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Music News

October 20, 2009

Stay up to date with weekly classical music news from the Bay Area, across the US & around the World.

Last-Minute Word About a First-Class Event

Yes, it's tonight at 8 p.m. in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, but if you're a timely reader of Music News, you can still make it.

The remarkable (if unnecessarily capitalized) LIEDER ALIVE! is presenting two super-talented young singers, soprano Heidi Melton and tenor Eleazar Rodriguez, in a joint recital.

Rodriguez will sing Beethoven's Adelaide and the Schumann Dichterliebe cycle. Melton's program includes lieder by Brahms and Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder.

Melton is among those departing from the Adler Fellowship (see below), and chances are you will need to travel for a while to hear her. There are some important opportunities awaiting her in New York and in Europe.

Other outgoing Adler Fellows are soprano Tamara Wapinsky; mezzo-sopranos Daveda Karanas, Daniela Mack, and Renée Tatum; tenors Andrew Bidlack and Alek Shrader; bass Kenneth Kellogg; and apprentice coach Dennis Doubin.

These are the incoming Adlers for 2009: sopranos Susannah Biller (Georgetown, Tennessee), Leah Crocetto (Adrian, Michigan), and Sara Gartland (Saint Paul, Minnesota); mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani (Hod-HaSharon, Israel); countertenor Ryan Belongie (Beaver Dam, Wisconsin); tenors Brian Jagde (Piermont, New York) and David Lomelí (Monterrey, Mexico); and baritone Austin Kness (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Crocetto, Lomelí, and Kness are returning Adler Fellows.

The two pianists selected for Apprentice Coach Fellowships are Tamara Sanikidze (Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia) and returning Adler Fellow Allen Perriello (Gibsonia, Pennsylvania).

Mansouri Joins Lobby Gallery

There they are, in the splendid main lobby of the War Memorial Opera House: sculptural images of former general directors Gaetano Merola (1923-1953), Kurt Herbert

 Adler (1953-1981), and Terence A. McEwen (1982-1988).

Next Monday, the sixth general director, David Gockley (2006-), will unveil a bas relief of Intendant No. 4, Lotfi Mansouri (1988-2001). The artist is Bruce Wolfe.

Although soon becoming "historical," Mansouri is very much in the active mode, getting ready to direct a San Diego Nabucco, among other projects.

Highlights of Mansouri's intendancy included introduction of supertitles, an on-time and on-budget ($85 million) renovation and seismic retrofit of the Opera House, preservation of the homeless company during the closure of the War Memorial in 1996-1997, the introduction of the "Broadway Boheme" in the Orpheum, and bringing new and young audiences to opera.

(About the lobby, even though I virtually live there, I didn't realize until now that it has an official name: the Rhoda Goldman Foyer.)

Next week, we'll bring you the sculpture version.

KDFC Goes Partially Noncommercial

KDFC-FM 102.1, will go commercial-free from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays, beginning Monday, Oct. 26. "With 80+ commercial radio stations in the Bay Area," says the annnouncement, "only KDFC gives you a three-hour block of continuous music to start your workday.

Hoyt Smith brings you nothing but six decades of classical music that keeps you calm, helps you concentrate, and inspires your best work," it says here.

Crowden Concert Hall Renovation

Crowden Music Center is receiving a $350,000 gift from the Jacqueline Hoefer Trust for the renovation of its concert hall. The hall, planned to be "a state-of-the-art performance and recording space," will be named the Jacqueline and Peter Hoefer Auditorium.

Architect Donn Logan of Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, a longtime supporter who helped the Center move into its current Berkeley Historical Landmark building, will oversee the renovations, in consultation with Berkeley's Meyer Sound, which will contribute its groundbreaking electroacoustic architecture system, Constellation.

The Crowden School is unique in the country focusing on a particular developmental period in children (ages nine to 14) and providing a curriculum based on music and music performance.

Roger Nixon

Tulare-born, Berkeley-educated composer and music professor Roger Nixon died last week, at age 88. Known for composing band and choir music, he first taught at Modesto Junior College, then served on the faculty of San Francisco State College (now SFSU) for 30 years, until his retirement in 1990.

At UC Berkeley, which he attended after serving in the Navy in World War II, his teacher was Roger Sessions, but he also studied with Arthur Bliss, Ernest Bloch, Charles Cushing, and Frederick Jacobi. In the summer of 1948, he studied privately with Arnold Schoenberg.

Nixon received several awards including a Phelan Award, the Neil A. Kjos Memorial Award, and five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he was elected to the American Bandmasters Association in 1973, the same year he won the association's Ostwald Award for his composition Festival Fanfare March. In 1997, Nixon was honored by the Texas Bandmasters Association as a Heritage American Composer. At his death, he was Professor Emeritus of Music at San Francisco State University.

