Music News: April 8, 2014

April 8, 2014

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Hearne Named New Voices Composer

April 8, 2014

New Voices composer Ted Hearne On Monday, multiple award-winner Ted Hearne was named the third New Voices composer by Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony, New World Symphony, and Boosey & Hawkes.

Hearne — a recipient of the Gaudeamus Prize; ASCAP’s Leonard Bernstein Award and Morton Gould Award; fellowships from the Barlow Endowment, the Fromm Music Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and two residencies at the MacDowell Colony — will participate in the multi-organizational residency of New Voices.

He was selected by a panel consisting of MTT, and composers John Adams, Steven Mackey, and David Del Tredici.

A singer, composer, and conductor whose works have crossed the boundaries of classical, pop, and rock, Hearne has collaborated with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Brooklyn Philharmonic, and the International Contemporary Ensemble, and San Francisco's Volti. It is a current joint commission from Volti and The Crossing of Philadelphia that will bring the next Hearne premiere here, in an open rehearsal on May 14 in the Center for New Music, then performances in San Francisco on May 17 and in Berkeley on May 18.

Some of Volti's past performances of Hearne's works, such as excerpts from Privilege can be heard on the Volti website. A spirited example of Hearne's fun with postmodernism is his takeoff on L'Histoire du soldat in Randos III, performed by the Deviant Septet.

After what is described as "hands-on experience" at the New York offices of Boosey & Hawkes, Hearne will work with the New World Symphony in workshops, rehearsals, and performance of two new works in the 2014–2015 season. A work for chamber ensemble and another for orchestra will then received West Coast premieres by the San Francisco Symphony during the 2015–'16 season.

Cynthia Lee Wong, the second New Voices composer, will have her orchestral work, Carnival Fever, premiered this month by the New World Symphony under the baton of MTT. Both Wong and the first New Voices composer, Zosha Di Castri, will have their works performed in San Francisco next season; Di Castri's composition is a percussion quartet, Manif.

Knight of Woeful Countenance ... and the Opera, Too

April 8, 2014

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quixote in San Diego A review in UT-San Diego of the San Diego Opera's production of Don Quixote pretty much says it all about what's happening there:

So much for the opera’s wish for a death with dignity.

When Ian Campbell came out on the Civic Theatre stage Saturday night and introduced himself prior to what may be the San Diego Opera’s final production, Massenet’s Don Quixote, he was greeted by jeers and hisses.

It seemed unthinkable, given that this is the opera, the most refined and sophisticated of the performing arts. And this is San Diego, where decorum, and a laid-back attitude, is all but written into our civic code.

While some people stood and tried to cover the catcalls by applauding, others screamed and yelled “Ian, resign!” and worse. Campbell tried to joke his way out of it, promising the crowd they had to nothing to fear as he wasn’t going to sing, but to little avail.

It was a sad scene, as Campbell is the individual who has sustained this company for years, and now, even as some members of the board are looking for alternatives to closing, he’s the one who continues to dig the San Diego Opera’s grave. And he seems impatient that some members of the board are having second thoughts about burying a body that still has a pulse.

Yes, "To dream the impossible dream / To fight the unbeatable foe / [most likely] To bear with unbearable sorrow ..."

San Diego Opera Discoveries

April 8, 2014

New information is emerging about San Diego Opera's apparent death knell, according to The Los Angeles Times, to wit:

* The company has been spending at least $15 million a year to mount four productions at the 3,000-seat Civic Theatre, with box office returns of just over $5 million a year.

* There is increasing controversy about general manager Ian Campbell's compensation, which has long topped $500,000 a year.

* Carlos Cota, a stagehands union representative, said "The only way forward is with new leadership." He said Campbell and other leaders "have lost faith and are continuing to push to shut the organization down."

* "A faction of the board, which has close to 60 members, has succeeded in getting the closure postponed by two weeks," says the Times story, but neither it nor any other coverage accounts for the difference between the 60-member figure and the vote of 33-1 for shutting down the company. The opera website does not list board members.

High Notes From the Pit

April 8, 2014

S.F. Ballet bassoonist — for more than three decades — Rufus Olivier Photo by Geneva AndersonNaturally, at the ballet, you watch the stage. If you look below it, you may see the tops of a few heads, no more. And yet, it is in the pit that musicians produce an essential part of ballet, of "music in motion."

San Francisco Ballet's splendid orchestra is providing some special treats in the company's current fifth and sixth programs. While the full orchestra, under Martin West's direction, performs in white heat for Yuri Possokhov's The Rite of Spring, to Stravinsky's savage score, I was equally moved by something completely different, chamber music's ne plus ultra, Beethoven's "Ghost" Trio.

