February 12, 2013
February 12, 2013
Neglected as classical music is at the GRAMMYs, at least as far as the show is concerned, that's what we'll focus on here; if you missed the telecast on Sunday, read about the awards here.
On top: The Brooklyn trio Fun won the award for best new artist and their song We Are Young won Song of the Year. Somebody That I Used to Know, by Gotye, featuring Kimbra, won Record of the Year, while the British folk-rockers Mumford & Sons Babel won Album of the Year.
The local-interest lead, of course, is the San Francisco Symphony’s 15th GRAMMY award, this time the MTT/SFS recording of John Adams' Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine from the orchestra's 2012 American Mavericks festival and tour. The category is Best Orchestral Performance.
This is the eighth award for a recording on the orchestra's own SFS Media label, following seven GRAMMYs for the recent recording cycle of works by Gustav Mahler. Among other winners of interest:
- Look at these names among the Best Folk Album winners: Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile for The Goat Rodeo Sessions (also winning Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical).
- In the Best Musical Theater Album category, unexpectedly (at least to me) the Glen Hansard-Marketa Irglova Once: A New Musical beat out the new Broadway productions of Sondheim's Follies (Elaine Paige, Bernadette Peters, Danny Burstein, Jan Maxwell) and The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess with Audra McDonald.
- Righteously so, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris won the Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
- Somewhat less justified, but acceptable, is the victory of the Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross score for The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo in the Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
- Chick Corea's Mozart Goes Dancing won Best Instrumental Composition (over the Chris and Dave Brubeck Music of Ansel Adams: America).
- Life & Breath, choral works by René Clausen, won Best Choral Performance for the Kansas City Chorale, conducted by Charles Bruffy; also Best Engineered Album, Classical.
- Conductor Antoni Wit, producers Aleksandra Nagórko and Andrzej Sasin, for Penderecki's Fonogrammi, Horn Concerto, The Awakening of Jacob, others.
- eighth blackbird won Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance for Meanwhile; the fourth GRAMMY for the ensemble.
- Stephen Hartke won Best Contemporary Classical Composition for the same album for his composition Meanwhile — Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays.
- Kim Kashkashian’s album, Kurtág/Ligeti: Music For Viola, won Best Classical Instrumental Solo.
February 12, 2013
Emmanuel Morlet has been named first artistic director of the Green Music Center, a position filled until now by Robert Cole as a consultant.
Morlet, a native of France — as is Bruno Ferrandis, who is music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the Center's main tenant — will be in charge of programming and "artistic vision," in partnership with newly appointed Executive Director Larry Furukawa-Schlereth.
Morlet is currently director of the music office for the cultural services of the French Embassy and a program officer of the French-American Cultural Exchange Foundation in New York. Morlet, who will take office on April 1, says:
During my visits to Sonoma State, I was extraordinarily impressed with the University’s deep commitment to making the arts a vibrant part of college education. Weill Hall is one of the most beautiful concert halls I’ve ever seen and is truly an amazing resource not only to the campus, but the local community as well.
To join a new performing arts center at this inaugural moment is a real honor and I look forward to working together to bring Sonoma County the very best that the performing arts have to offer.
Among the many projects he coordinated in conjunction with universities, festivals, and international venues, Morlet has led "Sounds French," a month-long festival of contemporary music, and he is co-founder of the annual "GlobalFest" world music festival. He holds dual U.S.-French citizenship.
February 12, 2013
I love great musicals, especially those of Stephen Sondheim, and see nothing wrong with mixing opera (dramma per musica) with musical theater, even if San Francisco Opera's choice of Show Boat doesn't thrill me at all.
But what takes the cake is the Lyric Opera of Chicago's announcement of the next season that includes Wagner's Parsifal and The Sound of Music, a syrupy, overperformed piece. That certainly goes beyond the LOC's inclusion, this season, of Oklahoma. The strange thing is that after a press release about the season, including The Sound of Music, the company's website doesn't mention it.
The announcement said: "Lyric will present a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music in the spring of 2014, continuing the company’s American Musical Theater Initiative."
