Music News: July 1, 2014

July 1, 2014

Music News is supported in part by Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C.      Schoenberg Family Law Group

Impressions of a Memorable Grimes

July 1, 2014

The SFS <em>Peter Grimes</em> panorama Photo by Stefan Cohen `The last performance San Francisco Symphony's season-closing semi-staged production of Britten's Peter Grimes on Sunday felt different from the first on Thursday, but it was equally magnificent, and just as overwhelming. It even made a veteran supernumerary fall in love with the opera all over again.

On Thursday, it was an explosion of raw feeling, a stunning surprise, a successful Hail-Mary pass through the complexities and difficulties of one of the 20th century's great scores — a surprise, even against high expectations. On Sunday — after four consecutive performances for the orchestra, three for soloists and chorus — the question was if the wonder of it all could be sustained, and the answer was yes.

The physical, athletic endurance alone was so impressive. Stuart Skelton sang Grimes, a role he now owns as Jon Vickers once did, at the English National Opera, with several days of rest between performances. He followed an inhuman schedule of Thursday-Friday-Sunday, all in full voice, resounding in Davies Symphony Hall with a sound few singers can produce. A long-ago recital by Montserrat Caballe comes to mind, and closer at hand, Elza van den Heever's Wagnerian-lyrical Ellen Orford. The English National Opera, by the way, staged the world premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945.

Rafael Karpa-Wilson as the boy, chorus director Ragnar Bohlin, Kevin Langan as Hobson, Kim Begley as Horace Adams, Eugene Brancoveanu as Ned Keene, and John Relyea as Mr. Swallow Photos by Michael Strickland

Also, what I noticed only peripherally at the first performance became fully obvious by Sunday: direction and the management of projections were restrained, superb — the very opposite of Regieoper or "director's opera."

Although the stage above the orchestra and singers is dominated by what director James Darrah described as "a very large, panoramic projection screen that starts at floor level and wraps around the orchestra in a semi-circle — it goes up into the air and breaks open where the chorus is, and then continues up like a big curved sail," it didn't divert attention by being overused.

Thanks to Darrah and video designer Adam Larsen, the beauty of this panoramic screen was that it did not intrude. There were faint images of the town and, mostly, of the sea, but these disciplined, thoughtful artists refrained from what most people would do with an expensive toy — and call attention away from what is important.

San Francisco Opera, which had planned "Grimes" for the Britten centennial but couldn't afford it, had an excellent production under the baton of Donald Runnicles.

And here is the bad news: SFS has incongruously opted out of recording or broadcasting, so these performances can never be heard again. Still trying to find out why.

Merola's Streetcar and Schwabacher Recital

July 1, 2014

Blanche Streeter, Julie Adams, and The Dress Photos by Kristen LokenMerola Board Vice President Blanche Streeter shares the first name of the heroine of André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois, and her last name has something to do with the opera's title. Independently of those chance similarities, Streeter is a great fan of both the opera and the Merolina who will sing Blanche on July 10 and 12, soprano Julie Adams.

Streetcar had its commissioned world premiere by the San Francisco Opera on Sept. 19, 1998, and during the intervening years, sets and — especially — costumes disappeared, including the dress worn by Renée Fleming, who created the role of Blanche.

Blanche Streeter to the rescue, recovering the dress from a costume shop sale and waiting for the right occasion to put it back into service. With Merola and Adams in action, the dress found its new purpose in life.

Previn's score will be presented in a new reduced orchestration by Peter Grunberg, conducted by 1986 Merola alumnus Mark Morash, and directed by Jose Maria Condemi (Merola 1999-2000). Condemi is also directing all three co-productions performed across the nation, next at Opera Santa Barbara and Kentucky Opera. Morash says of the working on the opera:

I have loved working on Streetcar. Previn’s music alternates between visceral power and opaque vulnerability. It is full of orchestral magic, much like the famous number form the opera.

I am really excited to debut the new reduced orchestration. All of the excitement of the rhythmic drive and brute force remain, but I think the piece is going to feel much more intimate overall — very much in keeping with the emotional fragility of Blanche. As a Merola production, the piece is a huge musical and dramatic challenge.

Julie Adams and Thomas Gunther in StreetcarPutting the opera on its feet has helped the singers understand their music as they come to understand what Previn has brought to the libretto and how powerful and natural all those “difficult” notes become.

