Music News: Aug. 5, 2014

August 5, 2014

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Left Coast: Big Season from a Small Ensemble

August 5, 2014

Back row: Michael Goldberg (guitar), Jerome Simas (clarinet), Andrea Plesnarski (oboe), Thomas Nugent (oboe), Stacey Pelinka (flute), Michel Taddei (double bass), Kurt Rohde (viola), Phyllis Kamrin (viola/violin), and Eric Zivian (piano); seated on floor: Anna Presler (violin), Tanya Tomkins (cello) Photo by Jeanette YuIt would be an unusually daring season for a small organization, but not for the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, which has been consistently adventurous and "out there" for 22 years. Artistic Director Anna Pressler explains what makes the organization tick:

Left Coast’s musicians are interested in the connections between new and old music, how diverse styles relate to each other, and how music connects to the other arts, so we explore the continuum of chamber music, across time and categories, in our programs.

Taking a cue from both the S.F. Silent Film Festival and the San Francisco Symphony, Left Coast is opening the season with "Films & Interludes," a program of silent films accompanied by live scores.

Beginning on Sept. 29 at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, and continuing on Oct. 2 at the 142 Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley, the concerts will present Marcia Scott’s Bolinas, accompanied by a John Cage composition, and A Trip Down Market Street, scored by Gabriel Bolaños Chamorro, along with David Sanford’s Klatka Still with the video footage that inspired it.

Additionally, the opening concerts will present Debussy's Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor, L.135; Henri Dutilleux's D’ombre et de silence (In Shadow and Silence), Philippe Bodin's Métal, and Nadia Boulanger’s Modéré from Three Pieces for Cello and Piano.

The versatile group of 12 musicians performing in various combinations continue the season Dec. 7 (Mill Valley) and Dec. 8 (Dennis Gallagher Arts Pavilion, San Francisco) with "Sung and Strummed," curated by guitarist Michael Goldberg and exploring the "timbral possibilities" of strummed instruments — mandolin, harp, and guitar — with guest artists Ann Moss, Meredith Clark, and Travis Andrews.

Composers featured include Stravinsky, Hans Werner Henze, Domenick Argento, John Anthony Lennon, Frank Martin, Amadeus Regucera, and Sam Nichols.

"Circa 1945," on Feb. 2, 2015 (at the Conservatory) and Feb. 5 (Mill Valley), presents a program inspired by the 1940s — David Coll’s new remix of the Ellington/Strayhorn classic "Take the A-Train," along with Martinu’s neo-classical oboe quartet, Stravinsky's Elegy for Violin, and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

Bottle caps into music: detail of El Anatsui's <em>Hovor II</em>, a work of woven aluminum bottle caps and copper wire inspiring six new compositions Photo by Liz Hager"Death with Interruptions," March 19 and 21 (in the ODC Theater), presents a new work based on Nobel Prize winner José Saramago’s novel Death with Interruptions, music composed by Left Coast founder Kurt Rohde and a libretto by UC Berkeley historian Thomas Laqueur. The new work is complemented by a performance of the slow movement of Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden.

The cast of the opera includes Nikki Einfeld, Daniel Cilli, and Christopher Bengochea, and the Volti chorus. Matilda Hofman will conduct, the director is Majel Connery. Death with Interruptions only will have a free performance in UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall, at 12:15 p.m. on March 16.

The season concludes on May 31 and June 1, with "Left Coast Goes to the Museum," new works by six emerging composers: Jean Ahn, Nick Benavides, Jonathan Holland, Emily Koh, Mei-Fang Lin, and Ryan Suleiman, each inspired by two contrasting artworks displayed in Gallery 16 of the de Young Museum.

One black and one gold, the sculptures create art out of leftovers. Cornelia Parker’s Anti-Mass is formed from the charred remains of a church destroyed by arson. On the opposite wall is El Anatsui’s Hovor II, an enormous opulent wall hanging created from discarded bottle tops. The new works will also be performed at the museum, date and time to be announced later.

The May 31-June 1 concerts also include Schumann's Impromptus sur une romance de Clara Wieck for Piano, Opus 5; Thea Musgrave's Impromptu No. 2 for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet; and Jon Deak's Lady Chatterly’s Dream for Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, and Piano.

In addition to producing its own concerts, LCCE has commissioned and premiered more than 70 new pieces, and sponsors an annual composition contest that draws over 150 applicants each year. The performance of 2014 LCCE competition winner Felix Leuschner’s Krieg ohne Schlacht for Tenor and Cello is scheduled for the May 31-June 1 concerts.

Season tickets are available from the Left Coast website, single tickets at the door or from Brown Paper Tickets.

S.F. Choral Society's German Requiem

August 5, 2014

Artistic Director Robert Geary Photo by Geneva AndersonSan Francisco Choral Society Artistic Director Robert Geary says:

Every five or six years the San Francisco Choral Society performs the music of Johannes Brahms. I think we all feel a great sense of privilege to have the opportunity to re-discover the deep human affinity Brahms expressed through his absolutely gorgeous and compelling harmony and melody.

