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Music News: Sept. 23, 2014

September 23, 2014

RAkU in Chicago, in S.F., on the Web

September 23, 2014

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in the world premiere cast of <em>RAkU</em> Photo by Erik TomassonSan Francisco Ballet choreographer Yuri Possokhov and San Francisco double bassist/composer/teacher maven Shinji Eshima shared the acclaim last weekend in Chicago when the Joffrey Ballet presented a program including their RAkU, which has been conquering audiences in the War Memorial.

Hedy Weiss' review in the Sun-Times spares no superlatives:

With its fearsomely difficult dancing and visually ravishing environment, Possokhov’s RAkU is a stunner, pure and simple. And in some ways it brings the program full circle with a 21st century twist on Balanchine’s ballet in its use of exoticism and non-traditional, often acrobatic movement. Its gasp-inducing lifts also suggest the vestiges of Possokhov’s early career with the Bolshoi Ballet, though he uses total stillness to potent effect here as well.

Alexander Nichols’ spectacular, architecturally ingenious set features a series of bare wood boxes onto which photographs of the temple ruins, as well as cherry blossoms, cranes, and flames are projected, creating a cinematic quality ... The fiendishly difficult choreography has clearly set the dancers on fire.

RAkU is coming back to the War Memorial, opening SFB's next season, with performances on Jan. 27-Feb. 7. Program 7, April 10-21, will feature a new work choreographed by Possokhov, set on music by Eshima.

Ariana Lallone and Christophe Maraval in the Pacific Northwest Ballet's <em>Lambarena</em>. Photo by Angela SterlingYet untitled, the new work will have a number of surprises: Moscow-born Possokhov joined SFB in 1994, yet his 35-minute work is a nostalgic look at what was right in 1960s America (maybe from a Cold War-era Russian perspective?); as to Eshima's music, it's scored for a full orchestra, including recorded Tom Waits songs, a drum set ... and a kitchen sink. No joke: orchestra sources report the score calls for "everything including a kitchen sink, literally."

And, World Ballet Day, beginning at 7 p.m. Pacific Time, with San Francisco Ballet participation, streaming live rehearsals beginning at 11 a.m., Oct. 1, including RAkU; Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle, which runs Jan. 29-Feb. 10; and William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, on Program 3, Feb. 24-March 7.

The 2015 ballet season is one of the most attractive in years, especially with such popular revivals as the Possokhov and Forsythe works, Val Caniparoli's wonderful Lambarena (Jan. 27-Feb. 7); Liam Scarlett's Hummingbird (Feb. 26-March 8).

Also, the Helgi Tomasson-Possokhov’s recreation of the full-length Don Quixote (March 20-29), Alexei Ratmansky’s superb Shostakovich Trilogy (April 8-19); and others.

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

The 'k' in RAkU

September 23, 2014

Example of raku-yaki, with a "beautiful flaw"If you're wondering about the title of the ballet, as I was when it was first performed, here's composer Shinji Eshima's explanation:

RAkU is a Japanese ceramic technique involving very high heat in the firing process. Occasionally, by chance, the high heat creates a blemish or flaw in the piece which the Japanese can find exceptionally beautiful.

The lower case "k" was originally a typo that I sent out to the production team. We adopted it into the title as a way to symbolize the flaw in all of us. Even a Zen monk, despite his discipline, can fall in love.

Eshima also sent a photo from the Joffrey/Chicago production of RAkU last weekend, unfortunately too grainy for reproduction, but let the caption speak for it:

The photo was taken at a dinner in Chicago for the Joffrey after a rehearsal. Seated are Ashley Wheater, Yuri, Elise Borne, Val Caniparoli, Pierre Vilanoba, Regina Bustillos, and myself. Also there but not seen here, was Rose and Bonnie Borne. Elise noticed that by coincidence, for opening night of SF Ballet next season, the production teams were all seated. Elise is staging Serenade, Yuri and myself for RAkU and Val for his Lambarena (which I also love).

