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Music News: May 13, 2014

May 13, 2014

Harken to the Music of the Supremes

May 13, 2014

Jaundiced view of corporation-anthropomorphizing Justices, the subject featured in a Volti concertLong before Ted Hearne is to begin his residence as S.F. Symphony's New Voices composer, he is making significant waves on the local music scene. Let Volti Executive Director Barbara Heroux explain the ensemble's upcoming concert, titled "(Ch)oral Argument":

The piece we’re premiering this month is shaping up to be something really out of the ordinary. Called Sound from the Bench, it's a major piece, about 30-35 minutes long, and unlike almost everything else Volti does (unaccompanied), this one has two electric guitars and a drummer. The piece is based on oral arguments in the "Citizens United" case and is about the nature of human speech. [Volti Artistic Director] Bob Geary says, "We’re not just out of the box, the walls of the box have been flattened and we’re tromping all over them ..."

Ted is bringing the instrumentalists with him from NY, and they’ll be in town the week of May 12 to rehearse with the singers. Wednesday night, May 14, we’re having an open rehearsal at the Center for New Music, beginning at 7 p.m.; the event is free, registration is optional.

Ted Hearne, judicatory composer“Can a corporation be human?" asks Hearne in the cantata co-commissioned by Volti and The Crossing in Philadelphia. Working with poet Jena Osman, Hearne muses on the nature of human speech, using poetry taken from the "Citizens United" oral argument before the Supreme Court. Guitarists Taylor Levine and James Moore and percussionist Ron Wiltrout join Volti in a rare departure from a cappella, carrying out the human/non-human theme — the singers are using the most natural instrument there is, while the guitars are harnessing currents and circuits to make what is essentially electronic music.

Another new work on the program is by Melissa Dunphy, who is from Philadelphia, Australian by birth, and the daughter of a Greek father and a Chinese mother, "which may help explain," says Heroux, "why she’s setting the Oath of Allegiance taken by naturalized US citizens to music."

Kirke Mechem's "Winging Wildly" and "We Can Sing That!" round out the program, songs partially commissioned from "the dean of American choral composers" by Volti when the group was called the San Francisco Chamber Singers, back in the 1990s.

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

Music Lovers' Guide to the Merola Opera Program

May 13, 2014

Tenor Mingjie Lei, Merola Class of 2014, with baritone Thomas Hampson, Merola Class of 1980, in the latter's masterclassNow in its 57th year, the Merola Opera Program has produced hundreds of alumni, with scores of world-famous singers among them. As the program grew and inspired similar advanced training projects around the country, it became a rich and complex enterprise requiring some basic pointers about how it works.

Founded by San Francisco Opera's legendary general director, Kurt Herbert Adler, in honor of his predecessor and founder of the company, Gaetano Merola, the program has been a fiscally and administratively independent organization, but works closely, and uses the facilities, of the Opera.

With a $2.8 million projected operating budget for 2014, Merola holds regional auditions, provides two dozen young artists selected with travel expenses, housing, a stipend, individual coaching and training, performance opportunities, and a chance to become members of the important Adler Fellowship, a kind of "graduate course" beyond Merola.

Additionally, there is now Merola's Career Grants, which supports its alumni at the start of their career for five years. The young artists can apply for grants to fund specific role coaching, intensive language lessons, audition travel and preparation, lessons and more.

New Merolina Talya Lieberman in the lobby of the Metropolitan — a visitor for now, but a prospective cast member Photo by Anna WuWithin recent months, for example, Ao Li won the Operalia Competition and Nadine Sierra won the Monserrat Caballe International competition in Spain. Both had career grants to participate in the preliminaries of the competition. Leah Crocetto had a career grant for the Belvedere Competition, voice lessons, coachings; David Lomeli voice lessons and Institute of Vocal Arts in Tel Aviv expenses.

The class of 2014 has been selected from among 900 applicants worldwide. Twenty-three singers, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director — coming from 10 countries — will participate in the program from June 2 through Aug. 17.

