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IN Music News THIS WEEK:
March 16, 2004

Bronfman Master Class

Young Opera for All Ages

Encore for Okulitch

Conductor of Machinelike Precision

Cleveland in High Gear

There's Gold in Them Thar Pas de Deux

Even in Canada . . .

Where JCC and CMP Meet

Cypress School Programs

Davies: Court Honor for a Rebel

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By Janos Gereben

Send in the Cellists . . . Don't Bother, They're Here

The date on Friday's San Francisco State concert in Knuth Hall was correct: March 12, 2004, but the event description puzzling. "Celebrating Laszlo Varga on the occasion of his 75th birthday" seemed so . . . familiar. Your intrepid reporter approached the man himself, asking if he might have had a 75th birthday before. Yes, Varga replied, with a straight face "at least four times." In fact, he will turn 80 on Dec. 13. The cellist Sandy Wilson, one of Varga's successors at SFSU and in charge of the event, acknowledged the misinformation, but shed no light on its source.

The Berkeley Symphony will honor Varga at tonight's subcription concert, titled "21st Century Cellos," with the Carter concerto (Judiyaba, soloist); the world premiere of Karen Tanaka's concerto, with Joan Jeanrenaud; and Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Matt Haimovitz. Varga was one of Berkeley Symphony music director Kent Nagano's teachers in the early '70s. Yet another cellist of note, Janos Starker, is expected to attend the concert.


Laszlo Varga

Celebrating Varga got a good start Friday, cello cases littering the scene inside and outside Knuth Hall. It was here, at SFSU, that Varga served as a triple-threat professor (cello, conducting and chamber music) for a quarter century, until his retirement in 1988, remaining professor emeritus, even after moving to Sarasota, Florida. Varga also became the mainstay of the school's famed Morrison Artists Series, running it for 16 years, the third in a line of Hungaro-Franciscan musicians, after violist Ferenc Molnar and conductor Andor Toth. At his 75th/79th birthday celebration, before giving a master class, Varga listened to three cello ensembles of students taught by his own students and colleagues.

A delegation of pint-sized cellists from Berkeley's Crowden School dazzled with Laurence Rosenthal's virtuosic On the Road. Fifth- and sixth-graders represented the best of teaching efforts by such cellists as Millie Rosner (whose student, Jeremiah Campbell, 14, later performed the whole of Prokofiev's devilish Sinfonia Concertante at the master class), Sergei Riabchenko, Elisabeth Reed, and David Kadarauch.

Wilson sat in with an SFSU cello ensemble, playing Debussy, arranged by Varga for strings. Besides four of Wilson's students, there was one of Irene Sharp, an ASQ Chamber Music Program participant, Cliff Thrasher, and a lonely string bass student, Justin Nishioka. From the SF Conservatory of Music, Jean-Michel Fonteneau participated in the concert, along with six of his cello students and two of Sadao Harada, playing music by Fauré, Mendelssohn, and David Matheson, arranged for strings by Colin Hampton.

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Bronfman Master Class

Next in the series of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's celebrity master classes is by pianist Yefim Bronfman at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, April 2, in Hellman Hall. Yes, it's in the morning; after all, this is a school. But if you can get away and, especially, if you haven't experienced these most enjoyable events, check for information on www.sfcm.org.

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Young Opera for All Ages

Cowell Theater, in Fort Mason, is the venue for upcoming opera productions by both the Conservatory Opera Theater and the San Francisco Opera Center. The Conservatory presents a double-bill of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and Menotti's The Old Maid and the Thief, April 1-4. See www.sfcm.org. Adler Fellows of the Opera Center will perform Thomas Pasatieri's The Seagull, April 23 - May 2. Opera fans who attended Sunday's Schubert-Kern Schwabacher Recital, produced by Steven Blier (see review elsewhere in this edition), will want to hear that event's exciting quartet in Cowell. Besides Jane Archibald, Katherine Rohrer, Thomas Glenn and Joshua Bloom, Lucas Meachem, Nikki Einfeld and Ricardo Herrera will sing in the cast.

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Encore for Okulitch

Having just chronicled former Merola Program participant Daniel Okulitch's quick rise to the title role of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, we get word of the young singer winning one of the six top awards in the George London Foundation Competition in New York. That means glory, opportunity (a recital in Weill Hall on April 14), and a $7,500 prize.

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Conductor of Machinelike Precision

QRIO, a humanoid robot developed by Sony, has conducted the Tokyo Philharmonic in the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The machine, at the ripe old age (for robots) of four years, uses artificial intelligence to walk, dance, play golf, recognize faces and voices, and engage in conversations. He (it?) exhibited his power of speech at the beginning of the rehearsal, saying to 70 orchestra players: "I'm feeling nervous." Now there is something no human maestro is ever likely to admit.

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Cleveland in High Gear

Franz Welser-Möst, who turns 44 next month, is only in his second season as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, but there are big plans galore for the partnership. Besides an exchange with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony the Cleveland will also tour the West Coast, follow up on last November's Vienna residency with a European festival tour this summer (Edinburgh, Wiesbaden and Dublin), three consecutive years' residency at the Lucern Festival, and a multi-year association of residencies at Carnegie Hall.

