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Yes, they can: The Conservatory kids can, though somewhat cautiously, and certainly staying away from the climactic splits, while still conveying the buoyant spirit of the dissolute French, avec plaisir. On Thursday night, the first of four performances at Cowell Theater, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music presented Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld in a delightful admixture of a cute school production and a first-class musical performance.
Valery Gergiev, one of the heavyweights on the international music scene, does have his detractors. Just within the context of his Sunday-Monday appearances in Davies Symphony Hall, leading the London Symphony Orchestra in two eventful concerts, there were numerous items possibly contradicting what may well be a general enthusiasm about the conductor.
The Trojan War, history books tell us (without too much certainty), took place “in the 13th or 12th century B.C.E.,” and Troy must have been somewhere in Turkey, near the Dardanelles.
Yes, it’s difficult to know details of events taking place three millennia ago — especially so when our question is: “What kind of music did Achaean Greeks whistle while bashing in Trojan skulls?”
Fortunately for the fast-approaching world premiere of Lillian Groag’s War Music at the American Conservatory Theater, the composer for what the playwright calls a “groundbreaking fusion of language, music, and movement” does not worry about authenticity, else the curtain may not go up for a long time in the Geary Theater.
Says John Glover, War Music composer, musician, saxophonist, and operations manager for the American Composers Orchestra:
In straight theater, music is usually incidental. It’s for set changes, scene changes, and a little bit of underscoring, but it’s not intrinsic to the fabric of the work. War Music is unique in that music plays a fundamentally important role in the piece.
The word “music” is half of the title, so obviously the aural aspect of sound to convey story and characters is very important, too. This story [Homer’s Iliad] was originally told orally, and the text really reflects that. It demands to be heard out loud.
This production also brings us back to the ideals of ancient Greek theater in which music, drama, and movement were completely integrated and played at an equal level.
Glover’s music contains a wide range of styles and sounds, with some classically composed pieces and others referencing Turkish court music, 1930s vaudeville, and even Haitian voodoo chanting. Take a listen.
Premiering on April 1, with previews beginning March 26, War Music takes its text from the 2,800-year-old Iliad, about the clash between the warrior Achilles and Agamemnon, the leader of the Greekexpedition during the Trojan War. The play uses an English translation of the classic by Christopher Logue, who has put 45 years into the project.
Over the years, Groag has specialized in adapting and directing large-scale dramas, such as Blood Wedding and A Triumph of Love. Her directing work spans theater and opera; she is creating War Music in collaboration not only with composer Glover, but also with choreographer Daniel Pelzig (who set the movement in Mary Zimmerman’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for the Metropolitan Opera).
A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff draws a parallel between Groag’s play and the United States’ current foreign policy entanglements this way: “As a country engaged in several wars of attrition simultaneously,” she remarks, “we are desperate to understand how we got into the mess we are in. War Music is the perfect catalyst for conversation on these difficult questions and promises to be bold, ambitious, and unforgettable.”
The production features a top-notch cast, including René Augesen, Anthony Fusco, Gregory Wallace, Jud Williford, Jack Willis, Charles Dean, Lee Ernst, Sharon Lockwood, David A. Moss, and Andy Murray. Also participating are members of A.C.T.’s Master of Fine Arts Program, class of 2009, Nicholas Pelczar, Christopher S. Tocco, and Erin Michelle Washington.
Daniel Ostling is responsible for the scenic design, Beaver Bauer for the costumes, Russell H. Champa for the lighting design.More »
Recession be damned: for the second week, new, complex, "heavy" music and Ravel have filled the 2,743-seat Davies Symphony Hall. Last week, it was Gubaidulina's Second Violin Concerto and Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales; tonight, György Ligeti Requiem and Martha Argerich, playing Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto, were San Francisco's American Idol winners.
The North American premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s 2007 Violin Concerto No. 2, In tempus praesens (In the present time), arrived Thursday as an important musical event, revealing a strong, compelling, unusual, and rewarding work.
The soloist, Anne-Sophie Mutter (who had commissioned the concerto), gave a stunningly brilliant performance, with the highest of notes (some close to scraping the instrument’s bridge) coming across rock solid, overtones swirling in the air … all without visible or audible effort.
The upcoming spring season, ODC/Dance Downtown, takes place at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, March 12-29. It offers new music, new choreography, and a repertory of five recent favorites.
Way (winner of an American Academy in Rome Residency) is the choreographer for the world premiere of Memory of the Forest, to a score by Jay Cloidt, and Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson is introducing another premiere: Grassland, to music by Marcelo Zarvos.
Memory of the Forest is inspired by the life of Way's late mother-in-law, Iza Erlich. As a teenager in 1941, she walked away from the Warsaw Ghetto, traversing Poland, Germany, and Russia to find her future husband who had departed months earlier.
Erlich recorded her memories on a set of four audiotapes and always imagined that her story might be material for a dance. "Iza, a social worker by trade, believed in the power of art to communicate emotional experience," says Way. "Her story of intrigue, grit, and humor offers a hopeful note in our own tumultuous times." Working with Way are video artists David and Ha-Jin Hodge, and lighting designer and visual artist Elaine Buckholtz.
Creating the piece, Way says, has been "both a personal journey and an invigorating choreographic exploration. Working with dancers who put their amazing capacity on the line every day is a powerful way to explore meaning in my life."
Zarvos's score for Nelson's abstract Grassland is performed live by violinist Ren Mandel (long associated with dance, having married San Francisco Ballet star Joanna Berman), former Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Gianna Abondolo, Berkeley Symphony concertmaster Franklyn D'Antonio, San Francisco Opera Orchestra violist Joy Fellows, with Zarvos on piano.
Works repeated from the last season include Way's Unintended Consequences: A Meditation, set on music by Laurie Anderson, and Origins of Flight, to music by Heinrich Biber, Arcangelo Corelli, and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. Also on the program is Way's 1996 Weird Weather, to music by the Hohner Percussion Ensemble.Also scheduled: Nelson's 2008 Hunting and Gathering, to music by Bryan Eno and David Byrne, and They've Lost Their Footing to music by the Swedish rock-folk group Hoven Droven.
A $20 "Small Plates" event is offered on March 19 at 6:30 p.m., featuring an hour-long performance, with complimentary drinks and appetizers.
The company consists of 11 dancers: Daniel Santos, Anne Zivolich, Yayoi Kambara, Corey Brady, Quilet Rarang, Elizabeth Farotte, Jeremy Smith, Aaron Perlstein, Vanessa Thiessen, Robert Dekkers, and Dennis Adams (apprentice).
On Sunday, at Alek Shrader's Schwabacher Debut Recital in Temple Emanu-El, presented by the San Francisco Opera, I was wondering about the tenor's response if Barbara Walters should ask him what kind of tree he would be. Not knowing the answer, I came up with a question to which the answer is obvious. What kind of drinking glass would Shrader be? Tall, clear, gracefully simple, and full. This is a transparent tenor, an extraordinarily ordinary singer — "ordinary" in the sense of plain, simple, unadorned, straightforward. Would that there were more like him!