Music News: Jan. 28, 2014
Music News is supported in part by Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C.
San Francisco organizations and composers received six $50,000 commissions from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode and William and Flora Hewlett foundations to support the creation and production of new compositions. They are:
* Volti and Mark Winges — The choir's resident composer for a quarter century (he must have started at age 10), will combine the Volti adult choir with the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir for The Pandora Project, for which "poet Denise Newman will update the classic Pandora’s box legend." Premiere in spring of 2015.
* Door Dog Music Productions/S.F. World Music Festival and composer Anuradha Sridhar — "for a collective music process for The War Project: Propaganda, Protest, Prayer." Sridhar, trained in Carnatic music, will create "prayer-like songs for women and girls impacted by war," to premiere next winter.
* Circuit Network/San Francisco Electronic Music Festival and co-founder Pamela Z — "to create a new five-movement work inspired by the history, architecture, engineering, and cultural impact of bridges and scored for a chamber ensemble with real-time live electronic processing, text, and sampled sounds." Premiere is expected in spring of 2015.
* Gamelan Sekar Jaya and founding member Wayne Vitale — "to create a suite of five experimental works for a smaller ensemble using both traditional and newly constructed and tuned instruments. Themes will be drawn from Balinese cosmology." The project will premiere in spring of 2015.
* Kronos Quartet and composer Jonathan Berger — "to create My Lai, an opera monodrama scored for tenor, string quartet, traditional Vietnamese percussion instruments, and digitally processed sounds, which will explore first-hand reflections on the My Lai tragedy." Joining Kronos will be tenor Rinde Eckert and Vietnamese performer Vân-Ánh Võ. The project will premiere during Kronos Quartet’s 2015–2016 home season.
* San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and Amy X Neuburg — "to develop a 30-minute song cycle for voice, live looping, electronics, and chamber orchestra, inspired by the composer’s experience with hunger in America today." The first electronic work to be performed by the orchestra, the project will premiere in spring of 2016 as part of SFCO’s Main Stage Concert Series.
Gerbode Foundation President Stacie Ma’a spoke about being "thrilled to continue the partnership with the Hewlett Foundation to commission new works by California artists for Bay Area arts organizations. This year, our grants will support six stellar music projects featuring a wide array of aesthetics, different genres, and myriad traditions. Of particular note, was how many of the contemporary composers were infusing narrative structures and voice into their compositions.”
John E. McGuirk, director of the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program, added that "The recipients of this year’s grants are some of the most dynamic and exciting creators of new music in our community. New work like this is essential to cultivating a vibrant arts community, and we are proud to be able to support these artists."
The advisory panel for the grants included Philip Blackburn of the American Composers Forum and innova Recordings; Will Hermes, a senior critic at Rolling Stone; pianist, composer, singer Robin Holcomb; violinist Mary Rowell, concertmaster of the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra; and jazz pianist Helen Sung.
Winges told SFCV about his commissioned work under development:
The Pandora myth is a powerful one, and open to many different nuances: Is curiosity a bad thing (because it leads to unleashing bad things)? Is hope, because it’s the last thing left in Pandora’s box, the tiny thing that keeps us going, or is it "last" because it’s the most powerful thing there is?
I’m really looking forward to exploring how we shape the various elements of this project as Denise Newman crafts her words and as I work with the singers, their placement and how the move in they performance space. From a purely sonic standpoint, I’m really excited about combining the timbres of both young and adult voices, especially when it’s on the level of musicianship present in Volti and the Piedmont Choirs.
Feb. 10 is application deadline for Opera Grants for Female Composers, which provides support for the development of new operas by women. OPERA America invites proposals for grants of up to $15,000 from female composers "able to document their ability to create operatic works."
To read program guidelines and to apply, visit www.operaamerica.org/Grants; contact Laura Lee Everett at LEverett@operaamerica.org with questions.
Maria Schneider's Winter Morning Walks — with Australian Chamber Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra — won four Grammy Awards, as announced during the much less publicized afternoon portion of the Sunday award ceremonies in Los Angeles. They were for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Classical Vocal Solo (Dawn Upshaw), Best Engineered Album, and (partially for) Producer of the Year (David Frost)
Winter Morning Walks, which was performed at the Ojai Music Festival in 2011, is a series of songs based on poems by Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. The poems were inspired by Kooser's battle with cancer and chemotherapy treatment.
The Minnesota Orchestra — just back from an unconscionably long labor dispute — won Best Orchestral Performance for the recording of Sibelius' Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4, conducted by Osmo Vänskä.
