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Music News: Sept. 18, 2012

September 18, 2012

New Century's New Season from Within

September 18, 2012

What is it like to prepare for a new season? To find out, we asked musicians of the New Century Chamber Orchestra, who will open the 2012-2013 season on Sept. 18 in the Menlo-Atherton Center for Performing Arts. Led by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg for the fifth year, the 19-member NCCO is embarking on its 21st season.

The concert — repeated Thursday in Berkeley, Saturday in Herbst Theatre, and Sunday in the Osher Marin JCC — will mark the Benjamin Britten centennial with performances of the Simple Symphony, and Les Illuminations, featuring soprano Melody Moore. Bartók's 1939 Divertimento is also on the program. Violinist Anna Presler says of the work:

Working on the Divertimento, I'm struck by how much it reminds me of the feeling of playing his second string quartet, and how much it reminds me of the feeling (though not the sound) of jazz. I suppose both these comparisons arise because the melodies in the Divertimento are beautifully moody, and they give the contradictory impressions of being dance-like and yet rhythmically unanchored; and then they are interrupted by an occasional uncomplicated glimpse of incredible jubilation.

I don't know if I'm looking forward more to the Bartók or to playing Les Illuminations again. The characters in that piece are so vivid, and the way Melody sings it is riveting, so we are all in for a treat.

The orchestra in Herbst Theatre Photo by David Allen Presler, who is also the artistic director of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, awaits such NCCO new-music ventures as performing works by composer-in-residence Lera Auerbach later in the season: "Nadja's idea of having several commissions in one season from a contemporary composer works so well. It gives the musicians and the audience a chance to immerse themselves in a new musical dialect, and to understand one composer from different vantage points."

Violinist Jenny Douglass is proud of the "New Century sound":

This season brings a great mix of the known and unknown. Whatever repertoire we're playing, New Century puts its own stamp on it. We rehearse a lot so that each performance can be spontaneous. That's why we look at each other so much — we never know exactly where each phrase will take us, but we know that we'll stick together.

Playing with New Century is just plain fun. You are surrounded by the highest caliber musicians, playing thoughtfully programmed music, and challenged to bring your best and give your all at every moment. Our audiences feel the electricity coming from the stage, and love being a part of the experience.

Clarice Assad's <em>Suite for Lower Strings</em> is on the NCCO schedule Dawn Harms, one of the busiest violinists around, will once again add chamber music to her work with the San Francisco Opera:

This first concert is exciting to me because it represents a variety of feelings. Britten especially has a way of capturing our emotions through imagination. We go from the emotionally charged Simple Symphony, to a set of lush and heartfelt ballads, ending with a complex but accessible Bartók.

The second concert is unique because all of the violins are playing at least one movement of the Vivaldi seasons. It will be really fun to play the seasons like running in a relay. It sums up the team work that is so necessary in a group like New Century. I think it is a brilliant idea, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Auerbach's Sogno di Stabat Mater for Solo Violin, Viola, Vibraphone, and String Orchestra — a reworking of the 18th-century Italian sacred work by Giovanni Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater — will be featured on NCCO concerts in December. In addition to the music of Vivaldi and Handel, those concerts will also offer Clarice Assad’s Suite for Lower Strings, based on themes of Bach.

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

Cal Performances Receives $1.3 Million in Grants

September 18, 2012

Ann and Gordon Getty are among Cal Performances supporters Four new grants to Cal Performances add up to $1.3 million, according to an announcement last weekend by Matías Tarnopolsky, the organization's director:

* $250,000 from Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem to support the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela’s residency, with Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, Nov. 26-30

* $250,000 from Ann and Gordon Getty to the Cal Performances Orchestra Residency Program, supporting the Philharmonia Orchestra’s engagement under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen, on Nov. 9-11

* $760,000 award over five years from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation "to further the integration of Cal Performances’ artistic programs into the academic life of UC Berkeley"

* $75,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the West Coast premiere of Einstein on the Beach, Oct. 26-28

Comment from Tarnopolsky:

Cal Performances is an organization in a unique class. We have extraordinary artistic standards and attract the world’s greatest artists and ensembles, and we are situated at the heart of one of the world’s top public universities. These gifts are at once a powerful endorsement of our vision and a recognition of the importance of the role of Cal Performances both on the UC Berkeley campus and in the Bay Area at large.

