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Brian Gleeson

Brian Gleeson is a communications consultant living in the Bay Area. Previously, he was a writer and producer of Rabbit Ears Radio, which was distributed nationwide by Public Radio International.

Articles by this Author

Artist Spotlight
February 23, 2010

American pianist Malcolm Bilson is a rare gem in the world of music. For nearly four decades he has been equal parts performer, scholar, educator, and a beacon in the period instrument movement.

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Upcoming Concert
November 24, 2009
Few classical guitarists are more famous for introducing audiences to the richness and beauty of the instrument than Pepe Romero. For nearly 50 years, Romero has transported audiences the world over with his musical artistry, both as a soloist and as part of The Romeros, the classical world’s first guitar quartet, with his father, Celedonia, and brothers, Celine and Ángel.

Celebrated for his dazzling virtuosity, Romero is known for his compelling interpretations of what have come to represent the pillars of the classical guitar repertoire. In his Dec. 12 recital at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, Romero will pay tribute to two composers from his native Spain who contributed greatly to the guitar repertoire, performing a concert devoted entirely to the works of Isaac Albéniz and Francisco Tárrega.

Billed as a “Celebration of Romantic Spain,” the concert marks the centenary of the deaths of both composers. Not just contemporaries, the pair were also friends and at times even musical partners, with Tárrega transcribing a number of Albéniz’ compositions.

Albéniz was a pianist and a composer best known for his piano works that incorporated themes from Spanish folk music. The eight movements of his Suite Española, Op. 47, though originally composed for piano, were later transcribed and have become mainstays of the classical guitar repertoire. During the first half of his recital, Romero intends to play “Asturias (Leyandas),” “Granada,” and “Sevilla” from the suite. In addition, he will perform the beautiful Rumores de la Caleta, Torre Bermeja, and Córdoba.

As with Albéniz, Tárrega’s music and guitar playing also combined classical music with Spanish folk elements. Capricho Árabe and Danza Mora, which Romero will perform, are some of Tárrega’s best-known pieces for guitar. Also during the recital’s second half, Romero will play other Tárrega favorites such as Lágrima, Adelita, Marieta, Tango Maria, and the jubilant Gran Jota.

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Feature Article
October 13, 2009

It was an accident.

I remember the day my daughter Sofia came home from the nursery school she attended and told me that her teacher played a guitar during song time.“I want to play guitar,” she said. She was 4. I didn’t listen.

During the next two years, Sofia regularly asked her mother and me for a guitar. Finally, when she was 6, her grandmother gave her a guitar that Christmas. It wasn’t really a musical instrument, but it was made of wood, had strings, and sounded like a guitar.

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Upcoming Concert
September 29, 2009
For families with young children, deciding whether to enjoy live music together is usually a matter of priorities. Weekends scheduled with wall-to-wall soccer matches, birthday parties, and assorted play dates can seem like a frenetic sprint to Monday morning.

Add to that mix the sometimes-daunting challenge of discovering an appropriate live classical music performance for children. Can the kids sit through an entire concert? Will the music engage them? Finally, the cost of tickets needs to be considered.

In the end, we tend not to take many musical chances with our children. We may make an annual trek during the holiday season to a performance of The Nutcracker, or perhaps take in a recital by one of the many fine musicians who specialize in bringing accessible music to young audiences.

If you’re seeking such a family music experience, you might consider arriving with your favorite young people at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 11 a.m. to hear the Katona Twins, a classical guitar duo of amazing virtuosity. Along with baritone Christòpheren Nomura, the Katonas will offer an interactive, hour-long recital of music that’s sure to delight you and your children — all for a price that’s comparable to taking the family to the movies.

For the past two years, Peter and Zoltán Katona have been resident artists of San Francisco Performances, the presenter of the family matinee concert, while Nomura is an alumnus of the same program. As resident artists, the musicians spend several weeks each year performing and working directly with students in public schools around the Bay Area.

While the Katona Twins and Christòpheren Nomura are artists of the first degree, with worldwide performances, rave reviews, and prizes to their credit, their work with students enables them to meaningfully communicate their love of music to young people.

