May 20, 2014
May 20, 2014
Who knew? The best way to stay employed is to make music ... Silent-ly.
Whether you know his name or not, among the most famous participants in the 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, May 29-June 1 at the Castro Theatre, is Donald Sosin.
The name should be familiar to both music and film fans because Sosin has composed, performed, and recorded an incredible 1,000-plus film scores. How is that possible? I asked Sosin and he explained what he is doing:
"Written" means improvised scores that I record live (in addition to many dozen features and shorts recorded for DVD on the Criterion, Kino, Milestone, and European labels), and a dozen or so scores for various instrumental combinations from jazz trios and chamber groups to chamber orchestras.
I have more than 30 years’ worth of recordings of countless films. For TCM alone I have recorded 50-60 shorts and about eight features have been aired, from Fritz Lang’s Spies to De Mille’s King of Kings, and three Chinese films including The Goddess, Wild Rose, and The Peach Girl.
But asked specifically about the advertised 1,000 films (according to a press release), Sosin wrote: "I guess. The number is so inaccurate, I really have no idea. 40 years x 80-100 films a year, with a lot of repeats at this point, but always new material ... accompanied 1000+ and recorded many of them for DVD and television' may be the best way to say it."
Activity by Stephen Horne, already regaled in this column, must be on Sosin's level. Both will attend and perform at the upcoming festival.
For a few quick samples of Sosin's work, see Origins of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, a quirky short from 1909, produced and probably directed by Thomas Edison — yes, that Edison; and the beyond-bizarre 1927 King of Kings (look for Mary Magdalene's carriage drawn by zebras).
Sosin's appearances in the Castro Theatre include The Song of the Fishermen, 1 p.m. on May 30; The Good Bad Man, 10 a.m. on May 31; Under the Lantern, 7 p.m. on May 31; Seven Years Bad Luck, 10 a.m. on June 1; and The Sign of Four, 5 p.m. on June 1.
Festival director Anita Monga calls special attention to the music of the silents, an element much more important than in the subsequent era of the Talkies, when music became mostly background sound behind all that chatter:
The silent film era is known for its brilliant music as much as its legendary performances. The 19th Silent Film Festival continues to enhance the silent film experience with live musical performances at each screening at the historic Castro Theatre.
Each year, we are grateful to have a group of talented musicians add another dimension to the diverse selection of films that left a significant mark in cinematic history.
Among musicians at the festival in addition to Sosin and Horne: Serge Bromberg, the Matti Bye Ensemble from Sweden, Colorado-based quintet Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and Freiburg Filmharmonic Orchestra founder Guenter Buchwald.
May 20, 2014
With his nostalgia for the good old Stalinist days, the Russian president might just hop over to the Castro Theatre, when the S.F. Silent Film Festival (see item above) features a rare collection of silent films from the 1920s-1930s USSR.
The Extraordinary Aventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks is Lev Kuleshov's 1924 manic satire about American ignorance of the Soviet Union. The screening at 10 p.m. on May 31 in the Castro will be accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble.
In an "American-style slapstick," a goofy YMCA executive in Harold Lloyd glasses and fur coat travels to Moscow with his cowboy sidekick/bodyguard Jeddy, and falls into the clutches of a motley group of thieves posing as Bolsheviks. He is eventually rescued by real Bolsheviks and takes a sightseeing tour of Moscow (in the 1920s!). Have to see to believe.
Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius of the Silent Movie Music Company accompany the May 30 (10 p.m.) screening of Vasili Zhuravlyov's 1936 Cosmic Voyage, a Communist Youth League-sponsored science fiction, taking place just 10 years into the future. By then, according to the film, the Soviet space program will be going to the moon ... if only bureaucrats could be overcome.
Mikhail Tsekhanovskiy's 1929 Pochta Mail, called "a masterpiece of Soviet animation," tells the story of a letter traveling around the world. It's shown at 9 p.m. on June 1, a short before the festival-closing The Navigator.
May 20, 2014
Coincidentally while looking through the material about the musicians involved in the S.F. Silent Film Festival, I was listening to Shinichiro Ikebe's haunting soundtrack to Shohei Imamura's Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, and don't want to miss the chance to call attention to Ikebe.
