Music News: Aug. 12, 2014

August 12, 2014

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Saint Michael Trio 'Informance' at Humanities West

August 12, 2014

Saint Michael Trio: Daniel Cher, Russell Hancock, Michel Flexer Photo by Sterling Hancock

We find it genuinely interesting that a format invented in the 1700s still turns out to be highly useful in the 21st century. Old Haydn was really onto something when he pioneered it, and we think that "something" is nothing more than story telling.

Speaking for the Saint Michael Trio, Russell Hancock is explaining "a unique ‘informance’ showcasing classical music at its most fun." Opening the season for Humanities West on Sept. 19, the program is "Rockin’ the Sonata," the first concert in the organization's illustrious 31-year history of lectures.

Both Franz Joseph Haydn (1723-1809) and Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947) are highly formal in their sonata form. Yet Haydn’s classical sonatas embodied the formalism of the 18th-century Enlightenment, while Detroit native Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music (1987) anticipates and expresses the whimsy and energy of a 21st-century urban metropolis.

Performance and narration are interwoven at the evening by the trio who "demonstrate with passion, wit, and their own virtuosity how two utterly different composers use the same tools to express the sentiment of their age."

Paul Schoenfield Portrait by Justin PearsonOf the sonata, Hancock goes on to say:

This form, with its very predictable components, Haydn was really doing the same thing that later become so familiar and popular in Walt Disney films or corny situation comedies. You always know what's going to happen, you always know its formulaic, and yet you like it anyway. The formula really works and it's still working in the hands of a very modernist and contemporary composer like Paul Schoenfield, who we think is telling the story of the 21st century metropolis.

The unusual ensemble is said "to go about balancing a life in the material world with a commitment to the arts ... three men who thrive in entrepreneurial careers and 'Rock the Sonata'."

- Violinist Daniel Cher won a music prize at Stanford University and his concerto appearances include the Orchestra New England and the New Haven Symphony. A medical doctor, he designs and implements clinical trials for Bay Area medical device companies.

- Cellist Michel Flexer performed frequently with the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. As a student at Harvard he studied with Bernard Greenhouse at the New England Conservatory. A software engineer and a serial entrepreneur, he has worked most recently with C3, Gain Technologies, and Siebel Systems.

- Pianist and lecturer Russell Hancock has appeared as concerto soloist with symphonies throughout the United States and his worldwide appearances include recitals from Taipei to Tapachula, Mexico. A member of the public policy faculty at Stanford, he is president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

Established in 2007, the trio performs classical works, jazz, and even rock, and their hallmark is mixing all of it in the same concert. In 2008, "Saint Mike" — their reference, not mine — was named artists-in-residence at Menlo College, two years later became affiliated artists at Notre Dame de Namur University, and were installed as anchors in the Villa Chamber Series at Montalvo Arts Center.

In 2012 they began a partnership with Stanford University, appearing to sold-out crowds at Dinkelspiel Auditorium where they deliver their trademark "informances" exploring classical composers in depth.

Even without referring to insurance magnate/composer Charles Ives as a patron saint, Hancock explains the duality of their work:

People are always intrigued to learn that we aren't full-time artists, and that we lead professional lives in the private sector. We don't think it's a big deal. All three of us thought the music would be more satisfying if it wasn't the only thing, and it actually has been. But we don't want people to look at us as a novelty. When we take the stage we're holding ourselves to the highest standard of the music industry and want to be judged that way.

Masterworks Chorale Looking for a Few Good Singers

August 12, 2014

Masterworks Chorale and soloists Photos by Marshall DinowitzOn the next two Monday evenings, Aug. 18 and 25, Masterworks Chorale will hold auditions for its 51st season — yes, half a century plus one — following a notable anniversary celebration. Singers picked by Artistic Director Bryan Baker will participate in performances of:

  • Mozart, Grand Mass in C Minor (Oct. 25 and 26)
  • Bach, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Cantata 191, and selections from Berlin's White Christmas (Dec. 7)
  • Duruflé, Requiem (March 21 and 22)
  • Highlights from Claude-Michel Schönberg's Les Misérables (May 30 and 31)
  • (The auditions are held in the the Choral Room, College of San Mateo, 1700 West Hillsdale Blvd. Go online to make an appointment.)