“The concert will be informal,” said Peter Katona recently during a phone interview from England. “We will talk a bit about the music and answer questions from the audience during the program. When we work in the schools, we often play for children who have never heard live music before. It’s wonderful to involve them with music.”

The Hungarian-born twins have been playing guitar, together and solo, since they were 10, performing at Carnegie Hall, the Purcell Room of London’s Royal Festival Hall, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, and dozens of other famous venues in Asia, Europe, and North America. Their CD releases include music by Scarlatti, Handel, Rodrigo, and Albéniz, as well as pieces by Piazzolla, Granados, de Falla, and Mozart.

Nomura made his professional operatic debut in the boys choir of the San Francisco Opera at age 6, performed his first solo role in Die Zauberflöte at age 11, and continues to perform in traditional and contemporary operatic roles in Europe, Asia, and North America. The American-born singer was the first-place winner in the International Vocal Competition Mozarteum in Salzburg, and a recipient of a Fulbright grant to pursue musical studies and performance in Germany.

At Herbst, the Katonas and Nomura will perform separately at first, then share in a performance of Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Folksongs, which was originally composed for piano and mezzo-soprano.

“I’m excited to hear the piece with two guitars and a baritone,” said Peter Katona. “It will definitely be different.”

Their San Francisco performance will be the Katona Twins’ final engagement before participating in “Night of the Proms,” a series of no fewer than 40 concerts spanning two months across Europe and Scandinavia that combines rock bands and classical music. The event is the largest annual organized indoor event on the continent.

“We will play in 17 enormous venues, and the organizers are expecting a total audience of 400,000,” said Peter Katona. “We will reach audiences that have never heard of us before. It’s a very unusual and extravagant opportunity.”

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Upcoming Concert
August 21, 2009
One of the great benefits of living in the Bay Area is the opportunity to tap into its vibrant new-music scene. This movable feast of experimental music seems to be fueled by an unending parade of gifted composers and performers who have spent their lives redefining musical boundaries.

Classical and film composer Jack Curtis Dubowsky is truly one of these San Francisco sonic explorers. Dubowsky has composed four chamber operas and scored five feature films, including That Man Peter Berlin, Rock Haven, and Redwoods. In addition to work as a conductor, educator, writer, and filmmaker, he leads the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble, a new-music quartet that combines acoustic instruments with an analog synthesizer, electronic hardware, composed material, and structured improvisation.

The ensemble’s music can be described as free-form and transcendental; it’s recorded live, without overdubs or sequencing. While comparisons of this sort are often odious, I might think of it as “the Philip Glass Ensemble meets John Zorn,” with a healthy dose of Ornette Coleman thrown in for good measure. In addition to Dubowsky on bass and synthesizer, the ensemble includes percussionists Erika Johnson and Fred Morgan, plus trombonist Hall Goff.

The Dubowsky Ensemble’s performance on Sept. 9 at Meridian Gallery will also use sounds and music to influence video projected by the gallery’s sophisticated multimedia system. The date begins the 11th season of the gallery’s series, which presents monthly performances by Bay Area musicians of experimental music in a variety of idioms and compositional processes.

Up next for “Meridian Music” will be Doctor Bob on Oct. 14. The duo is composed of Bob Marsh, on processed cello and voice, and David Michalak, who plays processed lap steel guitar and Skatchbox. Marsh is a seasoned improviser, whose work involves shaping sounds, words, and images to create evocative soundscapes.

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Upcoming Concert
June 24, 2009
In Boston, during the mid-1960s, it was commonly accepted that there were three people in town who would never in their lives need to pay for a drink at one of that city’s taverns: Carl Yastrzemski, the slugging left fielder for the Red Sox; Bill Russell, the center for the Celtics’ perennial championship teams; and Arthur Fiedler, the indefatigable conductor of the Boston Pops.

Fiedler’s joyful introduction of popular classical repertoire over 50 years with the Boston and San Francisco Pops, as well as dozens of recordings, brought great music to the masses. Fiedler’s enthusiasm was so contagious and his reach so broad that his annual July 4th concerts at the Esplanade on the banks of the Charles became festive happenings that were broadcast nationwide. Whether in the audience or watching the concert on the television in your living room, it was impossible not to feel the transformative power of music when the Pops performed the 1812 Overture, which regularly culminated with fireworks exploding over Bean Town.