(A formative figure and leader of Japanese cinema's New Wave, Imamura is as widely revered in Japan as Akira Kurosawa is known worldwide — not that Imamura's two Palme d'Or awards at Cannes are chopped chicken liver.)
Ikebe is similar to Imamura in being better known in his country and in Europe than in the U.S., although chances are you heard his works without knowing the name.
Ikebe not only wrote the great scores for Kagemusha, MacArthur's Children, Kurosawa's Dreams, The Eel, Kagemusha, Rhapsody in August, and many other films, but his orchestral works and operas have been performed in Austria and Italy.
Beyond his film music, check out his Third and Fifth Symphonies.
May 20, 2014
Several generations in the recent past received their first major exposure to classical music from Mickey Mouse, Hyacinth Hippo, Elephanchine, et.al. Walt Disney's 1940 movie Fantasia engraved animated scenes in the minds of millions with music by Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Stravinsky, Ponchielli, and Dukas. Leopold Stokowski (real, not animated), conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra.
San Francisco Symphony will offer a combination of the original film and scenes from Fantasia 2000 screened on May 31 and June 1, with the home-team orchestra playing the score. SFS Director of Artistic Planning John Mangum explains:
For the previous films in this season’s film series, the score needed to be scrubbed from the soundtrack in order to play the film with dialogue and sound effects. Since there is no dialogue for the Fantasia, this process is not necessary; we simply project the scenes without any sound, allowing the San Francisco Symphony to accompany the action.
In order to keep the orchestra in time with the film, our conductor, Sarah Hicks, has an in-ear click track. She also has a small video monitor in front of her displaying what’s being projected on the screen, overlaid with all sorts of visual information to indicate downbeats and cues.
Unlike the 1940 film, which opened with the (Philadelphia) orchestra filing in to the stage and a narrator explaining what is to follow, the SFS presentation — a hybrid of the two films — won't have a narrative component, just a sequence of individual scenes.
May 20, 2014
Saved not by the bell, but a surge of civic pride and action, San Diego Opera has reversed its former administration's decision to close, and the new leadership last night announced a 2015 season — the company's 50th.
After the former board chair resigned and executive director was fired, the company somehow managed to rally and stay alive. As reported Monday by The Los Angeles Times:
San Diego Opera has officially reversed its decision to shut down and has announced a scaled-back 2015 season that will consist of three main-stage productions, down from the slate of four productions seen in recent years.
The announcement at a news conference Monday comes as the opera attempts to raise at least $6.5 million toward the new season. The company said that it has raised about $4 million toward that goal, with $2.1 million coming through crowd-sourcing.
Officials at the opera said the budget for 2015 season will be roughly $10.5 million. The balance not covered by donations is expected to be covered by earned income, which includes ticket sales.
In recent years, the opera had reported seasonal operating budgets of about $15 million.
The 2015 season, which will mark the company's 50th anniversary, will be made up of productions of La bohème, Don Giovanni and John Adams' Nixon in China. A company spokesman said that the operas had been chosen by Ian Campbell, the company's former general and artistic director, before the March decision to shut down.
May 20, 2014
Classic Arts Showcase, the late Lloyd Rigler's magnificent contribution to performing arts, is turning 20 this month.
The 24-hour non-commercial satellite channel broadcasting is seen on many public TV stations, offering a varied mix of animation, ballet, chamber, choral music, dance, folk art, museum art, musical theater, opera, orchestral, recital, solo instrumental, solo vocal, and theatrical play, as well as classic film and archival documentaries.
Self-described on its website as "Classical MTV," the channel features great artists as well as many rare and independent performances and videos. An eight-hour mix of video clips is prepared weekly and broadcast three times daily. Text displayed on the screen provides details about the recording, and encourages viewers to gain inspiration and "go out and feast from the buffet of arts available in your community."
There is no published schedule and I, for one, relish the constant surprises videos provide, both old favorites and new experiences.
CAS was founded in 1994 and is completely funded by the Lloyd E. Rigler/Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation. It does not solicit any outside funding. Rigler died in 2003, but left at least 20 years of funding to the channel. CAS is offered free to any broadcaster, or public, educational, and government access (PEG) channel on a cable TV system that requests a feed. It is shown on more than 500 channels in the United States, as well as some in Canada.
