Primary tabs

Music News: Nov. 27, 2012

November 27, 2012

Livermore Experiment: Pulling Together

November 27, 2012

Bankhead Theater opening ceremony, 2007 Photo by Bill NaleIt's a continuing puzzle why performing arts organizations — all facing ongoing budget challenges — do not collaborate more. Pooling resources and sharing assets make good sense, but it rarely happens, and when it does, it's not sustained.

In the Tri-Valley area, the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center is trying at least phase one of cooperation, and the question is how successful and lasting it will be.

For now, however, four resident companies of the Bankhead Theater have pulled together in bringing symphonic works, opera and chamber music to the community at reduced prices, trying to bring in new audiences.

They offer a chance to hear one production of each company at a significantly discounted price. The four are the Livermore-Amador Symphony, founded 50 years ago; Del Valle Fine Arts, more than 30 years old; Livermore Valley Opera and Pacific Chamber Symphony are turning 25 this year and next, respectively.

Violinist Angel Kim, Livermore-Amador Symphony contest winner The organizations have their own boards, often with some common members, and are now actively pursuing how to work together to introduce classical music to a new audience.

As all groups now perform at the Bankhead Theater, conflicting schedules are a thing of the past.

And now, they have joined in a discount program. Here's the pitch:

Purchased separately, a mid-range single ticket for one performance from each of the groups would cost $154. This special offer allows the chance to buy a ticket sampler, one performance from each company, for only $92 per person, a savings of 40%. The groups encourage patrons who are already attending many performances to use this offer as a holiday gift for others.

At first reading, it's not entirely clear what $92 will buy, but following up with the organization resulted in the understanding that it's the cost of the sampler's four tickets, meaning a per-ticket cost of $23, which is pretty good.

Pianist Vivian Sung, the other winner Program information for the Classical Music Sampler is available at the Bankhead Theater website.

The sampler cannot be purchased online (something that should be remedied); instead, choose your tickets and call (925) 373-6800.

Otherwise, individual ticket prices are: Pacific Chamber Symphony: $35 to $50; Livermore Valley Opera: $39 to $74; Livermore-Amador Symphony: $23 to $29; and Del Valle Fine Arts: $25 to $39.

An attractive upcoming event in the theater, included in the sampler, is the Livermore-Amador Symphony's Feb. 23 concert, featuring winners of the Competition for Young Musicians: violinist Young Sun (Angel) Kim, in Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, and pianist Vivian Sung as soloist in the first movement of Schumann's Concerto in A minor. Also on the program: Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, conducted by Arthur Barnes.

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

Deanna Durbin is Alive and Well

November 27, 2012

Durbin in the 1937 <em>100 Men and a Girl</em>: she plays a heroine who starts an orchestra of unemployed musiciansYes, she is, in real life in France, where she turns 91 on Dec. 4, and on the silver screen in Stanford.

Deanna who, you ask?

As Stanford Theatre correctly advertises an unprecedented month-long festival of all her films, "she may be the biggest movie star you've never heard of."

One of the most popular singers and movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s, the Canadian actress was the Oprah of her day, the highest paid woman in the country in 1945 and 1947.

Then, in 1948, at the age of 28, she retired, moved to France with her family, and disappeared more completely from the public than Garbo herself.

Deanna DurbinShe had fans around the world, from Winston Churchill to Anne Frank, who had Durbin's picture on the wall of her now-famous attic room. One big fan is UC Santa Cruz's Fred Lieberman, who commented on my tribute to music in the movies:

Personally, I enjoy the half-dozen best from the most overlooked great star of the late-30s and 40s, Deanna Durbin. Her "Nessun Dorma" is lovely (go to YouTube) as is her "Un bel di" (ditto) and, and, and ... She was such a star at the time, top box office draw, that she saved Universal from bankruptcy; and her films are usually unpretentious and well-done, with good taste and direction, even if the rest of the cast couldn't match her.

I also admire her strength of character in turning her back on the Hollywood life-style, packing her bags and family at the height of her career and moving to Southern France, where she still lives today.