The main purpose of the program, of course, is to provide advanced training to young artists in every aspect of performance, but for Bay Area opera fans, there are many advantages as well, through two categories of participation.

First, there are public performances, including fully staged operas and recitals, for ticket information see the Merola website. Then, for supporting members of Merola, there is a wide variety of special events, depending on the membership level.

These are the public performances:

* André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, at 7:30 p.m. July 10 and 2 p.m. July 12, Everett Auditorium, 450 Church St. A new orchestral reduction by Peter Grunberg; Mark Morash, conductor; Jose Maria Condemi, stage director. In English with English supertitles. Tickets: $15 (for students, available an hour before performance) to $60.

* Schwabacher Summer Concert, 7:30 p.m. July 17, Everett Auditorium; 2 p.m. July 19, free concert at Yerba Buena Gardens (Mission Street between Third and Fourth Streets). Tickets for July 17: $15 (students) to $40.

* Mozart's Don Giovanni, 7:30 p.m. July 31 and 2 p.m. Aug. 2, Everett Auditorium. Martn Katz, conductor; James Darrah, stage director. In Italian with English supertitles. Tickets: $15 (students) to $60.

Apprentice coach Blair Salter is from Toronto Photo by Robert Nowell* Merola Grand Finale, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 16, War Memorial Opera House. Ari Peltro, conductor; Merola Program member Omer Ben Seadia, stage director. Tickets: $15 (students) to $45.

Special events, open to members:

* Meet the Merolini, 7 p.m. June 6, S.F. Conservatory of Music.

* Masterclass with Warren Jones, 7 p.m. June 10, Conservatory.

* Masterclass with Jane Eaglen, 7 p.m. June 18, Conservatory.

* Auditions for the General Director, 6:30 p.m. June 22, Opera House.

* Special masterclass with Eric Owens, fund-raiser for Merola, 7 p.m. June 26, Conservatory.

* Day at Merola, 11 a.m.- 6:30 p.m. June 30, in/around Opera House.

* Masterclass with Steve Blier, 7 p.m. July 23, Conservatory.

* Masterclass with Carol Vaness, 7 p.m. Aug. 6, Conservatory.

* Schwabacher Debut Recital auditions, noon to 4 p.m., location to be announced.

Merola faculty also includes Patrick Carfizzi, Eric Weimer, Alessandra Cattani, Deborah Birnbaum, and Chuck Hudson training in voice, foreign languages, operatic repertory, diction, acting, and stage movement.

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

Met Musicians Authorize Strike

May 13, 2014

Statement from union representatives Monday afternoon:

Local 802, American Federation of Musicians, and the MET Opera Orchestra Committee (the members’ negotiating committee), following receipt of devastating contract proposals from Metropolitan Opera management, today unanimously authorized the MET Opera Orchestra Committee to initiate (and subsequently terminate) a strike as it deems necessary. The vote today legally formalizes the option to go on strike should management’s intransigence warrant such an action. The musicians’ contract expires July 31.

Clarinetist Jessica Phillips Rieske, chair of the MET Orchestra Negotiating Committee, said, “We remain hopeful that the negotiations will have a positive outcome. The Grammy Award winning MET Orchestra is not only one of the truly great orchestras in the world, but a beloved New York City cultural icon. To maintain this level of quality, the Metropolitan Opera must compensate its musicians at a standard that allows this ensemble to continue to attract and retain world-class talent.”

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith,” said Tino Gagliardi, President of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802, AFM, “and we are optimistic that an agreement can be reached that will not deny the opera audience of New York City and the Metropolitan Opera’s international audience access to the acclaimed artistry of the hardest-working orchestra in the world.”

Response from the Met management to a request for comment:

The Met has only just begun its contract negotiations with the Musicians and its 15 other unions. Our contracts expire at the end of July, and we hope to reach an agreement between now and then. Our singular goal is to control our costs in order to secure a sustainable business model that will ensure the Met’s future and the livelihood of our employees.