For channel listing, see the CAS website; for San Francisco, for example, the best outlet on Comcast is ch. 32.
May 20, 2014
The much-ballyhooed (by some, including me) Volti (Ch)oral Argument took place last weekend, and here is a stereo view of it:
First, Mike Strickland (aka "SF Mike") reported from last week's rehearsal:
It was a fascinating 90 minutes of music [including rehearsal repeats as the work runs only 35 minutes], and though we only heard two out of the five moments, I was entranced. This is fiendishly difficult but accessible, exciting music. I still have a few earworms from the rehearsal two days later, unusual for new music. Ted Hearne has just been named S.F. Symphony's "New Voices Composer" for the next season, and it should be fun getting to know his music. He sounds like the real thing.
On Saturday, it was my turn, at the first performance, which was poorly attended but wonderfully performed. In the amazing acoustics of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, the entire concert was a thrilling experience. It's a continuing mystery how 20 voices, under Robert Geary's direction, can produce such a rich symphonic sound. In this city of many thousands of music lovers, why would less than a hundred turn out for such a rare opportunity to hear examplary performances of new music?
New works by veteran composer Kirke Mechem are exhilarating: "We can sing that!" is a hilarious, virtuoso piece; his Winging Wildly cycle from 1997 is a delight. Melissa Dunphy's 2014 The Oath of Allegiance takes the text of what she and newly naturalized Americans recite, as this Australian-born composer did when she became a citizen.
And then came the headline event, Ted Hearne's Sound from the Bench. Two guitarists and a percussionist presiding over a heap of electronics provided a stunning orchestral accompaniment and some substantial interludes, the Volti chorus storming heavens — music that is fascinating, challenging, and demands repetition.
And yet, when it comes to the whole of the work, befuddlement took over from admiration. The text is a mix of the Supreme Court transcript for Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which upheld and fortified a 128-year-old decision (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad) construing the 14th Amendment to apply to corporations and so recognizing them as "persons."
The problem is not that the subject is complex (which it is), but Hearne's and librettist Jenna Osman's selection of disconnected and meaningless text from the bench, such as "Why don't you tell us," "is that a yes?", mixed in with equally puzzling phrases from other court decisions, a 1906 poem ("when you hear"), Osman's own "simple surgery," and so on.
One obvious explanation is that Hearne is presenting something just as nonsensical as he regards the court decision about corporate personhood, reflecting the dissonance between common sense and anthropomorphizing big business, but it's too obtuse and confusing. Still, the music is outstanding, and Citizens is an outrage.
May 20, 2014
Monday night, at the Community Music Center's Spring Gala in the Mark Cavagnero-designed SFJAZZ, CMC Executive Director Christopher Borg announced that Cavagnero has been selected to design a new home for the organization, long squeezed into a small — if impressive — space in the Mission.
Founded in 1921, the Center serves 2,300 students annually, along with hundreds of seniors in coaching, training, and public performances. The Capp Street facility is cramped, very much at capacity, with waiting lists for prime lesson times, and offsite teaching due to limited classroom space.
The $10-12 million project, starting with the 2012 purchase of the property next to the Mission District Branch (in the photo, the current Center is on the right, the additional building on the left), received a big boost with gifts from CMC’s board of directors and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, coupled with financing from the Northern California Community Loan Foundation. Borg said:
We believe that music transforms lives and that everyone should have access to a high quality music education.The expanded campus will prepare Community Music Center well for our second century of serving Bay Area residents.
Integrating the Victorian next door to CMC’s home at 544 Capp Street will nearly double the center’s capacity to offer music lessons and classes. When the campus is completed, students, faculty, staff and performers will enjoy more teaching studios, ensemble rehearsal spaces, work areas, and a state-of-the-art renovated concert hall.
May 20, 2014
West Bay Opera's next production is Mozart's The Magic Flute in a production combining video projections (by Frèdèric Boulay) and traditional set pieces (Jean François Revon). The fairytale unfolds with what music director and conductor José Luis Moscovich describes as "somewhat abbreviated German dialogues." (And let's hope they are really reduced; it's the music the audience wants to hear.) The stage director is German-born Daniel Witzke, active in Austrian opera houses.
