Music News: Jan. 7, 2014
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The great caricaturist Al Hirschfeld died a decade ago, but here was his portrait of Gordon Getty at the entrance to Davies Symphony Hall Monday night, looking as if drawn today. Next to the artist's signature was the number 3 — meaning that "Nina," the name of Hirschfeld's daughter is hidden in the drawing three times.
And here came Getty, walking all by himself — as he usually does — to attend the San Francisco Symphony's big gala on his 80th birthday to honor him for his many contributions to the orchestra, including the vital $9 million acoustic renovation of Davies Hall.
Appearing approachable as he always does, Getty stopped to answer my question about the drawing's vintage: It was made about 20 years ago. I didn't ask him where the Nina's are hidden, so he started walking into the lobby, stopped, came back and corrected himself: It was 15 years ago.
Then, while waiting for the elevator, Getty talked with any number of patrons approaching him, went to his seat in the orchestra (no special box for him), and only waved back to the stage when he was greeted and applauded from there, not standing, avoiding the spotlight even still.
Finally, after intermission and following the world premiere of his A Prayer for My Daughter (to a poem by Yeats), Michael Tilson Thomas coaxed Getty to the stage where he applauded the orchestra and Ragnar Bohlin's Symphony Chorus, and took a few awkward bows.
For somebody as shy and self-effacing as Getty, it must have been a mixed blessing to listen to MTT's effusive praise for "my dear friend" of many hidden talents, such as being a great expert on cylinder recordings, baseball, "omniescent about football, economics, art, and poetry ... and making it possible for us [SFS] to present the enormous range" of repertory.
Getty the composer was also represented by his Four Dickinson Songs, with soprano Lisa Delan, accompanied by Robin Sutherland, and the orchestra playing three movements of his Ancestor Suite.
Other highlights of the eclectic program were Bohlin conducting the chorus in an affecting performance of Tallis' 16th-century Spem in alium (Hope in any other) and Plácido Domingo singing "Di Provenza il mar," from La traviata.
One of the 20th century's greatest tenors, Domingo — turning 73 on Jan. 21 — now sings baritone roles and, judging by his performance of the Verdi aria tonight, does so amazingly well. The voice was powerful, filling the oversized hall, and the ovation that followed was well earned.
Domingo also sang a Lehár duet with Frederica von Stade, and conducted the orchestra in the Overture to Die Fledermaus. In an amazing display of his age-defying sustained power, Domingo sang over the combined forces of orchestra, soloists, chorus, and audience, with a flourish on the last note of "Happy Birthday" to Getty.
Flicka selected what is perhaps the shortest song in Mahler's Rückert Lieder, "Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder" (Don't look into my songs), and sang it beautifully, but as it came to a quick and sudden end, she mimicked surprise — and the audience laughed with her.
MTT and the orchestra opened and closed the gala with muscular performances of an excerpt from the Delibes ballet Sylvia at the beginning and the Allegro con brio from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 at the end.
An article in the program pays tribute to Getty, "who for decades has occupied a place of honor at the node of the San Francisco Symphony's varied activities." It quotes Getty about the beginning of his concert attendance "when Pierre Monteux was the music director ... I was in high school and college then, and I met him — though barely."
In the years that followed, he was close to conductors and musicians of the orchestra, from Edo de Waart to MTT "with whom he feels closest," and whose Mahler cycle Getty helped to finance:
In all, the concert is a celebration of an exceptional friend, of his own creative work, of the collegiality he has nurtured through many years, and of his enduring relationship with the San Francisco Symphony.
Thanks to San Francisco Symphony Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin, audiences here became somewhat familiar with the previously little-known Wilhelm Stenhammar and Hugo Alfven — big names in Sweden. Now that the once-famous but now (to Americans) rather obscure painter Anders Zorn is reigning at the Legion of Honor, Bohlin is going all out to celebrate Konungariket Sverige, the Kingdom of Sweden.
