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Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

Articles by this Author

CD Review
July 21, 2009
John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony is an orchestral reduction, the soundtrack in a sense of his 2005 opera.  The work presents episodes from the opera, with three movements titled “The Laboratory,” “Panic,” and “Trinity.”
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Music News
July 14, 2009

Recovery Dollars to Music Organizations

The National Endowment for the Arts is distributing funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the big stimulus plan signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 17, 2009. It took five months to make it happen, but the funds are now becoming available.
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Opera Review
July 10, 2009

Although Friday was July 10, the evening presented a Lucky 13 at Herbst Theatre as exactly one-third of the San Francisco Opera Merola Program's 39 participants made their debut here.

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Music News
July 7, 2009

MTAC Celebrates Five Days of the Fourth

Just when music seasons have ended, and you'd think there is no "Music News" around, we ran into a mob scene of music in Santa Clara over the weekend. Some 1,000 members of the Music Teachers’ Association of California, and 2,800 of their 30,000 students, converged on the Marriott there for a five-day convention that's ending today.
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Upcoming Concert
July 6, 2009
Most “one-opera composers” are not. They are known for a single work in the theater, but it’s not for lack of trying. (Beethoven and Borodin are notable exceptions, with Fidelio and Prince Igor, respectively.)

But Bizet did much more than Carmen (and his Pearl Fishers does pop up often), Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci is just one of his 11 operas, and so on. What’s at work here is the popularity of one work, often at the expense of others.

The 1890 Cavalleria rusticana is what Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) is known for, though he actually produced 16 other operas and operettas. His Iris is an especially fine example of an unjustly neglected opera, and the 1891 L’amico Fritz (Friend Fritz) — the subject of our sermon today — is a splendid piece, coming soon to your neighborhood.

One of two operas staged by and for the 2009 Merola Program participants, L’amico Fritz will be performed at Cowell Theater on July 24 and 26. (The other Merola production is Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Aug. 7 and 9.)

Unlike the blood-and-gore verisimo of Cavalleria rusticana, Mascagni’s second opera, L’amico Fritz, is a “lyric comedy,” closer to operetta than opera. It is based on the novel L’ami Fritz by Émile Erckmann and Pierre-Alexandre Chatrian, taking place in a French community of Jews. (Although this has nothing to do with the opera, it’s worth noting that the Judeo-Alsatian community has a thousand years’ history.)

The story opens with a bet (shades of Così fan tutte!) between landowner/bachelor Fritz Kobus (sung by tenor Nathaniel Peake), and his friend, Rabbi David (baritone Aleksey Bogdanov).

Fritz stakes his vineyard on the bet that he will never marry. What and why the rabbi puts up against that is unclear. Of course, we all know how all this will work out, so not to worry about details.

The wager is greatly handicapped by the presence of the beauteous Suzel (soprano Sara Gartland), daughter of one of his tenants. Three acts, some minor complications, some gorgeous music, and the “Cherry Duet” later — excuse the spoiler — then the couple unites and the rabbi returns the vineyard to Suzel as a wedding present.

Warren Jones conducts members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and the stage director of the black-box production is Nic Muni. Other Merolini in the cast are Yohan Yi, Eleazar Rodrìguez, Susannah Biller, and Maya Lahyani.

The opera’s one and only local main stage production goes all the way back to 1924, on a double bill with Gianni Schicchi. It had a remarkable cast: Tito Schipa, Giuseppe de Luca, and Thalia Sabanieva; Gaetano Merola himself conducted. In 1976, Spring Opera produced L’amico Fritz with Vinson Cole, Frederick Burchinal, and Leona Mitchell.