Performing the music for Mark Morris' Maelstrom, violinist Kay Stern, cellist Eric Sung and pianist Roy Bogas combined clarity of line with deeply-felt emotion, reminding me (and a prominent musician in the audience) of the gold standard of the trio, with Isaac Stern, Leonard Rose, and Eugene Istomin — yes, the LP recording, with sound never equalled by CD.

No performance excellence could make some of the Saint-Saëns selections (Symphony No. 2 and Adagio from Symphony No. 3) for Helgi Tomasson's Caprice rise above "background music," says this fan of the composer.

Shostakovich's music thrills in Program 5, Alexei Ratmansky's Trilogy, set entirely on works by the composer — Symphony No. 9, the Chamber Symphony, and Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Michael McGraw, piano, and John Pearson, trumpet). Pearson's performance is flawless, with a gorgeous tone, the difficult low notes coming through expressively.

Roy Malan, in his last season as concertmaster of S.F. Ballet, with Trio Navarro's pianist Marilyn Thompson and cellist Jill Rachuy Brindel   Rufus Olivier's bassoon in the fourth movement of the symphony is utterly beautiful, the real heart of the work. Julie McKenzie's piccolo in the first movement is nimble and delightful. Also in the Ninth Symphony, outstanding solos are heard from clarinetist Natalie Parker and flutist Barbara Chaffe. In the Chamber Symphony, Sung's cello sings affectively.

Double bass institution Shinji Eshima, who recently returned from a teaching gig in Moscow, has these thoughts about the Shostakovich Trilogy:

For me the music expresses the really horrific suffering caused by those "elected" to serve and protect us. It is so ironic considering what is going on now in Ukraine, but this is really what it is saying. The absurdity of it all is also revealed in the false happy facade one is forced to wear whilst being fed poison. Such insult to injury, not unlike being asked to pay for the bullet used to execute you.

I can't see the ballet [from the pit], but judging from the set design and the music selected, I think this is not far from the intent.

It is curious that while I was in Moscow recently, I met a US State dept official who informed me of the Russian government's intention of bringing all things Russian back into the culture — to take pride in their arts. This certainly fills that intention, but the irony is even more pronounced now. I have to admit I've been skeptical of Ratmansky, but it appears he has very deep understandings and compassion for his country's history and people.

News from the orchestra includes the pending retirement, at the end of the season, of longtime concertmaster Roy Malan, a prominent violinist and violist with several organizations, including the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players. He is founder and director of the Telluride Chamber Music Festival, and serves on music school and center faculties.

Pierce Wang, 10, of Fremont

April 8, 2014

Pierce Wang Berkeley world traveler Ed Gordon was minding his business while driving from Cleveland to Detroit and listening to WCLV, when:

... I heard an NPR program called From the Top, from Boston. I tuned in during the middle of the program and was thrust into a solo violin performance of somebody's "Fantasy on Schubert's 'Der Erlkönig'." To a non-violinist, it sounded fiendishly difficult, with double-stops from beginning to end plus an obligation to also play the vocal line.

At the end, I was astonished to learn that the soloist was a 10-year-old named 'Pierce something' from Fremont, California, who studies with a violin teacher at the S.F. Conservatory. Even more amazing was this kid's maturity in doing interviews.

I'm sure you must know about him. Any more info you can provide?

Not from the top of my head, had to look it up because among the Bay Area's many teen and pre-teen musical wonders, I missed Pierce in the past. Here is the artist himself explaining it all:

Hi. I am Pierce Wang. I am 10 years old and play the violin. The idea for this website came from a hobby I started as a kid with my dad, and that was to play at interesting places and test out the acoustics (or just to say "I was here!").

I am homeschooled by my mom on the core subjects and by my aunt on Mandarin Chinese. I am also a student in the pre-college division of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. My violin teacher is Mr. Davis Law. He is a super nice guy, and he has got to have a lot of patience to teach me. Before Mr. Law, I studied with Mr. Andy Liu of Saratoga.

In addition to playing the violin, I am a foil fencer, a self-taught ninja (expert at throwing playing cards and paper shurikens), and a future cryogenicist (experimenting with freezing basically anything and everything that will fit in my mom's and dad's freezer). I am also a FIRST Lego Leaguer on my way to becoming a roboticist.

We'll check back frequently in the future to follow the path of this apparent visitor from another planet. Meanwhile, watch an astonishing hour-long recital by Pierce.