Best Opera Recording went to Thomas Adès' The Tempest, conducted by the composer at the Metropolitan Opera, with Simon Keenlyside, Isabel Leonard, Audrey Luna, and Alan Oke.
Arvo Pärt's Adam’s Lament, the Latvian Radio Choir conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste, was named Best Choral Performance.
Best Chamber Music award went to Roomful Of Teeth by Brad Wells.
Evelyn Glennie won Best Classical Instrumental Solo in Corigliano's Conjurer, concerto for percussionist and string orchestra, with the Albany Symphony Orchestra.
Pete Seeger, 94, called by The New York Times "the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change," died Monday in New York-Presbyterian Hospital of natural causes.
He recorded more than 100 albums, but never assumed the role of a star or behaved like a celebrity. "My job," he has said, "is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet."
A founder of the Newport Folk Festival, Seeger's works became veritable folksongs themselves: "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," "We Shall Overcome" (adapted from old spirituals), "If I Had a Hammer," "Turn! Turn! Turn!," many others.
Seeger is the only singer in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who was convicted of contempt of Congress. In 1955, he refused to testify about his past membership in the Communist Party. He later said he quit the party in 1949 and "should have left much earlier. It was stupid of me not to ... I had no idea how cruel a leader Stalin was."
In 1961, his conviction was overturned on appeal, but Seeger continued to be blacklisted by commercial TV networks until 1967. Even then, CBS censored parts of his anti-Vietnam War musical allegory, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, when he sang it on the Smothers Brothers' Comedy Hour.
In 2006, Bruce Springsteen helped introduce Seeger to a new generation when he recorded We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, an album of 13 songs popularized by Seeger, including "John Henry" and "Shenandoah." Three years later, Seeger at age 90, sang "This Land Is Your Land" at President Obama's inaugural concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Six years ago, in a Metropolitan Opera production of Hansel and Gretel, Alice Coote sang Hansel and a young mezzo from California (via Texas) was the Sandman, making her mark in a role that has only one aria.
Friday, in the Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, former Sandman Sasha Cooke came to the rescue of San Francisco Performances, which found out just a few days before that the long-scheduled Coote is unable to fly from London because of illness.
Cooke, San Francisco Symphony and Opera favorite (she sang the title role of the Opera's Mary Magdelene, and will rejoin SFS on a European tour later this year in Mahler's Third Symphony, see next item), conquered once again with a great voice, so rich in legato, wonderful diction in German, French, and English, and unaffected warmth and charm — no surprise there.
But there was novelty in the amazing debut of Cooke's accompanist, Pei-Yao Wang, an exceptional pianist, who brought to mind Yuja Wang, not only because of the name. (Yes, I know the name "Wang" is very much like "Smith," but there is something similar in their artistry.)
At the very beginning, with just a few introductory notes to Wolf's "Gebet," Wang made the listener sit up and pay attention — remaining enthralled for the next two hours. Every touch and release was exactly right, she "speaks" the music, the notes are full of depth and meaning, the piano a full and equal partner to the singer.
The petite Taiwanese pianist, educated at Curtis and Yale, and now residing in New York, made her orchestral debut at age 8 in Taipei, has collaborated with members of the Guarneri, Orion, Chicago, and Miro quartets; performed at a dozen festivals. (She has a 4-year-old boy, but there is no word on his musical career yet.)
Wang has studied with Richard Goode, she is a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Program, and has worked with James Levine at the Met, Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic. She was part of the production team at the Metropolitan Opera when the company received a Grammy Award for the production of John Adams' Doctor Atomic.
So she has a track record and deserved fame, but was unknown here until Cooke and Ruth Felt's San Francisco Performances brought her to San Francisco, in a debut to remember.
Now, to the other half of the duet: Cooke put together an unusual, interesting program, which entertained and satisfied — up to a point. There was mirth and charm, vocal excellence, seductive good humor, selections rarely if ever heard, but depth and gravitas didn't go beyond two wonderful lieder by Henri Duparc to text by Charles Baudelaire: "L'Invitation au voyage" and "La vie antérieure" — text and music of substance, inviting repetition beyond the initial experience.
Cooke said recently of the program that "It’s like planning a dinner ... you don’t want it to be all heavy or all too light." Emphasis was clearly on entertainment and — without a question — she succeeded delightfully. Poulenc's "Cinq Poemes de Max Jacob" and George Crumb's "Three Early Songs" had their share of strange and bizarre, besides being musically unusual and intriguing.