    The programs, especially the pairing of Bach and Berlin, are a bit out of the ordinary, clearly trying to appeal to different audiences. (It's not unheard of: in fact, mighty San Francisco Symphony opens the season with a program featuring Yuja Wang and Bonnie Raitt.)

    Asked about the season and programming, Masterworks Executive Director Cheryl Blalock says:

    Many new singers from the 50th Anniversary Season are returning, and we are thrilled. We want to share our passion to keep music alive and well, and both to build audiences and participation with new singers. Much of that comes from excellent programming.

    Just as San Francisco Opera now programs cross over works like Showboat, and Gilbert and Sullivan companies program musicals, Masterworks has expanded its own offerings, with works from the Baroque, Classical, and Contemporary Classical genres all the way to Broadway.

    We have a really balanced season, with two grand works in the Mozart Mass and the Durufle Requiem, the more intimate Bach Cantata and finally the ever-popular Les Mis concert in June. Sneaking in a bit of learning while creating glorious sound with a friendly group of people.

    Masterworks at rehearsalAsked to explain the "sneaking and learning" reference, Blalack added:

    For many younger folks who have grown up with less music in the public schools, these are great and sometimes new works and experiences. Our primary programming has selections from 1600s, 1700s, 1940s, and then 1980s Broadway. The genres of each are unique, with different musical styles and interpretive elements. Thus, there is actually a lot of learning, but done in the context of actual singing with a very supportive group.

    I think singers are hugely intrigued by big works that they long to sing in: for example, we grew by 18% last spring when we performed Carmina Burana. So, singers as well as the audience may come to us for different elements of our programming, which is the beauty of such a broad span in the works. Come for what you know, and grow to love something new.

    Baker adds:

    Every year, audience members tell me that Masterworks' December concert brings them into the spirit of the season. These are people who love the holly jolly aspect and those who love the sacred aspect. So it seemed good to me to pair sacred J.S. Bach with secular Irving Berlin. The cantata Gloria In Excelsis Deo contains some of the most marvelous music ever written, and the music from the movie White Christmas is irresistible. So different but somehow complementary.

    Founded in 1964 by Galen Marshall, Masterworks has a remarkable Darwinian record of survival of the fittest: As of the last season, seven choir members have been singing with the chorus for 40 years or more. There were 24 new members added for the anniversary season. This past March, Masterworks performed in Carmina Burana at a return engagement at Avery Fischer Hall, where they first sang in 1987.

    Salkind Festival Makes It Big

    August 12, 2014

    The little festival with big ambitions, the Milton and Peggy Salkind 5th International Piano Duo Festival not only received rave reviews, but from opening to closing last weekend, it went on to surprise and gratify audiences.

    The amazing Kepska Duo: Edgar Woo and Kevin GohTo open the festival, two pianists at a time, playing to a small audience in the S.F. Conservatory's subterranean Osher Salon, presented a fascinating program. The Firenze and Angelo Duos, and Judy Sabin and Richard Stevens performed, respectively, music of Anton Rubinstein, three Soviet-era composers, and Glazunov, before the Kepska Duo of Edgar Woo and Kevin Goh dazzled with a percussive, powerful performance of Shostakovich's Concertino for Two Pianos, Op. 94.

    The two young pianists already have an impressive record, and as festival co-director Catherine Angelo proudly said in introducing them, Woo and Goh have been part of the festival's history, participating in all of the Salkind Young Artists' Concerts since 2006.

    Sunday's closing concert in the Palace of Fine Arts combined piano and ballet in unprecedented ways, as described by an audience member:

    This concert was the quintessential moment. The festival's 12 pianists joined forces with dancers from San Francisco Opera Ballet, Marin Dance Theatre and Smuin Ballet Co. San Francisco Ballet's Tiit Helimets choreographed the U.S. premiere of a suite from the Russian ballet Anyuta, the story based on a Chekhov short story.

    The stage vibrated with music composed for dance and the dancers became the music with each and every movement. There was something mystical about the double helix of music and dance. The festival audiences were not only gifted with the musical treasures of "A Baltic Voyage," but were witness to artistic history being made.

    Can't Find an LP Anywhere?

