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Music News: May 27, 2014

May 27, 2014

Vive la Musique Francaise!

May 27, 2014

"Une soirée parisienne" performers: Roman Fukshansky, clarinet; Moni Simeonov, violin; Christine McLeavey Payne, piano; and Jonah Kim, cello French classical music is not an endangered genre in the Bay Area: San Francisco Symphony alone has just concluded subscription programs featuring Debussy's Images and coming up this week, Charles Dutoit conducts Poulenc's Gloria and Fauré's Requiem.

Still, you can never have enough of a good thing, so consider the June 20-21 First Festival of French Classical Music, presented by Alliance Française of Silicon Valley.

To be held in the Mountain View Community School of Music and Art's Tateuchi Recital Hall, the concerts present 28 Bay Area musicians in performance of music by Maurice Ravel, Ernest Chausson, Gabriel Fauré, Andre Jolivet, Darius Milhaud, Francois Poulenc, and Charles-Valentin Alkan; also songs made famous by Edith Piaf.

Music directors of the festival are the husband-and-wife conductor Mark Starr and flutist Isabelle Chapuis; general director is Max Bouchard, president of the Alliance Française of Silicon Valley. Starr says of the motivation to start the festival:

Northern California is particularly a Francophile region, and many French communities are established in the Bay Area. According to the French Consul of San Francisco, about 60,000 French people live in here, and a quarter of them work in the new technologies field.

The French are the largest European community in Northern California, a region rich in cultural diversity and historically influenced by French culture. The Alliance Française de Silicon Valley wishes to continue to honor and develop this rich heritage and relationship between French and American culture.

Among the many soloists are violinist Stephen Waarts (first-prize winner of the Menuhin International Violin Competition); pianist Gwendolyn Mok; mezzo-soprano Layna Chianakas; and Chapuis. Also participating: Ensemble San Francisco, a seven-member cooperative founded by clarinetist Roman Fukshansky and pianist Christine Payne McLeavey.

Gwendolyn MokThe rich and generous programming is evident in the June 20th program, "Une soirée parisienne," which opens with Milhaud’s jazzy 1923 ballet La creation du monde, which describes the creation of the world as told in African mythology. The music combines modernist musical techniques with forms from popular music, tinged with exotic rhythms from jazz and African folklore.

Clarinetist Roman Fukshansky and bassoonist Rufus Olivier join in Poulenc’s virtuoso romp, the Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon. Composed in 1922, Poulenc called it “an entertainment.”

Violinist Rebecca Jackson, accompanied by pianist Christine McLeavey Payne, will perform Ravel’s fiery Tzigane, a synthesis of elements from Gypsy music, requiring violin virtuosity.

Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 is passionate Romantic music, created during an emotional crisis in the life of the composer: his short-lived engagement with Marianne Viardot, the daughter of the celebrated opera singer Pauline Viardot. Christine McLeavey Payne is the featured pianist. Cellist Jonah Kim is on the program with a mélange of tunes made famous by Piaf.

On the second program, the major work is Chausson’s Concert pour violon, piano et quatuor a cordes, with Waarts and Mok as soloists.

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

Ragazzi Alumni Harmonies Soar Above Workday Technology

May 27, 2014


Off the Google bus and into a cappella harmonies Photo by David Allen"Contrary to popular imagination, tech workers don't all hop on the Google bus and head home for an evening of video games and chat rooms," Carla Befera advises. "Several spend their off hours perfecting a cappella harmonies, working through Welsh texts, discovering Appalachian hymns, and enjoying the classics."

The founder/CEO/Fairy Godmother of Carla Befera Public Relations speaks more from personal than professional motivation. Her support for Ragazzi Boys Chorus started with the participation of her own son, beginning at age 6 (he is now 23), and she has been fiercely supportive of the group through the years.

