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Music News: Feb. 11, 2014

February 11, 2014

Menuhin Lives on at S.F. State

February 11, 2014

Yehudi Menuhin, with yoga instructor, 1953 Fervent yoga practitioner Yehudi Menuhin — long before the number of Americans practicing yoga reached 20 million, investing $27 billion a year in it — loved to stand on his head. Still, I was startled way back then when I interviewed him in Dallas, and suddenly I was addressing his feet where his head was before. He continued the stance for the next half hour.

One reason for recollecting that memory is the splendid Yoga: the Art of Transformation exhibit, coming from the Smithsonian to the Asian Art Museum on Feb. 21.

The other is the arrival of the 11th annual Yehudi Menuhin Chamber Music Seminar and Festival at San Francisco State University, Feb. 14-15. It's a free event, but reservations are required.

Besides the Dallas interview, there is a host of reasons to remember Menuhin, especially in this city — his family from Belarus moving to New York (where he was born), and then to here where Menuhin made his solo debut with the San Francisco Symphony ... at age 7.

Also, about the early years, we never miss the opportunity when writing about the city's grand Pacific Musical Society to mention that Menuhin was among its first competition winners more than a century ago.

Aleron Trio: Solenn Séguillon, violin; Sophie Xuefei Zhang, piano; Anne Suda, cello Then, of course, there were the decades of global triumphs until the death of Lord Menuhin of Stoke d'Abernon in 1999, as a violinist, a teacher, a founder of schools and festivals, an advocate for human rights and peace. (And just one last local connection: Menuhin's parents — Moshe and Marutha Menuhin — lived in Los Gatos from the 1930s until they died in the 1990s.)

The Alexander String Quartet is the founder and director of the festival, and violist Paul Yarbrough is the artistic director this year. Besides the quartet, the festival has a starry cast: violist Toby Appel from the Juilliard School faculty; Naumberg Prize and Irving M. Klein String Competition winning cellist David Requiro; double bassist, composer, and S.F. State lecturer Shinji Eshima; pianists Sarah Cahill and Laura Dahl; and SFSU State Assistant Professor and soprano Christine Brandes.

Also, the young artists the Aleron Trio, Échappé Quartet, Consonare Trio, Holloway Trio, Nyx Quartet, and Friction Quartet.

Violist Paul Yarbrough is artistic director Highlights of the program are works by Schubert and Bartók on Feb. 14; Schubert and Beethoven on Feb. 15; Schubert, Beethoven, and Brahms on Feb. 16. The emphasis is on Schubert, "his brilliant contribution to the chamber and vocal repertoire — in a broader sense, we also celebrate music and its transformative power in the world."

The event will also inaugurate an award for young chamber ensembles, named for Jane Galante, Morrison Trust founding trustee and board member for 55 years; the award to be presented at the Sunday concert.

Briefly, here are some of the events in addition to the concerts, all open to the public:

* Thursday: Jane Galante Prize Final Auditions (Knuth Hall), 5-6:15 p.m.

* Friday: Masterclasses for Nyx, Holloway, Aleron, Consonare, 2-4 p.m.

* Saturday: Masterclasses for Friction and Aleron, 1-2 p.m.; for Holloway and Nyx, 2:15-3:15 p.m.; for Consonare and Nyx, 3:30-5 p.m.

* Sunday: Masterclasses for Holloway, Consonare, Nyx, Échappé, 1-3:30 p.m.; Alexander Quartet presentation, Bartok and Kodaly, 3:45-4:45 p.m.

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

A Paul Taylor Revolution/Renaissance

February 11, 2014

Paul Taylor rehearsing <em>Promethean Fire</em> Photo by Paul B. GoodeEven when the story appeared in Monday's New York Times, a publication of considerable credibility, I had trouble believing it.

For all of its stunning 60 years, the Paul Taylor Dance Company performed the works of one choreographer: Paul Taylor, now 83, and still choreographing away, American Dreamer being just one of his recent works. But now, this news:

Paul Taylor, who is among the remaining pioneers of the modernist movement that transformed dance in the mid-20th century, is shaking up his company as it celebrates its 60th anniversary — in the hope, he said, of keeping it going for "at least" another 60 years.

[He said] said that he wanted to broaden its mission to include presenting past masterworks of modern dance and works of contemporary choreographers in addition to his oeuvre and the dances he plans to continue to create.

