Music News: Nov. 26, 2013
Music News is supported in part by Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C.
A century ago, Irish and German Jewish descendants of immigrants founded the San Francisco Symphony. Their Italian counterparts funded and participated in the creation of San Francisco Opera.
How about 2013? Who and where are similar generous newcomer art supporters among the influx of today's geographic and generational immigrants — vastly more well-to-do than most arts benefactors a hundred years ago?
Technology firms have taken root in the Bay Area since the 1960s, but their full impact here is only about three decades old, Silicon Valley dominating the region with amazing power and impact. Then, more recently, daily news of billions of dollars in play upped the ante significantly.
Even at the other end of the country, The New York Times noted in a front page story on Monday "... a tipping point, a moment that crystallized the anger building here toward the so-called technorati for driving up housing prices and threatening the city’s bohemian identity..."
With the estimated 1,600 new millionaires created by Twitter's IPO, in addition to other new stock market explosions in the tech sector, and the ongoing prosperity of Apple, Google, Oracle, and others, there are huge societal/economic/political question rising ... none of which will be discussed here.
The intended single (although still whopping) subject is the relationship between all those technology riches in the area and support for the performing arts, especially classical music. Thanks to virtually instant responses from some busy people (in Thanksgiving week at that), here are the thoughts of several arts community leaders:
San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley
There has been increased interest, if not a lot of immediate cash support, from tech sector people in direct proportion to their age and where they have chosen to live. The older one gets — on average — the more the classical arts resonate emotionally and intellectually.
The 40-somethings are more interested than the 20-somethings. They also have more realized cash — as opposed to paper wealth — to play with, and getting meaningfully involved with the Symphony or Opera takes cash. Being empty-nesters and living in the city, as opposed to the Peninsula, also play a role. I am optimistic about meaningful support growing from this sector, but it will be slow to materialize.
(As reported here previously, San Francisco Opera has made major strides in involving "leaders and innovators in the global tech arena" by electing seven of them to the Board of Directors, and naming Keith Geeslin, of Francisco Partners, a leading global private equity firm, president of the Opera Association.)
San Francisco Symphony President Sakurako Fisher
Our San Francisco community is changing in many ways, including a strong influx of technology, social media and digital entrepreneurism right next door to the Civic Center Arts District.
Turning these new tech leaders and residents into patrons and philanthropists of the arts takes time, so for us it is first and foremost about creating meaningful connections for them to our music, to make sure they understand the Symphony is a vital and lively part of their landscape. We have seen a great deal of support and enthusiasm from tech sector leaders on our board, not just in their philanthropy, but in their thinking about how we adapt to all the change that is available to us.
We are encouraged and inspired by their enthusiasm for innovation and look forward to building even stronger connections with this growing creative community.
Oakland East Bay Symphony and Sacramento Philharmonic Music Director Michael Morgan
[Involvement and support are] so far very sporadic. When we do thematic programming that interests them (for example our Notes from Persia concerts) we get support but we have been unable to convince them that there is ongoing value in us as unique elements of community building, particularly when they see so much economic and social need around them.
We need to demonstrate the value of literally bringing people together across all boundaries thereby making society better. So there is fault in both directions that we haven't found each other.
There's also the problem of getting lightening fast 21st century minds to be attracted to essentially 19th century institutions with limited ability to add high-tech elements. Although we're always looking for ways to bring 21st century sensibilities particularly to arts education.
Opera San José General Director-Elect Larry Hancock
We regularly receive contributions from foundations that are deeply involved with technology, such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and Opera San José has enjoyed a major project with the Packard Humanities Institute (Idomeneo) as well as other very significant support (and look forward to future PHI projects).
In past decades, we received a significant portion of annual contributed income from tech companies, but now nearly all have reduced or eliminated contributing directly to the arts, instead choosing to fund essential math/science tutoring and other educational projects. However, important gifts do come to us from tech firms through employee matching grants.
Last season, matching funds from corporations amounted to nearly $58,000. It is more difficult to assess gifts from individuals employed by tech companies who do not utilize matching programs. I can't make an good evaluation as I could be leaving out significant donors whose place of employment is unknown to Opera San José.
Today, with the exception of Applied Materials (through their foundation), which has long been a generous donor to Opera San José, we rarely receive grants directly from technology companies.
Z Space Executive Director Lori Laqua
I recently attended a town hall meeting of nonprofits and eight tech companies that are moving into San Francisco's mid-Market (Street) area. Under discussion; the Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) that these companies have signed as part of their payroll tax exclusion — a perk for relocating their corporate offices in the heart of S.F.
