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Music News

February 14, 2012

Stay up to date with weekly classical music news from the Bay Area, across the US & around the World.

Bay Brass Concert to Honor Dick Akright

Glenn Fischtal, of San Francisco Symphony and Bay Brass It’s hard to miss the sound of brass instruments, and yet Bay Brass — Grammy-nominated and consisting of star players — has been fairly sotto voce on the local scene. Now, with an important concert scheduled on Feb. 28 in the S.F. Conservatory, the time has come to remove the mutes.

The event is honoring somebody similarly noteworthy and underpublicized. Dick Akright and his Best Instrument Repair Company have been treasured by the brass player community for over 42 years. Says the announcement:

Dick has been the foremost primary-care brass instrument doctor when repairs are needed, often on an urgent basis, helping his musical patients to achieve high-level performances whether in the local schools, symphony orchestras or jazz and rock bands.

His basement shop, with its subterranean charm, soldering torches ablaze and instruments stacked high, has been the nexus of Bay Area brass life and Dick has been the paragon of warmth and understanding to all who enter. His generosity to those in need has been legendary and Bay Brass joins the wider community in our best wishes to Dick on his health challenges.

Proceeds will be donated for scholarships in Akright’s name for deserving young musicians to attend La Honda Music Camp, a favorite cause of his.

Bay BrassThe program features several world premieres; American Fanfare by John Wasson, on the 500th anniversary of the death of Amerigo Vespucci; Canzon Duodecimi Toni by Hans Leo Hassler, on the 400th anniversary of composer’s death; Brass Sextet by Phillip Glass, on the 75th anniversary of the composer’s birth; Air and Dance by Frederick Delius on the 150th anniversary of his birth; Laura by David Raksin, on the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth; the U.S. premiere of Choral by Werner Steinmetz, representing the 2012 supposed “apocalypse”; the world premiere of Golden Gate by John Wesley Gibson, on the 75th anniversary of the bridge; and works by Gabrieli, Debussy, and more.

Formed in 1995, Bay Brass comprises players from the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and Symphony Silicon Valley. The group’s concerts combine the traditional brass repertory with jazz and other contemporary styles, including contemporary classical works.

As a cooperative, Bay Brass has neither principal players nor a music director. Members share equally in the organizational and musical responsibilities of the group, taking turns in conducting, arranging, and composing. A priority for the ensemble is the commissioning of new works to expand and enhance the brass repertory.

Jonathan RingBay Brass’ latest CD, Sound the Bells!, was nominated for a 2012 Grammy award for Best Small Ensemble Performance. It features premiere recordings of American works for brass and was released on the Harmonia Mundi label. Gramophone magazine has called it “a brilliant showcase for the thrilling beauty of tonal brass music in the new century, and the splendid virtuosity of Bay Brass.” The CD will be on sale at the Feb. 28 concert.

Among the ensemble’s trumpet players: David Burkhart, James Dooley, Glenn Fischthal, and Skip Wagner. Horns include Jonathan Ring, Bruce Roberts, Robert Ward, and Kimberly Wright. Trombones: Jeffrey Budin, John Engelkes, Mark Lawrence, and Paul Welcomer. Tuba: Peter Wahrhaftig. Says Ring:

Bay Brass has allowed me to assume many roles which I never get to play in my work with the San Francisco Symphony. I usually choose the programs and enjoy the challenge of coming up with interesting new music, working with composers on commissions, and also arranging and conducting some of the music myself.

I’ve always loved playing in a brass ensemble, with its huge variety of repertoire. It can be beautiful and subtle at one moment, then be the closest thing to rock ’n’ roll that you can get in the classical world, all in the same piece. Mostly, it’s the blend and richness of sound that I enjoy most with my Bay Brass colleagues.

Finckel Leaving Emerson Quartet

[email protected] codirector David Finckel is expected to announce today that he is leaving the Emerson String Quartet at the end of the 2012–2013 season. He joined the ensemble in 1979. He is to be succeeded by Paul Watkins.

Finckel, 60, and his wife, pianist Wu Han, not only have been running [email protected] and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, but are involved in extensive international solo and recording careers, the latter as coproducers of the ArtistLed label.

Zheng Cao Opera Fund Award to Chinese Tenor

The Merola Opera Program announced today the creation of the Zheng Cao Opera Fund, and its first award. Honoring the 1994 Merola alumna mezzo, whose ongoing battle with cancer has commanded international attention, the Fund will sponsor one Merola artist each year — either an Asian/Pacific artist or a mezzo. The fund’s first recipient will be Chinese tenor Yi Li, an incoming Merola 2012 participant.

The endowment fund has been started with an initial gift from Annette Campbell-White and is open to further contributions from Zheng’s fans and supporters.