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

Sarah Billinghurst to Retire

May 13, 2014

BillinghurstA prominent opera administrator with careers on both coasts, Sarah Billinghurst, 71, is retiring, according to The New York Times:

Ms. Billinghurst retires this summer after 20 years as assistant general manager for artistic affairs — otherwise known as second in command — at the Metropolitan Opera... One of the most important people in opera you’ve never heard of, Ms. Billinghurst — along with Jonathan Friend, the Met’s artistic administrator, and Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manger — is responsible for strategic decisions about the company’s repertory, watching out for artists at competitions and rival houses and producing more than two dozen operas a season: finding directors, filling roles major and minor, coordinating rehearsals.

It is a position of formidable power and influence. But Ms. Billinghurst has, by all accounts, remained humble and generous. “She’s one of the two women I’ve ever known in our field who have nothing but friends,” said Matthew Epstein, a veteran artist manager and opera house administrator. (The other, for the record, was Ardis Krainik, the general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago from 1982 until her death in 1997.)
...a long way from rural New Zealand, where Ms. Billinghurst was born. She conducted her school choir while a student, but her true conversion to vocal music came during a recital by the glamorous soprano Victoria de los Ángeles in Wellington. Ms. Billinghurst moved to San Francisco in 1966 with her husband, a structural engineer specializing in earthquake areas. They divorced in 1980.

Starting at the San Francisco Opera as a volunteer in the general director’s office in 1972, she worked her way up to artistic administrator, a position she held from 1982 until 1994, learning from a succession of talented leaders — Kurt Adler, Terence McEwen and Lotfi Mansouri — how to deal gently yet firmly with singers, negotiate contracts and troubleshoot productions. She developed a particularly close relationship with the Russian maestro Valery Gergiev, who conducted his first staged opera in America in San Francisco.
BllinghurstMs. Billinghurst had limited means as she rose through the ranks at the San Francisco Opera in the 1970s and ’80s. “She was a single mother raising two young children on a secondary opera administrator’s salary, and she would make sacrifices all week so she could throw a dinner party for artists,” Susan Graham [then in the Merola Program] recalled.

But after arriving at the Met in 1994, Ms. Billinghurst met Howard Solomon, a member of the company’s board as well as the longtime chief executive of the pharmaceutical company Forest Laboratories (the revenues of which currently exceed $3 billion), a New York philanthropist and a recent widower. They married in 2003.

San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley knew Billinghurst while he was running the Houston Grand Opera, but their paths often crossed:

In this business it's hard to be universally adored and respected. Sarah Billinghurst is one of those rare people. Her capacity for thoughtfulness is boundless. She can even deliver bad news in a way that creates no grudges. To have risen from a secretary at SFO to the second most powerful person in American opera is a breathtaking accomplishment.

A colleague during her San Francisco days, Peter Somogyi, recalls:

She was a crucial administrative pillar during her tenure with the San Francisco Opera. I was the company librarian when we worked together during the mid-1980s. I remember the time when the Met was keen to recruit her it was not easy for the administration of San Francisco Opera to relinquish her to New York.

I greatly appreciated her as an extremely supportive colleague with always the utmost professional work ethic. She was often charged as the point person who firmly stood her ground for the benefit of the company when there were discrepancies (sometimes major ones...) with various guest conductors, directors, set and costume designers and the occasional Diva.

It was admirable to note that she was as devoted to her children as she was to her vocation. Her overall sense of perspective, balance of life and humor were exemplary.

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

Zelenka: From Prague to Dresden to Berkeley

May 13, 2014

Paul Flight Bach's contemporary and friend, once-famous Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) isn't on top of the hit parade these days, especially in the U.S., except in Chora Nova programming. Paul Flight's 60-voice chorus is dedicating its next concert — on May 24, at First Congregational Church of Berkeley — to Zelenka's choral music, calling the event "Prague Baroque."

