Music News: February 9, 2010

Janos Gereben on February 9, 2010

Philharmonia: Not So Baroque

As the Philharmonia Baroque announces its 30th anniversary season today, Music Director Nicholas McGegan ponders the then and now of the orchestra in terms unexpected from the renowned leader of a period-instrument orchestra:
Thirty years ago, there was a greater sense of righteousness, a claim of musical purity. We were more style-obsessed, some of the period-instrument groups appeared as the performing wing of musicology in dusty raincoats.

What we don't do is "what the composer intended" — that's extremely insulting to all others.

Rather than being as pure as the Virgin Mary, we should probe beneath the skin of music, strive for great performances. Music for me is an emotional and exciting thing, not to be tempered by correctness. Now that I turned 60, let the fun really begin.

For me, the consumer, fun with the Philharmonia began long ago, with musical peak experiences, ranging from the Mark Morris treatment of Rameau's Platée to Handel's Atalanta to November's unforgettable Dido and Aeneas, with Susan Graham. I am sure there was authenticity and technical brilliance at those events, but my heart was in the great performances to which McGegan dedicates himself and his band.

In the midst of concerts presenting Brahms-as-Brahms-might-have-wanted-to-be ("flexible tempi, easy on vibrato, with nice and juicy fingering"), Philharmonia Baroque is reaching into a future of variety and balance.

There are two main threads to the Philharmonia programming: "what is unfamiliar to many people: Rameau, Telemann, and the like; and what is extremely well-known — such as Messiah — which we aim to perform not like the other guys." (Note no claim of "better.")

McGegan's focus on the Philharmonia will intensify during the next season: After almost 20 years, he is leaving as artistic director of the International Handel-Festival Göttingen, and for other organizations — such as Drottningholm Theatre, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra,  and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra — he will only make guest-conducting appearances.

A high point of the season will be a celebration of Frederica von Stade's many years of performances and service to the community. Philharmonia will present Flicka during her farewell season in performances of Baroque arias, and the U.S. premiere of Nathaniel Stookey’s Into the Bright Lights, a musical setting of Flicka's own poetry. (March 4-9, 2011.) 

As other music organizations pull back to deal with the economic crisis, Philharmonia is expanding its season to eight concert series, and expanding venues beyond San Francisco and Berkeley to the new Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, and returning to the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek for the first time in seven years.

Among guest artists: countertenors David Daniels (featured in arias from Giulio Cesare, Jan. 15-21, 2011) and Daniel Taylor, and fortepianist Robert Levin, in the U.S. premiere of newly found fragments of a work by Mozart.

"Big productions" include Messiah (Dec. 3-7, with Kirsten Blaise, Taylor, John McVeigh, and Tyler Duncan) and Haydn's Creation (April 8-13, 2011, with Dominique Labelle, Thomas Cooley, and Philip Cutlip).

There will be an all-Mozart (Sept. 24-29), and an all-Bach (Oct. 15-19) concert, as well as Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Nov. 5-10, with Elizabeth Blumenstock). The music of Spohr, Hummel, and Mendelssohn is featured Feb. 11-15. For the full season information, see the Philharmonia Web site.

Not the Philadelphia!

The latest in the unrelenting "orchestras in trouble" jeremiad is a hallowed organization: the 110-year-old Philadelphia Orchestra. It may declare bankruptcy after ticket sales dwindled this season and its endowment failed to meet its goal, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

With seat prices in the $43-$120 range, the 2,500-seat Verizon Hall is difficult to fill. Even with discounts being offered, only 62 percent of the hall has been sold this season, compared to 80 percent the previous season. The orchestra needs to raise an additional $7 million for its $15 million recovery fund to avoid bankruptcy, the Associated Press reports. Its endowment stands at $112 million, less than half the $250 million it had hoped to have. (San Francisco Symphony's endowment stands at approximately $200 million.)

Meanwhile, the powerhouse of American summer festivals, the Aspen Music Festival, is cutting its run from nine to eight weeks. Even with the economy-prompted reduction, however, Aspen will offer more than 350 events.

