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Music News

April 24, 2012

Stay up to date with weekly classical music news from the Bay Area, across the US & around the World.

Cal Performances' Grand, Copacetic Season

Esa-Pekka SalonenFor his third season as Director of Cal Performances, Matías Tarnopolsky has come up with a program of star-studded variety and special events, among the very best in the organization's 106 years. Although I cannot vouch for this extravagant claim from personal experience (attending only 30-some years), it's a safe bet.

Putting the age in context, Cal has impressive seniority over the Big Three on the other side of the Bay: San Francisco Symphony is 100, San Francisco Opera is 89, San Francisco Ballet is 79 — those youngsters!

Announced today, headlines of the Cal season are striking (with apologies to those left out of these personal top choices):

  • Orchestral residencies by Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Philharmonia (Nov. 9-11), including Mahler's Symphony No. 9, and a concert performance of Berg’s Wozzeck; Gustavo Dudamel with the Simón Bolívar Symphony (Nov. 29-30) featuring music from Latin America
  • West Coast premiere of Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach (Oct. 26-28)
  • Théâtre de la Ville's production of Ionesco's Rhinocéros (Sept. 27-30)
  • Mark Morris, with the return of his Hard Nut (Dec. 14-23), and as music director of the Ojai Music Festival, bringing the Ojai North festival run-out to Berkeley (June, 2013)
  • World premiere of the Nolan Gasser-Carey Harrison Secret Garden, in collaboration with San Francisco Opera (Oct. 10-14)
  • Kronos Quartet as artists-in-residence
  • Rare visits from Joffrey Ballet (Jun. 26-27, 2013) and Béjart Ballet Lausanne (May 15-16); Mariinsky Ballet's Swan Lake (May 3-5); return of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, with a new work by Alonzo King of LINES Ballet; Trisha Brown Dance Company, and St. Peterburg's iconoclastic Eifman Ballet
  • Debuts of Eric Owens (Feb. 10), Leonidas Kavakos (Feb. 17), Simon Trpceski (April 14), guitarist Milos (Feb. 19), Georgia’s Ensemble Basiani (Oct. 20), and Les 7 Doigts de la Main Circus (May 3-5), including Shana Carroll, San Francisco columnist Jon Carroll's daughter
  • Return of Yo-Yo Ma (Jan. 24), Christian Teztlaff (Feb. 12), The Tallis Scholars (March 23), Handel and Haydn Society (April 26, 28) with the Handel oratorio Jephtha, Australian Chamber Orchestra (March 22-23), Wynton Marsalis (March 17), Mummenschanz (Nov. 23-25), and Nicolas Hodges (Jan. 20), who will present the premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's Gigue Machine

Mariinsky BalletOf the 113 artists and ensembles presented in some 125 performances throughout the season, 35 make their debuts at Cal Performances. Series discount ticket prices range from $48 to $450. Single tickets — from $20 to $200 — go on sale for members on July 29 and to the general public on Aug. 5.

The season kicks off with third annual Fall Free for All on Sept. 30. Begun at the start of his first season as director, Tarnopolsky calls the Fall Free for All "part of our DNA" and "perhaps the most important program we have to introduce the broader community of music lovers to the wealth and transformative talent we bring to the campus each year." The first two events each brought an audience of more than 13,000 to Berkeley, drawing arts aficionados and first-timers from as far away as Palo Alto and Stockton.

Among the artists to appear are Kronos Quartet, pianist Shai Wosner, Chitresh Das Dance Company, Cypress String Quartet, harpsichordist Davitt Moroney, storytellers Diane Ferlatte and Eth-Noh Tec, shadow puppets with Daniel Barash, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, Kitka, Lily Cai Dance Company, Pamela Rose’s Wild Women in Song, Marcos Silva’s Brazilian jazz, Shotgun Players’ Songs from Sondheim’s Assassins and San Francisco Taiko, plus ensembles from UC Berkeley’s Departments of Music and Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, Student Musical Activities, and the Cal Band.

For the first time this year, Cal Performances presents Afterglow, a special ticketed picnic with artists from the Fall Free for All, with proceeds supporting future Fall Free for Alls and Cal Performances’ season-long education and community programs.

Gockley, Floyd, and the Ring in Houston

The GockleysSan Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley, who previously headed Houston Grand Opera for 33 years, was honored in a big celebration there on Friday. Part of the appreciation was the naming of two main rehearsal rooms after him and composer Carlisle Floyd.

Floyd, who turns 86 on June 11, and Gockley, who will be 69 on July 13, co-founded the Houston Grand Opera Studio program, which is somewhat similar to San Francisco's Merola Opera Program, the nation's oldest. Among Gockley's 33 commissions of American composers were four major works by Floyd: Bilby’s Doll, Willie Stark, The Passion of Jonathan Wade, and Cold Sassy Tree.

