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Music News: June 3, 2014

June 3, 2014

Britten Getting His Centenary Due

June 3, 2014

Gamelan Sekar Jaya participates in the Britten Festival Photo by Ben ZadanLong in coming, but impressive in scope and selections, the San Francisco Symphony's season-closing Britten centennial celebration offers three weeks of masterpieces from the composer, who was actually born on Nov. 22, 1913. Better late than ...

Among the highlights of the festival running June 12-29 are the ballet score The Prince of the Pagodas in a concert that also features Balinese dance and gamelan instruments; and the opera Peter Grimes, with Merola veteran Stuart Skelton in the title role.

The first series of concerts, conducted by MTT, present the ballet excerpts and Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2, with Gill Shaham, and feature Gamelan Sekar Jaya in the dance piece Legong Pengleb on June 12 and 14, and the instrumental Tabuh Pat Jagul on June 13 and 15.

Emiko Saraswati Susilo, director of the gamelan company (and daughter of founder Hardja Susilo), describes the two works:

Tabuh Pat Jagul is gorgeous, with melodic lines that are hauntingly beautiful. It is a reflection of the structure of the entire universe — the divine, the human, and the natural world. The piece is usually played lovingly in the temples of Bali, accompanied by the the priests' bells, quiet mantras, the scent of flowers and incense. When I play and hear Jagul, I feel that multi-faceted beauty and profound tranquility.

Just saying Legong Pengleb makes my heart flutter. Pengleb means "to be set free," it is a true masterpiece of the Balinese kebyar repertoire. [Kebyar means "the process of flowering," and refers to the explosive changes in tempo and dynamics characteristic of the style.]

Our dancers traveled to Bali to study directly with the master teacher who reconstructed the work in 2010 — originally it was created in the early 20th Century, at a time when Indonesia was really pushing back against the Dutch colonial presence, and there was a growing awareness of the restrictions that young women faced in society and in their families.

The piece follows the journey of young women, beginning rather quietly and pensively. Through their persistence, cleverness and loving approach with their families, they attain the freedom that they long for, finally set free. The dance ends with tremendous energy and playful joy.

Stuart Skelton as Peter Grimes at English National Opera Photo by Clive Barda/ENOIn the Peter Grimes cast — along with other Merola/Adler alumni Elza van den Heever, Nikki Einfeld, Eugene Brancoveanu, John Relyea, and Kevin Langan — Skelton is returning to San Francisco with accolades for his performances around the world. He says of singing Britten's tragic antihero, which has become his signature role:

There are so many facets to Peter, but for me I think the standout is that combination of ethereal vocal writing for Peter as a visionary/dreamer and the visceral torment of Peter the outsider, the combative, obstinate, granite-like form. The challenge is finding the ragged edge of each, both dynamically and histrionically.

It's good to be back in San Francisco with a role that is so deeply and permanently under my skin, a role that has taken me to some truly wonderful places and afforded me the opportunity to work with some absolutely wonderful colleagues.

I am looking forward to working with MTT again [they performed and recorded Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde together] because he is a musician's musician and a man of the theater, he has an innate understanding of and deep affection for Grimes.

SFS, despite my years next door in the War Memorial, is my musical home in San Francisco. I have always been welcomed to Davies Symphony Hall, and it's a special occasion to be here now with this absolute masterwork of 20th-century opera.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at

Klein String Competition Returns

June 3, 2014

Klein semifinalist Jeremy TaiFor the past three years, since age 12, Jeremy Tai has been in the audience of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition at San Francisco State University, "always dreaming that I could be one of the semifinalists — I am thrilled that this year my dream has come true."

The young cellist from Mountain View's St. Francis High School, is among the eight semifinalists — seven still teenagers — vying for cash prices, fame, and performance opportunities in the competition's final concerts, June 7 and 8.

"It is such a great honor to have the opportunity to learn and be inspired by top musicians, who share the same musical passion and aspiration from all over the world," says Tai, the only local semifinalist; the others are from Vermont, Boston, South Korea, Houston, Los Angeles, Illinois, and New York. The 29th annual competition drew 117 entries from 12 countries.

Tai's teacher is Jonathan Koh, a cellist who has played with the S.F. Symphony and other major orchestras; he became an S.F. Conservatory of Music faculty member at age 24, the youngest faculty hire in the school's 97-year history.