Racette Butterfly Reprised

Chances are you either saw or at least heard about Patricia Racette's sensational turn in Madama Butterfly two years ago in the War Memorial. If you did, but especially if you didn't, you'd want to know the production is coming to the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas on Feb. 13 (10 a.m.) and Feb. 17 (6:30 p.m.).

The production featured Racette as Cio-Cio-San, opposite tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao (The Bonesetter's Daughter) as Suzuki; Donald Runnicles conducted.

Additional S.F. Opera films at the Kabuki will be Don Giovanni on Feb. 27 (10 a.m.) and March 3 (6:30 p.m.); Samson and Delilah on March 20 (10 a.m.) and March 24 (6:30 p.m.), La rondine on April 3 (10 a.m.) and March 7 (6:30.p.m.).

Tickets are $14, available online, or at the theater at Post and Fillmore in San Francisco.

Naumburg Winner Trio Tonight

San Francisco Performances once again presents the winner of the Walter W. Naumburg Competition with a concert featuring Trio Cavatina at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 (tonight) at Herbst Theatre. The program is Schumann’s Piano Trios in G Minor, Op. 110; and D Minor, Op. 63; as well as Chopin’s Trio in G Minor, Op. 8.

The Trio consists of Harumi Rhodes, violin; Priscilla Lee, cello; and Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano. The ensemble was formed five years ago at the Marlboro Music Festival. As winners of the 2009 Naumburg Competition, the Trio will make its Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Hall in May, giving the world premiere of a composition to be written for them by Richard Danielpour.

Del Sol at Crowden

The Del Sol Quartet presents Richard Warp's Holding Patterns at a free public performance in a master class setting on Feb. 12 at Crowden Music Center. Kate Stenberg, Rick Shinozaki, Charlton Lee, and Hannah Addario-Berry will read the new work by the English composer, who is said to "transcend genres to create his own distinctive sound, in works that have incorporated prog-rock jazz thrash bands, interactive electronics, and Pierrot ensemble."

Chamber Music S.F. Returns

Chamber Music San Francisco presents a season of nine concerts in San Francisco (in the 900-seat Herbst Theatre), five at Walnut Creek's 300-seat Margaret Lesher Theatre, and five in Palo Alto's new 350-seat Schultz Theatre at the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life. The Walnut Creek series is already sold out.

Featured artists include violinist Sarah Chang; a trio composed of clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, cellist Lynn Harrell, and pianist Robert Levin (featuring the world premiere of a trio written for them by Pulitzer-winning composer Yehudi Wyner); the Tokyo Quartet; pianist Stephen Hough; violist Geraldine Walther, with pianist Menahem Pressler; and the San Francisco recital debut of Olga Kern.

The season runs from March 7 (Chang) through June 6 (Walther & Friends). P.D.Q. Bach (aka Peter Schickele) will appear at Herbst Theatre on April 25, with his Jekyll and Hyde Tour.

Great News From SFMOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has received contributions totaling more than $250 million to expand the museum and double its endowment.

Making up more than half of a projected $480 million campaign goal, these pledges from museum leadership will fuel SFMOMA's plans to triple its gallery and public spaces in order to offer enhanced programs and showcase the Fisher Collection, one of the world's finest private collections of modern and contemporary art.

Who knows if all this good fortune will inspire SFMOMA to use its Phyllis Wattis Theater and various excellent open spaces for more music performances and the screening of music films. It could happen.

The Making of a CD

Ever-innovative David Finckel and Wu Han — artistic directors of Music@Menlo — have come up with yet another novelty: a multimedia Web site about the making of a new ArtistLed label recording.