Karen Ames, of the eponymous San Francisco consulting firm, former head of public relations for both the San Francisco and Houston opera companies, writes from Houston:

During Gockley's years in Houston, from 1972 until 2005, convinced that America should have its own opera tradition, he led the company in commissioning new works by American composers and staging their world premieres. HGO came to international prominence because of this contribution of new works, challenging productions of repertory staples, and regular appearances by the world’s finest singers.

The evening began in the Carlisle Floyd Room with two Floyd arias — "The Trees on the Mountain," sung by Katie Van Kooten (who was Elisabeth in Maria Stuarda the next evening) and an aria from Susannah by Sam Ramey (the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlo the night before).

Next we went into the David Gockley Room; the doors are now covered with an original artwork featuring the names of every opera done under his leadership. HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers [whose career started in the Merola Opera Program] offered a heartfelt tribute to Gockley, singling out as one of Gockley's main accomplishments — his work raising his three lovely children, now adults and all present in the room.

Gockley spoke with a deep emotion, twice choking up (something I have never seen during the hundreds of his presentations I experienced) while talking about the time when he came to Houston with a freshly minted MBA, a failed singing career, and a lot of dreams. He took special satisfaction in helping to distinguish HGO as a truly American opera company.

Houston's Culturemap reported:
In the evening's grand finale, Patrick Summers announced the final presentation as one that is "so important to HGO's future." And with that eight pianos were manned, with Summers in the lead, to fill the rehearsal hall with the stirring strains of "The Ride of the Valkyries" from Richard Wagner's Ring cycle.

HGO and Opera Australia have commissioned a new Ring cycle production that will be presented in Houston during the 2013-2014 season.

Priscilla Salgo

Choral conductor Priscilla Salgo, widow of Sándor Salgo, died last month at her daughter's home in Illinois, where she had been living for the past several years. She was 92.

A memorial service was held Sunday in the Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church where she was choirmaster for 35 years. Overlapping those years, she also conducted choruses for many years at the Carmel Bach Festival, headed by her husband from 1956 on. The couple was responsible for developing a short local event into a nationally recognized celebration of Bach's music, with three weeks of concerts and recitals, and performances of the cantatas and of one of the Passions or the B Minor Mass each year.

The Goerne-Andsnes Apotheosis

In the zone: Matthias Goerne and Leif Ove Andsnes Beware of velvety baritones wearing their heart on their sleeve. Suspect star pianists disappearing in the music as humble accompanists. Then there were Matthias Goerne and Leif Ove Andsnes in Herbst Theater Monday night, with a recital to treasure and remember.

When the two embraced, it was no act; they too were genuinely carried away by the magic of the evening. This was Goerne's seventh appearance in Herbst; I heard him five times there, and three times elsewhere — the experience varied between good and excellent. But I never had an inkling that this could happen.

The "this" is difficult to describe. Instead of breath/sound/breath, Goerne breathed music, sustaining musical lines as if he was just breathing. The songs didn't seem to begin or end, they were just there, permeating the air. Glorious high notes, exceptional middle notes, secure low notes — yet the listener was not aware of the difference between them; all effortless and deeply moving. Yes, the singing was over-emotional, but with Andsnes' calming accompaniment and the beauty of the sound, no nitpicking was possible ... not that anyone wanted to "exercise critical faculties." There was only enchantment and the kind of quiet ovation that says: "Let it not end."

The program was unusual, adventurous, satisfying: Mahler and Shostakovich songs interspersed, creating a mood and an atmosphere in which nothing mattered, not even Goerne's surprising instances of mumbling his native German, while doing just fine with the Russian text.

A single mood, yes, but big and right variations in the sound between "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen," "Wenn dein Mütterlein," and "Urlicht." Shostakovich's "Morning," "Separation," and "Night" were more monotonous, rightly so considering the nature of the text.

But overall, there were those waves of utterly gorgeous sound, deep feelings (no matter where worn), and brilliant execution. Attention Saint Paul, Kalamazoo, and Detroit: check the tour schedule, and do not miss this musical blessing.

Reklamí Spot Ceské Filharmonie

The above means "Commercial for the Czech Philharmonic," but if you watch it, no translation will do it justice. Would love to see MTT's band match it.

San Francisco's own Czech Charlie (Cockey) notes that the line about "classy as it seems" has more to it than it seems. "Classical music" in Czech is "vážná hudba" where hudba means music and vážná means serious — "serious music," so the the double entendre in the slogan is "Not everything has to be as serious as it seems."

