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Music News: April 15, 2014

April 15, 2014

Become Ocean Wins Pulitzer for Music

April 15, 2014

John Luther Adams Speaking of Adams: In 2003, Berkeley's John (Coolidge) Adams won the Pulitzer Prize in Music; on April 14, Alaska's John (Luther) Adams won the 2014 Pulitzer for Music for his orchestral work Become Ocean.

J.L. Adams was born on Jan. 23, 1953, in Meridian, Mississippi; his music is inspired by nature, especially the landscapes of Alaska where he has lived since 1978.

Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, which premiered the work last summer, Become Ocean is on the orchestra's schedule at its Carnegie Hall concert on May 6. The composer said of the work: "My hope is that the music creates a strange, beautiful, overwhelming — sometimes even frightening — landscape, and invites you to get lost in it."

Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot said:

"What really attracts me to a composer is the individuality in the voice — and John Luther Adams' music is very much inspired by the natural landscapes that are all around us. Become Ocean is written for three different orchestras, each of which has its own journey and rhythm. Three times in the piece they meet in that crucial moment, at the peak of their dynamics together. It's ultimately about you becoming an element of nature yourself, and disappearing in the whole landscape of things."

The composition was inspired by the oceans of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest and it's said to "immerse the audience in an organic and constantly evolving sound world that reflects the natural environment with an orchestral technique that is deeply original and unique to Adams."

"It may be the loveliest apocalypse in musical history," a New Yorker review said of Become Ocean. Adams spoke of its "sonic geography":

My music has led me beyond landscape painting with tones into the larger territory of "sonic geography" — a region that lies somewhere between place and culture, between human imagination and the world around us. My music is going inexorably from being about place to becoming place.

The score includes this inscription by Adams: "Life on this earth emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans face the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean." See the composer describe his The Music of a True Place and talk about his work in general.

San Francisco Symphony will perform its first J.L. Adams work Feb. 26-March 1, 2015, the chamber version of The Light that Fills the World.

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

Pianists Among S.F. Performances Season's Stars

April 15, 2014

Philip Glass Photo by Fernando_Aceves As you will see below, there are many attractions of the next San Francisco Performances season, announced today, but the Shenson Piano Series is especially impressive for 2014-2015:

* Gilmore Award-winner and Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz on Oct. 14
* Yuja Wang returns to the city she rightly considers her second home on Dec. 1 (performing in Davies Symphony Hall, while the other recitals are held in SFJAZZ)
* Dubravka Tomsic performs a program of Chopin, Schubert, Wagner-Liszt, Scriabin, Granados, and Albeniz on April 19, 2015
* Stephen Hough plays works by Debussy and Chopin on May 12, 2015

Apart from the Shenson Series, Garrick Ohlsson performs all-Scriabin programs over two recitals, Dec. 7 and March 14, at SFJAZZ.

Among other highlights of the 35th season, German baritone Christian Gerhaher makes his debut; Wendy Whelan debuts her dance project, Restless Creature with four other choreographers; Philip Glass performs his complete etudes with Timo Andres and Maki Namekawa; Batsheva celebrates its 50th anniversary season; Lera Auerbach's chamber works are performed by the composer, violinist Daniel Hope, and cellist Joshua Roman; MacArthur Fellow Alisa Weilerstein performs in a solo cello recital.

Wendy Whelan Photo by Nisian Hughes   In the chamber music series, Austria's famed Hagen Quartet makes its debut in the music of Mozart, Shostakovich and Brahms, Nov. 1 in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church; the Takács Quartet returns to perform March 15 at SFJAZZ in an all-Schubert program; the young English Elias Quartet will be at St. Mark's on March 30 with an all-Beethoven program. A unique addition to this season’s chamber series is a piano quintet composed by S.F. Performances Jazz Artist-in-Residence and 2013 MacArthur Fellow Vijay Iyer for himself and the famed Brentano Quartet. The S.F. debut of the quintet is May 10 at the SFJAZZ Center.

San Francisco Performances founder/president Ruth Felt says:

In this our 35th Season we are proud to present significant San Francisco debuts, namely baritone Christian Gerhaher, the acclaimed Hagen Quartet and ballet star Wendy Whelan. And these are just a few highlights among the return of so many of our favorite artists including Philip Glass, Alisa Weilerstein, Hilary Hahn, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

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

Wickedness of Operatic-Biblical Proportions

April 15, 2014

Lilith in the imagination Art by Phil Blank Having enjoyed the exploits of Judith, the decapitating semi-Biblical heroine just a few days ago, our attention now turns to a really bad dudette, Lilith, also from the fringes of the Bible.

Lilith, the Night Demon In One Lewd Act, to be premiered by Veretski Pass and the San Francisco Choral Artists, May 1, 3, and 4 in three Bay Area venues, is about somebody much worse than the killer of Holofernes or even Boris Badenov's Natasha.