This sense of privilege is made all the greater by being able to perform with Marnie Breckenridge and Eugene Brancoveanu, both artists of the highest caliber, deserving of the international acclaim they have earned.

The German Requiem is among the very few works of the genre in German, non-liturgical and focuses on humanism and how "Death is swallowed up in victory." Brahms' letters include references to second thoughts about the work's name, that "Human" would have been more fitting than "German."

Brahms first contemplated writing a Requiem in 1856 upon the death of Robert Schumann, a close friend. At 23, Brahms might have been one of the youngest composers ever to consider writing about death (poets are different). Ten years later, when his mother died, Brahms completed the work in 1866.

The text is compiled from Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible. After completing the work, Brahms wrote: "Now I am consoled. I have surmounted obstacles that I thought I could never overcome and I feel like an eagle, soaring ever higher."

For Brancoveanu, it's the third time to sing the mighty "For here we have no lasting place" aria:

I find something new in the piece every time I sing it. It has a youthfulness about it that I find in no other requiem or mass. As if the chorus and the soloist yell to the heavens seeking connection out of fear.

I am very excited to be singing with Marnie again and the wonderful SF Choral Society. Having grown up with both Romanian and German, the text has an added intimacy for me.

Brahms soloists Marnie Breckenridge and Eugene Brancoveanu are shown here when they appeared with the Choral Society in <em>Carmina Burana</em>More than 200 singers will participate in the chorus for the Ein Deutsches Requiem performances, the California Symphony will accompany. Also on the program is Brahms’ Nänie, the German form of the Latin "nenia," meaning a song of lamentation. Composed in 1881, after the death of painter Anselm Feurebach, the 15-minute work is rarely performed, Geary says, because it is extremely difficult. The text is by Friedrich Schiller (of "Ode to Joy").

Junior and senior high school students are invited to attend these concerts for free. For admission, e-mail [email protected] with your name and school. The student program is supported by the Wells Fargo and Bernard Osher Foundations.

Sacramento Orchestra and Opera: Indefinite Hiatus

August 5, 2014

Michael Morgan Photo by Eric PolitzerThe Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera have both suspended operations for the next season, citing ongoing financial problems.

The orchestra was established in 1997 after the disbandment of the Sacramento Symphony, which had severe administrative difficulties and operating deficits, repeatedly filing for bankruptcy. The Philharmonic and Opera merged last year as the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance. Laurie E. Nelson was named board president of SRPAA last month.

Under the leadership of Music Director Michael Morgan, the Philharmonic made a great effort to establish itself with programming for a diverse community and a variety of community engagements. Its efforts reached into schools, hospitals, housing shelters, and other places where, Morgan said, "classical music can ignite hope, strengthen self-esteem and provide respite from a stressful world."

Morgan's "Songs of Hope" series, for example, featured musicians from Israel, Egypt, and Palestine. "Viva la Musica" concerts played the music of composers with Latino roots or ties.

But now the organization can no longer deal with budgeting problems because, as reported by Edward Ortiz in the Sacramento Bee:

Although last year’s merger was supposed to strengthen both the opera and the philharmonic, it hasn’t had that effect. The two groups’ combined budgets totaled more than $2 million before the merger. At this point, the alliance has just $131,000 in the bank for 2014-2015.

In January, the organization received a $500,000 gift from the Joyce and Jim Teel Family Foundation, just before it was to appeal to the city for a $350,000 forgivable loan. The Teel gift allowed the alliance to forgo the loan, with most of the gift used to pay for the Sacramento Opera’s production of Il trovatore.

“We really gave this a lot of thought as a board,” Nelson said of the decision to scrap the fall season. “We could have done another season, like we did last year, and struggle along and end up the year with no money in the bank. Instead, we decided to take a pause and really give some consideration to how to build a foundation for the future.”

The decision was greeted with dismay by Larry Gardner, president of American Federation of Musicians Local 12.

“We’re certainly shocked and dismayed that an organization that has had consistent budgets above $1 million annually would suddenly be reduced to one of approximately $130,000,” Gardner said.

“This has been frustrating — very frustrating — for the musicians,” Gardner said.

Asked about the situation, Morgan told Music News:

I think stopping now to reassess is exactly the right thing to do, rather than leave ticket holders and musicians in the lurch by promising something and then not delivering.

I just hope this garners enough attention, while the organization is still viable, for a course correction. The players deserve some certainty. The board is determined that this should only be a pause, but they really need help. They've put so much of themselves into this organization.

I know the players want to organize some public events in the meantime, and we're all hoping for concerts in the spring.