Golden Gate Opera Postpones Show

In the wake of San Francisco Lyric Opera going under, we now hear that financial difficulties are forcing Golden Gate Opera to cancel rehearsals and postpone its planned Hansel and Gretel production for the holidays. Director Roberta Wain-Becker says:

We wouldn't have enough funds on hand at the final performance, to pay our personnel, the union orchestra, the singers, the artistic staff, and make up artists per agreements. We need additional donations. We have support, but not quite enough on schedule, so we needed a little more time to raise the money.
Ironically (and sadly), Hansel and Gretel itself is a holiday fund-raising sort of event, the operatic equivalent of A Christmas Carol, Messiah, and The Nutcracker.

Rolando Is Back!

Rolando Villazón, a Merola Program graduate and now world-famous tenor, has gone through some bad times, but now — appropriately in the electronic age — he has posted a video message on Youtube about his recovery, complete with a few powerful high notes as proof.

Kazakh Symphony to Berkeley

On their North American debut tour, the Symphony Orchestra of the Kurmangazy Kazakh National Conservatory and the Kazakh traditional music ensemble Turan will make a stop at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall on Nov. 17. (Other concerts are scheduled in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York.)

Presented by IMG Artists, the Kazakh musicians will convey two facets of the country's musical culture: the ancient instrumental and vocal folk traditions of its historically nomadic people, and the European tradition of classical music introduced to the country through Russian influence.

"The students from the National Conservatory, all enormously talented, are ecstatic to be coming to the United States," says IMG's Charles Letourneau. "In addition to performing at some of the country's most prestigious concert halls, they will engage in a number of cultural exchange and educational activities."

Under the direction of French conductor Christophe Mangou and Kazakh conductor Kanat Omarov, the tour program opens with Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy, followed by Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, with Jania Aubakirova as soloist.

Turan takes the stage for the second half to perform a traditional composition, Kerogly, in addition to traditional songs. Founded in 2008 by a group of students from the Conservatory, Turan's members are folk artists performing on such ancient Kazakh instruments as the lutelike zhetygen, sherter, and dombra; the kyl kobyz ("the most ancient bowed instrument on earth"); the flutelike sybyzgy and saz syrnay — together with a host of percussive instruments, mouth harps, and throat singing.

And there's still more, an interesting combination: the world premiere of Jamilya, a symphonic poem written for Turan by Aktoty Raimkulova, followed by the overtures to Rossini's William Tell and to Leonard Bernstein's Candide.

Many members of the orchestra, established in 1947, have participated in the International Student Symphony Orchestra of Central Asia, joining young musicians from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Borrowing Music News from the Queen of Columnists

From Leah Garchik's Monday column:

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky's performance in Il trovatore received rave reviews here, but oh, there was a dark side. Shopping at Walgreen's at Van Ness and Eddy one day, a man followed her out and tried to snatch her handbag.

"I was able to kick him in a way that made him limp home, doubled over, and he didn't get my purse!" she wrote on her Facebook page. "Unfortunately he managed to push back and I took a bad fall, rolling my ankle." While singing the next day, she felt her ankle snap. She'd torn a ligament, and she's in a cast now.

But wait, there's more: At the opera's final performance, tenor Marco Berti "fell on my other foot as I was dying, and broke my toe! ... I suppose I shouldn't have said all day that the torn ligament was OK because I had another foot. I must have jinxed myself!"


Bates: Never Homeless

California Symphony's Young American Composer in Residence Mason Bates has just received an appointment as the Chicago Symphony's Mead composer in residence.

 Bates' residence with the Walnut Creek orchestra runs from 2007 through 2010; his Chicago stint begins in the fall of 2010.

Bates’ three-year residency with the California Symphony culminates with the world premiere of a major new work next May, to be conducted by Barry Jekowsky. That work and his White Lies for Lomax and Music From Underground Spaces, to be performed by the Chicago Symphony next April, were both created under the California Symphony's residence program.

Bates is a past recipient of both the Rome and Berlin prizes, whose unusual compositions fuse orchestral writing, electronica, and techno rhythms. "Working with Mason the last two seasons has been a privilege and a pleasure for me, as well as our musicians," says Jekowsky, who selected the composer from among more than 85 applicants in 2007, while Bates was still working on his doctorate at UC Berkeley:

Mason truly has a unique voice. His subtle blending of classical and electronica elements into his innovative and brilliantly-crafted compositions have already resulted in an enduring body of work that is both fascinating and engaging.

Fremont Opera Wants to Scare Some Money Out of You

David Sloss' Fremont Opera presents a Halloween fund-raiser program, Spooktacular: Ghosts, Terror, and Evil in Opera. With Sloss as speaker and pianist Hélène Wickett, Angela Cadelago, Sonia Gariaeff, and Roberto Perlas Gomez will invoke the spookiest possible music.

The event starts at 4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 25, at the Mission Coffee Roasting Company in Fremont. Admission is $25, Halloween costumes are encouraged.

Musings About Salome's Charger

Thanks to a limited vocabulary and lack of familiarity with Martha Stewart (other than during her prison years), I was really taken aback in the War Memorial Opera House on Sunday.