Britten's "A Charm of Lullabies" and Copland's "Old American Songs" were pleasant if unchallenging; even Cooke's Hugo Wolf selections (from Mörike-Lieder) were of lighter nature than most of the composer's songs.
The encores — Granados' "El mirar de la Maja" and William Bolcom's "Black Max" — were in the same vein, although the humor and drama mixing in "Black Max" had a greater impact.
It may sound like it, but I am not complaining. How could I when experiencing such a run of faultless performances? The point is that a bit more drama and pathos would have made the evening more complete.
And yet, I am seriously considering hopping over to the Home of the New Deep Freeze on Feb. 3, when Cooke and Wang perform the same program in Alice Tully Hall.
Never mind weight or lack of same, this concert was that good, a gourmet meal without too much meat, so I may turn vegetarian yet.
Gearing up for an 11-concert European tour, Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in two weeks of concerts, Feb. 27-March 2 and March 6-9.
The first week features Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with Sasha Cooke, while Julia Fischer joins the orchestra in the second week for Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, along with Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique.
(Am I the only one who finds the current SFS website, advertising a big sale (which itself is good) a bit "too busy"?)
They may be brand-new, but the Phonochrome chamber ensemble knows how to pick an easy-to-remember debut date. It's Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, in the S.F. Conservatory of Music, with the concert title of "Love at the end of the world."
Three musicians at the Conservatory founded the ensemble: pianist Allegra Chapman, flutist Elizabeth Talbert, and cellist Laura Gaynon. Chapman has graduated from SFCM after completing a one-year post-graduate diploma; previously, she received a master's degree in piano performance from The Juilliard School, and bachelor's from Bard Conservatory. Talbert and Gaynon are finishing their master's degree this semester in the chamber music program, Gaynon coming from Yale, and Talbert from Carnegie Mellon.
The group plans to expand beyond the initial concert, and even for the debut, they will have the participation of violinists Cassandra Bequary and Joseph Maile, clarinetist Sophie Huet, and cellist Jerry Liu.
The program, exploring French music from the 20th century, spanning the course of two world wars, includes Messiaen's 1941 Quartet for the End of Time, Philippe Gaubert's 1926 Three Watercolors, and Debussy's 1917 Violin Sonata.
The Debussy sonata, dedicated to his wife, is his final work before his untimely death in 1918, the year World War I ended. Messiaen wrote the quartet in a World War II prisoner-of-war camp; the work is a song of love for the angel of the apocalypse, with emphasis on the peaceful eternity and the absence of time after the cataclysm.
Admission is free, a reception will follow the concert.
Every major performing arts organization uses the season-opener as a dressy, fancy event to raise funds and rally the faithful among benefactors and audiences.
The San Francisco Ballet's opening galas in the War Memorial are among the biggest and most lucrative of such events. On Wednesday, the gala signaling the company's 81st repertory season raised a record $2.4 million, according to board chairman John S. Osterweis.
(A bit of statistics: In the still-young West, the city's Symphony is 103 years old, the Opera 91, and the country's oldest ballet company began as the San Francisco Opera Ballet in 1933, hence the designation of 81. In fact, before and during World War II, several seasons went dark, so it's not really the 81st season, but definitely the age of the company.)
The biggest hits of the varied gala program were virtuoso performances — such as Frances Chung's charming solo from Val Caniparoli's Lambarena, the breathtaking elegance of Mathilde Froustey in Victor Gsovsky's Grand Pas Classique, and the infectuous humor of the Pas de Cinque of Johan Kobborg's Les Lutins.
Calling Kobborg's Jerome Robbins-style piece a "dance for five" is a bit of a stretch, but not by much: Pianist Roy Bogas and violinist Kurt Nikkanen — playing spirited music by Wieniawski and Bazzini — were fully involved, especially Nikkanen, and they helped to unleash some hilarious and acrobatic moves from Dores Andre (lookingly improbably manly), Esteban Hernandez, and Gennadi Nedvigin.
Kobborg — former principal dancer of the Royal Danish Ballet and England's Royal Ballet — was also in evidence, as a guest artist, partering Maria Kochetkova in the bedroom pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan's Manon.
Pair after pair displayed the company's great strength of its cluster of stars: Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets in the MacMillan Concerto, Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Edwaard Liang's Finding Light and more. Many more.
The Ballet Orchestra, under Martin West's direction, did a fine job. They have their work cut out for them — and the musically inclined audience has much to expect — during the season, which has what West calls "the most diverse repertoire of any company I know."
