Music News: Dec. 10, 2013
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An apparently happy resolution to a disturbing story was talked about and demonstrated Sunday at the Pacific Musical Society's Winter Gala in the Westin St. Francis Imperial Floor, 32 stories above a city shivering in a record cold snap.
The Society's 103rd annual fund-raising event for young (and very young) musicians was eventful, featuring 12-year-old violinist Robert Chien, a 2013 Society competition winner; accompanied by his brother, Alex (a previous winner, in 2008, in Carmen Fantasy, Pablo de Sarasate's transcription of Bizet's opera.
Opera again was on the menu, with soprano Hope Briggs singing arias from La bohéme and Aida (in addition to a spiritual and Christmas songs), accompanied by James Meredith.
San Francisco Unified School District Artistic Director Susan Stauter received the Society's Symphony of Excellence Award, and she spoke of her project to develop an arts hub at and around 135 Van Ness, where the Ruth Asawa School of Arts will move in the near future.
Including the SFUSD Visual Performing Arts Department and Nourse Auditorium, Stauter said the school will be "the central jewel in the crown of a vital Arts Education Hub" in the neighborhood of the Civic Center Arts Corridor, which includes SFJAZZ, Davies Symphony Hall, War Memorial Opera House, the Veterans Building (with Herbst Theatre and the future Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera), Bill Graham Civic Center Auditorium, and more. Assuredly, you will hear more about this in this column and elsewhere.
And then came the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra Choraleers, a sensational performance with the symbolic significance mentioned in the lead of this item. These 17 super-talented youngsters, who sang up a storm, bridge the now-defunct Young Musicians Program and the successor YMCO.
They gave a cohesive and compelling choral digest of Les Misérable, the 20-minute semi-staged piece vastly superior to the three-hour-plus Broadway version I (confession time!) could never sit through. Here, the endless repetitions of a handful of themes were reduced to a managable — enjoyable — size, and instead of the Melachrino strings, here was Meredith on piano and Sam Gonzales with percussion giving it the right accompaniment.
Meredith said of the group's performance: "They have an intense effect on people because they are real and sing from their heart, many of them have lived with a lot of oppression even in their short lives."
So who are these young musicians? They, along with others, continue receiving the invaluable training and support had YMP provided, that organization no longer in existence. What was for 45 years a program on the UC Berkeley, with University support, got a somewhat messy divorce (see next item), and is now looking to the future.
Pianist, teacher, mentor, activist, and publicist Meredith, associated with YMP for 16 years, now has the same title with YMCO as he had before: chairman of the Voice Department and principal accompanist. According to him:
The new YMCO is essentially the same program, just continuing as a new 501(c)3 off campus. They still have an official affiliation with UCB and have use of Herz Hall three times a year. They have offices in downtown Berkeley.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the East Bay Community Foundation and others came with [Program Director] Daisy [Newman] to the new incarnation.
YMCO has weekly orchestra rehearsals with conductor Anthony Parnther. I teach them their weekly vocal lessons, and prepare them for recitals — just did a big two-hour program last week with Vaughn Williams' Serenade to Music, a scene from The Barber of Seville, a big scene from West Side Story, the Les Misérable medley, and lots of individual solos.
The juniors in the program are still getting their SAT training for the tests next year, and I'll be going with the seniors to their college/conservatory audition tours in January and February. Big Band and the jazz groups are rehearsing weekly but instrumentalists are not yet having weekly private lessons. They will be added soon.
The Young Musicians Program, originally founded within UC Berkeley's Music Department in 1968 as a summer program for youth from Berkeley and surrounding communities, eventually expanded to a year-round program, featuring individual, group, orchestral, and choral instruction. Musical instruments and all other aspects of the program were provided at no cost to the students and their families.
Eventually, YMP grew to a community-supported enterprise with a $1.44 million annual budget, 16% of which came from UC Berkeley. Daisy C. Newman took over in 2003, and eventually long-simmering issues, along with conflicts between her, University officials, the American Federation of Teachers, and several former faculty members created a crisis atmosphere, leading to the disbanding of the program.
Asked at the Sunday Winter Gala, where the successor Young Musicians Choral Orchestra made such a hit, to talk about the performers, the settling of the dispute, and the new organization, Newman said "The choral orchestra is unique. The students sing as a chorus, and transition to instruments and play as an orchestra!" (This was not part of the Sunday performance.)