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

ODC/Dance Joins @Large on Alcatraz

September 23, 2014

ODC's Corey Brady, one of the dancers to be seen on Alcatraz Photo by RJ MunaAs if the Ai Wei Wei @Large exhibit on Alcatraz Island wasn't something unique in itself, news comes now of additional special events, including an ODC/Dance one-night only "site-specific movement installation" as part of the Sept. 26 opening night celebration, which runs 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Speaking Volumes is a collaboration between ODC Artistic Director/Founder Brenda Way, photographer/filmmaker RJ Muna, ODC Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson, and ODC Associate Choreographer Kimi Okada. The work explores issues of censorship, constraint and freedom, extolling values of resilience and the enduring power of expression. Way says:

My work has always been tinged with a political consciousness, whether concerning global warming, urban sprawl or expanded ideas about gender capacity. It is invigorating in this case to take part in an international response to the repression of human imagination and intelligence. I am energized and honored to join artistic hands around the globe.

As far as attendance is concerned, there are a few problems, the lesser one is to get over to the island and be dressed sufficiently to deal with the cold and wind; the bigger one is that opening-night ticket pricesbegin at $1,000, and I am not sure how high they go.

It is a benefit, for a number of fine organizations, including FOR-SITE, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and project collaborators Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. For the run of the exhibit, tickets are $30, with discounts for youth, seniors, and families.

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

Conductor Switch for Partenope

September 23, 2014

Julian Wachner, Conductor/Composer Photo by Acis ProductionsSoon after the withdrawal of Marco Berti from San Francisco Opera's Norma for "personal reasons" (and allowing Russell Thomas to sing the role of Pollione), news comes now from SFO/PR of another switch:

"British conductor Christian Curnyn, who has withdrawn from the production for personal reasons" is being replaced by "Grammy-nominated American conductor Julian Wachner making his San Francisco Opera debut, conducting George Frideric Handel’s Partenope, presented Oct. 15–Nov. 2 at the War Memorial Opera House."

The cast: soprano Danielle de Niese in the title role, countertenor David Daniels (Arsace), mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack (Rosmira), countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (Armindo), and tenor Alek Shrader (Emilio). Partenope is directed by Christopher Alden with sets designed by Andrew Lieberman.

Wachner was named in 2011 Director of Music and the Arts at New York City’s Trinity Wall Street, where he serves as principal conductor of NOVUS NY (Trinity’s resident contemporary music orchestra), the Trinity Baroque Orchestra and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street (nominated for a 2012 Grammy Award for Handel’s Israel in Egypt).

He is also Music Director of the Washington Chorus, with whom he won ASCAP’s Alice Parker Award for adventurous programming in 2011. A Baroque specialist, he was the founding music director of the Boston Bach Ensemble and the Bach Académie de Montréal, besides serving as artistic director of International Bach Festivals in Boston and Montreal. Wachner created several new programs at Trinity Wall Street, including the Twelfth Night Festival of Early Music, presented in collaboration with Gotham Early Music Society (GEMS) and featuring many of New York’s leading baroque and renaissance ensembles. In addition to many concerts at Trinity Wall Street, upcoming performances include Wachner leading Ives’ Symphony No. 4 and Alberto Ginastera’s Turbae ad Passionem Gregorianam at Carnegie Hall.

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

Festival Opera: Phoenix Rises

September 23, 2014

Festival Opera's Sara Nealy: Goosing the phoenixLarge opera companies of New York City, Baltimore, and others are gone (if not yet forgotten). Ancient opera houses in Vienna and Rome (see next item) are in turmoil; San Diego Opera is trying to come back to life. And meanwhile, there is a remarkable small organization in our neck of the woods that just won't give up.

Walnut Creek's Festival Opera, which went from adventurous to broke, "bounds back with optimism and a robust 2015 season," says General Director Sara Nealy.