Professor MTT

April 8, 2014

Once a student, MTT returns to UCS as a professor Michael Tilson Thomas, who has amassed many honors during his half-century-plus in music, now adds the title of professor. The 1967 (Bachelor of Music) and 1976 (Master of Music) alumnus of the USC Thornton School of Music has been named Judge Widney Professor of Music at his old school. The appointment takes effect in fall 2015.

“Michael Tilson Thomas stands among USC’s most distinguished alumni, and our students will benefit tremendously from his exceptional experience and expertise,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “Given his long-standing and illustrious career, he is a singular role model, particularly for our students at USC Thornton. In becoming a Judge Widney Professor, he joins a select group of distinguished individuals, including Frank Gehry, Dana Gioia and Gen. David Petraeus, all of whom have graciously agreed to serve as mentors for our talented students.”

(MTT, Gehry, Gioia and ... Petraeus? Interesting. Apparently, the general has also taught recently at Harvard and City University of New York, greeted by protests.)

Robert A. Cutietta, dean of USC Thornton, said: “We are thrilled to welcome Michael Tilson Thomas back to campus. It is so meaningful that one of our outstanding alumni has such fond memories of his time at USC that he has decided to give back and impact today’s students.”

Poulenc-Weill Double-Bill from Opera Parallèle

April 8, 2014

The San Francisco cast is propelled from opera to opera on a boat in the desert (behold a "concept"! Photo by Steve DiBartolomeoTo get ready for Opera Parallèle's double-bill of Francis Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias (The breasts of Tirésias) and Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel at Yerba Buena Center on April 25-27, my recommendation is to watch Lyon Opera's wonderful production of the Poulenc.

The Opera Parallèle production is conducted by Nicole Paiement, stage design and direction is by Brian Staufenbiel, whose twist on the presentation is to feature the same singer in major roles of both works.

Baritone Gabriel Preisser performs Bobby in Mahagonny, Le mari in Tirésias; soprano Rachel Schutz is Jessie and Tirésias/La cartomacienne; tenor Thomas Glenn is Charlie and Lacouf/Le journaliste/Le fils; Daniel Cilli is Billy and Le directeur/Presto; mezzo soprano Renée Rapier is Bessie and La marchande de journaux; Matthew Lovell is Jimmy and Le messieur barbu.

From the Lyon production of <em>Tirésias</em> Rounding out the cast of Tirésias is baritone Hadleigh Adams portraying Le gendarme; choral parts will be sung by members of the Resound Ensemble of the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

The production is set in the future as a theater troupe sings Weill's songs. Then after crossing the desert in search for water, they come upon an audience for whom they perform Guillaume Apollinaire's set to music by Poulenc. It is a wild tale of a woman who becomes a man and changes the submissive role of women in her world, as her husband overpopulates the world by giving birth to thousands of babies.

Joining Staufenbiel are choreographer KT Nelson, set designer Dave Dunning, lighting designer Matthew Antaky, costume designer Christine Crook, video artist David Murakami, and projection designer Frédéric Boulay.

Postcard From Morocco Returns

April 8, 2014

Scene from the Merola production of <em>Postcard</em> Photo by Kristen LokenThe Merola Opera Program offered Dominick Argento’s durable 1971 Postcard from Morocco a couple of years ago; the quirky, interesting work returns this week, courtesy of San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

In a coproduction with Portland Opera, Kevin Newbury directs the "whimsical look at life’s journey" at the Conservatory Concert Hall on April 10-13.

Curt Pajer is music director, singers are doublecast between Leah Golub/Molly Wilson, Laura Arthur/Crystal Kim, Ellen Presley/Anneka Quellhorst, Mason Neipp/Sidney Ragland, Woojeong Lee/(Adler Fellow) A.J. Glueckert, Daniel Cameron/Reid Delahunt, and Chris Filipowicz/Sergey Khalikulov.

Above Coloratura, Below Baritone

April 8, 2014

Chen Juan, a singer of many voices The popular (400 million viewer) "China Got Talent" TV show has a new sensation, a female singer with a man's voice, of ambigous gender, with a voice whose range extends from baritone to way above coloratura ... along with a changing tone and even different look between traditional male and female. A report from the show:

Chen Juan, dressed in an elaborate tribal costume, got the judges immensely fascinated as she performed her tribe's song with flawless transition between a man's voice and a female's high pitched voice. The audience gave rapturous applause, and even the host was shocked as there was a huge contrast between Chen Juan's image and her voice. Chen Juan has liked singing since she was young, and was initially apprehensive about joining the contest, but decided to go for it as her friends encouraged her and said she had a unique voice. After the performance, one of the judges even asked her to speak to them in the man's voice. She got "yes" votes from all four judges.

Still, if you want to hear a voice whose range is beyond the average human hearing, this is the one!