    August 12, 2014

    Zero Freitas with a tiny portion of his collection Photo by Sebastián Liste/NoorBlame Zero Freitas. The improbable story of the man buying up all the world's vinyl records is reported in The New York Times: The wealthy Brazilian businessman, motivated only by an uncontrollable hording obsession, has been buying up secretly (until now) LPs by the truckload.

    The estimate for the contents of his 25,000-square-foot warehouse in São Paulo is "several million" LPs. Although it's almost like a sidebar, the business of cataloging the hoard is fascinating:

    Recently, Freitas hired a dozen college interns to help him bring some logic to his obsession. In the warehouse office, seven of them were busy at individual workstations; one reached into a crate of LPs marked “PW #1,425” and fished out a record. She removed the disc from its sleeve and cleaned the vinyl with a soft cloth before handing the album to the young man next to her. He ducked into a black-curtained booth and snapped a picture of the cover.

    Eventually the record made its way through the assembly line of interns, and its information was logged into a computer database. An intern typed the name of the artist (the Animals), the title (Animalism), year of release (1966), record label (MGM) and — referencing the tag on the crate the record was pulled from — noted that it once belonged to Paulette Weiss, a New York music critic whose collection of 4,000 albums Freitas recently purchased.

    The interns can collectively catalog about 500 records per day — a Sisyphean rate, as it happens, because Freitas has been burying them with new acquisitions. Between June and November of last year, more than a dozen 40-foot-long shipping containers arrived, each holding more than 100,000 newly purchased records.

    Metropolitan Opera's Grand Crisis

    August 12, 2014

    The building will stand, but what of the company?Crucial labor negotiations at the Met are still at a crisis state while negotiators are waiting for the findings of an independent financial analyst due in a day or two. The unions' last offer was a wage freeze for the next five years; management is pushing for a 14.5% cut in pay and benefits — each rejected by the other side.

    On Monday, Met orchestra musicians notified the press:

    The U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), announced today that the report of the independent analyst brought in to review the Metropolitan Opera’s finances was nearing its completion. Negotiations between the Met and the musicians (Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians) and the chorus and other members of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) will resume later this week.

    Although the Met management has announced a deadline for Aug. 17, after which, if there is no agreement, they will lock out the musicians, craftspeople and choristers, it is Local 802 and AGMA’s intention to continue to bargain in good faith until an agreement can be reached by both sides.

    Bolstering management's call for cuts in salaries and benefits, a financial-disclosure document from the Met, analyzed in The Wall Street Journal, stated that deficit for the fiscal year ended July 31 will be "significantly larger" than last year's $2.8 million shortfall. Management also says cost cuts combined with a planned effort to double the endowment should "provide a substantial positive financial swing."

    Last year's $2.8 million deficit followed a backlash to an increase in ticket prices that, along with superstorm Sandy, hurt box-office sales. The latest disclosure document, dated July 25, attributes this year's deficit to a decline in charitable contributions. So far, the Met has reached agreements with three of the 15 unions.

    Financial analyst Eugene Keilin, who was hired jointly by the Met and two of its unions, is conducting a confidential review of the company's finances. He is a former chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation for the City of New York, an agency created in 1975 to address New York's financial crisis. He is also an opera fan: In the 2011-2012 season, he and his wife donated at least $25,000 to the Met, according to the company's annual report.

    Opera Alive, Norwegian Blue Parrot Quite Dead

    August 12, 2014

    Thrived 55 million years ago, well before the birth of opera

    Art is born out of our collective desire to come to terms with our own humanity, and it is at least as resilient as we are. Great civilizations have risen, and then fallen, and time after time it’s their artistic contributions that we remember: Sophocles’ plays outlived Hellenic Greece, Virgil’s Aeneid outlived the Roman empire, Michelangelo’s David still inspires awe nearly three hundred years after the fall of the House of Medici, Mozart’s operas are still cultural mainstays two centuries after the height of the Habsburg monarchy, and, despite the fact that Great Britain’s reign as a major colonial power ended over 70 years ago, almost every person on the planet knows Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch.

    The parrot may not be up there with Mozart operas, but it works well as an attention-getting bit for something unusual and positive about just one item in today's troubled world.