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Music News
June 30, 2009

Adès Premiere in San Francisco

Just as John Adams has "distilled" his 2005 opera, Doctor Atomic, into the new Doctor Atomic Symphony, now Thomas Adès is providing a similar treatment for the piano of his Powder Her Face
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Music News
June 23, 2009

Ali Akbar Khan

Ali Akbar Khan<br>Photo by Graeme Vanderstoel,<br> London, 1964Yehudi Menuhin called him "the greatest musician in the world." He brought "Indian music" (Hindustani, in fact, but close enough) to the West, along with Ravi Shankar, fellow stud

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Music News
June 16, 2009

Zheng Cao: Life Is Singing, Singing Is Life

When Dr. Larson told her that he would do special calculations to avoid her vocal cords when doing the Gamma Knife, and that he had to get the insurance company's approval to do so, she asked him, "You mean you think I can sing again? And go on with my career?"

She says now that that was the moment she realized that her doctor believed she would survive and go on with her life ...

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Opera Review
June 9, 2009

It's a long way from Catfish Row to Walhalla, but my money is on Eric Owens traversing the distance.

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Music News
June 9, 2009

New Principal Viola for SFS

The long-awaited appointment of the San Francisco Symphony principal violist is over. The important position has been without an occupant for more than three years since Geraldine Walther ended her 29-year tenure there by joining the Takács String Quartet.
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Upcoming Concert
June 4, 2009
I meet with each of the contestants several times over the course of competition week, often driving them to and from events, to get an instrument repaired, sometimes just to get a milkshake or a burger between performances.

I'm amazed at the split and multiple lives they all lead — on one hand, skateboarding, playing video games, checking out the NBA finals, and text messaging their friends, doing everything that 15-23 year olds do. Talk can range from a favorite pair of sneakers to their pick for American Idol.

On the other hand, they are each consummate and oftentimes seasoned professional musicians, performing incredibly demanding works by Bach and Beethoven, interpreting the Klein commissioned works, and carefully preparing their next performances while keeping their ears tuned to each of the competitors' rounds.

That is Larry Chung's experience of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, of which he has been executive director for the past 12 years. Says Competition Director Mitchell Sardou Klein:

This competition was inspired by my father, Irving M. Klein, the cellist of the Claremont Quartet, and a devoted and inspiring cello and chamber music pedagogue. When he died in 1984, many of his colleagues and I searched for a suitable memorial to continue his belief in service to young musicians. Knowing that the Irving Klein Competition has become a permanent and respected part of the musical world gives us great personal satisfaction.

The California Music Center and San Francisco State University's College of Creative Arts present the 24th annual competition, June 11-14, with public concerts on June 13-14 at SFSU's Knuth Hall; tickets range from $5 to $20.

From a field of 62 entrants from nine countries, eight semifinalists are now vying for solo and recital appearances, with cash prizes, ranging from $1,500 to $14,000, to be applied to their education expenses. They include San Francisco-born cellist Meta Weiss, 21, a student of Norman Fischer at Rice University in Houston; and violinist Eunice Kim, 17, from Daly City, who studies with Wei He at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, and is also a member of the Formerly Known As Classical ensemble.

The others are Jacqueline Choi, 22-year-old cellist from Old Tappan, N.J., who studies with Paul Katz at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; SuJin Lee, 17-year-old cellist from South Korea, who studies with Paul Katz at the New England Conservatory; Vicki Powell, 20-year-old violist from Chicago, who studies with Roberto Diaz at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; So Jin Kim, 23-year-old violinist from South Korea, a student of Cho-Liang Lin at Rice University in Houston; Nikki Chooi, 19-year-old violinist from Victoria, Canada, student of Joseph Silverstein and Ida Kavafian at Curtis; Xiang Yu, 20-year-old violinist from Shanghai, China, studying with Donald Weilerstein at the New England Conservatory.

The jury for the competition includes members of the Alexander String Quartet, members of the Cypress String Quartet, Peter Gelfand, Marc Gottlieb, Alan Grishman, Joel Hoffman, Joshua Kosman, Patricia Taylor Lee, Jeffrey Miller, and Alice Schoenfeld.

