Music News: Dec. 17, 2013
Music News is supported in part by Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C.
If you count from Dec. 25, the Twelfth Night (marking Epiphany and concluding the 12 days of Christmas) is Jan. 5, but James Meredith's Sonos Handbell Ensemble will get ahead of the calendar with a free Twelth Night concert on Jan. 4 in the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church.
Just back from an acclaimed eight-day, seven-state tour, Sonos will present a lengthy, varied program, ranging from the well-known ("God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," plainsongs and carols) to a group of "exotic" French Noëls, set by Dutch composer Willem Pijper, such as "Entre le boeuf et l'âne gris" (Between Ass and Oxen Mild), "Noël des bourgeois de Châtre" (Noël of the Citizens of Châtre).
Soloists include flutist Diane Tiller, clarinetist Jason Tiller, and soprano Marisol De Anda, 17, winner of both the Pacific Musical Society and Performing Arts Society 2013 competitions. She recently made her orchestral debut singing Sophie in the Rosenkavalier Trio with Frederica von Stade and Melody Moore at the season opening gala of the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, under the baton of music director Dawn Harms.
De Anda, who will sing the French carols and John Jacob Niles' "I Wonder As I Wander," is also a member of the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra.
Sonos has a collective experience of over 150 years of handbell ringing, and has been featured at the 1993 World Ice Skating Championships and the United Nations 50th anniversary celebrations. Among their radio and TV shows have been two appearances with Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio.
Last week's Sonos tour featured von Stade in Texas and Southern California. Meredith says of the complicated logistic:
Touring is getting so much more complicated these days. We can only fly Southwest because we still get two luggage slots with them. (I hear rumors that they may be charging for baggage soon.) We carry all of our bells with us and that's a lot of cases. In addition we travel overland in one cargo truck and a 15-passenger van.
Now none of the rental companies will let you have a 15-passenger van for a one-way rental out of state. This is a new policy since our last tour. So we have to rent two minivans, costing more money, of course. We will see how much longer we can afford to tour in the U.S. We do better out of the country!
"It's a constant frustration for musicians reading sheet music: When you hit the end of a page, you have to flip to the next — mid-performance." That's the problem, and Tonara is among those offering a solution.
Tonara is the name of both an Israeli technology company and the sheet music software it produces. Tonara, the program, is capable of following acoustic polyphonic scores, showing the musician's real-time position on the score, and turning the pages automatically.
The software was launched as an iPad application during the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco two years ago. The presentation on stage included a live string quartet and a vocal performance by Randi Zuckerberg, accompanied by piano, all using Tonara.
The app can be downloaded free of charge, and Tonara offers thousands of both free and paid music scores from Bach to Bruno Mars. These are optimized for the iPad screen size and resolution, plus the option to import other scores from e-mail, web or cloud storage services like Dropbox to create a one-stop digital music binder from both Tonara and third-party sources.
Last month, Tonara announced a new score synchronization feature. What is currently score synchronization allowing musicians to review their practice sessions will, in the future, power stage management functions such as automatic lighting or supertitle changes at concert venues and opera houses:
Tonara’s technology combines audio signal analysis with proprietary algorithms to enable computers to understand notes in live or recorded music. This means that Tonara’s app can now follow any number of notes played simultaneously on any number of different instruments, track the user’s current position in the score even if he or she changes tempo or makes a mistake, and turn the page at the right moment. It can also match any note in a score with the corresponding note in a session recorded on the Tonara app, so musicians don’t have to rewind or fast-forward through audio playback in order to find passages they need to listen to or practice.
Tonara is currently positioning the score sychronization feature as a practice tool, but the Ramat Gan, Israel-based startup is also working on partnerships that will use its tech to power things like smart karaoke systems or stage management tools that will enable lights, projected images or subtitles to automatically change based on specific notes or passages in a score.
Not everybody is in favor of the idea. It could be useful for professional pianists, freed of somebody constantly reaching across their field of vision, but automation in general may have serious problems.
