Music News: Dec. 3, 2013
Music News is supported in part by Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C.
The venerable and benevolent Pacific Musical Society is now in its 103rd year of supporting young musicians — some as young as 6 — a mission that began with such illustrious protégés as Yehudi Menuhin, Ruggiero Ricci, and Leon Fleisher.
The Society's annual winter gala is held this Sunday at 5:30 in the St. Francis Hotel. The important fund-raiser for the Society will honor Susan Stauter, artistic director of the San Francisco Unified School District.
Pianist, teacher, and Sonos Director James Meredith, who has a key role in both the Society and the apparently defunct Young Musicians Program, is accompanist at the gala for soprano Hope Briggs. He is also also directing YMP's 17-member Young Musicians Choral Orchestra Choraleers, which will perform a work staged by Olivia Stapp.
Among the YMP alumnae and participants in the Choral Orchestra: Melissa Angulo, first place winner in 2011 and 2013 Society competition winner, currently a junior at S.F. Conservatory, studying with Cesar Ulloa. Angulo is also feature, along with Marisol De Anda, 2013 second place winner, in a medley from Claude Michel Schönberg's Les Misérables.
The program includes violinist Robert Chien (first place instrumental, 2013) and pianist Alex Chien (first place piano, 2008) in Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25.
To recall just two of the many testimonials on behalf of the Society, Robert Commanday has said:
In the good old days, during the first half of the last century, San Francisco’s musical and educational life was nurtured and enlivened by its music clubs, music stores, music schools, and even music magazines.
The Pacific Musical Society is the sole survivor of that great tradition, still flourishing, still discovering, supporting, and enabling the best young and emerging talents. At the programs I have attended, including a couple pretty far back, there was no mistaking the love of music and the animating spirit that keeps the flame alive.
And from Frederica von Stade, a great benefactor of young talent herself: "God bless the Pacific Musical Society and every organization that champions the nurturing of young musicians."
Just noticed in Davies Symphony Hall last week how few (if still bothersome) coughs were heard during the infrequent quiet passages of Strauss' mostly fortissimo Alpine Symphony. That's late November, usually the time for all kinds of colds, sneezes, and hacking — but not now. Instead, we had an incredible fall-winter of sunny days virtually without stop.
In Chicago, of course, or anywhere other than Hawaii, there is no such permanent Indian summer as ours. Also, Mahler's Ninth Symphony is not all like Strauss' mountainous blustery work. And now, these seemingly disparate elements cohere in the story of MTT throwing cough drops at the audience. Underhanded, to be sure, which is less likely to prompt an injury law suit.
And so, we yield to Chicago Classical Review's Lawrence A. Johnson:
Michael Tilson Thomas found a novel way to deal with bronchial Chicago audiences last weekend.
Last Thursday night’s opening performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 with Tilson Thomas leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was plagued by audience coughs, which proved especially distracting in the hushed pages of the final movement.
On Saturday night, there was even more coughing throughout the first movement. The conductor went offstage and emerged with two large handfuls of loose cough lozenges, which he tossed underhanded into the main floor audience seats. He said he hoped that would solve the problem and encouraged audience members to pass them on to those that need them.
Among the numerous comments: "It’s a mystery — one never hears this kind of coughing at a movie or a play." There is some truth to that. By the way, Davies Hall has large baskets of free coughdrops at several locations.
San Francisco Opera's The Barber of Seville for Families at the War Memorial on Saturday afternoon brought in a full house, half the audience consisting of children — unusual ones.
Quiet, attentive children, even those clearly in the preteen or pre-preteen category. When in the same house in a couple of weeks, San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker run begins, I only hope the same children will come to that, too.
Onstage, too, there were some remarkable young people, only a couple of decades older than the kids in the audience. It was a cast of Adler Fellows with impressive, career-ready stage presence, especially Joo Won Kang in the title role, Laura Krumm as the tall, willowy Rosina, and Ao Li as Don Basilio.
Shortened by an hour, sung in English (with supertitles), and using spoken narrative to explain the story, the family version relied on the excellent Emilio Sagi-Llorenc Corbella production, satisfying both "regular" and juvenile opera fans.
Speaking of the latter, I turned to a ponytailed 9-year-old in a party dress sitting behind me, and asked — trying hard not sound patronizing — if this was her first opera. She said no, and her mother listed Aida in Verona and Das Rheingold in New York among operas they attended before. True story.
Stories about Beethoven's strange tempo markings go back to the time of the composer, and recently the subject came to attention again. Apparently, when playing Beethoven, many musicians completely disregard the tempo markings on his original sheet music because they are extremely fast.
According to a paper published in the American Mathematical Society, 66 of 135 prominent musicians surveyed regard the markings as "absurdly fast and thus possibly wrong." The reason?