"This aural and visual miracle could only happen here and now with these students. Each time the students make the transition, their eyes sparkle with joy from making the successful trip from risers to seats and from watching the audiences’ reaction." Newman later described the program's status in an e-mail:
The mission of the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra is to identify musically gifted students who cannot afford the specialized training essential for the development of their innate abilities, and to provide them with a comprehensive music education, academic support and personal guidance on a full scholarship basis.
* YMCO is the successor to the Young Musicians Program, UC Berkeley (YMP). The new organization received its IRS 501 (c)(3) letter of determination on June 19, 2013.
* YMCO officially separated from UC Berkeley on October 24, 2013, with the signing of the Transition Agreement and the Affiliation Agreement.
* YMCO is now an affiliate of UC Berkeley and will return to the university for recitals and special events, at least 3 times per year.
* YMCO will also use the University’s marks (Cal and Oskie) on various promotional items and programs.
* Over the years, as YMP increased the number of students served from 50 to 95, the university also increased the number of college classes taught within the same physical space.
* YMP’s increased academic rigor caused a rise in the number of students participating in the after-school tutoring program. At the same time, the University’s music department expanded group participation in musical activities at the end of the day.
* The founding of the Choral Orchestra increased the demand for rehearsal space on the Hertz Hall stage. Concurrently, Cal performances expanded its recital series and the UCB orchestra increased the number of concerts and rehearsals, using the same space.
* In simple terms, YMCO outgrew the space. The university’s facilities could not sustain all of the entities involved.
YMCO has a bright future, ahead. It has a strong board, foundation and community support and the most gifted and talented teens in the Bay Area. YMCO’s board members are former members of the YMP Advisory Council and bring with them the institutional memory and the resources required to build a strong foundation for the new organization.
We will restore the program to its former level of achievement and go on from that point, hopefully, to a larger and more responsive organization. It is our goal to step out into the community and get to know the people we serve, on a more personal basis. Our students come from 4 counties in the Bay Area, representing over 60 different middle and high schools. We will target these areas for performance opportunities, thereby making the community our canvas for creative strokes of communication.
We will continue to work with world-class artists such as Frederica von Stade, Andre Watts, Axel Strauss, Ndugu Chancler, Patrice Rushen, and Hubert Laws.
We will continue to participate in local competitions such as those sponsored by Pacific Musical Society. The Society has been a stalwart supporter of YMCO’s outstanding vocal program, shepherded by James Meredith. Due to his outstanding efforts, YMCO vocalists have garnered full scholarships to leading conservatories in America. Also, he was voted the best teacher at YMCO (YMP) by 95 students in a recent anonymous teacher-evaluation process.
Classical categories are always way down on the list of nominations for the GRAMMYS, and when you get to categories 71 and beyond, don't look for Bay Area artists — this is not their year. Unless I am missing "locals," the only possible names are Victor and Marina Ledin, nominated for Producer of the Year... again.
The 2013 GRAMMY nomination as "Producer of the Year: Classical" is the sixth time their Encore Consultants LLC of San Rafael have been so honored by the Recording Academy, after 1999, 2003, 2007, 2010, and 2012.
Asked about this impressive record, Victor and Marina Ledin told SFCV:
Our residence/studio in San Rafael is where many projects get edited and where we do historic audio restorations. However, all of the recordings this year for which we are being honored (there are four releases listed), were recorded at Skywalker Sound in Marin County.
We work with many record companies, including the Bay Area audiophile label Reference Recordings (two of the CDs were released by them, including Bizet Symphony in C; Jeux d'Enfants; Variations Chromatiques (Martin West conducting the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra; engineered by Keith O. Johnson), and European Music for Flute and Guitar, with Viviana Guzmán, flute and Jérémy Jouve). Also, this year, with EMI (Conrad Tao: Music by Monk, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Tao) and the Virginia-based label, Sono Luminus (ZIA, Del Sol String Quartet), both of which were engineered by Leslie Ann Jones.
The Ledins' Encore Consultants is an international freelance music production, research, development, and marketing firm. They act as consultant/project coordinators to major record labels, classical artists, and performance organizations.