Young artists and renowned veterans constitute the cast: Eugene Brancoveanu (Papageno), Kirk Eichelberger (Sarastro), Liisa Dávila (Liù in the WBO Turandot), Molley Mahoney and Michelle Rice are the Three Ladies; from the East Coast, Ellen Teufel debuts as Pamina, Brian Kuhl is Tamino; and from the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program, Dana Pundt is the Queen of the Night. Michael Desnoyers returns as Monostatos.
The Magic Flute was first presented at West Bay Opera in 1964, revived in 1974, 1996, and 2005. Performances are May 23-June 1, in the Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto.
May 20, 2014
Ever-resistant to corporate announcements and marketing/sales prose, I asked Festival del Sole Director and Co-Founder Richard Walker to say "something in line with the news/human interest emphasis of this column — something specific and interesting, not just advertising." Did he? You'll be the judge [I added some useful links]:
Each season of Napa Valley Festival del Sole has been better than the one before, and this year is no exception. With more than 60 events over 10 days, we have a line-up that we hope will fascinate and inspire.
We are especially looking forward to presenting the West Coast debut of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra [an all-black and Hispanic professional ensemble], and the world premiere of Carlo Ponti's LA Virtuosi. Ballet sensation Polina Semionova headlines this year's Dance Gala, and Cuban jazz icon Arturo Sandoval and the Concord Jazz All Stars perform under the stars at Meadowood.
Our vocal series includes Maria Agresta, James Valenti, Matthew Polenzani, Monica Mancini, an an opera gala, and and the festival's first-ever chamber opera, Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, directed by Jamie Bernstein.
We take pride in introducing the stars of tomorrow through the admission-free Bouchaine Young Artist series, and this year we are presenting soprano Julia Bullock, double bassist Xavier Foley, and the Sphinx Virtuosi.
Did I mention the tribute to Sophia Loren? Or the more than 100 Napa Valley wineries participating through spectacular luncheons, dinners, after parties, and the Taste of Napa showcase on July 12, offering the most exceptional epicurean experience you can find in Napa Valley for under $50? From family concerts to wellness programs, one-of-a-kind culinary and wine experiences to intimate concerts in gorgeous settings, there is truly something for everyone at Festival del Sole.
To my response that it sounds very much like "MarComm" (marketing communication), Walker replied that "There is so much going on that it defies an easy description in a sentence or two, and by describing it in broader terms, it may come across that way to you. But it is genuine. I believe passionately that there is nothing like this festival, anywhere, and that it is evolving into something extraordinary."
May 20, 2014
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg’s seventh season as music director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra will feature a commissioned new work from Derek Bermel, guest violinist Glenn Dicterow leading masterworks from the string chamber repertoire, the ensemble's first performance at the Green Music Center, and a first-time collaboration with the San Francisco Girls Chorus in a program of holiday music.
Dicterow, the outgoing New York Philharmonic concertmaster, retiring after 34 years, is making an important guest appearance with the ensemble. He will lead works by Brahms and Mozart.
In four subscription concerts, New Century performs a wide range of repertoire spanning four centuries including Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, Mahler’s transcription of the Schubert String Quartet D.810 ("Death and the Maiden"), Brahms’ Sextet for Strings in Bb Major, Mozart’s Divertimento K. 136, the Bizet-Shchedrin Carmen Suite, and Arvo Pärt's Fratres.
Composer/virtuoso clarinetist Bermel appears as a performer on the season opening program and returns later in the season to introduce a commissioned new work for string orchestra. Salerno-Sonnenberg takes the stage as soloist for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in a program that features a variety of holiday classics and the San Francisco Girls Chorus. The concerts will be presented throughout the Bay Area.
May 20, 2014
If you heard the San Francisco Symphony's subscription concerts last week or even if you read any of the reviews, you certainly don't need another instance of uncontrolled gushing, so this note is just for my own indulgence.