He will conduct the 16-member Voices of Sweden, at 1 p.m. on Jan. 25, at the Legion, part of an all-day program of lectures and discussions about Zorn. On the program: Lindholm, Stenhammar, and the latter's good friend, Zorn himself. Was the "unknown painter" also an unknown composer? Not really, Bohlin says, he just wrote a few short drinking songs, one of which will have its West Coast (or North American?) premiere at this concert.
Never having heard of Voices of Sweden, I told Bohlin that I suspect it may be an ad hoc and perhaps a one-time only manifestation of Cappella SF, his chamber choir that's still in the state of becoming.
"It is indeed singers from my new group, but since this happens before our official debut, we go under this name," Bohlin replied, adding that the event is in response to a request from the Swedish Consulate. As to Zorn as a composer:
Zorn was not really a composer, this is only a simple drinking tune, harmonized by someone else, but accredited to Zorn. He was, however, a driving force behind the resurrection of the old fiddler/folk music tradition in Sweden, and was for several years on the jury of an important folk music competition at the time.
I must admit that my fascination with unusual names had something to do to with the initial attention I paid to Primous Fountain, along with the fact that he is among the relatively few contemporary African-American classical composers — including, of course, Anthony Davies, Pamela Z, Anthony Braxton, and Olly Wilson among others.
But once I started listening to Fountain's works, including his Second Symphony, his Cello Concerto (recorded with Anthony Elliott; Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra), and more, the name and race became unimportant. With a curiously Russian sound, and unaffected simplicity, Fountain's music deserves attention.
Attention was paid by a young conductor almost four decades ago when Michael Tilson Thomas conducted Fountain's Ritual Dances of the Amaks when guesting with the San Francisco Symphony and with his own Buffalo Philharmonic on an East Coast tour, concluding in Carnegie Hall.
Another young man, Charles Amirkhanian, captured an interview with the composer when his Manifestations was performed by the Oakland Symphony, conducted by Harold Farberman. Fountain is now 64, he composed Manifestations when he was only 18.
Arthur Mitchell later choreographed the eponymous ballet to Manifestations, performed by his Dance Theatre of Harlem, where it became one of the company's signature ballets. The music also appears in Fountain's Fourth Symphony.
Fountain was the youngest composer to have won two Guggenheim Fellowships. He was also awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Goddard Lieberson Fellowship, and the Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) Award.
Fountain, supported enthusiastically by Gunther Schuller, had his works performed by numerous symphony orchestras, including those of Chicago and Boston, while Quincy Jones supported his jazz, rhythm and blues compositions.
Fountain — who has just completed his Seventh Symphony — and his supporters are engaged in a vigorous campaign to find an orchestra to give the world premiere of his Second Symphony "in a venue which is as strong and impressive as the work and the composer"; to start a world orchestra tour with his compositions; and start recordings.
Speaking Monday night from Chicago, where temperatures have plunged below those on Mars, Fountain said:
Quincy Jones commissioned my Second Symphony which took me 10 years to compose. The short version of the Second Symphony’s Ukraine performance was chosen as the "Best Cultural Event of the Year" for the Ukraine Regional by mass media: TV and radio stations, magazines, newspapers and major online media. The full version of my Second Symphony has yet to receive a world premiere. Maybe in San Francisco?
The junior (by age) partner of my Association of Radical Scribes (ARS), Michael Strickland, drew last year's toughest assignment and bravely reported on the San Francisco Symphony's New Year's Eve Gala, complete with wine, song, food, and extreme merriment.
Of his splendid photos and pithy observations, here are a few highlights:
The main stage concert was unexpectedly good, with the British conductor Michael Francis playing genial host and leading the orchestra in seriously good renditions of light classical ear candy. The first half was devoted to Viennese waltzes and operetta (Lehár, Strauss, and Lortzing) while the second half was all Broadway (Gershwin, Weill, Loewe).