Jeff Dunn suggests a new musical on the Kundry-Klingsor story from Parsifal, to be called The Kling and I. Being a composer himself, Dunn may just try his hand at it.
For the sake of objective reporting, here's the Chicago season, in addition to those two: new productions of La traviata, The Barber of Seville, and Rusalka, plus Otello, Madama Butterfly, Die Fledermaus, La Clemenza di Tito; also Renée Fleming and Jonas Kaufmann in concert.
Meanwhile, San Francisco Opera Chorus Director Ian Robertson remains on loan to the Lyric, following the surprising resignation of Martin Wright. Robertson serves as guest chorus master for La bohème, Die Meistersinger, and Rigoletto, returning to San Francisco in late February for preparations of the company's summer season.
February 12, 2013
It was a bittersweet affair in Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday at the last performance of the Poulenc Stabat Mater and Berlioz Te Deum: a tremendous concert, but no more opportunity to recommend and repeat.
The orchestra, Ragnar Bohlin's SFS Chorus, Kevin Fox's Pacific Boychoir, superb (and unlisted) organist Jonathan Dimmock, soprano Erin Wall, and tenor Paul Groves all well deserved the tumultuous ovation, but special recognition should go to Charles Dutoit, who mastered both scores exceptionally well.
What at first appeared a slow tempo in the Poulenc turned out to be exactly right in order to let the music breathe; he sustained the momentum of Berlioz' heaven-storming sound flawlessly, performance after performance.
When the genuinely courteous and self-effacing conductor went around the orchestra for the final curtain call to shake hands with musicians in a wide circle, I wish that he had made his way all the way up to the brass, which performed in an extraordinary way, especially in the Berlioz.
The concerts are over, appreciated by all listeners (even the usually more critical and less pious Michael Strickland) but much remains besides the memories.
Even after the fact, don't miss James Keller's essay on Poulenc in the SFS program.
It begins with what is known in the trade as an "inviting lead":
"For Francis Poulenc, the year 1963 began in unremarkable fashion, but already by the end of January he surprised everyone by dying ..."
I've been trying to figure out the secret of the Poulenc Sound, wondering if there is a Poulenc Chord (a la Tristan), but the closest — and still not satisfactory — answer is in Ned Rorem's Setting the Tone, with this recipe:
Take Chopin's dominant sevenths, Ravel's major sevenths, Fauré's plain triads, Debussy's minor ninths, Mussorgsky's augmented fourths. Filter these through Satie by way of the added sixth chords of vaudeville (which the French call Le Music Hall), blend in a pint of Couperin to a quart of Stravinsky, and you get the harmony of Poulenc.
Another suggestion — "unsettled spacing of chords glinting with major 7ths" — appears in an intriguing Poulenc essay by pianist Stephen Hough.
February 12, 2013
At the Conservatory Thursday evening: fascinating program, brilliant young artists, and a poor start. It's curious that Donald Weilerstein, a world-class artist and important teacher, wouldn't realize that a presentation is very much like a performance — it needs preparation.
Instead, Weilerstein launched into a well-meaning preview of the first work on the program, and made a mess of it. For about 10 minutes, there was giggling in the audience as Weilerstein struggled with a microphone and his violin, trying to speak and play excerpts, all ad-hoc, confused.
All went surpassingly well after that. Weilerstein and pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein (parents of Alisa, third member of the Weilerstein Trio, not at the event) gave a superb performance of George Enescu's 1940 Impressions d'enfance, Op. 28, a wondrous piece ranging from striking simplicity to a complex, passionate crescendo resolving in as symphonic a sound as a duo can possibly produce.
At first, there are entertaining musical tricks, the violin depicting sounds of a brook in the garden, a bird in the cage, a cuckoo, and — on the violin's improbably highest notes — a cricket. But the last two movements — "Storm in the night" and "Sunrise" — are pure, gorgeous music, a kind of mini-Tristan und Isolde.
Three super-talented Conservatory students — violinist Noemy Gagnon-Lafrenais, pianist Allegra Chapman, and cellist Emanuel Evans — followed, performing Charles Ives' Trio, composed between 1904 and 1911, and sounding as fresh and contemporary as anything created a century later.