Thirty years after his death, Fiedler would no doubt approve of the San Francisco Symphony’s July “My Classic” concert series at Davies Symphony Hall featuring timeless classical music favorites. Two of these concerts, My Classic American Composers on July 2, and My Classic Tchaikovsky on July 3, even celebrate the Independence Day theme popularized by Fiedler.

Conductor James Gaffigan devotes the “My Classic American Composers” concert to works by Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin. The program features Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, a suite of orchestral music based on his score of the 1957 musical, and Music from the Film On the Waterfront, the only film score composed by Bernstein and one of his most satisfying orchestral works.

Pianist Gabriela Montero performs Gershwin’s masterpiece, Rhapsody in Blue, the work that combines elements of classical music with jazz and remains one of the most popular American concert works. The piece will be paired with An American in Paris, Gershwin’s equally popular tone poem elicited from his time spent in the French capital during the 1920s.

The "My Classic Tchaikovsky" concert includes musical excerpts from the Russian composer’s ballets Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. Inon Barnatan (read an interview), a recent winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, will perform the impassioned Piano Concerto No. 1. The program will conclude with the 1812 Overture, just as Arthur Fiedler would have had it.

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Upcoming Concert
June 17, 2009
Nothingset Ensemble, a grassroots collective of Bay Area musicians, composers, and conductors dedicated to performing new music, has just three prerequisites for selecting repertoire: The music must be less than 100 years old, should be performed infrequently, and must be great, according to Ted Hine and Darren Jones, the ensemble’s founders and creative directors.

Casting such a wide musical net frequently calls for unusual instrumentation and can create a rare listening experience. “We strive to play great, new music that our audiences haven’t heard before,” said Hine. “And that will catch the ear.”

In keeping with this ambitious charter, Nothingset's eclectic program presented by Old First Concerts on June 28 at 4 p.m. includes works by Piazzolla, Stravinsky, Bay Area composer Steve Adams, Jacques Desjardins, Louis Andriessen, and the premiere of a David Garner piece that was commissioned by the ensemble. For those of you keeping track, that means Nothingset will perform works by four living composers, three of whom are expected to be in attendance at the Old First Church.

This season Nothingset is focusing on works influenced by jazz and rock, many featuring saxophone, electric guitar, marimba, violin, and clarinet. Hine and Jones solicit repertoire recommendations from all quarters, including the ensemble’s performers.

“There are so many great musicians in San Francisco looking for great music to play for audiences,” said Jones. “We find that if the musicians are gung-ho about the rep, it really provides a spark and the enthusiasm that makes for a great performance.”

The ensemble performs with several core members, but also includes a revolving set of players depending on the repertoire. Both Hine and Jones are graduates of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, so their network keeps them in touch with a wide variety of musical colleagues in the area.

Nothingset’s Old First Concerts performance will feature Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat, which the composer wrote soon after discovering American jazz, and considered it his final break with the Russian orchestral school. Martin Fraíle will conduct.

The premiere of David Garner’s Azure Morph “investigates a change in tonal color,” writes the composer in the program notes. The piece will be conducted by Jacques Desjardins, and features an E-flat clarinet, B-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet, electric guitar, electric bass, marimba, and drums.

Steve Adams’ Owed t’Don is dedicated to Don Van Vliet — better known as Captain Beefheart, the composer, performer, visual artist, and poet. The piece uses the marimba and violin in the “rock” context, according to the composer.

Miroirs Déformants, by Canadian composer Jacques Desjardins, is intended to be a “voyage through non-linear time and space” with clarinet, piano, and cello.

Dutch composer Louis Andriessen wrote Hout and features tenor saxophone, electric guitar, marimba, and piano, also conducted by Desjardins.

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Artist Spotlight
April 20, 2009

Life is full for guitarist and composer Sérgio Assad. The Brazilian performs with his brother, Odair, in arguably the best guitar duo on the planet, tours for other ensemble projects, and teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Last November he won the 2008 Latin Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for a piece he composed titled Tahhiyya Li Ossoulina, from The Assad Brothers’ album Jardim Abandonado. There’s an urgency to all the activity, the kind that comes from an artist in full swing.

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