In addition to a holiday gala on Dec. 3, an Opera in the Park event next June, the company's big project is a semi-staged production of Richard Strauss’ big, sprawling, demanding Ariadne auf Naxos, a work that would test any major company, in July. Michael Morgan returns to conduct a cast that includes Shawnette Sulker as Zerbinetta and Shirin Eskandani as the Composer. Morgan told Music News:

After spending so many seasons there, I am happy to see Festival Opera coming back. If they think it will be helpful for me to lead a production, I will be there with enthusiasm. That they should ask me to come back for one of my favorite pieces does not seem like a coincidence. So I wish them very well. If they're there, I'm there.

Ariadne will be done with orchestra in a minimally staged fashion (which actually suits the piece pretty well) with orchestra on stage (upstage, as it's a small orchestra), as I understand. No decision yet on who will lead the production side, but that's being discussed. The piece was chosen because if you're going to try to make this sort of return, it should be with a piece about which everyone in the company cares deeply.

Shawnette Sulker, to sing Zerbinetta in <em>Ariadne auf Naxos</em>, is shown here in <em>The Most Happy Fella</em>, with Festival Opera founder Ted Weis Photo by Robert ShomlerThen, on a date yet to be announced, Festival Opera will also present two chamber operas — Gustav Holst’s Savitri (with Maya Kherani, Jorge Garza, and Philip Skinner), and Jack Perla’s River of Light (again with Kherani, who sang the role of Meera to acclaim at the Houston world premiere recently).

To summarize company history: Festival Opera was established in 1991 by Dr. Theodore Weis, a baritone and nephrologist (currently at John Muir) who had previously founded Arizona Opera. His goal was to offer East Bay residents professional opera productions at a regional level that would augment what was offered in San Francisco.

Slowly, steadily — under the leadership of artistic director Jim Sullivan, then Olivia Stapp, and for the past 12 years of Morgan as music director and artistic director — Festival Opera progressed to successful production of fully-staged live opera performances that have received critical acclaim for 24 years.

The company has given employment and artistic expression to emerging singers, designers, directors and musicians, and launched the careers for several who now perform at SFO and the Met, and whose careers are now nationally recognized (such as Brandon Jovanovich and David Miller) who got their first break in roles in Walnut Creek.

In 2000, the company began to expand artistically, augmenting its traditional repertory with lesser-known operas, contemporary interpretations, and new American works.

Among Festival Opera productions of note: Brooks/Bizet, La Tragédie de Carmen in 2001; Floyd, Susannah, 2002 (company premiere 12 years before San Francisco); the West Coast premiere of Ned Rorem's Our Town, 2007; Britten, A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2008.

Maya Kherani, here with the Pocket Philharmonic, will sing major roles in both of Festival Opera's <em>Savitri</em> and <em>River of Light</em>In 2011, shortly after the arrival of Nealy as general director, "the company experienced a very large deficit (over $200,000) at the end of the summer season," she says, "and dramatic action was required in order to keep the company in operation. The first action I took was to ask stakeholders, 'Should we?' There was enough enthusiasm and feeling for the company to warrant continuing, but it was clear that a new normal had to be found."

Stabilizing finances, cutting back on productions, collaborating with West Edge Opera, offering opera on a smaller scale — such as Ullman’s The Emperor of Atlantis and Heggie’s Another Sunrise this year — Nealy says, "We have built a template for what we hope will be a model for sustainable operations, offering meaningful work of high artistic caliber that will appeal to a more diverse audience in our community." Still, the fiscal situation is dramatic, however positively Nealy manages to put it:

We had a $750,000 budget, and now are operating at less than half of that — between $200,000 — $300,000, yet still have continued to pay down debt and produce work we are proud of. Our plan is to build back to about $500,000 — $600,000 company or to whatever level allows us to find the balance needed to realize our vision.

Our hearts are in it, and we feel that we are turning the corner now. We could not have done it without the support and understanding of patrons and institutional funders who appreciate our efforts to find a responsible and efficient way to operate while still being artistically relevant.

