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Music News

April 27, 2010

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

Theater-Music Fusion Gala for TheatreWorks

A May 8 gala concert at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts will celebrate TheatreWorks' 40th birthday. Still under the direction of founder Robert Kelley, this great little company, nationally recognized for having staged 53 world premieres in 40 seasons, will add three more new works next year.

The event will be hosted by Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, also the author of numerous opera librettos, including those for Howard Shore's The Fly, Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland, and three operas by Philip Glass. Hwang's best-known work is M. Butterfly, a deconstruction of the Puccini opera.

Gala participants are led by composer-singer-pianist Vienna Teng, composers Jeanine Tesori (of Caroline or Change and Shrek the Musical), and Paul Gordon (of Emma and Daddy Long Legs); GrooveLily stars Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda.

Performers include Noel Anthony (Merrily We Roll Along; Jane Eyre), Molly Bell (Bat Boy: The Musical, Memphis), Robert Brewer (Merrily We Roll Along, Into the Woods), Chris Critelli (Tinyard Hill), Lianne Marie Dobbs (Emma, Jane Eyre), Ryan Drummond (Caroline, or Change), Timothy Gulan (Emma), Julian Hornik (Caroline, or Change; Merrily We Roll Along), Michelle E. Jordan (It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues, Crowns), Sophie Oda (A Little Princess, The Joy Luck Club), Courtney Stokes (Snapshots, Into the Woods, A Little Princess), and C. Kelly Wright (A Civil War Christmas; Caroline, or Change).

Funds raised at the event will support TheatreWorks’ performances and education, community, and new works programs.

Goerne Cancellation

Although his Web site still lists San Francisco as his next stop, between Leipzig and Athens, Matthias Goerne is not participating in the April 29-May 1 San Francisco Symphony concerts.

The concerts, under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach, will feature soprano Christine Schäfer and bass-baritone James Johnson in Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony, Johnson substituting for Goerne, who withdrew from performances due to illness. The program also includes Schumann's Symphony No. 4.

He recorded the Lyric Symphony with the SWF Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden conducted by Michael Gielen, and also sang the role of Don Estoban in Zemlinsky's The Dwarf at Los Angeles Opera in 2008; he was just in the L.A. Opera's production of Franz Schreker's Die Gezeichneten.

Audra Brings the House Down

The roar from the crowd at a packed Davies Symphony Hall Monday night was unnerving. It was loud and deep and it went on and on.

The reception for Audra McDonald, summery in a pink and orange shift, brought to mind some of the most enthusiastic initial applauses I remember in the house: Barbara Cook, Gustavo Dudamel, Montserrat Caballe ...

But there was something different. On other nights, the applause subsided as the performance began.

On Monday, after McDonald motioned for silence, she started singing, and after the first line — "Look at me ..." — the roar returned. Then she sang: "I am GORGEOUS!" and eardrums were pierced by the audience. She went on, with the song from the Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick Apple Tree:

    I am absolutely gorgeous
    There's this avalanche of beauty in one woman
    And I'm it. Ahh.
    Oh look at the way all of the parts fit together...
Roar, roar, roar.

The chutzpah of the woman: to sing something that's true, but also funny, but then true again. And funny.

The event — blissfully different from the usual first-half noodling before The Star finally appears — was for the benefit of the San Francisco Symphony Musicians' Pension Fund, so that, McDonald said, "when they retire, they can buy yachts."

The singer was in great form, presenting a fine medley of best-of-Broadway, including some Sondheim songs, one strangely mishandled, another put in a rousing (for San Francisco) political context.

The problem with "Ordinary Mothers" from A Little Night Music was that this narrative/patter song came through as an opera aria — oversung. The interesting thing that happened with "There Won't Be Trumpets" from Anyone Can Whistle was McDonald recalling that she used to sing it "very loud" after the 2008 election, adding softly: "I still believe in him." Extra loud roar.

With the full orchestra, conducted by Ted Sperling, and the singer amplified to the max, much of her usual intimate way of communication was lost, but the evening was still entertaining, justifying much — if not all — of that extraordinary reception

'Memory Forward' for Stanford Lively Arts

The world premiere of the Gurs Zyklus, a multimedia commission from the sound sculptor/inventor/composer and MacArthur Genius Award recipient Trimpin, is leading the Stanford Lively Arts' 2010-2011 season.

Other Stanford commissions include Steven Mackey and Rinde Eckert’s SLIDE for eighth blackbird, and new works by Osvaldo Golijov for the St. Lawrence String Quartet and Louis Andriessen for Bang on a Can.

Recitals are scheduled by Midori and Robert McDonald, Emanuel Ax, and San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellows, along with collaboration with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and Stanford Jazz Workshop, focusing on bandleader and bassist Charles Mingus.

Subscription packages go on sale in mid-June; single tickets will be available beginning in August.

The theme for the season, says Stanford Lively Arts Artistic and Executive  Director Jenny Bilfield, is "Memory Forward."