Celebrating Opera Past for the Benefit of Opera Future

<em>A Life in Opera</em>'s Sigmund Seigel, in an S.F. Opera <em>Trovatore</em>It should be shown regularly, but A Life in Opera: In the Shadow of the Stars is a rare sight these days. (My own copy is on a VHS tape, sigh.) Winner of an Academy Award 20 years ago, the documentary by Allie Light and Irving Saraf is a masterpiece, dwells deep into the lives of several members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus.

One of the singers is Sigmund Seigel, a board member of West Edge Opera, and honoree of an important fundraiser for the company on May 6, from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Marsh Arts Center. Tickets for this event are available at several levels:

  • $25 includes film screening, recital, and cash bar.
  • $75 includes all of the above, plus a commemorative Star pin, preferred seating, wine and hors d’oeuvres, and a DVD of the film signed by one of the featured singers (maybe I will replace the VHS, now that there are no longer machines to play tapes on).
  • $175 includes all of the above, plus dinner with Seigel at Berkeley’s Revival Restaurant following the reception.
  • Event Sponsors, at $500, will receive all benefits, plus special recognition as a Sponsor. A portion of each ticket price is tax-deductible, and proceeds will benefit the programs of West Edge Opera.
A nonprofit performing arts organization, West Edge Opera (formerly Berkeley Opera) was founded in 1979 by Richard Goodman. Jonathan Khuner led the company from 1994-2009, when Mark Streshinsky joined him as artistic director. The company presents opera as "lively, compelling musical theater that fuses music and drama to delight, move, and challenge its audiences, while remaining accessible, affordable, and engaging." Operas each season are chosen from three different musical eras.

Robert Bruce and the Sound of Silents

Clara BowThree important and rare 1920s silent film classics will be screened in San Jose, with live piano accompaniment by composer Robert Bruce. The schedule: May 17, It, with Clara Bow (who, of course, became the "It Girl"); May 18, F.W. Murnau’s Faust; May 19, silent shorts by Buster Keaton.

The price of admission must have seemed "real money" at the time these were first-run features, but certainly are affordable today: $15 for each program or $38 for all three. The venue is San Jose's Trinity Cathedral, at 81 N. 2nd Street.

Bruce says the films are projected using a digital format and LCD projector onto a large screen at the front of the church. "The churches, halls, performing arts centers or other venues I use to present these programs are, in part, selected for the quality of the piano they have in-house. The projection equipment is also very high-quality."

It is 1927 romantic comedy about a shop girl who sets her sights on the handsome and wealthy boss of the department store where she works. Cover your eyes if you don't like spoilers: It has a happy — if not politically correct — ending. The film's fascinating history included some three decades of being lost, until a nitrate copy was found in Prague in the 1960s. In 2001, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, according to the criteria of being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Whence the name? At the end of the film, shop girl Betty Lou Spence (Bow) and handsome capitalist Cyrus Waltham Jr. (Antonio Moreno) reconcile on the anchor of the yacht, with the first two letters of the ship's name, Itola, between them. Now you're ready for advanced film trivia quiz.

Ethnic Dance Festival All Set to Go

Nina Herlina, performing with Gamelan Sekar Jaya After long, hard work of planning and many auditions, participants have been selected for the month-long 34th annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Titled "The World United Through Dance," the festival will feature 30 Bay Area troupes in performances on weekends between June 2 and July 1.

The season curated by artistic directors Carlos Carvajal and CK Ladzekpo will take place in various venues — including Novellus Theater at YBCA, Cowell Theater in Fort Mason, Asian Art Museum, and de Young Museum — moving out of its usual home, the Palace of Fine Arts Palace.

The festival this year is co-hosting with other local organizations the Dance/USA conference, expecting over 500 dance leaders from around the country. In a ceremony at the June 23 festival performance in Novellus Theater, this year’s Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award will be conferred on choreographer, performer, and Mexican dance master Zenón Barrón, artistic director of Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco and former principal dancer with Amalia Hernandez’ Ballet Folklórico de Mexico.

Carolena Nericcio of the irresistibly named FatChanceBellyDance Photo by Bonnie KaminExecutive Director Julie Mushet says the festival "serves as the hub for over 450 Bay Area dance companies who are networked with many thousands of dancers and musicians all over the world. These deep international relationships sustain and innovate more than a hundred different dance forms. During the Dance/USA conference, we will bring a national focus to our dynamic and diverse dance community and celebrate our local artists who continue to enrich the lives of us all."

After the festival opening gala with a world premiere by Gamelan Sekar Jaya and Pusaka Sunda, subsequent performers include Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose, Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Carlos Moreno, China Dance School and Theater, Chinyakare Ensemble, Diamano Coura West African Dance Company, FatChanceBellyDance (American tribal style belly dance), Tajik and Uzbek dancers, Ha-lau o Keikiali’i, Las Que Son Son (Cuban rumba), San Jose Taiko, Te Mana O Te Ra (Tahitian 'O-te'a), and El Tunante (Peruvian Marinera).

