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August 1, 2017

S.F. Choral Society Presents Mighty Elijah

Ambitious as always, Robert Geary and the San Francisco Choral Society are mobilizing 250 singers and instrumentalists to present one of Mendelssohn’s grandest oratorios, Elijah, in Davies Hall on Aug. 18 and 19.

Joining the 175-voice Choral Society on stage will be the soloist quartet of soprano Marnie Breckenridge, contralto Edith Dowd, tenor Brian Thorsett, and baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, along with Ensemble from the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, and the California Chamber Symphony.

Elijah is a brilliant piece of music,” says Geary. “The libretto presents key dramatic incidents in the prophet’s life. Opening with four solemn wind chords, which Mendelssohn described as the word of God, the [oratorio] leads us into the dramatic story of the prophet Elijah as he summons the people to righteousness, struggles against the idol worshipping masses, performs miracles, and ultimately ascends into heaven in a fiery chariot.”

Mendelssohn himself said, “I thought to myself of Elijah as a thorough prophet, such as we might again require in our own day, energetic, zealous, but also stern, wrathful, and gloomy; a striking contrast to the court rabble and the popular rabble — in fact, in opposition to the whole world, and yet borne on angel’s wings.”

The Old Testament story resonated deeply with Mendelssohn, of Jewish heritage and Christian faith. Says Geary, “The life of the prophet Elijah epitomized the evolution of Jewish faith from worship of the Babylonian pantheon of idols and myths to worshipping one God. Elijah met with God on Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Torah. Elijah’s assignment: to return the dispersed Jewish tribes to Israel.”

Elijah had a sensational premiere in 1846 to unanimous plaudits. The audience demanded, and received, four choruses and four arias repeated. The oratorio has been a mainstay of the repertory ever since. To hear it in full, go to this performance on YouTube.

News from the Orchestra Music Business

As a renowned business consultant for arts organizations, Drew McManus is proud of his work: “It doesn’t matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can’t keep your own clients out of the ground,” he has said, “and I’m fortunate enough to say that for 20 years, I’ve done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.”

McManus says of publishing information in his Adaptistration website, tracking information about orchestra compensation and business conditions: “Since its inception in 2005, the purpose of the Orchestra Compensation Reports is to help reinforce the value of transparency and inspire patrons to create a stronger connection with their local orchestra and how it functions.”

There is so much data he gathers from tax forms (always two years behind the present) that he uses a kind of “timed release” for the information according to this schedule, links returning a 404 error until the article is published:

July 31: Introduction (see below)

Aug. 1: Executives Compensation
Aug. 2: Music Directors Compensation
Aug. 3: Concertmasters Compensation
Aug. 4: Summary Overview

The introduction, published yesterday, teases with the stories to come, beginning today:

- The 2014–2015 season saw the highest ever severance payout to an executive.

- One orchestra crossed the $1 million music-director compensation threshold for the first time in their history.

- Several vacant concertmaster positions were filled in this season; as a result, this year’s concertmaster report is the most complete since the 2004–2005 season.

- Average executive compensation saw the largest percent increase since the 2010–2011 season.

BBC Proms in Its Midseason Splendor

Founded in 1895, the ancient and yet kind-to-contemporary-music BBC Proms still has more than six weeks to run until the wondrously varied Sept. 9 Last Night at the Proms, (from Wagner to John Adams to a world premiere by Lotta Wennäkoski), but don’t wait until it’s too late. Check the website every day at 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time to see what’s on, and be aware of some special events:

Aug. 2: “Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Bach-Ravel-Adams” — Bach/Stravinsky (yes, it is true), Canonic Variations on “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm, ich her,” BWV 769; Ravel, Shéhérazade; John Adams, Naive and Sentimental Music.

Aug. 4: “Ella and Dizzy: A Centenary Tribute,” with trumpet virtuoso James Morrison and his trio, plus Dianne Reeves, celebrating the centenary of jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. The conductor is John Mauceri.

Aug. 6: Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Ante Jerkunica (Ivan Khovansky), Christopher Ventris (Andrey Khovansky), Vsevolod Grivnov (Golitsin), Elena Maximova (Marfa), Ain Anger (Dosifey), George Gagnidze (Shaklovity).

Aug. 7: "Belshazzar’s Feast" — Gods, demons, and mortals do battle in a concert full of musical legends and fairy tales: Beethoven, Symphony No. 1; Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten symphonic fantasy; Prokofiev, Seven, They Are Seven; Walton, Belshazzar’s Feast. Look for the always-fascinating intermission feature. For this event, Irving Finkel of the British Museum will talk about Babylonian history and the stories hidden in the cuneiform tablets he has deciphered. This apropos the Prokofiev piece, inspired by a transcription from cuneiform tablets written in Mesopotamia around 3500 B.C. 

Music at Kohl Prepares for Its 35th Season

For a small chamber-music festival, getting ready for the 35th season is an admirable milestone. Music at Kohl Executive Director Patricia Kristof Moy — also a distinguished veteran of the S.F. Opera as a French-language coach — keeps engaging major musicians to perform in the festival’s Elizabethan-style great hall of the storybook “castle” venue, Kohl Mansion, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The season begins on Oct. 22, with the Calidore String Quartet, winner last year of the $100,000 grand prize of the inaugural M-Prize International Chamber Music Competition, the largest prize for chamber music in the world. Calidore, in residence with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, will play the music of Haydn, Hindemith, and Beethoven at Kohl.

The Morgenstern Trio will make its Kohl debut on Nov. 12. This winner of the International Joseph Haydn Competition — with pianist Catherine Klipfel, violinist Stefan Hempel, and cellist Emanuel Wehse — will perform works by Frank Martin, Ravel, and Schubert.

Next up, on Jan. 21, 2018, is the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet, artist-in-residence at Harvard University and at USC School of Music, playing works by Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, and Sibelius.

Clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu are due at Kohl on Feb. 4, with the music of Brahms, Kabalevsky, Debussy, Paco D’Rivera, Goodwin, and J. Novacek.

On March 4, it’s a full stage with Germany’s Henschel Quartett, joined by the Bay Area-based Telegraph Quartet and S.F. Symphony Principal Bassist Scott Pingel. They will perform works by Schulhoff, Dvořák, and the Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat Major.

Camerata RCO is formed by members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, appearing in various formations, playing quintets by Mozart and Brahms, and the music of Schumann on March 25.

The 2017-2018 Music at Kohl season ends with the famed, multiple prizewinning Daedalus Quartet, in residence at the University of Pennsylvania since 2006. On the program: Janácek’s String Quartet No. 1, Anna Weesner’s The Space Between, and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 10 (“Harp”). 

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