There I was at the San Francisco Opera Salome, minding my own business, when the Princess of Judea danced through all her veils, and then made a demand on nasty stepfather Herod.

"... Kopf des Jokanaan in einer Silberschüssel," she sang, Jokanaan's head in a silver bowl, which was OK, but the supertitle said: "I want the head of Jokanaan, in a charger." In a WHAT?

Then Herod echoes the question: "His head, in a charger?" but he seems to be more occupied by the head part, not the charger. And on it goes, Salome and Herod kicking head-and-charger back and forth.

You would think severed heads are best served on a silver plate, no? In a silver bowl, OK. But what's a charger anyway? A device to charge the batteries for the head to glow in the dark? An especially strong horse for battle?

Had to do some looking to find the "obs." meaning: a bowl or large, shallow dish. The OED says: "A large plate or flat dish for carrying a large joint of meat; a platter." Yuck. Incidentally, this production uses neither bowl nor plate, but rather something that looks — from a distance — like a net bag of sorts, at least before Salome herself places it on plate ... I mean charger.

Where did "charger" come from? Not from the German libretto, so maybe it's Oscar aWilde's responsibility? The 1893 French original has "dans un bassin d'argent" — "basin" or "bowl."

But then, there's Lord Alfred ("Bosie") Douglas' 1894 English version, the solution to the supertitle mystery, and the exact quote used in the War Memorial.

Give me, in a silver charger ... says she, but not yet naming the object. Herod laughs and asks:

In a silver charger? Surely yes, in a silver charger. She is charming, is she not? What is it that thou wouldst have in a silver charger, O sweet and fair Salome, thou that art fairer than all the daughters of Judea? What wouldst thou have them bring thee in a silver charger?
See? "Charger" upsets Herod too. Research has turned to the King James Bible, which reports the demand by Salome — called a "damsel" there but not in the supertitles, thank goodness — as "I will that thou give me at once on a charger the head of John the Baptist."

Here's the question: as supertitles are meant to disperse information quickly and efficiently, why burden the audience with archaic, little-known words?

To quote fellow charger-defective opera fan Ed Gordon on the subject:

Basically, the purpose of supertitles is to allow the audience — in a quick glance — to get the idea of what is being sung. To toss in archaic words or even words not in common parlance does the audience a disservice by forcing their attention away from the stage action in order to understand what the words mean.

There is no justification for referring to the "original" English translation any more than there is to rely on Ruth and Thomas Martin for word choices in supertitles of the operas that they translated during their active years.

Besides, the English translation is really a "British" translation. I dare say that "charger" was a word never in use in the lower 48. And that's where the opera is being performed for which these supertitles are intended.

After my initial complaint, I heard from a vast number of people who all knew — intimately — the charger. Even Target stores seem well familiar with the object (even if it's out of stock), and for the paper chargers (?!), there is the Pottery Barn. How educational is opera?!

My favorite supertitle item: Tosca's demand to have the eyes of the woman in Cavaradossi's fresco painted black. The whimsical, unintentionally hilarious translation: "Give her black eyes!"

A Measure of Dudamel

I am completely in Gustavo Dudamel's corner, and have been for years, but I do share some of the concerns about the excessive (unavoidable-in-Hollywood) hype.

I recently found, and would like to pass along, a sort of test to see where he is — his Bartók Concerto for Orchestra with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (see the link for the full concerto), which shows both the good and the "he still has a ways to go" aspects.

A good deal of the performance is insufficiently idiomatic and "internationalized." Strangely — coming from Dudamel — the early part of the performance lacks true internal intensity, especially the first movement. He is very good with the big gestures of the Elegia and the breakneck Finale.

Some of the quiet passages are too meandering and undefined. Balances are fine, and individual instruments play just the way you'd expect from the Philharmonic, regardless of who is on the podium.

B-, not an A+ in my (Bartók-idolizing) opinion. There are numerous performances that are superior to this one, some coming from conductors not nearly as well-known as The Dude.

Yet Another Take on 'The Dude'

Ivan Hewett in The Telegraph about the beginning of Gustavo Dudamel's tenure with the Los Angeles Philharmonic:
... can a man born and raised so far from the nerve centres of the classical tradition and who never attended an élite conservatoire really compare with the older maestros that head other American orchestras – Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco, Riccardo Muti in Chicago, Charles Dutoit in Philadelphia?

The people who can answer that question best are, of course, the players. "There are lots of conductors out there who have great ideas, but when they get up on the podium they seem total idiots," says the L.A. Phil’s Concertmaster Martin Chalifour. "But the great thing about Gustavo is that he has a great technique; he’s very clear with the baton. And he’s absolutely driven to find the emotional heart of the music."

I see evidence of that myself at the rehearsal. "No, you should start later, and wait more at the top," Dudamel says of a particular sliding phrase in Mahler’s First Symphony, whose tendency to sentimentality he clearly wants to nip in the bud. It takes several goes and more fine-tuning to get it right, but when he’s satisfied he jumps up and says "Good!" with such unbuttoned joy that the players can’t help laughing.

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