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Music News

October 5, 2010

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


From the San Francisco Conservatory

The Conservatory's BluePrint Project launches its 2010-2011 season this Saturday, with a concert focusing on homegrown talent. Current and former faculty join forces with alumni performers for "Riding the Elevator Into the Sky," a program of new and relatively new works conducted by Artistic Director Nicole Paiement.

Laura Schwendinger, a former teacher in the Conservatory’s Preparatory Division who launched a program for young composers, returns to San Francisco with the West Coast premiere of Chiaroscuro Azzurro (2007), for violin and chamber orchestra, featuring faculty violinist Wei He.

David Conte premieres a new version of his Sexton Songs (rev. 2010), a setting of poems by Anne Sexton for soprano and piano, featuring Conservatory alumna soprano Marnie Breckenridge. Completing the program will be selections from Philip Glass' Orphée Suite (2003), performed by alumnus pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi. There are two new department chairs at the school: Dan Becker, composition; and Catherine Cook, voice. Soprano Patricia Craig joined the voice faculty this year. Faculty composers Elinor Armer, David Conte, and Conrad Susa will have entries in the next New Grove Dictionary of American Music.

Sérgio Assad received two Latin Grammy nominations for compositions in the category of Best Classical Contemporary Composition — Maracaípe. Preparatory Division faculty Kittinant Chinsamran has been chosen one of 10 singers for the Flanders Opera Studio in Ghent, Belgium.

David Conte has been appointed to the composition faculty of the European American Musical Alliance, a summer program based in Paris for American composers. Mario Guarneri traveled to Italy and taught a trumpet master class in Rome at the St. Cecilia Academy. He was guest soloist with the Carlo Atti band in Montiano, and a new quartet, tbd, made its debut at the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music showcase in September.

Bryan Nies, newly appointed director of opera and orchestra at San José State University, conducted two performances of the West Coast premiere of David Carlson's Anna Karenina with Opera San José in September.

Among Conservatory students, Sabha Aminikia will have his String Quartet No. 3 A Threnody for Those Who Remain for quartet and electronics premiered by the Kronos Quartet, Oct. 28-29, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The work, reflecting Aminikia's childhood during the Iran-Iraq War, includes recordings of air raid alarms, TV and radio propaganda, among other elements.

Evgenia Chaverdova, a student of César Ulloa, will be a Young Artist next year with Amsterdam's Opera Studio Nederland, where Conservatory Opera Program Director Richard Harrell has been visiting faculty for more than ten years.

Matthew Cmiel was composer in residence for the 2010 Summer Arts Festival at the Banff Centre in Canada, where he studied with John Adams and his woodwind quintet Love That Dirty Water was performed. Cmiel was also a performer for the 2010 Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival. 

Birthday Benefit Bash for Miss Dalis

Opera San José Founder and Director Irene Dalis is turning 85, and on the occasion the company is celebrating a "Big Birthday Bash and Variety Show" on Sunday, at the San José Improv.

The fund-raiser will feature a roast, along with performances, and the screening of a video from "The Beautiful Minds" campaign, in which Dalis was recently recognized by the National Center for Creative Aging for her accomplishments. Her take on the event:

The year I had my 80th birthday the company put on a gala event to mark the occasion, which I agreed to only if it would be a profitable fund-raiser — and it was. Now that I am about to reach my 85th birthday, the staff has requested that we do something special again, and we need a fund-raiser now a lot more than we needed it five years ago. So how could I refuse?"

Guest-Conductor 'Festival' at Davies Hall

After this week's San Francisco Symphony concerts of Michael Tilson Thomas leading the orchestra in works by Silvestre Revueltas, Villa-Lobos, Edgard Varèse, and Beethoven, it will be time for a parade of notable guest conductors. As SFS Executive Director Brent Assink lists them:

We welcome back two old friends: Semyon Bychkov making his 10th appearance with us (Oct. 15-17), and James Conlon (Oct. 21-23), who first conducted the orchestra in 1978.

