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Music News

May 1, 2012

Stay up to date with weekly classical music news from the Bay Area, across the US & around the World.

Black & White Ball Just a Month Away

Janelle Monáe, of <em>ArchAndroid</em> The big social, dress-up, dancing, fun benefit biennial event — San Francisco Symphony's Black & White Ball — takes place on June 2 at the Civic Center.

Referred to as "a party with a purpose," the ball is said to be essential for music education programs in San Francisco elementary schools. The Symphony's Adventures in Music (AIM) program works in partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District.

AIM was launched in 1988, a decade after Prop. 13, which decimated financing for California's public schools, creating a vacuum where a rich music and art education existed before. The organization, with the Black & White Ball as its main support, serves thousands of students in public, independent, and parochial schools. Ticket prices range from $250 to $350.

The program:

At 8 p.m., Paul Simon performs, in his debut appearance with the San Francisco Symphony

From 9 p.m. on, 10 bands appear on five stages, including:

    Cyndi Lauper and the Grammy-winning band The Wallflowers
    "Cybersoul songstress" Janelle Monáe, who performed at the White House Easter Egg Roll last month
    "Doo wop/R&B royalty" The Drifters
    DJ Masonic (aka composer Mason Bates), last heard at the American Mavericks festival
    Retro jazz outfit The Brenna Whitaker Little Big Band
    "Neil Diamond-inspired dance band" Super Diamond
    Salsa ensemble Avance
    Funk troupe Scott Carter and New Breed
    Notorious, "the '80s and more" dance party rock show
    Dr. Bobby Rodriguez Latin Jazz Group

What, exactly, is the ball's contribution to the AIM program? In an attempt to get that information two years ago, before the last event, responses were: "All proceeds from the ball go to Adventures in Music, No comment on income raised" and "We don't have that figure broken down."

With more than 10,000 participants, the estimated gross income should be in excess of $2.5 million. Expenses for this very large-scale event — in addition to volunteer and staff time — may be around $1.5 million, so a guestimate for the net is around $1 million.

A peripheral hard figure from SFS, part of a job posting, was that the Volunteer Council — whose activities include the Opening Gala, Deck the Hall/Community Day, Chinese New Year Celebration, Black and White Ball, and the Symphony Golf Classic — "contributes in excess of $2.5 million on a net basis annually in support of the Symphony’s [then $62.5 million] operating budget." For something so big and so important, a more transparent public accounting would be welcome, and we'll follow up after the event.

All Hail and Hear the Proms

Simon Rattle is among scores of top conductors at the Proms Photos by Chris ChristodoulouThe world's biggest and best summer music festival, the BBC Proms once again dazzles and attracts — notwithstanding the apparent impossibility of egress from Heathtrow and likely Mother of All Traffic Jams during the contemporaneous Olympics, July 27 through Aug. 12.

And don't forget World Shakespeare Festival, now through Sept. 15.

How felicitous, then, for those of us in Doyle Drive-demolition in San Francisco and environs, to hear the Proms from beginning (July 13) to end (Sept. 8). All this is available without the slightest inconvenience ... as long as your internet service is good enough.

Timing is good too: The 7:30 p.m. starting time in London, but here is it 11:30 a.m.

Edward GardnerIn this, the first of Proms Plugs for your calendar, attention is on the new and unusual, with thanks to Charlie Cockey for helping to browse:

  • Four conductors share the podium on First Night of the Proms, on July 13, including Edward Gardner, Roger Norrington, Mark Elder, and Martyn Brabbins in an all-British program of Mark-Anthony Turnage, Elgar, Delius, and Tippett.
  • A new work by Kaija Saariaho, Laterna Magica, along with Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra and Four Last Songs (with Anne Schwanewilms), and Sibelius' Symphony No. 7. Juanjo Mena conducts the BBC Philharmonic on July 17.
  • Joanna MacGregor is the soloist in the Hugh Wood Piano Concerto on July 26. Thierry Fischer conducts a program of Elgar, Ravel, and Debussy.
  • Good old Turangalîla Symphony, with the Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, on Aug. 4. Also a commissioned work by Nico Muhly, short pieces by Varèse and Anna Meredith.
  • A veritable contest with the SFS Mavericks project, on Aug. 14, with Ligeti's Poème symphonique, Berio's Sequenza V, Xenakis' Phlegra, Jonathan Harvey's Mortuos plango, vivos voco, Louis Andriessen's De snelheid, and — listen carefully to this one — Cage's 4'33". André Ridder conducts the London Sinfonietta. Charlie says: the Ligeti is written for and performed by 100 metronomes, Andriessen's is another clock piece.
  • Pierre-Laurent Aimard is reprising his Debussy recital on Sept. 3.
  • Nixon in China, on Sept. 5, conducted by the composer, and featuring Kathleen Kim (Madame Mao), Alan Oke (Chairman Mao), Gerald Finley (Chou En-Lai), Robert Orth (President Nixon), Jessica Rivera (Pat Nixon), and James Rutherford (Kissinger).
And hundreds of more. Browse and share discoveries.

