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Music News

September 8, 2009

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

A Grand Symphonic Doubleheader

Thanks to technology and time difference, you may now attend the San Francisco Symphony season-opening concert tomorrow evening and watch a most promising Berlin Philharmonic event "live" earlier in the day. Both concerts take place at the same time, but Berlin's 8 p.m. is 11 a.m. on the West Coast.

The Philharmonic's new Digital Concert Hall will stream live Haydn's The Seasons, conducted by Simon Rattle, and featuring soprano Christiane Oelze, tenor John Mark Ainsley, and baritone Thomas Quasthoff.

The work is among Rattle's favorites; it was a highlight of his first season at the head of the Berlin orchestra six years ago. A Gramophone review took notice of the "surprise" of the successful blending: "While not trying to ape the lighter sound of period instruments, this heavyweight orchestra under Rattle’s inspired baton is suddenly spry, light on its feet, alert to the smallest changes of accent and nuance."

The video and audio quality of the Digital Concert Hall are terrific. Handling the many features of the service takes a bit of practice, so if you "go" to the Philharmonic, log in early. The cost of a one-time ticket is $14.50 — a price that drops for individual live or archived concerts if you purchase a 30-day or a season pass.

How much longer before we can save on traffic (whether the Bay Bridge is open or closed) and expense by attending Davies Symphony Hall concerts the same way? My guess is within a couple of years.

New Season, New Musicians at SFS

When the San Francisco Symphony opens the 2009-2010 season at Davies Symphony Hall tomorrow, there will be some new faces in the orchestra:

Jonathan Vinocour, 30, will begin his first year as principal viola. He comes from the principal viola position of the Saint Louis Symphony. Previously, he served as guest principal viola of the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig and of the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa in Japan. Vinocour is also an active solo performer, and recently received first prize in the Holland America Music Society Competition. He has recorded his first solo album.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., Vinocour graduated from Princeton University in 2001 with a degree in chemistry, and was awarded the university’s Sudler Prize in the Arts. He completed his master's degree at the New England Conservatory of Music in 2003, where he studied with Kim Kashkashian.

Nicole Cash begins as associate principal horn. Born in Annandale, Va., Cash played with the Dallas Symphony for the past eight years, and prior to that completed undergraduate and graduate degrees at Northwestern and Rice universities. She has served as coprincipal horn with the kwa-Zulu Natal Philharmonic (South Africa) and has performed with the orchestras of Honolulu, San Antonio. and Houston, the Grand Tetons Music Festival Orchestra, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, and as guest principal horn with the Saint Louis Symphony.

Polina Sedukh and David Chernyavsky will begin in the second violin section. Sedukh was born in 1980 to a family of musicians in St. Petersburg, Russia. She holds degrees from the Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory and the Longy School of Music. Before joining SFS, Sedukh served as a member of the Boston Symphony.

Chernyavsky comes from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Prior to that, he was assistant concertmaster in the Washington National Opera Orchestra, from 2005 to 2007, and second violin of the St. Petersburg String Quartet from 2003 to 2005.

MTT: Fairly Close and Reasonably Personal

As tabloid journalism spreads ever wider and wilder, nobody is immune to questions about favorite underwear and the like. We didn't go there, but asked some semipersonal questions of Michael Tilson Thomas, and he obliged:

  • Neighborhood where he lives: Cow Hollow
  • Favorite San Francisco restaurant: Swan Oyster Bar
  • Last book read: The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
  • Favorite book: Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  • Favorite movie: Andrei Rublev by Andrei Tarkovsky
  • Favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon: Not taking phone calls
  • Favorite album as a teenager: Live at the Apollo, Vol. 2, James Brown
  • Biggest personal hero: Galileo
  • If you could have dinner with someone no longer living: Gustav Mahler

Luisotti Outreach

Just a few days before his debut as San Francisco Opera music director, conducting the season-opening performance of Il trovatore on Sept. 11, Nicola Luisotti visited Lafayette (while the Bay Bridge was still open).

