Music News: March 11, 2014
Music News is supported in part by Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C.
The War Memorial is occupied by San Francisco Ballet, and the Opera summer season won't start until June 1 with Show Boat, and yet we found all manner of news about the company.
Show Boat Auditions
Apropos that summer-season opener, the company is holding auditions for supporting roles in Show Boat on April 4 and 5, especially "adolescent girls with strong singing ability," but also male and female actors for non-singing roles, such as:
- Young Kim: child actor/singer, Caucasian female, looks 8-10 years old.
- Steve/Manager: looks 30-40 years old, a conventionally handsome, strong leading-man, Caucasian male. Helpful to have stage combat skills; no singing required.
- Pete/Emcee: looks 30-40 years old, gruff and menacing, Caucasian male. Helpful to have stage combat skills, no singing required.
- Sheriff/Maitre’d: looks 30-40 years old. imposing "good ol’ boy" type, Caucasian male; no singing required.
- Irish landlady: mature Caucasian female with a good Irish accent; no singing required.
Auditions will be held on April 4 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on April 5 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in a location revealed later to candidates, who must apply for an audition by e-mailing resume and headshot to Sean Waugh at email@example.com with “SB AUDITION” in the subject line. Only those selected for audition will receive a response.
Whimsical List-Making for Opera Future
There is virtually unanimous agreement that the planned retirement of David Gockley as general director of San Francisco Opera in 2016 doesn't bode well for the company, but there is still no idea about his successor, no favorites, no dark horses, no horses at all. One hope shared by many is that no corporation headhunters will mess this up.
A couple of weeks ago, while everyone was filling in betting sheets for the Academy Awards, I asked a few opera-maniac friends to suggest names for Overlord in the War Memorial. I myself first came up with nominations of Kurt Herbert Adler and Glynn Ross, but was later informed about their unavailability. Some of these suggestions seem to be in the same ballpark, but here it goes anyway; please keep your sense of humor active, but let me know if you have a serious idea:
Eva Wagner (she'll reduce her work in Bayreuth anyway, maybe in order to take care of the SFO)
Summing Up From the Top
Speaking of Gockley's retirement plans, although the announcement was made two months ago, it still strikes many people as a surprise. It is true, and after four decades of heading major opera companies — in Houston and here — Gockley will retire in July of 2016.
His mark will be left on the company even beyond then, with Board of Directors authorization (more likely, at their request) to program two more seasons after 2016. In the world of opera where contracts are signed years ahead, Gockley's successor will not have to face an impossible blank slate.
At the time of the season- and retirement-announcement, I asked Gockley what he is proud of and what he regrets during his tenure here so far. He answered instantly to the first question: "the Ring — the style in which we produced it, the environment being threatened by humans, the role of business and commerce ... it was the right way to go, and we had a great cast, with Nina Stemme, Brandon Jovanovich, Jay Hunter Morris, Mark Delavan, and more."
Gockley thought for a while about what he regretted, and finally said it was the cancelation of Peter Grimes. I suggested that it was obviously not his choice, the decision couldn't be helped under the financial conditions at the time (just as Les Troyens had to be postponed inevitably), so what would have been an error of his making? His reply:
I wish I hadn't so aggressively followed the plan to move into movie theaters. We didn't chose good partners, the income was divided between distributor and theaters, and not selling well, the project was doomed to failure. We needed five years to chart a new course, and it is promising one now.
Gockley was a pioneer in outdoor simulcast, long before introducing it in San Francisco, he produced what was probably the first large-scale free simulcast in Houston in 1996, with Cenerentola, featuring Cecilia Bartoli.
SFO HD Series at Sundance Kabuki
And, of opera moving into movie theaters: A series of high-definition films of three recent San Francisco Opera productions at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, which began with Tosca on March 3, will continue with Porgy & Bess on April 21, and Don Giovanni on May 26.