Morash says the role of Blanche is a complete tour de force, and Adams agrees:

I am truly humbled and honored to play one of the greatest parts ever written for a woman in the American theater. It demands the fullness and variety of an orchestra, which, in turn makes this story into a wonderful opera. This role has been the most complicated role I have ever played-musically, emotionally, and physically. However, the end result is so rewarding.

Besides Adams, the cast features tenor Casey Candebat as Harold “Mitch” Mitchell; soprano Adelaide Boedecker as Stella Kowalski; baritone Thomas Gunther as Stanley Kowalski; mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet as Eunice Bubbell; tenor Benjamin Werley as Steve Hubbell; mezzo-soprano Shirin Eskandani as the Mexican Woman; and tenor Mingie Lei as a Young Collector.

Other members of Merola 2014 will have their place in the spotlight at the July 17 and 19 Schwabacher Summer Concerts, the first in Everette Auditorium, the second in a free outdoor event at Yerba Buena Gardens, conducted by Eric Melear.

The Summer Concerts feature extended scenes from Thomas’ Mignon; Handel’s Semele; Verdi’s Luisa Miller; Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola; Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; and Bizet’s Carmen.

Midsummer Mozart to Go On Without Serkin

July 1, 2014

Mezzo Anna YelizarovaPianist Peter Serkin, to be featured at the 40th annual Midsummer Mozart Festival's July 12 and 13 chamber-music concerts has canceled because of an injury. The festival will go on without those events, and hold the July 19-20 and 25-27 orchestral concerts as scheduled.

Artistic Director George Cleve will conduct Mozart's Symphony No. 40 and Mozart arias performed by mezzo Tania Mandzy Inala on the first two days. The "Mozart Bouquet" on the last three includes works with the participation of his San Francisco Boys Chorus and mezzo Anna Yelizarova; the Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466, with Seymour Lipkin as soloist.

Concert venues are St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco; First Congregational Church, Berkeley; and Bing Concert Hall, Stanford University.

Bankhead Theater Ventures Into the Future

July 1, 2014

Bankhead Theater at nightHaving accumulated a staggering $22.3 million of debt since its completion just seven years ago, Livermore's Bankhead Theater lost its last Executive Director, Ted Giatas, in December of 2013, after just two months on the job, and faced closure.

The City of Livermore and three organizations came together in June "to open a much needed path for the Bankhead Theater and to continue offering the Tri-Valley an exceptional venue for the performing arts in the heart of downtown Livermore."

Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center Chairman Phil Wente placed the blame on the State's elimination of redevelopment agencies in 2011, saying that "nearly 400 other cities in the state ... had long-standing plans jeopardized for a regional theater. Operating as a stand-alone venue, the significant bond debt remaining on the Bankhead Theater put it at high risk of default and closure."

More than half of the needed $4 million this year to continue operations has been raised, it is reported. And the Performing Arts Center is now looking forward to resolving the debt eventually, having the ownership of the theater transfer to the City of Livermore and the County of Alameda, subject to leaseback by LVPAC.

Events for the eighth LVPAC Presents season have been booked and include both popular returning artists, as well as new performers. Some four dozen groups and artists are scheduled to appear, representing a broad range of musical styles such as rock, country, classical, and world, plus cirque, comedy, and dance.

The new series offers seven packages that span entertainment genres from an acoustic guitar series, featuring Leo Kottke, Ottmar Liebert, and Andy McKee, to a World Stage series with Tango Buenos Aires, Russian National Ballet Theatre, Women of Ireland, and the return of Mariachi Sol de Mexico.

Recorders United, Just in Time for the Fourth

July 1, 2014

Rotem Gilbert conducts a rehearsal at the beginning of a busy week Photo by Hanneke van ProosdijSan Francisco Early Music Society has been offering summer workshops since 1980, and this year's activity culminates in historically appropriate recorder events during the week of the Fourth of July. (Back in the colonial days, the instrument was called common or English flute.)

Tonight at 7:30 p.m., in Oakland's St. Albert’s Priory Chapel (6172 Chabot Road at College Avenue), a free faculty concert features Vicki Boeckman, Rotem Gilbert, Gayle Neuman, Phil Neuman, Hanneke van Proosdij, recorders; Farley Pearce, viola da gamba, and Katherine Heater, harpsichord.