The Austrian conductor remains music director of the Zürich Opera, a position he acquired at age 35. Welser-Möst was still in the 20s when he headed the Norrköping Symphony in Sweden, and was named music director of the London Philharmonic at 30, but his six-year tenure there became controversial, and ended acrimoniously. Apparently, things are going much better in Cleveland. Only months after he took over the orchestra in the fall of 2002, his contract was extended through the 2012.

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There's Gold in Them Thar Pas de Deux

Again and again, you bump into clear evidence that arts organizations generate a great deal of income for the communities they serve, even if some federal/state/local government officials recoil in horror at the suggestion of providing support — "subsidizing" the arts is alien to the capitalist system, they say, even if they generate plenty of capital.

Last week, AMS Planning & Research released an 80-page report, "The Economic Activity of Dance in New York City," the result of a two-year study of 41 organizations and numerous audience surveys. During the 2002-03 season, the study found, more than a million tickets were purchased to NYC dance performances, with an additional quarter million attendances to lecture demonstrations, classes, and in-school programs. The contribution to the city's economy: $415.7 million, consisting of money spent on tickets, travel, lodging, shopping, and including $121 million spent by the dance organizations on salaries and other expenses.

And yet, the impressive dollar figures don't provide the true "bottom line." As NYC Cultural Affairs Department commissioner Kate Levin said at the press conference announcing results of the study: "Success is this field isn't determined by profits. Instead, artistic expression, in its myriad forms, connects to individuals in ways that cannot be reduced to spreadsheets."

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Even in Canada . . .

To continue the topic of art subsidies, from the item above: The Globe & Mail reports that proposed cuts to Ottawa's upcoming budget are threatening to close down museums, galleries and music festivals. "The city is embroiled in a nasty civic uprising over its sweeping cuts and opposition to Mayor Bob Chiarelli's call for a three-per-cent tax hike," the report says. "Hundreds of angry citizens calling for a third consecutive tax freeze stormed the city's chamber councils earlier this week to boo down councillors. The tax-freeze movement finds itself pitted against members of the arts community who are banding together to fight council over proposed cuts. The proposed budget would wipe out funding for 28 major festivals, fairs and events."

Critics of any cuts charge that arts spending in Ottawa is among the lowest for a municipality in Canada, at $3.89 per capita. A report by Toronto's culture division last year found that Vancouver spends $17.71 per capita; Montreal tops the list at $26.62; Toronto spends $14.64. The Canadian national support per-capita reported in the 1990s was $46. For comparison: Finland, $91; Germany, $85; Sweden, $57; France, $57; Netherlands, $46; United Kingdom, $26; Australia, $25. The US? $5.92. While that terribly low figure is an aggregate of federal, state and local government support, it does not account for tax-deductible contributions and other benefits afforded public charities, not available in other countries.

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Where JCC and CMP Meet

One of the first concerts to take place in San Francisco's new Jewish Community Center Kanbar Hall features the SF Contemporary Music Players in a commissioned world premiere. Israeli composer Betty Olivero's Bashrov is influenced by North African music. Also on the program: Gerard Grisey's Vortex Temporum, with Julie Steinberg. For information, click here.

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Cypress School Programs

The Cypress String Quartet is taking its "Call & Response" to numerous Bay Area schools, in a music-education outreach program supported by a coalition of private and corporate sponsors. Having commissioned a new work by Copland Award-winning composer Jeffery Cotton, based on quartets by Haydn and Mozart, Cypress and the composer will tour schools this week in San Francisco and the East Bay (in Marin and the Peninsula next week) to talk about and demonstrate the process, which culminates in four public concerts when the three works are performed in their entirety. Sponsors of the educational outreach include the NEA, California Arts Council, Hewlett Foundation, and Grants for the Arts of the SF Hotel Tax Fund. See www.cypressquartet.com.

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Davies: Court Honor for a Rebel

Already knighted, Peter Maxwell Davies has now gained one of the most prestigious posts in the Royal Household. Queen Elizabeth has named the outspoken composer, who opposes Britain's foreign policy and doesn't look kindly on the institution of royalty, Master of the Queen's Music, a position that's the equivalent of the poet laureate. Davies, 69, has been openly gay for more than 30 years (long before public acceptance of the lifestyle), and he frequently criticized such Establishment organizations as the Royal Opera and London's major orchestras.

The post has been vacant since last year, following the death of Malcolm Williamson, a lesser-known musician, whose tenure went by virtually unnoticed. Buckingham Palace officials are said to be reinventing the post, and intend to transform it from "court composer" to a high-profile ambassador for classical music. It's somewhat of a mystery why the Labour government approved the appointment of the man who called Tony Blair's participation in the war on Iraq "the worst foreign policy decision since the Crusades," and denounced Blair for "betraying the principles of the Labour party, not just on Iraq but on tuition fees and foundation hospitals."

(Janos Gereben, a regular contributor to www.sfcv.org, is arts editor of the Post Newspaper Group. His e-mail address is [email protected])

©2004 Janos Gereben, all rights reserved