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Music News

August 28, 2012

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

Intergenerational Flux at Crowden

Aaron Requiro, David Requiro, and Miles Graber performing at Crowden in 2007 Photo by David WeilandRather than "coming and going, talking of Michelangelo," generations of musicians at Crowden Music Center come and stay, playing music for each other. As the new season is announced, the remarkable thing is how students and former students — many of them now renowned artists — are involved together.

David Requiro, for example, attended Crowden School from fifth through eighth grade, graduating in 1999. His teachers included Milly Rosner and Colin Hampton. While in school — "where I was so lucky to have had a teacher like Milly who somehow gave me tons of attention even though I hated practicing and never did" — he says, he started thinking about becoming a cellist in a string quartet.

Today, Requiro is in the Baumer Quartet — with his brother Aaron Requiro, Crowden alumn Nathan Olson, and summer chamber music faculty member JT Posadas — continuing in the footsteps of its predecessor, the Cleveland Institute's Kashii Quartet, and being a prominent part of Crowden performances and education.

Last year, the quartet served on the faculty for the summer string programs; this coming season, David Requiro opens the [email protected] series on Nov. 4 with pianist Roy Bogas.

Other concerts in the series — which cost only $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors — are by the Ives Quartet on Dec. 2, the Sor Ensemble on March 10, and the Delphi Trio on April 28.

Instrument Petting Zoo at Crowden's Community Music Day Photo by Geoffrey BiddleThe season begins on Oct. 21 with the annual free Community Music Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., complete with the instrument petting zoo, instrument-making workshops, class demos, face painting, prizes, and musical performances by kids just for kids. The event will also offer the Very First Concerts' "Meet the Orchestra" program, with Benjamin Simon and the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra in three performances.

"We want to give really personal experiences through our concert programming," says Crowden Executive Director Doris Fukawa. "We give kids chances to take an instrument in hand for the first time. You can hear a great artist confide a surprising story and then get to meet and talk about it after the concert. Your entire family might end up dancing madly to Mozart. By making it personal, a memorable concert becomes a truly inspiring experience."

A few examples of the many conjoining Crowden relationships:

* Simon had served as Crowden's director, and Wei He (now performing with the Sor Ensemble) as artistic director
* Eugene Sor (of the Sor Ensemble) heads Crowden's community programs, is a member of the cello faculty and programs [email protected]
* Miles Graber and Jory Fankuchen of the Sor Ensemble are Crowden faculty members, the latter a Crowden School alum
* Jeff LaDeur of the Delphi Trio is also a faculty member

CMASH's Smashing Concert

The brave new-music ensemble Chamber Music Art Song Hybrid (CMASH) — "committed to establishing and nurturing long-term collaborative relationships between composers and performers" — marked its fifth anniversary Sunday at Old First Concerts. Jeff Dunn was there:
Artistic Director Ann Moss gave tearful thanks to a large audience for their support. She and (unrelated) fellow soprano Heidi Moss had just completed an exquisite rendition of Jake Heggie's Facing Forward / Looking Back song cycle.

Earlier, the two singers collaborated in partially staged excerpts from Weslie Brown's Chivalry, Sanford Dole's Gertrude and Alice, and Liam Wade's Funny Napkins. In the latter, the two romped out a kids-play libretto conceived in free-association mode by Heidi Moss' daughters, aged 4 and 6, to charming effect.

Kurt Erickson's Song of Solace/Regret and Kenneth Froelich's Nerd Songs rounded out the program. Appropriately, the nerd song "Hello World" was a 12-tone reading of a Basic computer program, complete with line numbers, until "Run" was reached, at which time the program burst into tonality with the titular message.

Van Cliburn Gravely Ill

Van Cliburn, 78, whose 1958 victory at the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow gave a big, lasting boost to classical music in this country, has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer.

