Music News: March 4, 2014
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Yuri Temirkanov and the Saint Peterburg Philharmonic ran into politically aware/(over)active San Franciscans twice Monday night during their appearance at Davies Symphony Hall. They handled it with good humor.
First, there was a demonstration outside the hall against "Putin-friend Temirkanov" (apparently confusing him with Valery Gergiev) because of Moscow's recent atrocious anti-gay campaign. The organizers explained in online messages:
Queer lesbian feminist of Ukrainian heritage Nadia Stulkowsky-Winstead and Todd Swindell have rounded up Pussy Riot supporters who will wear the group's iconic bright dresses and balaclavas. All are encouraged to dress up and join them as they host a Pussy Riot dance party at our rally. For the time being, they've adopted the name Pussy Riot/SF, which may be the world's first affiliate of the Russian feminist punkers.
Then, in the hall, after Temirkanov took his initial bow and lifted the baton to start the concert, a masked woman stood up in the terrace, right over the orchestra, unfurled a rainbow flag, and shouted something undecipherable ("Respect gay rights!" or "Stay out of Ukraine!" or both?). The timing was exquisite, right on cue, not interfering with the music, and the demonstrator left readily without causing any trouble.
The response from Temirkanov and the orchestra (with several Ukrainian members and surely some gay ones) was striking: broad smiles and applause. True, what else could they have done, but their sincerity and friendliness was genuine. The audience applauded them, and the orchestra launched into a Rossini overture with extra relish.
Although this report is about politics and music, not the concert, a notable San Francisco debut must be mentioned. Vilde Frang, 28, from Norway, played the solo in the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto with a stunning combination of flawless technique and palpable, appealing emotion — her single appearance here only whets the appetite for many more returns.
Back to the subject at hand. Yes, politics in music goes back for centuries, from the anti-aristocracic stance of The Marriage of Figaro, to Fidelio's powerful statement against dictators, to the nationalist hymn of "Va pensiero" in Verdi's Nabucco, to the anti-capitalist rallying cries of Mahagonny-Songspiel.
But, again, that's part of music, not in demonstration against musicians and performances, such as last night's here or the recent anti-Putin protests at the Met, targeting Gergiev and Anna Netrebko.
There are so many causes and so many good ones — music lovers of a certain age remember well the incomplete, spotty de-Nazification after the war — but other than calling attention to a cause, what exactly is the expected result? Demonstrations outside concert halls and opera houses are not a problem, but interrupting performances (which almost happened tonight) is.
At any rate, Temirkanov — himself from the Stalin-purged Caucasus — needs no prodding to refrain from either invading countries or discriminating against gays. He is all right.
While others wasted time on the 2014 Academy Awards show Sunday night, young award winners and stars of the Menuhin Competition had a true gala in Austin, accompanied by the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero. (On the same site, there are videos of competition performances, but not of the gala.)
The night before, Stephen Waarts, 17, from the Bay Area was named winner of the senior division of the competition at the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin. He placed second in the contest's junior division four years ago (letting other San Franciscans take top places two years ago, see below).
Now a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, Waarts studied at the S.F. Conservatory of Music for five years with Li Lin. The Conservatory — once serving the education of Menuhin himself — also was home to Stephen Kim, 18, who placed fourth in the senior division, and Alex Zhou, 12, fourth-place prize winner in the junior division and currently a student of Zhao Wei at the Conservatory. Alina Ming Kobialka, 16, another Conservatory alumna, competed in the senior division.
Every two years, the Menuhin Competition is organized in collaboration between the UK-based Yehudi Menuhin Young Violinists International Competition Trust and an international hosting partner. It is the only such event with a different venue each time. This year's competition marked the first time it was held in the U.S.
Two years ago, in Beijing, the S.F. Conservatory's Li Lin had two students taking the top prizes: Kenneth Renshaw in the senior division, and Kevin Zhu, then 11, the youngest performer ever to win a Menuhin competition, took the junior division.
In Austin, senior winners, after Waarts are In Mo Yang, 18, from Korea, and Christine Seohyun Lim, 19, American-Korean.
In the junior division: Rennosuke Fukuda, 14, of Japan, placed first; followed by Daniel Lozakovitj, 12, of Sweden; Ludvig Gudim, 15, of Norway; Alex Zhou, 12, of San Francisco; and Jaewon Wee, 14, of Korea.
They should have called it "The Sound of Liberation" or something like it, but no such luck. Not to worry, after decoding the title of Di Megileh of Itzik Manger, this item will have a smooth sailing. So let's go step by step.
Purim, which arrives at sunset on March 15 this year, is an ancient holiday marking the deliverance of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire, when they were threatened by a plot. The story is recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther, or "Megillat Ester." (Also "megileh" apparently — spelling of names changes from Yiddish to Hebrew to English; normally, we'd be consistent in English, but with the use of the Yiddish title and role names, it cannot be helped.)
Just before the holiday, the Yiddish Theater Collective presents the West Coast premiere of the Purim musical, Di Megileh of Itzik Manger in the JCC East Bay, March 6-10. All the spoken and sung Yiddish will have English translations projected on Supertitles.
The play is by Itzik Manger, a prominent Yiddish poet, with Israeli composer Dov Seltzer writing the music. The musical is coming from a successful off-Broadway run last year, when The New York Times hailed,"These scenery-chewing shows, akin to British pantomime or Italian commedia dell’arte, including elements of circus, puppetry and other carnival-like entertainment."
Instead of the original Biblical setting, the musical is staged against the backdrop of immigrant New York City during the 1930s, which was the Yiddish theater's golden age, headed by Boris Thomasefsky, Michael Tilson Thomas' grandfather. The producers promise a "version of the Purim story never learned in Hebrew school."
