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Music News: Nov. 5, 2013

November 5, 2013

Iyer: Much Ado About Something Special

November 5, 2013

Viyay Iyer Photo by Jimmy KatzViyay Iyer, 42, is in his third year as Jazz Artist-in-Residence for San Francisco Performances, and has accomplished great things in performing, arranging, composing, and much else, but his next appearance, on Nov. 16 at SFJAZZ Center, will have a sense of novelty and command attention like a rock star.

Rock, not as in music, but as in riotous fame and fortune. Iyer has just been named a 2013 MacArthur Fellow and there is talk about him wherever you look. The "genius award" cited him as:

An ardent investigator of musical communities, practices, histories, and theories, he mines core rhythmic, melodic, and structural elements from a wide range of sources to construct richly varied, improvisation-driven solo and ensemble music.

The MacArthur followed announcement of Iyer's appointment to Harvard University's faculty as the school's first Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts. Iyer (whose name is pronounced "VID-jay EYE-yer") received a Master's in Physics, and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from the University of California at Berkeley.

And, in a feature about him in the current issue of The New Yorker, Seth Colter Walls writes:

In 2009, the pianist and composer Vijay Iyer experienced what would normally be considered a "career year" in the jazz world. His album Historicity had striking original music and distinguished covers of songs by M.I.A. and Julius Hemphill. Yet to the surprise of Iyer, who had more than a decade of touring and recording under his belt, the album took off and became an end-of-year best-album pick among jazz critics.

Iyer Trio"I didn’t expect everyone to vote for me," he said over lunch this week. This year has brought him even headier votes of institutional confidence. In addition to receiving a MacArthur "genius" grant and tenure in Harvard’s music department, Iyer has been at work in a variety of artistic practices — even by his standards of variety.

Most recently, he led a large-ensemble adaptation of Teju Cole’s novel Open City (with the author’s participation), which premièred on a recent weekend, at Montclair State University, in New Jersey. And this past summer he released Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, conceived and performed with the poet Mike Ladd, and including a backing band packed with great names, from the cellist Okkyung Lee to the vocalist-composer Pamela Z ... The cumulative power of the piece launches it into a realm normally cleared for élite contemporary oratorio — not all that different from, say, a socially engaged Peter Sellars' staging of a John Adams or Kaija Saariaho composition.

Further, Iyer and ECM Records are announcing upcoming releases, beginning next March with Mutations For String Quartet and Piano/Electronics.

Musica Pacifica's 'Baroque Splendor'

November 5, 2013

Musica Pacifica: Judith Linsenberg (recorder), Charles Sherman (harpsichord), Elizabeth Blumenstock (violin), Josh Lee (viola da gamba)Concluding a year of concerts throughout the Bay Area, as well as tours to Arizona and Hawaii, Musica Pacifica is performing "Baroque Splendor," Nov. 7-10, in Palo Alto, Berkeley, Ukiah, and Gualala. (Had to look that up: "Gualala — formerly, Guadala, Walhalla, and Wallala — is an unincorporated community in Mendocino County. Looking good.)

The concerts will feature Judith Linsenberg, recorder; Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin; John Dornenburg, viola da gamba; and JungHae Kim, harpsichord. Repertoire includes works by Bach, Rameau, Sammartini, Telemann, Turini, and more.

Venues are All Saints Episcopal Church, Palo Alto; Trinity Chapel, Berkeley; Ukiah High School Cafetorium; and the Gualala Arts Center.

Members of San Francisco-based Musica Pacifica perform with Philharmonia Baroque and American Bach Soloists, and also appear with prominent early music ensembles nationally and abroad.

They have performed at such prestigious concert series as the Frick Collection and Music Before 1800 (NYC), the Getty Museum (LA), Tage Alter Musik (Regensburg), Cleveland Art Museum, and the Berkeley Early Music Festival (four times), among others.

Baroque's last stop: Gualala They have performed at festivals in Germany and Austria, and have been featured on German National radio as well as on National Public Radio’s "Performance Today" and "Harmonia." Musica Pacifica's eight CD releases on the Virgin Classics, Dorian, and Solimar labels have won national and international awards, including Chamber Music America/WQXR’s Record Award, being featured on Minnesota Public Radio, and chosen as "CD of the Month" by the early music journal Alte Musik Aktuell (Regensburg).

