Music News: July 22, 2014
July 22, 2014
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July 22, 2014
"This just in" — The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis is receiving a $400,000 award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support innovative performances in classical music, residencies by major American orchestras, and festivals connected to academic programs.
This is the second time the center is receiving a Mellon Foundation performing arts grant. In 2011 the center was awarded $580,000 for similar initiatives. Earlier this year UC Davis was awarded $1.725 million from the Mellon Foundation to support research in the humanities during the next seven years.
Don Roth, executive director of the Mondavi Center, says:
This generous grant supports our belief in the power and beauty of classical music to enrich lives. It will give us the opportunity to deepen our work to engage audience members with classical music by supporting nontraditional and less formal concert formats, by collaborating with UC Davis artists and faculty to create exciting multifaceted music festivals, and by creating major artist residencies that bring community members and artists in closer contact.
With the award, the center this fall will expand its Visions series of cross-disciplinary and affordably priced programs spanning classical, contemporary, and world music with multimedia elements. Building on the informal setting of the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, the Mondavi Center will construct digital sets displaying content unique to these performances and created in collaboration with the artists.
The four groups, each giving two performances, will be the So Percussion ensemble, Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq; Phillipe Sly and John-Charles Britton performing Schubert lieder arranged for bass-baritone and guitar; and an exploration of 20th-century American music from cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Lara Downes.
Support from the grant will also help fund several festivals with UC Davis academic units, including the 2014–2015 Music and Words Festival with the Department of Music and a partnership with Native American Studies, both early next year. Music and Words will include a residency by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Melinda Wagner, performances of new works by composer fellowship winners and Bob Ostertag, UC Davis professor of cinema and technocultural studies; as well as participation by the Empyrean Ensemble.
July 22, 2014
Headlines are by nature selective and limiting: Merola Opera Program's Schwabacher Summer Concert Thursday night had 15 fledgling stars, half the Class of 2014, and not just those mentioned above. This is the full contingent as shown in the adjecent photo: Sahir Nauri, Nian Wang, Maria Fasciano, Talya Lieberman, Shiri Eskandani, Alexander Elliott, Edoardo Barsotti, Blair Salter (front row); Karill Kuzmin, Matthew Stump, Ronny Michael Greenberg, Chong Wang, Mingjie Lei, Anthony Reed, Gideon Dabi (back row).
A Canadian mezzo from an Iranian family, Eskandani dazzled in an amazing transformation from the woebegone Mignon (Ambroise Thomas) to a vibrant Rosina (Barber of Seville). With fine French diction in the former and beguiling presence in the latter, Eskandani exhibited the right and proper vocal approach as well to each of the two very different roles. Although without the same trumpet-like projection, the mezzo brought to mind former Merolina Leah Crocetto's seamless transformations from role to role.
She was well partnered by Alexander Elliott's Figaro in the Rossini; and with Mingjie Lei's Wilhelm, Matthew Stump's Jarno, and Anthony Reed's Lothario in Mignon.
Stage director Roy Rallo's upturned chairs are old hat, but this time he added a senseless revolver to be held by Lei, who — as a man with money to purchase Mignon's freedom — certainly needs no weapons to make his point. Granted that with the SFO orchestra on stage, there is only a narrow strip left for action, but why not have one of the Merolini apprentice stage directors try to introduce something new as a relief from Rallo's routine?
Speaking of the orchestra, it played very well under the baton of Eric Melear, associate music director of the Houston Grand Opera. Orchestral accompaniment was consistent and singer-supporting in the long and varied program of substantial excerpts from Mignon, The Barber of Seville, Verdi's Luisa Miller, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Rossini's La Cenerentola, Bizet's Carmen ... and a far too long scene from Handel's Semele.
As Semele, Talya Lieberman sang and acted with panache and impressive vocal staying power. Lei was the self-effacing Jupiter, trying to protect the ambitious future mother of Dionysus from his fully divine appearance. Nian Wang earned a deeply felt boo-hiss as the jealous Juno, plotting Semele's destruction.