The work, says composer Joshua Horowitz, "explores the absurd underbelly of Judaism, and looks at the superstitions and irrational interpretations of the everyday."

Lilith seems to be typecast for the mission. In the Babylonian Talmud and later sources, she is identified as a monster, a demon, Adam's first wife — yes, preceding Eve — who left the First Man, and mated with archangel Samael, called "an accuser, seducer and destroyer."

Lilith on stage: Heather Klein in the title role Photo by Betsy KershnerAnd that's before the worst part: Lilith, killer of children. As a succubus, she was made to roam at night, seeking newborn babies, strangling them in their sleep. Horowitz says:

Superstitions about Lilith were the only protection Jews had against the threat of infant mortality. So the opera is like an externalization of the mindset of paranoid Jews in a world of real dangers. It’s somehow both freakishly hilarious and deeply tragic at the same time.

The work is described by the producers as "a bawdy alternate Jewish story of Creation ... an edgy folk opera." Following each performance of the opera, will be a traditional klezmer dance party with the music for which Veretski Pass is best known.

Michael Wex stars is the narrator, with soprano Heather Klein as Lilith, and bass Anthony Russell as Adam. Under the direction of Magen Solomon, the San Francisco Choral Artists form the Hebrew version of a Greek chorus. Phil Blank has created artwork for the project, culminating in an annotated, illustrated libretto that will be made available at the performances.

Veretski Pass Trio musicians: Joshua Horowitz, Cookie Segelstein, Stu Brotman Photo by Dana DavisKlein says of the work:

Josh has created a huge work that brings together so many genres — Jewish liturgical, operatic and folk. When I heard the score I was amazed by the character-driven melodies that bring this daring Yiddish and English libretto to life.

The Veretski Pass Trio (named for the mountain pass used by Magyar tribes in the 9th century to cross into the Carpathian basin) plays folk music with origins in the Ottoman Empire. It is a collage of Carpathian, Jewish, Romanian and Ottoman styles, with dances from Moldavia and Bessarabia; Jewish melodies from Poland and Rumania; Hutzul wedding music from Carpathian-Ruthenia; and Rebetic airs from Smyrna.

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

Tchaikovsky's Saintly Music Celebrates Church Anniversary

April 15, 2014

The church's 4,000-pipe Rosales Organ On the one hand, the announcement is about restoring "a long tradition of performing a major sacred work on Good Friday," on the other — in the same sentence — the work announced for April 18 is the organ transcription of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6.

Looking beyond that puzzle, the news from organist Cyril Deaconoff, director of music at Oakland's First Presbyterian Church, is that his church, the first in the East Bay, founded in 1853, just a year after the city itself was chartered, will mark an important anniversary.

It is the current building's centennial: The neo-Gothic building at Broadway and 27th Street, built by William C. Hays, has been a prominent part of Oakland's skyline since 1914. The organ, a 1993 Rosales, Op. 16, has 63 stops, 75 ranks, and 4,062 pipes (the largest is 32 feet tall). It has the handcrafted wooden facade and some of the original pipes from the Kimball Organ which had been used since the church was constructed a century ago.

On Easter Sunday, April 20 the 10 a.m. service will include Copland's Fanfare, Widor's Toccata, and the world premiere of Deaconoff's own Kontakion for Pascha (Easter).

Starting on April 25, every Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., the sanctuary doors will be open to show visitors the stained glass windows, get a tour of the sanctuary, and hear the organ which will be played as an open rehearsal.

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

San Diego Opera Final Curtain?

April 15, 2014

Poster calls for fighting the company's closure plan After several weeks of heated discussion and a few glimmers of hope following the surprising announcement almost a month ago, it appears that San Diego Opera will shut down on April 29.

A dramatic account of Sunday final performance of Don Quixote in U-T San Diego, and a report in the Monday edition of The New York Times handle company closure as an accomplished fact:

After a three-week battle that convulsed the community here and subjected its once revered opera company to widespread derision and accusations of mismanagement — Ian D. Campbell, its general and artistic director, was nearly booed off the stage when he stepped out to introduce Don Quixote this month on opening night — the board of directors on Friday reaffirmed its intention to close down. The final scheduled performance was on Sunday.

A new website, Fighting for San Diego Opera, is trying to mobilize the community to prevent the company's demise. The Opera's own website makes no reference to the crisis, having removed previous notices.

Alessio Bax Takes on Another Pianistic Challenge

April 15, 2014

Alessio Bax Steve Smith's review in The New York Times said of Alessio Bax: "Everything in his program unfolded with an ease, precision, and beauty so seemingly effortless that the music appeared to live and breathe of its own volition."

