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May 15, 2012

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

East Bay Champions of Contemporary Orchestral Music

Joana Carneiro Photo by Dave WeilandThe San Francisco Symphony is approaching the conclusion of a remarkable centennial season, which included some contemporary music, especially through what visiting orchestras have brought to Davies Symphony Hall. Notably, MTT's band re-embarked on the more-unusual-than-new music cavalcade of American Mavericks.

That's all to the good, but both the next season and the recent past indicate that this organization, with its approximately $63 million operating budget, has no leading role in fostering, advocating, and performing new music. (See next item singling out coming SFS attractions of the genre.)

Much smaller orchestras in the Bay Area have long tried — heroically and at great risk — to fill the gap. Season announcements this week from Joana Carneiro's Berkeley Symphony (with an annual budget of $1.06 million) and Michael Morgan's Oakland East Bay Symphony ($2.5 million) substantiate that reputation.

OEBS Music Director Michael Morgan (Under the leadership of Barry Jekowsky until 2010, Walnut Creek's California Symphony had championed contemporary music with amazing consistency, but that's all in the past. In a sorry scene from the Hatfield-McCoy feud, the current management lists the orchestra's great accomplishments, but avoids naming the founder/music director to whom credit should go to.)

Berkeley Symphony will offer commissioned new works at all its subscription concerts, continuing in the pathbreaking ways of former music director Kent Nagano. Carneiro will lead works from Steven Stucky, Dylan Mattingly, Andreia Pinto-Correia, and Paul Dresher. Additionally, Shai Wosner performs Ligeti’s Piano Concerto and Lynn Harrell plays the solo in Lutoslawski’s Cello Concerto. On the traditional side — less than half the repertory — there will be works from Beethoven, Bruckner, Rachmaninov, and Schumann.

Carneiro, whose contract has been extended through the 2016–2017 season, is joining forces with Dresher for a new work featuring the composer's invented instruments, the Quadrachord and the Hurdy Grande. Says Dresher:

In less than five months, I'll be on stage with the Berkeley Symphony, performing as the soloist on two of my rather large invented instruments in the premiere of my Concerto for Invented Instruments & Orchestra. It's an exciting prospect yet also a terrifying one! Fortunately, I do my best work when I'm in such a state, asking musical questions which must be asked in order to bring together the exceptionally different sonic (and intonational) worlds of my inventions with the enormously rich world of orchestral instruments and its remarkable repertory.

Of course, it's an honor as well to be asked to open the Berkeley Symphony's season with this commission and to be able to work with the remarkable conductor Joana Carneiro and the fine musicians in the orchestra. This season shows just how committed the Berkeley Symphony are to furthering new music and presenting these works to a wider audience that perhaps may not often get the chance to hear them.

Stucky will participate in an extended residency throughout the season, to be part of a panel choosing composers for the orchestra’s Under Construction New Music Series and Composers Program, and the incorporation of his recorder concerto, Etudes, in Berkeley Symphony’s Music in the Schools program. Stucky's premiere, The Stars and the Roses, is a song cycle for tenor and orchestra, set to the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz, and featuring former Adler Fellow Noah Stewart.

Paul Dresher"I am thrilled that the incredible chemistry I feel with this orchestra is recognized by our audiences," says Carneiro. "I am humbled by how openly our musicians embrace adventures and I revel in their virtuosity. Nothing is too challenging, whether it is a complicated new work or a classic masterpiece."

The Oakland East Bay Symphony's season, titled "Music That Makes a Difference," features a "celebration of American democracy" following the presidential elections, as well as music by contemporary Middle Eastern composers.

Contemporary composers on the OEBS schedule include Richard Danielpour (A Woman’s Life, 2007); Olly Wilson (Episodes for Orchestra, 2002); Adolphus Hailstork (An American Fanfare, 1985); Avner Dorman (Astrolatry, 2011), John Bisharat (work to be announced); Gordon Getty (Homework Suite, 1962); and yet another new work by an American composer, to be announced.

