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Music News: April 2, 2013

April 2, 2013

New S.F. Ballet's Season: Premieres, Revivals, Live Orchestra

April 2, 2013

Humans, exceptional ones, remain in the Ballet orchestra pit Announced today, San Francisco Ballet's next season promises three world premieres, productions new to the West Coast, and revivals of the most successful recent works. The 2013 season still has three programs to go before the final curtain on May 12.

Considering all the buzz (see next two column items) about the elimination of live, human-performed music for dance — a field long dominated by recorded accompaniment in the U.S. — it is especially important to note, greet, and support the excellent SFB Orchestra performing at every show in the War Memorial Opera House.

The next season, No. 81 for the country's oldest professional ballet company, begins with 31 performances of Nutcracker, Dec. 11-29, 2013. Following the opening night gala on Jan. 22, 2014, the season consists of 61 performances of eight programs in alternating repertory, January through May.

Possokhov's <em>The Rite of Spring</em> is reprised The world premieres are by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, Royal Ballet artist-in-residence Liam Scarlett, and the company's own Val Caniparoli. Among featured choreographers are George Balanchine, Serge Lifar, Natalia Makarova, Wayne McGregor, Mark Morris, Yuri Possokhov, and Jerome Robbins.

Also on the schedule, significantly: the West Coast premiere, next April, of American Ballet Theatre's Artist-in-Residence Alexei Ratmansky’s full-evening trilogy set to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, with scenic design by George Tsypin, costumes by Keso Dekker, and lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

The first act, Shostakovich #9, premiered in New York last October; Ratmansky's second and third works, set to Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 and Chamber Symphony for Strings (Op. 110a), respectively, receive their world premieres from ABT next month in the Metropolitan Opera House, and will come to the War Memorial in April 2014.

Lorena Feijoo in Tomasson's <em>The Fifth Season</em> Ratmansky will also be represented on the San Francisco schedule with a reprise of his From Foreign Lands, to music by Moritz Moszkowski.

Among Balanchine works: Agon, to music by Stravinsky, and the Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, to Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25, orchestrated by Schoenberg. On the same program in May, 2014, Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces, to music by Philip Glass.

Full-length ballets are Tomasson's choreography for the great classic Giselle, with restored passages from the Adolphe Adam score; and Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella, to Prokofiev's music. Giselle was originally presented by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot in 1841, but in more recent times, the standard has been Marius Petipa's choreography for the Imperial Russian Ballet between 1884 and 1903.

One of the current season's successful premieres, Yuri Possokhov’s The Rite of Spring — with scenic design by Benjamin Pierce, costumes by Sandra Woodall, and lighting by Christopher Dennis — will be reprised in 2014.

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

'Graphical Score' for Rite: Not Your Old Color Organ

April 2, 2013

color organIf you want to hear and see a digital display of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, Stephen Malinowski has just published it last week as a graphical score. The recording is by Jay Bacal, using virtual instrument software by Vienna Symphonic Library.

Malinowski explains the role of shapes and colors:

Each shape corresponds to a family of instruments — ellipse: flutes (also cymbals and tam-tam), octagon: single reed (clarinet, bass clarinet), inverted ellipse/star: double reeds (oboe, English horn, bassoons), rectangle: brass (also, with "aura," timpani, guiro, and bass drum), rhombus: strings

In this video, musical pitch (as ordered in the musician's "circle of fifths") is mapped to 12 colors (as ordered on the artist's "color wheel." With this mapping, changes in tonality and harmony correspond to changes in the color palette. Unpitched instruments (bass drum, cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, guiro) are shown in gray. You can read more about this technique here.

Of the VSL, Malinowski says:

The Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL) is a collection of recordings of notes recorded by orchestral musicians, together with software that allows those recordings to be played back in many ways. Each note, on each instrument, at each dynamic level, with each effect (e.g. pizzicato, legato, staccato, crescendo, decrescendo, tremolo, glissando), and with connections to each other note, is included in the collection.

This package is known as a "sampled orchestra" because it includes samples of every sound an orchestral player is likely to produce in a live performance.

Jay Bacal is regarded as one of the (if not the) most skilled users of the VSL sampled orchestra; his realizations are used by the makers of VSL as examples of the best that's being done with their package.

To make a recording such as the one of The Rite of Spring, Jay performs each part separately, using the VSL sounds, recording his performance digitally. Then each recorded part is edited to make it work optimally in the recording. As you can imagine, It is a very labor-intensive process (many more man-hours than having an orchestra perform a piece). The instrumentation of The Rite is especially demanding (Jay's score has 97 instrumental parts, some of which include notes for multiple instruments), and the piece is long. I'm pretty sure it's Jay's most ambitious production. When I was complaining to him about how much work it was to make the animation, he said "The Rite almost killed me too."

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


April 2, 2013

Hear Bruckner in Paul Smith's Fauxharmonic version A "friend in the business" wrote to me about uses of the Vienna Symphonic Library and alternatives to it, a whole big (relatively) new field with enormous potential impact on music:

Check out Paul Smith's Fauxharmonic for a virtuoso collection of music created with the VSL and other collections of orchestral samples. I often disagree with Paul Smith's tempi (which of course are in practice adjustable), but his realizations are uncannily live sounding. Many composers hire him to create realistic demo recordings that sound 1000% better than a typical midi demo produced automatically by Digital Performer or Sibelius.

There are many alternatives to VSL, mainly used by film/TV composers for low budget projects where real orchestras would break the budget.