With all the attention on gory injuries in professional football, a sport which is mostly about the use of force, equally widespread accidents in dance are hardly ever mentioned, perhaps because against the obscenely overpaid players, most dancers must claim unemployment compensation between seasons. Also, against the "highlights" video replays of injuries on the field, it is rare that even serious, debilitating accidents on stage are noticed.
After the gala, I coincidentally forwarded an article about dancer injuries and one response mentioned Vanessa Zahorian's accident at the gala.
What accident? Dancing with Taras Domitro in the Diana and Acteon pas de deux just before intermission, Zahorian did slip, but after the usual collective breath intake by the audience, she got up and continued dancing without any visible sign of distress. Nobody rushing in to cart her off, providing a convenient pause for more commercials.
I learned from this post-gala correspondence what apparently few among the audience of 3200 noticed. When she fell — probably slipping on sweat on the stage, and her shoe, with rosin on it, got caught — she broke her foot (the fifth metatarsal) ... and she continued to dance the entire piece on a broken foot.
How tough are dancers? After a mandatory two weeks completely off the foot, still on crutches, Zahorian is planning for the future, and probably will be back on stage in time for Cinderella. Hats off to her and all dancers.
Bolshoi Theater General Director Vladimir Urin, who was denounced by the company's previous music director as "unbearable," has announced the appointment of Tugan Sokhiev as the new music director and chief conductor, effective Feb. 1.
It's none too soon, as Vassily Sinaisky resigned last month, within two weeks of the opening of Don Carlo. Before he went, Sinaisky explained that his resignation is "the result of four months of watching and working with Mr. Urin ... and at some point it became not interesting and unbearable." This is just the latest chapter in a series of upheavals at the once stale and stable national institution.
Urin, who was appointed last year after the scandal that rocked the Bolshoi last January when the Bolshoi Ballet artistic director Sergei Filin was injured in an acid attack.
Sokhiev, 36, is a protégé of Valery Gergiev, quickly rising in opera and the symphonic world. He is principal conductor and artistic director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (since 2012), and music director of the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse (since 2008). He has guest-conducted the Berlin Philharmonic, La Scala, and the Met.
Tugan Taymourazovitch Sokhiev is an Ossetian — as are Gergiev, writer Gaito Gazdanov, conductor Veronika Dudarova, and ... goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov — and he began piano studies at age 7, first conducted at age 17, and was educated at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.
There was only one hiccup in Sokhiev's steadily rising career: appointed music director of the Welsh National Opera a decade ago, before his 26th birthday, he was too young and inexperienced to last long in the position.
Otherwise, his reviews have been outstanding, such as this from Music Web International about Sokhiev's conducting the Kirov at the Met in Eugene Onegin:
In this final evening of the Kirov Opera's distinguished festival stay, conductor Tugan Sokhiev showed that Maestro Gergiev — marvelous as he is — is not the only asset this glorious ensemble has at its disposal. With a sensitively wrought and heavenly well-sung Eugene Onegin, Sokhiev brought the company’s three-week residency to a stirring close.
The San Francisco Early Music Society presents the West Coast debut of the acclaimed chamber group Quicksilver, called "rock stars within the early music-scene." The Huffington Post named Quicksilver's 2011 recording, Stile Moderno: New Music from the Seventeenth Century Breakthrough Album of the Year.
During a busy weekend, Feb. 28-March 2, Quicksilver performs The Early Moderns in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The concerts explore strange and extravagant trio sonatas and related music from 17th-century Italy and Germany.
Quicksilver is co-directed by violinists Robert Mealy and Julie Andrijeski, with Greg Ingles, trombone; Dominic Teresi, dulcian; David Morris, cello and viola da gamba; Charles Weaver, theorbo and guitar; and Avi Stein, organ and harpsichord.
Quicksilver focuses on what it calls the revolutionary new music and musical forms that developed during the first two generations of the Baroque era:
Among the most influential musical inventions of the period was the sonata: a pure instrumental work, a piece simply meant to be "sounded," with no agenda but the imagination of the composer, and no standard form other than the passionate give-and-take of friends in conversation.
Quicksilver's program includes sonatas by Italians Dario Castello, Giovanni Battista Fontana, and Biagio Marini; Germans Johann Kaspar Kerll and Matthias Weckmann.
Also included: an example of the canzona by Johann Vierdanck (1605-1646), one of Heinrich Schütz's most talented students. The canzona was a late Renaissance form that preceded the sonata, and Vierdanck uses syncopated dance rhythms to create a festive atmosphere. The three Bay Area concerts will have varying programs.