Philharmonia Baroque on the Move

August 5, 2014

Nicholas McGegan, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale are on a big tour this summer, including performances of Handel's Acis and Galatea with the Mark Morris Dance Group at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival (Aug. 7-9 and 17), Handel's Teseo at the Tanglewood Festival (Aug. 14), and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival (Aug. 15). Part II of the Philharmonia's Teseo recording will be broadcast on KDFC-FM at 8 p.m. Aug. 10.

Philharmonia returns home in the fall for its http://www.philharmonia.org/concerts-and-tickets/the-2014-15-season/ 2014-2015 season, beginning Oct. 8, with "Steven Isserlis, Boccherini, and Haydn."

Vallejo Season Finale for Ramadanoff

August 5, 2014

David RamadanoffDavid Ramadanoff, music director of the Vallejo Symphony since 1983, will step down after the 2014-2015 season, and will serve as Conductor Emeritus thereafter. He will continue as music director of the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra in Berkeley and of the Master Sinfonia Chamber Orchestra in Los Altos. Search for a new Vallejo music director will begin this fall.

Among the highlights of Ramadanoff's career: the Vallejo Symphony’s 1993 tour to Akashi, Japan, to perform Beethoven’s 9th Symphony; the West Coast premiere of Hannibal Lokumbe’s African Portraits in 1997; a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in 2008; and last season’s Brahms German Requiem. His final concert will be April 12, 2015.

Vallejo's 83rd season will have three subscription concerts, featuring guest artists duo pianists Eric Tran and Nathan Cheung; cellist Matt Allen (gold medal winner of the Carlos Prieto, Stulberg, and Gaspar Cassado competitions) in the Shostakovich concerto; and Gwendolyn Mok, piano, Craig Reiss, violin, and Richard Andaya, cello in trios by Beethoven and Brahms. Season tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets.

Orchestra members also play a series of mini-concerts in Vallejo and Benicia schools, partnering with the Vallejo City Unified School District.

Racette's Salome, Well Amplified

August 5, 2014

Patricia Racette and Egils Silins in the Ravinia <em>Salome</em>, James Conlon conducting Photo by Patrick GipsonPatricia Racette's first Salome, a role many suggested her voice may not fit, apparently took place at Ravinia well enough, aided significantly by amplification. Wynne Delacoma reports in Chicago Classical Voice:

Conductor James Conlon, Ravinia’s music director, assembled a strong cast, led by American soprano Patricia Racette who was singing the title role for the first time. Racette’s lyrical voice might seem an odd fit for a demanding role that’s usually the province of singers whose arsenal also includes Brunnhilde. But her instrument is big, gleaming and full of color. Ravinia’s amplification system, a necessity for its sprawling outdoor space, was on full blast and clearly ramped up Racette’s inherent power. But the blend of sound between orchestra and soloists was well-balanced, and Racette’s full-throated, satiny sound easily rode the massive orchestral waves.

She sounded fresh and confident throughout the unbroken 90-minute performance. In Salome’s horrifying final monologue her vocal line moved like a force of nature amid the tumult of Strauss’ raw-edged percussion, ominous woodwinds and sumptuous strings. Her Salome was an intriguing blend of calculating woman and willful child.

Climbing Up High, to Symphony Parnassus

August 5, 2014

Kenneth Renshaw, soloist in the Bruch concertoSteve Paulson's acclaimed Symphony Parnassus community orchestra is looking for "high-level volunteer musicians for the 2014-2015 season," players of all strings, especially violins and basses; horn, including principal; and trombones, principal and section.

The orchestra starts rehearsing after Labor Day. Most rehearsals are on Monday evenings at the School of the Arts in San Francisco. The first concert of the season will be at 3 p.m. on Nov. 2 in Nourse Theater. The program: Bruch's Violin Concerto, with Kenneth Renshaw, first prize winner of the 2012 Menuhin Competition, and Mahler's Symphony No. 1.

To arrange auditions, e-mail [email protected]

Ah Memories! The Whale and the Met

August 5, 2014

Willy, the singing whaleI don't know how it turned up on the web, but here it is, a wonderful episode of Make Mine Music, The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met.

With Nelson Eddy as narrator and singer, Whale tells the story of the Metropolitan Opera looking for the sea monster reported in newspaper headlines, because this monster sings beautifully. The "monster" is actually Willie, a whale who can sing in several voices simultaneously.

A friend of his, a gull called Whitey, tells him about the searching ship, and Willie goes to audition, as it's been his ambition to perform on stage. Unfortunately, Professor Tetti Tatti from the Opera believes that one or more singers have been swallowed by the whale, and need to be rescued — and there will be no spoiler here of the outcome.

Other episodes of Make Mine Music, the film entered in the 1946 Cannes Film Festival: Blue Bayou, Without You, Casey at the Bat, Two Silhouettes, Peter and the Wolf, After You've Gone, Johnny Fedor, and Alice Blue Bonnett. All the Cats Join In is a jazz interlude featuring Benny Goodman and his orchestra.