    Whatever may happen in the current crisis over the Metropolitan Opera's labor contracts, on the musicians' website, Met principal timpanist Jason Haaheim looks to the future with confidence, based on the experience of millenniums.

    Going counter to the doomsayers' listing of disappearing and struggling companies coast to coast — from New York City Opera to San Diego's resurgent one — Haaheim cites examples of robust organizations in Chicago, Houston, Dallas, St. Louis, and ticket sales of 85% to 99% of capacity in seven European houses.

    He might have added many others, not least the San Francisco Opera, which has weathered the recession that began in 2008.

    Where the Met Musicians Are

    August 12, 2014

    Met principal French horn Erik Ralske summers in NevadaMet contract negotiations are still up in the air, bringing us to question what orchestra musicians will do in the fall and beyond. Meanwhile, a dozen of them are across the country, in Nevada's Incline Village. Tahoe's SummerFest features Met, New York, Philadelphia and other East Coast orchestra noteworthies, including:

    Erik Ralske, principal French horn of the Metropolitan Opera, Désirée Elsevier, Daniel Khalikov, Jeehae Lee, Samuel Magill, Jeremy McCoy, Milan Milisavljevic, Yurika Mok, Catherine Sim, Shirien Taylor-Donahue, Kingsley Wood, Nathan Hughes, Sarah Lewis, Javier Gándara, Billy Hunter, and David Krauss. For a full roster of the festival's musicians, see the website.

    On August 15, San Francisco Symphony's Peter Wyrick is soloist in the Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1; Cleveland Orchestra clarinetist Daniel Gilbert and Los Angeles Philharmormonic principal bassonist Whitney Crockett are featured in the Richard Strauss Duett Concertino.

    Festival Artistic Director Joel Revzen also conducts the Elgar Serenade for Strings and Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin on the same program.

    Bergonzi Marathon at Met Radio/SiriusXM

    August 12, 2014

    The amazing 1964 Verdi Requiem castCarlo Bergonzi, the great Italian tenor who died on July 25 at the age of 90, is the subject of a week-long retrospective on the Metropolitan Opera’s satellite radio station.

    Broadcasts include Bergonzi's 1958 La bohème and 1968 performance of La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi and Cornell MacNeil. The foremost Verdi tenor of his era will be heard in five signature roles: the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, Manrico in Il trovatore, Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera, Don Alvaro in La Forza del Destino, and the title role in Ernani.

    A 1964 performance of Verdi’s Requiem, conducted by Georg Solti featuring Bergonzi, Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias and Cesare Siepi will be broadcast on Saturday. Originally, it was performed in memory of President John F. Kennedy.

    Del Sol and Sculthorpe

    August 12, 2014

    Stephen Kent and the Del Sol String Quartet performing Sculthorpe's worksIn a sad coincidence, Del Sol String Quartet is both performing live and publishing a recording of Peter Sculthorpe's string quartets, just as news arrives of the composer's death.

    Sculthorpe, Australia’s most famous composer, died on Aug. 8, at age 85. He was described by Peter McCallum of the Sydney Morning Herald as

    … the first Australian composer to create a distinctly Australian sound and style that communicated to a wide local and international audience. His genial influence on students and composers encouraged generations of composers to look inward rather than abroad to discover their own voice.

    Del Sol teamed up with didjeridu virtuoso Stephen Kent to bring to life the Sculthorpe quartets. Performance dates are Sept. 20-21 in San Francisco; Sept. 28 at Cabrillo College, Aptos; Nov. 9-10 at the Festival of New American Music, California State University, Sacramento.

    Chinatown Music Festival

    August 12, 2014

    Jon_Jang_by_Photo by J. Astra BrinkmannThe 5th annual San Francisco Chinatown Music Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 16, at Portsmouth Square on Kearny, between Washington and Clay streets. Admission is free.

    The festival is produced by the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, in association with Asian Improv aRts, API Cultural Center, Chinatown Community Development Center and Chinese Progressive Association.

    Events include Exploring Engagement Project (11:25 a.m.), Jest Jammin' (11:40 a.m.), Summer Lee (12:40 p.m.), Queen Crescent (1 p.m.), Jon Jang (1:50 p.m.), Summer Lee (2:35 p.m.), Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble (2:55 p.m.), Jest Jammin' (4:15 p.m.).