On the program: Zelenka's Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento (Litany of the Venerable Sacrament), Regina Coeli, De Profundis in D minor, and Gloria from Missa Dei Filii. The chorus will be joined by soloists Jennifer Paulino, soprano; Clifton Massey, alto; Mark Bonney, tenor; and Sepp Hammer, baritone. A Baroque orchestra is accompanying the singers, using period instruments, including the sackbut (the predecessor to today’s trombone).

Born near Prague, Zelenka moved to Dresden in his early 30s and spent nearly all his remaining life there. His choral and instrumental compositions were daring for his time in harmony, rhythm, and overall structure, and they earned the well-documented admiration of J.S. Bach.

But Zelenka, who specialized in Roman Catholic masses and other sacred forms, fell out of initial favor with his financially important royal patrons when their tastes turned to more fashionable opera. Many of his compositions were neither published nor performed during his lifetime, and a revival of interest in his work did not begin until the mid-twentieth century. It continues, but nearly half of his surviving compositions remain unrecorded.

The concert selections highlight Zelenka’s many strengths: the counterpoint reminiscent of Bach, the cliff-hanger dissonances preceding churchly "amen"s, the surprise transitions from one key to another, and rhythms ranging from the stately to almost jazzy.

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

Earplay Doings

May 13, 2014

Earplay's Thalia Moore, Ellen Ruth Rose, Terrie Baune, Peter Josheff, Mary Chun, Brenda Tom, and Tod Brody Photo by Steve NessEarplay is winding up its 29th season on May 19, a concert preceded by a "New Music & YOU" presentation on May 15.

To begin with the latter, it offers Vera Ivanova, 2013 Earplay Aird composition prize winner, in conversation with Earplay host Bruce Bennett. The event is in partnership with the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design, at the museum, 893B Folsom St. It is free for MP+D members and Earplay subscribers, for others, admission is $12, tickets available at the door.

The Monday concert, in the ODC Theater has a fancy title, "originality really means being true to one's self," and it offers premieres by John MacCallum and Reynold Tharp, the 2011 Three Studies in Uneven Meters by the above-mentioned Ivanova, and the rarely-performed Eleven Echoes of Autumn by George Crumb.

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

A Quartet of New Violin Concertos

May 13, 2014

Unusual CD to be released on May 21New Century Chamber Orchestra, a relatively small ensemble, goes absolutely big and bold when it comes to advocacy of new music. Among its many accomplishments is the commissioning and recording of important works. New Century will now issue its seventh CD, From A to Z, four premiere recordings of commissioned violin concertos, each featuring NCCO Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as soloist.

The A and Z are Clarice Assad and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. The other two concertos are by William Bolcom and Michael Daugherty.

Assad's work is Dreamscapes, Bolcom's is Romanza; Daugherty's concerto is called Fallingwater, and Zwilich's is Commedia dell’Arte.

Salerno-Sonnenberg says:

One of the first actions I took in my new post, and one which I am most proud of, was to create New Century’s Featured Composer program, which centers around new music by some of the world’s most established composers, most promising and talented young composers, and even composers who reach outside the realm of classical music. It has been an honor to work with these incredible musical minds and to learn from them as well.

Lera Auerbach and Mark O’Connor have written music for New Century ... and William Bolcom, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Clarice Assad, and Michael Daugherty have written violin concertos for me and New Century. I have enjoyed long and successful collaborations with William Bolcom and Clarice Assad, so it was incredibly satisfying for me to introduce them into the New Century family.

Equally satisfying are my new relationships with Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Michael Daugherty, who composed for me as if they had known me for many years. My admiration and respect for the combined talents of these composers is endless and my gratitude is heartfelt. Their works, commissioned by New Century, add not only to the violin repertoire but to the chamber music cannon, and string chamber orchestra repertoire in particular, which is so important and in my opinion, necessary.

A micro-review by SFCV's Jeff Dunn: "I find Assad’s and Daugherty’s concertos, while hardly profound, to be irresistibly attractive — a pleasure to listen to."