Unfortunately the timing was just a few years off — too early to be a nostalgic favorite of the Baby Boomers, and the accompanying lack of drama in her personal life means that there are very few DVDs and a rapidly vanishing cohort of VHS tapes of her body of work. I hope there's a Durbin archive somewhere ...

So now, Stanford Theatre, working with Universal Pictures, the UCLA Film Archive, the Library of Congress and the Academy Film Archive, has compiled all 21 of Durbin's films, "in sparkling 35mm," to present them in a festival beginning Saturday.

Of special interest:

Mad About Music, 1938 (with Herbert Marshall)
It Started with Eve, 1941 (with Charles Laughton)
The Amazing Mrs. Holliday, 1943 (with Barry Fitzgerald)
Can't Help Singing, 1944 (with Akim Tamiroff)
I'll Be Yours, 1947 (with William Bendix)

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

Ragazzi to Welcome Winter Solstice

November 27, 2012

Ragazzi singers Photo by Curtis FingerRagazzi Boys Chorus celebrates the holiday season this weekend with "Welcome Winter/Winter Solstice" — music from various cultures, marking Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Native American celebration, and more.

The concerts are held Dec. 1 at the First Congregational Church in Palo Alto, and Dec. 2 at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

The chorus will reprise the concert on Dec. 9 at Old First Church in San Francisco.

The program includes traditional carols, such as Little Drummer Boy (arranged by Katherine K. Davis), Native American chant mixed with Amazing Grace, the boy choir standard Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (by Elizabeth Poston), and the Hanukkah tune Unending Flame (by Paul Carey, with Ben Silverman, clarinet).

Also on the program: Grassi Lakes by Allen Gordon Bell, Pie Jesu by Andrew Lloyd Weber Solstice by Randall Thompson, Betelehemu by Babatunde Olatunji, arranged by Wendell Whalum; and Laudate Pueri by Mendelssohn.

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

'Retirement' and Flicka: Doesn't Compute

November 27, 2012

FlickaAlthough Frederica von Stade has given farewell appearances, she is active as ever — just rarely on stage. When last week's column mentioned Cal Performances' music education conference and Flicka's many past activities on behalf of El Sistema-like projects in the Bay Area, she sent a note about being unable to attend because she is on her way to grandmotherly duties with Charlotte, 2 1/2, and six-week-old Emerson [a newborn named Emerson? interesting ...]:

I would so have loved to meet [José Antonio] Abreu. What a magic man he is. I think [Cal Performances Director] Matías [Tarnopolsky] is quite amazing.

Our little music program [at St. Martin de Porres School] is going well and the children are responding and the parents. We have violin up to 2nd grade now, drums, and choir. We are now affilitated with the Oakland Youth Chorus, run by this wonderful lady LaNell Martin. She can get anybody to sing, even a seventh grader. It's a happy association and will have some sustainability which is so important.

Next project after Christmas is to start a little ukele program. One can play a few chords quite easily and it's easy for little hands and fingers. Just have to find a teacher. Do you know of anyone?

I'm still singing here and there but much of the time, I wonder that I was ever an opera singer, especially when I'm with the little grandies! I love this Nanny role more than anything. I'm doing a new piece in Houston in 2013, called A Coffin in Egypt, based on a Horton Foote play with a libretto by Lenny Foglia and music by Ricky Ian Gordon.

Jake [Heggie] asked me to be in his opera for Joyce [DiDonato] the year after that, I'm very excited about both projects. I told them I'll be really old and they all have the options to fire me if nothing comes out of my throat!

Is there such a thing as modest to a fault? See the next item about another important Flicka-sponsored music education project.

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

Pacific Musical Society at 102

November 27, 2012

Pacific Musical Society annual fund-raising gala on Dec. 2, in the Westin St. Francis Hotel, will honor composer Jake Heggie. The 102-year-old Society's gala will present a program of Heggie songs performed by Frederica von Stade and Nicolle Foland, with Heggie at the piano. Arias and duets by Dvořák, Mozart, and Offenbach follow.