And yet, the phoenix does rise and fly. Once it's resurrected, according to the legend, it has 1,400 years before another death and rebirth. That should give Festival Opera enough time to return to its glory days.

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

Muti Quits Rome Opera

September 23, 2014

Riccardo Muti: Addio, Roma! Photo by ReutersRiccardo Muti, 73, one of the greatest living conductors, has not only been artistic director of the 134-year-old Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, currently its honorary conductor for life, but also the company's heart and conscience as recently demonstrated by his denounciation from the podium of government cuts for the arts.

"We are in house, quite at home, let us speak together," he said. "'Va pensiero', in old days, was a political symbol. I'm not a politician but I can say that if our culture goes on being slain, our Italia will be 'si bella e perduta' (so lovely and so lost)". He then conducted chorus, orchestra, and the audience in an encore of "Va pensiero," leaving no dry eye in the house.

For Muti to pull out of productions in Rome and leave his position, it must have been personally painful, and the for the organization, a gesture of great significance.

In a letter to the mayor of Rome and the opera's general director, Muti wrote the decision had caused him “very great sorrow” and had come only after “long and tormented thoughts.” He went on to say:

Unfortunately, despite all my efforts to help your cause, the conditions to guarantee the serenity which I need for the productions to turn out well are not there.

The Naples-born maestro said he would not take part in a production of Verdi’s Aida, which is scheduled to launch the opera’s next season in November, nor in upcoming productions. Many Rome productions have been hit by strike threats and protests.

In February, threats of industrial action almost prevented the opening night of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut — conducted by Muti and directed by his daughter, Chiara Muti — from going ahead. In July, the audience attending several productions of La bohème at the ancient Roman Caracalla Baths were greeted only by a piano and offers of reimbursement.

Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said: “With a profound bitterness, I must say I understand the reasons that have led to this decision, which is painful to everyone. I hope, at least, that this will open the eyes of those who obstruct … the commitment to engender the change for which Italian opera has for too long been waiting.”

Earlier this month, Vienna State Opera General Music Director Franz Welser-Möst, abruptly resigned and withdrew from all his scheduled performances there, citing “irreconcilable differences of opinion regarding the company’s artistic planning and profile.” Last week, French conductor Bertrand de Billy joined Welser-Möst, canceling his upcoming performances because of differences with the company’s management.

Both Muti and Welser-Möst remain music directors in the U.S., Muti in Chicago and Welser-Möst in Cleveland.

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

Met Season Preparations, HD Casts Schedule

September 23, 2014

James Levine, back in the saddle, at the Met Photo by Hiroyuki ItoBefore the Metropolitan Opera opened its 134th season yesterday, the 48th in its current home, there were months of feverish preparations (and a last-minute labor settlement), some of which are well captured in a brief video by The New York Times.

James Levine, 71, following a long period of debilitating illnesses, returned to lead the Met orchestra last year, and he conducted the season-opening Marriage of Figaro on Monday. Ex-Merolina Amanda Majeski made her Met debut as Countess Almaviva.

Some of the Met's long and rich season can actually be seen here in the West (and around the globe); here's the 2014 portion of the Live in HD Series, each simulcast starting at 9:55 a.m. Pacific Time, with encores at 6:30 p.m.:

Verdi, Macbeth — Anna Netrebko, Željko Lucic, Joseph Calleja, René Pape; Fabio Luisi conducts, production by Adrian Noble — Oct. 11, encore on Oct. 15 (running time 3:15).

Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro — Ildar Abdrazakov, Marlis Petersen, Amanda Majeski, Isabel Leonard, Peter Mattei; James Levine conducts, new production by Richard Eyre — Oct. 18, encore on Oct. 22 (running time 4 hours).

Bizet, Carmen — Anita Rachvelishvili, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Ildar Abdrazakov; Pablo Heras-Casado conducts, production by Eyre — Nov. 1, encore on Nov. 5 (running time 3:40).

Rossini, The Barber of Seville — Isabel Leonard, Lawrence Brownlee, Christopher Maltman; Michele Mariotti conducts; Nov. 22, encore on Nov. 26 (running time 3:25).

Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg — Johan Reuter, Johan Botha, Annette Dasch; Levine conducts; Dec. 13, starting time at 9 a.m., encore on Dec. 17, still 6:30 p.m. (running time 6 hours).

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

San Franciscan Wins Davidson Award

September 23, 2014

Romi Yount's award-winning guzhen performanceTwenty young people have been named as 2014 Davidson Fellows. The program offers scholarship from $10,000 to $50,000 college scholarships to students 18 or younger, who have "created significant projects that have the potential to benefit society in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, literature, philosophy, music, and outside the box."

One of the winners is 16-year-old Romi Yount of San Francisco. She received a $10,000 scholarship for her project, “Music without Borders: Transcending Cultural and Temporal Boundaries through Guzheng Performance.” Her portfolio is a synthesis of 10 years of guzheng (Chinese string instrument) study, and consists of musical pieces composed throughout China’s history, from the Warring States period to the Cultural Revolution and beyond, in addition to an improvisation. Through her work she hopes to help excavate and preserve sounds whose origins lie deep in the past and far away from the Western music world; it aims to be a form of artistic archeology, a kind of cultural conservation.

Romi will begin her senior year at Lowell High School in the fall. Her brother, Reylon, was awarded a Davidson Fellows Scholarship in 2011. The 2014 Davidson Fellows will be honored at a reception in Washington, D.C., this Friday.

Founded by Bob and Jan Davidson in 1999, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development recognizes, nurtures and supports profoundly intelligent young people, and provides opportunities for them to develop their talents to make a positive difference.

Among 2014 winners of $50,000 from California:

Sara Kornfeld Simpson, 17, San Diego, "Neuronal Nonlinear Dynamics: From an Optical Illusion to Parkinson’s Disease"; Ray Ushikubo, 13, Riverside, Calif., "Circle of Life in Music"; Alice Zhai, 16, La Canada, Calif., "Dependency of U.S. Hurricane Loss on Maximum Wind Speed and Storm Size."

$25,000 scholarships went to Eric Chen, 18, San Diego, "Computer-Aided Discovery of Novel Anti-Flu Drug Candidates to Fight Pandemics"; Emily Wang, 18, Palo Alto, Calif., "Illuminating Disease Pathways: Developing Bright Fluorescent Proteins to Improve FRET Biosensing"

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

Symphony Violists Teaching at the Conservatory

September 23, 2014

Violist Jonathan VinocourAs San Francisco Symphony principal violist Jonathan Vinocour and associate principal Yun Jie Liu join the viola faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, they bring the total number of SFS members on the faculty to 29, including 18 principal, associate, or assistant principal players. It's a serendipitous fact that Davies Symphony Hall and the Conservatory building are only three blocks away.

The Conservatory is proud of its "highly focused and intensive program in viola." Fewer than 20 students work with a faculty of five studio teachers including Jodi Levitz, Liu and Vinocour as well as Paul Hersh and Madeline Prager.

In addition, San Francisco Symphony assistant principal violist Katie Kadarauch teaches a course on repertoire excerpts that prepares students for orchestral auditions. Students enjoy performance opportunities with the Conservatory’s orchestral, baroque, new music, and chamber ensembles, and compete in an annual concerto competition to win a solo appearance with the Conservatory Orchestra.

Another regular event, the Viola Project, features premier performances of works written specifically for the instrument by student composers. Recent master classes have included internationally-known artists including Grammy Award-winning violist Kim Kashkashian and Roberto Díaz, president and CEO of the Curtis Institute of Music.

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

What and Why of Berkeley Symphony Season

September 23, 2014

Joana Carneiro Photo by Dave WeilandBerkeley Symphony's season opens on Oct. 2, with Music Director Joana Carneiro conducting the commissioned world premiere of Oscar Bettison’s Sea Shaped, the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Jennifer Koh as soloist, and Elgar's Enigma Variations.