Encore Consultants owns and operates Pleasant Lane Studio, one of only 10 state-of-the-art CEDAR® restoration facilities in the U.S. The company has produced more than 200 recordings in major concert halls and studios worldwide.
Musical America's December issue of Movers & Shakers: 30 Key Influencers in the Performing Arts, includesSan Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley, San Francisco Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink, Cal Performances Artistic Director Matías Tarnopolsky, former Stanford Live Artistic Director Jenny Bilfield, and former San Francisco Opera Artistic Adviser Francesca Zambello.
Says Musical America of Assink:
Many of the initiatives Brent Assink has set in motion during his nearly 14 years leading the San Francisco Symphony have been picked up by others in the field: "Keeping Score," the award-winning radio, TV, DVD, and interactive website series hosted by Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas that has introduced millions to classical music; the launch of the ensemble's own label, SFS Media, in 2001, which accounts for seven of the orchestra's 11 Grammys; the revitalization of "Adventures in Music," now part of the San Francisco public school curriculum for grades one through five; sfskids.com, a web site devoted specifically to the younger crowd; and much more.
Especially with the economic expansion prompting major development in downtown San Francisco, Assink is channeling much of his energy into capturing a larger audience. "There's more residential construction than since the 1906 earthquake," he says.
"So what's happening is young, highly educated professionals are moving into the city, and the question facing our orchestra in this particular environment is, how do we become a part of their lives?"
He also is sensitive to the Bay Area's ethnic communities, launching such programs as the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) community concert and celebration, the Chinese New Year Concert, as well as Community of Music Makers, a program for amateur musicians.
Assink, 56, runs an institution with a budget of $72 million that, like most of its major-league peers, has posted deficits for the past four years; it also weathered an 18-day strike last season. But he says there has never been talk of compromising the artistic product: "The orchestra here is generally seen as playing better than ever before, and that has been reflective of the way in which we've been attentive to making ourselves irresistible."
Among other honorees: executives of the Chicago Symphony, Opera Theater of Saint Louis, Teatro alla Scala, The Juilliard School, Salzburg Festival, Boosey & Hawkes, Boston Symphony, Glimmerglass Festival, Royal Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, Naxos, Lincoln Center, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and Lincoln Center.
Starting last weekend, San Francisco Opera productions of Lucrezia Borgia, Moby Dick, and Porgy and Bess became available on the Classica pay-TV channel for classical music that can been seen in Germany and Austria on Premiere.
Classica also offers opera, symphonic concerts, dance performances, and festivals to 25 countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Early next year, SFO's 2009 Porgy and Bess, with Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell, is being released as EuroArts DVD/Blu-ray.
(Amazon is offering Lucrezia Borgia with an ad written by somebody who thinks Elizabeth DeShong and Michael Fabiano are "actors," doesn't mention Renée Fleming, and calls conductor and stage director "directors.")
Meanwhile, back at home, the Opera's monthly radio broadcast series on KDFC-FM continues with both current and archived productions at 8 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month:
Jan. 5: the 2013 Boito Mefistofele, conducted by Nicola Luisotti, with Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role, Patricia Racette, and Ramón Vargas.
Feb. 2: last month's Wagner The Flying Dutchman, conductred by Patrick Summers, with Greer Grimsley in the title role, Lise Lindstrom, Ian Storey, and Kristinn Sigmundsson.
March 2: SFO's 1982 production of Bellini's Norma, conducted by Richard Bonynge, with Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Ermanno Mauro, Ezio Flagello, and Leslie Richards.
April 6: the last season's Verdi Falstaff, conducted by Luisotti, with Bryn Terfel in the title role, Ainhoa Arteta, Heidi Stober, Meredith Arwady, Francesco Demuro, and Fabio Capitanucci.
May 4: the 2013 season-closing Rossini Barber of Seville,conducted by Giuseppe Finzi, with Lucas Meachem in the title role, Isabel Leonard, Javier Camarena, Alessandro Corbelli, and Andrea Silvestrelli.
June 1: one of the company's most memorable productions, the 1976 Strauss Die Frau ohne Schatten, conducted by Karl Böhm, with Leonie Rysanek in the title role, Matti Kastu, Walter Berry, Ursula Schröder-Feinen, and Ruth Hesse.