At $12, tickets are about half of the Met HD prices. These screenings mark the return of SFO presentations to the Kabuki, as part of the company’s Grand Opera Cinema Series, also shown in arts centers, independent film theaters, universities and other venues in the Western region of the country and around the world.
Porgy & Bess on DVD and Blu-ray
The same production of what is legally and necessarily called George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess shown at the Kabuki will now also be available beginning March 25 on a DVD/Blu-ray recording, released by EuroArts Music International.
Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell turn in memorable performances in the title roles, John DeMain conducts, and Ian Robertson's SFO Chorus is at its rafters-shaking best. The production is by Francesca Zambello, originally for the Washington National Opera.
In a way, this version of the opera is coming home to Gockley, who originated it in 1976 (yes, 38 years ago), near the beginning of his eventually 34-year leadership of the Houston Grand Opera. After years of the work's presentation as a musical, this was a complete restoration of the Gershwins' original. It opened in Houston, and then on Broadway, going around the world, and recorded by RCA Records.
It marked the first time that an American opera company performed the work, not a Broadway or other musical troupe. It was based on Gershwin's original full score and did not incorporate the cuts and other changes which Gershwin had made before the New York premiere, nor the ones made for the 1942 Cheryl Crawford revival or the 1959 film version.
DeMain conducted then as he does in this SFO production that's now on DVD and Blu-ray. The production in 1976 won the Houston Grand Opera a Tony Award — the only opera ever to receive one — and a Grammy Award.
Porgy and Bess is the third DVD/Blu-ray release in San Francisco Opera’s collaboration with EuroArts Music International and Naxos of America, after Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick and Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia.
ODC/Dance, Brenda Way's perpetually peripatetic dance company returns home to San Francisco now and then — for 43 annual home seasons, to be exact — and beginning March 20, it will strut its always-new stuff at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Brenda Way and Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson have collaborated creating boulders and bones, inspired by the work of visual artist Andy Goldsworthy, and in collaboration with composer Zoë Keating, photographer and filmmaker RJ Muna, and lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols.
The evening-length work integrates elements of sculpture, video, movement, and music, influenced by a new stone installation of Goldsworthy in Northern California. Conceived in three parts, "the dance moves from the noise and effort of construction, to the stillness of completion, to the outpouring of energy."
boulders and bones combines time-lapsed video of Goldsworthy’s building process; shot by Muna, visual design by Nichols, and a new score by Keating, who uses a foot-controlled laptop to record layers of sound in the performance.
Program B of the home season includes Way and Nelson’s 2013 collaboration with Kate Weare, Triangulating Euclid, ODC associate choreographer Kimi Okada’s new duet Two If By Sea/; and Brenda Way’s 2008 work Unintended Consequences.
It took almost a half-year to move from suspicion to indictment and arrest, but on Feb. 28 former Peninsula Symphony Executive Director Stephen Jay Carlton was charged with embezzlement and grand theft, according to Los Altos Online.
The Music News report in October reported that nearly a half-million dollars disappeared from the orchestra's bank accounts, and Carlton was first said to have resigned, but the spokesman soon corrected that to "no longer with the organization."
Carlton is scheduled to appear in Palo Alto Superior Court April 8, to face nine charges: one for grand theft, three for forgery, one for identity theft, one for embezzlement, and three for state tax evasion. If convicted on all counts, he may be sentenced to the maximum of 18 years in prison. According to the felony complaint filed against Carlton, he has a prior voluntary manslaughter conviction in San Bernardino County, well in advance of his hiring by the orchestra.
Meanwhile, donations have kept the Peninsula Symphony operating through its 65th season. The next pair of concerts on March 21 and 23 in San Mateo and Cupertino is "Fountain of Youth."