"I want to bring back great works of American modern dance that have been done in the past, so that today’s audiences can see them, and I want to encourage future choreographers of modern dance."

To make certain the story is accurate, I asked PTDC Executive Director John Tomlinson, and he responded:

It is true — nothing in Taylorland ever stands still. Paul Taylor loves to defy all those who think they know him. Myself included.

This is one more reason to look forward to the future of the company, and its appearances with San Francisco Performances.

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

West Bay Opera Valentine: Elixir of Love

February 11, 2014

Maria Fernanda Brea is Adina, Chester Pidduck is Nemorino in the West Bay Opera <em>Elixir</em> Photos by Otak Jump West Bay Opera General Director José Luis Moscovich is always enthusiastic, but when it comes to the company's next production, Donizetti's 1832 L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), Moscovich is positively over the moon (but not of Jupiter, see below). Here are the highlights, in his words:

* As Adina, 23-year-old María Fernanda Brea from Venezuela has a voice of a size, clarity, and agility seldom encountered in a single package. Soon it won't be possible to see her live this cheap [West Bay tickets run from $40 to $75].

* For the production, here's my novel concept: We take latest generation image projection technology and, instead of using it to set the opera on one of Jupiter's moons, we use it to deliver, believably, the composer's intended setting. Well, the composer didn't say exactly what town, and I am partial to Fiesole.

* Great orchestra reduction by Bryan Higgins, only involves 24 players but we make it sound twice as big.

* The 30-person chorus [that's just about the maximum for the Lucie Stern Theatre stage] makes me wish we were doing Meistersinger or Boris Godunov.

Nemorino is about to try the elixir for which the Donizetti opera is named * Chester Pidduck, the Nemorino, well-known from appearances with many companies in the Bay Area. He is the quintessential Nemorino, vocally agile and not afraid of taking risks to deliver the character that Donizetti had in mind: a mix of innocent vulnerability and manly determination that ends up carrying the day.

* Baritone Igor Vieira returns after assignments in Europe, South America and the San Francisco Opera, to sing the role of Dr. Dulcamara.

* Krassen Karagiozov sings Belcore and Molly Mahoney makes her company debut as Giannetta.

* L’elisir d’amore was first presented at West Bay Opera in 1967, and revived in 1974, 1981, and 1992, making the current effort the company’s fifth production of the work.

* I prepared a new translation for the Supertitles of this production, which is sung in Italian.

* Stage direction is by David Cox, whose recent credits for West Bay Opera include a memorable Turandot and more recently a very successful Don Giovanni. Set design by Peter Crompton; costume design by Callie Floor; lighting design by Kurt Landisman; projections design by Frèdèric Boulay; sound design by Tod Nixon.

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

'Minnesota Situation': Migrating to New York?

February 11, 2014

At the Met: What's happening backstage? Radio station WQXR reports the possibility of serious labor problems for Metropolitan Opera employees, even a lockout of the orchestra:

The union representing the singers, dancers, and production staff at the Metropolitan Opera is telling its members to expect an “epic battle” in upcoming contract talks.

The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) said on Tuesday evening that it has warned its members that the opera company will lock them out if they don’t accept pay cuts of 10 to 15 percent and other, unspecified work rule changes.

In a sharply worded press release, AGMA executive director Alan Gordon said he is advising singers' agents to "begin to explore other work opportunities for their clients" and to "prepare for the absence of Met income in the fall and winter of 2014, and perhaps even longer." The current contract expires on July 31.

In a response, the Met did not address the predictions of a lockout — which would prevent musicians from working and receiving a paycheck — but cited recent financial difficulties.

"The Met’s primary goal is to safeguard the long-term future of the institution, while maintaining its strength and stability, protecting the livelihood of our employees, and doing all we can to best serve opera lovers," the statement read. "While negotiations have yet to even begin with the unions representing our employees and no proposals have been made, there are significant economic challenges that we face, including a recent decline in ticket sales — an unfortunate situation that we share with other opera companies across the nation."

The musicians' website does not mention the situation.

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

Miró Quartet in Occidental, Burlingame

February 11, 2014

Miró Quartet in Redwood City, BurlingameThe Miró Quartet, founded in 1995 at the Oberlin Conservatory and now performing all over the world, is a frequent and welcome visitor here.

