October 29, 2013
October 29, 2013
Teddy Abrams, 26, with a long and impressive Bay Area music career, has been appointed music director designate of the Louisville Orchestra. He will take over the famously adventurous orchestra from Jorge Mester next September, when Mester becomes Music Director Emeritus.
Louisville Orchestra Executive Director Andrew Kipe said "we are extremely lucky to have gotten Teddy at this juncture in his career. He is on a meteoric trajectory that will only be an asset to Louisville."
Abrams is the Music Director and Conductor of the Britt Classical Festival, the Assistant Conductor of the Detroit Symphony, and the Resident Conductor of the MAV Symphony Orchestra in Budapest. He said of the appointment: "I knew from the first time I came to Louisville last season that this position had tremendous potential. I felt an immediate and powerful, positive connection with this city, and that initial chemistry grew as I began working with the orchestra’s wonderful musicians."
Abrams has been ever-present on the music scene here: he has a family in Palo Alto, and he attended Laney College (at age 11, having skipped high school) and the S.F. Conservatory of Music. He's been playing piano since age 5, started clarinet a few years later, was the longest-serving member of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, studied with Michael Tilson Thomas, and later was named his assistant for educational activities with MTT's New World Symphony.
Abrams also performed regularly with the St. Petersburg String Quartet, soloed with the San Francisco, Oakland East Bay and Berkeley symphonies, arranged music for and conducted rehearsals of the Youth Orchestra, and conducted the New World Symphony in concerts at Carnegie Hall and in Washington, D.C.
A decade ago, SFCV's Scott MacClelland wrote of the then 16-year-old:
The star of the evening's second half was Teddy Abrams, the precocious teenager from Palo Alto, who apparently doesn't know that mere mortals can't be doing so much, so professionally, at his age, namely: playing piano, composing, conducting and, in this instance, playing clarinet in the Brahms Quintet in B Minor. Before starting, Abrams provided spoken background to the Brahms, recalling the impact, on the aging (then in his late 50s) composer, of the Meiningen clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, who was the inspiration for a trio, two sonatas and, after Mozart a century earlier, the second greatest clarinet quintet in history.
The collaboration between Abrams and the St. Petersburg proved most felicitous, a loving and yearning performance that greened up the autumnal Brahms with the young clarinetist's flawless technique and youthful ardor (especially in the “storm sequence” that punctuates the second movement Adagio). Abrams plays without a trace of vibrato, fearlessly giving himself no place to hide. But no hiding was needed and the hosting Chamber Music Monterey Bay's audience knew it. Abrams has plainly emerged as a master of the instrument.
As if to gild the prodigy's lily, the five musicians encored with an Abrams original called Tanzoct, an "octatonic dance" the composer explained. The five-minute ditty cleverly shifted its material (using a "gypsyesque" scale) among the instruments, "in true encore fashion," Abrams added.
Earlier this year, Michael Zwiebach published a feature here about Abrams. In July, Abrams conducted SFS in a Best of Tchaikovsky concert in the America's Cup Pavilion.
October 29, 2013
One aspect of Lisa Bielawa's Crissy Broadcast project yet unexplored is a somewhat similar large, integrated music project in San Francisco and Berkeley by another Bielawa, four decades ago. The word from Other Voices' Charles Amirkhanian:
Lisa Bielawa's father Herb had organized a city-wide composition which, at the time was pretty astonishing. He linked up the electronic music studios of UC Berkeley, the San Francisco Conservatory, San Francisco State University, and radio station KPFA via high quality broadcast lines (expensive at the time) to do some interactive pieces with various composers.
The date was Feb. 23, 1974. Lisa (b. 1968) was a child, but maybe precocious enough to have been impressed by it all. In any case, Herb talked about it for years, and I'm sure she was very aware of how proud he was of the entire enterprise.
Bielawa's pioneering work, from the mid-1960s, included creation of one of the first electronic music studios [after Columbia University], with a Buchla 100 series synthesizer and a couple Viking tape recorders. Then a few years later, there was a series of public concerts called New Media Invitationals in which tapes of electronic music from all over North American were solicited and performed on the campus.