Wang kept impressing in smaller roles like Suzuki to Maria Fasciano's soaring Madame Butterfly, raising expectations for her appearance as Carmen at the end of the program. She met those expectations easily.
As Carmen's lover and killer, Chong Wang sang a very promising Don José; his is a lyric and well-projected voice we should hear more and in many roles.
Elliott and Matthew Stump shone in the Cenerentola duet as Dandini and Don Magnifico as the prince-pretender unmasked himself as a servant, unfit for Magnifico's daughters.
Next up: Don Giovanni.
July 22, 2014
The photo is a spoiler, but without it most music lovers, myself included, would be hard put to identify Arvo Pärt as the most performed contemporary classical composer. He is the reclusive, mystical-spiritual-brooding Estonian composer, who until recently was the somewhat-guilty pleasure of a rather limited number of listeners.
But now Pärt, 78, is really rocking. He just won one of the world's richest musical prizes — Japan Art Association's 2014 Praemium Imperiale Award, worth 15 million yen ($149,000) — and has been established, repeatedly, as the most frequently performed contemporary classical composer in the world.
Incidentally — and surprisingly — statistics showed San Francisco Symphony as the "busiest orchestra in the world," followed by New York, Chicago, the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, Nordwestdeutsch Philharmonie, Philadelphia, Bournemouth, Boston, Philharmonia, and Berlin Philharmonic in 10th place.
Bad news on the gender-equality front:
Female conductors were a rarity last year , and just one of our 100 busiest conductors was a woman. Unsurprisingly, this was Marin Alsop, who was number 70. She would have ranked significantly higher if we’d had last season’s events for either Baltimore Symphony (where she’s music director) or the São Paulo State Symphony (where she’s principal conductor).
The most concerning sign is the lack of other women up there with her — here’s hoping for change in the year ahead. Even worse, not a single one of our 100 most performed composers of concert works was female — as was also the case last year. Clara Schumann topped this list, at number 182. Of contemporary female composers, Judith Bingham was top at 202, followed by Unsuk Chin and Kaija Saariaho.
July 22, 2014
Pete Douglas, founder of Half Moon Bay’s Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, died on July 12 at age 85. After Army service, Douglas worked in San Mateo County as an adult probation officer. He purchased an abandoned beer joint on the ocean in Half Moon Bay, called the Ebb Tide Coffee Shop. By 1958, Douglas was inviting beatniks, local artists, and coastsiders into his joint, hosting private impromptu music jams and ceaselessly renovating his building and music room, which eventually evolved into the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.
After becoming a registered non-profit for the musical arts in 1964, Douglas began presenting regular jazz and classical programs to the public. National and local jazz luminaries such as Betty Carter, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson, Art Blakey, Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Etta James, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Carter, and Milt Jackson, to name just several of thousands, played at the Bach over its 50-year history. Notables in the classical music world such as the Kronos Quartet and Mariano Cordoba performed as well.
Douglas gave the Bay Area and Northern California a much-needed alternative and distinctive venue in which local and touring musicians could perform. As the San Francisco Clubs in North Beach were closing down in the late 1960s, the Bach was a perfect beach experience that reflected the nature of the curator.
July 22, 2014
The mostly-lyrical-soprano Patricia Racette is getting ready for her Richard Strauss debut, says Martin Bernheimer in Ravinia Magazine:
Patricia Racette is excited. That, she admits, is not an unusual state for her. Other sopranos spend much of their careers trying to produce and project pearly tones. They often tend to be reserved, if not placid, in interview situations, too. Racette, who takes on the archetypal agonies and some might say perverted ecstasies of Richard Strauss' Salome at Ravinia this summer, isn't much like her standard-brand colleagues.
Given the soprano's communicative proclivities, Racette and Salome should be compatible entities. James Conlon, mastermind and chief conductor at Ravinia, obviously thinks so. It was he who persuaded Racette to undertake her first Salome as the festival celebrates Strauss' 150th anniversary. And, crucially, it is he who mans the podium for the occasion.