Steivel is choreographer for the new company's debut this week, through Dec. 22, with the Nutcracker in the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, having toured with the production in Reno. The production features sets and costumes by Alexandre Vassiliev.
The newly renovated $28 million Center in San Mateo High School opened this fall, offering a 1,540-seat venue, claiming "state-of-the-art" facilities, including new sections, a foyer, and an improved sound system.
In addition to classical ballet, Bay Pointe Ballet will also feature contemporary works in venues across the Bay Area. The company is also active in the community, providing lecture demonstrations at schools on the Peninsula, and other outreach program being planned. Bay Pointe Ballet also plans to complete a new studio in South San Francisco in early February to serve both the company and the Bay Pointe Ballet School.
The National Endowment for the Arts has announced new Art Works Grants, "supporting the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts."
NEA received 1,528 eligible Art Works applications, requesting more than $75 million in funding. Of those applications, 895 are recommended for grants for a total of $23.4 million. Among Bay Area organizations receiving the grant recommendations:
* Association of California Symphony Orchestras, $25,000
* Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, $20,000
* Cypress String Quartet, $10,000
* Monterey Jazz Festival, $37,500
* New Century Chamber Orchestra, $10,000
* Oakland East Bay Symphony, $15,000
* Opera Parallèle, $15,000 ("To support the American premiere of Anya 17, a recently commissioned opera by composer Adam Gorb and librettist Ben Kaye.")
* Paul Dresher Ensemble, $15,000 ("To produce the premiere of Max Understood by playwright Nancy Carlin and composer Michael Rasbury.")
* San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, $17,500
* SFJAZZ, $45,000
* San Francisco Opera, $90,000 ("To support a new production of Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz," a coproduction with Covent Garden and Teatro Alla Scala.)
* San Francisco Performances, $35,000
* San Francisco Symphony, $75,000 ("To support Beethoven and Bates, a performance project juxtaposing works by American composer Mason Bates with works by Ludwig van Beethoven.")
* Stanford University, $32,000 ("To support Musical Crossings, a performance project celebrating the works by immigrant composers who came to the U.S. between the world wars.")
* Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, $30,000
Parker Monroe is stepping down as executive director of New Century Chamber Orchestra at the end of the season next March. He's been in the position for 18 years, during three music directors and three presidents. His leadership, says NCCO President Mark Salkind, "put New Century on the musical map, first here in the Bay Area and then beyond into the national musical community. He will be greatly missed. At the start of the new year, we will come together and begin the search process for a new leader."
Monroe's note acknowledges the "enormous honor to work with the incredible musicians and board of directors of the New Century Chamber Orchestra and, of course, with the inspiring Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg," adding:
"After nearly two decades with this wonderful organization, I’m ready for some new challenges and the Master’s Program at Stanford that I began in September will surely provide them. I am also looking forward to travelling with my wife, Teresa Darragh, and to being more available to help care for my parents on the East Coast. I will never be far from this amazing ensemble and can now spend more time in the audience instead of the office."
During Monroe's directorship, New Century has embarked on six national tours, commissioned and premiered 14 new works, released five recordings with an additional sixth planned for next May, and developed a strong national radio presence with more than 35 broadcasts on 260 radio stations across the country. The organization also developed “String Quartet Encounters,” an education program offered at no cost to more than 1,500 third through fifth grade students in Marin County.
Going counter to the natural tendency to diss the new kid on the block, I am strongly invested in the history of classical music in the New World.
Coming from a continent where music organizations count candles in centuries (the Royal Danish Orchestra was born in 1448, the Weimar Hofkapelle in 1491, Kassel Hofkapelle in 1502, etc.), I was nevertheless fascinated by such stories as the San Francisco Symphony's (single) centennial, and even more, by Ho'okani hana keaka, the mid-19th century appearance of opera in the Sandwich Islands.