But Paul Smith's Fauxharmonic is a thriving business of great value to composers, who can get a much better sense of what their music would sound like in a near-perfect performance than they can get simply by letting Sibelius play the score with one of its built-in virtual orchestras. I found it remarkable.

Of course one glaring problem is that the Fauxharmonic can negotiate difficult passages better than live musicians, so composers may not get a realistic view of how their piece will actually work in performance.

Probably the next step is to create difficulty-level models (like age-graded reading-level vocabulary checkers used by textbook and other writers) so a score can be automatically graded "unplayable," "ok for A-level orchestras" "ok for college/high-school," etc.

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

Ethnic Dance Festival to Open 35th Season

April 2, 2013

Dancer/choreographer Shabnam fuses traditional and contemporary belly dance Photos by RJ MunaFrom a relatively small community organization the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival grew like Topsy into the world's largest such celebration of ethnic dance.

The upcoming season, June 7-30, features more than 500 dancers of 35 companies (selected in auditions), performing in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Legion of Honor, and San Francisco City Hall.

Festival Artistic Directors Carlos Carvajal and CK Ladzekpo have selected dance companies conveying cultural legacy from Mexico, Brazil, Israel, Egypt, West Africa, India, Bolivia, and all over the globe.

"We are thrilled to present a breathtaking line-up of artists whose work embodies the essence of human experience," says the festival announcement.

"From heartfelt spiritual quests to exhilarating celebrations, dance from cultures that span the globe are thriving in the Bay Area, thanks to thousands of local artists working passionately to sustain and share their labors of love."

De Rompe y Raja Cultural Association Opening night provides a representative sample, with an innovative Cambodian dance tribute to Auguste Rodin, a 14th-century purification dance from Tibet, indigenous Aymara and Quechua dance from the Andes, and a high-intensity set of Senegalese sabar, led by griot master Cheikh Tairou M’baye and Sing Sing Rhythms.

There are several free events, otherwise tickets are in the $18-$58 range, going on sale online on April 18 or by calling (415) 978-2787.

Family matinees on Saturday afternoons offer 50% discounts to children age 12 and under.

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

Exploratorium's New Haven for the Arts

April 2, 2013

ExploratoriumSan Francisco's Exploratorium is known the world over for its unique hands-on science exhibits, a kind of museum where visitors — especially children — are encouraged, not forbidden, to touch what's on show, to play, experiment, enjoy.

As always, ever since its opening in 1969 with Cybernetic Serendipity, a combination of art, science, and technology curated by Jasia Reichardt for the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the Exploratorium will have an abundance of art shows when it opens its big new venue, at Pier 15, on April 17.

The grand opening will feature, in addition to the hands-on science exhibits, 40 new art projects, ranging from large-scale immersive installations to site-specific displays, such as a large-scale fog environment, a fold-out guide to the atmosphere, a sidewalk grate that sonically comes alive at night, a giant Douglas Fir tree tipped on its side, and a library on Bay history.

The tradition continues: Just a few years after its opening, the Exploratorium had established itself as the home for a burgeoning counter-cultural art scene. Over the last 44 years the Exploratorium has presented the work of hundreds of artists and cultivated a unique working environment for artists interested in cross-disciplinary investigations and hybrid approaches.

After the opening of the new facility, we'll report on sound and music projects.

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

Lina Prokofiev's Turn in 'the Hagiographic Hall of Fame'

April 2, 2013

Lina Codina, before becoming Mrs. Prokofiev Caryl Emerson, author of The Life of Musorgsky, writes about the newly published Lina and Serge: The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev:

In the hagiographic hall of fame that is the Russian artist’s wife — Sophia Tolstoy, Anna Dostoyevsky, Nadezhda Mandelstam — all muses who stood watch while their men created things of genius and who then jealously guarded their legacies, Lina Prokofiev is odd woman out.

Her story almost cannot be believed, until Simon Morrison gained access to the documents (and the trust of the family) in order to tell it. Biography does not get more important than this.

A review of the work will be published here soon, meanwhile read excerpts from the book, and some of Stephen Walsh's report in The Guardian:

Born in Madrid in 1897 to a Spanish father and a Russian mother, both singers, Lina Codina was brought up from the age of 10 in New York, where she met the 27-year-old Prokofiev at a piano recital he gave in 1919. After a fitful courtship (Prokofiev was attractive, susceptible, and had high-profile admirers), they eventually married when Lina became pregnant with the first of their two sons in 1923. For the next 13 years she led the life of itinerant composer's moll, often travelling with him, sometimes even participating (as a singer) in his concerts, but always engaged in a battle with his music for a share of his attention.

The diaries suggest a spasmodic concern for her well-being. Quite apart from the essentially private act of composition, Sergey's favourite entertainments — chess, bridge — tended to exclude her, and at social events he would be lionised while she was to some extent neglected. As a singer, she inhabited an awkward penumbra in his vicinity. A nervy performer, she would often lose her voice and withdraw. His reports of her variable standard of performance express sympathy rather than the pain it caused her. Besides, she was, he thought, a fussy traveller, moody and sometimes quarrelsome.

The return to Russia was always, for him, a homecoming. For Lina — though she had visited as a child and spoke the language — it was an adventure whose successful outcome depended on his love and support. Alas, both were swiftly withdrawn. When she joined him there in August 1935 after a five-month separation, he immediately disappeared to the Caucasus, then to western Europe on another tour that lasted till early 1936, leaving her to fend for herself and their two small sons.

That year they moved into an apartment that Morrison describes as "impressive enough to be showcased to tourists from England" (a fair sample of his prose style), but that actually covered a mere 60 square metres, the size of a large farmhouse kitchen.

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].