Then it's time for two talented newcomers to take the stage of Davies Symphony Hall: 34-year-old British conductor Daniel Harding leading one of the oldest and most revered of European ensembles, the Dresden Staatskapelle (Oct. 24), and the exciting young Spaniard Pablo Heras-Casado (Oct. 28-30), who conducted the Staatskapelle earlier this year, is making his debut here now.

Harding is definitely one of rapidly rising young(ish) conductors around. He was truly young when he met his mentor-to-be, Simon Rattle. "I was 17," he told Classical Voice:
He was the catalyst who helped me go from a young boy with dreams to a young conductor. From that point on I think it is a question of a 45-year uphill march to become a real conductor! I think I am conducting far better than I ever have but I hope to be able to say the same in five years, and in 10 and 20  ... I pride myself on constant development and never staying still.
Why is there such a big difference, I asked Harding, between the Dresden's ultra-conservative touring schedule and its much more balanced programming at home. Do you see any possibility of a change in that for the future?
I think it is quite understandable that an orchestra like the Staatskapelle, whose musical traditions and history are so important and well documented, will tend to be a little conservative on tour.

It is not every day that people far from Dresden can hear this very special way of performing the central German repertoire and they are rightly proud of their heritage and distinct voice. It is gratifying that you know the programming in Dresden is far more adventurous than one might imagine. I would think that over time this will seep into tour programming as well.

We must remember that the isolation of the former East European orchestras during the cold war played a huge part in preserving their individual playing traditions and these have incalculable cultural worth. The flip side may be that the orchestras were, for many years, less broad in their symphonic repertoire. This is now changing but in a way that does not damage the backbone of their increasingly rare tradition.

All-Chopin Feast With Brilliant Young Talent

The 16th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw features dozens of the finest young pianists in the world in a week of auditions, through Oct. 7, followed by two weeks of semifinal rounds, and the finals on Oct. 23.

At the first broadcast on Sunday, Russia's Daniil Trifonov was among the top performers. According to a piano enthusiast:

He is the most naturally musical player I've heard in a competition and a major find, from what I hear this year. I like his attention to tone, relative added length of notes depending on harmonic importance, the subtle shadings he uses, versus straight-ahead playing.
A familiar face at the competition: Korean-American Esther Park, who made such as splash four years ago at [email protected].

There is online video and performance schedule.

Our Town — French Music, Spanish Traffic Jam

A sunny but cool Sunday afternoon in San Francisco turned into a trip down memory lane, although firmly anchored in the present.

On my way to the S.F. Symphony matinee, watching the traffic death trap of Grove Street between Van Ness and Franklin, which included three (3) fully occupied double-decker tour buses, I had a flashback to Las Ramblas, at 2 a.m., near Plaça de Catalunya.

What with MTT/SFS in Davies, Le nozze in the Opera House, a Filipino Heritage free-admission day in the Asian Art Museum, something in Herbst, some big fund drive in pink shirts on the other side of the City Hall, and more — the place had all the chaotic, invigorating vitality of Barcelona.

But it's not just a Sunday afternoon at the conjunction of events; at various times, in many locations — San Francisco is really alive, increasingly so. Of course, there is a price to pay for that: What used to take a 20 minutes on Geary to drive to the Civic Center now often demands twice as much.

I have lived in many places — Budapest, New York, Honolulu, and Seattle among them — but those cities pretty much remained the same as time went on. San Francisco has a new growth-and-energy spurt, it's becoming "more so" what it was before. It feels like a miniature Berlin in expanding and pulsating at a higher speed.

How delightful was then this afternoon, at the fourth and final performance of a Ravel-Debussy-Berlioz program, to hear the orchestra play superbly, better than ever, at least in my limited three-decade-long experience.

From another performance, through another pair of ears, Lisa Hirsch's review has its variations, but at least we equally rejoiced in the Berlioz, regret last year's cancellation of the entire work, hope for the future. As to the Ravel, on Sunday it went like gangbusters, in a good way.

Leaving the hall, I was looking for birds on sale (the Barcelona way) or at least street-vendor sausages àla Zürich or Stuttgart. Had to settle for a Filipino Scrambol from a food truck in front of the Asian. Come to think about it, that is likely to be in short supply in European metropolises, so we are still ahead.

