Georgia Rowe has been a Bay Area arts writer since 1986. She is Opera News’ chief San Francisco correspondent, and a frequent contributor to San Francisco Classical Voice, Musical America, San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, and San Francisco Examiner. Her work has also appeared in Gramophone, San Francisco Magazine, and Songlines.
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The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players venture where others fear to tread. The ensemble’s March 1 program at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, which features Nono’s late-life masterwork, La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura, may represent the sole opportunity to hear the composer’s music performed in the Bay Area this season.
Nono, who was born in Venice in 1924 and died there in 1990, was often at the forefront of the 20th century’s musical developments. Beginning in the 1950s, his early works blazed a trail through pointillism and serialism; his first major work, The Canonic Variations, is based on a tone row from Arnold Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon (in 1955, Nono married Schoenberg’s daughter, Nuria). Nono’s overt preoccupation with politics contributed to anti-Fascist works such as Il canto sospeso in the 1950s and ’60s and a pioneering use of electronica in the ’70s. The 1980s saw the composer creating mature works, including the string quartet Fragmente – Stille, An Diotima and Caminates ... Ayacucho for contralto, flute, choirs, orchestra, and live electronics. The opera Prometo, the finest expression of his “theatre of consciousness,” is Nono’s masterwork.
La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura, composed in 1988 for violin, live electronics, and tape, is a uniquely challenging performance piece. The score sends the violin soloist on an hour-long quest, supported by the sound engineer, who mixes eight independently recorded parts in real time. The Contemporary Music Players performance will pair Graeme Jennings, second violinist of the Arditti Quartet and a longtime champion of new music, with sound engineer Christopher Burns. The performance starts at 8 p.m., but music lovers are advised to arrive early for the 7:15 talk by Nono scholar Bruce Durazzi; musicologist Luciano Chessa will moderate a postperformance discussion.
In advance of the March 1 concert, the SFCMP are presenting a symposium devoted to Nono’s life and work. Speakers include Durazzi, Chessa, Jennings, Burns, and Ken Ueno. The event takes place Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. in Morrison Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. Admission is free.More about San Francisco Contemporary Music Players »
It’s been a decade since the San Francisco Symphony presented an entire festival devoted to the music of Igor Stravinsky, but music lovers with fond memories of the two-week extravaganza in June 1999 had to be somewhat assuaged by the orchestra’s program last week at Davies Symphony Hall. With two of the composer’s works — Pulcinella and Octet — on the program, Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra captured the spirit, if not the breadth, of that earlier celebration.
On Jan. 31, Freund-Striplen and friends launch Gold Coast’s tenth anniversary season in the attractive Community Hall in the City of Lafayette’s new Library and Learning Center. The center, which also houses the Glenn Seaborg Learning Consortium, is located at the intersection of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and First Street. Designers of the $42 million building, which opened last November, wisely included concert space in the center, and Gold Coast will be among the first to perform there.
Titled “Slavic Spirit,” the season-opening program — the first of three scheduled for 2010 — focuses on Hungarian music. Included are Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 for violin and piano; Zoltán Kodály’s Intermezzo, for string trio; Franz Liszt’s Un Sospiro for solo piano; and David Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody.
Of particular interest is Ernõ Dohnányi’s virtuosic 1935 Sextet, Op. 37, for clarinet, French horn, piano, and string trio. Along with Freund-Striplen, the afternoon concert features Beni Shinohara (violin), Tamara Bohlin (cello), Tony Striplen (clarinet), Bill Klingelhoffer (horn), and Roy Bogas (piano.)
The Gold Coast Chamber Players season will continue in Lafayette on April 25 with a program titled “Bach–Bachianas,” featuring an appearance by soprano and San Francisco Opera Adler fellow Leah Crocetto. The season concludes May 22 with a program featuring works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frank Bridge, Arnold Bax, and Charles Loeffler.More about Gold Coast Chamber Players »
It’s always fascinating to hear where composers are coming from, as well as where they’re going. This week’s San Francisco Symphony program offered an intriguing case in point: As part of George Benjamin’s current residency with the orchestra, the English composer appeared on the podium to conduct two of his own works — one early and one recent — as well as music by two of his primary influences, Messiaen and Ravel.
Music composed before 1900 still pays the bills for many chamber groups, but our most adventurous ensembles, following the example of pioneers such as the Kronos Quartet, are increasingly likely to build their programs around works from the 20th and 21st centuries. The Del Sol String Quartet proved the point in a wide-ranging program Monday on the Music at Meyer series.
Acclaimed for his “physical, sensual relationship” with his instrument, British cellist Steven Isserlis is an artist who combines brilliant technique with innate feeling. His 2009 appearance with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra was one of the year’s highlights on the Bay Area music scene; this month, he returns under the auspices of San Francisco Performances in a duo recital with Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein. The program, Jan. 10 at Herbst Theatre, includes the Cello Sonatas of Britten and Rachmaninov, as well as Isserlis’ own arrangement of Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 3.