On Friday, yes the Fourth of July, also in St. Albert's Priory Chapel, the SFEMS All-Workshop Recorder Orchestra, directed by Rotem Gilbert, performs musical settings from the Song of Songs, followed by a performance by the Recorder Workshop faculty at a free event.

Benefit Concert for Blier, Muscular Dystrophy

July 1, 2014

Steven Blier and singer Olivia BetzenPianist/educator/music scholar/Merola faculty member Steven Blier has long been affected by degenerative muscular dystrophy, one among approximately 500,000 people worldwide suffering from a disease triggered by genetic mechanism, without treatment or cure at this time.

Blier will join Frederica von Stade at a fund-raiser for FSHD research on July 24, in Yoshi’s Jazz Club. Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy is the full name of the illness.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a reception, auction, and dinner, followed by the concert at 8 p.m.

The muscle-wasting disease has confined Blier to a motorized wheelchair, but has spared Blier's ability to play the piano masterfully. “I don’t think there’s anyone who sings or plays an instrument or loves music that doesn’t adore Steve Blier,” says von Stade. “This is a business where there is great and startling talent but he stands taller than anyone.”

The FSH Society, rated highly by Charity Navigator, has spearheaded key breakthroughs in FSHD. The genetic disorder is one of the most common muscle dystrophies. It presents a lifelong progressive loss of all skeletal muscles, typically attacking the muscles of the face (facio), shoulder blades (scapula), and arms (humerus), though it can progress to affect all skeletal muscles. The disease’s age of onset ranges from infancy to adulthood, with symptoms ranging from mildly to severely disabling and life-shortening. Approximately one-quarter to one-third of patients end up in wheelchairs. FSHD affects both sexes and all races and ethnicities equally.

Research launched by the FSH Society led to the discovery in 2010 of the genetic mechanism responsible for 95 percent of cases. A second genetic mutation was identified in 2012, and in 2013, the two genetic factors were found to interact. The disease mechanism involves epigenetic regulation of so-called “junk DNA," and FSHD research is revolutionizing the scientific understanding of gene regulation, with profound implications for human health and disease.

Young Artists Impress Opera America Conference

July 1, 2014

Spontaneous standing ovation for the Choral Orchestra, with mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and composer Jake Heggie on stage Photo by James MeredithThe East Bay's Young Musicians Choral Orchestra scored a big hit at the opening session of the Opera America national conference, on June 20, in the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

James Meredith, chair of the organization's voice department and director of the its Opera Theater, led the singers. Olivia Stapp, Frederica von Stade, and Jake Heggie — supporters of the young musicians for a long time — participated in the event.

Four of the participating singers — Marisol De Anda, Christabel Nunoo, Edward Nunoo, and Zach Weisberg — have been winners in the Pacific Musical Society’s Annual Competition and numerous other awards. The Young Musicians Choral Orchestra is a successor to the Young Musicians Program, which supported disadvantaged youth with music education, preceding El Sistema projects by many years.

J.S. Bach Antecedents and Masterworks

July 1, 2014

American Bach Soloists' 2014 Festival & Academia, July 11-20, is exploring "Bach's Inspirations," along with some of Bach's major masterpieces. ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas will lead performances of works by composers who influenced and inspired the young Bach.

In “Bach’s Inspiration Parts I & II” on July 11 and 12, compositions by Dieterich Buxtehude, Alessandro Marcello, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Georg Melchior Hoffmann, and others, including Bach’s uncle Johann Christoph, will be performed alongside Bach's uses of these works - Marcello's Oboe Concerto became Bach's Harpsichord Concerto; he adapted Pergolesi's Stabat Mater in "Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden."

The second half of the July 12 concert goes "pure Bach," with the Second Brandenburg Concerto (John Thiessen, trumpet) and the secular cantata Amore traditore, with William Sharp, baritone, and Corey Jamason, harpsichord.

For other festival and Academia events, see the ABS website.

Julius Rudel Dies at 93, Outlived NYC Opera

July 1, 2014

Julius Rudel Photo by Steve J. ShermanJulius Rudel, the Austrian-born conductor who raised the New York City Opera to a venturous golden age with highbrow music for the masses and a repertory that, like him, bridged the Old and New Worlds, died on Thursday at his home in New York. He was 93," reports The New York Times:

His death, announced by his son, Anthony, came eight months after his beloved and financially struggling City Opera filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors.