The gist of the Biblical story is that in Persia, a hundred years after the Babylonian Exile in the 6th-century BCE, Esther, an orphaned Jewish girl wins the beauty contest held by King Xerxes to replace the deposed Queen Vashti.
A high official, Haman, plots to kill the king and all the Jews, but Esther reveals the conspiracy to the king, who has Haman executed, and in gratitude, he grants Jews protection throughout the land, an act that assured Jews a home in Persia for centuries, prompting the celebration of Purim, "days of feasting and gladness."
The musical, in collaboration with KlezCalifornia and the 29th Jewish Music Festival, pulls together a dozen well-known artists from the Bay Area, including actresses Naomi Newman (founder of the Traveling Jewish Theater) and Joan Mankin (active with A.C.T. and other companies), who provide the narration.
Starring in the tile role of Ester, the new Queen, is Heather Klein, American soprano and Yiddish chanteuse. Berel Alexander plays the role of Ester’s jilted lover, Fastrigoseh.
Akhashveyrush, the King, will be portrayed by Linda Hirschhorn, noted singer/songwriter, cantor, composer and storyteller. Josiah Polhemus plays the villain, Haman.
Others in the cast are Eliana Kissner as Vashti, the Queen; Joel Fleisher as Mordekhay, Ester’s uncle; and Laura Shephard as Haman’s wife, Zeyresh; also Diane Wirshafter, Paloma George, Ed Silberman, Michael Gliksohn, Gerry Tenney, and Evelie Delfino.
The concert presentation is directed and choreographed by Bruce Bierman, with musical direction by Achi Ben Shalom. The band, led by Laura Rosenberg, consists of Candy Sanderson (violin), Achi Ben-Shalom (guitar), Gerry Tenney (mandolin), Gabriel Ben-Shalom (percussion), and Jim Rebhan (accordion).
Both before and after its March 9 concert at Music at Kohl Mansion, the Miró Quartet offers free public master classes. In addition to the preconcert tutorial at Kohl Mansion, the Miró travels to San Francisco State University to give a master class there on Monday, March 10, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Creative Arts Building.
Just as during last month's Yehudi Menuhin Chamber Music Seminar and Festival, participating student ensembles include the Friction Quartet, Echappe String Quartet (S.F. Conservatory of Music Pre-College Division), Holloway String Trio (S.F. State), S.F. Conservatory String Trio, and Ruth Asawa S.F. School of the Arts Quartet.
The event is sponsored by Music at Kohl Mansion, the Alexander String Quartet, Carlstrom Productions, and S.F. State’s May T. Morrison Chamber Music Center.
The Sunday concert at Kohl Mansion will also be preceded by a free public master class, beginning at 5 p.m., with the Chiaroscuro Quartet, winner of the inaugural Galante Prize for best precollege chamber ensemble by the Alexander String Quartet.
Miró's Sunday evening program consists of Haydn's String Quartet in D Major, Op. 64, No. 5, "Lark”; Dutilleux' Ainsi la nuit, and Beethoven's String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2.
Not a gamer myself, I am not familiar with music accompanying the games, but it appears a sure bet that The String Arcade provides employment for local musicians — always a good thing.
Now available in digital and CD versions, String Arcade (read more) is a collection of classic video game music arranged for string quartet. To make the project even more commendable, proceeds will be donated to a nonprofit after-school music program, the Alameda Music Project.
The quartet consists of Alisa Rose (Real Vocal String Quartet, Quartet San Francisco, Clubfoot Orchestra, Feist), Celia Harris (Redwood Tango), Emily Onderdonk (Quartet San Francisco, [the late] NY City Opera), Robin Reynolds (Nanos Operatta, Shotun Wedding Hip-Hop Orchestra), and guest Philip Brezina (Magik Magik Orchestra, The Brothers Comatose). Recording were made in Oakland and Alameda.
In charge of the project were Dren McDonald (Ghost Recon Commander, Ravenwood Fair) and Jason Poss (Lord of the Rings film trilogy, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King). The arrangements, say the producers,
... go far beyond chamber music emulations of the original themes, with each piece creatively interpreted, embellished, and reimagined to capture emotions evoked by the games. In conceiving the project, McDonald was inspired by John Lurie's Stranger Than Paradise film soundtrack (1984), which featured a moody, string quartet score.
Besides giving gamers a new way to enjoy beloved classics, The String Arcade is also poised to inspire young musicians to pick up a violin, viola, or cello. Several tracks were specifically chosen from games popular among kids.
The Arcade's arrangements were inspired by games from Galaga to Minecraft and performed by local musicians, with a special appearance by the Boston-based Videri String Quartet. One preview track, Plants vs. Zombies' "Grasswalk," has been released as a free digital download.
There are many teenage stars among violinists and pianists, but a 15-year-old classical guitarist with international renown? Californian Jennifer Kim is that rare artist, hailed by Pepe Romero as a "wonderful musician," the Grand Prize Winner at last year's Los Angles Music Center Spotlight Awards, and featured a few months ago on NPR’s At the Top broadcast.
She will be the soloist on the Mill Valley Philharmonic's next free concert series, March 14-16, under the baton of MVP Music Director Laurie Cohen. On the program: Joaquín Rodrigo’s 1939 Concierto de Aranjuez, a work so beloved in Spain that there is a monument to it in the city of Aranjuez.
The Spanish-themed program includes a suite of Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo, selections from Isaac Albéniz' Suite Española, and (born just over the border) Maurice Ravel's Boléro.