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Music News: Jan. 14, 2014

January 14, 2014

Masonic Auditorium to Come Back to Life

January 14, 2014

The auditorium of the Masonic Memorial Temple The main auditorium of the Masonic Memorial Temple on Nob Hill has served as a venue for many music and dance events since its dedication in 1958. But for the past five years or so, "the building's owners have been stymied in their efforts to capitalize on the site’s entertainment potential," says a recent report.

In a city with more performing arts organizations than affordable and convenient venues, it's a shame to have a 3,165-seat facility of decent acoustics and all-around good views of the thrust stage remain vacant. The problem, according to The San Francisco Examiner report:

Temple owners and the venue’s concessionaire, Live Nation, have been in court for years with neighbors who opposed what they saw as an expansion of the tame temple into another of The City’s rowdy concerts halls.

Live Nation and the Masons have disagreed with the residents’ position, arguing they only intend to renovate the interior of the 1111 California St. temple, which has been a venue for decades.

After four court cases, numerous Planning Commission hearings, an environmental review and a conditional use permit to serve alcohol, the parties finally reached a settlement late last year. Plans call for the main floor seating to be removed, the stage renovated, a kitchen and bars added.

Classical music fans need not jump for joy: They may see a concert or two to their liking, but not more. Live Nation is mostly into pop and rock, not Mozart and Stravinsky.

But there's also good news: As part of the settlement, "Live Nation will sponsor a school music program for schools in District 3. Individual schools will be able to apply for grants for monies to buy musical instruments or fund student music programs, and Live Nation will work to make musical venues available to student performers."

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

Grand Piano: A Deadly Musical Potboiler

January 14, 2014

"Play one wrong note and you die!" This is the short synopsis for Eugenio Mira's film, Grand Piano, opening commercially on March 7th:

Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), the most talented pianist of his generation, has stopped performing in public because of his stage fright. Years after a catastrophic performance, he reappears in public for a long awaited concert in Chicago. In a packed theater, in front of an expectant audience, Tom finds a message written on the score: "Play one wrong note and you die."

In the sights of an anonymous sniper (John Cusack), Tom must get through the most difficult performance of his life and look for help without being detected.

Miro has served as director, screenwriter, and composer on his own films; and has composed music for Nacho Vigalondo's Time Crimes under the name Chucky Namanera — not a misspelling or misstatement of facts.

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

Takács Quartet's Bartók Cycle in Bing Hall

January 14, 2014

"It’s an incredible voyage to go through Bartók’s six quartets," says violist Geraldine Walther, "because they represent a lifetime of work. Before I joined Takács [she was principal violist of the San Francisco Symphony], even though I’d played the Viola Concerto and the Concerto for Orchestra, I didn’t really know Bartók. But after these six quartets, I feel like I know him much better."

The quartet — Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz, violins; Walther, and András Fejér, cello — has performed the Hungarian composer's masterpieces many times — before and after their award-winning recording in 1998 without Walther who joined the quartet nine years ago — but to them and to the audience, it always seems new and fresh. They will be performing the cycle in two concerts, on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26 in Stanford's Bing Concert Hall.

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

Grimes: A Call to Action, With Only Six Months to Go

January 14, 2014

Stuart Skelton as Peter Grimes Even with the announcement on Monday of San Francisco Opera's 2014-2015 season, attention should be paid to the one that got away. Britten's Peter Grimes, previously planned and then canceled (much to SFO General Director David Gockley's regret) by the Opera, will be presented by the San Francisco Symphony in a concert version in June.

And the time to buy tickets is now. Why? It's looking mighty good. The conductor is Michael Tilson Thomas, whose opera performances — rare as they are — have been exciting and memorable (his Flying Dutchman was especially sensational) and the cast is splendid.

Two outstanding alumni of the San Francisco Opera Center are returning from skyrocketing European careers: Stuart Skelton in the title role and Elza van den Heever as Ellen Orford. They will be joined by two "local notables," Eugene Brancoveanu as Ned Keene and John Relyea as Mr. Swallow. Alan Opie (Captain Balstrode), Ann Murray (Auntie), and Nancy Maultsby (Mrs. Sedley) round out the cast.