For David and Wu Han is both the title of the CD and the address for the site. The material: premieres of four commissioned works for cello and piano. They are duo sonatas by Pierre Jalbert and Lera Auerbach, Bruce Adolphe's Couple, and George Tsontakis' Mirror Image. Says Finckel:

For ArtistLed's 12th recording, we decided to take a different course which is, literally, new repertoire. We thought it was time that we make a contribution back to the wonderful pool of pieces for cello and piano. We are very fortunate to have found four composers we admire enormously, and they have written marvelous works.
Besides an introductory video by Finckel and Wu Han, there are individual interviews with the four composers about their works.

Napa Valley Youth Symphony 'Red Gala'

Ming Luke's Napa Valley Youth Symphony presents its third annual fund-raising concert, called "Red Gala," in Yountville's Lincoln Theater on Feb. 13, beginning at 7:30. The event features the Youth Symphony, Sinfonia, and Wind Sinfonia, in collaboration with renowned musicians such as violinist Lara St. John, sopranos Marnie Breckenridge and Erie Mills, mezzo-sopranos Leah Wool and Juliana Gondek, tenor Gerard Powers, and bass-baritone Kevin Short. The program includes Copland’s The Promise of Living. Tickets are priced $30 to $95.

Dichter, Recovered, to Give Stanford Recital

Pianist Misha Dichter, a star for decades, stopped playing five years ago, when he was struck by Dupuytren’s Disease, a hereditary condition in which the tissue in the palm thickens and tightens, causing immobility in the fingers.

After a recent pioneering surgical procedure and extensive physical therapy, Dichter recovered his muscle memory and technique, returning to performances.

He will give his first concert in 30 years at Stanford. It is on Feb. 17. at 8 p.m., in Dinkelspiel Auditorium. The program includes works by Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, Bartók, and Liszt.

Stanford hand surgeon Dr. Amy Ladd will join Dichter after the recital to speak about the disease and the cure.

On Feb. 20, Dichter will be the soloist in the Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Sacramento Philharmonic, in the Community Center Theatre. Conducted by Music Director Michael Morgan, the concert also includes the premiere of Joseph Schwantner's Chasing Light, and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2.

Opera Benefactor Vilar to Jail

Alberto Vilar, 69, the technology investor famous for his philanthropy and love of opera, was sentenced to nine years in prison for stealing from investors in his Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc. Vilar was a major supporter of the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and other music organizations. He was ordered to pay $21.9 million in restitution.

In 2002, Vilar's "actual plus pledged" contributions stood at $250 million, and he was given the Americans for the Arts' National Arts Award. He had claimed to be "the largest supporter of classical music, opera, and ballet in the world." Many of his pledges were not paid, even before his legal problems began.

Crisis in Dresden

The phone may well be ringing off the wall in the Berlin office of Donald Runnicles. The former San Francisco Opera music director, now leading Deutsche Opera Berlin, is a world-renowned Wagner expert (who has been conducting and will again conduct the Ring in the War Memorial). And now there is a Ring cycle in the area without a music director.

It's just 125 miles from Berlin to Dresden where last week Fabio Luisi quit suddenly as the general music director of the Saxon State Opera and its orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle. Among all the pending projects is the Ring cycle this month.

Christian Thielemann, a Wagner man himself, has been designated as Luisi's successor, starting in 2012, but he may not be free to jump into the pit on such short notice. It will be interesting to see what will happen.

Vision: Of Hildegard von Bingen

San Francisco's Berlin & Beyond Festival of German-language films has shrunk to a single-day event called German Gems. It will be held at the Castro Theater, on Feb. 28. (Some of the films will also be screened in Mendocino County's Point Arena on March 6.)

Ingrid Eggers, formerly of the Goethe Institute and founder of Berlin & Beyond, is now directing the event of five films, screened back to back, from noon to 11 p.m.

Of special interest: Margarethe von Trotta's 2009 Vision, subtitled "From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen," shown at 7 p.m. The biographical film stars Barbara Sukowa as the legendary nun (1098–1179), composer, writer, and philosopher. A curious thing about the film is a limited use of von Bingen's music.

The other films: Tender Parasites (noon), Miss Stinnes (2 p.m.), Being Mr. Kotschie (4:15 p.m.), and The Bone Man (9:15 p.m.)