“Many of our Merola members are aware of the serious health challenges Zheng has been facing with incredible courage,” said Merola Chairman of the Board Jayne Davis. “This endowment will continue her extraordinary generosity of spirit to succeeding generations of opera artists.”

San Francisco Opera Fiscal Report

David GockleySan Francisco Opera Association has announced the findings of the audited financial results for the company’s 2010¬–2011 season (FY 2011), highlighting a deficit of $1.8 million on the operating budget of $71 million. Revenue was $36 million, representing a 32.5 percent increase over the previous year. Donations amounted to $33 million.

The season presented 10 operas, including three cycles of a new production of Wagner’s Ring cycle. Audiences in the Opera House, at concerts, recitals, cinema broadcasts, and community engagement activities, totaled approximately 350,000.

“While the board of directors is always concerned to see the Opera post a deficit, we remain grateful to David Gockley for his complete transparency about the financial challenges facing the company,” said Association President George Hume.

David has continued to keep the board fully apprised of the situation, including when we approved the 2010¬–2011 season budget. As in our 2009¬–2010 season, David warned us that the worst effects of the “Great Recession” would be felt by the company for several years, and projected the Opera would close 2011 with a budget deficit — even with the blockbuster ticket sales and contributions he expected (and achieved) with Wagner’s Ring.

The Opera faces serious long-term challenges to its business model, as many classical music organizations do nationwide. The strategic plan David and his team put in motion two years ago to address our structural deficit continues to have the board’s full support.

Hume had special praise for Gockley’s role in increasing the company endowment during the past five years of his tenure from $71 million to $138 million, even during the economic hard times. Gockley has said that his goal is about $280 million — four times the operating budget.

The general director’s response to the report was committing again to “Steps to be taken between 2013 and 2016 to reduce expenses, increase annual contributions and augment the endowment. Success in achieving a sustainable balance will continue to require the partnership of all sectors of the organization.”

Whitney Houston Sings Verdi

In the company of Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, and Elton John, the late Whitney Houston sang opera rather spectacularly at a Rainforest benefit concert in 1994. See also a compilation of her remarkable high notes when the voice was still under control.

Happy iTunes to John Adams

John AdamsTomorrow is John Adams’ 65th birthday, entitling him to senior fare on MUNI. The day is also marked by the prerelease iTunes and San Francisco Symphony Store advance availability of the MTT/SFS recording of his Harmonielehre (probably his greatest orchestral work) and Short Ride in a Fast Machine (most often performed). General distribution of the CD is scheduled for March 13, during the American Mavericks Festival.

Watch Adams and MTT talk about Harmonielehre and Short Ride. Listen to a Harmonielehre excerpt with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony. This brief excerpt is from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic performance, conducted by Edo de Waart, who was a major supporter of Adams during his San Francisco years.

Contemporary Music Players' Director to Step Down

San Francisco Contemporary Music Players Executive Director Carrie Blanding has announced that she will resign following the end of the current season. She joined the organization as operations and marketing director, and was promoted to executive director two years ago. In that position, Blanding organized the ensemble’s fortieth anniversary season, hired and trained new support staff, and helped recruit the ensemble’s current artistic director, Steven Schick.

“My primary goal was to provide stable leadership for the ensemble during its transition to a new artistic director,” Blanding said. “I am proud to say that this has been accomplished. The ensemble is thriving under the inspired artistic direction of Steven Schick, and now the time feels right to pass the baton to a new executive director who can bring fresh energy to the position.”

Board President Richard Lee said, “Carrie’s dedication and administration skills have been instrumental in bringing about a smooth transition to new artistic leadership. She leaves the ensemble in a strong position, with exciting new artistic projects in development, and a well-organized administrative infrastructure in place to ensure continued success after her departure.”

Trifonov Recitals at Montalvo, San Francisco

Daniil Trifonov Tchaikovsky Competition gold medal winner Daniil Trifonov is giving Bay Area audiences two opportunities this month to hear him perform. In addition to the Feb. 28 Chamber Music San Francisco recital, previously reported here, the 20-year-old native of Nizhniy Novgorod will also give a recital at Villa Montalvo on Feb. 18, part of the Montalvo Piano Masters Series.

The program at both concerts consists of the Liszt/Schubert Frühlingsglaube and Die Stadt; Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major; selections from Debussy’s Images, Book 1; and Chopin’s Études, Op. 10. Good program, but somewhat disappointing for those who want to double their pleasure, with a bit of variation.

Trifonov began his study of the piano at the age of 5. At 9, he entered the Moscow Gnesin School of Music, where he was a student of Tatiana Zelikman until he turned 18. From 2006 to 2009, Trifonov also focused his studies on musical composition. He continues to compose piano, chamber, and orchestral music to this day. Since 2009, he has studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music under Sergei Babayan.