Von Stade and Jake Heggie at a Pacific Musical Society gala A highlight of the evening is the appearance of winners of the Pacific Musical Annual Competition: cellist Elena Ariza, 14; soprano Julia Metzler, 22, accompanied by Society Vice President and composer/teacher/bell-ringer James Meredith; and pianist Agata Sorotokin, 15.

Founded just four years after the earthquake of 1906, the Society is the oldest active musical organization in the Bay Area. It predates the Symphony, the Opera, and the San Francisco Ballet.

In 1919, the program was created to assist young students in their musical careers with scholarship awards presented each year on a competitive basis.

Beginning with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the first scholarship winner, and continuing to recognize young artists like cellists Matt Haimovitz and Joseph Lee, the Society has consistently supported outstanding musical talent.

Along the way, a Wagnerian tenor (Jess Thomas); a Tchaikovsky Competition Laureate (pianist Roy Bogas); a Queen Elisabeth Competition winner (pianist Leon Fleisher); a Leventritt International Violin Competition winner (David Abel); a Pulitzer Prize winning composer (David Del Tredici); famous child prodigies (violinist Ruggiero Ricci, pianist Ruth Slenczynska); and a journalist, presidential staff member and U.S. Senator (pianist Pierre Salinger) have won Pacific Musical Society scholarship awards.

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

Getty Grants to Orchestras

November 27, 2012

The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, through the League of American Orchestras, has given 22 grants to American orchestras, rewarding their "response to community needs through educational, health and wellness, social service, and neighborhood residency programs."

The prerequisite for qualifying orchestras was their work in partnership with local cultural and community organizations, such as schools or social service providers.

The Getty program is a three-year, $1.5 million project; $450,000 has been given this year in individual grants ranging from $14,500 to $37,500.

"More and more orchestras all over the country are finding innovative ways to help address community needs through music," said League President and CEO Jesse Rosen, announcing the grants today.

"The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation’s commitment to encourage these important educational and community engagement programs is a great boost to orchestras’ ability to provide community relevance beyond the concert hall."

The local recipient is Walnut Creek's California Symphony:

For Sound Minds, a free, comprehensive after-school program for elementary school students in need, 100% of whom are eligible to participate in the free or reduced cost lunch program. Sound Minds features multiple modules, including music instruction, ensemble practice, theory and rhythm, community performances, and academic reading support. Some 120 first and second graders in Concord, CA, will participate in 2013.

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

The Bells Are Ringing For Free

November 27, 2012

Sonos bell ringers: free tour preview concert Sonos Handbell Ensemble is getting ready for its tour of Japan by giving a free preview concert at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 in Walnut Creek's Grace Presbyterian. Sonos director James Meredith says:

Sonos has taken a very traditional 400-year old instrument and moved it into the 21st century. We do this in two ways. First, we develop new ways of playing bells like the "singing bell" technique borrowed from the Buddhist "singing bowl" tradition. You will hear this in several of the pieces we play. Second, we commission new works by contemporary composers. These works, which often include a symphony orchestra, push handbells squarely into the 21st century. Last year we were guest artists with the San Francisco Symphony.

Meredith is the composer of Smirti, Sanskrit for "remembrance," honoring victims of Japan's tsunami last year, and of other catastrophic events. The group is returning to Sendai, the city it visited on previous tours, "knowing that the city we knew has been almost completely destroyed," says Meredith.

The guest artist, both at the preview concert and on the tour, is cellist Emil Miland, playing the solo in Smirti, Villa-Lobos' Bachianas No. 5, Aria (arranged by Meredith), and Three Medieval Carols.

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

'Los Músicos Venezolanos Arriban' in or Near San Francisco

November 27, 2012

Dudamel conducts Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar "Los músicos venezolanos arriban este lunes 26 a Berkeley, San Francisco," says the e-mail from the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington — in effect placing Berkeley in San Francisco, a common error in foreign lands.