On the more traditional side, it's works by Copland, Bernstein, Beethoven, Berlioz, Grieg, Handel, Fauré, Britten, Bach, and Franck.

'Fair and Balanced' Reporting on What's NEW at SFS

Bartók's 101-year-old <em>Bluebeard</em> counted as contemporary Given the critical reference in the item above to the S.F. Symphony's modest support for contemporary music, here is a quick list of some evidence to the contrary during the rest of the current season and in Season No. 101:

  • May 16-19 concerts include Schnittke's Violin Concerto No. 4, with Alexander Barantschik as soloist
  • May 24-27 programs are special, featuring Kalevi Aho's Minea, Prokofiev's 1917 Violin Concerto No. 1 (with Hilary Hahn), and Shostakovich's 1939 Symphony No. 6
  • The concert performance of Béla Bartók's magnificent 1911 opera, Bluebeard's Castle, is scheduled for June 21-23.
Note those dates. A 100-year-old work can hardly be called "new," but perhaps "contemporary" is an acceptable term, as Shostakovich, Bartók, and so on are very much from modern times chronologically and by nature.

Of the next season, Jeff Dunn writes:

"Seems to be an average year for SFS, five-six works written in the last 10-15 years, which is pathetic, but in the larger scheme of things, typical, and not exceptionally bad."

  • Samuel Carl Adams, Drift and Providence, in September
  • World premiere of the commission by SFS assistant concertmaster Mark Volkert's Pandora, in Oct.
  • Jörg Widmann's Piano Concerto, in Dec.
  • Magnus Lindberg's EXPO, in Feb. 2013
  • John Adams' Absolute Jest (repeated from the centennial season), in May
  • Ivan Fedele's Scena, in June (paired with Schubert and Schumann)
Dunn adds something I don't agree with: "Carter, Berio, Pärt, Lidholm don't count because their works to be played are more than 30 years old. Pärt is the only non-Modernist in this group." In that larger scheme of things mentioned above, these composers are very much our contemporaries.

S.F. Boys Chorus' Big Day: June 16

The Boys Chorus with dancer Crystaldawn Bell Fifty-two of the 240 S.F. Boys Chorus members will join the Robert Moses Kin Dance Company in a spring concert of A Song and Dance for All on June 16, in Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light.

The program includes Guido Hazan's Missa Luba, a Congolese song-inspired Mass setting, with African drum accompaniment and tribal chants.

SFBC director Ian Robertson welcomes the dancers who will perform excerpts from a recent collaboration, Fable and Faith, which "uses children's fables to explore issues of imagination, creativity and identity.

It's been a great experience for the boys whose young imaginations have been whetted by their close on-stage experiences with these superb modern dancers."

Robertson, also director of the San Francisco Opera Chorus, says the voices — 40 trebles and 12 older boys — "sound so ethereal and heavenly in that beautiful space." As before, the dance company's Crystaldawn Bell will perform a solo.

Chorus with Tony Bennett and Mayor Ed Lee at City Hall Activities in the Cathedral begin at 11 a.m.; at noon, children will dance along an African drumming workshop. The concert starts at 2 p.m.

During the school year, the the Grammy award-winning Boys Chorus holds practices and rehearsals twice a week in three Bay Area locations: San Francisco's Kanbar Center on Page Street, in the Oakland Cathedral, and San Rafael's St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

The 64-year-old group tours far and wide, to Europe, Asia, and the Americas, and has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, and in 2009, sang at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. FBC's next auditions will be held on June 9.

Conservatory President to Retire

Colin Murdoch, president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, announced that he will retire at the end of the 2012-2013 academic year. Murdoch became Conservatory Dean in 1988 and has been president for more than 21 years.

Under Murdoch’s leadership, enrollment has grown, the endowment tripled $11 million to $33 million. "Colin’s presidency has been extraordinary," says Timothy Foo, chair of the Conservatory’s Board of Trustees. "Under his inspired leadership, the school has grown in size, quality and stature. His forward vision and tireless advocacy led to the 2006 relocation of the Conservatory to the marvelous facilities at 50 Oak Street, without doubt the most significant transformation of the Conservatory in the last 50 years."