Sasha Cooke ... has a mezzo-soprano voice that is one of the wonders of the world. Possibly the worst thing about The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene at the San Francisco Opera last summer was that it effaced Cooke's artistic divinity. Last night she sang "Villja's Song," the hit tune from The Merry Widow, so beautifully that I was in tears by the end. Since I can't stand The Merry Widow, that is a serious accomplishment.
The stage was cleared for the Peter Mintun band, accompanied by The Jesters singing trio, to serenade the dancing audience onstage and in the aisles. Some of us stayed in the lobby and at one point a young audience member jumped onto the piano and proceeded to impress a girlfriend and amaze passersby with an extraordinary classical improvisation.
SFCV and San Francisco Civic Center join in the hunt to identify the masked mystery pianist. Before we get to the milk-carton phase, please send us leads, and we'll unmask him.
Tiburon Film Society will present Heaven's Mirror: A Portuguese Voyage at a free screening on Feb. 4, at 2100 Bridgeway in Sausalito.
With Ana Moura, Camané, Mafalda Arnauth, Carlos do Carmo, and Helder Moutinho in the cast, Joshua Dylan Mellars' film is all about fado, Portugal's haunting folk music with its salient longing or "saudade." The documentary is a "love song to fado, a two centuries old music whose influences were carried by sailors to Lisbon from Africa, Brazil and the Arab world."
The film travels from the Portuguese immigrant enclaves of California to New England’s former whaling ports, then to Lisbon’s candlelit fado houses and Indian Goa’s steamy, pastel bungalows.
Ana Moura is one of today's major fado stars. Born in 1979 in Santarem, Portugal, which is located on the Tagus River just north of Lisbon. The youngest fadista to be nominated for the Dutch Edison Award, Moura received the prize for Best Performer by the Foundation Amália Rodrigues. Her album, Leva-me aos Fados, has gone platinum in the top ten of best selling albums in Portugal.
If you think Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir is bragging in taking year's end stock, you may be right, but it's the right kind of boasting about grand achievements:
* The organization celebrating its 30th anniversary provided about $58,000 in scholarships to young students.
* Offered specialized music training for students from such leading professionals as Ken Abrams, Justin Montigne and the Choral Institute.
* Students worked with such composers as Mark Winges, Eric Tuan, Stacey Garrop, and Jafet Bruno Ponce, performing their commissioned works.
* Won the Grand Prix Award for Choral Music (sweeping the competition as overall winner) at the International Youth Music Festival in Bratislava, winning first place in the Children’s Choir, Contemporary, and Jazz, Spiritual and Gospel categories.
* The choir was featured in To Breathe as One, a documentary about one of the largest choral events in the world, the Estonian Laulupidu Music Festival, with the Piedmont Choirs as one of the few outside choirs invited to attend.
* Performed with the Oakland East Bay Symphony, San Francisco Choral Society and Cal Performances.
Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb said in an interview with Reuters that at the beginning of the company's live-to-cinema opera transmissions seven years ago, many doubted the venture: "I think there were a lot of people who expected us to fall on our face with this program," Gelb said.
But now, with about 3 million viewers seeing about a dozen Met opera HD casts in movie theaters in 64 countries, it's a big success, even if not a fiscal windfall. Each broadcast costs about $1 million to produce, and according to Gelb the expected "modest profit" has been "exceeded significantly." About the age of audiences, Gelb said:
When I took over the Met [in 2006], the average age of our audience was 65. We managed to reverse that trend. The average is a few years younger; I think it is 59 or 61. Certainly, high definition is part of that. We’ve stopped the increasingly elderly attendance.
Music@Menlo's Winter Series — the summer festival's year-around extension — is offering an exciting event in the Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton on Feb. 9. "Pianists in Paris" features four acclaimed artists: festival artistic co-director Wu Han, Anne-Marie McDermott, and two illustrious pianists new to Music@Menlo, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Soyeon Kate Lee.
The program features four-hand and two-piano performances of works by Debussy and Bizet, concluding with Gershwin's An American in Paris in the composer’s arrangement for two pianos.