Tickets, $12-$58, are available from the festival website. Family matinees on Saturday afternoons offer 50 percent discounts to children age 12 and under.

The Perils of Opera Companies, Cont'd

Tim Smith reports in The Baltimore Sun that Lyric Opera Baltimore, the city's new opera company — which tried to fill the void left behind by Baltimore Opera going bankrupt four years ago — is wrapping up its inaugural season with an announcement of cutting back for 2012-2013.

Instead of three fully staged productions, there will be two, plus a concert with duo-piano accompaniment. "The decision to cut back next season resulted from 'a combination of financing and timing,' said Modell Center president and executive director Sandy Richmond of the shorter season."

To the south, 16-year-old San Antonio Opera is expected to file for liquidation bankruptcy within days. The company also faces a federal lawsuit from the American Federation of Musicians, which claims payments are owed from canceled productions. Without assets or a staff, the company will cancel upcoming performances of Don Giovanni and Barber of Seville.

Experience the Beijing Sweep

Following up on the amazing San Francisco Conservatory sweep at the Beijing Menuhin Contest, watch final performances by three of the finalists:

Golden Gate Choral Festival

Philippines' Mandaluyong Children’s Choir to take part in the festival It's still far away, but the 20th anniversary of the triennial Golden Gate International Children and Youth Choral Festival taking place July 9-14 looks like a big event. Twenty choirs from 12 countries are expected to join local youngsters and Robert Geary's Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir (also the sponsoring choir) in many individual and joint concerts throughout the Bay Area.

More than 600 young singers will come together to follow daily free public concerts and competitions, culminating in a grand finale concert featuring the winners of the competitions and all 20 choruses combined.

Since its founding the event has brought some 4,000 young musicians in 70 choirs from 22 countries together, performing for more than 50,000 audience members from throughout Northern California.

Geary will be assisted by guest conductors Maria Guinand of Venezuela and Stephen Leek of Australia. The jury for the historical, folk, and contemporary choral competitions consists of Guinand, Leek, Wang Jin of China and Judit Hartyanyi of Hungary.

Choruses participating this year include Amoy Flower Phoenix Youth Group, China; Bach Children's Chorus, Ontario, Canada; Barrington Children's Choir, Illinois; Beijing Rainbow Art Performance Troupe, China; Budi Mulia Dua Choir, Indonesia; Choir of E. Mikelladze Central Music School, Georgia; Columbia Children's Choir and Vocal Ensemble, Washington; Discovery Choir, Honduras; Fairfield County Children's Choir, Connecticut; Hamburg Kinderchoir Cantemus, Germany; Junior Amabile Singers, Ontario, Canada; Kinder & Jugendsingakademie-Graz, Austria; Kalrup Pigekor, Denmark; Mandaluyong Children’s Choir, Philippines; Marin Girls Chorus, California; Partners in Praise Girls Choir, Minnesota; Young Adelaide Voices, Australia; Youth Choir "Kivi," Lithuania.

The opening concert begins at 3 p.m., July 9, in the LDS Interstake Center, Oakland. The grand finale is at 7 p.m., July 14, in Zellerbach Hall and Lower Sproul Plaza, UC-Berkeley.

Marin's Best at Two Free Concerts

Marin award winners Caitlin Gowdy, Laura Arthur, Kenji Bellavigna, and Colin Wells Photo by Eric ChazankinWinners of the 2012 Marin Music Chest Young Artists scholarship contest will appear in two free concerts in May. All will perform at noon, May 6, in San Domenico School, San Anselmo; and five selected senior winners will be presented at 5 p.m., May 20, in the Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church in Mill Valley.

Participants in the latter are Laura Arthur (soprano) and Caitlin Gowdy (violin), both of Novato; Kenji Bellavigna (clarinet) and RJ Pearce (piano), both of Corte Madera; and Colin Wells (flute) of San Anselmo.

The Marin Music Chest is a nonprofit, all volunteer organization established in 1933. After more than 40 years of presenting concerts, the Marin Music Chest made the annual scholarship program its primary mission, providing financial support to promising local students of classical music.

The May 6 concert also features junior winners Chloe Fung (piano, Greenbrae), Jeremy Goldwasser (flute, Tiburon), Stephanie Oh (violin, Corte Madera), Max Smiley (violin, Mill Valley); and besides the five musicians selected for the May 20 event, senior winners Hallie Jo Gist (flute, Greenbrae), Hayaka Komatsu (violin, San Rafael), Katarina Lee (piano, Corte Madera), and Kuni Migimatsu (piano, San Rafael).

Works on the two programs include music by Henryk Wieniawski, Chopin, Fauré, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Martinu, Carlisle Floyd, Pablo de Sarasate, and Liszt.

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