Music News

June 1, 2010

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Youth Ascend Parnassus

You may remember from years past a bright young violin prodigy, Stephen Waarts, and the sensational toddler composer Dylan Mattingly. They are aging well, as they are finding a home this week with Stephen Paulson's Symphony Parnassus.

Waarts, 13, and Mattingly, 19, are the stars of Parnassus' season-closing concert on Sunday, June 6, at 3 p.m., in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. (Once again, the erratic, hit-and-miss Conservatory calendar makes no mention of this important concert just because it's a rental event — as if the students didn't need to hear about performances by their contemporaries in the school.)

Music Director Stephen Paulson conducts the Brahms Symphony No. 3, and Waarts is the soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto. Mattingly's Homeward Angel will have its world premiere. The Bay Area is lucky to have Parnassus, Oakland East Bay, Berkeley, and California symphonies, and others, presenting new music — small orchestras all, looking good in face of the mammoth San Francisco Symphony's cautious conservatism.

Symphony Parnassus, founded by a biophysics student at UC San Francisco in 1989, is a successor to the UCSF Orchestra. It consists of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals from and around the Parnassus Heights neighborhood, along with amateur and professional musicians from elsewhere in the community.

The orchestra's next season will mix Mozart, Strauss, and their ilk with Paulson's Bassoon Concerto and the premiere of Conservatory student Stefan Cwik's Piano Concerto. The Paulson concerto also qualifies as music by the “young” because he wrote it in 1968, during his senior year at Eastman School.

Homeward Angel is subtitled "Music for a Soundtrack to Clouds," and if you can work with .aiff (Audio Interchange File Format), and a 162Mb download, here is the work, in a pre-premiere computer recording.

It’s a fascinating mix of postminimalistic, trance-music tinged, John Adamsesque, very "new" and easily accessible music — so boldly and creatively eclectic that it appears entirely original.

According to Mattingly, the work is "a dream of flying engines from 3,000 miles of night, a flight across the dreamstates, across mornings and airplanes, train whistles and broken headlights, across rain and motel lights in the dark, a sleepscape for those lighthouse nights when your window is so bright you can't see a foot outside."

The title doesn't come directly from the Thomas Wolfe novel, but rather from a poem by George Mattingly, the composer's father. Of the work's musical language, Mattingly says:

It is very much night music, crossing music. A fair amount of the emotional system of the piece draws from a couple of Joni Mitchell songs, This Flight Tonight and Amelia, both of which are slightly quoted throughout the framework.

I start writing music totally graphically on staff paper, putting down words that present the right emotional connotations for the sounds I'm hoping to create, along with varying jagged lines and arrows. Looking back on the original sketches for Homeward Angel, the piece appears to me in completion, in the following way:

"Lush Disappear, Eb [E-flat] Dharma, towards Amelia Break, low brass trains, Messiaenic horns and train music, enter engine and flutters of Amelia fall together haphazardly then gradually disintegrate, fade into a split second of silence, then violin homeward. Soar above orchestral engine, F11 into night music, SPIT SHINE, flickers of open chords, continue open scattered strumming, cascade, slide to: DHARMA — Bmaj7, +4, +#4, +9, enter Djangology, C string harmonics, cajun jug band spirited away, Norah Jones ostinato, just C chord, rhythmic hits speed up, b.d. and strings, fast reed ww parallel chord line, CLOUD ATLAS, sporadic blues, Dixie Chicken, orchestral explosions, slight chorale, w/ piano splashes D/F feel, cello just C chord harmonics."

Of all this great stuff, "being present at the Creation," my favorite is "Messiaenic horns." As to "Norah Jones ostinato," maybe a reader could comment on the distinction between that and Philip Glass ... or, to up the ante, Bruckner.

Camerata: Mozart and Fellow Prodigies

As reported here recently, George Cleve has organized a new orchestra, the Mozart Youth Camerata. He and General Manager Meina Xu have created a teenage music organization, which Cleve considers one of the most rewarding "intense ongoing relationships" of his career.

That's pretty much what veteran East Bay music lover Graeme Vanderstoel experienced when he attended the Camerata's second inaugural concert Sunday in Berkeley City Club (a week after the premiere concert in El Cerrito Community Center).

"The Camerata is already a most professionally sounding orchestra," Vanderstoel writes. "The musicians, aged 12 to 21 years, were augmented by their mentors from the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra."

Some of the youngsters will participate in the upcoming Midsummer Mozart Festival concerts, which take place in four venues, all with stages. In the Berkeley City Club's ballroom, the 26 players performed at floor level, "making the evening in this small space even more intimate." A gathering of Midsummer Mozart regulars and supporters, Vanderstoel reports, welcomed the new band eagerly.