Renée Fleming is one of the opera world’s most recognizable divas. Blessed with gorgeous good looks and a golden voice, the Pennsylvania-born soprano started her career in Mozart roles and soon moved on to her favorite composer, Richard Strauss. Today, her repertoire includes a wide variety of roles, including Rusalka, Tatiana, Alcina, and Blanche DuBois in André Previn’s Streetcar Named Desire, a role she brought to luminous life in the opera’s world premiere at San Francisco Opera. Fleming returns to the Bay Area for a recital Dec.
William Bolcom has always made his own way. Throughout his career, which has produced symphonies, operas, chamber pieces, and piano and vocal works, the Seattle-born, Michigan-based composer has often rejected the prevailing notions of what “serious” music should include.
When mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato made her San Francisco Opera debut in 2003, as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, it was immediately apparent that audiences were hearing an artist of extravagant vocal gifts. The Kansas native has gone on to sing a wide variety of roles — from Cherubino and Cenerentola, to Octavian (which she sang in San Francisco in 2007) and Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking.
Still, there’s no finer Rossini interpreter working today.
Expect good things when the San Francisco Conservatory of Music teams up with the American Conservatory Theater for a new production of The Soldier’s Tale. With two performances scheduled for Nov. 14 in the Conservatory’s Sol H. Joseph Recital Hall, the fully staged production, directed by Giles Havergal and conducted by Nicole Paiement, is a must-see for Stravinsky aficionados and first-timers alike.
L’Histoire was in some ways a work of necessity: Stravinsky, collaborating with novelist and librettist C.F. Ramuz, wrote the score in Switzerland while the Great War raged throughout Europe. Money was scarce, so the collaborators planned the work as a simple production that could be moved from town to town. Stravinsky scored the work for septet, with each orchestral section represented by one treble and one bass instrument. The work was designed “to be read, played, and danced.” Its jazz influences are everywhere in evidence, and the work as a whole represents a decided shift in Stravinsky’s musical direction. “L’Histoire,” said the composer, “marks my final break with the Russian Orchestral School.” The premiere, in Lausanne on Sept. 28, 1918, was a success, albeit a short-lived one; the next day, the theaters closed due to an outbreak of Spanish influenza. L’Histoire was not performed again until 1924.
The work continued to fuel the imaginations of artists throughout the 20th century: novelist Kurt Vonnegut, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, animator R.O. Blechman, and choreographer Peter Martins all adapted L’Histoire in various guises.
The new production, presented as part of the Conservatory’s BluePrint New Music series, will feature a septet of mixed winds, strings, and percussion. Actors from the American Conservatory Theater’s master of fine arts program will play the Soldier, the Devil, and the Narrator, and a dancer to be announced will assume the nonspeaking role of the Princess. Havergal, an A.C.T. associate artist, directs, while Paiement, artistic director of the Conservatory’s New Music Ensemble, conducts.
According to Paiement, the production will give audiences the opportunity to experience The Soldier’s Tale as Stravinsky might have envisioned it, while affording the young performers valuable interdisciplinary experience. “This will be a stimulating challenge for everyone, because the staging will have the musicians, the actors, and dancer interacting together onstage, unlike opera or musical theater, where the musicians are isolated in an orchestra pit,” said the conductor. “For us, this is a long-dreamt-of opportunity to collaborate with actors and dancers in the creation of theater works other than opera.”More about BluePrint New Music Series »
On November 7, 2004, Sara Jobin made opera history by becoming the first woman to conduct a San Francisco Opera main stage production. The opera was Tosca, and Jobin has since conducted the company’s performances of The Flying Dutchman, Norma, and Appomattox, as well as the S.F. Opera–Cal Performances coproduction of Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince.
After last month’s impressive performances of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra returned to its 17th-century roots over the weekend with a program of short works, led by guest violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch.
The program, titled “The Concerto: An Adversarial Friendship,” was designed to explore the often-turbulent relationship between soloists and orchestras, and the works included, by Biber, Muffat, Schmelzer, Telemann, and Johann Sebastian Bach, fit the bill admirably.
The American song repertoire is often overlooked in vocal recitals, though it wasn’t always thus; as Christine Brewer observed in her splendid recital Sunday afternoon at Hertz Hall, sopranos including Eileen Farrell, Kirsten Flagstad, Eleanor Steber, and Helen Traubel used to regularly include English-language songs in their programs. Citing those artists as primary influences, Brewer made a selection of those now-neglected songs the dazzling centerpiece of her program, making them sound eminently worthy all over again.
When Christopher Honett left the East Coast this summer to start his new job at the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the journey felt like a homecoming. That’s not just because Honett was born and raised in the Bay Area. Joining the venerable new music ensemble, he says, gives him the opportunity to do the kind of work he’s always wanted to do.
Honett, 32, was named the organization’s executive director in July. He succeeds Adam Frey, who served as SFCMP’s top administrator for 18 years.
For many San Francisco Symphony fans, the orchestra’s 2009/2010 season finally got underway last Wednesday (Sept. 16). True, the season’s official start came one week earlier, with a glitzy gala that featured pianist Lang Lang. But it wasn’t until Wednesday’s all-Mahler program at Davies Symphony Hall that Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra got down to serious business. And, as usually happens when this conductor and his ensemble delve into the music of Mahler, the results were dazzling.