Music Director Mitchell Sardou Klein conducts the world premiere of Double Concerto for Cello, Clarinet and Orchestra by composer/ clarinetist Jonathan Russell with him and cellist Nathan Chan as soloists. The also includes Grieg’s In Autumn, the Intermezzo, Nocturne and Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night's Dream; Lalo’s Cello Concerto, with Chan, and Debussy’s Première rhapsodie for clarinet and orchestra, with Russell.
Russell is especially known for his innovative bass clarinet and clarinet ensemble compositions. He has received commissions from many ensembles and the San Francisco and Berkeley symphonies. His works are published by Potenza Music Publishing, BCP Music, and Peer Music, and his music has been recorded by the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo, the Kairos Consort, pianist Jeffrey Jacob, The Living Earth show, and Imani Winds.
Russell is a member of the heavy metal-inspired Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet and the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo, which has commissioned numerous new works and released two CDs of new American bass clarinet duets. He is co-founder of the Switchboard Music Festival, an annual eight-hour marathon concert that brings together the San Francisco Bay Area’s creative and innovative composers and performers. He has served on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory, and has led workshops in composition and bass clarinet performance here and at Princeton, Catholic University, UCLA, Cornell University, Ithaca College, and elsewhere.
Chan, 19, started his career at age 2, catching the attention of S.F. Opera assistant conductor Sara Jobin, who helped Chan make his debut as a conductor at age 3, leading the San Jose Chamber Orchestra in a set of Mozart variations. This was followed by a guest appearance with the Palo Alto Philharmonic a year later, conducting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. At five, he began formal music lessons with cellist Irene Sharp, later studied with Sieun Lin at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, and subsequently performed as a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, the UK Northern Sinfonia, Albany Symphony, Marin Symphony, and Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra, among others.
In 2006, Chan appeared in The Music in Me, a documentary that aired on the HBO network and won the Peabody Award, leading to a performance in Carnegie Hall, where he caught the attention of Roberta Flack, who invited him to collaborate on her project of Beatles songs for Sony Records.
He currently attends the Columbia University-Juilliard School Exchange, studying with Richard Aaron at Juilliard.
The Pocket Opera is reprising its acclaimed production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, and company founder/director-pianist-conductor-translator-narrator Donald Pippin is happy about it:
Mozart’s last opera is unlike any he had composed before and unlike any, to my knowledge, that has come along since. It was his biggest success, which, had he lived, would have finally got him out of debt, incurred by such financial disappointments as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte.
It is a magical, musical extravaganza, blending high seriousness and shameless buffoonery, set to incandescent music in almost every conceivable form: simple folk song, heartfelt melody, glittering coloratura, solemn fugue, and an aria that has been described as the voice of God.
And what a cast of characters! Many of them are paired off by way of contrast: the inscrutable Queen of the Night and Sarastro, the mysterious ruler who ushers in the light; Papageno, the likeable country bumpkin; and the villainous Monostatos, each of them searching for love; three mysterious ladies and three innocent but spunky youths; and the lovers, Pamina and Tamino, obviously made for each other. No contrast there.
The opera charmed its first audiences and has charmed audiences ever since. For us, it is a privilege to perform, and we hope and trust that for you it will be a privilege to attend.
Two Sunday matinees remain: March 16 at Berkeley Hillside Club, and March 23 at the Legion of Honor.
In principal roles: Svetlana Nikitenko (Queen of the Night), Erina Newkirk (Pamina), Jonathan Smucker (Tamino), Chelsea Hollow (Papagena), Jordan Eldredge (Papageno), John Bischoff (Sarastro), and Michael Mendelsohn (Monostatos). Nicolas Aliaga is stage director, Lisa Eldredge is costume designer.
Incidentally (or not), a three-part YouTube documentary about Pippin and the Pocket is still available on the Web.
The next series of programs from the period-instrument ensemble New Esterházy Quartet, March 21-23, features "music from 19th-century Vienna never heard before in the Bay Area," says the press release.
