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March 11, 2017

Merolini Take Manhattan (At Least at the Met Auditions)

Along with San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program and Adler Fellowship, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions serve as catapults for young talent into musical stardom. Usually there is some overlap between the programs East and West, but this year is a majority score: five of the nine Met Auditions finalists are current or former Merolini:

  • Samantha Hankey, mezzo, Eastern Region — 2017 Merola
  • Natalie Image, soprano, Western Region — 2017 Merola (and S.F. Conservatory)
  • Aryeh Nussbaum-Cohen, countertenor, Eastern Region — 2016 Merola
  • Cody Quattlebaum, bass-baritone, Eastern Region — 2016 Merola
  • Kyle van Schoonhoven, tenor, Central Region — 2016 Merola


  • Gabriella Reyes de Ramírez, soprano, New England Region
  • Richard Smagur, tenor, Central Region
  • Vanessa Vasquez, soprano, Middle Atlantic Region
  • Kirsten MacKinnon, soprano, Middle Atlantic Region

The Auditions finals will be held at the Met, beginning at noon Pacific Time on Sunday, March 19. These finalists are already winners, regardless of the final ranking because they have reached this stage out of some 1,200 singers in the competition.

Another local presence at the finals will be conductor Nicola Luisotti, outgoing music director of the San Francisco Opera. As usual, prior Auditions winners will also perform at the finals, including Amber Wagner, Jamie Barton, Michael Fabiano; the host will be Renée Fleming. The event will not be streamed live, which is a shame, but a video may be published later.

Meanwhile, good luck to them and everybody as Winter Storm Stella is hitting the city!

Earplay Fare for the 32nd Season: Music of Our Time

Earplay conductor Mary Chun, who is leading the organization’s next concert, on March 20 in the ODC Theater, says it’s “unusual good fortune to present two exquisite Toru Takemitsu pieces that include harp in the program.” The late Japanese composer, featured prominently on Earplay’s current, 32nd season, fits in with the second of the season’s triptych titled “Air, Wind, Water.”

With the participation of harpist Meredith Clark, the “Wind” concert’s Takemitsu works are the 1992 And then I knew ’twas Wind for flute, viola, and harp, and the 1989 Toward the Sea III for alto flute and harp. The two works demonstrate well what The Guardian has called “understated and crystalline compositions combining elements of his [Takemitu’s] own Japanese traditions with the Western modernism he loved so much.”

The concert, says Chun, includes the West Coast premiere of the 2015 Insight II

for flute, bass clarinet, violin, cello, and piano by Stephen Yip, winner of the 2016 Earplay Donald Aird Composers Competition. The guest artist performing in Yip’s work is pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi.

There is also a world premiere, of the revised version of Linda Bouchard’s Second Survival (2009–2016) for alto flute, bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and prepared piano; and Heidi Jacob’s 2012 Metamorphosis I for cello and piano.

The first “Air, Wind, Water,” concert was the season-opening event in January (which also included two works by Takemitsu), and the “Water” concert will be on May 15, featuring Takemitsu’s 1993 Between Tides for violin, cello, and piano; three world premieres — by Kyle Bruckmann, Cindy Cox, and Eric Moe; and a West Coast premiere by John Liberatore. Tickets for the concerts are $25 general admission, $10 for students, available from the ODC Theater website.

Bay Area Well Represented in National Youth Orchestra

Crowden School publicist Jen Strauss checked in proudly with news of three school-associated violinists (one student and two alumni) named to the prestigious National Youth Orchestra for 2017:

  • Jonathan Altman, Modesto, alumnus of Crowden’s community programs and a violin student of Crowden Executive Director Doris Fukawa; also in the S.F. Symphony Youth Orchestra, 2014 to present, and winner of Young People’s Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition. (He also studies piano and horn)
  • Ellie Kanayama, Albany, Crowden School ’14; also in SFSYO, 2015
  • Maya Bulos, Lafayette, Crowden School ’07; also in SFSYO, 2012 to present

Those three, along with four musicians from the S.F. Symphony Youth Orchestra and one from San Jose, will take part in a three-week training and rehearsal residency in Purchase, NY, and then go on tour, led by Marin Alsop, to perform in Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia.

