Music News: June 10, 2014

June 10, 2014

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Young Oakland Musicians Making Headlines

June 10, 2014

Winner Marisol De Anda, with Jake Heggie and Tammy Nelson, BBB cast member Photo by Ron FujieFrederica von Stade and James Meredith report proudly that one of her many young protégées and one of his prize students, soprano Marisol De Anda, won a big award, the $10,000 first place in the voice division of the Beach Blanket Babylon Scholarship for the Arts Live Performance Competition.

The impressive panel of judges included San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley, composer Jake Heggie, Rita Moreno, choreographer Val Caniparoli.

Often chronicled in this Music News column, Marisol is one of the talented youngsters rising from an economically disadvantaged childhood through the Young Musicians Program (now Young Musicians Choral Orchestra), which preceded the El Sistema projects by many years.

Leah Garchik reported the event in The San Francisco Chronicle:

... the voice competition was won by Marisol De Anda of Skyline High School in Oakland. For me, the moving moment was what such a competition is about: When De Anda sang an aria from Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio,” there was a noticeable gasp from the audience.

Suddenly, this high school girl in a sweet and innocent dress became an opera singer in command of the material, her voice high but rich, hitting all the high notes effortlessly. She was in the spotlight, and she was relishing it, sure in her skills.

A few minutes later, when she was called on stage to receive her check, she was wearing her glasses and her whole posture had changed. She was happy, but she could have been the winner of a spelling bee. It had been in singing that the young student was transformed into a young artist.

Another YMPO musician, Akintunde Ahmad, getting awards of his own and has been accepted to three Ivy League collegesBeach Blanket Babylon's 40th anniversary was celebrated last week in City Hall, with a big crowd including such notables as Michael Tilson Thomas wearing a jacket that I'd rather show than attempt to describe: spectacular!

Besides Marisol, other YMPO alumni of the 2014 class are making headlines around the world. The London Daily Mail has an extensive feature about Akintunde Ahmad, who played French horn, trumpet and drums in the program (and who chose Yale):

An Oakland, California, public school kid who has been accepted to three Ivy League schools says he has to carry around proof of his 5.0 GPA and sky high SAT score because he looks like a 'street dude.'

Akintunde Ahmad has his choice of attending Yale, Brown, Columbia or a slew of other prestigious universities but the people he meets don't believe him thanks to the clothes he wears and dreadlocks he sports.

MTT at the S.F. City Hall celebration of Beach Blanket BabylonTo combat those snap judgments, Ahmad keeps photos of his impressive grades and 2100 SAT score on his phone and can flash them at any disbeliever he wants.

Another YMPO alumnus, saxophonist Monte Metal, is going to Columbia on scholarship. Meredith says "six of the graduating YMCO seniors were accepted by UCLA, among some 80,000 applicants."

On June 20, YMCO will perform at the San Leandro Performing Arts Center at a concert open free to the public.

YMCO students participate in a six-week summer intensive course in orchestra and chorus rehearsals (with Anthony Parnther), music theory/history classes and private lessons from top teachers. The singers in opera/musical theater (stage directed by Olivia Stapp) rehearse and perform operatic and musical theater works. Masterclasses scheduled for the summer include composer Jake Heggie and pianist/conductor Martin Katz.

Amazing Variety Among Merolini

June 10, 2014

Merolini Edoardo Barsotti, Blair Salter, Ronny Michael Greenberg, Sahar Nouri, Kirill Kuzmin Photos by Kristen LokenAs the public phase of the 2014 Merola Opera Program begins this week, meeting the 29 young artists from 10 countries provided a dazzling diversity.

The event last week at the S.F. Conservatory Concert Hall, introduced the new Merolini as a panel of three program administrators interviewed them.

Board Chair Jayne C. Davis, Executive Director Jean Kellogg, and Board President Donna Blacker kept the event on the light side, and succeeded bringing out personalities and colorful stories — involving pets and sports teams — but also cajoling some relevant information.

Bass-baritone Szymon Wach, from Poland, apparently still jet-lagged, paused when asked about his relationship to music. But then he made a memorable statement about musicians "being like priests," completely devoting themselves to the performance and the audience. He will sing Leporello in the staged performances of Don Giovanni.

Jean Kellogg and Jayne Davis interview Scott RussellSoprano Yujin Kim, from South Korea, but educated at the New England Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music, will sing Zerlina in Don Giovanni. Balancing all the dog talk at the event, Kim spoke passionately about her cat, now too old to travel from Korea.

Tenor Chong Wang, from China, surprised and delighted the audience by saying that his favorite dish is eggs and tomato. He's also interested in photography and basketball, and will participate in the Schwabacher Summer Concert, sing Goro in Madama Butterfly, and Don José in Carmen.