The quartet is coming to the Bay Area again, to give a concert sponsored by the Redwood Arts Council in Occidental on March 8, and at Burlingame's Music at Kohl Mansion on March 9.

Violinists Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violist John Largess, and cellist Joshua Gindele will perform Haydn's Quartet in D Major, Op. 64, No. 5, "The Lark," Dutilleux's Ainsi la nuit (Thus the Night), and Schubert's Quartet in D Minor, D. 810, "Death and the Maiden," in Redwood. On the program at Kohl Mansion is the Haydn and Dutilleux, plus Beethoven's String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2.

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

Interacting With Machover Opera

February 11, 2014

<em>Death and the Powers</em>, design: Alex McDowell, image: Christian Robert de Massy and Vlad Bina In collaboration between Dallas Opera, Opera Parallèle, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers will be performed at noon on Feb. 16 at the Winspear Opera House, and simulcast/streamed to several locations, including the S.F. Conservatory,  and Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University. Admission is free, on a first come first serve basis.

Conducted by Nicole Paiement — artistic director of Opera Parallèle and on the Conservatory faculty as the Jean and Josette Deleage Distinguished Chair in New Music — the opera is directed by Diane Paulus, designed by Alex McDowell, and choreographed by Karole Armitage. The libretto is by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinksy, from a story by Pinsky and Randy Weiner. Here's the description of the work from the Dallas Opera:

Death and the Powers features an animatronic stage, a surround sound system with hundreds of speakers, nine semi-autonomous singing robots and an over-sized, specially designed-and-constructed chandelier that emulates the human voice and responds to physical touch.

The leading character is Simon Powers, a successful and powerful business man, who wishes to perpetuate his existence beyond the decay of his natural being. Nearing the end of his life, Powers seizes his one chance for immortality by downloading his consciousness into his environment, creating a living version of his mind and spirit, called "The System."

Simon [baritone Robert Orth] exits the stage and enters a soundproof booth in the orchestra pit, where sensors are attached to his body. These sensors translate his voice, breath, and physical gestures to the chandelier and a trio of three-sided, robotic walls, each weighing two tons. The System comes to life with sound, light and movement reflecting Simon's thoughts, feelings, memories and desires as he attempts to entice his loved ones to join him in his altered state of existence.

The event offers enhanced streaming and interactive moments through a specially designed, downloadable app, called "Powers Live." Created by Machover and the MIT Media Lab, "Powers Live" is designed to work on any smartphone or tablet supporting Apple iOS 6 and 7 and Android 4.0 and higher. During choreographed segments throughout the opera, remote audiences will receive additional audio, video, and multimedia content flashed to their mobile devices.

The added content will allow audience members the ability to experience virtually the main character’s thoughts and bring the sights and sounds of the live performance in Dallas "within reach." Additionally, HD cameras placed throughout the set and upon various electronic props will provide a "robot’s eye-view" and a more in-depth perception of the opera. So says the announcement.

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

San Francisco's Ever-Busy Singing Girls

February 11, 2014

San Francisco Girls Chorus Photo by Naho YoshidaSan Francisco Girls Chorus ("five-time Grammy Award winners" always goes with the name) not only have a busy season, but also engagements that never seem to stop.

Led by Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa and Music Director/Principal Conductor Valérie Sainte-Agathe, SFGC adds to the season guest performances just this Spring including:

* San Francisco Symphony's Feb. 27 — March 2 concerts of Mahler’s Third Symphony

* Singing in the Creativity Explored Gallery, March 6

* Appearing with Stephen Petronio Dance Company’s Like Lazarus Did, at Yerba Buena Center, March 14-15.

* In Opera Parallèle’s productions of Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias and Weill’s Mahagonny Songspeil, April 25-27, also at Yerba Buena.

Highlights of the girls' own season includes a staged production of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, based on the biblical deluge story, with décor and set pieces by artists from Creativity Explored on March 29, at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco.

Among other activities, SFGC has produced CD recordings, including Heaven and Earth, a two-disc set that represents some of sacred and secular repertoire written for treble voices; Voices of Hope and Peace, which includes many SFGC commissions; Christmas, a collection of diverse holiday selections; Crossroads, a compilation of world folk music; and Music from the Venetian Ospedali, a disc of Italian Baroque music. 

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

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