Other Musics in London

Duran DuranLondon organizers of the Olympic Games announced today that the opening concert (the equivalent of the Zhang Yimou-directed super-spectacular in Beijing four years ago) will be held in Hyde Park, featuring — ready? — Duran Duran as the headliners. They will be joined by Snow Patrol for Northern Ireland, the Stereophonics for Wales, and Paolo Nutini for Scotland.

Scoffs Lucy Jones in today's The Telegraph:

So our choice of excellence are a bunch of irrelevant rockers who got together in 1978, a four piece who could be the most boring band that ever existed, the Welsh contingent who were OK in spring 1998, and Nutini, more gap year casualty than rock star. It's almost as bad as the organisers of the official Olympics ceremony approaching the manager of The Who to see if Keith Moon was available. Yes, that happened.

I was never expecting Autechre, St Etienne or Kate Bush but this is the worst line-up imaginable. It makes the closing ceremony with Blur, New Order and The Specials look like Woodstock '69. It is paralysing in its tedium.

Community of Music Makers

One of the San Francisco Symphony's new programs launched during the current centennial season is Community of Music Makers, providing an opportunity for amateur musicians to come together in workshops and sing or play chamber music, coached by SFS musicians. The program was "created expressly for adult amateur musicians who want to re-engage in the joys of making music with others, whether playing an instrument or singing in a chorus."

In the first round, three choral and two instrumental workshops filled up in just a couple of days. Five new groups are being formed, participants to be chosen based on order of application received. An orchestra musician will coach each group for the evening, and then all groups convene on the Davies Symphony Hall stage to perform for the other workshop members. Friends and family are also welcome to listen. Information and signup at

Bluebeard's Castle for Dummies

San Francisco Symphony's concert version of Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle (event info here) will have sub/sur/somewhere titles, but it doesn't hurt to prepare for this Hungarian-language, super-heavy work by perusing the Opera Cheats website.

Just 365 Days Before the Return of Paul Taylor

[The new Paul Taylor work] ... Gossamer Gallants is a charming romp, Taylor having fun with horny bugs (guys) and murderous ones (gals). The humor is broad, but Jerome Robbins took care of the serious side of this story 60 years ago with The Cage. (That was Stravinsky, this is Smetana.)

Taylor’s lifelong affinity for insects shines through and his lifelong talent for structure serves him yet again. A second new piece, House of Joy is a cartoonish take on a cat house that’s as far on the wrong side of the tracks as you can get. One of the girls is a big clumsy guy in drag, one of the johns is an ultra-butch jill. Pimps get paid, the ladies go to work, someone gets beat up, and nine minutes into what you think is going to be a colorful tale, it’s over: narrative interruptus. There’s nothing P.T. enjoys more than confounding expectations.

Paul Taylor's <em>Gossamer Gallants</em> premiering in New York, coming to San FranciscoWell, maybe P.T., 81, enjoys creating new, great works every year, even more than confounding expectations. Read Robert Gottlieb's excellent New York Observer review of the Paul Taylor Dance Company's season-opener there. The article also combines a nostalgic walk down PTDC memory lane with information that may be still news in these parts: Annmaria Mazzini's retirement a year ago, woe is us!

And, although it's still exactly a year before the PTDC run in Yerba Buena, rejoice in what's coming (subject to change, of course, as always):

Program A (May 1, 2013):
Kith & Kin
New work, to be announced Cascade

Program B (May 2-3):
Book of Beasts
Last Look
Gossamer Gallant

Program C (May 4-5):
Spring Rounds
The Uncommitted
Company B

Annmaria Mazzini, a PTDC star And just a bit more from Gottlieb's report:

Who could have guessed that what Paul Taylor needed was a redhead? He recently found one (or she found him); her name is Heather McGinley, and she’s been blazing through the current season at the David H. Koch Theater — [the refurbished and renamed New York State Theater] — and not just because of her flamboyant hair.