That's the what and here are some of the reasons for the program from the artists. Bettison on Sea Shaped:

I knew from the beginning that this work would have something to do with the sea which is an entirely new approach for me since I rarely associate my music with nature. Proximity to the sea has been constant throughout my entire life having grown up on Jersey off the British Isles as well as time spent in Holland and both U.S. coasts.

So I started thinking about how the sea was a theme for me. And of course, this theme fits perfectly for a premiere in the Bay Area with Joana, whose home country of Portugal also has an extensive maritime history. During the compositional process, I was struck by a quote from the Paul Valery poem Le Cimetiere Marin ("The Graveyard by the Sea") that reads "the sea, the sea, always beginning again!" so the idea of the sea as a beginning, the water eroding land and reforming, is a metaphor that I see throughout this work.


One of the most memorable concerts of my life was when Jennifer Koh opened the 2010-2011 season with the John Adams and Beethoven violin concertos. Her ability to draw a distinct and tangible connection from past to present mirrors the vision of Berkeley Symphony.

I see this coming season as a journey of relationships, between the old and new, looking forward always. The passion of Berkeley audiences allows us to explore thrilling new works and I am excited to share this world premiere commission by Oscar Bettison with them. I have been a fan of Oscar's music for many years after hearing his piece O Death and I was immediately taken by his inventiveness and beauty.

Jennifer KohKoh:

What I always find remarkable about Sibelius' violin concerto is its strangeness and its beauty in that strangeness. It is revolutionary in its harmonic and rhythmic language and that jaggedness and cragginess creates incredible and striking moments of power when each part comes together. It is truly an amazing piece!

I'm thrilled to be playing this incredible work with Joana and Berkeley Symphony. The audiences in Berkeley have always been warm and welcoming, whether for my Bach and Beyond recitals, Einstein on the Beach, or with the Symphony. I am very much looking forward to returning.

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

Gustavo Dudamel, Composer

September 23, 2014

Juana Acosta as Manuelita in <em>The Liberator</em>Well-known as Gustavo Dudamel is as a young man who rose meteorically to star in concert halls of the world and to become music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, word of his role in Alberto Arvelo's upcoming The Liberator (about Simón Bolívar) comes as news. Dudamel is the composer of the film score, but in the press release a page and a half in small font speaks only of his conducting career, not a word about his composing background.

We'll try to plug that hole, but first — about the film. It is Venezuela's entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar at 87th Academy Awards, premiered recently at the Toronto International Film Festival. Starring Édgar Ramírez (of Carlos and Zero Dark Thirty) and Juana Acosta, the film chronicles the story of Bolivar's struggle for independence in Latin America. Revered in the continent's countries, Bolivar has set some amazing statistics: he rode over 70,000 miles on horseback, his military campaigns covered twice the territory claimed by Alexander the Great.

The Liberator opens on Oct. 3 in San Francisco's Century 9, and theaters around the Bay.

Venezuelan-born Arvelo's best-known films are One Life and Two Trails (1997) and A House with a View of the Sea (2001); as a professor at the National School of Cinema in Mérida, Venezuela, Arvelo initiated an original film movement known as “Cine Átomo,” focused on creating opportunities for young Latin American directors.

In 2010, Arvelo directed the stage portion of a multimedia opera of Cantata Criolla for the LA Philharmonic, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel and starring Helen Hunt and Édgar Ramírez. His documentary To Play and to Fight (2006) deals with the lives of several children in the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra System, the organization from which Dudamel and his Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar emerged. Arvelo's next project was Dudamel: Let the Children Play (2010), about El Sistema's spread around the world.

Now, as to Dudamel's work as a composer: soon after taking up the violin at age 10, he began to study composition. Extensive search about his compositional work finally turned this up:

Dudamel composed the score to the new movie Liberatador, about Venezuelan hero Simon Bolivar, screening this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.

And that's all we know. Except for this: I saw a preview, and both the film and the score are pretty good.

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].