The premiere is British professor William Drabkin's recent completion of Haydn's unfinished Quartet in D Minor, Op. 103 (1803). The program's two "almost-certain Bay Area premieres on gut strings" are Schoenberg's Quartet in D Major (1897), and Schubert's Quartet in G Major (1826).
Haydn's last quartet, Op. 103, has been known for over 210 years as incomplete. There are a few sketches for what apparently would have been the first movement, had advancing age and exhaustion not stopped Haydn's composing before he could carry out his plans for the quartet. It was to have been the third of a set commissioned for Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz, for whom Beethoven at the same time wrote his first set of quartets.
Violinists Lisa Weiss and Kati Kyme, violist Anthony Martin, and cellist William Skeen — all prominent in the Philharmonia Baroque and American Bach Soloists — have propelled the quartet into the forefront of world's top period-instrument string quartets, certainly with Haydn's 68 quartets as their core repertoire.
As to the other works on these concerts, says the announcement:
It seems unlikely that Schubert's Quartet in G Major (1826) was played here a century ago, before steel and plastic replaced organic materials in string manufacture. The piece was long considered too challenging for performers and audiences alike, and it found little favor until championed by the Busch Quartet in the 1930s.
Not so fast, says violist Michelle Dulak Thomson, who writes for SFCV:
This will not be the first period-instrument performance of the Schubert G Major in the Bay Area. The Berkeley Schubert Quartet was formed in 1997 to do all the Schubert quartets — even the very early and (in some cases) comically craptastic ones — for the bicentenary, and they did.
Two of the members of that ensemble (Lisa Weiss and Tony Martin) are in the New Esterházy. The others were Leighton Fong (cello) and George Thomson (second violin).
The tentative claim of "first" for the Schoenberg may stand, unless evidence is presented to the contrary:
Without officially claiming a premiere for Schoenberg's early Quartet in D from 1897, it is almost certain that this will be the first time it has been heard in the Bay Area on the gut strings for which it was written. The outer movements of this strongly tonal, melodious Quartet in D sound very much like Dvořák, the inner two like Brahms. Although Schoenberg never allowed this work to be published, he must have thought enough of it to preserve it, unlike earlier quartets he is known to have written but of which no traces remain. The New Esterházy Quartet uses a corrected edition by Henk Guittart of the Schoenberg Quartet of Amsterdam.
Audiences are invited to discuss the music after performances on March 21 at the Hillside Club, Berkeley, on March 22 at St. Mark's in San Francisco, and on March 23 at All Saints' in Palo Alto.
Late update: the quartet's newsletter yesterday got the Schubert history right —
Schubert's massive, majestic, and mystical G Major Quartet, written in 1826, two years before his death, had its Bay Area premiere on gut over 15 years ago by the Berkeley Schubert Quartet, with Lisa Weiss and Anthony Martin of the New Esterházy Quartet playing first violin and viola. Of course it is possible that the piece was also played here a century ago, before steel and plastic replaced organic materials in string manufacture. However, that seems unlikely, since it was long considered too challenging for performers and audiences alike, and it found little favor until championed by the Busch Quartet in the 1930s.
... as for the item above, about the New Esterházy Quartet's program, Michelle Dulak Thomson has also this to say:
There are a couple of those very early Schubert quartets that really do declare the reasons they aren't played very often. The first movement of D. 36 comes to mind. By the end of the movement you want to shake young Franz by the shoulders and yell, "Enough with that two-bar motive already! You are lacerating my nerves."
There is a reason that Beethoven cycles and Mozart cycles and Bartók cycles and Shostakovich cycles and even Haydn cycles are more commonly performed than Schubert or Dvořák cycles.
The weakest music in the Schubert and Dvořák quartets is so much weaker than the strongest that it doesn't really make sense to bundle them. There are earlier Schubert quartets (earlier than the late four, I mean) that repay the effort: the G Minor, the E Major, the E-flat Major, the later B-flat Major.