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

Nonsemble's Pierrot Centennial Celebration

September 18, 2012

Top: Amy Foote and Justin Lee; middle: Annie Phillips and Anne Suda; bottom: Kevin Rogers and Ian ScarfeA hundred years ago, Arnold Schoenberg premiered his Dreimal sieben Gedichte aus Albert Girauds 'Pierrot lunaire' (Three times Seven Poems from Albert Giraud's Pierrot lunaire) in Berlin. The work, now known by the more manageable name of Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21, was unusual in many ways, with a narrator (usually, but not always, a soprano) speaking and singing 21 poems, in the Sprechstimme style. The melodrama is atonal, but still eight years before Schoenberg devised the twelve-tone technique.

On Oct. 4, S.F. Conservatory of Music alumni Nonsemble 6 will celebrate the centennial with a costumed and staged production of the work in the Conservatory concerthall. Brian Staufenbiel, stage director of Conservatory resident company Ensemble Parallèle, is director of the production, which includes video projections, subtitles, artwork by Mara Elana, and "lunar visuals" designed by Alex Roten.

Pierrot lunaire tells the story of a wayward clown, Pierrot, who is intoxicated by the moon and seeks out nocturnal adventures: He chases after the lovely Columbine, teases her father Cassander and creates mischief in a graveyard before eventually returning home to Bergamo.

While students at the Conservatory, the members of Nonsemble 6 were selected to represent the institution with a performance of Pierrot lunaire for the 2009 Conservatory Project at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium stage in Washington. The ensemble consists of soprano Amy Foote (M.M., voice, ’10), piccolo/flutist Justin Lee (M.M., flute, ’10), clarinet/bass clarinetist Anna-Christina Phillips (M.M., clarinet, ’10), violin/violist Kevin Rogers (M.M., violin, ’11), pianist Ian Scarfe (Artistic Certificate, chamber music, ’10), and cellist Anne Suda (M.M., cello, ’11). The six hold eight graduate degrees from the Conservatory.

The program also includes STIC ("Sensitivity to Initial Conditions") by Dan Becker, chair of the Conservatory’s composition department, and 14 Ways of Describing Rain, a 12-tone work by Hanns Eisler, composed on the occasion of his teacher Arnold Schoenberg’s 70th birthday. Along with the Eisler composition, Joris Iven’s silent film Regen (Rain) will be screened; it depicts 1920s Amsterdam before, during, and after a rainstorm.

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

Cilea Scooplet

September 18, 2012

According to program notes in Europe, the San Francisco Opera is sharing a revival of David McVicar's production of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur with Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu, so it should be coming to the War Memorial in the next year or two. Opera companies in London and Vienna are coproducers.

The opera was staged in San Francisco only in 1977, with Renata Scotto and Giacomo Aragall, and 1985, with Mirella Freni and Ermanno Mauro.

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

Where Double Bass and Ballet Meet

September 18, 2012

Artem Chirkov, visiting double bass virtuoso Shinji Eshima, Mr. San Francisco Double Bass, has always been a kind and persistent supporter of colleagues, and this time his hands reach across the seas as he is hosting a bass recital by Artem Chirkov from St. Petersburg — of Russia, not Florida.

Chirkov, the young but already famous principal bassist of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, will give a masterclass at 11 a.m. on Sept. 23, in the S.F. Conservatory of Music; a demonstration class in the School of the Arts at 2 p.m. on Sept. 24, the same day as his recital in San Francisco State University's Knuth Hall at 7 p.m. All three events are free and open to the public. He will be accompanied by pianist Randall Benway.

A product of the Petersburg Conservatory and the Munich's Hochschule für Music und Theater, Chirkov has won first prize at competitions in his hometown and Moscow, in addition to Brno, Texas, and elsewhere. In 2004, he became the youngest principal double bass in the 130-year history of the Philharmonic.

The recital will include sonatas by Johannes Matthias Sperger and Frank Proto; transcriptions of works by Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, and Bottesini.

Sasha de Sola Meanwhile, Eshima and the San Francisco Ballet are in London, to premiere RAkU, to his music, choreographed by Yuri Possokhov. The company's toured in Hamburg and Moscow this summer, and it is at Sadler's Wells now through Sept. 23 for nine performances of three mixed-repertory programs, including works by George Balanchine, Mark Morris, Christopher Wheeldon, and company artistic director Helgi Tomasson.

At an intermission of the Sunday matinee in London, Tomasson announced the promotion of Sasha De Sola to the rank of Soloist. The Florida native, who has trained with the Kirov Academy and the Paris Opera Ballet School, has been impressing in SFB performances even while in the Corps de Ballet.