Aida, Figaro, the Pennant Race

Last week, it was opera in the Giants' AT&T ballpark. This weekend, ballpark doings turned up in the Opera House.

At the San Francisco Opera Sunday matinee of the Marriage of Figaro, during the "stay in your seats, this is not an intermission" interval before the fourth act, the Giants' division-winning score was flashed on the supertitle screen, and there was an ovation that's every opera singer's dream.

During the curtain bows after the final curtain, Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) was wearing a plastic souvenir Giants' batting helmet, and when conductor Nicola Luisotti appeared, he waved vigorously an orange "We're No. 1" sponge finger.

It's a city that knows how to mix high art and occasional (all too rare) high from professional sports. During the time when the Forty-Niners still played football, winning scores were regularly announced or projected in the Opera House — and not always in intervals. Wasn't there a Papageno once who sang the score, in German and English?

S.F. — World Music Center

"Traditions Engaged" and "Performing Diaspora" are just two of the series in the city featuring music and dance of India, Indonesia, Cambodia, and other countries.

The San Francisco phase of Chitresh Das' "Traditions Engaged" ended last weekend at Yerba Buena Center with a performance by a Kathakali troupe, led by Sadanam Harikumaran in scenes from the Mahabharata, in his own unique interpretation.

El Cerrito Indian dance specialist Graeme Vanderstoel writes:

It was S. Harikumaran's Kathakali Julius Caesar that I gave a paper on at the recent Association for Asian Performance conference. Not only is he a famous actor, but he is also a composer and choreographer of eight Kathakali plays, as well as being a Kathakali and Carnatic vocalist.
While "Traditions Engaged" moves on to Los Angeles, CounterPULSE's "Performing Diaspora" is just getting started, 13 California artists presenting works from their homeland culture, from Kathak to flamenco and from tabla to taiko, at the CounterPULSE theater.

First up is an Oct. 14-17 series of shows by Sri Susilowati, from Indonesia, and Prumsodun Ok, from Cambodia. Devendra Sharma follows, Oct. 28-31, with traditional folk musical theater from rural north India. Multidisciplinary company Ampey! performs African music and dance Nov. 11-21.

Drama in Chicago as Muti Falls Ill

It was the stuff movies are made of. On Saturday, the Chicago Symphony's new music director, Riccardo Muti, 69, took ill. He was unable to conduct that evening's gala concert; on Monday, he flew home to Milan to consult his doctors, and canceled his entire fall season with the orchestra.

The Chicago Symphony, having undergone a difficult period since 2006 when Daniel Barenboim left after a 15-year-long run, invested heavily in the new Muti era, which has just collapsed. The administration is scrambling to find replacement conductors, which, after the beginning of seasons everywhere and on the level of the CSO, will not be easy.

As to what happened in the hall Saturday, here is a report from an audience member:

Ten minutes after the scheduled 7 p.m. starting time, the president of the CSO board came out and announced there would be a further delay as they worked to resolve an issue. At 7:30, he came out again, with CSO president Deborah Rutter, and they informed us that Muti had come to the theater and wanted badly to conduct but was too ill.

The program was changed to drop the William Tell Overture and the Liszt Les Preludes, and substitute the Mozart Symphony 25, which the orchestra is currently performing in subscription concerts. Concertmaster Robert Chen conducted from his first chair position and it was fascinating watching the other musicians watching him to keep time, very much like a chamber music quartet.

Then Anne Sophie Mutter came out and conducted the Beethoven Violin Concerto as she played. She looked very tense and didn't crack a smile till it was over. After she took a couple bows she announced that she and Chen would perform a Bach piece for two violins and orchestra as an encore dedicated to Muti.

I should also mention that none of the musicians was on stage until it was time to perform when they all filed out together. This is common practice among European orchestras but in Chicago the musicians always come out individually and practice. Muti had asked them to try it this way, and although they didn't like the change, they did it for Muti.

Unfortunately, in San Francisco, making noise endlessly before the concert and in the intervals between performances — even for the long stretches of time when the piano is brought up to the stage — is the unfortunate custom.

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