“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would outlive the company,” he told The New York Times shortly afterward.

Mr. Rudel was the maestro and the impresario, the principal conductor and the director of City Opera for 22 years (1957-79), working in the orchestra pit while running the company on shoestring budgets, signing contracts, casting productions and nurturing young singers like José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes and Beverly Sills.

Rudel's conducted until 2010. His last appearance with the Met was conducting Samson et Dalila in Montclair, NJ, in 2005. Frederica von Stade writes:

I am sad that another one of our greats has gone to heaven but he had a long life of musical gift and I am so grateful that I was able to know and work with him.

I met Julius when he and Tommy Martin and Otto Guth used to come to the Mannes College of Music and help us put our opera scenes with a budget of about $50! To have these great men give of their time and expertise was the gift of a life time and we knew it. I auditioned for City Opera and was lucky enough to perform Il Ritorno d'Ullise there and see so many wonderful productions, especially Pelleas and Melisande which I will never forget with Pat Brooks and Richard Stilwell.

I even made a film with Julius about a visit to Austria. He created the entire musical repertoire and we had the best time working on it and putting it together. He was one of those magic men that music just flowed out of him. It was like a culmination of talent and training that one really sees that also was very much a part of my early training. These amazing musicians with Julius at the top of the list exhibited a training that was from another world and another time, very much affected by World War II and it was a privilege to have been able to work with him.

Rudel conducted the San Francisco Opera nine times between 1979 and 1999; his last appearance was in Manon, with Ruth Ann Swenson and Jerry Hadley.

San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley said "Julius was the consummate man of the theater. He was a wonderful and versatile conductor, but it was his theatrical instincts and keen eye that made him a great conductor for opera. He was constantly seeing to it that the music was the great motivator for everything theatrical.”

Good News/Bad News About Government Grants for the Arts

July 1, 2014

S.F. Supervisor Eric Mar, in the Y jacuzzi, wants the S.F. City Arts Agency in hot waterGov. Jerry Brown and the State Legislature have come up with a $7 million appropriation for the California Arts Council, including a $5 million boost from the original budget proposal. The Governor signed the bill last week.

The Arts Council has awarded more than $1 million in grants for a project called Transforming Communities through the Arts, mostly in SoCal, but also including the Oakland Museum of California and Peralta Hacienda Historical Park in Alameda County.

Meanwhile, San Francisco City Arts Agency was docked $384,000 by the Board of Supervisors Budget & Finance Committee for "perpetuating a policy of discrimination." For the second consecutive year, the committee expressed frustration and disappointment at the Grants for the Arts' "inability to address the issue of cultural equity.

The City Budget Analyst on the Grants for the Arts program, voted unanimously to cut nearly $400,000 from the agency’s budget and placed the money into the Cultural Equity Grants program at the San Francisco Arts Commission.

The Supervisors’ action comes one year after committee members initially expressed concern that Grants for the Arts awarded only 23% of its funds to organizations whose artistic programs authentically reflect the lives and experiences of San Francisco’s culturally diverse residents.

Supervisor Eric Mar called for a report on the grants program from the City’s Budget Analyst after GFTA Director Kary Schulman last year assured the committee that her scheduled $450,000 budget increase would “support the new, younger upcoming groups that serve the populations that you (Supervisors Mar and London Breed) referenced.” Instead, in 2013-14 GFTA increased funding to white organizations by a quarter of a million dollars while those representing people of color remained unchanged.

The subsequent report confirmed that virtually no change had taken place during the past 25 years. Since then, GFTA has just released its 2014-15 grant awards: funds to organizations of color increased by six--tenths of one percent. At its current rate of change, Grants for the Arts will not achieve cultural equity until the year 2061.

In 2013-14 the Supervisors had allowed the cuts to be made privately via administrative work order rather than legislatively — ostensibly to save Schulman from being humiliated by having her budget publicly cut because of her department’s discriminatory practices. This year’s legislative action perhaps indicated that the Supervisors are running out of patience.

The battle will continue at the Budget and Finance Committee on July 16, which is when Supervisor Mar has called for a hearing on the Budget Analyst’s Report on GFTA. Supervisor Breed also announced she would hold a second hearing on the Analyst’s Report at the Government Audit & Oversight Committee, which she chairs.