Baritone Edward Nelson, from Santa Clarita, had the harrowing and most valuable experience of assisting choreographer Mark Morris (a genius with a temper) when Morris directed a double bill of Britten's Curlew River and his own dance adaptation of Purcell's 1689 Dido and Aeneas. Nelson will sing the title role of Don Giovanni in the Merola staging.

Kellogg, Davis, and Yujin KimBass Scott Russell, from Virginia, has the voice and towering appearance befitting The Commendatore of Don Giovanni, and that's just what he will sing in the program. He switched from pre-med to singing, and his interests include food, craft beer, sports, and — really! — dog psychology. Russell denies that he is a "dog whisperer," but the way he talks about dogs indicates a close connection.

Bass-baritone Rhys Lloyd Talbot, scheduled for singing Masetto in Don Giovanni, minced no words about his long-term ambition: Wotan! Meanwhile, his interests include vinyl records, James Bond, exercise and nutrition, "vintage clothing and ... bartending."

Baritone Thomas Gunther, from Iowa, scheduled to sing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire entertained the gathering with a demonstration of all three basic styles of Tuvan throat singing — khoomei, kargyraa, and sygyt. There was no audience participation, so I couldn't warn him about overdoing it, which can be hell on vocal cords.

Contract Talks + Field of Poppies = Met Bankruptcy?

June 10, 2014

<em>Prince Igor</em>'s $169,000 poppy field Photo by Cory Weaver/Metropolitan OperaIn the gathering storm over the Metropolitan Opera's labor contracts, the latest headline scare is company General Manager Peter Gelb telling the BBC that without wage cuts the Met will "face a bankruptcy situation in two or three years." On the other side, unions have threatened a strike if proposed pay cuts remain on the table before current contracts expire in just seven weeks.

With an annual budget of over $300 million, significant deficits, a $20 million Ring, and male chorus members' salaries averaging around $200,000, the Met is both big business and a major headache for administrators and donors to keep it afloat. In the management-union dispute, the spectacular poppy field in Prince Igor has become one of the bones of contention: The $169,000 price tag has been pointed out as an example of excess.

Gelb defended that and other production expenses as necessary to attract audiences, and once again, he pointed to labor expenses he says are responsible for two-thirds of the budget: "Putting on productions is expensive. What we have to do it make it less expensive — not by going back to the stone ages of opera theatre and having productions that no one will want to see, but by cutting down on the labor costs."

He added: "Even if I was the worst manager in the world, if two thirds of the cost structure is going to the unions, clearly that's an area that has to be cut ... What's at stake, ultimately, is the future of the Met."

One specific item Gelb wants to change in contract rules is the one that currently guarantees members of the orchestra and chorus getting paid for at least four performances a week, when they usually perform less.

As for audiences and box office income, Gelb pointed at the reason for the popularity of HD simulcasts in movie theaters:

At a cinema in America showing opera, 75% of the audience are over 65, and 30% of them are over 75. Those are people who are so old they can't make it to the Met any more, so instead they're getting a chance to extend their opera going in these cinemas.

Opera Contracts: the Local Angle

June 10, 2014

David Gockley at the "Meet the General Director" segment of SFO's 90th anniversary Photo by Kristen LokenNew York is not the only place where vital orchestra contract talks are being held. San Francisco Opera's two major contracts are with Musicians Union Local 6 — AFL, for the orchestra, and AGMA for singers and dancers. Without any publicity — a good sign — negotiations with the orchestra are under way for a new contract after the current one expires at the end of next month. (The AGMA contract runs 2012 through February, 2016.)

Shortly after his arrival as SFO General Manager, David Gockley successfully negotiated an orchestra contract running from 2006 through 2011. Then, in an unusual move, even during Great Recession days, the SFO administration and the Musicians Union reached a contract ahead of the deadline, to cover the period from Aug. 1, 2011, to July 31, 2014.

Asked for comment, Gockley only confirmed that "negotiations are underway," and Local 6 President David Schoenbrun responded: "Everyone is working hard to find common ground." Cautious and general as these statements may be, they represent a huge difference with the war of words in New York.

As San Francisco has nothing like the Met's out-of-control budget problems and with Gockley's history — both here and in Houston — of good relations with staff and unions, there is hope that well before the opening of the fall season, the matter will be settled. There are such large-scale preparations for fall opera that working with the security of a settled contract is essential.

'All Opera Is Expensive'

June 10, 2014

SFO's spectacular (and expensive) <em>Ring</em> Photo by Cory WeaverAbout the above item's issue of the Met's expenses — labor vs. poppy fields — La Cieca of writes:

Producing opera costs money whether it's done by a wild "regie" director or one of a staid conservative like Franco Zeffirelli. Materials cost money, labor costs money, rehearsals cost money. Even reviving a fairly recent new production is costly: The sets have to be tested and refurbished, the costumes have be to fitted again on singers who may have changed size in the previous year or two, special lights have to be rehung and refocused and so forth.