Selected from the SFS Youth Orchestra:

  • Concertmaster Andrew Lee, Los Altos Hills, in the orchestra since 2012
  • Jonathan Chu, violin, San Francisco, 2013 to present
  • Shane O’Brien, trumpet, Benicia, 2012 to 2015 (the last of three siblings to play trumpet in the Youth Orchestra.
  • Euan Shields, conducting apprentice, San Francisco, 2015 to present

Cellist Joshua Chiang is from San Jose.

The programs on tour and in Carnegie Hall on July 21 include John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, and a Carnegie Hall-commissioned piece by Gabriela Lena Frank, yet untitled, specifically for NYO-USA.

In 2018, NYO-USA will tour Asia with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Macelaru’s Debut Season at the Cabrillo Festival

The 2017 season of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music marks the arrival of Cristian Macelaru, the festival’s new music director. The Romanian-born conductor, who succeeds Marin Alsop after her 25-year leadership, has included seven world premieres in the August 4–12 festival program, along with one U.S. premiere, three West Coast premieres, and 11 composers in residence. The festival will commemorate the centenary of the late Lou Harrison (a founder of Cabrillo in 1963) with a tribute composed by David T. Little, and John Adams’ 70th birthday with a tribute composed by Gabriella Smith.

The eleven composers in residence this season are Karim Al-Zand, Clarice Assad, Gerald Barry, Michael Gandolfi, Jake Heggie, Aaron Jay Kernis, David T. Little, Cindy McTee, Christopher Rountree, Gabriella Smith, and James Stephenson.

Special guest artists include Dame Evelyn Glennie (percussion), Jennifer Frautschi (violin), Gemma New (conductor), Clarice Assad (piano/vocals), Keita Ogawa (percussion), Jason Hardink (piano), and Jonathan Lemalu (bass-baritone).

The Aug. 4 opening concert begins with Gandolfi’s Points of Departure, which the Boston-based composer originally wrote for chamber orchestra, and has now revised for full orchestra.

Macelaru leads the Festival Orchestra and Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie in the world premiere of another festival-commissioned work, Clarice Assad’s percussion concerto, AD INFINITUM. Assad is a Brazilian pianist, singer and composer whose rich music draws on many genres and styles. This work is the third in the festival’s “Nexus: Creative Collaborations” initiative, which fosters collaborations between composers and other artists.

Pulitzer-prize winning composer Kernis offers his Second Symphony, the composer’s response to the Gulf War. “The absurdity and cruelty of this war, in particular the ‘surgical’ nature of its reliance on gleaming new technological warfare used at a safe distance, made an enormous and lasting impression on me,” Kernis wrote about the piece.

The West Coast premiere of Chicago-based composer Stephenson’s Concerto for Violin, Tributes, features violinist Jennifer Frautschi, for whom it was written. Stephenson calls Tributes “a conscious nod to all of the people who have contributed to the creation of this work: composers and soloists — past and present — who have written/performed timeless and inspiring violin concertos.”

The festival’s annual free family concert on Aug. 6 features the West Coast premiere of the full orchestral version of Gandolfi’s Pinocchio’s Adventures in Funland. Gemma New conducts this full-blown version, with Macelaru narrating. The piece retells some of the adventures of Geppetto’s famously prevaricating marionette, consisting of 15 short scenes that, as librettist Dana Bonstrom put it, “are designed to entertain and educate young audiences by introducing them to the riches of concert music.”

On Aug. 11, the second weekend of the festival opens with works by William Bolcom (the short, one-movement Symphony No. 9), Gerald Barry (U.S. premiere of his Piano Concerto, with Jason Hardink, soloist), Jörg Widmann (Con Brio, “an exercise in fury and rhythmic insistence”), and Cindy McTee (Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra).

 On Aug. 12, four commissioned world premieres close the festival: Heggie’s Moby-Dick orchestral suite, arranged by Macelaru; a yet-untitled work by Christopher Rountree; Gabriella Smith’s tribute to John Adams; and Canadian composer Karim Al-Zand’s The Prisoner, a work inspired by the story of Adnan Latif, a Yemeni man imprisoned at Guantanamo from 2002 until his death there 10 years later. The libretto includes segments of a letter Latif wrote to his lawyers, interspersed with poems by Rilke and Rumi.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].