The embassy, part of the Mininistry of People's Power for Foreign Affairs, is touting the long-awaited concerts by the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, led by Gustavo Dudamel, and an important symposium on music education and El Sistema, which is responsible for the Dudamel-Bolivar phenomenon.

The English version of the note got it more accurately, except for improvising on the name of the university:

This North-American tour starts November 28th in Berkeley University, CA, when for 4 days the Venezuelan musicians will participate in a residence with seminars, master classes, chamber music concerts in schools and communities of the city and two more concerts — November 29th and 30th — at famous Zellerbach Hall, with its 2000 people capacity.

Members of the Pacific Boychoir will join the Venezuelans in performance Photo by Eric PolitzerThe important news here is that there are still a few — very few — tickets available for those Nov. 29 and 30 concerts on the Cal Performances website.

The opportunity to hear this amazing ensemble — in a fascinating program of music by Chávez, Orbón, Revueltas, Benzecry, Villa-Lobos, and Estévez — may not come around again any time soon.

Members of the University Chorus and the Pacific Boychoir join the Venezuelans for the Nov. 30 program, "¡MUSICA!: a Celebration of Music from Latin America." Preparations in Berkeley for the Villa-Lobos Chôros No. 10 and the Estévez Cantata Criolla have taken two months.

Predicts a Boychoir singer: "It will really stun the audience when we sing the end of the Chôro. It goes really fast, and then slows right down. There's going to be a standing ovation, and everyone's going to say Yay!"

Tokyo a Memorable Last Stop for MTT-SFS Asian Tour

November 27, 2012

The victorious Team San Francisco, with chief fan MTT, and home-run/trumpet ace Mark Inouye on the right Photos by Oliver TheilLast Monday, the San Francisco Symphony played its penultimate concert of the extensive Asian tour in Tokyo. SFS Public Relations Director (and reliable scribe) Oliver Theil reports:

In Tokyo, the orchestra was very much looking forward to performing in Suntory Hall, considered by many the best sounding concert hall in Asia, and one of the top halls in the world. Mahler's Fifth Symphony was on the program, and MTT and members of the orchestra were ready to give this work, their calling card on this tour, one final and memorable performance.

After an absolutely brilliant concert in what was indeed for most the best sounding hall on tour, the audience reaction was something I haven’t seen before. Not so much by the volume but by the fact that they just wouldn’t stop applauding. Standing ovation after standing ovation, bow after bow, MTT finally took concertmaster Alexander Barantschik off the stage to signal to the crowd to go home.

He and the strings walked offstage and house lights went up. Normally that does the trick. But not tonight. While MTT was beginning his meet and greet backstage and the congratulations flowing, we all noticed that the applause was not dying down. Most of the orchestra, aside from a few brass and winds, was off the stage long gone. But the crowd kept applauding.

After another few minutes, we realized that they were not going anywhere, MTT finally went on for another bow, the stage now mostly empty. He even gave the handful of brass still left a bow themselves. The audience still did not stop. As the final brass exited, they got their own ovation. But the clapping went on. Several musicians came back onstage, cases in hand to also recognize the crowd and Michael took a final solo bow. Many musicians felt this was the most profound ovation they have received as musicians and were humbled by the reaction.

Yuja Wang rehearsing for the final tour concert; violinist/composer Mark Volkert is seen behind her Coincidentally, Suntory Hall also hosted two former SFS music directors during November: Edo de Waart, with the NHK Symphony, and Herbert Blomstedt, with the Bamberger Symphoniker.

On the sports side, the SFS softball team, already a winner over the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, appeared on the Masaoka Shiki Memorial Field (named after the 19th century haiku poet and baseball fan) and — led by Mark Inouye — gently demolished the Tokyo Philharmonic team, 23-3.

It's a small world after all: The same season when the San Francisco Giants won this country's championship (aka World Series), the (Yomiuri) Giants finished No. 1 in Japan (for the 21st time since 1950). There, the event is called, more in perspective, the Japan Championship Series. To go further into this digression, the Giants won the Series over the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, a team whose quaint name originates with the owner meatpacking company, Nippon Ham — unrelated to England's West Ham United.