The competition will be open to the public for the semifinals, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 7, when each performer will play an unaccompanied work of Bach, movements from notable concertos, and a new commissioned composition by S.F. Symphony Assistant Concertmaster Mark Volkert. In the finals at 4 p.m. on June 8, contestants perform additional portions of their selected concerto and one major sonata movement.

Competition artistic director Mitchell Sardou Klein says this year's semifinalists "represent the new generation of classical music, where virtuosity and passion are more important than ever. We are seeing more children and teenagers pursue music careers and setting the bar even higher. They will take music to new, indescribable heights, and much of it starts here at the Klein Competition.”

This year’s grand prize, given in memory of Marvin T. Tepperman, includes cash and performances with the Peninsula and Santa Cruz symphonies, Gualala Arts Chamber Music Series, Music in the Vineyards, Noontime Concerts, and others. The grand prize is valued at $13,000.

Past Klein winners include such now-famous artists as Alyssa Park (1989), Jennifer Koh (1993), and Vadim Gluzman. Klein veterans now occupy principal chairs in major orchestras in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Violinist Francesca de Pasquale, first-prize winner in 2010, is now a Starling Fellow and graduate student of Itzhak Perlman at the Juilliard School; she says of the competition:

It has been absolutely monumental in the shaping of my artistry and my career. It is completely unique in how it supports its winners, providing experiences in soloing with orchestras, giving solo recitals, performing chamber music, leading master classes and presenting educational outreach, all at an incredibly high level of musicianship and with complete generosity of spirit, which is what sets it apart in the classical music world from other competitions.

A panel discussion, "Orchestrating a Career in an Orchestra" at 4 p.m. on June 6 in Knuth Hall, is open to the public. Violist Cathy Basrak, cellist Robert deMaine and Volkert will discuss the life of orchestra musicians; Klein moderates. Tickets for the competition, available at the door, range from $5 to $20 (for a weekend pass).

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at

West Side Story: Up Close and Personal

June 3, 2014

Ta-DA! Celebrating project completion Photos by Stefan CohenMichael Tilson Thomas has his heart in many causes (his remarkable New World Symphony is just one of them), but it's noteworthy how personal it was for him to produce a complete performance of mentor/friend Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, to be released on June 10 (but available for pre-ordering now).

The San Francisco Symphony performance, recorded live last year, features Alexandra Silber (Maria), Cheyenne Jackson (Tony), Jessica Vosk (Anita), and Kevin Vortmann (Riff).

Anyone expecting standard gushing from MTT on the subject will be surprised by his recollections (as recorded by Larry Rothe) of what happened "at the beginning":

For my 14th birthday, showbiz friends of my parents gave me the original cast album of West Side Story. But at that point my musical tastes had shifted from those of my parents’ circle. I actually exchanged the album at my local record store for Hans Rosbaud’s recording of the Berg Three Pieces for Orchestra.

Alexandra Silber (Maria) and clarinetist Carey Bell high-fiving backstageThe tunes, of course, were familiar to everybody, MTT not being an exception, but then came house painting and the film:

The summer before I started my second year in college, I moved into an apartment. It was a big sprawling place and we had to paint it. One of my roommates had the West Side Story album and played it while we painted. By the time we finished the job, West Side Story had become a part of my life.
My first experience seeing West Side Story was the film. That was in Jerusalem, at a screening that was a little like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. People in the audience were enacting the piece.

A Jets section and a Sharks section occupied opposite sides of the auditorium. I’m not sure whether they were different groups of Israelis, or Israelis and Palestinians. But objects were being thrown from one side of the auditorium to the other, and you had to duck.

Later the Symphonic Dances suite and continued exposure kept increasing MTT's interest, and he (and SFS colleagues) eventually went to bat to secure performance rights. The result is the unique performance and recording of the entire show, unlike everybody else's restrictions for various combinations of numbers, but not the complete running order of the show. The result:

The running order I followed was basically the one that Bernstein had done in his own 1984 recording. From a purist’s point of view, we haven’t included every note ... But what we offer here is the whole dramatic picture of the piece.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at

Dance and Music at Doc Fest

June 3, 2014

Ballet for garbage trucks at the DocFestA major showcase of documentary films, San Francisco DocFest, June 5-19, offers: "To provide a manageable amount of the truth." Venues are San Francisco's Roxie and Brava theaters, Oakland School of the Arts’ Marion E. Greene Black Box Theater.