He spoke ("charmed and entertained" says our reporter) at the Opera Guild's East Bay Chapter, an event described by Wagner Society and Opera Guild official Terri Stuart:

When is a music director like a velociraptor? According to Nicola Luisotti, it would be when working alongside with David Gockley stalking the likes of super star tenor Jonas Kaufmann for future seasons. Warm, witty, and bursting with the same energy he displays when on the podium or in the pit, Luisotti came directly from another function in Sonoma.

In conversation with Musical Administrator Kip Cranna, Luisotti spoke before a group of 115 chapter members and friends. Luisotti said he fell in love with San Francisco when he first conducted La Forza del Destino here in 2005. He returned home to tell his wife, Rita, "the air is very clean and the city is beautiful."

Luisotti said he longed to come back and mentioned that driving through Sonoma and Napa, many of the houses on the surrounding hills were reminiscent of the architectural style of those in his boyhood Tuscan home in Viareggio.

He described the events surrounding his acceptance of the position of music director, how he agreed to it without hesitation in Seattle where he was conducting. Peter Gelb had just left Luisotti's dressing room, speaking about conducting possibilities at the Met, when David Gockley entered and asked if he would be interested in the position of music director. "YES!" he said immediately.

After the interview, Luisotti answered questions from the audience. Most questions were really requests for favorite repertory and "who’s your favorite?" When questioned about his new colleagues in the pit and on the stage, Luisotti said that the musicians are "absolutely the best, extremely well prepared," and nearly ready to go at the first rehearsal. He praised Gockley's hiring of "fabulous casts" this season.

'Last Night Of the Proms'

Concert No. 76 of the biggest and best among summer classical-music festivals, the BBC Proms (founded in 1895), has a generic and famous name: "Last Night at the Proms." If you have never seen it, this grand-silly-fascinating event with the participation of thousands of standing audience members, it's difficult to describe it.

Hearing the concert is fine, but watching it is better. This year, on Sept. 12 and a few days thereafter, there will be a better-than-ever opportunity to attend "Last Night" without the airfare to London (and the difficulty of getting a tough-to-find ticket).

There will be live broadcasts on BBC Two and BBC HD from 11:30 a.m. PDT; BBC One and BBC HD from 1:15 p.m.; and in full on BBC Radio 3 — on the Web. The broadcast will be available for the following week.

For the first time, there will be telecasts into theaters, although as Lisa Hirsch found out, that's a confusing situation.

The idea is, says the announcement, "to broadcast live via satellite from the Royal Albert Hall to cinema chains in Canada, South Africa, U.S., Australia, Asia, and New Zealand on Sept. 12. BBC Worldwide Music is working with partners By Experience and SuperVision Media, to allow international music lovers to simultaneously experience what is billed as the 'biggest classical music party in the world'." Split infinitive and all, how can we "to simultaneously" experience the concert showing here seven days after the event? That would be on Sept. 19, at the Elmwood in Berkeley, on College at Ashby.

It will be David Robertson's first Last Night at the Proms since taking over leadership of the BBC Symphony. On the program, works by Oliver Knussen, Purcell, Haydn, Mahler, Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla, Handel, and — the traditional closing number — Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No.1.

McGegan Messiah on BBC

Prom No. 68, which took place on Sunday, featured Philharmonia Baroque's Nicholas McGegan conducting a special performance of Messiah:

Commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Handel's death reaches its climax with a large-scale, Royal Albert Hall-sized performance of Messiah — echoing the late-18th-century monster concerts that inspired Haydn's Creation (Prom 2). Handel specialist Nicholas McGegan conducts a unique massed choir of young voices from around the UK, assembled under the direction of leading choral specialist Simon Halsey.

The soloists are all familiar to San Francisco audiences: soprano Dominique Labelle, mezzo Patricia Bardon, tenor John Mark Ainsley, and bass Matthew Rose. The first and second part of the concert will be available on the Web through next Sunday.

