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Music News

November 8, 2011

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Happy Half Century, Grants for the Arts!

 San Francisco’s pioneering and vital municipal support program for the arts, the Grants for the Arts Hotel Tax Fund, was created in 1961.

By using a portion of the hotel room tax — which is now 14 percent — for the past 50 years this once-controversial measure has netted over $300 million to aid hundreds of nonprofit cultural organizations in the city.

It is a big deal in a country where municipalities — and lately, even states — don’t bother with the arts, however important they are for revenues from tourism, in addition to the intangible benefits for all.

During the current recession, there has been a steady decline in available funds for Grants for the Arts: down from $12.7 million in 2008–2009 to $9.8 million for the last fiscal year, and to $8.8 million in the current FY. Still, the last amount, distributed to 217 groups and activities, is of great importance.

Kary SchulmanEven more significant is the total impact of tourism. The city of some 800,000 hosted 15.9 million visitors in 2010, including hotel guests, those staying with friends and relatives, those staying in accommodations outside the city but whose primary destination was San Francisco, and regional visitors driving in for the day. These visitors spent $8.3 billion in local businesses.

Kary Schulman, who has directed Grants for the Arts for 30 years, says the organization is responsible for the economic investment in diverse arts and promotional organizations, which enhance the city’s attractiveness to visitors and provides employment and enrichment to the city’s residents.

From S.F. Opera and S.F. Symphony to the smallest organizations, allocations have been maintained over the years. Supporting the Opera and its Ring cycle last summer, for example, Schulman says it means that, “For San Francisco, having the full Ring Cycle here is like hosting a Super Bowl or World Cup Soccer for the arts. We gain not just additional hotel stays, restaurant meals, and shopping, but, because these are culture-goers, our other arts and visitor attractions are likely to benefit as well.”

In her annual report, Schulman acknowledges the city’s continued support during tough times:

Although the City of San Francisco’s finances showed a deficit of over $400 million, the Mayor’s budget kept funding to all of the arts agencies at the previous year’s level in recognition that we had already pared to the bone and that further decreases would threaten the integrity of our programs. The Mayor’s proposed level budget for the arts was passed intact by the Board of Supervisors.
That, added to the existence and continued operation of the Hotel Tax Fund, speaks well of the city, where, in Schulman’s words:
San Francisco’s artists and arts organizations inspire all of our residents and provide an extraordinary return on the City’s investment of funds in their success. We are pleased to be able to continue supporting their work, even in these challenging economic times.

New Century, Road Ready

NCCO on tour: Salerno-Sonnenberg, Bonnell, Harms, Presler, Sor, Guirao, YokasNew Century Chamber Orchestra celebrated in style Saturday in Herbst Theatre by combining its 20th anniversary gala and the kick-off concert for its second national tour.

Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg programmed the evening with NCCO’s usual combination of classics and novelties. Besides the Barber Adagio for Strings (in a deeply heartfelt, but unsentimental, performance) and the virtuoso doubling of instruments for the Mendelssohn Octet for Strings, the program included Rossini’s Sonata No. 1 in G Major and William Bolcom’s Romanza for Solo Violin and String Orchestra.

The wonderfully, bubbly Rossini is one of six sonatas he composed in all of three days at the age of 12. You may hear strains of operas to come in the work, but it stands on its own as a charming piece, with a virtual solo part for bassist Kristin Zoernig.

The Bolcom is stunning. The 73-year-old composer wrote the piece last year on commission for Salerno-Sonnenberg, who played the demanding solo role brilliantly both at the 2010 premiere and at the Saturday gala.

It’s difficult to believe how the widely divergent movements hang together, but they do. The first movement (“Romanza”) is lyrical, broadly singing; the “Valse Funebre” is scary-spooky-overwhelming, and it segues without a pause, improbably and with great impact, into the robust, wildly humorous “Cakewalk.” This is a rare contemporary work both provides a new experience and gives the impression of something already remembered. Most important, it demands to be heard again.

As always, perhaps even more so, NCCO’s ensemble playing was a joy to hear. First violins Dawn Harms, Iris Stone, and Karen Shinozaki Sor; second violins Candace Girao, Deborah Tien Price, Michael Yokas (commuting from Berlin!), and Michelle Maruyama; violists Anna Kruger, Cassandra Lynne Richburg, Jenny Douglass, and Elisabeth Prior; cellists Susan Babini, Robin Bonnell, Michelle Djokic, and Michael Graham; and bass player Zoernig take solo turns (especially in the Mendelssohn), but mostly they give voice to a single sound.

In the coming days, audiences in Worcester and Amherst, Massachusetts; Albany, New York; Wayne, New Jersey; and in Manhattan’s Symphony Space will be lucky to hear this San Francisco Treat.

Big and Little Composers All Together

Sean Leffler, composing Photo by Andreas GutherJohn Adams, now 64 and world famous, will be in the same musical space on Nov. 19 with Sean Leffler, 13, who aspires to Adams’ fame, for starters. The eighth grader at the Crowden School will add his Schizophrenic Horn Trio to the literature that already includes Adams’ Harmonielehre.