While the meeting was at times contentious, I do think that the tech sector that is moving into S.F. is trying to understand the need to maintain the culture of the city, from maintaining traditional ethnic and neighborhood cultures all the way to the arts. Most of these companies, wooed and heralded by City Hall, have moved into retail locations that, for the most part, have been vacant and derelict for some time.
For its part, City Hall is showing some effort by making the CBAs part of the incentive packages, and initiatives to bring new life into the City should not be dismissed out of hand.
But we’re missing a great opportunity. The tech companies (or any company for that matter) need to imbue their organization with a culture of giving, of generosity, and of community. Writing checks is a short term solution. As is an economic boost — the city government needs to take a broad view when considering the vitality of the city, from economics to education to social services.
I believe that by bringing the arts into the equation when negotiating future incentives, we could make strides on all fronts. Companies with employees who actively seek to give back ... A thriving arts community ... A government that facilities the relationship between the two ... Sounds like a nice place to live.
To be continued, in Music News and the area's music life ...
San Francisco's Opera, Symphony, and Conservatory os Music have long made advances to China, with its potential audience of 1.35 billion, but the news — in the The New York Times yesterday which prompted the column item above — ratchets the subject to a national/international level:
This week IMG Artists, a major representative of classical musicians in the West, announced a new partnership with the China Arts and Entertainment Group, a huge arts and entertainment company in China.
Their new venture, called Sino American Global Entertainment, aims to create new paths for performances and marketing in both countries.
"I believe China is the fastest-growing classical music market," Zhang Yu, the chairman of the board and president of the China Arts and Entertainment Group, said in an interview, noting that tens of millions of children in China are learning to play the piano or violin, and that new theaters and concert halls are being built throughout the nation.
Jerry Inzerillo, the president and chief executive officer of IMG Artists, said that he hoped the new venture would be able to present some of the major talent emerging from China in the West, and to present more western musicians in China, where he said the growing audience for classical music was generally much younger than audiences are in America and Europe.
Asked what some of the joint ventures first projects might be, Mr. Zhang said, "I think first we need to get married, and then we will have children."
Both General Director Irene Dalis, 88, and Music Director David Rohrbaugh are retiring at the end of the current season, the 30th since Dalis founded the company. Rohrbaugh too has been with Opera San José for three decades.
General Manager Larry Hancock, 63, will succeed Dalis, and the incoming music director is Joseph Marcheso, currently conducting Hansel & Gretel through Dec. 1.
Rohrbaugh's last appearance in the pit as music director will be for Madama Butterfly in February. Rohrbaugh has conducted some 600 performances in 70 Opera San José productions.
HD to theaters, streaming on computers, etc. — we need one word to include various forms of transmitting opera (and ballet, plays, and more, but that's another story), so here's my contribution: "Tele-Opera." It may not fly, but it will have to do for now.
Following San Francisco Opera's fabulous production of Falstaff, stand by for the Metropolitan's greatly promising version, in Robert Carsen's Covent Garden staging and conducted by James Levine, in local theaters on Dec. 14, beginning at 9:55 a.m. Pacific Time.
Ambrogio Maestri sings the title role, Angela Meade appears as Alice Ford, Stephanie Blythe as Mistress Quickly, Lisette Oropesa as Nannetta, Jennifer Johnson Cano as Meg Page, Paolo Fanale in his Met debut as Fenton, and Franco Vassallo as Ford.
Repeating briefly (from last week's column): The live streaming of Munich's Frau ohne Schatten on Dec. 1 at 9 a.m. Pacific Time, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski; featuring Johan Botha, Adrianne Pieczonka, Deborah Polaski, Wolfgang Koch, and Elena Pankratova.
For the 10th anniversary of Martín Benvenuto leading the Peninsula Women's Chorus as artistic director and conductor, the group has commissioned a work by Los Angeles composer Kirstina Rasmussen, based on works by Bay Area poet Francisco X. Alarcón.
Songs of Night, says the composer, "explore the many connotations of night — including darkness, light, possibility, and dreams." One section is called Oportunidad.
It depicts a conversation between two friends, sharing their opposite reactions to a power outage in the city. I chose to first emphasize the negative viewpoint — with many voices chaotically repeating "the city has no electricity, what a nightmare!" — underscored by a dissonant, rushed, and disjunct piano part depicting honking cars, halting traffic and harrowed nerves.