The Taylor Company has an astounding variety of talented leading women: Amy Young, who has grown at a steady pace into a dominating presence — lyrical, composed, radiant, except when she’s powerful, haunting and, in Big Bertha, malevolent, evil, grotesque; Parisa Khobdeh, ardent, exotic, exciting—and funny; Laura Halzack, beautiful, elegant, balletic, with a new forcefulness that makes her seem less of a lovely exception to the rule and more an exemplar of the rule; sassy, quick, daring Michelle Fleet ...

'Resounding Compassion' for Zen Center

Butoh dancer Judith Kajiwara Shinji Eshima, double-bassist with the San Francisco Ballet and composer for the company's RAkU, will present two new works at the 50th anniversary benefit event for the Francisco Zen Center. "Resounding Compassion: A Concert for Peace" celebrates the largest Buddhist community center outside Asia with performances, and the reading of a poem written for the event by Jane Hirshfield.

The event will take place at the S.F. Conservatory of Music on June 4. Tickets are $30. The concert will benefit SFZC's City Center, an urban temple located in Hayes Valley, as well as Shinryu-in Temple in Miyagi, Japan, which was badly damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Shinryu-in is the family temple of Kiko Tatedera, the head priest of Sokoji in Japantown, where Suzuki Roshi served before founding SFZC.

As part of Eshima's new work, "All's Farrow," the bronze casting artist Al Farrow will debut a sculpture made of bullets (designed to be a compassion bell), to played by the S.F. Ballet's Pascal Molat. S.F. Opera violinist Asuka Annie Yano performs Mozart on a new instrument built from the beams of houses washed away by last year's tsunami in Japan.

Butoh dancer Judith Kajiwara will perform to accompaniment by koto virtuoso Shoko Hikage; Brenda Wong Aoki and Emmy-Award winner Mark Izu (bass, sho) appear together.

Savall's 'Dialogue of Souls'

Jordi SavallThe 2012 edition of Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, June 3-10, a biennial celebration of early music, is exploring how western music has been shaped by encounters with other civilizations over the centuries.

Along with the Philharmonia Baroque, Chanticleer, American Bach Soloists, and many other organizations and soloists, the legendary Catalan viola da gamba master Jordi Savall will illustrate this great cultural diffusion.

The first of Savall's two "Dialogue of Souls" concerts, on June 8, will focus on music from ancient Spain, the Ottoman Empire, medieval Italy, Persia, and Afghanistan.

The second, at a June 9 matinee, features Sephardic, Armenian, and Turkish music.

Both concerts take place in Berkeley's First Congregational Church.

Ballet Music from Bouncy to Screechy

Jim Sohm as Don Quixote, Bonita DeRosa's "Estimation" as the horse Rocinante Photo by Erik Tomasson It may be a matter of congenital weakness or the result of some childhood trauma, but I actually like "ballet music," all the way from Tchaikovsky (especially Sleeping Beauty, and incredibly, still, Nutcracker!) to Adam (Giselle and Le Corsaire), and so on.

Ludwig Minkus, the 19th-century Austrian pop composer, who made it big in imperial St. Petersburg's ballet circles, is not among subjects of this guilty passion; in the past, I heard only a mix of the sound under the Big Top and Tchaikovsky lite.

So who knew that I would find Minkus pure, much-adulterated fun Saturday night in the Opera House. The Ballet Orchestra, under David Briskin's direction, went to town, and played with such verve and enjoyment that it could not be resisted.

Everything about the S.F. Ballet's season-closing Don Quixote is grand, it's not to be missed, and the music is very much part of the experience. (And don't forget the live horse and donkey on stage!)

The night before, at Yerba Buena, the situation was different, the music disappointing. Smuin Ballet is a vital, important small company and Val Caniparoli is one of my favorite choreographers, especially because of his selection and use of music. And now, here was Smuin Ballet premiering Caniparoli's Swipe, and the music was amplified screech.

Whose music? Prokofiev! No, not Sergei — but Gabriel, the grandson of the great man. This was his Second String Quartet, which cannot decide what it is to be, with remixes on top of remixes. For Caniparoli, whose selection of music has always been his strong suit — Bartók, Shostakovich, Nyman, Torke, Surinach, Adams, Poulenc, and the risky but successful commingling of Bach and African rhythms for Lambarena — this was an unexpected and unfortunate diversion from an established path of excellence.

And yet, the entire program is well worth seeing, but ear plugs are recommended as the overamplified sound in the Novellus Theater makes even Stravinsky difficult to take.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].