Beethoven got his metronome from a man named Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, who was something of a mechanical wizard. He made little musical automatons, tiny robots that could play music that the public very much enjoyed. Beethoven and Mälzel connected when Beethoven was looking for help in dealing with his hearing loss, and Mälzel made him several ear trumpets. The two most likely also discussed the issue of timekeeping, as Mälzel had been working on metronomes.
Mälzel went on to invent more automatons, like the famous Mechanical Turk who played chess, but he continued his work on metronomes, as well. In 1812 he heard about an invention by Dietrich Winkel, who had created a double pendulum device. Mälzel hurried to Amsterdam to meet Winkel and realized that his rival had a metronome far superior to his own. He tried to buy the invention, but Winkel refused. So Mälzel simply made a copy and patented it in London, Paris, and Vienna.
Around the same time, Mälzel was trying to swindle Beethoven. There was a later debate between them over who owned the rights to a piece of music Mälzel suggested and Beethoven composed. They went to court over it. Historians think that, around 1815, Mälzel might have sent Beethoven a metronome as a sign of forgiveness and peace, and by 1817 Beethoven certainly had one of Mälzel’s devices — the one he used to write all the crazily timed pieces.
That's one view, there are many others. But no amount of reading about the subject can provide what Radio Lab cooked up last week, with excerpts from the Fifth and Third symphonies at speeds varying from today's standard BPM (beats per minute) to the much faster tempos Beethoven might have wanted ... if his metronome was working, or his copyist didn't mess up, or ...
For varying tempos of the Fifth Symphony, here's a sample list:
88 BPM: Arthur Nikisch conducting the Berlin Philharmonic
102-4 BPM: Glenn Gould
105 BPM: Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra
109 BPM: John Eliot Gardiner with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
(And the one that seemed to land exactly on Beethoven's chosen tempo of 108 PM was Walter Murphy's Fifth of Beethoven, from the movie Saturday Night Fever.)
There are orchestras which waste no time looking around for replacement of an ailing conductor, but Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra stands by its man unconditionally.
Mariss Ivars Georgs Jansons, who will turn 71 on Jan 14, stopped midway through the orchestra's final concert on tour in Sydney on Sunday, turning the baton over to assistant conductor Rory Macdonald. Immediately rumors started flying about Jansons' state of health and his future with the Concertgebouw.
But early Monday morning, Concertgebouw annnounced: "Though the form of Mariss Jansons’ contract in Amsterdam is of a different nature than in Munich ('evergreen' vs. 'renewal'), please rest assured that we are already and confidently planning the 2017-2018 with him."
Planning a season may be different from actually leading it, but the orchestra's intention to stand by the conductor is clear.
Jansons became the orchestra’s sixth chief conductor a decade ago. His illustrious predecessors were Willem Kes (1888-1895), Willem Mengelberg (1895–1945), Eduard van Beinum (1945–1959), Bernard Haitink (1963–1988), and Riccardo Chailly (1988–2004). Mengelberg laid the foundation for the orchestra’s acclaimed Mahler tradition.
The Civic Center Community Benefit District is presenting a free, 90-minute long musical event that moves from place to place called "Holiday Lights and Fanfare," beginning this Friday.
Featuring the S.F. Conservatory Brass Quintet, the free performances are scheduled at 6 p.m. on Friday outside SFJAZZ at the corner of Hayes and Franklin; at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, continuing at 1:50 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall; 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 at Davies Hall; 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 14 at SFJAZZ, continuing at 1:20 at the Civic Auditorium; 4 p.m. Dec. 21, at the Civic Auditorium; 3 p.m., Davies Hall.
Pryor Dodge, son of the late dancer-scholar Roger Pryor Dodge, has created a unique interactive illustrated application, Nijinsky: "God of Dance" — available for free download through Dec. 6 at the App Store and from Amazon (keyword: "Nijinsky"); beginning Saturday, it will be $7.99. Truly a labor of love.
Before the recent release of the app, Dodge described the project, which presents 242 photographs of the greatest ballet dancer of the 20th century, in 21 ballets from 1906 to 1916, along with images of him off-stage from 1902 to 1928.
The pantheon of other dancers portrayed include Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Bronislava Nijinska, Lydia Nelidova, Lydia Lopukhova, Lubov Tchernicheva, Ludmilla Schollar, Janina Boniecka, Enrico Cecchetti, Adolph Bolm, Serge Lifar, Alexander Orlov, Anatole Bourman, Alexander Gavrilov, George Rosaï, Josefina Kovalevska, and Ivan Tarasoff.
They are shown in pictures by such renowned photographers as Auguste Bert, Baron Adolph de Meyer, Eugène Druet, Elliot and Fry, Charles Gerschel, Clarence H. White, Karl A. Fisher, E.O. Hoppé, Ernst Sandau, Rudolf Balogh, and Count Jean de Strelecki.
San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas — who has no Davies Symphony Hall appearances scheduled between Nov. 10 and Jan. 6 — has been asked to step in for Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the Philadelphia Orchestra's Carnegie Hall concert this Friday.
