June 24, 2014
June 17, 2014
Antonín Dvořák's father served as the butcher for the family of Prince Lobkowicz in Nelahozeves Castle, just north of Prague, says Music@Menlo Festival co-director Wu Han. How did that come up when talking about the festival? Here are the strands of the thread:
Music@Menlo's third program, of works by Haydn and Beethoven, is called "The Lobkowicz Legacy," and in conjunction with the program, Encounter II will be led by a Prince Lobkowicz, the present-day heir and trustee of the Lobkowicz family’s trove of musical manuscripts.
Prince William Lobkowicz-Maximilian is the seventh generation descendent of Beethoven's pal. He was born in Boston in 1961, and does not use the title, although he is recognized as such in the post-Communist Czech Republic. In 1990, Lobkowicz moved to what was then Czechoslovakia to claim his family's vast ancestral belongings, the restoration, preservation and display of which have become his profession and passion.
He reclaimed and restored several of the family's Nazi- and Communist-confiscated castles, including one wing of the vast Prague Castle on Hradčany Hill, where many of the original Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven manuscripts are stored.
It was here that Music@Menlo Co-Directors Wu Han and David Finckel first met Lobkowicz several years ago. They later collaborated on music projects at the Chamber Music Society, Stony Brook University, the Juilliard School, and will do so next at Music@Menlo — about which much more in future columns.
June 17, 2014
Tomorrow, June 18, is Robert Commanday's 92nd birthday, the co-founder (with his wife, Mary) of San Francisco Classical Voice (SFCV). He is still fully engaged in the work of the publication's Board of Directors because, as he says, "unlike the thousands of bylines in the past, this is my legacy, existing in the present and future."
Many of those bylines were seen in The San Francisco Chronicle where Commanday was music editor from 1965 through 1993, after a chorus-conducting and teaching career at UC Berkeley. When he retired from the newspaper, he came up with the then-novel idea of professional online coverage of classical music, especially — but not exclusively — in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Besides SFCV.org, there are now numerous similar publications, some using 'Classical Voice' in the title, including Classical Voice North America, from the Music Critics Association of North America, the organization Commanday headed twice in the past.
In the years since 1998, with the diminution of print press and the elimination of most music critic positions, SFCV and its cousins have taken up a task vital to the entire fabric of classical-music artists, organizations, and audiences.
Commanday's philosophy and modus operendi haven't changed through the decades. To quote from his farewell in the Chronicle in 1993:
I don’t regret or withdraw a single carping article or castigating review. The standards I had held to were not set by me but by the works and the art form first and then by the artists and performing institution themselves. They also are measured by what we have come to expect of them and what they claim and aim to be.
In that sense, evaluating is an act of respect. A symphony, opera, or ballet company can’t aspire to be "world class" (a ridiculous term in any event) and profess it in the publicity and then feel it should not be judged on those terms.
If we’re tough, it’s because we care, which serves as the same basis for our enthusiasm and praise. It’s the caring we share, not any particular opinions. Agreeing isn’t what matters. The best reward has been the sense I’ve gotten that you readers get that point. That’s why ours is such a great audience and why it must inspire the performers.
June 17, 2014
For the past few years, the San Francisco Opera has stumbled while "Englishing" opera titles, arbitrarily and inconsistently. Instead of using the original Italian or German title, followed by translation in parentheses if necessary — Aida or Rigoletto would be examples of no such necessity — SFO publications are advertising English names for operas ... at times.
Still staying away from "So (Do) They All" to present Cosi fan tutte, helpful marketing executives in search of reaching to larger audiences came up with "The Capulets and the Montagues" replacing I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and even substituting "Mephistopheles" for Mefistofele — a Hebrew/Greek/Latin word instead of Italian for English-speaking audiences. Just about every review ignored the title in the program and used the right name, confusing copy editors everywhere.
And so it goes, until the present ultimate weirdness when the Englishizers are advertising "MadamE Butterfly" instead of MadamA Butterfly, the Italian composer's strange mix of an Italian and an English word as the title for an Italian-language opera (about a Japanese heroine). Of course, "madame" is French, but let's not go there.
Unless it's changed by now, the very organization perpetrating this dark deed is stating on its very own website, advertising "MadamE Butterfly" in the season listing, yet directly below: "For a complete listing of all MadamA Butterfly performances at San Francisco Opera, visit our online performance archive." It's not a typo, just confused people being hoisted on their own petard.
