Music News: March 9, 2010

Janos Gereben on March 9, 2010

Win a House, Give Kronos a Home

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is running the second annual Dream House Raffle, a big fund-raising lottery with the grand prize a San Francisco house valued at $3 million or $1.5 million in cash. There are many other prizes and several drawings — from April 2 through the grand-prize drawing on July 10. 

While YBCA serves the arts many ways, of special interest to this column is the news that the Kronos Quartet will have a three-year residence at Yerba Buena. Says Kronos Artistic Director David Harrington:
We are thrilled to announce a three-year partnership with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. There has never been a time in the last 36 years when I have felt as energized, as passionate, and as committed to the music of the future as I do right now. We are inspired by the Center's programs and artistic vision, and we feel a great synergy in our mutual commitment to the creation and performance of new work. We are excited by the opportunity to deepen our relationship with YBCA and its audiences. Kronos has always loved performing at YBCA, and we look forward to planning very special programs and performances in our home town.
Speaking of synergy, while the Dream House Raffle will benefit Kronos (along with many other projects), the quartet gave a benefit last fall at the Oliver Ranch to benefit Yerba Buena. Kronos and Rahayu Supanggah performed Purnati, the Javanese composer's new work written for Kronos.

Adler Fellows Among Met Finalists

Several young artists from San Francisco Opera Center have been named among finalists of the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions, to sing at the Finals Concert in New York this Sunday.

The nine finalists are sopranos Leah Crocetto, Lori Guilbeau, Rena Harms, Haeran Hong, Rachel Willis-Sorensen; mezzos Hyo Na Kim and Maya Lahyani; tenor Nathaniel Peake; and baritone Elliot Madore.

Crocetto, Guilbeau, Lahyani, and Peake all reside in San Francisco.

The other "local angle" — the finals will be hosted by former Merolina Joyce DiDonato, and Frederica von Stade will perform during the event. 

They Came to Play Coming

It's been a whole year since we heralded They Came to Play, the splendid documentary about the Van Cliburn Foundation's last International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs in Fort Worth, including some local notables.

Ken Iasaka in
They Came to Play

Now, film and notables will be on view at four local screenings: March 19 and 21, at Sonoma State University's Film Institute; March 22, at the San Francisco Balboa Theater; and March 24, at Marin's Rafael Film Center.

In the cast of characters: "A more motley crew you will never see, ranging from a Moldova-born dental assistant in Oakland (with an overlarge Phyllis Diller personality) to doctors, lawyers, a former coach of the French national tennis team, and a man battling a fatal disease."

The Oakland participant is Esfir Ross, another local connection is pianist, music activist, and — the apex of his career — Classical Voice contributor, Ken Iisaka. Both he and Ross will be at the screening, and will conduct Q&A sessions after the film.

How Did the Audience Do?

Most reviews don't even mention an essential element of concerts: audiences. Last week, I kept one eye (and an ear) on them at Davies Symphony Hall at several events.

Bottom line: In comparison with many other audiences and with its own past, Davies Hall's regular denizens are a fine bunch. This is winter and having a cold is a natural condition, but most listeners most of the time do their coughing during the breaks.

Surely, there will be readers deeply disturbed by somebody next to them, and others hate the chorus of coughs between movements, but on the whole, we are doing well. During the fall season, there was remarkable silence during performances in both Davies and the War Memorial Opera House.

One great thing about some/most San Francisco audiences is their involvement and enthusiasm. On Sunday, Myung-Whun Chung and the Orchestre Philharmonic de Radio France were beaming with pleasure when their sublime Ravel Ma Mère l'Oye received three very big and noisy curtain calls. Symphony audiences in Europe and most everywhere else rarely embrace performance and performers like this.

Like European audiences and unlike dear old San Francisco, silence was observed between movements — for the French, as well as for the Gewandhaus last month, and even at some recent SFS performances.

On Friday, enthusiasm went overboard (not that there is anything wrong with that). Christian Tetzlaff, who received poor reviews for his Wednesday performance, two days later played the hell out of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. After the first movement — which is among big showpieces generally not included in the prohibition against applause between movements — there was first a noisy reaction and then (sacré bleu!) a standing ovation.

Tetzlaff, both pleased and somewhat embarrassed for those who thought that was the end of the concerto, looked to MTT for help, but the conductor didn't know what to do either. They just waited until seats were resumed, and then continued the performance.