The chaos melts into openness, as the poem shifts to the optimistic view of the outage. A solo voice sings the words "a chance to count the stars," unhurried, savoring every note. The earlier piano dissonances are revoiced in shimmering arpeggiations, and the rest of the chorus is won over, as they look up to the sky.
This piece is warmly dedicated to Martín Benvenuto, who has shared his love of song with countless people throughout his career, in both Argentina and the United States.
For me, this commission was about bringing together three things that I love: the epigrammatic, soulful and pointed poetry of Francisco, the sincere and unapologetic expressiveness of Kirstina's music, and the talented and dedicated women of the PWC, who all care deeply about the power of song.
Songs of Night will have its premiere on Dec. 7, at the PWC's first of three holiday programs, Illuminate the Night, in St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, followed by an afternoon concert in the same venue on Dec. 14, and finally on Dec. 15 in St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park.
Also on the program: Os Mutorum by James MacMillan; Eatnemen Vuelie (Beautiful Savior) by Norwegian composer Frode Fjellheim; Venite Exultemus Domino by Hungarian composer Levente Gyöngyösi.
The concerts culminate with an audience favorite, the late Conrad Susa’s festive Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the American Southwest, a collection of songs originally from Spain, Catalunya, Puerto Rico, and Mexico; the set is accompanied by harp, guitar, and marimba.
Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concerthall streams live videos of concerts and maintains a large archive — some at a fee, some for free. Among free services is a wondrous storehouse of 164 lectures and interviews with some of top artists of today.
The lineup includes — naturally enough — Berlin Philharmonic Music Director Simon Rattle, Thomas Quasthoff, Peter Sellars, Karl-Heinz Steffens, Daniel Harding, Christian Gerhaher, and many, many more.
Closer to home (as if geography mattered on the Internet), the San Francisco Symphony offers a Watch, Listen & Learn, a group of special video programs, and pointers to other SFS website. Also, there is the Symphony's YouTube site with many music videos.
Berkeley Symphony's Under Construction Series presenting new works by young composers has a new partnership for the 2013-2014 season. EarShot (the National Orchestral Composition Discovery Network) is participating in the project, which has selected four composers for the next series:
* Siavan Eldar, 28, San Francisco, A Thousand Tongues
* B. P. Herrington, 37, Conroe, TX, A Country Lovelier
* Ruben Naeff, 32, Brooklyn, NY, title to be announced
* Nicholas S. Omiccioli, 31, Kansas City, MO, burning (2013.14) for orchestra
Public presentations of these rehearsal-presentation-performance events are at 7 p.m. on Feb. 2 and May 4 at Osher Studio in Berkeley.
Under Construction has served as an incubator for emerging composers for more than 20 years, offering the opportunity to develop skills and gain practical experience in writing for a professional orchestra. Each selected composer will workshop and complete one large symphonic work to be presented at two separate readings, allowing composers the chance to hear their concepts realized and audiences the opportunity to have a window into the creative process.
They will regularly meet with composers Edmund Campion and Robert Beaser in private and small group sessions, receive feedback and orchestration lessons from Music Director Joana Carneiro, as well as participate in workshops led by key orchestra members.
Laura Evans has been appointed to the newly created position of director of music programs, education and engagement for Stanford Live, Stanford University’s performing arts presenter and producer. Evans has served as the artistic administrator for San Francisco’s SFJAZZ since 2000, where she most recently managed the programing and artistic planning for the new SFJAZZ Center. The appointment is effective next week.
Evans will report to executive director Wiley Hausam, and will be responsible for curating the selection of music programs for Bing Concert Hall.
Ensemble Galilei is following up its acclaimed appearance here last year with a new program, which appears tailor-made for the holiday season: "A Winter’s Night: Music and Poetry for the Solstice."
Coming from a successful premiere in Annapolis, MD, and narrated by NPR’s Neal Conan, performances will be given at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley on Dec. 4, and at the Glaser Center in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Rosa on Dec. 6.
The Ensemble offers a blend of Irish, Scottish, early, and original music on a variety of ancient and modern instruments, including the Celtic harp, Scottish small pipes, viola de gamba, fiddle, recorders, whistles, and percussion. The group is equally at home with Irish Reels, Medieval Cantiges, and English country dance tunes.
Since beginning in 1990, Ensemble Galilei has redefined the boundaries of chamber music, created new work, seized opportunities for collaborative relationships, and pushed the envelope in a series of innovative projects that explore combinations of images, words, and music. The group features Ryan McKasson on fiddle and viola, Jackie Moran on percussion, Sue Richards on Celtic harp, Kieran O'Hare on uillean pipes and Carolyn Anderson Surrick on viola da gamba.