For such an accomplished ensemble, it's rather strange not to make the specific concert schedule available anywhere on line. Individual venues refer back to Musica Pacifica's website, and there are only some of the composers named, but not the works to be performed.

Kristallnacht 75th Anniversary Marked with Berlin Concert

November 5, 2013

Daniel Hope at the Savannah Music Festival Photo by Frank Stewart British violinist Daniel Hope and Kultur Projekte Berlin join to commemorate victims of Kristallnacht with a ceremony and performance at the Brandenburg Gate on Nov. 10.

Known as the "Night of Broken Glass," the Nazi pogrom in Berlin Nov. 9-10, 1938, marked the beginning of the Holocaust. The Berlin Culture Project marks the 75th anniversary of the event, inviting "everyone, especially Berlin’s schoolchildren and students, to come together at the Brandenburg Gate in a memorial that signals the value of diversity in today’s Germany and promotes vigilance against all forms of intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, and violence."

Hope's own family lived in Berlin until 1938; some of them fled to the U.S. and South Africa, others lost their lives. At his last Kristallnacht concert in 2008, Hope converted the former Tempelhof Airport into a concert hall and brought together friends and colleagues to make a stand against racism and promote tolerance with his "Do Something!" campaign:

What fascinates me most about Berlin is its perpetual history still hidden deep inside so many of its buildings. And so I decided some years ago to fill these places with music, one after the other, by performing at the Reichstag, the Ministry of Finance (formerly Göring’s Ministry of Aviation), the Felix Mendelssohn-Remise, (the former carriage house of the old Berlin headquarters of the Mendelssohn Bank), and Tempelhof Airport. Making music in these buildings, surrounded by the ghosts of my family and of times gone by, let me into a past which I did not experience, but can still sense.

Hope is including in the ceremony Heinz Jakob "Coco" Schumann, the legendary Berlin jazz musician who survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. Hope’s latest DVD-documentary Refuge in Music (Deutsche Grammophon, 2013), an excerpt of which will be shown during the event, tells the story of 89-year-old Schumann and the oldest living Holocaust survivor, 109-year-old pianist Alice Herz-Sommer.

Hope will also perform music by 1930s composers who were condemned during Nazi rule. He will be accompanied by the Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin.

Moby Dick Endures

November 5, 2013

Morgan Smith (Starbuck) and the crew of the Pequod Photo by Cory WeaverHaving telecast the San Francisco Opera's production of Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick on Great Performances last week, PBS is keeping the entire 2 1/2-hour performance on the web for the time being. The "cost" to the viewer: a few 30-second commercials, placed judiciously.

This brilliant video of an extraordinary contemporary opera is not to be missed. Patrick Summers conducts a cast including Jay Hunter Morris (Captain Ahab), Stephen Costello (Greenhorn), Jonathan Lemalu (Queequeg), Morgan Smith (Starbuck), Talise Trevigne (Pip), Matthew O’Neill (Flask), and Robert Orth (Stubb).

With the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Ian Robertson, Chorus Director), in a stage production directed by Leonard Foglia, choreographed by Keturah Stickann, and designed by Robert Brill (sets), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Donald Holder (lighting), and Elaine J. McCarthy (projections).

I wish I knew how long the video will be available, but there is no indication on the website. If you check previous programs on the PBS site, you'll see that many of them are no longer there, but some, such as Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow: Never Stand Still still stream. Best thing to do is to watch Moby-Dick while you can.

Imperial Russian Baroque

November 5, 2013

Steven Fox conducts Philharmonia Baroque's Russian programs That headline is taking liberties with chronology, but it conveys the spirit of the enterprise: Philharmonia Baroque's next round of concerts, Nov. 15-19, is called "Music from Imperial Saint Petersburg," presenting works by some of the earliest Russian composers.