And then the Bay Area Synthesizer Ensemble, the studios connected by special telephone lines leading into the master mix at KPFA, mixed electronically and broadcast in real time.
The compositions commissioned for the affair were Responsive Reading and Thirty Seconds by Gareth Loy; Music for B.A.S.E. by Anthony Gnazzo; Quartet for Synthesizers by George Burt; BASEment by Alden Jenks; Recycled Radio by Jan Pusina; and BASEball and A Ludwig Washout by Herbert Bielawa. The "BASE" references are for the Bay Area Synthesizer Ensemble.
Each studio had a production crew, still remembered by Amirkhanian as Gareth Loy, Rich McGinnis, and Peter Donaldson at San Francisco State; at the San Francisco Conservatory: Alden Jenks, Robert David, and Neil Rolnick; in the back room at KPFA: George Burt, Barth Gehls, Valerie Farrell (Hielbron), and Herbert Bielawa; on the U. C. campus: Anthony Gnazzo, Barbara Jazwinski, Cardell Ho, Robert Coburn, Peter Lopez, and Jan Pusina. Old times, good times.
And let's give credit to Morton Subotnick's San Francisco Tape Music Center, active from the early 1960s.
The results are preserved to this day, four decades later. And note this significant difference between the 1974 project and the one last weekend: Bay Area Synthesizer Ensemble had no budget; Crissy Broadcast cost approximately $200,000. That's inflation for you.
Records of the B.A.S.E. project say "We required four different telephone installations at each sight: a performance communication line, a special high-fidelity, highly equalized line, a separate service line and, finally, a separate rehearsal line (to keep expenses down since specially equalized music lines were very expensive)." Chances are the cost of about $1,000 came out of Bielawa's pocket.
October 29, 2013
Just as the item above has to do with a project spanning two generations, and just as it was coming from Charles Amirkhanian, the same applies to this one, about Rhys Chatham's Nov. 17 West Coast premiere of A Secret Rose for 100 electric guitars.
Amirkhanian explores the background:
When Rhys Chatham was a kid growing up in Manhattan in the late 1950s, his father Price, a voracious reader and a novelist himself, befriended all the key musicians in the nascent Early Music revival. Price encouraged his son to play Renaissance harpsichord music on the virginal, an instrument for young women that had very thin keys and a limited range.
Young Rhys became well-versed in the keyboard music of William Byrd, Giles Farnaby, and John Bull, three English composers of the late Tudor and early Jacobean periods (back around 1600, as you know).
His father later sent him to the great harpsichord builder William Dowd in Boston to become an instrument tuner so Rhys could support himself. It worked! For a time Rhys was the go-to tuner for all the major performers in New York, including Albert Fuller, Gustav Leonhardt, and even Glenn Gould. An interlude of flute study led to Rhys performing works by Edgar Varèse, Stefan Wolpe, and Pierre Boulez. Rhys even composed post-serialist music for a short while.
Little did Price Chatham suspect that his son soon would offer his services as a keyboard tuner to minimalist drone pioneer La Monte Young and study with live electronic music innovator Morton Subotnick. From there Rhys' musical life took a sharp left turn, but his knowledge of the classical composition would forever inform his own composing.
So when you hear A Secret Rose, his monumental work for 100 guitars, you'll hear a 5-movement, 60-minute piece on a symphonic scale that is both exciting and ravishingly beautiful.
And if you can't be there, we'll post the recording of the concert so you will feel as if you were with us in person. There is no other available recording of this fabulous piece.
P.S. "Rhys" is an old Welsh family surname on Price Chatham's side of the family. The Chathams arrived in Kentucky in 1610, so I'm told. But it took them 340 years to get to the Big Apple!
Add to Chatham's rich and varied background: The Ramones at CBGB's, back in 1977, and the resulting "urban music fusing the extended drone work of minimalist music with the raw and elemental fury of rock and roll."
And the venue is something else, unknown even to this venue-aware column: Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion, with a 180-degree waterfront view of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Bay.