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

Nonesuch Releases Andriessen's 'Film Opera'

May 13, 2014

Louis AndriessenIt opens with street noise, which quickly segues into an off-balance ostinato with a limping cadence. The chorus enters with ghostly strains, which peak into a fortissimo. Individual voices are heard against the dissonant drone of the orchestra, a wordless high soprano emerges.

It's about four minutes into Part I of Louis Andriessen’s La Commedia and you already heard sounds reminiscent of a dozen different contemporary composers ... and yet something completely original.

Earlier this year, Andriessen's 75th birthday was celebrated lavishly everywhere except in San Francisco and the Arctic. Why organizations here, large and small, neglected him is a puzzle, but listeners have rich access to his music. Also, on June 10, Nonesuch Records will release La Commedia both on DVD and on a set of two CDs.

The "film opera" is a collaboration with Hal Hartley, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, with additional texts from the 16th-century German theologian Sebastian Brant, the 17th-century Dutch dramatist Joost van den Vondel, and the Old Testament’s "Song of Songs."

Cristina Zavalloni in <em>La Commedia</em>, at the weeklong Andriessen celebration in Washington Photo by Drew AngererThe Dutch National Opera production features the Asko and Schönberg Ensembles, led by Reinbert de Leeuw, with vocal soloists Claron McFadden (Beatrice), Cristina Zavalloni (Dante), Jeroen Willems (Lucifer/Cacciaguida), and Marcel Beekman (Casella). The children’s choral parts are sung by Waterland’s Kinderkoor De Kickers, conducted by Jan Maarten Koeman. According to Andriessen:

The simultaneous existence of heaven, purgatory, and hell; parallels between various scenes; and the use of film and stage effects all create the complexity that is necessary to do justice to Dante’s greatest creation. To this end, all events portrayed on the film screen and on stage, including dance, the spoken word, and song, should be regarded as a reaction to the music.

La Commedia premiered in 2008 in Amsterdam before receiving concert performances at Disney Hall, Carnegie Hall, and, most recently, at the National Gallery in Washington this spring as part of a week-long Andriessen 75th birthday festival. Among critical praise, this from the New Yorker:

Even for a composer who admires both Bach and Chaka Khan, the stylistic frame of reference in La Commedia is staggeringly wide, ranging from Gregorian chant to what might be called Satanic Broadway ... Hell and Heaven run together in a wild continuum.

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

S.F. Conservatory Alumni Win Fischoff Competition

May 13, 2014

The Telegraph Quartet, of Conservatory alumni violinists Eric Chin (2008) and Joseph Maile (2012), violist Pei-Ling Lin (2012), with cellist Jeremiah Shaw, won the Grand Prize and Gold Medal in the Senior String Division at the 2014 Fischoff Competition, May 9-11, in South Bend, Indiana.

The group bested 48 ensembles from around the world to win the country’s largest chamber-music contest. They receive $11,000 in prize money and will perform both in a winner's tour of the Midwestern U.S. this fall and at Italy’s Emilia Romagna Festival in 2015.

The Telegraph Quartet’s victory at Fischoff marks the third time in three months Conservatory alumni have taken top honors in major national and international competitions. In March, soprano Julie Adams (2013) won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions; in February, pre-college alumnus Stephen Waarts won first prize in the senior division of the Menuhin International Violin Competition, while current student Alex Zhou took fourth place as the youngest finalist to compete in the junior division.

Two members of Telegraph Quartet recently graduated with Artist Certificates from the Conservatory’s graduate program in chamber music. Pei-Ling Lin was a student of Jodi Levitz and Joseph Maile studied with Ian Swensen. Both currently serve on the faculty of the Conservatory’s Pre-College Division. Eric Chin also studied violin with Swensen and holds a B.M. from the Conservatory.