Most singers undertaking Strauss' operatic marathon are heavyweights (the term refers to vocal, not necessarily physical attributes). These singers command a huge sound and endless quasi-Wagnerian stamina. It is no coincidence that many a historic Salome has also been an admired Brünnhilde. Think Birgit Nilsson for starters. If Racette has a role model, however, it is a smaller-scale interpreter: Teresa Stratas. "I know she did it only for a video, never on the stage, but for me she was ideal — so young, so fragile, so magnetic ..."
Racette's soprano, though big and strong, wide-ranging and plangent, is essentially lyrical in timbre. At most she might be regarded as a vocal middleweight, a.k.a spinto. An Italianate stranger in a Germanic paradise, she comes to Strauss with considerable experience in Verdi, Puccini and, most recently at the Met, Giordano (Maddalena in Andrea Chénier). Next season she adds Nedda in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. Not long ago she undertook Julie in Jerome Kern's Show Boat, a stylistic excursion that, as far as we can recall, no other Salome has ventured.
July 22, 2014
RAWdance's 10th anniversary summer performances at Z Space on July 25-27 will feature two world premieres by company founders/co-directors Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smithof: Turing’s Apple, set to a commissioned score by Voices of Light composer Richard Einhorn, and Burn In, inspired by Rorschach imagery and the world of film noir. The program also includes works by guest artists Gretchen Garnett & Dancers and Tanya Bello's Project B.
Turing’s Apple is a work inspired by the dramatic life and groundbreaking intellectual contributions of British mathematician Alan Turing. As "Britain’s greatest code breaker" during World War II, Turing’s role in the field of cryptography is a point of shared interest for Smith and Rein as well as composer Einhorn. The work is an exploration of complex patterns, both acoustic and kinesthetic, as well as the tragic story of a man who dared to tell the truth about his homosexuality at a time when same-sex acts were criminal. Convicted on charges of indecency, and barred from his cryptographic consultancy with British Intelligence, Turing is believed to have committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple.
Einhorn has written opera, orchestral and chamber music, song cycles, film music, and dance scores. His best known work is his score for Carl Dreyer's film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Among his many projects is the acclaimed Red Angels, written for New York City Ballet, with choreography by Ulysses Dove. Einhorn says of the RAWdance project:
I’ve found that algorithms, left to their own devices, often yield boring music, so in composing the music for Turing's Apple I’ve aimed to give the impression of rigorous patterning that one gets from algorithms — with the emphasis on impression. Turing’s many achievements — not least of all his thought experiment which laid the foundation for the modern computer — have been an inspiration to me in working on this piece.
Asked about working with the composer, Rein says:
Richard came to the project earlier than any other composer we've worked with before. He was the one who turned us on to Turing. Turing's Apple has offered the most truly collaborative relationship we’ve had with any composer — even as it’s been our first cross-country collaboration.
Richard creates music which is made for movement. His music, one might say, is inherently kinesthetic. As the title of our premiere with Richard would suggest, apples figure prominently, and over the course of our rehearsal period we’ve left a stash of half-eaten apples at every studio we've hit. By the time we’re done with them, no one would want to eat them. We've also learned a few trade secrets along the way. Number one: Avoid Granny Smiths as a prop because they're just too slippery. Number two: It's impossible to feel sexy with an apple in your mouth. Sometimes you’ve got to fake it.
July 22, 2014
Well into its 17-day engagement at Théâtre du Châtelet, featured in Les Etés de la Danse Festival, the San Francisco Ballet is acclaimed in the press.
The company was the first visitor to Paris when the new festival began, and it has been invited to mark the 10th anniversary of the event, which has been successful in meeting the demand for live dance in a month when supposedly "everybody leaves Paris."
With the gala opener and 16 programs, each featuring a different triple bill — 18 pieces by 12 choreographers — SFB is called "a treat indeed for Paris audiences," by ArtsDesk.com:
... a critic’s dream: They have company dancers of extraordinary quality trained to uncompromising standards of excellence, world-class principals, and a gifted artistic director (Helgi Tomasson), who combines strong heritage programming with a very lively commitment to new works.
Hanna Weibye's review continues:
Maria Kochetkova is a Bolshoi-trained little gem, performing every step with flawless precision and the ghost of a soubrette’s smile. Yuan Yuan Tan, another of the company’s top women, is a dancer of breathtaking physical perfection, whose smooth, flowing lines could have been tailored in a Christian Dior couture atelier.
