National Opera in 2014. There is just one surprising factor: The composer is Gordon Getty, 77-year-old philanthropist, venture capitalist and son of oil tycoon J Paul Getty," writes Andrew Clark in the The Financial Times.
David Pountney, WNO’s chief executive and artistic director, announced on Friday that in return for performing Usher House the Cardiff-based company would receive a Getty donation of $2 million — more than enough to fund several other productions. For the Californian benefactor the deal represents a passport to respectability as a composer. For Pountney it is a huge risk. It suggests that a state-subsidised ensemble can be "bought" by any rich amateur who dangles a pile of money in front of it.
A graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Getty is a long-time opera aficionado. His music, bland and inoffensive, is seldom performed, but you can hear it on Getty-funded recordings by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and the Russian National Orchestra. Unlike WNO, both rely on private finance.
Getty’s one-act opera, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, has been slotted into WNO’s new "British premieres" series alongside Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream and Richard Ayres' Peter Pan. After staging Usher House in Cardiff, Pountney will take his production to San Francisco, Getty’s home city.
If that's a reference to the San Francisco Opera, there has been no announcement yet from the company. Another new Usher House opera, by Philip Glass, is scheduled at Long Beach Opera in January.
I have heard several bits and pieces of Usher over the years, and it's definitely Getty's best large-scale work (lieder is his forte), much more evolved than Plump Jack, which also had numerous sponsored performances. Dramatically, the ballet version of Usher House was not a happy experience in Napa, with "Eddie Poe" and his discombobulations interfering with the enjoyment of the music.
With the single exception of Jerry Springer: The Opera/,(which, true story, I saw in Edinburgh the same day as Parsifal), I never met a rock musical I liked. Then there was Saturday night, and San Francisco Playhouse's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
It is hilarious and thought-provoking; an engrossing, clever musical, and it features a cast of a dozen incredible human (are they?) dynamos. A great plus: The amplification doesn't cause internal bleeding (thank you, sound designer Brendan Aanes).
I have always been partial to little S.F. Playhouse, which has renamed itself "San Francisco Playhouse" (see the difference?), and is not so small anymore. Leaving its 99-seat hole in the wall on Sutter Street, where it has been performing miracles for a decade, the Playhouse opened its 10th season in a new home on Post Street, the former Theater on the Square.
What was a 700-seat theater is now the 200-seat Walter Casper Teufel Jr. Auditorium, named in honor of the bequest from the family of Teufel, who died this year. Where have the 500 seats gone? Mostly to enlarge the stage, which now seems as deep as the downstairs seating area.
Opening the theater and the anniversary season: Michael Friedman's apotheosis/roast of Jackson, with book by Alex Timbers. It is a damn funny rock musical.
Your reporter, a former American Studies major, didn't know half of the Jackson story presented here, and that doesn't even include mostly delicious anachronistic bits. So, discounting the persistent "frank language," this is a rock musical that's also highly educational.
The story of the seventh President (1767–1845) verges on the improbable. Using ridiculously small armies, Jackson conquered British, Spanish and Native American forces, expanding the U.S. territory more than anyone else.
"Old Hickory" founded the Democratic Party and gave his name to Jacksonian Democracy, empowering common citizens over the Founders' aristocracy. He also supported slavery and was responsible for the wholesale genocide of Indian tribes.
How do you make a musical out of that? Not very carefully: BBAJ is robust, profane, bold, edgy, and everything goes. The way it works and the "dare we laugh?" audience reaction are similar to Jerry Springer: The Opera. Jon Tracy's direction is a seamless and faultless.
On the huge stage, with Nina Ball's grand and yet simple set design, the dozen actor-singer-dancers romp nonstop, exhausting only the viewers, not themselves.
Ashkon Davaran is terrific as Jackson, a larger-than-life figure, but not overdoing it. He is the only one in the cast portraying only one character; the others do double, triple duty or more.
The busiest, most forceful performances belong to El Beh (who acts, sings, dances, plays the cello, and makes "10 Little Indians" a song to remember), Safiya Fredericks (whose ensemble work is a bonus to her Henry Clay and Black Fox), and Michael Barrett Austin, whose Martin Van Buren is a Three-Stooges-in-One.
Ann Hopkins is the Storyteller; explaining, illustrating, getting hurt by characters from the past, and eventually killed, but that's not the end of her! Musical leadership belongs to Jonathan Fadner, the bandleader. William Elsman's John C. Calhoun, Lucas Hatton's James Monroe, Olive Mitra's John Quincy Adams, and — in a surprisingly lyrical way — Angel Burgess' Rachel Jackson all shine.
However discreetly Stage Manager Maggie Koch moves large objects and makes props and costumes appear/disappear, her contribution is obvious and laudable.
Read up on Jackson, go to San Francisco Playhouse, and then read some more. A remarkable historic figure, outstanding theater.
Responding to the item in last week's column about the Las Vegas Philharmonic, publicist Jennifer Scott writes:
We are far from blue here as we head into our next season, currently searching for a new music director. We have engaged a fantastic group of guest conductors for the coming season — opening Oct. 20 — and begin our first full season in the new Reynolds Hall at Smith Center.
Nevada Ballet Theatre has engaged its largest orchestra ever, featuring musicians from the Las Vegas Phil for its performances of Balanchine's Jewels, bucking the national trend of ballet companies nixing live music. [See top item about similar good news from San Jose.]
The 2012-13 season features five Masterworks Series concerts and four Pops Series concerts. Conductors engaged for the former are Andrew Grams, Oct. 20; Case Scaglione, Nov. 17; Alastair Willis, Jan. 12; Daniel Meyer, April 6; and David Lockington, May 4.
Pops Series conductors are Taras Krysa, Nov. 3; Robert Bernhardt, Dec. 8; Steven Jarvi, Feb. 16; and Randall Craig Fleischer, March 9. Krysa will also conduct the orchestra’s eight youth concerts.
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