It’s our interpretation of a broad campus arts theme of memory, and our take on this theme is, as ever, inspired and defined by our visiting artists and campus collaborators. We noted quite an intriguing early magnetic pull by artists with whom we were already in dialogue about next season. Many sought to contextualize within their own current work, memories of earlier experiences, and important personal or cultural history, bringing past to present and background to foreground.
The centerpiece of this theme will be Gurs Zyklus (The Gurs  cycle). Created by the Seattle-based inventor/sculptor/musician Trimpin in collaboration with the director and vocalist Rinde Eckert, the multimedia installation and performance will conclude a yearlong engagement by Trimpin with Stanford faculty and students, notably at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

The work originated in Germany in 1940. The Hebrew tombstone inscriptions in the Jewish cemetery in Trimpin’s hometown puzzled him, and he learned all these people had been taken away to the Spanish-French border internment camp at Gurs — eventually many sent to the death camps. Years later, composer Conlon Nancarrow mentioned being imprisoned at Gurs after fighting fascism with the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Reminded again of that grim connection, Trimpin wondered how he might express this painful episode in his village’s history.

Developing the scope and content of the Gurs Zyklus, using the instrument "FireOrgan" was the focus of Trimpin’s residency. The project engaged a multitude of units beyond A&D including: the College of Engineering, the School of Information, the School of Music Theater & Dance, Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning, and the German Department.

Flicka's N.Y. Farewell

After farewell concerts in Boston, Toronto, several important European venues, and now in Carnegie Hall, it seems impossible that in San Francisco, there are still no events announced for the city's most important singer and heartthrob/benefactor.

There are rumors of a San Francisco Opera plan at the end of the 2011 season, but nothing specific. If it's just a matter of missed communications, please let me know otherwise. N.B.: Philharmonia Baroque is featuring Flicka next March.

"Von Stade Farewell," in Carnegie Hall, as reported by Martin Bernheimer in The Financial Times on April 26:

Frederica von Stade said, also sang, goodbye to New York on Thursday. It was a fine, fond farewell.

The beloved mezzo-soprano, born in 1945, could no doubt linger on the stage a while longer if she so desired. But she isn't the sort of artist who would stay too long at the party. She is too smart, too sensitive, too sensible for that.

She always knew her limits, excelling in challenges that primarily demanded lyricism and finesse, suavity and charm, introspection and point. Devoid of egocentric delusion, she was a thinking person's diva. For all her elegance, she remained warm, direct, unaffected – something like the girl you'd want next door ...

She sang everything beautifully and, where possible, poignantly, even if a few top tones caused strain, even if a cur could note unequal registers and occasional pitch problems. At encore time she added a nifty take-off on "I Told Every Little Star" and a home-made duet with her pregnant daughter, then glanced back at her signature Hosenrolle, Mozart's Cherubino. For her not-so-grand finale she lurched through the besotted buffoonery of Offenbach's Périchole. No fuss, no muss, no gush, no tears.

The audience, of course, went bonkers.

Midsummer Mozart's Youth Camerata

The Mozart Youth Camerata consists of musicians between age 12 and 21. They are mentored by members of the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra and will perform around the Bay Area.

Midsummer Mozart's George Cleve — who has worked with many young musicians in his long career as a conductor, music director, teacher, and coach — says, "it has never been an ongoing intense relationship like this." Says Cleve:

It has turned into an even more rewarding experience than I could have imagined. Three hours [of rehearsal and coaching] seem to fly by with these kids. They are so eager and receptive as well as immensely gifted that I have come to treasure these rehearsals beyond words.

The mentors who sit in with the Camerata on a regular basis seem to be imbued with the same enthusiasm and freshness of approach that comes naturally to their younger colleagues.

Inaugural Camerata concerts are set on May 23 at the El Cerrito Community Center and on May 30 at the Berkeley City Club. For information, see the Midsummer Mozart Web site.

Among the young musicians is violinist Audrey Vardanega, of whom Cleve says:

Audrey is an enchanting young lady with an endless capacity to move me musically. She is an extraordinary pianist as well as a highly accomplished violinist. In the two years that I have known her she has matured into a compelling artist. And all this without a trace of attitude. It is a privilege to work with her.
"Camerata" is an Italian word for a society or salon. The earliest camerata dates to the 16th century, when groups of poets and musicians met in the houses of Florentine aristocrats to discuss their craft. Out of these salons was born the concept of opera. To this day, various chamber music organizations use the word Camerata in their title; the Mozart Youth Camerata continues in this tradition as a wellspring for creative achievement.

Another Yuja-Mania Tribute

For those who missed Yuja Wang's San Francisco Performances recital last week when the young artist had to cancel, here's yet another writeup about her. This is by David Patrick Stearns in the The Philadelphia Inquirer:

No matter how casually she appears to have wandered into a brilliant international career, Wang, now 23, began landing major concert opportunities at 16 while still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music. Cut to last year, when she made her recording on the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label and won her first Grammy nomination. Then she parachuted into the 2009 Lucerne Festival opening-night concert playing Prokofiev under the magisterial baton of Claudio Abbado — while attracting "best new artist" titles like a magnet. And she's accomplished all this without a major competition prize (although studying at Curtis under the well-connected Gary Graffman didn't hurt).