That passion is including Continuo, a graduate offshoot of Ragazzi, young men who just wanna sing. Not only that, but as you will see below, they are involved in some cool, even bizarre musical adventures. But first, back to Befera:

Men who hold down day jobs at Google (Daniel Crowley and Calvin Johnson), Apple (Charles Duyk), and a San Francisco start-up called Apporable (Zander MacQuitty) are among the singers of Continuo, a men's a cappella choir formed when these adults found themselves back in their native Bay Area and seeking a choir experience that offered the challenges and bonding they had found as boys in the famed Ragazzi program.

Continuo's current series of concerts, "Ex Corde: The Rhythm of the Land," repeated in Palo Alto on May 31 and in San Francisco on June 1, has some choice selections, from a cross-section of history, geography, and genres.

Will "Zikr" bring up memories of <em>Jodhaa Akbar</em>?Just a few examples:

* "Mogami Gawa Funa Uta (Mogami River Boat Song), traditional Japanese
* "Mata del Anima Sola," by Antonio Estevez, voices imitate traditional Venezuelan instruments
* "The Finlandia Hymn," by Sibelius, a Finnish patriotic song
* "Dravidian Dithyramb," from India
* "El Yivneh Hagalil," Hebrew folk song
* "Suo Gan," Welsh lullaby
* "Naduri," from the country of Georgia, includes unique yodeling technique
* "Esti dal" (Night Song), by Zoltán Kodály, based on a Hungarian folk song (some members of Continuo sang this as boys on Ragazzi's Eastern European tour in 1995)

And, "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah," a traditional Appalachian hymn, collaboratively arranged by Ragazzi Continuo, with a back story:

Vance George, director emeritus of San Francisco Symphony Chorus, helped us at two of our rehearsals this season, and when he saw we were performing this, told us this piece was originally brought to the Bay Area when it was performed a cappella at Grace Cathedral by an African American singer visiting from somewhere in Appalachia, and it was transcribed by someone Vance knew.

Vance started performing it with some of the choirs he directed, and Joyce Keil got her hands on it at some point and performed it with Ragazzi's Young Men's Ensemble (high school age group) when some of the current Continuo members were in that group.

And, the one whetting my appetite especially:

* "Zikr," by A.R. Rahman, the composer famous for soundtracks to innumerable Indian films, including Slumdog Millionaire, with Islamic text in Urdu language, based on traditional music of Whirling Dervishes.

Veteran readers of this column may recall my frequent plugs for one the best Rahman soundtracks (of his 170) in the Sufist tradition, "Khawaja Mere Khawaja," from Jodhaa Akbar.

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

National Brass Ensemble Project

May 27, 2014

Trombonist Timothy HigginsS.F. Conservatory Music (SFCM), Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and Sonoma State University's Green Music Center have joined to launch the National Brass Ensemble Project and introduce the National Brass Ensemble in the Bay Area, June 9-14.

In an unusual combination, the 1597 antiphonal music of Giovanni Gabrieli and a commission from John Williams will headline a concert on June 12, in Weill Hall. Gabrieli's Sacrae symphoniae is arranged by San Francisco Symphony principal trombonist and SFCM faculty member Tim Higgins.

A commercial recording of Gabrieli's Sacrae symphoniae and the Williams commission at Skywalker Sound will follow.

The Ensemble consists of 24 brass players and two percussionists from symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The project will expand to an annual San Francisco Bay Area residency to combine teaching and performances by the nation's foremost brass players.

SFCM President David H. Stull described the event as:

A project years in the making, the inaugural concert and recording of the National Brass Ensemble is not only an extraordinary achievement in its own right but an opportunity both for our students and for the world beyond to experience brass playing at the very highest level.

I am honored to have these musicians with us, and I look forward to developing an ongoing relationship with the National Brass Ensemble in an annual residency offering outstanding brass instruction and world-class performances in the San Francisco Bay Area."

Besides Higgins, Mark Inouye and Robert Ward are also both Conservatory faculty members and principal players with the S.F. Symphony.