Nézet-Séguin, 38, music director of the Philadelphia since last year, has canceled appearances on medical advice that he not travel for the next few weeks due to sinus-related problems.
MTT has already been scheduled to conduct the Philadelphia in the same program in the orchestra's Verizon Hall on Dec. 5, 7, and 8. Hélène Grimaud is soloist in the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1; the second half of the program is a frequent MTT offering: Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique.
Masterworks Chorale's Home for the Holidays concert will be offered in two consecutive performances, at 2 and 4 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the Transfiguration Episcopal Church in San Mateo. Between performances, "an abundant array of holiday cookies" will be offered to sweeten the deal.
It's called a "cookie buffet," and it's included with the already modest admission price of $10 to $20 ($25 at the door).
Highlights of the program: "Deck the Nutcracker Hall" (the traditional carol mixed with Tchaikovsky); "The Boar's Head Carol"; Nygard's "Carols Around" (combining Dona Nobis Pacem with the familiar "First Noel," "Away in a Manger" and other carols); and the West Indian Spiritual, "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy."
Among the many passionate and often contentious legions of opera fans, there are few people who have universal acceptance and admiration. The most prominent of these rare people was Mike Richter, who died in October at age 74. There is now a YouTube tribute to Mike, with the introduction:
As a tribute we present — in the spirit of Mike — three of his favorite singers in repertoire not available elsewhere. Mike had a weakness for the creamy voice of Anna Moffo, who can be heard in "One Night of Love" originally written for Grace Moore. Two of his all-time favorite tenors were Rudolf Schock and Alfredo Kraus. In May 1951 Schock recorded Hans Ebert's "Im Fruehlingsgarten" and Alfredo Kraus can be heard in Massenet's "Elégie" sung live in March 1980.
Michael D. Richter has gained international recognition in two unrelated fields: computer applications in space technology and the preservation of opera recordings.
With a Bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago as academic training, in 1969 he was one of 100 civilian recipients of the Presidential Medal recognizing "those who made Apollo fly," for his work at M.I.T. Labs in designing micro-computer applications in the Apollo guidance systems, largely done before the first micro-computers had been built.
After a brief stop at Commodore Corporation, where he designed proprietary software including the first letter-merging program and the first practical word processor for the Commodore 64 (the first widely marketed home computer), he moved on to the TRW Corporation's aerospace division in Los Angeles, where his work included theoretical computer applications that later became known as digital photography — which began when he used his own Commodore computer to correct over-exposed photos he had taken as a semi-professional photographer.
After a viral infection of the heart forced him to take permanent disability while still in his 40s, Mike began what he called his "second life," immersing himself in the world of opera. Having been active on the internet since its inception as a link between the handful of universities and labs working on Apollo ... Mike turned his computer skills to the preservation of opera recordings.
Mike's computer-enhanced Edison cylinders, otherwise unrecorded live performances made during World War II for servicemen in isolated posts onto CDs, and rare vintage recordings to clarify the sound to a level better than the original. As rights to these obscure and often illicit recordings could never be obtained, he then distributed a handful of copies at cost to a few serious collectors, with copies available to the public at the Library of Congress, The University of Pittsburg, and at music evenings he often hosted at his home in Los Angeles.
Out of the blue and into a sea of trouble, Plácido Domingo told Anna Netrebko, as recorded in Die Zeit:
"Yes, I talk about you. And I am talking about the calibre of a Maria Callas. And I do not just mean the voice, but the musical intuition, the acting, your phenomenal stage presence. Just everything."
Netrebko responded wisely and correctly: "Callas is unparalleled."
But Domingo insisted: "She was unparalleled until you came along."
It was exciting to be there at the promising beginning of Hamburg's fairytale Herzog & de Meuron concert hall almost five years ago, but until last week, there was nothing but trouble there and talk about a scandalous white elephant, with three years of delay (three more to go) and a cost overrun of 500% — to about $770 million.
The project was at a standstill for a half-year over a three-way dispute between the city, the construction company, and architects. Work is ongoing again, and one day the project may be completed.
But meanwhile: Miniatur Wunderland, a miniature version of Elbphilharmonie, has been created, and after troubles of its own, "after just 364 days of construction, and mere 350,000 Euro building costs, the Elbphilharmonie and 10 selected buildings in the HafenCity can be marvelled at on an area of 70,000 square centimetres."
If and when the real thing is completed, it will serve as the main venue for Hamburg's associated Opera and Philharmonic. And there we will find million-mile flyer maestro Kent Nagano, 62, from Morro Bay, San Francisco, and Berkeley, most recently of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He is named Hamburg State Opera's general music director and chief conductor, effective with the 2015-2016 season, after current General Director Simone Young (who is in charge of both organizations) leaves.
Meanwhile, Nagano remains music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, with a new position in Sweden as principal guest conductor and artistic advisor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, a position filled until last year by Gustavo Dudamel. The orchestra does not have a music director.