The only such "excessive celebration" off the football field that I ever participated in was the unprecedented — some said sinful — ovation many years ago at the War Memorial in the middle of Lohengrin in response to Leonie Rysanek's Ortrud. All in all, ovations are best kept to the end.

Ramey the Pope on Attila the Production

There is a fascinating, unprecedented dialogue taking place on the Internet about the Metropolitan Opera's current controversial production of Verdi's Attila. Joining scathing reports on the opera's stage production is a prominent member of the Attila cast itself, bass Samuel Ramey — the Pope in these performances, singing the title role in numerous past productions, including the one in San Francisco in 1991.

There was uniform praise for the musical performance, under the baton of Riccardo Muti, but  critics such as Martin Bernheimer savaged the production: "The principals voiced their blood-and-gutsy anxieties while perched precariously atop faux-rubble sculptures, or worse, while peeking like figures in pop-up books through round holes in magic-garden façades." It was the Dallas Morning News' Scott Cantrell and his "... pile of concrete slabs and rebar that looked like the aftermath of an earthquake ... [the chorus looked like] half-buried Qin Dynasty warriors ... Prada costumes made much of crinkly dark crepe and what looked like Naugahyde" that prompted Ramey to post a message on the newspaper's Web site:

It is unfortunate that for the Met's first production of Attila they could not do a more "conventional" production. The sets and the costumes had nothing to do with the period of the opera or the characters.

I know from having been at rehearsals that the director gave the singers nothing and the set prevented them from doing anything dramatically. The production is a fiasco! Samuel Ramey (I was the Pope).

He also wrote:
I should add that musically it was incredible. Muti truly loves the early Verdi operas and, especially, Attila. I know from experience as I recorded the opera with him and performed it with him at La Scala almost 20 years ago (the title part).
There were many responses, some questioning if it was Ramey posting the message (it was), others crying foul about the propriety of a cast member joining the critics. To a clever challenge:
Hey, "Sam": one night when you were singing the title role in Attila at the New York City Opera back in the '80s, the baritone singing Ezio (a fine singer, btw) cracked a note rather badly, and could be heard by the audience vocalizing backstage during the next scene. Who was that unfortunate baritone (who was forgiven by us, the audience, much more readily than he forgave himself)? Name, please?
Ramey replied:
Dear Box Five, I'm not sure who the baritone might have been. The first time we did it at City Opera the baritone was Richard Fredericks. That was in 1981 I think. The next time was in summer of 1985 and the baritone was Fred Burchinal. Those are the ones I remember.

Had no idea my comments would result in such a discussion. I was only defending my fellow cast members. Sorry about the wobble (I prefer "slow vibrato"), but I am old. This is my last season at the Met, so what do I have to lose.

Wouldn't opera be even more fun if there were more exchanges like this?

Auerbach Swims Into Town

Lera Auerbach, composer of the San Francisco Ballet's upcoming U.S. premiere of The Little Mermaid, is known around here for her chamber pieces, performed at the San Francisco Performances debut of Israel's Aviv String Quartet last year, and elsewhere.

Yuan Yuan Tan in The Little Mermaid
Photo by Erik Tomasson

She worked before with Mermaid choreographer John Neumeier, the American-born veteran Hamburg company director, whose Yondering for student dancers was a sensation of the S.F. Ballet's 75th anniversary celebration. The full-length story ballet about Hans Christian Andersen's heroine is very, very different from its Disney image. "The idea of the story is so much deeper, so much stronger, so much more true to our human possibilities, nature and situation than is presented in this happy, fairytale world of Disney," Neumeier says.

He is using Japanese Noh and Kabuki techniques in Mermaid, with the "idea of a ballet as an 'Odyssey' — having to do with fantastic, other-earthly worlds." The Japanese hakama — traditional costume with very long legs — make it possible to feature a dancer supposedly without legs.

At 36, Auerbach is one of the most widely performed composers and also a famed author. Born in Chelyabinsk, in

 the Urals bordering Siberia, Auerbach left the Soviet Union in 1991, and earned her degrees in piano and composition from the Juilliard School. She went on to study in Germany, and for the past decade, her compositions have been commissioned and performed orchestras, opera and ballet companies there, in the U.S., and Asia.

She has also appeared as a solo pianist in many venues, and served as composer in residence with several festivals and orchestras. Besides musical activities, Auerbach is also an author, named Poet of the Year by the International Pushkin Society. Her literary works include five volumes of poetry and prose and numerous contributions to Russian-language literary papers and magazines.