Of the choral preparation, The Telegraph review reports:

I think Halsey is a genius, a superb choral conductor. He is the man who shaped the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, and is now another of the Brits causing waves in Berlin, where he’s completely re-invigorated the radio choir. When Messiah won its place in the Proms season, he had a new edition of the score made, so everyone would literally be singing from the same song-sheet. It was sent to choirs in Scunthorpe, Manchester, Gateshead, and Birmingham, plus the national youth choirs of Wales and Great Britain, and the chorus of the Royal School of Church Music. Over many months, each group's own choirmaster acted as a subaltern, preparing his platoon for duty. Then the young troops were mustered for a week at Durham University, where Colonel Halsey formed battle order, before Conductor-General Nicolas McGegan arrived to marshal affairs at the Royal Albert Hall.

Music From the Kennedy Funeral

Video is available online from Sen. Ted Kennedy's funeral, including Yo-Yo Ma's performance of the Sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite No.6, Placido Domingo and Ma in "Panis Angelicus" by Cesar Franck, and Susan Graham singing the Schubert "Ave Maria."

'Post Classical' is Upon Us

When I first heard of a San Francisco concert by "three captivating post-classical artists" on Sept. 27 (Bonfire Madigan, Kelli Rudick, and Odessa Chen), it served as a logical opportunity to ask: what is post-classical? Here's the answer from publicist Adam Baer (who first suggested I should do the heavy lifting, being a writer and all, but I demurred):

I say "post classical" not to define something dissimilar to neoclassical (classical instrumentation and structure in contemporary forms of music), but more to connect it to "post-rock," like Tortoise or Explosions in the Sky to list two commonly known examples. [Alas, I am not common enough to know them, but Wiki does. JG]

In an attempt at a concise genre description, I'm hoping the term conveys the aspects of both neoclassical artists like Max Richter or the Rachel's [sic] with post-rock's more expansive and thicker-soaked brand of ambient and complications in structure — while avoiding the very tired word "rock" altogether.

I hope that helps more than further confuses. Something like "indie/experimental/electro/neoclassical/post-rock" is perhaps just "post-classical." I think it conveys not only the foot in the past but the other in the future.

And then Baer, helpfully, referred me to a Serious Source:

Post-classical music is music incorporating elements of classical structure and instrumentation through relatively unconventional means. It is not meant to represent any specific genre or period of music, but rather a cross-section of musical styles loosely defined by the following criteria:

Derivative — artists generally considered outside the classical genre but who incorporate traditional classical components in a predominantly unconventional manner. Instrumentation may either be acoustically or electronically generated, but usually fused with another musical style.

Experimental — artists generally considered within the classical genre but who work outside the boundaries of traditional classical structure. Instrumentation is usually acoustically generated, but often by unconventional means.

And now to the concert that started all this: Bonfire Madigan (punk/soul) and her band, Kelli Rudick (electro/indie), and Odessa Chen (classical/indie/ambient, from San Francisco) are performing on Sept. 27 at Café Du Nord. To quote from the announcement:

Connected to a burgeoning nationwide multi-genre intermix, three envelope pushing post-classical acts converge at Cafe du Nord in the Mission. All three artists show the influence of structure and methods of classical music while pushing those tenets to disparate places in the avant garde of contemporary sound.

Good luck, one and all!

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New Music Survives 'Great Recession'

Even with the current economic stranglehold on art organizations, a vital symphonic repertoire is sustained, according to statistics from the League of American Orchestras. Ninety North American orchestras will offer 212 premieres in the season beginning this month. New works by 197 composers will be heard around the country, 179 world premieres, 24 U.S. premieres, and nine Canadian premieres.

The premieres span a broad range of styles and periods, from 19th-century German romantic composer Friedrich von Flotow’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which will receive its first American performance by the Carson City, Nv., Symphony, to contemporary singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright’s Five Shakespeare Sonnets at the San Francisco Symphony.

Contemporary composers whose works will be premiered by more than one orchestra include Michael Daugherty, Detlev Glanert, Philip Glass, Jacques Hétu, Jennifer Higdon, Peter Lieberson, Magnus Lindberg, Nico Muhly, James Primosch, and Behzad Ranjbaran.

LAO President and CEO Jesse Rosen says:

It is very gratifying that, in this economy, orchestras continue to present the voices of our time. New works offer fresh energy and perspectives that can add meaning to our listening experience while helping us hear familiar works in new ways.

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