There really is no way to do opera on the cheap at a theater like the Met: At those ticket prices, audiences demand a certain level of visual sophistication and glamour. It's a huge stage and a huge auditorium and it takes something spectacular to fill it, whether that's painted drops, video projections or that gorgeous poppy field that everyone is so busy clutching their pearls about.

It should also be noted that the funds devoted to new productions at the Met are not strictly fungible; that is, a donor gives a gift of, say, $4 million specifically to create a new production of Prince Igor." If the Met doesn't create a new production of Prince Igor, they don't get to keep the $4 million and put it in the chorus's pension fund; rather, the donor simply doesn't make the gift.

Yes, it is possible to perform Il trovatore in front of some nondescript backdrops, with the singers wearing whatever leftover costumes someone dug up from Stivanello's warehouse, and a little traffic direction to make sure nobody falls into the orchestra pit. But that's not opera, that's the music from an opera being performed in an opera house.

San Francisco Opera's critically and even financially successful Ring cycle cost approximately $23.4 million from the 2008 Rheingold, the 2010 Walküre, two single performances of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung in 2011, before three complete cycles of the four operas. Gockley managed to make this huge project happen even when Washington National Opera pulled out of the co-production agreement.

John Mangum: San Francisco's Loss Is Orange County's Gain

June 10, 2014

John MangumJohn Mangum, the outstanding director of artistic planning at the San Francisco Symphony, has been appointed president and artistic director of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. He starts in the new position on July 1.

Mangum, 39, a Bay Area native, who had a similar position with the New York Philharmonic before joining SFS three years ago, had an important role in planning programs and engaging artists. Welcoming him to San Francisco, SFS Executive Director Brent Assink praised Mangum's "extensive musical knowledge, his programming skill and creativity, and the passion for sharing this music with the broadest possible audience."

Born and raised in Danville, Mangum has spoken of his introduction to music being "right here, in Davies Hall, Roger Norrington conducting Beethoven's Eighth and Ninth symphonies."

In his new position, he will oversee the classical-music bookings for the 60-year-old Society, which presents major touring classical groups and soloists at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa and the Irvine Barclay Theater at UC Irvine.

Indian Dance Celebrated at Ethnic Dance Festival

June 10, 2014

Katherine and K.P. Kunhiraman performing in 1978On June 14 and 15, the second weekend of the 36th San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, all eight styles of Indian classical dance styles will be performed on the same stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, including some that are rarely performed in the Bay Area.

The Saturday performance will also honor Katherine and K.P. Kunhiraman with the festival’s annual Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award. The husband-and-wife team presented kathakali dance at the first festival, 36 years ago.

The Festival has often featured the four popular classical Indian forms — bharatanatyam, kathak, kuchipudi, and odissi, but these concerts add kathakali, manipuri, mohiniyattam, and sattriya. This is the first time sattriya dance will be seen at the festival, and kathakali was featured only at that 1978 event.

Kathakali is the most stylized Indian dance style, often compared to the kabuki tradition of Japan, especially in regards to the elaborate make-up worn by the performers. Its performance at the Festival will mark the last U.S. appearance of K.P. Kunhiraman. Festival Director Julie Mushet says “Kathakali dance is at risk of being lost forever and K.P. Kunhiraman is one of the few people alive who are sustaining this transcendent cultural tradition.” [The reference may apply more to the U.S. because the dance is still practiced and performed in Kerala.]

Performers include Chitresh Das Dance Company (Kathak), Guru Shradha (Odissi), Kalanjali: Dances of India (Bharatanatyam), Bhavajan Kumar (Bharatanatyam), K.P. Kunhiraman (Kathakali), Sujata Mohapatra (Odissi), Sunanda Nair (Kathakali and Mohiniyattam), Natyalaya (Kuchipudi), Nava Dance Theatre (Bharatanatyam), Sohini Ray (Manipuri), and Sattriya Dance Company (Sattriya).

Music Awards at the Tonys

June 10, 2014

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder was named best musical at the 68th annual Tony Awards, honoring Broadway’s best, at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night.

Audra McDonald won a record sixth Tony for portraying Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

Neil Patrick Harris — impossible to recognize in the role — won the Tony for best actor in a musical for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which also won best musical revival.

Jessie Mueller was named best actress in a musical for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Warren Carlyle won for best choreography in After Midnight.

Best music and lyrics as well as the orchestration award went to Jason Robert Brown for The Bridges of Madison County.