Otherwise, there are other early pieces that would never in a million years get played at all if they weren't by Schubert. In the same way, no one would play the Schoenberg D Major if his name were not on it.
Michelle may not agree, but I think another very early Schubert, the existing fragment of his String Quartet No. 2 in C major D. 32, sounds pretty good in recordings, such as the one by Artis, and also available on YouTube, by the Takeuchi String Quartet.
A visionary and controversial figure in opera, Gerard Mortier, died Saturday at his home in Brussels. He was 70 years old. For four decades, Mortier headed some of the most important companies in the world, including the Salzburg Festival and the Paris Opera.
His obituary in The New York Times lists some of the best-known stories of controversy in Mortimer's career:
Sometimes the battlegrounds were artistic, as in the furor over his farewell production after 10 years at Salzburg, a 2001 Die Fledermaus featuring drugs and Nazi thugs.
Sometimes they were financial, as when the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, which he led from 1981 to 1991, went into debt over his lavish renovation of the opera house, complete with a floor by the blue-chip American Minimalist artist Sol Le Witt.
And sometimes they were related to Mr. Mortier himself, as when he and New York City Opera parted ways in 2008, only a year and a half into his tenure.
The sister conservatories of San Francisco and Shanghai are participating in their fourth joint chamber music festival, the second one in the city, with master classes, rehearsals, and coachings leading up to public concerts in at Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall on March 13 and 14. Two of past festivals, initiated by a grant from The Cha Foundation of Hong Kong, took place in Shanghai.
Co-directing the festival are Wei He, of the S.F. Conservatory’s violin faculty, and Jensen Lam, director of the Shanghai Conservatory’s chamber music atelier. Representing the Shanghai Conservatory in San Francisco is a delegation of 13 administrators, faculty and students, including Vice President Xianping Zhang and Jiwu Li, director of the orchestral department.
From the San Francisco institution, faculty performers are Ian Swensen, Wei He and Bettina Mussumeli, violin; Jodi Levitz and Paul Hersh, viola; and Bonnie Hampton and Jean Michel-Fonteneau, cello; they are joined by selected students from the Conservatory.
Highlights of the March 13 concert include Mozart's Piano Quartet in G Minor, K478; David Garner's String Quartet (world premiere); Minzuo Lu's String Trio (world premiere); and Beethoven's Piano Trio in D Major, Op.70, No.1 "Ghost."
On March 14: Brahms' String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 67; Guohui Ye's String Quartet (world premiere); Kenji Oh's String Trio (world premiere); and Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat Major, Op.20.
Thursday morning at 11, a composers' workshop will discuss the works receiving premieres during the festival.
Fremont Symphony's 50th season continues with "A Celebration of Fremont," a concert on March 30 at Smith Center, Ohlone College. The program begins with silent film pianist Jon Mirsalis paying homage to the beginnings of the film industry in Niles with Son of a Gun, starring Broncho Billy. Next, with a bit of geographical stretch, the Niles Canyon connection to the intercontinental railroad will be honored with Strauss’ Bahn Frei (Clear the Track) polka.
Cellist Connor Kim, winner of the Symphony's 2012 Young Artist Competition, will solo in Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. Musical Visions, a multimedia presentation, will celebrate 40 years of FSO’s children’s concerts with the Fremont Unified School District, showcasing original compositions from the winners of the 2013 Young Composer Competition.
This concert, said says FSO Music Director Gregory Van Sudmeier, "is a celebration of our golden anniversary and is a strong testament to the heart and soul a symphony brings to this community. It is also dedicated to the people of the Tri-Cities and their history. We are in this together and for each other."
After the report in last week's column about a Purim musical celebrating Esther's rescue of Jews in Persia, word comes now of San Francisco Renaissance Voices presenting the U.S. premiere of an 18th century opera about Esther, March 15-23 in Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Belvedere-Tiburon.