Designed by Albert Kahn in 1931, the site was originally used as a Ford assembly plant up until WW II at when it was retooled to manufacture tanks and jeeps. After briefly returning to auto manufacturing and a stint as a film set and book depository the 45,000 sq. foot structure was partially destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In 2004 the building was purchased and underwent renovations resulting in its distinction as an official landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
October 29, 2013
Thanks to the S.F. Bay Area's smallest, youngest, and — to me — best public television station, KMTP (ch. 32 on Comcast), San Francisco has the luxury of commercial- and fundraising-free programs from Deutsche Welle, RAI, (the formerly BBC-imitator, now Putin-ized) Russia Today, and the fabulous Classic Arts Showcase.
One of DW's best music programs is the documentary film about Schumann, Schumann at Pier 2, with Paavo Järvi and The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie of Bremen. Check the DW schedule about repeated telecasts. The film itself is also available.
A special feature available on DW is the making of Schumann at Pier 2.
For this concert film, the television crew chose an unlikely location, a former dockyard building at Bremen’s port. Pier 2 usually hosts rock concerts, but suddenly a classical conductor and orchestra were rehearsing Schumann’s four symphonies there. The building, with its striking industrial flair, was also the venue for the lavishly staged concerts. The result was a unique, unprecedented television document of Schumann’s symphonies.
This two-part concert film offers a behind-the-scenes look at both the rehearsals and the concerts. One special feature is studio recordings, made by individual members of the orchestra, of selected passages from these Romantic masterpieces.
October 29, 2013
Opening this week at the Berkeley Rep, Mona Golabek's The Pianist of Willesden Lane traces the dramatic history of her own family. Her mother, Lisa Jura, was a talented young pianist, living in Vienna when Germany annexed the country, and the persecution of Jews began in earnest.
England's Kindertransport rescue mission saved the lives of some 10,000 children, mostly Jewish, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, just before World War II broke out. It was the program that saved Jura's life, but at a terrible price. In a story similar to Sophie's Choice, Jura's family of five received only one ticket to London, and the decision to let her escape meant potential doom for the others.
The play moves with Jura from Vienna in 1938 to London during the war. Golabek, an accomplished pianist and music educator, tells the story of her mother's life, and plays the music Jura had performed — two dozen musical selections, from works by Grieg, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, and others.
The book of the same title is by Golabek and Lee Cohen; it was adapted and directed by Hershey Felder.
There is a somewhat similar story, which gained fame thanks to Roman Polanski's film version of The Pianist, based on Wladyslaw Szpilman's autobiography about the pianist surviving the German occupation of Warsaw and the Holocaust.
I asked Golabek if there is a connection between The Pianist and her The Pianist of Willesden Lane. No, she said, her play is "based on my mother's life story ... I began writing it before [Polanski's] film came out, and my mother's story is quite different: Szpilman was isolated in the Warsaw destruction, my mother lived in a Jewish hostel in London."
Are they related thematically, both dealing with events also depicted in Brundibár, Playing for Time, works about and music coming from Theresienstadt, James Conlon's "Recovered Voices" series? "Yes," Golabek said, "they are related in the theme of music and the arts getting you through the darkest of time."
Golabek has been working on the book that's the basis of her play for several years, but the play's premiere came only in 2012, in Los Angeles' Geffen Playhouse.
The pianist has founded Hold On To Your Music, a foundation devoted to spreading the message of the power of music. With the help of the Milken Family Foundation, Facing History and Ourselves, and the Annenberg Foundation, Golabek created educational resources, which, with her book, have been adopted into school curricula across America.
October 29, 2013
San Francisco Opera is releasing an excellent video version of Jake Heggie's opera on DVD today, and on Friday, PBS' Great Performances will telecast the opera nationwide. Locally, KQED-TV will relegate the telecast to the usual pre-dawn viewer Siberia a couple of times, but makes an exception of joining the rest of the country on Friday:
Moby Dick from San Francisco Opera (#3810) Duration: 2:26:46 SRND51 TVPG One of the nation's leading opera companies, San Francisco Opera has been the site for many memorable Great Performances productions. In October 2012, GP partnered with SFO once again to record composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer's acclaimed adaptation of the classic Herman Melville novel Moby Dick. Jay Hunter Morris stars as the obsessive Captain Ahab.