Announcing his retirement, Murdoch said:

When I was appointed president in 1992, I made a 10-year internal commitment to serve. When 50 Oak Street became a possibility, I made a second 10-year commitment. Now, with the Conservatory’s Centennial on the horizon in 2017, it too deserves a 10-year commitment from the Conservatory’s president. Grateful and proud as I am for having been part of the Conservatory’s first century, I know that the Conservatory’s finest hours are yet to be heard in its second century.
To select a new president, Foo will appoint a search committee to assist and advise the Board of Trustees in identifying candidates for consideration. After a worldwide search for the best candidates, the Board expects to make public Murdoch’s successor before the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.

The Glory That Was the Philharmonic

They are gone now, defeated utterly on the softball field (see next item), but triumphant in two concerts at Davies Hall, where the New York Philharmonic spread some magic, under the Bernsteinesquely ultra-dynamic baton of Alan Gilbert. See SFCV review by Georgia Rowe of the concerts. But first, I'd like to gush briefly about two unforgettable experiences:

The quiet middle section of Dvořák's otherwise big, bombastic Carnival Overture provided a heavenly resting place, with layers of subtle sound piled on one another, creating something startlingly beautiful.

More, there was a fabulous performance of the Bartók First Violin Concerto, with concertmaster Glenn Dicterow (no showman he, just a giant of a fiddler) the soloist.

However many times I heard it, I never figured out the rest of the work, but the first movement — with its endless melodic line — is one of the most cherished in the concerto literature. Don't have the Dicterow performance handy, but check out 15-year-old Antal Zalai's stab at it.

As for the NYPO, please come back soon.

Our Symphomaniacs Crush Their Penguins

S.F. Symphomaniacs in grey, N.Y. Penguins in blue; our hero, Mark Inouye, is first on the right in the second row Photo by Chris LeeOlder, bigger, richer, the New York Philharmonic couldn't field a softball team Sunday to stand up against the San Francisco Symphony Symphomaniacs. Even with Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert and Executive Director Zarin Mehta in the lineup, the New York visitors were anniliated 34:4 — and MTT didn't even have to get up from the bench.

This old rivalry for the Davies Cup turned into a rout as the San Franciscans employed a number of ringers. Team captain and major scorer Mark Inouye, for example, stressed his position as principal trumpet to qualify, not mentioning his vast athletic experience. Winning pitcher Robert Ward is known as principal horn, but his high school pitching record was kept a secret.

This was the first rematch since 1983 when San Francisco beat New York on their home territory, 11:6. The first Davies Cup game, two years before then is not something talked about in polite Barbary Coast company; it was a reverse wipeout (16:24), although not nearly as bad as on Sunday.

Inouye was humble in victory: "That is an incredible feat for a slow pitch softball game of nine innings. Equally impressive is the 34 runs scored – our team was an offensive machine. It was complete domination in all facets — pitching, defense, offense, and even uniforms! Those jerseys looked great on everyone!" A team player, Inouye acknowledged that Ward "pitching a great game," allowing only four runs.

On Such a Night

Glyndebourne is celebrating the 2012 European Opera Days campaign by hosting a free online streaming of On Such A Night, a charming and captivating film from Glyndebourne’s rich archive featuring John Christie, David Knight, Marie Lohr and Josephine Griffin.

Says the forwarding friend: "unspeakably quaint and corny, but ..." and that is correct. Do not miss, and pass the cucumber sandwich on Pullman loaf.

Quick! Get Ready for Rapido! Composition Contest

The Atlanta Symphony is holding its third annual Rapido! Composition Contest, with $20,000 in prizes for new compositions "by underrepresented composers of all levels of experience." The winner will receive a commission for a full orchestral work to be premiered by the Atlanta Symphony in spring of 2014.

Composers of all ages are invited to submit original chamber compositions between four and six minutes in length using classical instrumentation and traditional form. The deadline for competition registration is June 1, 2012. Registration is divided into five geographic regions and limited to the first 100 applicants per region who submit their entry anonymously and electronically with a $35 registration fee.