Led by guest conductor Steven Fox of the New York Clarion Society, the concerts feature soprano Anna Dennis singing arias by Bortniansky and Glinka, and cellist Tanya Tomkins' solo in Johann Heinrich Facius's Concerto for Violoncello in D Minor — a modern premiere.

The programs include Berezovsky's Symphony in C Major; suites from Bortniansky's Alcide and Le fils rival; the Facius concerto; "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Fomin's Orpheus; and three arias by Glinka.

If other than Glinka, these names are as unknown to you as they were to me, there is help on the orchestra's website.

Rodgers and Hart Angel Marries Excellence

November 5, 2013

The Angel (Kari Yancy) charms a perplexed Count Palaffi" (Sean Thompson) Photos by David Allen Luckily no thousand-dollar bet was made when I challenged Greg MacKellan about the one thing in the world I know for sure. He still won, albeit circuitously, because the context was Broadway history, and there is nobody who knows or cares more about it than MacKellan, founder and artistic director of 42nd Street Moon.

At the Saturday premiere of this Broadway-reviving/resuscitating organization's production of I Married an Angel, I heard the Hungarian capital's name mispronounced at times ("Budapest" instead of "Budapesht") and asked MacKellan why the cast is inconsistent about it.

No, he said, barely suppressing a sly smile, they are consistent. All the Hungarian characters pronounce it correctly, except the "American girl," who gets it wrong. Oh.

There is meaning behind this seemingly trivial exchange: Although the strength of 42nd Street Moon is in bringing to life half- or fully-forgotten Broadway with passionate dramatics and great good humor, it is also an organization that upholds tradition and pays attention to detail.

The company's proven prowess is being tested by the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart musical, not among the best of Rodgers' music or Hart's lyrics. The original book is both simple and flimsy: An angel descends to marry a banker, creates havoc with her angelic ways (excessive honesty and banking practices don't mix well), the marriage (along with the bank) is saved by the angel learning to be "an irresistible bad girl." And so on to a big production number, "At the Roxy Music Hall." And curtain.

Countess Palaffi (Allison Rich, right) teaches the angel how to be irresistible MacKellan tells the background and history of the musical:

Based on an earlier Hungarian fantasy by János Vaszary, it had originally been conceived in 1933 as a film musical for Jeannette MacDonald, a follow-up to the team's innovative 1932 film Love Me Tonight. The movie was never made, and the cancellation ended Rodgers and Hart’s Hollywood sojourn ...

Their lost MGM project haunted them, though, and they eventually bought the screen rights back from MGM. They had faith in the project, and wanted to turn it into a stage musical. [They] tailored the part of Countess Peggy Palaffi specifically for Larry Hart's good friend, the luminous musical star, Vivienne Segal. Dennis King as Willy, Vera Zorina as Angel, Walter Slezak as Harry, and Audrey Christie as Anna Murphy joined Segal in the cast.

The critical reception was rapturous — The New York Times proclaimed the show "a gay and capricious delight ... a winged wonder-work from the musical theater heavens of Rodgers and Hart." Three songs immediately became popular hits, "I Married an Angel," "I'll Tell the Man in the Street," and the wondrous "Spring is Here."

The show played a year on Broadway (a long run for the Depression era), and then toured for another year, closing at the San Francisco’s Curran Theater in 1940. MGM finally made the film (with MacDonald and Eddy), but the score was gutted, and the end result was a resounding flop. The show then essentially disappeared for 20 years.

Sean Thompson and Allison Rich, with brash American Anna Murphy (Halsey Varady) in center There was a revival of the original version in an off-Broadway concert production in the 1980s, otherwise nothing on Broadway or by any major theater company anywhere since. The reason: forgettable music (including, for me, the title song; "Spring Is Here" is the one to take away from the show), a thin plot, a slow first act, and fun but obviously and arbitrarily padded second act.

And yet, with all that, this is an enjoyable production, with a fine cast, and the usual dynamic "orchestra" of music director/pianist Dave Dobrusky and Nick di Scala on woodwinds.

Kari Yancy makes the best of the difficult title role, Sean Thompson is the male lead as the wishing-for-angel and bank shortfall salvation Count Palaffi. Standouts in 42nd Street's usual big cast on a tiny stage: the hilarious Allison F. Rich as Peggy Palaffi; Halsey Varady as the troublesome American girl; and the vocally always precise Bill Fahrner as Harry Szigetti.

