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IN Music News THIS WEEK:
January 10, 2006

Composers Inc.: A Concert of Premieres

Vive la Liberté: Two String Players, No Piano

Opera's Musical Chairs

Austrian Region Resists Mozart Mania

Thibaud Trio at Kohl Mansion

ABS and the Leipzig Cantatas

Salonen on Top... and in Sacramento

Franck Cancels

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By Janos Gereben

New Opera Boss on the Ground, in the Air

Opera's heroes — Parsifal, Siegfried, Max, Calaf, Bunyan — are powerful and decisive, but typically none too bright. San Francisco Opera's new general manager and resident hero-to-be, David Gockley, hits the ground running, swinging an imaginary Nothung, but he also makes a lot of sense.

Over past decades, three of Gockley's predecessors were asked repeatedly why San Francisco has no broadcasts or recording, when smaller companies — such as Seattle or Gockley's Houston Grand Opera — do. Ask the same question from Gockley, at his very first news conference today, and there are no excuses of "artist fees and unions." Instead, a simple and forceful promise: "We will broadcast within a year. I am also setting up a high-definition digital video studio to record and distribute our work on websites, iPods, etc. Electronic media is the way of the future — with the agreement of our union partners — and what saves the art form... and jobs."

Decisiveness, of course, can also go the way not to everybody's liking. Instead of hemming and hawing about yet another postponement of the long-awaited production of Berlioz' Les Troyens, Gockley said — with regret but finality — that "budget and casting difficulties" have forced him to cancel the project.

Gockley took over the job from Pamela Rosenberg only 11 days ago officially, but at his press conference today, he announced a new season , and a wealth of news that must have taken months or years of work to prepare. "For long," he said, "it's been a dream of mine to head up this company." Besides the unexpected extension of the next season to 10 productions; the appointment of Francesca Zambello as artistic adviser; details of an "American Ring" cycle coming here from Washington National Opera; a world premiere by Philip Glass (with Christopher Hampton, about Appomattox, due in 2007); and importing key administrators besides retaining music director Donald Runnicles and many top staff members — Gockley presented plans for a season that's a curious and welcome phenomenon. In a very short time, Gockley filled in and dressed up a meager season left for him.

S.F. Opera's old logo

(The most visible — and welcome — "instant change" is doing away with the company's sorry "wedge" logo, presenting instead a radiant sunburst, in the familiar image of the War Memorial's great chandelier.)

S.F. Opera's new logo

Gockley explained the lines of responsibility, thanking Rosenberg for stopping the planning process when the management change became known. This way, he said, the season after next was left "virtually clear," allowing Gockley a free hand. In an already surprising quick turnover (departing general directors usually leave several seasons all set in stone), Gockley went on to speculate openly about what may be in store in 2007-2008 and after, naming titles in the categories of new works, early Verdi, great Romantic pieces, American opera, plus, specifically, Peter Grimes and Die Tote Stadt.

In the more immediate future, the 84th San Francisco season will run from Sep. 8 through July 1, 2007, presenting among principal singers (in chronological order of productions) Deborah Voigt, Marcus Haddock, Christine Goerke, Wolfgang Brendel, Paolo Gavanelli, Christine Brewer, Allyson McHardy, John Osborn, Karita Mattila, Marina Domashenko, Hadar Halévy, Marco Berti, Mariusz Kwiecien, Hope Briggs, Soile Isokoski, Joyce DiDonato, and Susan Graham. See link for the full season schedule.

In opera, casting is planned for years ahead, but rarely are such plans revealed. Gockley, however, announced his intention to engage for future productions such coveted singers as Marcelo Alvarez, Stephanie Blythe, Natalie Dessay, Renée Fleming, Juan Diego Flórez, Barbara Frittoli, Angela Gheorghiu, Marcello Giordani, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Anna Netrebko, Samuel Ramey, and Ramon Vargas.

Top staff appointments include that of Shane Gasbarra as director of artistic and music administration, and of Drew Landmesser as the Opera's new production director. Gasbarra held a similar position with Gockley in Houston, Landmesser comes from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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Composers Inc.: A Concert of Premieres

At its next concert, on January 31 in Herbst Theatre, Composers Inc. offers another unusual program of new music, upholding the organization's 22-year mission. The Los Angeles Flute Quartet is featured in works written for the instrument, including Christopher Caliendo's Chovihano ("Gypsy Healer"), Jeffrey Miller's Up in the Air, and Alex Shapiro's Bioplasm. See www.composersinc.org.