KQED 9: Fri, Nov 1, 2013 at 9 p.m.
KQED 9: Sat, Nov 2, 2013 at 3 a.m. [!]
KQED Life: Mon, Nov 4, 2013 at 7 p.m.
KQED Life: Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 1 a.m.
October 29, 2013
Musicologist Evan Baker, a frequent visitor to San Francisco to give lectures on SFO productions, has published a large volume on opera production history, titled From the Score to the Stage: An Illustrated History of Continental Opera Production and Staging.
Without scenery, costumes, and stage action, an opera would be little more than a concert, says Baker, "but in the audience, we know little (and think less) about the enormous efforts of those involved in bringing an opera to life — by the stagehands who shift scenery, the scenic artists who create beautiful backdrops, the electricians who focus the spotlights, and the stage manager who calls them and the singers to their places during the performance."
From the Score is probably the first comprehensive history of the behind-the-scenes world of opera production and staging, tracing the evolution of visual style and set design in continental Europe from its birth in the seventeenth century up to today.
The book concentrates on the people — composers, librettists, designers, and technicians — as well as the theaters and events that generated developments in opera production. He also covers the functions of impresarios, and the business of music publishing.
Including some 200 color illustrations it is a revealing look at what happens before the curtain goes up on opening night at the opera house.
About the the Cajetan illustration shown here, Baker says, "Like their Italian counterparts, audiences in German-speaking countries idolized many singers and were not afraid to express their feelings. Here, perfectly coiffed, white gloved dandies prepare to hurl a large, flowered wreath from the gallery to the stage during the applause at a curtain call. At left is a shabby seat with ripped fabric in its back, and one of the dandies is viewing the stage with long binoculars, as are others in their boxes with even longer binoculars."
Besides his many lectures for the San Francisco Opera Guild, Los Angeles-based Baker also remembers SFO as the place of his first professional engagement, an associate in the rehearsal office in 1977.
October 29, 2013
Back in 1998, the Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires was at a rehearsal with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, ready to play one Mozart concerto when Riccardo Chailly launched into the orchestral introduction to another. Another Mozart Concerto, that is. Photos captured the stunned expression on her face, but she somehow picked up the "wrong" solo part without a moment's hesitation.
For some reason, last week, the Telegraph picked up the story as if it were new. Well, even after a while, it was still a good one.
To make this trip down memory lane more interesting, in the same issue, pianist Stephen Hough mulls over the case from an unexpected angle:
... is it a stranger story than it seems? I don't want to minimize the shock of hearing an orchestra start to play one piece when you were expecting them to play another but — wait a minute.
Firstly, this is obviously a rehearsal — no one on stage is dressed in concert attire. And the presence of an audience suggests a dress rehearsal — it would be highly unusual for a first rehearsal to be open to the general public. But that would mean that they had rehearsed the piece earlier, which is obviously not the case.
Then there's the question of meeting with the conductor to discuss tempos, phrasing, cadenzas, ornaments. Again it would be strange in a Mozart concerto to start a rehearsal completely cold. I'm not suggesting that there's any deception in the story, merely that it's puzzling in many aspects ...
And so on. Yes, many questions, few answers — and the story keeps getting better.
October 29, 2013
Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey will be well in evidence in the city next week, with a free event on Nov. 8 at the Community Music Center, and a special two-part recital of all-Bach unaccompanied cello suites the next day for San Francisco Performances.
The concert and conversation in the Community Music Center's 130-seat concert hall is free and open to the public, courtesy of S.F. Performances.
The Nov. 9 program, in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, begins at 2 p.m. and will include Suites 1 through 3. The second part, from 7:30 on, presents Suites 4-6. Wispelwey plays on a 1760 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini cello and a 1710 Rombouts baroque cello.