Among attractions of the second act: taking a twisted leaf from Die Walküre, four angels visit their (voluntarily) fallen sister, only to end up losing their wings (wink, wink); Yancy confronting erratic humans first as a trouble-making good (albeit wingless) angel, then as a problem-solving bad girl; and, yes, that Roxy Music Hall number, whether it has anything to do with the story or not. It doesn't.

One totally unimportant victory for a native speaker, cheated out of his righteousness about Budapest/Budapesht: the currency is called pengő, with a long umlaut, pronounced peng-"e as in err" but longer, not pengo. Should have bet big one on that.

Bohlin's New Chamber Choir: Capella SF

November 5, 2013

Ragnar Bohlin Independently of his day job, San Francisco Symphony Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin is heading a new professional chamber choir being put together at auditions this month.

Cappella SF will perform a cappella choral works from all periods, including newly commissioned works. The group's debut, in February, will reflect Bohlin's Swedish background with a program of Swedish and American composers, featuring a cappella works by Mason Bates, Anders Hillborg, a commissioned piece by Fredrik Sixten, and Eric Whitacre.

Three more concerts are planned during the year. Auditions take place through Nov. 29 by appointment in response to registration by e-mail.

Says Bohlin:

Although the Bay Area is rich with choruses of all sorts, I think there is definitely a place for a professional group that does the entire spectrum of the a cappella classics, everything from the Bach motets and earlier music, through Mendelssohn, Brahms, Strauss, Stravinsky; to 20th century classics such as Poulenc, Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, and new commissions.

For the future, I envision this group encouraging more people to sing in mixed a cappella ensembles, and that we, through various forms of educational outreach throughout the Bay Area, inspire people to delve into the riches of the a cappella classics."

Opera and Electronics: Five Centuries Leading to Met HD

November 5, 2013

Met's gala celebrations today recall lighting in ancient opera houses In last week's column, we reported on Evan Baker's sumptuous new book, From the Score to the Stage: An Illustrated History of Continental Opera Production and Staging.

One response to the item came from Mark Schubin, who bought the book, and commented: "It's huge and gorgeous!" In a note to Baker, Schubin wrote:

Like you, I am also an independent historian and lecturer dealing with opera, but, as a media-technology engineer, I deal with it from the standpoint of the intersecting histories of media technology and opera. As in your case, I also have experience dealing with opera production, in my case from a media-technology standpoint.

I have, for example, been (freelance) engineer-in-charge of the Metropolitan Opera's media department since 1973 (when its functions were handled by the technical department). I've also done media work for, among others, New York City Opera, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Washington National Opera, Dallas Opera, Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Canadian Opera, Australian Opera, and the Royal Opera (Covent Garden).

Among the many details in Baker's book Schubin discussed was this arcane and fascinating one:

There is a major point on which our historical findings disagree. I'm not yet prepared to say you are incorrect, but my research strongly suggests so. It relates to chandeliers in the opera house prior to the middle of the 19th century.

Henry Bridges' Microcosm clock played Handel's music in 1732 The large opera houses needed more central lighting, thus the use of chandeliers. Candles, prior to the middle of the 19th century, however, were very different from today's. They were soft, smoky, stinky, and frequently toxic. Most significantly, their wicks were not consumed. As the fuel was consumed, therefore, the wicks kept growing.

Special scissors, called snuffers, were used to trim the wicks. For sconces, a footman could trim them during the opera. On stage, singers could trim them, if necessary. But who could trim those on a chandelier hanging over the audience?

Thus there was the 1678 report from the Mercure Gallant that you cite on pages 27-28. The chandelier had to rise into the ceiling, where the wicks could be trimmed (or, in this case, extinguished). But, as that report indicates, the auditorium was thus darkened, which conflicts with your statement on page 90 that chandeliers remained lit during the entire performance. You note that large quantities of candles would be required for that. How could they be installed in the chandelier?