Composers Inc. is marking the death of its former board president and longtime benefactor, Suzanne Ettelson. She joined the organization's board in 1988 and served as president from 1989 to 1992. She had endowed a national composition competition in honor of her late husband, Examiner managing editor Lee Ettelson.

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Vive la Liberté: Two String Players, No Piano

The Capuçon Brothers, scheduled to perform in Herbst Theatre on January 31, present a rare duo "act" — violinist Renaud and cellist Gautier perform all by themselves, without the piano accompaniment that's historically and habitually present at recitals.

Renaud and Gautier Capuçon

Photo by
Ana Bloom

The Capuçons are from France, winners of that country's Instrumentalist of the Year (Renaud) and New Talent of the Year (Gautier) awards from Victoires de la Musique. The two are also protégés of Martha Argerich, a pianist who at times is allowed to play with the brothers.

As go the performers, so goes the program: interesting and unusual. Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello was composed in memory of Debussy. Kodály's Duo for Violin and Cello, one of the composer's finest works, is heard all too rarely. Also from Central Europe and using pentatonic scale with chromatic writing, Erwin Schulhoff's 1925 Duo for Violin and Cello may well be receiving a San Francisco premiere at the concert. Finally, it's Bohuslav Martinu's Duo No. 2 for Violin and Cello, a Czech reflection of both Kodály and Bartók. See www.performances.org.

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Opera's Musical Chairs

Welsh National Opera has appointed John Fisher, currently the director of music administration at the Metropolitan Opera, to its general director position. Fisher will succeed Anthony Freud, the WNO's general director since 1994, who leaves in March to replace David Gockley as the head of Houston Grand Opera. Gockley, in turn, has succeeded Pamela Rosenberg at San Francisco Opera. At press time, there is no word about the next occupant for Fisher's position. But it won't be Rosenberg (which would make a complete cycle), as she is heading to the Berlin Philharmonic, there to replace ...

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Austrian Region Resists Mozart Mania

Brave, even fearless, the Austrian region of Styria has declared itself a "Mozart-free zone" for 2006, the year in which most of the known world is Amadeus-saturated for the great man's 250th birthday.

From another part of Austria comes news about the native son's skull, subject to DNA testing. The country was not always so Mozart friendly, allowing the composer to be buried in an unmarked paupers' grave in Vienna, so any alleged Mozart remains are highly suspect. The result of the test will be revealed when Austrian state broadcasting agency ORF telecasts the program Mozart: The Search for Evidence on Sunday.

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Thibaud Trio at Kohl Mansion

The Thibaud Trio (see last week's review here, at www.sfcv.org) headlines a "Music for Families" concert in the Music at Kohl Mansion series, on January 13, with performances of Beethoven's String Trio in G Major, and Jean Françaix's 1933 String Trio. The series, with $10 (children) and $18 (adults) tickets, offers one-hour conversational performances as an introduction to classical music. Kohl Mansion, in Burlingame, is well worth a visit, even without attending a concert. See www.musicatkohl.org.

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ABS and the Leipzig Cantatas

American Bach Soloists are presenting four cantatas from Bach's tenure at Leipzig's St. Thomas Church, including little-heard Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen and Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!, at the group's concerts on January 20-23. Soloists for The Soloists include soprano Elizabeth Weigle, mezzo Judith Malafronte, tenor Aaron Sheehan, baritone William Sharp, and John Thiessen on trumpet. See www.americanbach.org.

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Salonen on Top ... and in Sacramento

Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen has been named "Musician of the Year" by Musical America, said a Philharmonic news release on Monday. What prompted a double take was the slowly realized fact that the Philharmonic sending the news was the one in Sacramento, not in Los Angeles. In fact, the Sacramento orchestra beat Salonen's own organization to the punch. How come?

Further perusal of the e-mail revealed what may just be the reason for the haste: Sacramento Philharmonic's next concert, on January 14, will feature Salonen's Gambit, "a shortish work for a large symphony orchestra, of overture character," according to the composer. The work will be led by Sacramento assistant conductor Ming Luke.

The rest of the program, under the baton of music director Michael Morgan, includes Gustav Holst's The Planets and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, with Anton Nel as soloist. See www.sacphil.org.

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Franck Cancels

Mikko Franck, yet another Finnish wunderkind conductor (named music director of the Finnish National Opera at age 25 in 2004) was to make his San Francisco debut this week, but he came down with the flu and canceled. Leonard Slatkin replaces Franck, conducting a program of Ravel and Mussorgsky, plus Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 1 with soloist Lisa Batiashvili. See www.sfsymphony.org.



©2006 Janos Gereben, all rights reserved