Not only is the 36-year-old Italian-born pianist getting rave reviews like that, but he continues to take on new challenges, instead of coasting on past successes. When he appears on May 11 at the conclusion of [email protected]'s Winter Series in the Menlo-Atherton Center for Performing Arts, Bax will play Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and the original 1874 version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

When Bax gave this program in Lincoln Center last month, he said of the sonata, which he has been performing for almost 20 years: "The longer I live with it, the more it amazes me ... Each time I play the Hammerklavier in concert, it is like leading a group of climbers to new vistas in uncharted territory. And that is incredibly exciting." See a preview of the concert.

Bax is a winner of the Leeds and Hamamatsu international piano competitions, a 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient, and has appeared as soloist with more than a hundred orchestras worldwide.

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

Former S.F. Conservatory Dean to Lead Butler School

April 15, 2014

Mary Ellen Poole Photo by Moanalani Jeffrey This was the announcement yesterday from the University of Texas at Austin:

Mary Ellen Poole, dean of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has been appointed director of the Butler School of Music and holder of the Florence Thelma Hall Centennial Chair in Music at The University of Texas at Austin, effective Sept. 1.

Dean of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for the past 10 years, Poole grew the enrollment by 50 percent, built a renowned faculty, internationalized programs and student enrollment, and oversaw construction of an $80 million facility behind a historic façade in the heart of San Francisco. She is well-known in the Bay Area for her partnerships with various civic organizations, including the San Francisco Opera, and is nationally recognized for her views on music education and curricular innovation.

"As dean of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Mary Ellen Poole put up an extraordinary leadership record, turning a very good music school into a great one,” said College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster. “That's exactly her charge at The University of Texas, where we're determined to make the Butler School of Music the finest public-university music school in the country. We couldn't have a better director for the job."

The Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music is a prominent institution and the appointment is important, but there are a number of problems with the phrasing of the announcement. A relatively minor one is that Poole is a former dean of SFCM, having been succeeded by Robert Fitzpatrick at the beginning of the year as dean and with the additional title of provost.

A more puzzling item is the unequivocal crediting of a dean (head of the faculty, in charge of curriculum) for all accomplishments in a decade, including the obvious exaggeration that she "oversaw construction of an $80 million facility," which is the school's current home.

Asked about these discrepancies Public Affairs Director Leslie Lyon-House of UT-Austin's College of Fine Arts replied:

I can see how that excerpt in the press release could give the impression of a single-handed effort, and I am confident that if Mary Ellen was asked to describe her role in the enrollment and facility construction in her own words, she would talk about the team effort it took to make those benchmarks a reality.

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

Bourne's Sleeping Beauty on Great Performances

April 15, 2014

Caradoc and Princess Aurora (Ben Bunce and Hannah Vassallo). Photo Credit: Simon Annand The innovative English choreographer Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, seen in a U.S. tour recently, will be shown on PBS' Great Performances on April 25, at 10 p.m.

This completes Bourne's treatment of the three most famous Tchaikovsky ballet pieces, after the 1992 Nutcracker and 1995 Swan Lake — both radically different from the scores of realizations by other choreographers.

Perrault's fairy tale was originally turned into a legendary ballet by Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa in 1890. Bourne takes this date as his starting point, setting the christening of Aurora, the story's heroine, in the year of the ballet's first performance; the height of the fin de siècle period when fairies, vampires and decadent opulence fed the gothic imagination.

As Aurora grows into a young woman (Hannah Vassallo), we move forwards in time to the more rigid, uptight Edwardian era; a mythical golden age of long summer afternoons, croquet on the lawn and new dance crazes. Years later, awakening from her century long slumber, Aurora finds herself in the modern day; a world more mysterious and wonderful than any fairy story.

Bourne's collaborators are the Tony- and Olivier-award winning designers Lez Brotherston (set and costumes), Paule Constable (lighting) and Paul Groothuis (sound). Carabosse-Caradoc is danced by Adam Maskell, Leo by Dominic North, and Count Lilac by Christopher Marney

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

From Turntables to Museums

April 15, 2014

Example of vinyl, in black & white, of course LPs, "records," vinyl — ah, the good old days of a medium that would never become outdated... just like cassettes, MDs, CDs, DVDs. (Not DVDs, you say? Just you wait.)

Opening on April 19 — which you surely recognize as International Record Store Day — in the Oakland Museum of California, Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records promises to "transform the museum into an innovative listening space where visitors create their own musical experience."

Organized by René de Guzman, senior curator of art, the exhibit aims to "explore the social and cultural phenomenon of listening to, collecting, and sharing records."

Combining a listening environment with gallery space, the exhibit features vinyl records including independent records from the mid-1960s to present; contemporary artwork by MacArthur "Genius" Award-winning instrument builder, photographer, and composer Walter Kitundu; a performance space for engaging talks and performances; and other participatory activities inspired by record culture.