Whenever dealing with early appearances of European classical music in America, New Orleans always pops up, that great city having been in the forefront of imported culture (even before developing its own considerable claim to fame). Still, there has been nothing like a study just published, the 752-page Concert Life in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans by John H. Baron, Louise Rebecca Schawe and Williedell Schawe Memorial Professor of Music at Tulane University.
This "first and only comprehensive history of classical concerts in New Orleans from 1805 to 1897" makes a big claim — only qualified with "probably" — for the entire century what may be true only for the early years (see next column item).
During this period the musical scene in New Orleans was probably unrivaled by that in any other American city. There was was regular repertory opera in New Orleans when the major cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest had none.
There were professional and amateur orchestras, chamber music, and flourishing choral societies.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk — arguably the most important musician in 19th century America — was born and bred there, and so were Bazille Bares and Edmond Dédé, among other African American classical musicians.
Henri Vieuxtemps, Henri Herz, Anton Rubinstein, Sigismond Thalberg, Henrietta Sontag, and many other European superstars loved the music scene in New Orleans in the 19th century. No importanat American artist, from Adelina Patti and her sisters on down, could escape its charm.
It was a city unlike any other, in its architecture, its cuisine, its ethnically and socially diverse population, and its taste for classical music.
The book deals in great detail with concert venues in the city, symphonic music prior to and following the Civil War, and the rich final years of the century; important music societies and series, such as the Philharmonic, Collignon's, L'Orphéon Francais, Frohsinn, and others.
Music and race, music education, and the role of women in the musical life of New Orleans are examined, followed by essays about such key personalities as Paul Emile Johns ("tycoon, musicians, and friend of Chopin"), Ludovico Gabici, Eugène Prévost, Theodore von La Hache, Hubert Rolling, Jeanne Franko, Marguerite Elie, and others.
The second half of the book traces a chronological history of classical music in the city.
About that "probably unrivaled" claim in Baron's book (item above), specifying New Orleans' uniquely pioneering role "when the major cities on the East Coast... had none [of regular repertory operas]," here is a response from Mark Schubin:
Although operas were performed in various venues in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia earlier in the 19th century, the first major opera house that lasted in New York was the Academy of Music, which opened in 1854, and the first in Philadelphia was the still-extant Academy of Music there in 1857. The Boston Theater (later their Academy of Music) did its first opera in 1854, too.
Wikipedia says Mozart librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, at age 84, founded the New York Opera Company, the first opera house in the U.S. in 1838: "Owing to his lack of business acumen, however, it lasted only two seasons before the company had to be disbanded and the theater sold to pay the company's debts. It was, however, the predecessor of the New York Academy of Music and of the New York Metropolitan Opera." The building itself burned down soon after Da Ponte's death in 1838.
Urban planner John Greiner contributes this:
I wouldn't be at all suprised that New Orleans was probably one of if not the major cultural center not only in the 1840s and 1850s, but even later into the 1890s.
Big cities now were not big cities then. New Orleans was the third largest city in the country in 1840, after New York and Baltimore, and was the fifth largest in 1850, after New York, Baltimore, Philadephia, and Boston. It was still in the top ten as late as the 1880s. The big midwestern cities (Chicago and Cincinnati) didn't really start to rise until the 1870s with the expansion of the railroads.
In addition, there are other factors, first wealth. New Orleans was a wealthy city, and a "party" city of long standing. There was a lot of money from the shipping trade up and down the river, and from overseas as a major port. Second, before the railroads — certainly in the 1840s and 1850s — it was who/how you could get somewhere.
It was easy to get to New Orleans on the river or by the sea, much harder to travel to some other cities until the railroads expanded (hence Adelina Patti having a private rail car for touring from the 1870s on). Players/performers/singers could get to New Orleans when they couldn't get to other cities.