Among other Ensemble members: Joseph Alessi, principal trombone, New York Philharmonic; David Bilger, principal trumpet, Philadelphia Orchestra; Nitzan Haroz, principal trombone, Los Angeles Philharmonic; Richard King, principal horn, Cleveland Orchestra; Chris Martin, principal trumpet, Chicago Symphony; and Philip Smith, principal trumpet, New York Philharmonic.

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

Landmark Die Frau ohne Schatten Broadcast on Sunday

May 27, 2014

Leonie Rysanek in the title role of <em>Die Frau ohne Schatten</em>One of the many peak experiences in the War Memorial during the Kurt Herbert Adler intendancy was the 1976 production of Richard Strauss' 1919 Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow), conducted by Karl Böhm in his San Francisco debut, and with the superb cast of Leonie Rysanek in the title role, Matti Kastu (the Emperor), Walter Berry (Barak), Ursula Schröder-Feinen (Barak’s Wife), and Ruth Hesse (the Empress’ Nurse).

That historic performance will be broadcast on KDFC-FM, beginning at 8 p.m. on June 1.

San Francisco Opera gave the opera's U.S. premiere in 1959. For the 1976 revival, Adler engaged a young German director, Nikolaus Lehnhoff, to create a new production. Lehnhoff became a company regular after that, his work for her culminating in San Francisco's acclaimed 1985 Ring cycle.

SFO Archivist Kori Lockhart writes:

In 1959, sets and costumes were designed by the young Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. There were two U.S. debuts that year: Edith Lang's and Mino Yahia's. Mary Costa was the Guardian of the Temple Gates and one of the Solo Voices; Louis Quilico was one of the Watchmen. The originally scheduled cast was to include Leonie Rysanek as the Empress, Eleanor Steber as the Dyer's Wife, and Otto Edelmann as Barak. Rysanek and Edelmann cancelled because of illness; Steber, who was learning the role for San Francisco, also bowed out. See the archive for the cast, including Irene Dalis as the Nurse. 1976 was the year we expanded the pit for the first time ever, in order to accommodate the large orchestra and Dr. Böhm. (The pit is now in a permanently expanded mode.) Prior to 1976, we either used reduced orchestrations for Strauss and Wagner operas, or jammed players under the stage in the torpedo room, as Fritz Reiner did in the 1930s, managing to sardine in a full complement of 100+ players into the small pit.

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

Left Coast: Changes Will Be Made

May 27, 2014

Left Coasters in Summer Reading: Jerome Simas (clarinet), Tanya Tomkins (cello), Eric Zivian (piano), Anna Presler (violin), Phyllis Kamrin (violin), and Kurt Rohde (viola) Photo by Jordan MurphyIn an unusual flurry of changes, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble concerts, "Summer Readings," June 8-9, have undergone ... alterations:

* Robert Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro has been added (replacing Schumann’s Märchenbilder)
* Leoš Janácek’s Pohádka (A Tale) has been added (Janácek’s Kreutzer Sonata stays on the program)
* Ursula Kwong-Brown’s Sonnet XX for Solo Cello has been added
* Eric Zivian’s new piece will not be performed

Isn't it amazing how most big symphonic and opera organizations can announce programs for months or even years ahead and stick to them? Another stray thought: There were many changes for all music organizations after 9/11 because of visa delays (or denials) for artists coming from abroad. That situation seems to have quieted down, which is all to the good: musicians and terrorists rarely mix.

Steven Anthony Jones, on the right, with Carl Lumbly and Margo Hall

And then, after this season-closing concert ... there will be another concert. Beyond "Summer Readings," Left Coast sticks with literature at a free concert in Oakland's Joyce Gordon Gallery on June 20, called "Reply to a Dead Man." The acclaimed veteran actor Steven Anthony Jones joins Left Coast musicians Stacey Pelinka (flute), Andrea Plesnarski (oboe), Phyllis Kamrin (viola), Michael Goldberg (guitar) and Michael Taddei (bass).