Most of what these two do in Caprice with their partners, Davit Karapetyan and Luke Ingham, looks great — but that’s more to their credit than the Tomasson’s. After all, Tan probably looks this great taking the bins out; Kochetkova will be this precise in the most boring of class exercises. With only occasional, fleeting moments of emotion or sparky innovation, Tomasson’s sometimes over-fiddly partnering and its accompanying, rather bland music, Saint-Saëns' Second Symphony, left me desperate to see something like William Forsythe — nourishment for brain or heart, as well as eyes.
Sarah Crompton says in The Telegraph: "the company looked light, sharp, and totally at home."
July 22, 2014
Vienna's hallowed Musikverein served as the venue for more than 100 Chinese musical organizations last year. Orchestras, chamber groups, and soloists performed and then promptly advertised this distinction. The problem: Most of these accomplishments were bought and paid for, says China's Ministry of Culture, attempting to halt what is known in the music biz as "gold plating." This is a practice of artists renting and performing at world renowned venues. Chinese artists payed $4 million to the Musikverein alone in 2013 for the privilege.
The culture ministry says it will stop approving overseas performances unless they are a legitimate part of the venues' subscription series. The practice has given birth to a string of agents in Vienna, Budapest, Prague, and New York, who specialize in booking their cities' halls for Chinese artists.
The state-run Xinhua news agency said: "Rather than attempting to draw crowds and profits, they rent venues at their own expense and give away tickets for free or even pay the audience to attend. They will then advertise using slogans like 'as staged in Vienna,' and declare themselves famous."
July 22, 2014
Various "Best of Broadway" outfits charge an arm and a leg for touring productions, only some of which meet Broadway standard, but there are some Bay Area organizations, which charge less and give more. Among them is Foothill Music Theatre in Los Altos, currently offering the great Rodgers & Hammerstein South Pacific, for admission ranging from $10 to $28 — an excellent bargain.
Milissa Carey is stage director, Mark Hanson music director, and Michael Ryken is the choreographer. Singing "Some Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime," "There Is Nothing Like a Dame," "Bali Ha'i," and all other other big numbers: Madison Genovese as Nellie Forbush, Daniel Cameron as Emile de Becque, Jackie DeMuro as Bloody Mary, and a cast of two or three dozen (I stopped counting).
The theater company, originating in Foothill College's Theatre and Music Department, has had a remarkable record, taking on big, complex musicals over the years, and winning many awards.
July 22, 2014
It was rather rude, but probably accurate that I responded with a quote from M*A*S*H.: "Suicide is painless ..." What prompted it was Eileen Meredith's reply to my question about what she is up to. Her reply: "We are starting an opera company."
At a time of a general meltdown of companies, reaching into the heights of New York City Opera, San Diego Opera, and now even the mighty Metropolitan Opera in jeopardy (see next item), would you really want to start one? Meredith and her brave group of far fewer than 300 Spartans are doing exactly that.
The story of Island City Opera, named for its location of Alameda (which is, yes, an island city):
This past spring, our company was founded with a mission to promote the love of opera by producing great works in intimate settings. We have our roots in Virago Theatre's productions of beloved operas like Don Giovanni, Madama Butterfly, La Traviata, and Il trovatore. The success of these productions inspired the founding members of Island City Opera to create an organization exclusively devoted to the demands and rewards of opera.
The non-opera side of Virago Theatre continues to operate in Oakland, producing new and innovative plays. The first event for ICO is a free concert on Aug. 2, at 2 p.m. in Alameda's Franklin Park. On the program: "a range of favorite opera pieces performed in a relaxed, comfortable environment. This free event will be the perfect way for curious newcomers and longtime opera aficionados alike to enjoy fresh air and quality music."