The orchestra's final tour concert, an all Rachmaninov program, took place Tuesday night in Tokyo's Bunka Kaikan, adjacent to Ueno Park, site of the morning's softball romp. The San Franciscans were bracketed by Sofia Opera's Tosca and a series of Mariinsky Ballet performances, including Anna Karenina and La Bayadere. A busy place that is.

SFS last stop: Bunka Kaikan's large concert hall, designed by Kunio Mayekawa And today, the answer to "Where in the world is MTT?" is Oklahoma, where he is the first guest for the University of Tulsa's Presidential Lecture Series. He told Tulsa World his lecture will include subjects such as "the rationale for why music exists and what is so special about classical music in particular."

In Davies Symphony Hall, normalcy returns, orchestral concerts and holiday specials intermingling. The next subscription series, Dec. 5-8, feature yet another performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 (among the season's two dozen Beethoven offerings), a change from Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique to Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, and the world premiere of SFS Assistant Concertmaster Mark Volkert's Pandora.

Volkert’s work is based on a chamber trio of the same name that he expanded for orchestra at MTT's suggestion. SFS has previously performed Volkert’s Sinfonietta for Small Orchestra (in 1981) and his Solus for Thirty Violins (in 1996). Volkert is the longest tenured musician currently performing in the orchestra; his compositions have been performed by SFS musicians during Davies Hall chamber music concerts.

Au Revoir Herbst, Bienvenu Nourse

November 27, 2012

Nourse AuditoriumAs Herbst Theatre is getting ready for reconstruction, beginning next May, organizations using the halls for decades are scrambling to find new venues, a situation reminiscent of San Francisco Opera's homeless season in 1996-1997.

The boldest and potentially best arrangement so far is by Sydney Goldstein's City Arts & Lectures, which is investing more than $1 million in the restoration of Nourse Theatre, just two blocks from Herbst, on the corner of Franklin and Hayes. Almost all of the required funds — more than the organization's annual budget — have been raised already.

Originally built in 1927 for the High School of Commerce, the 1,700-seat theater had a rich history before becoming storage space for the San Francisco Unified School District. It was named for Joseph Nourse, a teacher, principal, and superintendent for four decades. Under his direction, Commerce had some distinguished graduates, including Pedro Flores, a former Filipino bellboy credited with marketing the yo-yo. In the 1980s, the venue served as a courtroom for the two-year-long asbestos trial, largest and most complex such event in the history of California.

My own recollection of the theater goes back to a Spring Opera production of Britten's Death in Venice many years ago, when the venue already reminded me of the faded elegance of what could have been a perfect setting for Sondheim's Follies. It's somewhat ironic that Herbst and the War Memorial close for seismic retrofitting while Nourse, in a far more precarious building, will serve as the substitute.

"A restored Nourse," says Goldstein, "will offer much-needed space to an abundance of cultural presenters, many of whom find themselves without venues to showcase their work. City Arts & Lectures is excited to restore the Nourse to working order with a minimal amount of repair and redecoration and provide San Franciscans access to a theater with remarkable character and profound historical significance."

City Arts & Lectures is planning a gala farewell to Herbst, its home for 32 years. Scheduled for April 30, "The Last Foxtrot" will feature Garrison Keillor and Calvin Trillin, two of the hundreds of notables participating in the more than 1,300 lectures presented in Herbst. Says Goldstein:

Since our first experimental season in which we hosted Fran Lebowitz, Truman Capote, and Ray Bradbury, among others, City Arts & Lectures has presented some of the most revered cultural figures: from Rosemary Clooney to David Byrne, from John Updike to Tom Robbins, from Jonathan Winters to Fred Armisen, from Patti Smith to Joel Grey and Patti LuPone, from Isabella Rossellini to Diane Keaton, and so many writers and social critics.

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].