Since the age of 17, Trifonov has won increasingly prestigious international competitive awards. The 2010–2011 season was a breakout for him: He earned high distinctions at three of the most prestigious competitions in the music world: a bronze medal at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, first place at the Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv, and the Gold Medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Hard Times in Spain

Barcelona’s opera house, the Liceu, will be closed from March 20 to April 10 and June 5 to July 8, a total of 56 days, to help stem losses.

The combination of a 15 percent cut in its public subsidy for 2012, a similar cut in 2011, and a drop in ticket sales are expected to create a shortfall that management estimates at 10 million euros ($13.5 million).

A number of programs, including A Florentine Tragedy, Der Zwerg, and Pélleas et Méllisande will disappear from the schedules as a result.

While it’s currently expected that the 2012–2013 season will go ahead, the number of performances will be trimmed, and there will be no alternations of repertoire, thus reducing the costs of dismantling and reassembling the scenery.

A Tale of Two Tamaras

Tamara Wapinsky Mancini as the Bologna Turandot Soprano Tamara Mancini has opened the 2012 season at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna in the title role of a new production of Puccini’s Turandot opposite Yonghoon Lee. In the spring of 2013 she will make her debut at the Royal Opera, Stockholm, as Turandot.

The item has more local significance when you realize she was known here recently as Tamara Wapinsky, of the Merola and Adler programs, making her debut with the company as Freia in the 2008 Das Rheingold and appearing in the 2010 and 2011 Die Walküre as Helmwige.

Before coming to San Francisco, she won several important contests, including the Giulio Gari Competition, the Licia Albanese Puccini Competition, and the Opera Index Competition.

Handel's Agrippina in Free Conservatory Production

A lame-duck ruler, a conniving mother scheming for her pliant son, and an elaborate game of musical thrones — that’s the story the S.F. Conservatory is advertising for its student production of Handel’s 1709 Agrippina.

It will be presented in a concert version in the Conservatory March 10 and 11, free to the public, but requiring reservations. Conservatory Baroque Ensemble codirectors Corey Jamason and Elisabeth Reed head the production.

Black Choreographers' 'Here & Now'

Amara Tabor Smith Beginning last weekend and continuing the next two, the annual Black Choreographers Festival is taking place in Oakland (Laney College Theater) and San Francisco (Dance Mission Theater), the former featuring Kendra Kimbrough Barnes, Latanya Tigner and Kiazi Malonga, Reginald Savage, Corey Action and Teela Shine Ross, Robert Moses, and others.

San Francisco recitals are headlined by Chloe Arnold, Camille A. Brown, Raissa Simpson, Amara Tabor Smith, and Naomi Washington.

A special event, Feb. 17–19 in Dance Mission Theater, is Word Becomes Flesh, in association with the Living Word Project/Youth Speaks, Inc., with Dahlak Brathwaite, Daveed Diggs, Dion Decibels, Khalil Anthony, Michael Turner, and B. Yung. The writer/director is Marc Bamuthi Joseph. This contemporary theater work, grounded in hip-hop culture, with an all-male ensemble, was chosen by the National Performance Network for its 25th Anniversary Re-Creation Initiative, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Cuban Choral Director Visits Bay Area

Renowned Cuban choral director Leonor Suárez Dulzaides will visit the Bay Area at the end of the month as part of the American Choral Directors Association International Conductor’s Exchange Program.

Elaine Robertson and the International Orange Chorale of San Francisco host the visit, arranging a number of events with her participation.

IOCSF and the St. Ignatius College Prep Chamber Singers will participate in a master class given by Suárez Feb. 26, from 5 to 8 p.m., at the Kanbar Center for the Arts on Page Street. The workshop is free and open to the public, and will focus on two Cuban pieces, the Kyrie from Milton Babbitt’s Music for the Mass and a work by Nicholas Weininger.

Suárez will also work with Ian Robertson’s San Francisco Boys Chorus during a rehearsal on Feb. 27, and visit a San Francisco Symphony Chorus rehearsal on Feb. 28.

Barbican Disappointment with Performance and Café Fare

Not sure who George of George’s Musings is, but his unhappiness with the Michael Tilson Thomas/London Symphony Orchestra Barbican concert featuring Anne Sofie von Otter last week was palpable:
I was expecting intense pleasure and jagged angular mid-war sonorities. Unfortunately what we got was a badly amplified performance, by a conductor that has all the finicky attention of a control freak and yet not a natural ear for this music. The programming alone was a strange combination, with a rather starchy first piece and La Mer as the conclusion.

Singing Kurt Weill song cycles in a large auditorium like the Barbican, with a fairly dry acoustic, is unforgiving. Those songs were meant for smaller venues where the amplification would be unnecessary or at least more subtle.