The poetry and prose that are interspersed incorporate a wide variety of works from renowned American writers such as Jim Harrison, Mary Sarton, Jack London, Ogden Nash, and others.
The Conservatory Opera Program presents Puccini's La bohème at two free performances in the Conservatory Concert Hall, at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, and at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8.
The production is directed by Michael Mohammed, conducted by Curt Pajer, with piano accompaniment by Darryl Cooper.
In the cast: Justin Bays (Schaunard), Aisha Campbell (Mimi), Reid Pierre Delahunt (Alcindoro), Chris Filipowicz (Colline), Jonathan Pillow (Marcello), Sydney Ragland (Rodolfo), and Lydia Zodda (Musetta).
Although admission is free, advance reservations are required by calling (415) 503-6275.
Views of the Minnesota Orchestra's tragedy from London and New York last week couldn't be more different.
London Times music critic Richard Morrison writes in BBC Magazine that the plight of the Minnesota Orchestra is "all too symptomatic of what's happening in many American musical institutions," citing recent strikes or lockouts in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Detroit.
Morrison then comes to a simple and utterly wrong conclusion:
All these disputes have a common cause. On one side are the musicians and technicians, backed by hardline unions brandishing rule books drawn up in the palmy 1950s.
On the other side are managements faced with hugely diminished endowments, a prolonged recession affecting sponsorship and donations ...
One side bad; one side good and downtrodden. Can anything be that simple? Of course not. For a balanced report on the same important subject, there is Alex Ross in the current New Yorker.
He doesn't make it one-sided (bringing up, for example, how "well-paid musicians in Chicago and San Francisco lacked the nobility of the players’ stand in Minnesota"), but he puts the blame where it belongs (management incompetence in Minneapolis) and posits that the Chicken Little act is premature: Professional worriers in the classical business have portrayed the Minnesota and the City Opera situations as symptoms of a systemic disease. To be sure, many other institutions find themselves on shaky footing. The Brooklyn Philharmonic, which has been struggling for years, currently has no staff. More than a few opera companies have scaled back their schedules and ambitions.
But other organizations are in surprisingly robust shape. The Chicago Symphony reported a record year of attendance and fund-raising. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is basking in wealth and thriving on innovation. The Cleveland Orchestra has increased revenue by attracting thousands of students to its concerts. And the Detroit Symphony is gradually rebounding from a fractious labor dispute a few seasons back, even as the city contemplates selling off some of its art collection. He could have added SFS to orchestras in a decent enough place financially, even in the immediate wake of the Great Recession, and numerous other organizations. But what about where the blame lies in Minneapolis and several other places?
Citing deficits, the Minnesota Orchestral Association had announced a 32% pay cut; the musicians balked, and the management locked them out. In the war of words that followed, the musicians easily held the high ground: the management had stooped to ruthless union-busting tactics, going so far as to buy up Internet domain names that could be used to support the musicians (SaveOurMinnesotaOrchestra, SaveOurOrchestra, and so on).
George Mitchell, the Northern Ireland peacemaker, tried to mediate a compromise: the musicians accepted his proposal, but the M.O.A. rejected it. A number of players have taken jobs elsewhere, although those who stayed have been mounting concerts on their own. The swift plunge of this magnificent orchestra looks to be one of the most flagrant cases of mismanagement in the recent history of American classical music.
Ross also calls to task New York City Opera's management for "a disastrous series of decisions in the period from 2007 to 2009, when it raided its endowment and put itself on a year’s hiatus," the 70-year-old company going out of business. Balancing the picture again, Ross adds: "Mismanagement cannot be blamed for all ills. Unions are too quick to jump into conflict mode ..." The larger picture:
If there is a crisis, it stems from the culture at large. The extant network of orchestras and opera houses is an artifact of a very different America. City Opera, a pet project of Fiorello LaGuardia, emerged from the ethos of the New Deal, when government funds were allotted to the propagation of the arts for the masses. These days, political leaders are largely absent from the discussion, and the winner-take-all economy is as prevalent in the arts as everywhere else. While smaller groups struggle, donors flock to the Met and other deluxe institutions. A week after City Opera’s demise, Juilliard announced a sixty-million-dollar gift from Bruce Kovner, a hedge-fund billionaire. Mayor Bloomberg, when asked about the fate of City Opera, feebly commented that "the business model doesn’t seem to be working." In the face of this mentality, it’s remarkable that "the People’s Opera," as LaGuardia called it, lasted as long as it did.