This 13th annual event has some shorts, features, and events having to do with music and dance. Among them:

  • Andrew Garrison's Trash Dance, documenting choreographer Allison Orr's project joining city sanitation workers on their daily routes to listen, learn, and ultimately to try to convince them to collaborate in a unique dance performance. On an abandoned airport runway, thousands of people show up to see how in the world a garbage truck can dance. Dates are June 14 and 19 at the Roxie. "A powerful ode to resilience, humor, professionalism, and human dignity," said the Washington Post.
  • A "mass karaoke," "Oh Snap! The ‘90s Sing-a-long Party" takes place at 9:15 p.m. on June 5, with lyrics from indie and pop hits from the ‘90s projected on the big screen for the audience to sing along.
  • We Always Lie to Strangers, by AJ Schnack and David Wilson, on June 6 and 10, explores the remote Ozark town of Branson, MO, which has long been a popular tourist attraction, drawing 7.5 million visitors to attend its more than 100 family-oriented musical/ variety shows.
  • Jeff Krulik's Led Zeppelin Played Here goes back to 1969, the time of moon landing, Woodstock, Sesame Street's debut — and the alleged Led Zeppelin appearance in the gym of the Wheaton Youth Center in front of 50 teenagers on the night of Richard Nixon's inauguration. Did it happen? Let the documentary decide. June 8 and 14.
  • On June 13, it's time for the Roller Disco Party (really!), complete with photo booth and full bar. Bring your own or rent skates, and participate ... but you must be over 21.
  • For something completely different, see a video ode to the theramin on June 14 and 18, as When My Sorrow Died recounts theremin master Armen Ra's "dynamic journey in this life-spanning documentary that mixes rare concert performances, candid interviews, and archive material."

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at

High School Divas Ensemble: Angelus

June 3, 2014

Angelus coming to townThey are six high school girls from New Mt. Vernon High School, a rural public school in southwestern Indiana, performing medieval chant and polyphony, Sacred Harp works as well as contemporary American and Irish works. Angelus is a rare group that has toured extensively since its inception in 2008, performing more than 60 concerts in 11 states, and publishing CDs of music by Hildegard von Bingen and Patricia von Ness, among others.

Angelus returns to the San Francisco Bay Area to give concerts in Belvedere, Los Altos, San Francisco, San Mateo, and San Rafael, June 12-15.

Angelus music director Dana Taylor writes:

The group was started in the fall of 2008 after our larger women's choir did a concert with Ruth Cunningham of Anonymous 4. It was time to move on to new repertoire but we didn't want to leave the medieval/sacred works behind. We always have only six singers, who do "age out," so this ensemble includes the twentieth member to join and she will be joined by four new singers in the fall.

Besides Cunningham, we have had the good fortune to work with Susan Hellauer (Anonymous 4), Michael McGlynn (Anuna), and with Grammy winning composer Christopher Tin (Calling All Dawns).

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at

Hyper Musician Paulson Picks Up the Pace

June 3, 2014

Stephen Paulson, Eastman School of Music seniorAs if being the San Francisco Symphony's principal bassoonist, and composing and teaching at the S.F. Conservatory didn't keep him busy enough, Stephen Paulson is also leading Symphony Parnassus' final concert of the season on June 3and he will join SFS musicians for a Congregation Sherith Israel benefit concert for the S.F.-Marin Food Bank on June 8.

The Parnassus concert, at the S.F. Conservatory, will have an illustrious soloist, Stuart Canin, performing the rarely heard 1950 violin concerto by Frank Martin; Paulson's arrangement of Lully's "Marche pour la Ceremonie des Turcs," from his incidental music to Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and Stravinsky's 1919 Firebird Suite.

The Martin concerto is one of Canin's favorites. He has recorded it with Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony. Paulson says working with Canin has "special meaning for me because he was the SFS concertmaster during my first years with the orchestra."

The benefit concert will be performed without conductor and it includes the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Mozart's Divertimento in D Major, K. 136, the Stravinsky Octet for Wind Instruments, and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1.   

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at

Live Streaming From Munich: Ballet, Guillaume Tell

June 3, 2014

<em>Afternoon of a Faun</em> from Bayerische Staatsoper Photo by Charles TandyWhatever you might have thought of Saturday's live streaming from Munich of Die Soldaten, mark the calendar for two upcoming live and free programs from the Bavarian State Opera. Do not be misled by various URLs floating around, some from the Staatsoper itself: The correct address for live streams is, information at

On June 21, at 10 a.m. Pacific Time, it's a Ballets Russes program of the 1924 Nijinska Les Biches (music by Poulenc), the 1912 Nijinsky L'Après-midi d'un faune (Debussy), and the 1910 Fokine Shéhérazade Rimski-Korsakov.