At the Barbican the amplification of ASvO’s voice was hidden under a blanket of mushy, unfocused sound and her holding of the mic made it more so. It distorted every phrase and took away any possibility of jagged phrasing and honed gravel precision in the spirit of Lotte Lenya.

Her voice was as usual a mine of beauty, unfortunately that was only allowed to be shown when she would snarl phrases across to the audience without the microphone; in those brief moments she relayed, shame, confidence, strength and sex appeal. The main issue throughout was the non-idiomatic approach of Tilson Thomas.

Startling information in one of the tweets commenting on the review: “Barbican’s Food Hall is now serving chilli con carne.” Whatever happened to tea and cucumber sandwiches?

Glass' Disney Opera

disney operaPhilip Glass’ opera The Perfect American, which deals with the final months of the life of Walt Disney, will premiere in Madrid next year. It was originally commissioned by New York City Opera when Gerard Mortier was to become general manager.

Mortier quit before he officially started, saying he wasn’t given a sufficient budget. The company left Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts last summer because of huge losses, and its abbreviated 2011–2012 season is taking place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; it is limited to 16 performances of four operas.

Mortier, who took over as the Teatro Real’s artistic director in 2010, announced the company’s 2012–2013 season last week, including The Perfect American. The opera, commissioned in honor of Glass’ 75th birthday Jan. 31, is based on the novel by Peter Stephan Jungk.

Dennis Russell Davies conducts and Phelim McDermott directs in a coproduction with the English National Opera.

Another City Opera project, Michael Haneke’s production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, opens at the Teatro Real on Feb. 23. Haneke won the grand prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival for The Piano Teacher.

Grammy Classical Category

Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic won a Grammy Award on Sunday for their recording of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. It marked the first Grammy win in Dudamel’s career.

No single album dominated the classical categories this year, but the list of winners featured a few major names, including composer John Adams, singer Joyce DiDonato, and the group eighth blackbird.

Adams won in the opera recording category for Doctor Atomic, his 2005 opera mounted by the Metropolitan Opera in New York and conducted by Alan Gilbert. The album was released on Sony Classical.

DiDonato won in the vocal solo category for her album Diva Divo. “Thank you for letting an opera girl come into this,” she said on accepting the award. In her speech, she urged people to support arts education. “We need more Whitney Houstons, rest in peace,” she said.

Last week, a Boston Globe story lamented the reduction of categories in the classical division of Grammies from 11 to seven:

Grammy bloat has, of course, been an issue for some time. One can see the logic in the Recording Academy’s merging best chamber music performance and best small ensemble performance into best small ensemble performance, since only the Academy knew which was which in any case. But merging best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra and best instrumental soloist performance without orchestra into best classical instrumental solo means that recitals now have to compete with concerto performances.

What’s notable about the classical recordings that have been nominated this year is the absence of big names — and the abundance of small labels. Mozart? Tchaikovsky? Mahler? Make way for Schwantner, Martinu, and Rautavaara. Lang Lang? Joshua Bell? Michael Tilson Thomas? Anne-Sophie Mutter? Sorry. Berlin Philharmonic? Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam? BSO? Maybe next year. Meanwhile, Seraphic Fire Media has as many nominations as Deutsche Grammophon (two each), and Cedille Records’ four tops EMI Classics’ three.

Horszowski Tonight

Horszowski Music Treasury on KZSU 90.1, features recordings by Mieczyslaw Horszowski today from 5 to 7 p.m. The Polish-American pianist, 1892¬–1993, had the longest known career in the history of the performing arts. He was born in Lwów (Lemberg), Austria-Hungary (now Ukraine), and was initially taught by his mother, a pupil of Karol Mikuli (himself a pupil of Frédéric Chopin). He became a pupil of Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna at the age of 7; Leschetizky had studied with Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny.

In 1901 Horszowski gave a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in Warsaw and soon after toured Europe and the Americas as a child prodigy. In 1905 the young Horszowski played for Gabriel Fauré and met Camille Saint-Saëns in Nice. In 1911 he put his performing career on hold to devote himself to literature, philosophy, and art history in Paris.

While Horszowski’s family was of Jewish origin (which made him a fugitive from Europe in the 1930s), he was himself an early convert to Roman Catholicism, and a very devout one. As the French critic André Tubeuf has written, “Horszowski was both very Jewish and very Catholic, in both cases as only a Pole could have been.”

Horszowski, who was barely five feet tall, had rather small hands. Thus, he avoided much of the virtuoso repertoire (one possible reason he never attained the “superstar” status of Horowitz or Rubinstein). His performances were known for their natural, unforced quality, balancing intellect and emotion. He was frequently praised for his tonal quality.

Tonight’s broadcast will have works by Chopin, Szymanowski, Villa-Lobos, Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.

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