The competition will begin on June 11, and last only 14 days. Musical form and instrumentation will be specified at the start of the 14-day competition period of June 11-25. Fifteen semi-finalists will be chosen — three from each of five geographic regions — by an anonymous panel of musicians, composers, and musical dignitaries. One finalist from each region will be chosen to compete in a National Finals Concert to be judged by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Spano.

Bellini from Munich in Free Webcast

Beginning at 10 a.m. on May 19, West Coast opera fans can watch a free live webcast of Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi (to be produced in San Francisco in the fall as The Capulets and the Montagues). This will be the fifth such HD cast, following Fidelio, L’elisir d’amore, Don Carlo and Eugene Onegin.

This is a new production of the Bellini opera by Vincent Boussard, from 2011. The performance will feature soprano Anna Netrebko as Giulietta and Vesselina Kasarova as Romeo. The cast is costumed by French couturier Christian Lacroix. The Bavarian State Orchestra will be led by Yves Abel.

First Position Only the Latest Among Contest Films

Aran Bell, 11-year-old star of <em>First Position</em> Photo by Bess KargmanBess Kargman's First Position, a film about Youth America Grand Prix, now in Bay Area theaters, is the latest entry in a flood of documentaries and features about music and dance competitions.

From Masayuki Suo's superb Shall We Dance to its hapless American remake, to best-of-genre The Audition, about the Metropolitan Opera; to Strictly Ballroom, and the moving and hilarious They Came to Play about contestants at the Van Cliburn Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs; to Every Little Step, which portrays the audition for roles in the revival of A Chorus Line, the musical, yes, about auditions — it goes on and on.

Even without taking into consideration the millions watching TV hits about competition in music, dance, modeling, and so on, clearly there is a fascination with all the little human trains that could, or heartbreakingly, couldn't.

The best audition films combine scenes from the competition with the offstage stories of the contestants, and show backstage and onstage action. First Position does that very well, following just a handful of the youngsters on their way to — and eventually in — the Grand Prix, a major dance competition in New York for young, promising artists between age 8 and 19. (Apparently, when the film was made, the range was 9-19, but the organization's website now says the earliest eligibility is age 8, which does seem too young.)

We meet and come to care about a 10-year-old Californian boy, who puts ballet in a mature perspective; a 16-year-old Colombian, who sacrifices everything for a career; super-talented, smart Aran Bell, 11, my favorite character in the film; Michaela DePrince, 14, an adopted orphan from Sierra Leone; and little Gaya Bomer from Israel, whose performance of a Don Quixote selection is worthy of a seasoned professional.

These youth, their parents, and teachers create a busy — if at times slow-moving — miniseries of true-life adventures, separated by dance scenes I wish would last longer.

No spoilers here, so I won't say what the results were, but the awards ceremony and the film's epilogue are fascinating.

Kargman's stated purpose was "to shatter stereotypes — not all skinny ballerinas are anorexic, not all male ballet dancers are gay, not all stage mothers are psycho, and so on." She also wanted to show "that a competition that awards scholarships to elite ballet schools can pave the way to making it as a dancer, but that the steep climb to get there is daunting, as ballet training is extremely expensive and injuries often ruin careers."

To the credit of producer/writer/director/editor Kargman, she has met her goal and in the process came up with a realistic, believable film, showing — if not dwelling on — warts and all. For balletomanes, it's unalloyed pleasure.

Winners' Concert a Free Event on May 20

James Poe performs at the winners' concert Performances by the first-place winners of the 2012 Pacific Musical Society contest will be heard at a free concert, at 2 p.m. on May 20, in the S.F. Conservatory of Music Concert Hall. These are the performers:


Ages 8-10 — Sean Mori

Ages 11-13 — (tied) Elena Ariza and James Poe

Ages 14-17 — Sean Keegan

Ages 18-21 — Yu Gong


Ages 8-10 — Sarah Tuan

Ages 11-13 — Elliot Wuu

Ages 14-17 — Agata Sorotokin

Ages 18-21 — Rebecca Wuu


Ages 16-18 — Laura Sanders

Ages 19-25 — Julia Metzler


Ages 17-22 — Thomas Feng

Einstein Maligned

<em>Einstein on the Beach</em> in the Barbican Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach, coming to Cal Performances, Oct. 26-28, has made its debut in London, to some savage reviews.