This summer, the Verbier Festival will present Auerbach on piano in a chamber music program dedicated to her music. Violinist Leonidas Kavakos, cellist Gautier Capucon, and narrator Marthe Keller will join her for the performance. The concert, on July 24, will be broadcast and telecast.

The festival opens July 16, under Charles Dutoit's baton, with Yuja Wang as soloist in the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 2 (which she will also perform during her Project San Francisco residency, June 16-19, 2011).

Duel of Teen Violinists

Chad Hoopes, 15, is featured in the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 with the California Symphony in Walnut Creek on March 9.

Stephen Waarts, 13, is the soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto (no less!) at Silicon Valley Symphony's next concerts, March 12, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Menlo Park, and March 13, at Presbyterian Church of Los Gatos.

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Easter With Contemporary Music

Sanford Dole Ensemble's March 28 program, Music for Holy Week, includes some major modern works, including James MacMillan's 1994 Seven Last Words from the Cross, Arvo Pärt's 1990 Berliner Messe, and Tarik O'Reagan's Triptych.

Dole speaks of the MacMillan as "a lush and piercing work ... the Pärt Mass offers a continued meditation, while Triptych sets secular texts that also deal with loss and remembrance. The ecstatic conclusion offers hope and sends the audience out into the world with renewed faith."

The Ensemble's 24-member chorus will be accompanied by 15 strings; Joseph Edelberg is concertmaster, Dole conducts.

The concert begins at 5 p.m., March 28, in St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco. Tickets: $20-$30.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Wexford

Ireland's Wexford Opera has been a beacon for rare and neglected works for six decades, and now one of the company's most loyal fans, Andrew Cooper, has compiled and published a complete archive of the company's history.

Thanks to Kori Lockhart, a much bigger and more complex archive of the (much bigger and older) San Francisco Opera has been online for years now — and still kept current.

For the Metropolitan Opera, these are the archives.

The Commissioners: Hong Kong Walks Away with the Title

Last week's disappointment with the San Francisco Symphony's 1 1/2 commissioned premiere for the next season had a follow-up showing better numbers from the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonic, even small regional orchestras in the Bay Area.

But if you want to see really, really big numbers, turn to the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, with its record of 1,800 commissions in the past 30 years — an incredible 60 new works per season!

In addition to the vast majority of Chinese and overseas Chinese composers, participants include contemporary Western musicians, such as Bavarian-based Robert Zollitsch. He is known in China as "Lao Luo" (Old Gong), respected for his deep understanding of Chinese classical music.


Don't feel bad if you don't know what the heck that is. A mix of Pujabi folk and Western pop music, bhangra has a huge listener base, and it really is great fun, with its pounding rhythms and enormous energy.

On March 11, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival's opening night gala at the Asian Art Museum will feature the Dholrhythms Dance Company to perform and give bhangra lessons, while DJs Jimmy Love and DJ Concerned along with Rav-E on dhol and Mandeep Sethi dropping rhymes will create a sonic backdrop of Bhangra, Hip-Hop, Reggae, and Electronica.

As for opera fans, there is unfortunate news from the festival: the originally scheduled screening of the David Petersen-Monica Lam The Bonesetter's Daughter: Making of an Opera has been canceled. "The filmmakers have determined that the work is not ready to be presented to the general public at this point."

Chora Nova's French Agenda

Chora Nova's next concert features works by Gabriel Fauré and his teacher, Camille Saint-Saëns, including his Les Fleurs et les arbres.

For the centerpiece of the concert, the Fauré Requiem, the chorus is supported by a chamber orchestra, organ (Mark Bruce), piano and harp (Anna Maria Mendieta). Soloists include baritone Jeffrey Fields and soprano Bridget O'Keeffe.

In addition, countertenor Paul Flight and pianist Nalini Ghuman will perform a group of French mélodies by Fauré contemporaries Charles Gounod, Cécile Chaminade, Jules Massenet, and Ernest Chausson.

The concert, beginning at 8 p.m. on March 20, will be held at Berkeley's First Congregational Church, Channing Way at Dana Street. Tickets: $10-$20.

New Century Food Drive

New Century Chamber Orchestra has collected 183 pounds of food for community food banks around the Bay Area during the March 3-7 series of concerts, which attracted more than 1,200 patrons in Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and San Rafael.

The food drive, New Century's first, coincided with the national "Orchestras Feeding America" campaign by the League of American Orchestras.

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