The concertmaster in Berkeley was Audrey Vardanega, and in El Cerrito it was Maya Ramachandran.

The youngest of the Camerata, 12- and 13-year-olds forming a flute quartet, opened the program with Mozart's Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, or, properly, Ah, vous dirai-je Maman. The quartet consisted of Kristen Fang, Rachel Adams, Maureen Sides, and Clara Park.

The Overture to The Marriage of Figaro [continues Vanderstoel] was beautifully played in Howard A. Cohen’s arrangement. Next, the first two movements of the Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201, followed by Robin Hansen, concertmaster of the Festival Orchestra, playing the first movement of the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218 (a preview of the Midsummer concerts July 15-18).

After intermission, Mark Brandenburg was soloist in an especially fine rendition of the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622. Sitting within a dozen feet [of him] allowed one to fully appreciate his intonation. The final two movements of Symphony No. 29 followed.

Two encores closed the concert: the minuet of a soldier before leaving for war, Touch her soft lips and part, from William Walton's score for Henry V, and the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 1. The Brahms especially impressed with the brilliant full sound from a group so small ... and young.


Youngest Yet: 'Very First Concerts'

Crowden Music Center and Benjamin Simon's San Francisco Chamber Orchestra will conclude the season series of Very First Concerts, in which "kids of all ages — from infants to the forever-young-at-heart — can learn to be a conductor."

Two performances will be given, at 11 a.m. and noon, on Saturday, June 5, at the Center. They are free.

As for "infants conducting," Simon says: "Who doesn't love waving their arms around to music? Learn the maestro's secrets in this special concert for budding conductors of any age."

There will be short selections, tumbling mats for wriggly toddlers, and hands-on activities geared toward families with children ages newborn to 7, though all ages are welcome. For those unhappy with the bothersome rules of concert halls — when to clap, when not, letting the music do the talking without your own important comments, etc. — Very First Concerts may be a barrel of fun.


Berkeley Ring Casting

The return of The Legend of the Ring to Berkeley Opera promises a greatly abbreviated version of the Wagner cycle (three hours vs. 16-plus), but with some unabridged talent.

Performances July 31–Aug. 8 in the company's new home, the El Cerrito Performing Arts Theater, will be conducted by Jonathan Khuner, as directed and staged by Mark Streshinsky. Richard Paul Fink sings Wotan, Jay Hunter Morris is Siegfried, Christine Springer is Brünnhilde. Marie Plette will take on no fewer than five roles: Woglinde, Freia, Sieglinde, Forest Bird, and Gutrune.

Dean Peterson is Hagen, Bojan Knezovic is Alberich, Stephen Rumph sings both Loge and Mime, and Valentina Osinski is Fricka.


Doing Noel Coward Justice

The small, ambitious, and estimable Center REPertory Company, in Walnut Creek, is putting on a marvelous party of celebrating Noël Coward's music. Cleverly, they call the show A Marvelous Party: The Noël Coward Celebration.

Some 30 years ago, a similar show was imported from Canada, called Oh, Coward. It was great theater, but written for people who knew Coward well: audiences still well familiar with his work.

A Marvelous Party — created by David Ira Goldstein, Carl J. Danielsen, Mark Anders, and Patricia Wilcox, and arriving here on a national tour — is more "Coward for our times," it’s announced, with just enough introduction and explanation, but mostly music and dance.

Goldstein is the director, while the excellent and versatile cast consists of Danielsen, Anders, and Molly Bell, so the production is a tight-knit piece by friends and fellow fans (whatever else may be taking place backstage and in the wings, and I'd use a smiley here if the Editor would let me, but alas ...). Danielsen and Anders were also featured in last year's 2 Pianos 4 Hands.

All three act, narrate, sing, and dance expertly. The two men also play the piano (with a small backup band half-hidden upstage). And Bell warms up, from a somewhat overdone start, to a virtuoso number derived from The Coconut Girl, in which she goes from solo to duet to trio ... to a sextet, all by herself. You need to see it to believe it.

Besides the better-known Coward songs such as Mrs. Worthington, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and the wonderfully simple If Love Were All, the show's 20 songs and two extended medleys include terrific pieces that may well be new to audiences today.

Throughout, the lithe, blithe, poignant spirit of Coward prevails as A Marvelous Party unfolds, sustained by its creators and performers. The show is running through June 26 only — so waste no time, but Follow Your Secret Heart.

Tosca, the Café ... and the Show

Café Tosca occupies a special place in the history of San Francisco's North Beach, with its combination of Italian café ambiance, opera — both live and recorded — and social fulcrum.