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

Warring Verona Families at the Ballpark, Auditions for Secret Garden

September 18, 2012

From Eric Owens (Capellio), Riccardo Frizza (conductor), Joyce DiDonato (Romeo), Saimir Pirgu (Tebaldo) and Vincent Boussard (director) at Saturday night's AT&T Park simulcast of <em>Rigoletto</em> Photo by Cory WeaverWhat better way to prepare to sing Bellini's The Capulets and the Montagues than to munch on garlic fries while applauding colleagues in the Rigoletto simulcast in AT&T Park (whose usual occupiers, the Giants, are 7 1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles in the National League West division)?

Not shown in the photo, Nicole Cabell (Giulietta — why use the awkward English title for the opera, but keep the Italian names?) and Ao Li (Lorenzo). Of the ballpark event, here's a first-person narrative from the audience:

After a bit of very avoidable and snarly confusion at the entrance, we went up to the VIP deck, and the fun began. Everyone was casual and the ballpark fun food, tiny hot dogs, slider size burgers, and quesadillas were passed generously. There was a mini buffet, too, plus wine and beer.

It was a big crowd and the outfield was packed with picnickers, including a lot of kids. Our seating was dead center in sec 218 for those who know the ballpark. It made more sense to me that it was an evening performance, though seeing the big screen had not been a problem during the earlier matinee AT&T experience.

It seemed a non sequitur to have a barber shop quartet sing The Star Spangled Banner. Someone said they were the winners of a competition for the honor. OK.

There were some glitches with balance and feedback in the sound system. From the beginning, Francesco Demuro (The Duke) was the weak link. He was pushing his small voice and never seemed comfortable. Aleksandra Kurzak (Gilda) sang well but I felt no chemistry between her and Demuro. Zeljko Lucic (Rigoletto) warmed up and from "Piangi, Piangi" onward he was all one could have wanted. The best in show were Andrea Silvestrelli (Sparafucile) and Joo Won Kang (Marullo).

As always, the camera alters the production. Too many headshots. If not familiar with the abduction scene, it might not be understood that it was a street scene as there were too many closeups.

Meanwhile, San Francisco Opera is holding auditions for singers to participate in the world premiere production of Nolan Gasser's The Secret Garden, next March, in Zellerbach Hall.

Auditions for young performers will be held on Oct. 3, at 3 p.m., at the Opera House. The roles are Mary Lennox, a girl soprano between the ages of 9–21; Colin Craven, a boy tenor between the ages of 12–16; and Dickon Sowerby, a boy tenor between the ages of 14–21.

Applicants for the role of Mary Lennox should appear around the age of 9 years old. (But they can be 21?!) Applicants for the role of Colin Craven and Dickon Sowerby must have a male tenor range. These roles come with an AGMA principal contract with a minimum weekly salary.

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

Einstein Revival Acclaimed

September 18, 2012

<em>Einstein</em> in Brooklyn Photo by Lucie JanschThe Brooklyn Academy of Music premiere on Sunday of the revival of Philip Glass' 1976 Einstein on the Beach, coming to Cal Performances on Oct. 26, is described in The New York Times:

The electric keyboards and synthesizers of the Philip Glass Ensemble quietly played the low three-note organ drone that runs through the opening "knee play," as the creators call the five episodes that punctuate the major scenes of the opera’s four acts. Two compelling lead performers, Helga Davis and Kate Moran, dressed in baggy gray pants and white shirts with black suspenders, having moved incrementally toward seats onstage, began muttering together.

One spoke numbers randomly; the other recited a nonsensical yet alluring text by Christopher Knowles. ("Would it get some wind for the sailboat.") Before long, from risers in the pit, a dozen choristers dressed like Ms. Davis and Ms. Moran, their faces pasty looking, stood up and began singing Mr. Glass’s ritualistic music, some counting off various groups of numbers, others intoning the recurring drone bass on solfège syllables (la, sol, do) ...

Anthony Tommasini goes on to praise the work, and then makes a dubious claim:

Even when Einstein was here in 1992, the scars from that contemporary music battle were still sore. Now those bad times seem long gone. Composers do whatever they want to. Audiences are open to everything. Performers champion all styles.

Just exactly where are those "audiences open to everything"? Judging by programming of the major local opera and symphony organizations, those carefree audiences may not be hanging out around the Bay.

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

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