Both Russians and Americans embraced the tall Texan for his musical triumph during the worst days of the Cold War. He returned to a hero's reception, feted at a ticker tape parade in New York City. His Van Cliburn Foundation in Worth Worth has been a center of activity, featuring both professional and amateur pianists in contests broadcast around the world.

Schiff's Historic Bach Series

András Schiff The last time J.S. Bach's keyboard works received such major exposition was 80 years ago in Berlin, when Claudio Arrau performed them "all" (an imprecise term for this limitless canon) in 14 recitals.

Now it's András Schiff's turn, the renowned Hungarian pianist playing Bach's most important keyboard works (not including organ pieces and Die Kunst der Fuge) in numerous concerts over two seasons with the San Francisco Symphony (beginning Oct. 7), New York Philharmonic (from April 3), Los Angeles Philharmonic (from Oct. 17), and New York City's 92nd Street Y (from Oct. 27).

Schiff, 58, is known for acclaimed performances of many composers — including prize-winning cycles of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann — but he is most associated with Bach. Said The New York Times, not usually given to gushing: "There is nothing more reliable in the world of classical music today than András Schiff playing Bach."

"Bach is certainly my very favorite composer," Schiff says. "Don't ask me why, because it's like asking why is the sky blue and why do we need to breathe. Every day I start with an hour or more of Bach, food for the heart, the mind, the spirit and the body. All great music after Bach derives from him."

Violinist Yuko Shiokawa and her frequent concert partner (and husband) SchiffThe association with Bach is so strong that Schiff performs all works from memory. In the upcoming cycles that includes such immense pieces as both books of The Well-Tempered Clavier (Oct. 7, 21), all the partitas, the French (April 14) and English (April 21) Suites. Schiff will also solo and lead the orchestra in keyboard concertos (Oct. 11-13).

The idea for the series came from Schiff, but he credits "good partners, such as the S.F. Symphony and Ruth Felt's San Francisco Performances," a co-producer of some of the recitals.

One important figure in the project (although preferring to be behind the scenes and minimizing his role) is John Mangum, SFS director of artistic planning. Until last year, he occupied a similar position with the New York Philharmonic, so he has been part of planning for the Schiff series twice, bicoastally.

Mangum has great admiration for Schiff, calling him "the leading exponent of Bach on piano ... a musician-philosopher with phenomal technique, somebody who has spent a lifetime with Bach." The four series, Mangum says, come "at a point of Schiff reassessing the great master." Schiff himself speaks of a "logical and coherent" approach to Bach through the upcoming cycles.

The pianist is also in the headlines these days, having strongly denounced the government of his native country Hungary, and refusing to perform there or even visit.

"The situation there is horrible," Schiff says:

They have a right-wing government led by Viktor Orbán,and more than two-thirds of the people have voted for them. This absolute majority has enabled them to rewrite the constitution, to rule the supreme court, the economy, the media, and even culture.

Important cultural positions (such as those at the State Opera) are occupied by idiots whose only credential is their loyalty to the party. The extreme right Jobbik party is strongly, disgustingly racist, antisemitic, retrograde, and chauvinistic. All of this in the middle of the European Union. I am not sure when this will change, but in the near future there is very little hope. For my part, I refuse to return to Hungary.

Morrison Reminder

San Francisco State University's exceptional — and free — Morrison Artists Series opens its 57th season on Oct. 14. The 3 p.m. concert, by the Jasper String Quartet, takes place in McKenna Theater, Creative Arts Building. (Both the date and time have been changed since the original announcement.)

Supported by the May Treat Morrison Trust, the series will also feature the Juilliard String Quartet, American Brass Quintet, Trio con Brio Copenhagen, and the SFSU resident emsemble Alexander String Quartet, in music as diverse as works by Ligeti, Ravel, Hindemith, Brahms, Takemitsu, Haydn, Carter, Schubert, Mozart, Cox, Beethoven, Martin, and Norgard.