Dancers include Lisa-Maree Cullum, Ivy Amista, Katherina Markowskaja; Séverine Ferrolier, Giuliana Bottino, Ilana Werner; and Daria Sukhorukova, Lukáš Slavický, Cyril Pierre.

On June 28, from the summer festival, the live streaming is of Rossini's William Tell, conducted by Dan Ettinger, directed by Antú Romero Nunes (Portuguese/Chilean/German stage director), with an excellent cast: Michael Volle as Tell, Marina Rebeka as Mathilde, and Bryan Hymel as Arnold.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at

Do HD Casts Help or Hinder Live Opera?

June 3, 2014

Diana Damrau and Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the Royal Opera <em>Traviata</em>, HD coming to the Clay Theater on June 22I used the subject line "A survey I'd prefer not to believe" in a message to the Opera-L forum that linked to a surprising and stunning report from the UK, concluding: "Opera screenings failing to boost interest in the art form, survey finds."

Around 85% of audiences that attend live screenings of opera do not feel more compelled to see the art form live afterwards, according to a new survey.

The investigation found that, after seeing an opera at the cinema, around 75% of participants reported feeling no different about attending a live production, with around 10% feeling less motivated.

This has shown that screening opera productions to create a new generation of audience for the live art form is "wishful thinking," according to English Touring Opera’s general director James Conway.

The survey included responses from around 230 participants who were almost all attending cinemas in London at the end of 2013 to watch live relays of operas Eugene Onegin, The Nose, Sicilian Vespers, Tosca and Falstaff.

Surveying 230 of the millions of Live HD patrons of the Met, the Royal Opera, and other companies is obviously an extremely small sample, but there are some significant aspects of the subject. (The Met alone has sold 15 million tickets in 64 countries since beginning live-to-cinema broadcasts at the end of 2006.)

Conclusions of the London survey brings to mind NFL owners' initial objections to televising football games that it would "empty stadiums." The billion-dollar record of both live and televised games over the years quickly belied that fear, even if the 2007 high of 17 million live attendance declined to 16 million per season in the past couple of years. Combined revenue is at $9 billion annually, with a much higher figure predicted/hoped-for.

Responses from Opera-L mostly agreed with my skepticism, but also introduced other thoughts. At first, La Cieca of Parterre Box wrote:

There's an assumption here that HD cinema presentations are intended to "build the audience" for live opera, and I don't know that this was ever a stated objective. What the HD does very definitely do, and does very well, is to extend the reach of the Met's performances, i.e., the number of people who get to see and hear the Met's productions. The maximum number of seats that can be sold to performances in the Met auditorium is about 800,000 per year, and the HD plays to about 3 million per year. In other words, the HD increases the Met's reach by about 400%. And — this is the amazing part — the Met actually makes money while increasing its reach so significantly.

I responded that "building audiences" and "extending reach" sound very similar, and even if the survey shows no intent to attend live performances, all those tushes are occupying seats at opera. La Cieca again:

I think there's going to be an audience for each tier, with some small amount of crossover. To hear and see a complete opera only 20 minutes from your home, on a Saturday afternoon, without having to get dressed up, and from seats that are frankly vastly more comfortable than opera house seats, all for $20 — that is an attractive proposition, especially for people who probably wouldn't go to the opera anyway.

From the UK, Lucia Stefan wrote:

As a Londoner attending both cinema and live opera I would advise to take this study with a pinch of salt. The survey relates to the very specific circumstances of London.

I noticed too that cinema viewers tend to be much older than the people I normally see at the Royal Opera House or the English National Opera.

One explanation could be the cost of tickets, very high at the ROH, a deterrent for older people living on small pensions or for people with average incomes. Adding the expensive parking space in the Covent Garden area, and the difficulty of returning home by public transport if the performance ends very late is another deterrent. Opera at the cinema is the closest to opera these people can realistically afford.

At the other end, very young people will shun opera if they did not attend regularly opera performances with their parents. In Romania, my country of birth, families tend to take their children at opera performances, a tradition still very much alive in Eastern and Central Europe. I started attending opera performances at the age of nine and 45 years down the line I still go to opera.

The high price for a decent opera ticket in the U.S. is a bigger enemy than cinema. In Germany, the public is much younger, including couples with children, simply because tickets are affordable, courtesy of the high subsidies German opera houses receive.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at