Influential Bay Area independent labels are featured, along with notable record collections, displays of album cover art, and interviews with record collectors.

"Records continue to have deep resonance," says de Guzman, "because they provide a social context in which to experience music and sound culture. The ability to engage with the world in more directly human ways is finding increasing value as much of our lives become translated into data and the virtual in the heightened digital age."

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

Tuning Up for San Francisco Polyphony

April 15, 2014

A Ligeti "graphic score" Der Postillon (a German version of The Onion) reports that a school orchestra in Coburg in a desperate attempt to tune their instruments, accidentally gave a complete performance of Ligeti's San Francisco Polyphony.

As Der Postillon neglected to provide a recording, here's a partial one by the Berlin Philharmonic.

The work was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony in 1973, the year after Ligeti taught at Stanford, and last reprised here in 2008. An excerpt from the program:

The piece opens with a dense texture made up of many individual melodic lines. In contrast to the composer's early pieces, which used the shimmering moving clusters of what Ligeti calls "micropolyphony," this composition uses much wider spacing and aims for "drier, sharper, and more graphic ... melodic lines" that are more "translucent." The piece is characterized by the subtle technique of timbre modulation achieved through the constant reorchestration of dynamic material. reprised At the beginning, certain melodies stand out from a group becuase they are played by several instruments in unison. The number of voices is very gradually reduced, producing an unusual ascending-pitch illusion which leaves only the higher woodwinds playing.

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

Big, Quirky Awards from Nilsson Foundation

April 15, 2014

Suppose you controlled the largest award in all of classical music — $1 million a pop — who would get it? Your choice probably wouldn't be the Vienna Philharmonic (more than sufficiently financed already) or Plácido Domingo, also in a comfortable compensation bracket.

But those were the choices by the Birgit Nilsson Foundation for this year and 2009, respectively (Riccardo Muti won the prize in 2011). The announcement says the great Swedish soprano established the foundation because she was:

... concerned with the general decline of cultural values, in particular with the decline of performance standards in opera, and encountering much greater difficulties in the early years of her career than is generally known to the public.

Along with honoring great artists and artistry, it was her hope in establishing this prize to provide incentive and inspiration to young artists to sustain their efforts to reach full potential by planning their careers over the long term and to perpetuate the art form.

The panel in charge of the awards:

* Eva Wagner-Pasquier, Co-director of the Bayreuth Festival
* Bengt Hall, managing director of the Malmö Opera, and former general manager of the Royal Swedish Opera
* Rupert Christiansen, opera critic of the Daily Telegraph
* Speight Jenkins, former general director of the Seattle Opera
* Clemens Hellsberg, president of the Vienna Philharmonic (who recused himself from the panel)

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

Merolini in Houston Ring

April 15, 2014

Catherine Martin as Wellgunde, Andrea Carroll as Woglinde, Christopher Purves as Alberich, Renée Tatum as Flosshilde Photo by Lynn LaneScott Cantrell's review in the Dallas News of the Houston Grand Opera's Wagner Ring is not kind to the Barcelona theater company La Fura dels Baus' konzept of Das Rhinegold:

I’m completely befuddled by the various realizations of the Rhine gold as a giant human fetus and, later, a pile of human bodies, apparently manufactured in Alberich’s sinister factory. And what’s with the portrayal of the gods’ new home Valhalla as either a spidery human bust or a tower of suspended acrobats? Sorry, don’t get it.

A Bay Area Wagner enthusiast, who has seen scores of Ring productions, also found Houston's "too fussy ... had trouble knowing who was singing when," and unlike Cantrell, she was unambiguous about the conducting:

Summers' conducting was bad. I’m not certain who wasn’t up to the task. The horns weren’t for certain. The opening E-flat was not a smooth melodic line but herky jerky and the shimmering transition from the Rhinemaidens to Valhalla went for nothing; all the transitions went for nothing. By the Erda scene it was obvious — she was not singing to the same beat as Summers. To his credit it never got too loud.

Of Merola alumnae, our anonymous source says: "Melody Moore and Meredith Arawady, were good, especially Renée Tatum whose voice has developed a gorgeous burnished luster." Cantrell has a "yes — but":

Renée Tatum sang gloriously in the first scene, but later, offstage, their tuning lost mooring. The one real disappointment is Meredith Arwady’s raucous Erde, who rises from what appears to be construction debris. The wise Earth Mother needs much more nobility than this.

Without intermission, it's not easy to abandon the opera, and yet, according to one report, "massive defection from the Grand Tier ... the orchestra which was really full, only some people were peeling out about the time Freia came back with the giants." And, the very good news: "a LOT of young people in the audience."

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

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