The work, repeated from concerts in March, inspired by Walter Mosley's short story, is set for actor and musicians with music by Laurie San Martin. It tells the transformation of the main character after an unexpected visitor arrives with a letter from his departed brother.

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

'Flutes by the Sea' at Half Moon Bay

May 27, 2014

Orioles Flute Choir Photo by Gala YaroshevskySan Francisco Flute Society presents "Flutes by the Sea," a series of masterclasses and concerts, June 8-12, in Half Moon Bay's Methodist Church.

Led by Flute Society founder Viviana Guzman and faculty members Barbara Siesel and Fluterscooter (aka Andrea Fisher), there will be masterclasses daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., evening concerts start at 7 p.m.

Participating organizations are Magic Flutes Orchestra, Bel Canto Flute Choir, Orioles Flute Choir. Additional faculty includes Janelle Barrera, Jane Lenoir, Keith Torgan, and Joanna Tse.

Performer and auditor participation applications are due before June 1. Fees are $495 and $295, respectively. Tickets for the June 8, 11, and 12 concerts are $25. For information, write to [email protected]

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

Imelda, the Musical

May 27, 2014

Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda in <em>Here Lies Love</em>, with director Alex Timbers (left) and composer David Byrne"Five years ago the renaissance pop musician/writer David Byrne decided to create a concept album about Imelda Marcos with Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita as one template and Imelda's adoration of disco music as another," reports Michael Strickland from New York.

"He collaborated with British DJ Fatboy Slim and had additional help with the music from Tom Gandey and J Pardo. The piece has meandered its way from stand-up concert and theatrical workshops to a full-blown production at the Public Theater called Here Lies Love, under the direction of Broadway director of the moment Alex Timbers.

"In the hyperactive, interactive staging by Director Timbers, the standing and dancing audience is herded around as the central stage is moved throughout the evening by a small army of pink jumpsuited, dancing supernumeraries. The audience is also instructed in basic disco dance routines at certain moments, and often the performers are clutching at them while singing inches away. I found myself at one point 'jumping to the sky' with Imelda on a stair step during the finale."

Strickland goes on with uncharacteristic total approval:

The show is highly recommended because it's never going to be this interesting again, unless you see it premiered in Metro Manila itself. Byrne's song cycle is characteristically brilliant, the performers are all superb, the stage director does everything but throw the kitchen sink at you, and the experience is strange, sweaty, intimate and loud (bring earplugs, particularly for the helicopter finale).

My favorite moment, oddly enough, is when all the multimedia stops, the amplification goes away, and a trio sing a new song by Byrne called “God Draws Straight,” a ballad about the day the Marcos regime was toppled, with lyrics taken from accounts by people who were there. And then we're back in the disco, singing "Here Lies Love" with Imelda, who by the way is still a congresswoman in The Philippines at age 83.

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

McKee Piano Competition Finals

May 27, 2014

Competition finalist Alice ZhuThe 17th annual Ross McKee Piano Competition final round will be held at 7 p.m. June 14 in the S.F. Conservatory of Music Recital Hall. The event is open to the public and admission is free.

The finalists are, in order of appearance at the concert: Hana Mizuta, 15, Los Altos; Alice Zhu, 16, Cupertino; Emily Kvitko, 17, Palo Alto; Hanson Tam, 16, Hillsborough; Tristan Yang, 15, Cupertino; Leyla Kabuli, 14, Oakland.

Each will perform a 20-minute program, including selections from Beethoven’s Op. 53 (“Waldstein”), Op. 90 and Op. 109 sonatas; Fazil Say’s Black Earth; Schumann's Romance, Op. 28; and selections from two Prokofiev sonatas.

Each contestant will also perform the competition's required piece, the Toccata from Triptych (2007), a work by San Francisco composer Joseph Stillwell.

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

'Cabal of Vindictive Dinosaurs'?