Anyway, let's get ready for next season's "The Trojans," "A Masked Ball," and "Cinderella" because lots of people would not pay good money for Les Troyens, Un Ballo Maschera, and La Cenerentola. Thank heaven for Norma (not "Of the North") and Susannah (not "Shoshana" or lily).
June 17, 2014
Apropos the past Sunday: Against a few decent dads in opera — Peter of Hansel und Gretel, William Tell, Gianni Schicchi — the genre is teeming with bad ones, such as Giorgio Germont in La traviata, Alberich in Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung (Wotan at least has some feelings for his dozens of offsprings), King Philip II in Verdi's Don Carlo, Cenerentola's father, Senta's pimp father, Daland, and so on.
I don't include Rigoletto because he means well and cares for Gilda, she just ends up dead through unfortunate circumstances (and repugnant royalty and courtiers).
Those bad dads should be made to attend Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's 1906 I quattro rusteghi, with the English title of "The School for Fathers."
Please feel free to add both good and bad dads to what is an initial, from-the-top-of-the-head list by Lisa Hirsch and me.
June 17, 2014
Opera Parallèle Music Director Nicole Paiement, a nationally recognized contemporary music specialist, has been named Dallas Opera's first Principal Guest Conductor. She will work with Music Director Emmanuel Villaume and Dallas Opera General Director Keith Cerny (a former San Francisco Opera Executive Director and CFO) on a number of upcoming projects, including the January 2015 world premiere of Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer’s Everest. Cerny said of the appointment:
I have been very impressed with Nicole’s ability to bring clarity to performances of the most challenging contemporary scores since I first encountered her conducting. The occasion was a remarkable performance of a reduced orchestration version of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck some years ago in San Francisco.
Her generosity of spirit, radiant personality, and her deft and diplomatic way of providing guidance to singers and orchestra members has made a deep impression on the company and earned the respect of her peers and colleagues, onstage and off.
Paiement is also Artistic Director of the BluePrint Project, a new music series sponsored by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. With BluePrint, she has commissioned, premiered, and recorded works from many living American composers. Paiement previously served as the Director of Ensembles at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she conducted the orchestra and opera productions.
June 17, 2014
Nancy Buirski's remarkable film biography of Tanaquil Le Clercq, which had a run recently in movie theaters, will now be shown on PBS' American Masters; locally, it's scheduled on KQED-PLUS (ch. 10) at noon on June 22.
After the national broadcast premiere — two days before KQED's telecast — will stream on the WNET website for free.
June 17, 2014
Manaus, the venue for the American World Cup team's next match, after the improbable victory over Ghana yesterday in Natal, is home to one of the world's exceptional opera houses.
Built in the heart of Brazil's Amazon rainforest during the Gold Rush-equivalent rubber boom of the late 19th century, Teatro Amazonas is a luxurious building, the location for the annual Festival Amazonas de Ópera and home to the Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra.
Designed by Italian architect Celestial Sacardim, the theater was put together from material imported from Europe and transported through jungle rivers and terrain without roads. A great fictional account of the project is Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.
The premiere of Ponchielli's La Gioconda in 1897 took place in a building with roofing tiles from Alsace, steel walls from Scotland, Carrara marble for the stairs, statues, and columns; the dome is covered with 36,000 decorated ceramic tiles, under which 198 Italian chandeliers provided lighting.
(Next in Manaus, U.S. vs. Portugal, 3 p.m. Pacific Time, June 22.)
June 17, 2014
Choral singing in Estonia has significance far beyond "just music." James and Maureen Castle Tusty’s acclaimed 2007 documentary The Singing Revolution explored the role music played in Estonia’s quest for freedom after decades of Soviet repression.
At the center of the film is the Laulupidu Choral Festival, the world's biggest, held every five years, drawing 30,000 singers and more than 100,000 listeners. The Tustys have made a new documentary, To Breathe As One, which explores the 2009 festival through the eyes of the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, participating in the last event.
The film, scheduled to air on KQED-TV, ch. 9, on July 5, shows the extensive preparations as the youngsters — under Robert Geary's direction — learned difficult songs, all in Estonian, and performed in the Tallinn concerts. July is also when the next Laulupidu Festival takes place, and the Piedmont choir is heading back to participate again.
The documentary's Estonian title is a word with the dual root of breathing and soul. The importance of the festival is based on both the country's devotion to choral music and its tortured history. First occupied by the Soviets in 1939, then by the Nazis, and then by the Soviets again, Estonia lived through decades of brutal subjugation. By the end of World War II, more than a quarter of the population had been deported to Siberia, executed, or had fled the country. Choral music helped sustain the people during those years, allowing the use of the Estonian language that was otherwise forbidden by Moscow. Liberation came with the struggle known as the Singing Revolution.