This will be Wispelwey's second appearance here since a recital with pianist Dejan Lazic in 2006. Last year, he celebrated his 50th birthday with a project showcasing the Bach Cello Suites, recording them for the third time.
He recently formed a string quartet, Quartet-Lab, with Patricia Kopatchinskaia, Pekka Kuusisto and Lilli Maijala. Quartet-Lab’s debut project was at the Konzerthaus Dortmund a year ago, and extensive touring is being planned for 2013-2014, including Wigmore Hall in London, Konzerthaus Berlin, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Schloss Elmau, Helsinki Festival, and Beethovenfest Bonn.
From Jeffrey Johnson's review of Wispelwey's performance at Tanglewood in The Boston Globe:
The joyous G Major and C Major Suites framed the austere Second Suite in D Minor on the first half of the program. Wispelwey took an extremely flexible approach to metric flow in these first suites, often taking long breath pauses to mark phrase endings. His facility masked the digit twisting challenges of the first menuet of the D Minor Suite, and he brought a rustic sound to all three gigues.
After the first intermission each suite opened up a new sound world. The Fourth Suite in E-flat Major revealed the pleasures of a sound almost completely lacking open strings. Wispelwey articulated the large-scale rhythmic conflicts throughout this suite, bringing out syncopations, hemiolas, and, particularly in the Courante, conflicts between groupings in two and groupings in three.
He flashed a quick smile as he lifted the back of his left hand during the second measure of the Fifth Suite’s Prelude to sound an open G, he retuned the cello in the short pause between suites, lowering the highest string by a whole step.
This scordatura tuning — an alternate tuning of a string instrument’s open strings — makes a significant difference in sound, particularly in the fugue and the first Gavotte where open strings help shape ideas. Wispelwey played the Sarabande in ghostly non-vibrato anchored by that ringing open G.
The Sixth Suite closed the event with glittering high register playing that Wispelwey made into a culmination. In a surprising move he played only the melody of the D Major Sarabande, playing the chords as written only during the repeat. This allowed us to understand how the simple lyricism of this movement is voiced through struggle and complexity.
October 29, 2013
Now that YPSO makes its home in the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater for its 77th season, David Ramadanoff's young musicians have the right venue to rehearse and perform. The Nov. 2-3 debut concerts in the hall will have an ambitious, rich program, including Copland’s El Salón México and Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral.
The centerpiece of the concert, conducted by Ramadanoff, is Rachmaninov's 1909 Piano Concerto No. 3, with Norman Krieger as soloist. The 45-minute piano concerto will be a first-time experience for conductor, 100-piece orchestra, and soloist. Krieger is a professor of piano at the University of Southern California, who has been featured by many American and European orchestras, but has never performed the Rachmaninov concerto:
It’s been a dream of mine my whole life to play it. It reflects the human condition on an epic scale. The first movement is like the history of the piano. Rachmaninov was experimenting with so many things. You hear choral music, Bach and Liszt in it. And using the modern piano’s capabilities, he took advantage of all the overtones, layers of sound, and celebrates sonority. I can’t think of any other concerto that does that before it."
For Ramadanoff too, it's an exciting challenge: "There’s so much to sort out, so much interaction between the pianist and orchestra. The integration of the orchestra and piano is complex."
Higdon’s blue cathedral is her most performed orchestral work. She composed it for the Curtis Institute of Music’s 75th anniversary in 2000 and during a reflective period in her life after the death of her brother, Andrew Blue. Higdon says the blue in the title refers to the sky, where all possibilities soar and cathedrals represent a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression that serve as a symbolic doorway in to and out of this world:
"As I was writing this piece, I found myself imagining a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky. Because the walls would be transparent, I saw the image of clouds and blueness permeating from the outside of this church."
Celebrating his 25th season as music director, Ramadanoff conducts 100 YPSO musicians, who range in age from 12 to 19, coming from 32 Bay Area cities in seven counties. Founded in Berkeley in 1936, YPSO is the oldest youth orchestra in California and the second oldest in the nation. The oldest U.S. youth orchestra is the Portland, OR, Youth Philharmonic, founded in 1924.