Gagnon-Lefrenais' intensity, Chapman's big sound, and Evans' solid support combined beautifully in the opening Moderato, the virtuoso second movement, and the concluding Moderato con moto. The second movement is titled "TSIAJ (This Scherzo Is a Joke): Presto," but it's more breathtaking than funny. Strains of "My Old Kentucky Home" and other songs float by, sometimes in chromatic scales, Chapman playing the concluding piano cadenza brilliantly.
The last movement is a cascade of varied lyrical and syncopated music, with a great duet between the violin and the cello, culminating in a resounding treatment of "Rock of Ages."
The Weilersteins joined student musicians Douglas Kwon (violin), Kristin Zimmerman (viola), and Evans in a performance of Elgar's 1919 Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op. 84.
Check the Conservatory schedule for a plethora of events, many free.
February 12, 2013
An intriguing message from Terri Stuart, president of the Wagner Society of Northern California: "2013 is the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth and the 60th anniversary of the National Theater of Albania."
Coincidence? I think not. Indeed, there is a method to her madness, drawing me into a complex and exotic story. The main characters are tenor Roy Stevens (of Modesto and the world) and everybody's favorite musical dynamo Jonathan Khuner, known from S.F. Opera, the Met, and Berkeley (pre-Edge) Opera.
Their fascinating effort to bring Wagner to Albania is described below, but you don't need to fly to Tirana to hear them; there are local concerts, free but with suggested donations for the WSNC Tirana Tannhäuser Fund:
On Feb. 27, 7 p.m., at Mendocino Presbyterian Church; and Feb. 28, 7 p.m., at Piedmont Piano in Oakland.
The programs, says Khuner, "will be mostly Wagner, centered on our Tannhäuser, but also a little Verdi (for birthday's sake), and Albanian opera excerpts."
OK, what is this project all about? Stevens, says Khuner, is spearheading the first Wagner production in Albania:
The country is still climbing out of Enver Hoxha's reign of terror and total isolation (Stalin and Mao were too liberal for him) ... Zhani Ciko, a violinist/conductor who was persona non grata during the communist days, but now heads their national theater, Teatri Kombetar i Operas dhe i Baletit (TKOB).
Stevens, who has had great success with such roles as Herod and Albanian national hero Skanderbeg, has been encouraging Ciko to introduce performers and audiences to Wagner with a production of Tannhäuser, led by a team of Americans, namely Daniel Helfgot as stage director, me as music director, Greg Mitchell as designer, and (husband-and-wife) Roy Stevens and Annalisa Winberg, who will sing the leading roles (Annalisa taking both Venus and Elisabeth).
Since the Albanian economy, though growing, is still weak, and their currency not among the leading (to put it mildly), TKOB can hardly afford to import talent. But adventurous spirits such as this American team, finding it exciting to stimulate the regrowth of Albanian internationally-oriented culture, are putting our talent, time and efforts on the line, and hoping that some sponsorship from outside the Albanian borders will make the whole enterprise possible. We have been awarded $24,000 from the International Music and Art Foundation and $3,000 from the Wagner Society of Northern California, and we are looking for more financial support.
Stevens has had a dramatic-baritone career, singing major roles in Milan, Barcelona, Dresden, Frankfurt, Turin, Bologna, and elsewhere. During his debut season at the Met, in 2001, his voice "went up" and became a tenor, canceling his Met contract. Since then he has been performing mostly heldentenor roles, and began his association with TKOB singing Herod at the Albanian premiere of Salome. He was deeply impressed by the plight of arts in that country during the communist regime:
The National Theater of Ballet and Opera was founded in 1953, during the years of what was one of the world’s most restrictive and heavy handed dictatorships, the regime of Enver Hoxha (a former university professor of French!). His nationalist regime tried to keep all foreign influence and culture at bay through vicious restrictions. For example, listening to a non-Albanian radio station, or playing the music of a non-Albanian (or select Italian) composer or being homosexual were offenses that would put perpetrators in prison for decades. In addition, all religion was forbidden.