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

'Opera Is Alive and Needed'

May 13, 2014

The chorus of hens from Welsh National Opera's <em>The Cunning Little Vixen</em> Photo by Catherine AshmoreLast weekend The Guardian asked artistic directors of the UK's seven main opera houses to say why opera is important today, to choose their favorite opera and suggest the best for beginners to see. Here are three of the responses:

* Richard Mantle, general director, Opera North, said "Opera performed live is a uniquely thrilling experience — at its best, it is hugely powerful and the most emotionally direct of all art forms." He cheated on the "favorite opera" question by naming both Verdi's Don Carlos and Britten's Peter Grimes. For first timers: "Almost any Janáček opera — real stories, real characters, great music."

* Kasper Holten, director of opera, Royal Opera House, said "Opera can make us see, feel and hear the world differently." He found the "favorite opera" question "impossible," but came up with Mozart's Don Giovanni. For beginners: "Totally depends on who you are. Don Giovanni, La traviata, Die Walküre or Wozzeck. [Wozzeck?!]

* Alex Reedijk, general director, Scottish Opera, said "Quite simply, opera is the stuff of life. It is the ultimate expression through live performance of the human condition, of all that we feel, fear and care about." His pick: "Janáček's operas — the drama, musicality and sheer intensity of the experience." His sensible selection for newbies: "Madama Butterfly — The themes and the story of the opera are so real and universal that even if you don’t understand the words you can feel what’s happening through the emotion created by the music."

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

San Diego Opera: the Corpse Has a Pulse

May 13, 2014

More than 1,600 donors have pledged $1.14 million by last weekend of the $2 million required to give new life to the officially moribund company. ABC Channel 10 reports:

The opera's board of directors voted in March to cease its operations and sell its assets. But after employees and fans protested that decision, officials launched a $1 million fundraising campaign to keep the opera open past the proposed closing date, which had been pushed back to May 19.

The fundraising target was later doubled, with more than $1.14 million raised as of this evening, according to the opera's website.

On Friday, officials with the opera announced that two board members and an investment group called the Sopranos had put up $500,000 in a matching gift challenge.

"We made this challenge because we love the San Diego Opera and we believe it belongs in our community," Sopranos member Joan Henkelmann said, adding that the gift, along with community support, could help the opera reach its goal.

Board President Carol Lazier thanked the donors, which had numbered more than 1,600 on Friday, and called them the "lifeblood of the company."

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

Bing Hall: 'Open for Summer'

May 13, 2014

La Santa Cecilia to Bing HallStanford's Bing Concert Hall is the venue for Stanford Live’s inaugural summer series, including performances by La Santa Cecilia & Los Cenzontles (July 20), Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers (July 26), singer Shawn Colvin (Aug. 2), and guitarist Miloš Karadaglic (Aug. 6). Single tickets will go on sale on June 4.

“We’re launching a summer series that will offer something for everyone," says the announcement, "and also utilize Bing Concert Hall in new ways. Stanford Live is more than great performances, there is often a lively social component and, as part of Lavay Smith’s performance, we are looking forward to introducing social dancing in the Bing lobby.”

The Grammy Award-winning La Santa Cecilia, named “Best Alternative Band of the Year” by L.A. Weekly, kicks off the series on July 20 with an afternoon of Latin-alternative music. Named after the patron saint of musicians, La Santa Cecilia consists of accordionist and requintero Jose “Pepe” Carlos, bassist Alex Bendana, percussionist Miguel Ramirez and lead vocalist La Marisoul. Bay Area's Los Cenzontles (“The Mockingbirds”) will open the show.

In addition to the four Stanford Live shows, Bing Concert Hall will host performances by the Department of Music, Stanford Jazz Workshop and others this summer. As part of its annual chamber music seminar (June 23, 25, 27 and 28), the Grammy-nominated St. Lawrence String Quartet will presents a series of free concerts; the annual Stanford Jazz Festival will include performances by Kenny Barron (June 21) and Chick Corea (Aug. 9); the Stanford Summer Orchestra and Summer Chorus take the Bing stage (July 12 and Aug. 8); and the Midsummer Mozart Festival gives two performances as part of its 40th anniversary season on July 19 and 27.

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

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