A Question of en-Title-ment for Opera House Seats

It's still in the future, but the old seats in the War Memorial Opera House will be replaced. Timing and details are all up in the air, but San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet (the main residents) and the landlord War Memorial Board of Trustees are pondering the matter at leisure.

The reason this matter came to attention is a worried message from a reader about the possibility of the new seatbacks being equipped with supertitles, similar to the Metropolitan Opera, and "a $3 charge to be added to ticket prices."

The whole matter is not even in a planning phase, but there has been a — presumably jocular — suggestion from another reader that SFO the opera company and airlines at SFO the airport may yet share characteristics of increasing the cost for every conceivable service. Not likely that we'll be asked to pay for carry-on luggage at the Opera House, she wrote, but will the restrooms remain free?

The Vicissitudes of Social Media in Music

From the recent past "... as the latest sign of our shift into the Great Period of Social Network Maturity," San Francisco Symphony has shut down its social network, The Atlantic noted last week, picking up information from Lisa Hirsch's blog. Hirsch proudly crowed over her prediction three years ago, when there was a mad rush all around to get on the bandwagon:

Today I'm claiming a big "I told you so." I was writing up some thoughts on social networks and marketing for a friend the other day, and wondered what was going on with the SFS social network. I took a look, couldn't find it, and emailed SFS. Today I heard back: They shut down the network back in June, to focus their social networking efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

I can't say I'm surprised. I looked in on the network from time to time over the last few years, and I think its membership never got above 3,000. That's not many more people than can fit into Davies Symphony Hall, which seats 2,739.

It's not really a network; it's more of an echo chamber with a limited number of people talking to each other. Because it's stand-alone, it's difficult to get new people into it, as opposed to persuading some of the 750 million people on Facebook to hit "Like" or to subscribe to your Facebook page. The official SFS page on FB has 19,000 or so likes, a nice multiple of the number of members at the social network. I tell you, I'm curious about the amount of money and staff time that went into setting up and maintaing the network. It can't have been trivial.

Grand Schumann Exploration Coming to Town

Jonathan Biss Pianist Jonathan Biss' "Schumann: Under the Influence" is an international project for exploring the music of Robert Schumann and his influence.

San Francisco Performances is joining Carnegie Hall, London's Wigmore Hall, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam to produce the series, which will tour many U.S. locations and several countries between October and May.

San Francisco concerts, in Herbst Theatre, will open the series on Oct. 4 and 6, then returning March 17 and 29 next year. These events will feature Biss, English tenor Mark Padmore in his debut here, SFS principal clarinetist Carey Bell, violist Scott St. John, and the Elias String Quartet in their first local appearance.

The idea for the series originated in 2009 between S.F. Performances founder Ruth Felt and Biss, when she asked if he would be interested in curating a program, the theme of which he could select. Biss accepted and developed the project, which was soon engaged by other organizations as well.

Mark Padmore The touring project will explore the composer's role in musical history with Biss and noted collaborators performing Schumann works and music by contemporaries Beethoven and Schubert, along with selections from a long list of successors ranging from Berg and Janácek to 26-year-old Palo Alto native Timothy Andres, whose work will have its world premiere in San Francisco.

"This series of concerts takes a deeply affectionate look at the man whose music I find so endlessly fascinating and moving, and attempts to 'place' him — to explore the rather complex relationship he has with the composers who inspired him, and to show on every level how poor indeed we would be without him, his music and his legacy," Biss says.

The Oct. 4 concert will feature Schumann's Märchnerzahlungen and Fantasy in C Major Opus 17, Kurtág's Homage à Schumann, and Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte.

On Oct. 6, the program includes Schumann's Gesänge der Frühe and Dichterliebe, Berg's Sieben Frühe Lieder, and Schubert's Heine Songs.

Stickup: 'Your Violin or $475,000!'