As a result, the only music (symphony, opera, ballet) that could be played was composed by Albanians, or, with heavy-handed restrictions, by some Italians. For example, when Tosca was played at TKOB, the first act had to be omitted, because it is set in a church.
When La traviata was produced, Germont’s change of heart had to be excised from the end of the opera, because a foreigner of his class could not be seen to have any redeeming characteristics.
Zhani Ciko, the former and current General Director of TKOB, was denounced by colleagues and sent to years of internal exile for the crime of playing Mozart.
Now that he is leading the company again, he has set about trying to introduce international culture to the Albanian people. Of course, few can actually attend the performances at the National Theater, but the national TV Channel, Albania 1, transmits all major performances from the National Theater nationally and internationally so that all Albanian peoples can have the benefit of these performances and take pride in what their National Theater is accomplishing.
The premiere of Salome was a revelation for me because it was a scandal — it was national news in every way on every station in every print publication. It must have been something like when the opera was originally premiered. Fabulous experience.
After that, Stevens became the first non-Albanian to perform the title role of Jakova's Skanderbeg, singing in Albanian as the country's mythical hero. And now, he is working on Wagner's debut.
[I am somewhat familiar with Albanian myths, having listened as a young man in Budapest to Radio Tirana, whose every "newscast" long after World War II opened with a detailed account of how Albania single-handedly won the war.]
February 12, 2013
West Bay Opera is presenting a new production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, conducted by Michel Singher (Music Director Jose Luis Moscovich is still recovering from back problems).
The production features Rochelle Bard as Lucia, Vincent Chambers as Edgardo, Krassen Karagiosov as Enrico, Isaiah Musik-Ayala as Raimondo, and Delmar McComb as Arturo.
Lucia and WBO are well acquainted: It was first presented by the company in 1983, and this is the fourth production.
David Ostwald directs, the production is designed by Jean François Revon, with costumes by Claire Townsend, and lighting design by Sean Russell.
February 12, 2013
I've been complaining copiously in recent years about poor attendance to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's mostly free student and faculty concerts — it seems such a waste of talent on one side, of listening opportunity on the other. The most recent mention of the subject, last week, calling the school to task:
The event was strange in other ways, not counting the lamentably empty 400-seat concert hall — something that happens all too often, unfortunately, but shouldn't if the school made greater effort to attract audiences to free events.
Sam Smith, the school's director of communications, replied in a frank, thoughtful message, including the following:
Just to give you an inside view, the Conservatory produces close to 500 events a year between the months of September through May. In the fall and spring months there are often three events on a single day, and all three performance spaces are in use. So you see the scale of things. We are doubtless one of the largest presenting organizations in the Bay Area.
The majority of our performances are free and open to the public. Our concert advertising budget for the entire year is, even when fully leveraged, less than $30,000, which we use to promote the Conservatory's headline ticketed events, the six or so performance series you are familiar with (Orchestra, Chamber Music Masters, Opera, and so on). I don't even have an advertising budget line for Faculty Artist Series, Master Classes, or our Alumni Recital Series.
Given the breadth of our activity as presenters, the shortage of staff and the limitations on our budget, we struggle to promote even our headline concert series performances of ticketed events, let alone free department and student recitals.
Having said that, here are things we do to promote our free performances that don't cost us money: load our free performance listings on online calendars, submit them to calendar editors, put them on our website homepage and performance calendar, include in our monthly calendar postcards, promote them on Facebook and Twitter, send to a routine papering list with school children, and so forth.
As I write this, I realize that we might work harder to offer our free performances to the many school children in the city who, despite the outreach efforts of the Opera and Symphony, still have too little arts exposure in their lives. I will give this thought more attention in future, and I and my team will continue to work to promote the education and artistry of our students.
Here, again, to help the effort along, is the school's music calendar.
February 12, 2013
Former Oregon Symphony Music Director James DePreist, 77, died last week. No cause of death was announced, but DePriest had many health problems, including a bout with polio at the age of 28 that left him paralyzed; he regained his ability to walk, with crutches, and conducted while sitting.