    With the theme “Without Walls,” the festival will present Toisan Railway, a newly commissioned work by the San Francisco Arts Commission by Jon Jang, the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble of San Francisco, the rhythm and blues of “Chinatown’s Soul Band” Jest Jammin’, and others, along with crafts, games, a film screening of Shaolin Soccer at 2pm, and a new exhibit sharing the installation work of Summer Mei-Ling Lee in CCC’s gallery entitled Into the Nearness of Distance.

    London Orchestras in San Francisco, New York

    August 12, 2014

    MTT's 70th birthday to be markedMichael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra (his third orchestra after San Francisco Symphony and New World), will make their first appearance in two decades in New York, participating in the 49th season of Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series, which will run from November through May, 2015.

    Jane Moss, the series' Ehrenkranz Artistic Director, also announced appearances by Riccardo Chailly with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, and Iván Fischer with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, also featuring performances by Natalie Dessay, Simon Keenlyside, Joshua Bell, and Emanuel Ax.

    During the preceding White Light Festival, which begins on Oct. 7, the Berlin Philharmonic performs the the Peter Sellars-directed St. Matthew Passion.

    Closer at hand in time and location, another great ensemble from England, the London Philharmonic, is appearing in San Francisco Oct. 12-13, performing two concerts in Davies Symphony Hall, under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski, featuring Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in the Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini) and Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3.

    Then, next March, LSO returns to Davies Hall to honor MTT, performing under his direction the Four Sea Interludes from Britten's Peter Grimes, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Yuja Wang), and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2. MTT-LSO will be on an international tour, celebrating the conductor's 70th birthday on Dec. 21.

    Ozawa Recovers From Multiple Illnesses

    August 12, 2014

    Seiji Ozawa at a news conference last December Photo by Yuya Shino/Reuters

    That somebody like me, who has suffered a major illness and underwent surgery, can speak casually about death is proof that I've really recovered. Either that, or I'm really dumb — but please think of me as being recovered and active.

    This was Seiji Ozawa's response last week to the news that a music festival in Japan he founded 23 years ago will be renamed as the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival. It followed a comprable honor, the 1994 naming of a recital hall at the Tanglewood Festival: "That was a little bit like a tombstone."

    Ozawa, who turns 79 on Sept. 1, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2010, underwent lower back surgery a year later, and suffered multiple bouts of pneumonia through the middle of last year.

    Highlights of Ozawa's career include lengthy runs with the Boston Symphony (as music director), the Vienna State Opera (as principal conductor), orchestras in Japan, the Toronto Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony (music director, 1969-1976, after Josef Krips and before Edo de Waart).

    He couldn't pursue a career as a pianist after suffering an injury playing rugby, his physical conducting style resulted in several injuries, but at least he stayed safe during his robust singles tennis games in Golden Gate Park through recent years — wearing only shorts, against etiquette, but no one ever tried to correct him.

    ABT to Archive Library of Congress

    August 12, 2014

    American Ballet Theatre in a performance of Swan Lake Photo by Tristram KentonThe Library of Congress has acquired the American Ballet Theatre’s vast archive and will open an exhibition about the dance company on Aug. 14.

    “American Ballet Theatre: Touring the Globe for 75 Years” will be displayed in the library’s James Madison Memorial Building, free and open to the public, as is it is online, also beginning on Thursday.

    The exhibit will close on Jan. 24, and travel to Los Anegeles, opening in the Walt Disney Concert Hall in March.

    ABT, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, has donated more than 50,000 items of visual and written documentation. The archive includes photographs, Benesh Movement Notation notes and scores, music manuscripts, programs, clipping files, touring files, business papers; as well as information on grants and development, marketing and public relations, office administration and other memorabilia collected by the company, former dancers, and ballet fans.

    Examples of the collection, cited in The New York Times:

    George Balanchine’s 1947 contract for Theme and Variations is there. It stipulated that he would be paid $25 per performance in the first year, with his compensation falling to $15 by the third.

    Amid the mounds of papers also lies Jerome Robbins’s 1944 contract for Fancy Free. As a novice choreographer, he was offered only $10 per performance, with no mention of the ballet being staged beyond one year. (Little did they know.)