Still, at this free Crowden event, though it’s called the John Adams Young Composers Program Fall Recital, Adams will be in the audience, and Leffler — alongside some of his fellow teen composers — will do the playing or have their works performed. They include:

- Niko Umar-Durr, 16, junior at Oakland School of the Arts; a founding member of the student composer collective Harmonikos, along with other Crowden School alumni (watch his Four Images by Niko, performed by a Crowden School quartet)

- Will Flanagan, 17, senior at Albany High School, playing trumpet and piano (probably not at the same time) for his The Chase Scene

- Jo Griffin, 13, in the eighth grade at Crowden

- Diego Zamalloa-Chion, in the sixth grade at Crowden

- Lauren Romano-Bare, 13, a participant in the Young Composers program since its inception in 2007

Featured at the concert is the Sierra Ensemble, consisting of Janis Lieberman, horn; Anita Felix, violin; and Marc Steiner, piano.

Kiran’s Indo-Canadian-African Miscellanea Hits Oakland

Kiran Aluwalia Kiran Ahluwalia, who is appearing at Yoshi’s on Nov. 16, is a walking — or rather, singing — United Nations. The Canadian artist of East Indian heritage fuses African, Indian, jazz, and contemporary sounds.

Here is what she sounds like on her recently issued CD, Aam Zameen: Common Ground, as she merges her contemporary Indian compositions with Saharan desert blues, in collaboration with Tinariwen, Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali.

Lately, she’s been exploding on the scene, having been featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered, WNYC’s New Sounds and Soundcheck, Voice of America, and elsewhere.

The album’s lead track, “Mustt Mustt,” a cover of the Nusrat Fateh–Ali Khan classic, exemplifies the border-crossing nature of the album: a song from Pakistani Islamic tradition performed by Ahluwalia, her band, and the Malian Muslims of Tinariwen.

According to Ahluwalia, it didn’t take long for the musicians to settle on a firm musical common ground. “The hand claps of Tinariwen were different in style but similar to the concept of hand claps in qawwali, and the call and response between the main vocalist and the rest of the group was also something familiar to their own music.”

Choral Society Program: Mozart and Kortekangas

San Francisco Choral Society, under the direction of Robert Geary, will perform Mozart’s Mass in C Minor and the West Coast premiere of Seven Songs for Planet Earth by Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas on Nov. 19 and 20 in Calvary Presbyterian Church.

Soloists are sopranos Shauna Fallihee and Jennifer Paulino, tenor David Kurtenbach, and bass Nikolas Nackley. The California Chamber Symphony and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir are participating.

For the Kortekangas work, the text is drawn from four poems by the agrarian poet and farmer Wendell Berry, an extract from the Canticle of the Creatures by St. Francis of Assisi, and includes an onomatopoeic yoik, inspired both by indigenous people from the composer’s home country, the Sami, and by first-nation cultures.

Ring Around Redwood

Led by founder and Music Director Eric Kujawsky, Redwood Symphony is presenting what is believed to be the West Coast premiere of Lorin Maazel’s The Ring Without Words, a 70-minute symphony of excerpts from Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung.

The concert at 8 p.m. on Nov. 19, in Cañada College, also includes Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with Dan Glover, and, somewhat incongruously, a Leroy Anderson encore. (Going from The Twilight of the Gods to the “Chicken Reel” seems to be something of a stretch, but it’s a Redwood Symphony tradition to feature Anderson at every concert. Oh, well.)

The orchestra is also known for encouraging casual dress by both musicians and audiences, while offering informal preconcert presentations and low ticket prices; admission is even free to those under 18.

Highlights for the rest of the season: Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella ballet, and the Berlioz Requiem in Davies Symphony Hall next Aug. 5.

KALW’s Bartók-Kodály Quartets Series

The Alexander Quartet’s outstanding performance series last year of all Bartók and Kodály string quartets is being broadcast through Nov. 21 on KALW-FM, 91.7 FM, Monday evenings at 9:00, with Robert Greenberg’s commentary. Alan Farley hosts the broadcasts.

Splendid Klemperer Documentary in Free Streaming

The entire 100-minute film on the life of the great conductor Otto Klemperer is now available online. I recommend a quick look ... and expect you’ll remain glued to it.

$ymphonic $alaries

A report over the weekend in The Los Angeles Times tries — and fails — to figure out the compensation of L.A. Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, only guessing it to be in the $1.5 million range, which is in the same ballpark as the salary of MTT in San Francisco ($1.8 million), and the following:

- Charles Dutoit, Philadelphia Orchestra, $1.83m
- James Levine, Metropolitan Opera, $1.49m; plus Boston Symphony, $1.32m (on leave from the Met, quit Boston recently because of illness)
- James Conlon, Los Angeles Opera, $1.23m
- Franz Welser-Most, Cleveland Orchestra, $1.07m
- Alan Gilbert, New York Philharmonic, similar to Dudamel’s; Gilbert debuted in fall 2009, so only a partial figure is available, hinting at $1 million-plus

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at