June 17, 2014
The first of what is planned to be an annual event, the James Toland Vocal Arts Competition will have its finals June 20-21, in Oakland's Holy Names University.
Fourteen finalists will participate in the contest for prizes ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and a performance opportunity as soloist with Michael Morgan's Oakland East Bay Symphony. Friday evening some of the finalists will take part in an open masterclass with mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer.
The Oakland-based James Toland Vocal Arts, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation formed to encourage and cultivate emerging talents of singers who aspire to a professional career in vocal performance. Morgan says of the competition:
When James Toland approached me about having a voice competition, what interested me was the fact that the competition will encourage fine singing talent across many genres. In the first competition, opera, traditional jazz and cabaret, art songs, and musical theater will all be in the mix.
Future competitions will be expanded to other forms as well. There are not a lot of other contests around that seek out and promote good singing regardless of the type of music being sung. This is one thing that's missing from our music education efforts in the Bay Area.
Because the Oakland East Bay Symphony has such a variety of programs, I have no doubt that we can find an occasion to feature the winner. I hope this serves to encourage singing of all kinds and at all ages. It is the most accessible form of musical expression there is, and I am thrilled to be a part of this.
June 17, 2014
Cellist Paul Tobias, 68, died last month, after sustaining injuries in a fall. A nationally known soloist and educator, Tobias has appeared with the San Francisco Symphony and served on the faculty of the S.F. Conservatory of Music and UC Berkeley.
He also taught at Harvard University, the New England Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, and Mannes College. Tobias was founding artistic director of New Heritage Music, an organization launched in 1998 to foster new American compositions. He said of the project:
We commission new pieces to commemorate people, events, and themes, using history. There has never been a systematic approach that had an educational, historical, social, and musical component going together in quite this way. Using the link to history New Heritage provides a theme for marketers at the orchestras who are so paralysed with fear over new music. This gives them something that can attract audiences.
Tobias played premieres of concerti by Krzysztof Penderecki, Chen Yi, David Ott, Behzad Ranjbaran, and Peter Schickele. Robert Commanday writes:
Paul Tobias was born in San Francisco and at age 8 was taken on by Bonnie Hampton as a cello student, worked with her, then with Margaret Rowell, until he went to Juilliard. He stayed in the East mostly from that time. He played with the Oakland Symphony probably in the early 60's, was the soloist in the Hindemith Cello Concerto, which also had its premiere here with Hampton.
Composer Kurt Rohde, of the UC Davis faculty, writes:
I wanted to bring to your attention the untimely passing of Lee Hyla, one of the great underrepresented, most deserving of American composers. He had a fabulous creative mind — he was so concise, bracing, honest, and generous. His music reflected these qualities, and so much more: His imagination was so rich, and unencumbered by the distractions of style or image, he marched to his drummer and wrote breathtakingly beautiful, gripping, present music.
Hyla died in Chicago on June 6, at age 61. Born in Niagara Falls, Hyla's awards included the Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Goddard Lieberson Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Rome Prize. He taught at New England Conservatory from 1992 to 2007, serving as co-chair of the composition department for most of that time.
Hyla was the first composer in residence at the biannual UC Davis Music Festival, writes Rohde, "He was well respected and much admired by so many composers, including those in various faculties. Left Coast Chamber Ensemble has played his music, as I am sure have other local groups."
David Nadien, a violinist whose appointment as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic raised eyebrows because of his thriving career as a studio musician, died on May 28 in Manhattan. He was 88:
When Leonard Bernstein, the Philharmonic’s music director, appointed Mr. Nadien concertmaster in 1966 — replacing John Corigliano Sr., the father of the composer, who was retiring — it was a highly unusual choice. Concertmasters are typically poached from other orchestras or promoted from within the ranks, but Mr. Nadien, then 40, was a freelance commercial musician. Although Bernstein described him as "an extraordinary violinist," he had almost no experience playing with a major symphony orchestra.
After winning the prestigious Leventritt Award (judged by a panel that included Arturo Toscanini) at 20, Mr. Nadien made a good living recording television jingles, film soundtracks, and other projects. Interviewed for a 1966 New York Times article, he said he was apprehensive about discussing his work as a studio musician.
“I don’t look down on commercial music,” he said, “but I know some people do, and I guess I care what they think.”