After centuries of neglect, Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti's Esther (t'shuat Yisrael al y'dei Ester) has been rediscovered only recently, so Renaissance Voices will have the distinction of being the second in the world to revive the opera, after Barcelona's Le Tendre Amour. The opera has been recorded by Friedemann Layer and Orchestre National de Montpellier.
Lidarti was an Austrian composer, born in Vienna of Italian descent. The neglect is puzzling because, as Renaissance Voice Executive Director J. Jeff Badger says, "this is truly a beautiful work ... many parts remind me of Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor that was composed about 10 years after this one."
When Badger heard about the Barcelona production, he asked to use the Le Tendre Amour orchestration, but it was no longer available, and his comparison is: "their reduced orchestration, in this video, is rather baroque; our production is more of an early classical orchestra, indicated by Lidarti in his score, pitched at 430 and including corna di caccia and traverse flutes."
Lidarti's opera/oratorio, which tells the story of Queen Esther's rescue of the Jewish people from the wicked Haman, was completed in 1774 as a commission for the Jewish community in Amsterdam. It was rediscovered in 1999. The text was prepared by a Lidarti-contemporary rabbi, Venetian-born Jacob Raphael ben Simhah Judah Saraval, who took the English libretto for Handel’s 1718 Esther oratorio, and translated it into Hebrew.
The work will be performed in Hebrew by the S.F. Renaissance Voices choristers, accompanied by period chamber orchestra with soloists soprano Rita Lilly as Queen Esther, tenor Seth Arnopole as King Ahasuerus, baritone Jefferson Packer as Haman, soprano Cheryl Cain as the Israelite Woman, and tenor Corey Head as Mordecai. Orchestration is Liddarti's original, now owned by the Israel Music Institute; SFRV Music Director Todd Jolly conducts.
This production is part of Renaissance Voices' 2013–2014 season, "Kol Israel: The Voice of Judaism in Early Music," a series of programs curated by Rabbi Reuben Zellman, currently completing a Master of Music degree at S.F. State University in the area of early music and the Jewish choral repertoire.
The concluding program of the series, May 24-June 8, will be a musical ceremony composed by Volunio Gallichi and Francesco Drei for the 1786 dedication of the new synagogue in Siena, Italy, as well as music for weddings, Shabbat and other celebrations. The program includes Louis Saladin’s Canticum Hebraicum, composed for chorus and orchestra in 1670. The June 3 concert, at Crowden Music Center, will be part of the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition of Early Music; at this event only Consort du Danse Baroque from England will participate.
"Contentious" is what The New York Times predicts that labor negotiations will be when union contracts with the Metropolitan Opera expire this summer:
Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, met this week with officials of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the players in the orchestra, and proposed curbing the opera house’s costs by reducing pension and health care benefits and changing work rules, according to three people with knowledge of the proposal who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Tino Gagliardi, the president of the musicians’ union, declined to discuss the details of the meeting but said that “we’ve never received a set of proposals from the Met that represented such a devastating reduction in pay.”
The Met, which ran a $2.8 million deficit last season on a budget of $327 million, is facing a number of financial challenges. It reported a drop in attendance last season, and has become more reliant on contributions as box office income has fallen to less than a third of its revenue. In recent years it has spent more of its endowment than many institutions consider prudent: It drew 8.8 percent of its endowment in the fiscal year that ended July 31, and 8.2 percent the previous year, according to financial statements.
The endowment was valued at $253 million at the end of July.
The Wall Street Journal reported management proposals to the American Guild of Musical Artists includes a $4,000 deductible for health-insurance benefits to begin kicking in for a family. AGMA Executive Director Alan Gordon spoke about "a declaration of war by the Met against its performing artists." At the Met, the largest performing-arts organization in the country, male chorus members earn an average of $200,000 annually. The changes, says Gordon, "would decimate the livelihoods of the people who are the Met, for the sole purpose of continuing the unsustainable business model you have created."