Rather than following the mystery of candles through, I looked into Schubin's work, and found a mother lode of brilliant historical research, including detailed explanation of Met HD logistics.

Baker's <em>From the Score to the Stage</em> Also note his The Fandom of the Opera: How the Audience for a Four-Century-Old Art Form Helped Create the Modern Media World. Among the subjects Schubin discussed at last week's in the National Opera Center about media technology and opera chronology:

- 1520-1591: Vincenzo Galilei: father of modern acoustics, sung drama, and Galileo (whom he taught experimentation); after reading Galilei’s 1581 music-theory book, Johannes Kepler formulates 3rd law of planetary motion, leading to modern satellites
- 1673: Acoustic opera transmission beyond the house ("plazacast") suggested by Athansius Kircher in Phonurgia Nova
- 1733: Music from Handel operas played by Henry Bridges’s Microcosm clock
- 1784: Automaton built for Marie Antoinette plays Gluck opera music on hammered dulcimer
- 1821: After a demonstration of Charles Wheatstone's "enchanted lyre," Repository of Arts predicts wired opera broadcasts
- 1848: "Telakouphanon" (acoustic telephone) service delivering opera to homes for a fee predicted in Punch
- 1860: Oldest opera recordings ("phonautograph"), from Massé’s La reine Topaze; not played back until 2009
- 1878: 1st aria recorded with intention of playback, Marie Rôze singing from Gounod’s Faust on Edison phonograph
- 1885: Music-box opera discs, 1st mass medium for sound; lead to disc changers and coin-operated players (1st juke boxes)
- 1885: Opera-at-home headphone listening subscription service begins with Mefistofele in Lisbon, 180,000 reis [about $1,850] for a season of 90 performances
- 1889: Oldest known surviving aria recording intended to be played, bass Peter Schram singing from Don Giovanni
- 1903: Ernani 1st "full-length" (abridged) opera recording (40 disks); nearly complete Pagliacci recorded in 1907
- 1907: Caruso’s 3rd Vesti la giubba earliest-recorded million seller; digital deconvolution later (1976) restores sound
- 1976: First commercial digital 16-bit audio recorder (Soundstream) & recording: The Mother of Us All at Santa Fe Opera

And on it goes, the straight line through centuries to today's HD casts.

Once in a Half-Century: Masterworks Chorale's Elijah

November 5, 2013

Masterworks Chorale celebrates the launch of its 50th anniversary year with this weekend's Elijah by Mendelssohn, the first time in the organization's history.

Conducted by Bryan Baker, the Chorale's 101 singers, an orchestra of 34, and five soloists will perform the great 19th century oratorio, with baritone Kirk Eichelberger as Elijah.

Mendelssohn set to magnificent music the epic Biblical story about struggles on behalf of different gods, the devastation from hurricanes, earthquakes, and a pillar of fire descending upon the sacrificial altar, and the final ascent to heaven in a chariot of fire.

Performances are at 8 p.m. on Nov. 9 and 4 p.m. on Nov. 10, both in the Woodside High School Performing Arts Center.

Holiday Ballets From London

November 5, 2013

Sarah Lamb (Alice) and the Cheshire Cat in the Royal Ballet production of <em>Alice's Adventures in Wonderland</em> Photos by Johan PerssonA new way to get your holiday ballet fix: from the Royal Opera House via NCM Fathom Events come to movie theaters all around us first Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, to music by Joby Talbot, with sets and costume by Bob Crowley (Nov. 19), and then the Royal Ballet's tried-and-true Nutcracker on Dec. 17. Tickets are $15 and up.

This is Peter Wright’s classic Nutcracker, 30 years old and going strong, featuring a great cast in a fairytale setting. Take a look at video about the preparations for Nutcracker.

Featured in Wheeldon's work: Lauren Cuthbertson as Alice, Zenaida Yanowsky as the Queen of Hearts, and Steven McRae as the Mad Hatter.

The amazing thing about the spread of art via HD is the explosion of venues. A couple of years ago, there were just a few movie theaters in the Bay Area carrying these programs, but if you look at available venues today (click on "buy tickets" and enter your ZIP code), you will find two dozen theaters.

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