DePreist was one of the first African-American conductors to work with major orchestras in the United States and around the world. He led the Oregon Symphony from 1980 to 2003, transforming it into a respected regional orchestra. The Oregon Symphony issued a statement:
A passionate and eloquent man, Jimmy was larger than life and a powerful force for music and the arts in the community of Portland and beyond. His work with the orchestra literally put it on the map. Under his leadership the orchestra moved from a small part time group to a full time, nationally recognized orchestra with 17 recordings.
DePreist was born in Philadelphia where his classical music training started at a very young age, possibly due to the influence of his aunt, opera singer Marian Anderson.
He had made some 50 recordings, had been awarded 14 honorary doctorate degrees, and had published two books of poetry — The Precipice Garden and The Distant Siren. In a blurb for the books, Maya Angelou wrote, "His poetry has the tautness of a perfectly pitched viola and much of its resonance."
Serving as permanent conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra from 2005 to 2008, DePreist inspired a manga, made into a live-action television show called Nodame Cantabile. The show was a quirky romance about two young musicians, one of whom is hired by DePriest as the resident conductor for a fictional symphony; DePreist played himself in the series and conducted the Tokyo symphony on its soundtrack.
February 12, 2013
Kurt Masur has suffered another bad fall, this time breaking his hip. According to Stefana Atlas, the 85-year-old maestro's operations director, he fell in his hotel room last week in Tel Aviv, where he was scheduled to conduct the Israel Philharmonic over the next two weeks. He has since undergone hip replacement surgery and has had to cancel the remainder of his concerts there.
Doctors have not yet predicted when the conductor can return to podium duties, but for younger patients in robust health, recovery from hip replacement takes about six weeks. Full recovery can take longer. Masur fractured his left shoulder blade last April when he lost his balance and fell sideways from the podium while conducting the ONF in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.
February 12, 2013
The Swedish label BIS Records has just released the second recording of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sibelius symphonies series, a disc that includes the First Symphony, the work that confirmed Sibelius’ status as a Finnish national hero, and the enigmatic, starkly emotional Fourth Symphony.
Conducting the performances is Music Director Osmo Vänskä, whose Sibelius interpretations have earned international acclaim. The album, the newest chapter of the highly praised collaboration between Vänskä, the Orchestra and BIS, is available now through the Orchestra’s website, minnesotaorchestra.org.
The Minnesota Orchestra, founded as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, issued its first recording in 1924 and has since recorded more than 450 works.
And now for the bad news: Continued labor problems in Minneapolis resulted in the cancellation or rescheduling of concerts through April. This is the management statement:
Contract talks between the Orchestral Association and its musicians, who are members of the Twin Cities Musicians’ Union (Local 30-73), began last April, and are currently overseen by a federal mediator. The Orchestral Association’s proposal offers a total package averaging $119,000 per musician, including an average salary of $89,000 with $30,000 in benefits per musician. The proposal also includes 10 weeks of paid vacation and up to 26 weeks of paid sick leave. In December, the Orchestral Association posted an operating deficit of $6 million for Fiscal 2012, the largest in its history.
According to the union:
One week ago, the management illustrated that they have no interest in trying to overcome the crisis they have created. They gave the cold shoulder to Mayor R.T. Rybak and the Orchestra’s greatest benefactor Judy Dayton when these leaders asked Musicians and Management to set aside their differences for the Grammy celebration concert.
While continuing to build the $52 million Orchestra Hall lobby, with $14 million coming from taxpayer dollars, this latest set of cancellations through April 7, includes 10 Young People’s Concerts, as well as a week-long residency serving the community of Bemidji. Through these cancellations, Management has taken another step toward throwing away the entire Orchestra season, leading us to ask, "Was this the plan all along?"
Management has lobbied for and received nearly $1 million in state support for music education and outreach, and this latest round of cancellations brings the total number of lost Education concerts to 18. If Orchestra Management fails to keep its commitment to the community by continuing to cancel education and outreach concerts, we ask "Will taxpayers demand a refund?"