In addition, another factor was who immigrated and where. New Orleans was always multi-cultural and was quite cosmopolitan for its time. The spread/populatarity of opera in a lot of cities came with the immigration of German and Italian immigrants who bought that culture with them. That didn't happen in places like New York (or Boston of some of the other cities) until the 1870s and 1880s. The eastern cities had bigger populations, but until the 1870s-1880s it was primarily the Irish and Scots who had immigrated and who did not have an opera and/or classical music tradition like we think of today.
Lastly, most of what we consider the big cultural institutions in the East didn't come about until the 1870s and 1880s, when community leadership pulled together to address the slum conditions in Eastern cities, where the majority of people were poor or even extremely poor.
And finally, a tenuous but irresistible bit of information: Chinese opera companies first visited San Francisco in 1852. Within a decade or two, there were four more-or-less permanent theaters in Chinatown. A PBS documentary tells how "as San Francisco became a recreation center, the Chinese seized opportunities to provide festive activities. In addition, an entire theater building was imported from China and erected in Chinatown to house the Chinese theatrical troupe."
In the year San Francisco Ballet first performed Nutcracker, Franklin D. Roosevelt won reelection over Thomas E. Dewey, becoming the only U.S. president elected to a fourth term.
Yes, it was that long ago, Willam Christensen choreographing S.F. Ballet's 1944 American premiere of the 1892 Petipa-Ivanov ballet to Tchaikovsky's most popular music.
As one-third of the Sunday matinee's audience of 3,200 around me in the War Memorial appeared not yet qualified for preteen designation (9 to 12), they are certainly excused from the historical quiz. But I wonder how many of the grownups, paying for the tickets, realized the size and importance of the economic-educational juggernaut of which they are now part.
Popular as it is around the world, there is no match for the work’s ubiquity in the U.S. Some 800 productions take place annually in more than 120 cities. In San Francisco, the Nutcracker season consists of 31 performances, drawing an audience close to 100,000 and providing S.F. Ballet with income in the millions.
It is also the first ballet (or theater) experience for thousands of children, providing that all-important initial impetus for the love of performing arts.
Helgi Tomasson's production placing Nutcracker in San Francisco is now 9 years old, and it's still charming audiences. Michael Yeargan’s scenery, set during the 1915 World’s Fair, and Martin Pakledinaz’s sumptuous costumes elicited oohs and aahs, especially in the battle between the mice and toy soldiers, the growing Christmas tree, and the huge blizzard virtually hiding the dancing Snowflakes.
Those with long memories still have trouble with the loss of the sumptuous Candyland in the previous production, replaced by an empty stage; the bland Waltz of the Flowers; and especially, the loss of the growing Christmas tree magic. What was a slow, leisurely growth of the tree to an improbable height, with a great musical-stagecraft climax invoking an ovation, now is a hurried affair, with the battle with the mice errupting suddenly, attention diverted from the tree.
Against those objections, there are many pluses, especially in what Nutcracker is all about: the dancing.
Beginning with Ricardo Bustamante's busy and graceful Drosselmeyer, the first act is notable for the dancing dolls of Dustin Spero, Koto Ishihara, and Hansuke Yamamoto, Davit Karapetyan's mighty Nutcracker Prince making his first appearance, and the Snow Queen and King of Dores André and Luke Ingham.
In the second act, Simone Messmer's Sugar Plum Fairy makes a lasting impression. A recent San Francisco transplant from the American Ballet Theatre, Messmer has a rather remote stage presence, but her elegance, sculpted body, and impeccable technique are remarkable. Karapetyan comes into his own in the sensational Grand Pas de Deux, partnering the lithe, bravura Mathilde Froustey, who came from the Paris Opera Ballet.
The Ballet School children and Benjamin Stewart were a big hit in what is now called the Madame Du Cirque scene (the original Mother Ginger or Old Mother Hubbard), along with Steven Morse's Russian dance, and Kristina Lind's Arabian dance.
The Tomasson production's ending — return to the sleeping Clara (Catherine Stoehr) whose dream it all was — is superior to the old Nutcracker and its Peter Pan finale. In both cases, however, the raptuous audience reaction have been the same. There are brand-new balletomanes enjoying their first ovation.