The Debussy works are Nocturnes for Two Pianos (arranged by Ravel), Petite Suite for Piano, Four Hands, and Jeux for Two Pianos (arranged by Bavouzet). Bizet is represented by Jeux d’enfants for Piano, Four Hands.
Bavouzet made his San Francisco Symphony debut in 2012 as the soloist in Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 3, under the baton of Vasily Petrenko. The French pianist seems to have a special affinity for Hungarians, having been mentored by both György Cziffra and Georg Solti, and recording all three Bartók concertos with Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic.
Lee too has made previous Bay Area appearances, beginning as a Naumberg winner with San Francisco Performances. She will give a recital in May at the Steinway Society Series in Le Petit Trianon.
Musica Pacifica's next program on Wed. 8 at Trinity Chapel in Berkeley, is "Sweet Accents: In Praise of Harmony," with tenor Aaron Sheehan joining the quartet. The program is cantatas and instrumental chamber music by Handel, Rameau, Telemann, and their contemporaries.
Sheehan will sing in the Rameau cantata Orphée, Handel’s "Look Down, Harmonious Saint" (a song for St. Cecilia’s Day), Michel Lambert’s "Vos mépris chaque jour," and arias from Bach’s Cantatas Nos. 97 and 62.
Additionally, the quartet will play Telemann’s Sonata No. 1 in A (Paris Quartets) and Concerto a quattro; Rameau’s Troisième Concert in A Major (from Pièces de Clavecin en Concert) and Handel’s Ouverture from Sonata in G Major, Op. 5, No.4. The same program will be performed for the San Diego Early Music Society on Jan. 10 and with the Fullerton Friends of Music on Jan. 12.
Ildar Abdrazakov, who made his stage debut in the San Francisco Opera production of Boito's Mefistofele last year, is now making his solo recording debut and will sing the title role in Borodin's Prince Igor at the Met next month.
The album features Abdrazakov in a return to his Russian roots with Power Players: Russian Arias for Bass on Delos, being released today. The conductor: Constantine Orbelian, with the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra and Kaunas State Choir from Lithuania.
The album offers many of the "greatest hits" of the Russian bass repertoire, with selections by Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev.
In advance of the Prince Igor production, on Jan. 15 the Met presents “Russian Exoticism: From Folk Music to Prince Igor,” a special concert at Le Poisson Rouge, where the Russian bass will be joined by soprano Anna Netrebko and his Prince Igor co-stars, mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili and bass Stefan Kocán.
Calling attention to just three of the many upcoming opera videos this month:
* The Met Eugene Onegin will be telecast on PBS Great Performances, Jan. 19 and 20 on KQED-TV — with Anna Netrebko, Mariusz Kwiecien, and Piotr Beczala; conducted by Valery Gergiev, and directed by directed by Fiona Shaw. See the "Letter Aria," sung by Netrebko, and Lenski's aria with Beczala.
* Gounod's Romeo and Juliet from Verona is showing on Jan. 26 and 28 in Camera 3, San José. Fabio Mastrangelo is conductor, Francesco Micheli is the stage director; in the cast: Stefano Secco and Nino Machaidze, with Ketevan Kemoklidze, Cristina Melis, Artur Rucinski, and Jean-François Borras.
* In the San Francisco Opera Cinema Series, upcoming at the Sundance Kabuki Theaters on Jan. 27, Samson and Delilah. Patrick Summers conducted the Nicolas Joël production; Clifton Forbis and Olga Borodina sang the title roles.
But meanwhile, here's some exciting news from the world of art (which is connected with music on so many levels). The San José Museum of Art greeted the new year by launching an online database of its permanent collection.
The museum has more than 2,500 works in its collection, only a small fraction of which are on view in the galleries at any given time. The online database makes the collection available to the public with images of more than 2,000 works of art. Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, this is the result of two years of cataloging, photographing, and digitizing objects as well as converting the images and accompanying information into the new database. Visitors may browse the collection by artist, medium, or genre, or find specific works using keywords.