Executive Salary Cuts: a Little Goes ... Some Way

As chronicled in the New York Times:

At the Metropolitan Opera the general manager, Peter Gelb, cut his $1.5 million salary twice starting in December 2008 in response to declining donations, ticket sales and endowment, and recognizing that the opera’s budget would have to shrink across the board.

"An example had to be set, said Mr. Gelb, whose salary is now $1.3 million. "As the head of the institution, I felt it necessary that it begin with me."


A Weilerstein Debut, Webcast Today

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein, 28, who has a substantial Bay Area "history" — from Santa Rosa appearances at age 16 to San Francisco Performances concerts in 2004, 2008, and just last month, with Lera Auerbach — has a special day today.

She is making her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in a concert available for live streaming from the Digital Concert Hall. The concert and the live webcast begins at 11 a.m. PDT today, but if you don't get to read about it until later in the day, there will be repeat webcasts available.

Weilerstein is playing the Elgar Cello Concert, under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. The concert is taking place in Oxford, England, and it marks the founding of the Philharmonic in 1882. The anniversary is traditionally marked in different European cities each year. The rest of the program: Prelude to Act 3 of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Brahms' Symphony No. 1.

Following the Berlin Philharmonic concerts, Weilerstein will return to the U.S to make her debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Music  Director Gustavo Dudamel on May 6-8, performing the Dvořák Cello Concerto.

Station D-Dur: Czech Out This All-Opera Radio

A sort of experiment by Czech Radio D-Dur, writes a friend from Brno, it's a 24/7 all-opera online radio station, scheduled to run until the end of May.

A learning advantage/usability disadvantage: it's all in Czech, providing listings such as Tannhäuser with "Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baryton) a Sbor Státní opery Berlín, sbormistr Walter Hagen-Groll, hraje Orchestr Berlínské státní opery, rídí Otto Gerdes." "Sbor" means chorus, and that's all the help you are getting.

The station also has a listing of all the complete operas being broadcast. Don't miss Príhody lišky Bystroušky, better known perhaps as The Cunning Little Vixen.

Dancing Across Borders From Cambodia

In my neighborhood, San Francisco's Richmond District, the long-standing Russian-Chinese immigrant mix has been lately infused with the influx of Vietnamese, Mongolians, and Cambodians. I know many of them from the neighborhood's small stores, cafes, and restaurants.

When I mentioned to Cambodian immigrants that there is now a film from their country, the response was unanimous: Is it about the killing fields?

The Pol Pot regime's genocide of its own people in the 1970s created a lasting identification of the country with those horrendous events. I was glad to assure them that finally, here's something about Cambodia not dealing with the reign of terror, with its 2.5 million victims, fully one-fifth of the population perishing in the killing fields.

Dancing Across Borders begins in Cambodia, but well after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. It's 1994, and 10-year-old Sokvannara (Sy) Sar, the documentary's subject, is studying Khmer temple dance at the Wat Bo School, as the country's ancient, rich music and dance tradition — suppressed by Pol Pot — is slowly reviving.

Sar's schooling was typical of Asian ethnic dance training for young children, from India to Thailand, and all around the continent.

In 2000, members of the World Monuments Fund — one of the many organizations coming to the aid of devastated Cambodia — visited Angkor Wat, where Sar and his fellow students performed for the Americans.

In the audience was Anne Bass, a philanthropist and balletomane, who was so impressed by Sar's natural grace that — presaging Sandra Bullock and The Blind Side — she took the kid all the way to New York and the School of American Ballet. A decade into the future, Bass will have also directed Dancing Across Borders herself, using footage she had originally taken as personal souvenirs.

Ballet is as different from temple dance as English is from Khmer, and Sar had to make that double transition, along with dealing with strange food, environment, society. The documentary is impressively honest about the teenager's struggle, discouragement, and occasional bouts with the temptation to give up.

Sar's next big break came when he followed his teacher, Peter Boal, to Seattle where Boal became artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Sar's membership in that company and placing as a semifinalist in the important Varna International Ballet Competition followed. In the past five years, Sar was featured in many important roles, including at the opening night of the Vail International Dance Festival.

He even returned to Phnom Penh, dancing in Square Dance, Tchaikovsky pas de deux, and Le Corsaire, at the celebration for the opening of the new United States Embassy in the Cambodian capital.

The film is a wonderful mix of ballet rehearsals and performances, the saga of a young artist's struggle and success, and a personal story of dealing with cross-cultural conflict and resolution. It will be screened in several Bay Area Landmark Theaters, beginning April 30.

The film does not cover Sar's current situation, so I asked him for an update. He e-mailed:

I resigned from Pacific Northwest Ballet last November. I didn't feel like dancing anymore, and wanted to do something else. Soon after, I missed dancing and thought it would be a waste and unfair to myself to throw away 10 years of training. It's only the beginning of my career, and I want to get something more out of it before I switch to doing something else, so I am back to dancing, just not with PNB. I am looking to work with a different company and choreographers, and experience a new city.
Stand by for the sequel to Dancing Across Borders.


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