Having heard Tetzlaff, the Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2, and the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas many, many times each, this combination of the three was an unprecedented and amazing experience. The irrestible sweep of the work, the soloist's huge, radiant sound, MTT's mastery of pulling it all together, every section of the orchestra performing at optimum — this was the reward for all investment in music. It's too bad that no video of the concert exists, but at least the performance has been recorded, and may be heard on KDFC-FM in a couple of weeks — check the program schedule.
May 20, 2014
Former UCSF Official Named to LA Philharmonic Position
Kathleen Kane has been appointed to the position of Vice President of Philanthropy with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, responsible for management of all the organization's fund-raising efforts, including annual fund, major gifts, grants, corporate sponsorships, planned giving, volunteer services, etc.
Kane joins the Philharmonic from City of Hope in Los Angeles, where she was most recently the Chief Philanthropy and External Relations Officer. Before moving to L.A. in 2004, Kane held several senior development positions at the University of California, San Francisco, including Associate Vice Chancellor, University Development and Alumni Relations and Vice President, UCSF Foundation, where she planned a successful $1.6 billion campus-wide campaign.
Calleja Portrays Caruso ... But Not Here
So far there are no Bay Area theaters scheduled to screen The Immigrant, a film in which tenor Joseph Calleja portrays Enrico Caruso. Directed by James Gray, and opening last weekend only in New York and Los Angeles, the film features Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard as a young Polish woman struggling to realize the American dream in a 1920s New York, as well as Jeremy Renner, and Joaquin Phoenix.
The Maltese tenor's Decca album Amore was released in the U.S. last fall, the recording inspired by great tenors of the past — Caruso, Beniamino Gigli and Tito Schipa among them.
Singer Takes On Critics
Feuding with critics is generally regarded as not a good idea, but Alice Coote is breaking new ground with her open letter on Monday to Norman Lebrecht about the issue of a singers' appearance.
Lebrecht has just collected — with disapproval — references to Tara Erraught (Octavian) at Glyndebourne as "chubby ... dumpy ... stocky," and Coote responded:
If a voice is right for a role and can sing it better than anyone else, it’s more important to have that VOICE singing on a stage than any other. Despite whether you like the way they look or not. We cannot people our operatic stages with singers that above all are believable visually or sexually attractive to our critics. That way lies the death of opera. This is not in any case a believable art form ... who are we kidding?
But it is one that can move humans in ways that they cannot explain. And in ways that make them fall in love with great voices singing great music. Opera will die if audiences have only average looking, average singing humans walking around in interesting (or average) looking productions.
There has been widespread reaction to Coote's statement, not so much about the appearance issue, but because of her absolutist stand on the primacy of voice. Financial Times critic Martin Bernheimer told SFCV: "I think ideally opera is a fusion of music and drama. I don't think it is just about voices (though egocentric singers may think that)."
Sleep-Art and the Art of Sleep
Yes, really, a whole new fad of performance art is producing shows where the audience is expected to sleep.
Sort of defeats the whole purpose of going to a theater or concert hall to see and hear something. And surely, you get a better sleep at home for free than in some strange place for $100 and more.
'Donna Racik, Opera's Human Safety Net'
Corey Kilgannon writes about Met prompter Donna Rasik (a colleague of Bay Area's Jonathan Khuner) in The New York Times on Saturday:
Chances are that even devoted regulars at the Metropolitan Opera are not familiar with Donna Racik.
She is an onstage presence during performances but goes unseen by the audience, and her name goes unmentioned on the cast list of performers.
She has sung in numerous operas, yet she is not an opera singer. She regularly conducts for opera singers during performances, yet she is not an orchestra conductor.
“It’s a totally hidden job, and that’s what it’s supposed to be,” Ms. Racik said.
She is a prompter, and her job is critical to the seamless performances that audiences expect from one of the world’s great opera companies.
“There are very few people who do this, so when people ask what I do, I usually tell them that I’m an extra pair of hands for the conductor,” said Ms. Racik, who during rehearsals and performances is inside a tiny booth at the edge of the stage, at shoe level with the performers.
The prompter’s box is next to the orchestra pit and opens toward the performers, concealing Ms. Racik from the audience. From her perch, she guides singers by providing them cues, mouthing or speaking words to the singers as their lines of music come up ...