Several years ago A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff and San Francisco Ballet dancer and choreographer Val Caniparoli started working on a show about the café, workshopping a musical revue to invoke the spirit of the place while paying tribute to it.

The result is The Tosca Project, coming to the A.C.T. Theater, June ¬3–27. Originally called "a movement-theater workshop presentation," it’s now more of one piece, an integrated work with some leading A.C.T. actors and important dancers from the San Francisco Ballet.

With music from Puccini (natch!) to Hendrix and pretty much everything in-between, The Tosca Project is performed by dancers Pascal Molat, Lorena Feijoo, and Sabina Allemann, with actors Peter Anderson, Rachel Ticotin, Gregory Wallace, and Jack Willis.

“We celebrate the café as a metaphor for all those magical bars around the world in which the ghosts of a million encounters remain present in the air," says Perloff. "It is a unique collaboration between some of the best Bay Area artists and the city we love, offered as a valentine to our extraordinary audience."

Caniparoli adds: "When Carey and I first started discussing the project, we knew that this was going to be an incredible collaboration, featuring artists from different disciplines, backgrounds, and styles. I have loved seeing these completely different artists working in a room together."

Abbado Bows Out — But What of the Trees?

Claudio Abbado has canceled his anticipated comeback concerts scheduled this week at Milan's La Scala, the opera house has announced.

The 76-year-old maestro was due to conduct a preview concert for under-30s on June 3, followed by two concerts on June 4 and 6, for which he had requested 90,000 trees to be planted in Milan as payment.

Abbado is under medical treatment in Germany where he was hospitalized after a run of concerts at the Berlin Philharmonic, La Scala said, estimating that he would be back in three weeks.

Abbado, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2000, had periods as musical director or head conductor in Milan, London, Vienna, and Berlin.

Tribute to Callas She Might Well Have Detested

The New York Times reports, mostly in a serious way, that "Since her retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art on March 14, the artist Marina Abramovic has been sitting, six days a week, seven hours a day in a plain chair, under bright klieg lights, in MoMA's towering atrium."

She is closing in on her planned 700 hours of sitting there. Wherefore?

One of her lifelong heroes is the opera singer Maria Callas, to whom she can bear a striking physical resemblance. Callas was a disciplined, risk-oriented musician, made vulnerable by a voice that began to disintegrate early. Increasingly, as she aged, every performance became an ordeal, an invitation to failure. Her willingness to face failure became the prevailing drama of her life. It was a drama of survival, and her fans had a part in it: she needed them to need her, so they did. That’s that classic diva dynamic. And what we’re seeing in the MoMA atrium is basically a 700-hour silent opera ...
Artful dodging as that may be, it's better than her previous "solo work," which
... from the early 1970s was hair-raisingly nervy. She stabbed herself, took knockout drugs, played with fire. For one piece she stood silent in a gallery for six hours, having announced that visitors could do anything they wanted to her physically ...
I understand that several leading German opera directors have expressed interest in working with her in future performances. Meanwhile, for real, "In the near future she will be collaborating with the director Robert Wilson."


A Dudamel Perspective

First came the raves. Then the "backlash" during the Los Angeles Philharmonic's just-concluded tour. And now, Anne Midgette puts it all in perspective in The Washington Post:


I've been amused, and I'm not the only one, to read all of the critical backlash against Gustavo Dudamel on his recent American tour with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia, the discovery has been made that Dudamel does, in fact, have feet of clay. His conducting can be uneven, superficial, moment-to-moment.

Each assessment stresses that this wouldn't matter so much were it not that Dudamel is being billed as the future of classical music.

Here's the thing, though: Dudamel is not the future of classical music. He's not even trying to be. The people who are trying to move classical music into the future are thinking about alternate kinds of programming, new venues, different repertory. ...

This isn't really Dudamel's style. He is a hugely charismatic and hugely talented guy, and people are hoping that can be harnessed into a new energy for the field and into attracting new audiences. I hope it can, though I'm not sure how many people outside the field are actually aware of Dudamel.

But Dudamel's whole training appears to have been about perpetuating the status quo — about the idea that leading an orchestra in standard repertoire is the highest thing to which a musician can aspire. I think this is one reason he's been so exciting to many people in the field: He represents a future without radical change; a younger generation that can groove to Tchaikovsky and Beethoven; children saved from ignorance and poverty by the beauties of the core classical repertory (the premise of El Sistema, the Venezuelan music-training system that spawned him and that he's actively promoting in Los Angeles). Yes, he's exploring new music in his programming to a certain degree, but that isn't what has gotten people excited about him.

Use the link to the article above — it's all well worth reading, as are the comments.