Last fall, Skelton performed in the London Philharmonic's Grimes, and was called in Andrew Clements' Guardian review "the best around today":

Skelton was superb when he sang Grimes in David Alden's exceptional ENO production four years ago, but now, with his experience of singing roles such as Tristan and Otello, there's an extra dimension, and the vocal heft is complimented by a touching delicacy when needed; his angry despair in his second-act confrontation with Ellen was heartbreaking, Every facet now is exceptional.

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

Wu Man: Have Pipa, Will Travel

January 14, 2014

Wu Man Photo by Stephen KahnPipa virtuoso Wu Man famously fell victim to airline negligence not long ago, but all is well again, and she is heading our way (presumably not on US Airways) to perform.

Having just completed a series of performances in Sonoma, she will be giving a concert on Jan. 26 in Berkeley's Hertz Hall.

Winner of Musical America's 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year Award, Wu Man (read interview) has been both a star soloist and a renowned scholar of music in little-known regions of Asia through research of her instrument's history. The pipa's four strings stretched over a shallow rosewood box can produce rich, complex music in her hands.

Her Cal Performances recital will explore the full range of the instrument by demonstrating traditional sounds, as well as those she creates when performing with such contemporary composers as Tan Dun, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass.

Opening with two hand-written scores from the 1870s, Xi Yang Xiao Gu (Flute and Drum Music at Sunset) and Shi Mian Mai Fu (Ambush Laid on Ten Sides), these compositions feature the “civil” and “martial” styles of classical pipa music — the latter portays the epic battle between the kingdoms of Han and the warlord of Chu in 202 B.C. The program moves into the 20th century with Liu Tianhua’s Xu Lai (Meditation) and music from Kyrgyzstan, composed by Nurlanbek Nyshanov for Wu Man during the Silk Road Project residency in Boston.

The program also includes Dance of the Yi People by Wang Hurian, San Liu's Three Six, concluding with two of Wu Man’s own compositions, Night Thoughts and Leaves Flying in Autumn.

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

Avedis Season: Varied, Attractive

January 14, 2014

Avedis Chamber Music Series begins its 29th season this week with the first of four concerts on Sundays at 2 p.m. in the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

Stanford Woodwind Quintet Photo by Mark BrandenburgStanford Woodwind Quintet opens the series with Damase’s Fantômes — a suite of nine pieces for woodwind quartet commissioned by Avedis for its 20th anniversary season and premiered in 2005. The Latin flavor of Danza de Mediodia by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez contrasts with Englishman Gordon Jacob’s Sextet, and the brilliance of Dutch Holocaust victim Léo Smit’s Sextuor.

The quintet consists of musicians well-known from major orchestras around the Bay: Alexandra Hawley, flute; James Matheson, oboe: Mark Brandenburg, clarinet; Lawrence Ragent, horn; Rufus Olivier, bassoon; they are joined by Paul Hersh, piano.

Avedis's next program, Feb. 16, is an all-Bach affair, including sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Christoph Friedrich, then works by J.S. himself: the trio sonata from Musical Offering and the Coffee Cantata — with soprano Shawnette Sulker, tenor Michael Dailey, and baritone Jeffrey Fields.

The other two concerts are scheduled for March 16 (more Damase, Lowell Liebermann, Haydn, and Schubert) and April 20 (yes, Damase again, plus Piston, Ibert, and Jean Françaix).

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

Oregon Wind Quintet Gives Free S.F. Concert

January 14, 2014

Oregon Woodwinds, migrating South: Louis DeMartino, Melissa Peña, Molly Alicia Barth, Lydia Van Dreel, and Steve VacchiThe Oregon Wind Quintet, an ensemble of woodwind musicians from the University of Oregon, will perform a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Repertoire for the concert will include selections from Carl Nielsen’s Quintet, Op. 43; Anton Reicha’s Quintet in Eb, Op. 88, No. 2; Kenji Bunch’s "Shout Chorus;" and Paul Hindemith’s Quintet, Op. 24, No. 2.