May 27, 2014

Tara Erraught Photo by Doug O’ConnorIn the continuing fury over English critics' highly questionable (obnoxious?) preoccupation with mezzo Tara Erraught's appearance, an Irish counter-critic is heard from.

Julia Molony minces no words in Ireland's The Independent about the Irish mezzo:

Is the British Opera press really a cabal of vindictive dinosaurs? I ask because last week, this otherwise fairly niche corner of the Fourth Estate has been catapulted from the back of the arts sections to the mastheads of the international press after they rounded on a bright, promising and embarrassingly talented Irish mezzo-soprano and savaged her, not for her singing, which is unanimously considered top-notch, but for her body shape.

Forget sexism, this is bullying. Had those comments been made about a young woman in the early stages of her career on say, social media, they would have been identified as bullying.

Tara Erraught is a rising star in her field — originally from Dundalk, she is now principal soloist in the Bavarian State opera ensemble. But that, at the moment, is no longer the most famous thing about her. Instead, that distinction goes to the reviews by five opera critics following her starring role in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne.

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

Chamber Music Concerts on Thursday

May 27, 2014

The Bella Trio — Nathanael Bartley, Mimi Lee, Eric Gaenslen — performs on June 26San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music's acclaimed annual event SFMusic Day Live + Free (the 2014 edition due in September at the S.F. Conservatory of Music) has been extended to a new bi-weekly series of concerts.

Beginning on June 12, with the Trinity Alps Chamber Players, SFMusic Thursdays will present a concert every other Thursday, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Center for New Music, 55 Taylor Street. General admission is $15; $10 for members.

On June 12, Ian Scarfe, piano; Edwin Huizinga, violin; Stephen Fine, viola; Hannah Addario-Berry, cello will perform music by Debussy, Prokofiev, and Brahms.

Future concerts:

* June 26, Bella Piano Trio
* July 10, Ben Goldberg
* July 24, Gojogo
* Aug. 7, Trio 180
* Aug. 21, Duo Camaraderie

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

Another Wang Tickles the Ivories

May 27, 2014

WangThere is a good reason Yuja Wang prefers to be called Yuja: "Wang," the romanization of several Chinese surnames written differently but sounding alike, is the most common surname in mainland China (of 1.34 billion).

Given those numbers, there must be many pianists with that surname, but the subject of this item is just one: Xiayin Wang, whose Rachmaninov CD is being released today by Chandos. The disc includes Piano Sonatas 1 and 2, and Preludes.

So many years after the Yellow River Piano Concerto, it feels somewhat dated for a Chinese artist to wonder about her acceptance in the West, but Xiayin Wang does it anyway:

I understand the point of how people categorize pianists from different nationalities and associate them with only their national music. But music is a truly international language, and music from different places still have similar ways in common to touch people. In fact, how one is moved by music doesn’t have to do with where it’s coming from, but the way it was written or the composer’s motivation or how the listener associates with it.

I have a love for colourful, emotional music that gets me motivated, that something inside me can have a conversation with when I play it. It might happen to be French, Russian, American or Chinese. At the age of eight or nine I was introduced to American jazz in Shanghai. I loved it, the rhythms, the lush chords, the harmonies.

Having been educated in the classics at Shanghai Conservatory, and receiving a technical foundation, she came to the U.S. where she found a different environment "because the teaching strategies are very different here. You are encouraged to think much more freely about the musicality, about the possibilities of how a piece can be played. And that gave me more space to identify who I am as a musician."

Her identity turned out to be strongly influenced by American music, performing and recording Barber, Copland, and Gershwin, and preparing new music written for her by Richard Danielpour, Marc Chan, Sean Hickey, and others. For examples of her range, see her play Wilde-Gershwin Etude No. 3, "The Man I Love" and the Schumann Piano Concerto.

Today, as her CD is released, Xiayin Wang is performing works by Hickey, Fauré, and Saint-Saëns at the Kaufman Music Center’s Merkin Concert Hall in New York.

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].