The new company is led by Meredith as executive director, joined by Robert Boyd and Ellen St. Thomas. The artistic team includes Olivia Stapp, St. Thomas, and Erin Neff as stage directors; Robert Ashens and Michael Shahani as music directors. Next January, the company will presdent its first full-length opera, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, followed in March by a pairing of two one-act operas, Rossini’s comedy Il Signor Bruschino, and Puccini’s Il tabarro, all taking place in the 300-seat Elks Club Ballroom, 2255 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda.
July 22, 2014
Financial problems, stalled labor negotiations, and now even the live HD casts provide nothing but bad news just nine days before contracts expire and preparations for the fall season grind to a halt. Crain's Report says on Monday:
The Metropolitan Opera's introduction of live broadcasts beamed into movie theaters worldwide was an innovation that was supposed to not only generate much-needed revenue, but also introduce arias and librettos to viewers beyond the company's mature New York audience.
That strategy, however, has hit a flat note. Last year, profits from the high-definition broadcasts fell 10.5%, and for the three seasons ended in May 2013, revenue and audience growth have remained stagnant. The number of Met moviegoers for the season ended in May was similarly sluggish. Meanwhile, attendance at the Lincoln Center opera house fell 17.5% in the five years ended in July 2013, while box-office receipts were down 4%, to $89.3 million, in the same period.
Those numbers, and the Met's deficit, are among some of the hard realities facing the company as it attempts to renegotiate contracts with its 15 unions. Many observers think a strike or lockout will occur, which could further damage the Met's shaky finances.
On the union side, the American Guild of Musical Artists, Musicians Local 802, and Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 794 are all on the warpath, resisting what some have called Met General Manager Peter Gelb's "demand for $180 million in pay cuts." The company's public relations department says:
The Met’s initial proposal calls for a 16 to 17 percent reduction in the company’s overall costs - a company-wide effort, in which any cost controls accepted by union employees will be equally matched on the administrative side. Further, the proposal suggests achieving these cuts through a combination of modified work rules and benefits, not salary cuts.
The $180 million figure cited would be 55% of the Met’s budget in Fiscal Year 2013.
Also currently, AGMA - representing singers and dancers - has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, days before the July 31 termination of the current collective bargaining agreements. With the Musicians Union far from an agreement as well, the labor situation potentially putting the company's fall season in jeopardy.
July 22, 2014
"Ever since elementary school, music and the performing arts have always played a large role in my life — whether it was in choir, musicals, or recitals. Since music is what brings me joy, I know that going forward I want the arts to be a part of my career in some shape or form" — so writes Adam Ouellet, a 20-year-old singer making his California debut as a summer intern with Music at Kohl Mansion.
I met Ouellet at Music@Menlo, where Music at Kohl Mansion Executive Director Patricia K. Moy introduced him as hailing from Worcester's College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, which has a strong Summer Internship Program, developed through the network of Holy Cross alumni, parents, and friends throughout the country. This year 165 students have internships at 120 sites offered through the program.
Ouellet is keeping a blog of his summer adventures, providing an insight into the backstage of the chamber-music business:
Last month I had the pleasure of attending Music at Kohl Mansion’s Board of Director’s meeting. This month, once again, I was invited to attend the meeting, but this time they invited me to sing for them! Considering that MAKM is a chamber music series, I thought that German lieder would be most appropriate for the venue. I have provided video links of the two pieces I sang: Das Fischermädchen and Nacht und Träume by Franz Schubert.
Following my musical prelude, the meeting was quickly underway with several important topics to be discussed, including the upcoming Board of Directors retreat. The retreat was proposed as an exercise to facilitate team-building within the board and to encourage the brain-storming of ideas for MAKM’s future programs and vision. Not only will the retreat help the board explore significant topics like MAKM’s financial future and fund-raising, but it will help form deeper personal connections between board members.
During my time at MAKM, I’ve learned that what makes a small arts non-profit so unique is the personal connections that are created not just between board boarders, but between patrons and family-members and neighbors. In a sense, since Music at Kohl is so intimate and small, it fosters its own community, which is one of the most important goals of a non-profit organization.
Another connection between Music@Menlo and Music at Kohl Mansion is the scheduled appearance of the Menlo festival-opener Escher Quartet at Kohl Mansion on Nov. 16, performing Haydn, Shostakovich, and Dvořák.