"We like to represent various time periods and musical styles in our programs," said Molly Alicia Barth, a Grammy Award-winning flutist and member of the quintet. "This program includes a work written at the turn of the 19th century, a jazz-inspired work written in 2006, and two mainstays of the wind quintet repertoire."

The ensemble performs regularly throughout the Pacific Northwest, including recitals and clinics at middle schools and high schools. During their first California visit this week, the quintet will also perform and present at schools throughout the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Los Gatos, San Jose, Fremont, Cupertino, Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale.

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

Ray of Light: Triassic Parq and Yeast Nation

January 14, 2014

Ray of Light Theater, a small company which has distinguished itself with memorable productions of Jerry Springer the Opera, Into the Woods, and Assassins will present an intriguing and promising pair in the 2014 season.

<em>Triassic Parq</em> in New York Starting in June with Triassic Parq — by Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz, and Steve Wargo — the Los Angeles and New York award-winning musical promises "a pack of sexually evolving dinosaurs in a certain prehistoric, Spielberg-inspired amusement park as they struggle with love, faith and science." How do dinosaurs evolve sexually (while singing)? Apparently, an all-female group of dinosaurs is shocked when one of its T-Rexes suddenly becomes male. Perhaps "evolves" is not the right word.

Something equally puzzling and provocative? Yeast Nation (the triumph of life) follows in October — "it imagines the hopes, hardships, and political turmoil of the world’s first life forms: salt-eating yeasts."

Writers Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, whose smash-hit Urinetown set ticket sales records in many venues a decade ago, will be in-residence with Ray of Light to further develop this story of "one dreamer’s curiosity and its colossal impact on the yeasts ... and our history."

Yeasties of <em>Yeast Nation</em> in Chicago In the year 3,000,458,000 B.C., the salt-eating yeasts are the only living creatures on earth, and they’re up against a food shortage, a strange new emotion called “love” and the oppression of a tyrannical king. When the king's dreamer of a son ventures out of the known yeastiverse, the yeasts’ story — and ours, their descendants — is changed forever.

Jason Hoover, artistic director of Ray of Light, explains his programming:

Producing cutting-edge musical theater has always been part of our company’s DNA, so we’re delighted to produce two local premieres this season. While Triassic Parq and Yeast Nation use stories and characters from ages past, the themes they present are still applicable to our modern lives. These shows are bold and exciting, and we can’t wait for Bay Area audiences to experience them, likely for the first time ever.

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

Aynu Myths in Shadow Play

January 14, 2014

Koyano Tetsuro working the puppets The Aynu (or Ainu) are the ancient, indigenous people of Northern Japan (especially Hokkaido) and Russia, with a culture dating back to 1,200 BCE. (The Äynu in China are not related to Japanese Ainu.)

The Hupa-Yurok-Karuk are indigenous people of California, located in the northwestern corner of the state, in Humboldt and Siskiyou Counties.

Larry Reed is a renowned San Francisco "shadow master," founder and artistic director of ShadowLight Productions. His mastery of Balinese shadow theater (wayang kulit) is unique among Western artists.

Reed is presenting a fascinating show about the intersection of ancient cultures.

The shows, in Fort Mason, are scheduled Jan. 15-19. "Poro Oyna: The Myth of the Aynu" tells an episode from the creation legend of Aynu Rakkur rescuing the Sun Goddess from an evil monster, and restoring order in the land of humans.

Anyu shadow playThe story is adapted by Tetsuro Koyano, a multidisciplinary performer and shadow artist in Tokyo, and OKI, an Aynu culture bearer and musician specializing in the traditional string instrument tonkori.

Under Reed's direction, the show is expected to be his usual combination of live action, film, puppets, silhouettes, masked-actors, and cutout sets.

The play will also feature shadow design by Kawamura Koheisai and live performances by OKI and Marewrew, a four-woman chorus group specializing traditional Aynu songs, and Urotsutenoyako Bayangans, a shadow theatre company based in Tokyo.

"Poro Oyna" will be performed in Japanese and Aynu with English narration, and some shows will feature a sing-off between Aynu musicians and a group of Hupa-Yurok-Karuk singers, called called "la hau nun sa."

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].