That's Doctor Zhivago as a musical in Helsinki, and it sounds rather awful. As many notable failures (and great successes), it began in California, according to an anonymous blog by a 20-year-old Finn:
Doctor Zhivago, a musical by Lucy Simon, Michael Korie, Amy Powers, and Michael Weller, has only been produced three times before: a test run in a Californian theatre in 2006, then a revised production premiering in Australia in 2011 and a run in Korea in 2012. So, Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's production will not only be the Nordic premiere, it'll be the first production of the musical in the whole Europe!
After last year's Fiddler on the Roof, the king of all overdone classics, I'm glad Helsingin kaupunginteatteri is taking a chance with an unknown musical. Though, from what I saw and heard in the season opening, I feel a strange familiarity... The musical is based on Boris Pasternak's classic novel where the events are tied to a revolutionary movement. The director Hans Berndtsson told that the piece's central themes are love and pain. It was mentioned the musical is sung-through.
"Doctor Zhivago is a story is about love in all of its most difficult forms, but it's also describes the suffering of the Russian people in the beginning of the 20th century", Berndtsson described the musical's plot. "The original novel is one of the darkest in history, but the theme of love draws people to it."
Sounds rather familiar, right? The original Les Misérables premieres in Tampere this fall, so Finnish audiences can compare the two themselves. Or maybe Zhivago is Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's late answer to Svenska Teatern's Kristina från Duvemåla – yet another spectacle that strongly resembles Les Mis?
I don't think you can go wrong with Tuukka Leppänen [in the title role], and no complaints about the other leads, such as Anna-Maija Tuokko, Marika Westerling, Esko Roine and Antti Timonen, either.
The blog then casually mentions that the theater had 13 (thirteen!) other premieres this fall, and expresses doubt that "anyone over 10 but under 40 years old would find the selections too interesting — children's plays, parenting troubles, the struggles of the elderly..."
On An Overgrown Path blog registers an alarming development in London, long one of the great music centers of the world:
I have been attending concerts at the Southbank, recitals and orchestral, since 1969. I can attest to the fact the audience composition has changed little in terms of the preponderance of silver hair over that time. But the saddest thing is the sharp decline in total audience size over the last few years.
I have seen this in concerts of all types. I was surprised to see a concert with the Suisse Romande Orchestra and Berekovsky in the Grieg Concerto less than half full. Similarly, the recent Berio/Bernstein concert with Marin Alsop and the Sao Paulo Orchestra again was less than half full. The Zimmermann Ecclesiastical Action concert [with Vladimir Jurowski conducting and Ein deutsches Requiem in the second half] was less than a third full. These are just a few examples that spring to mind.
As to the state of the once great Queen Elizabeth Hall, the blog quotes David Murphy:
A scene now of squalor, holed carpets, shabby seating, destroyed acoustic due to clutter around the stage, a once ice-cool sixties now degraded foyer with cheap stud partitioning and a group of untidy usherettes who look as if they just left the night shift at a 24hrs Tescos.
And of the Festival Hall:
The front rows of the circle give a commanding view, but again the sound is distant, unfocused, unclear and dead. The rear stalls is the Lost World of concert going. I am not kidding when I tell you I have been surrounded by people actually sleeping during a concert, one snoring quite audibly and not out of tune with the Schumann symphony that could be heard playing in the distance like a phantom radio programme on the BBC World Service long wave.
The blog continues:
David Murphy's views may be trenchant, but they are shared. Some years ago I was spending much of my life in the Royal Festival Hall, but now I find few compelling reasons to visit it. Last month was a rare exception when I attended some of the Rest Is Noise festival events. But because I am part of the much despised ageing audience and also because some readers think I complain too much — to which I reply perhaps other bloggers don't complain enough — I thought it best not mention the tawdry feel of the Southbank Centre, which is now more suburban shopping mall than world class concert hall.