Yuzuko Horigome, before her violin was taken Of the scores of stories about German customs agents seizing Yuzuko Horigome's $1.2 million violin and demanding duties and fines totaling $475,000, not one explains the reason for the action at Frankfurt Airport last week.

The violinist has had the 1741 Guarnerius since 1986, and has performed in Europe for three decades, never running into a problem before. The instrument was confiscated because she could not provide the documents for the purchase, and although she has since submitted the documents, negotiations continue.

Here's an especially rich bit: "A spokesman for the German authorities has suggested that the violin might be returned if it is regarded as necessary for her job." How do you say "d'oh!" in German?

Glass, Days and Nights

Philip Glass' Days and Nights Festival presents two events in and around Carmel this Friday and Saturday. The first event, on Aug. 31, is in the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, an HD screening of Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, with Glass' music, followed by a Q&A with Glass and Reggio.

On Sept. 1, Glass will perform a rare duet with kora player Foday Musa Suso at Sunset Center in Carmel. The events are part of the celebration of Glass’ 75th birthday season, which also includes the first performance of a Glass work by the New York Philharmonic; the world premiere of Glass’ Symphony No. 9 by Bruckner Orchestra Linz in Austria before the symphony’s American premiere at Carnegie Hall; a week of events curated by the composer for the Park Avenue Armory’s Tune-In Music Festival; revival of Einstein on the Beach in New York and Berkeley; Amsterdam, Mexico, and Hong Kong; and concludes with the world premiere of The Perfect American, an opera about Walt Disney.

'Three Faces of the Met'

"The Metropolitan Opera begins the 2012-2013 season with three new productions in vastly dissimilar styles, tones, and modes," writes Martin Bernheimer. "It isn’t business as usual at Lincoln Center."
The gala opening-night bill on Sept. 24 is Donizetti’s L'Elisir d'Amore, with the glamor-diva du jour Anna Netrebko as the comic-seductive heroine. The company brushes up its Shakespeare, after a contemporary fashion, on Oct. 23 with the New York premiere of Thomas Adès' The Tempest, an international success since its London premiere eight years ago. Verdi gets his due on Nov. 8 with Un Ballo in Maschera in a presumably provocative reinterpretation by the modernist director David Alden.

MTT at TED Reprise

Double image of MTT at the conference Translation: Michael Tilson Thomas' "Music and Emotion Through Time" presentation at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference in March is well worth repetition — and, especially viewing — for those who missed it in the first time. A full report on the event is also available, but I recommend highly the video itself.

An excerpt from the transcript:

... every musician strikes a different balance between faith and reason, instinct and intelligence. And every musical era had different priorities of these things, different things to pass on, different 'whats' and 'hows'. So in the first eight centuries or so of this tradition the big 'what' was to praise God. And by the 1400s, music was being written that tried to mirror God's mind as could be seen in the design of the night sky. The 'how' was a style called polyphony, music of many independently moving voices that suggested the way the planets seemed to move in Ptolemy's geocentric universe.

This is the kind of music that Leonardo DaVinci would have known. And perhaps its tremendous intellectual perfection and serenity meant that something new had to happen — a radical new move, which in 1600 is what did happen.

This, of course, was the birth of opera, and its development put music on a radical new course. The what now was not to mirror the mind of God, but to follow the emotion turbulence of man. And the how was harmony, stacking up the pitches to form chords.

And the chords, it turned out, were capable of representing incredible varieties of emotions. And the basic chords were the ones we still have with us, the triads, either the major one, which we think is happy, or the minor one, which we perceive as sad. But what's the actual difference between these two chords? It's just these two notes in the middle. It's either E-natural, and 659 vibrations per second, or E-flat, at 622. So the big difference between human happiness and sadness? 37 freakin' vibrations.

So you can see in a system like this there was enormous subtle potential of representing human emotions. And in fact, as man began to understand more his complex and ambivalent nature, harmony grew more complex to reflect it. Turns out it was capable of expressing emotions beyond the ability of words.

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