Paul Driver writes in The Sunday Times:

Since it was unveiled in Avignon in 1976, then staged at the New York Met, of all places, this monumental music-theatre piece (there is virtually nothing in it of traditional "operatic" singing) has been an icon of modern art in the widest sense of the word.

Wilson's giant, marmoreal, almost wittily deadpan decor and slo-mo direction, the hieratic, gestic­ulative choreography of Lucinda Childs and the mechanical austerities of Glass's score combine in a novel synthesis that seems to open our minds even as it freezes our perceptual faculties.

The work's nine static scenes and five framing or interludial "knee plays" are performed without a break, totalling close on five hours. The audience is invited to come and go (not very practicable, given the Barbican seating); and to attempt an active engagement with what is presented, to try to know precisely what's going on and follow the music in the ordinary way, doesn't get us far.

Richard Fairman, in The Financial Times:
It has taken over 35 years for Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach to arrive in London and the long wait was surely right for an opera, five hours in duration and devoid of a story or anything resembling "action," that seeks to challenge conventional notions of time in the theatre.

It clearly challenged Friday night's audience. Telling people they were free to come and go during the performance encouraged some unexpected behaviour. Although few took up the invitation, others chatted over the music and the A-list celebrity in front of me spent the evening taking flash photos on her phone (except when she was asleep).

At its best Glass's opera brings these various arts into perfect alignment: words and music are fused and find their visual counterpart in Lucinda Childs's pure choreography and Wilson's stylish modern stage pictures. But there are also long passages that are stultifyingly boring – like being an eight-year-old again, hammering D major arpeggios on the piano and wondering why life (and art) has to be such a chore.

Cordellia Lynn, in Cease Fire Magazine:
As well as being musically and visually repetitive, the libretto consists of apparently random phrases, speeches and numbers said over and over again. It is at its best when it becomes almost boring, when it seems appropriate to take advantage of being allowed to leave the auditorium for a break... Most of the production is slow, incredibly slow, slow to the point of testing one's sanity and patience.
Andrew Morris, in Classical Source:
At its frequent worst — such as in the aptly named "Trial" scenes — it holds all the dramatic and musical appeal of someone continually clicking a pen... hugely uneven and, for long stretches, very boring. It has the feel of an experiment perpetrated by people who didn't really know what they were doing.
Rupert Christiansen, in The Telegraph:
The chanted text, scripted by three authors, contains banal reflections, odd stories, obsessive babble and mere rant... With no attempt to present real emotion, movement is executed in a robotic trance by individuals drained of all personality, gurning and pointing... such stuff is flatulently pretentious in its wilful opacity and without aesthetic, intellectual or spiritual substance. It is also asphyxiatingly tedious and left me wanting to scream.

Heggie Holocaust Work Premiere in Seattle

The world premiere of Jake Heggie's Another Sunrise, with libretto by Gene Scheer, took place last night in Seattle's Benaroya Hall, under the auspieces of Music of Remembrance. The concert also included works by Pavel Haas and Szymon Laks, with the Northwest Boychoir performing Yiddish and Hebrew folk songs, arranged by Viktor Ullman at the Terezín concentration camp.

Heggie's work is based on the memoir I Survived Auschwitz by Krystyna Zwyulska, a Polish resistance fighter who was captured and sent to Auschwitz in 1942. Heggie learned of the book from her son, and later got a commission for this song cycle from Music of Remembrance. The organization had earlier commissioned Heggie's and Scheer's For a Look and a Touch for baritone and actor. Heggie has said:

I’m particularly inspired by stories of social justice and the inequities of life, and how we are all connected as human beings despite those inequities. The full breadth of Krystyna Zywulska’s work as a memoirist, poet and satirist is still being revealed and given new appreciation. Her story cries out to be told through theater and poetry.

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