More about Irving M. Klein International String Competition »
Music News
June 2, 2009

Van Cliburn Finals Now Streaming

Live Web casts of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition finals can now been seen at http://www.cliburn.tv/#. This is the 13th season of the competition in Fort Worth. Participating artists include James Conlon and the Takács String Quartet, and a blind 20-year-old virtuoso.

See the list of six finalists.

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Music News
May 26, 2009

UPDATE: Milnes To Leave S.F. Contemporary Players

San Francisco Contemporary Music Players Executive Director Adam Frey announced Thursday that Music Director David Milnes will step down by July 1 "by mutual agreement with the ensemble."

Milnes, who is music director of the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, came to SFCMP in 2002 and has recruited seven musicians, representing one-third of the ensemble.

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Opera Review
May 24, 2009

There is something in Kenneithia Mitchell's voice that goes straight to the heart. Her debut this weekend in the title role of a sensational West Bay Opera Madama Butterfly impressed with a singularly mellow voice, effortless, brilliant phrasing. She disappears in the role, serves the music and drama, no ego showing or heard in the voice — a true artist, not a star-wannabe.

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Music News
May 19, 2009

PBO appoints Peter Pastreich Executive Director

Peter Pastreich, 70, former executive director of the San Francisco Symphony (1978-1999), has been appointed executive director of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, effective June 1, according to Philharmonia Board President Paul Sugarman. The position, the Robert A. Birman Executive Director Chair, is named for the orchestra's previous administrator, who served 2001-2008. He is now chief operating officer of the Louisville Orchestra.
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CD Review
May 19, 2009

For most American music fans in the middle of the last century, Gustav Mahler meant Leonard Bernstein. He was widely regarded as the single source of the Mahler revival or, for most listeners, their first experience.

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Music News
May 12, 2009

Dance, Dance, DanceA "civilian" cannot even imagine the tenacity, physical strength, and unflagging focus required for San Francisco Ballet dancers at the very end of a greatly demanding season to perform Balanchine's full-length, supremely exacting

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Upcoming Concert
May 12, 2009
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy is living up the "lucky" part of his name as the world celebrates his 200th birthday. Were he alive, he might revel in the good fortune of being well honored by Vance George and the San Francisco State Chamber Singers.

George, the emeritus director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, along with conductors David J. Xiques and Cyrus Ginwala, the school's singers, the Alexander String Quartet, pianist Roger Woodward, the University Chorus, tenor Brian Cheney, and organist Jonathan Dimmock will celebrate the great composer with a generous cross-section of his works on May 16 at Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light and on May 17 at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral.

But that's just the teaser for the "well-honored" part. The concerts are benefits for causes that would have warmed the cockles of young Felix's heart and moved him to say thanks in one of the four languages he spoke fluently (German, English, Italian, and Latin).

Proceeds from the first concert will benefit the St. Martin de Porres School choral program, and the second concert will benefit the Choir of Men and Boys at Grace Cathedral — two organizations that provide music education and performance opportunities to young people.

The program contains several of Mendelssohn’s undervalued, large-scale choral works, including several from his two oratorios, St. Paul (1836) and Elijah (1846). Also one of the composer’s early string symphonies, several keyboard works, and the magnificent String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor, Op. 80. Not leaving out Felix’s talented sister Fanny, the concert includes two works by her.

It’s no wonder that a choral master, like George, would love Mendelssohn, who contributed a good portion of the 19th-century’s best choral music to the repertory. During his quarter-century leadership of the SFS Chorus (1983-2006) and before, with Margaret Hillis' Chicago Symphony Chorus, George has championed Mendelssohn's music, along with a broad range of composers, from Bach to Sondheim. Under his baton, the SFS Chorus won four Grammy Awards, including Best Choral Album (for Brahms' A German Requiem and Orff's Carmina Burana), Classical Album of the Year, and the 2001 concert production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.

George is enchanted by Mendelssohn's childhood, his visit to Leipzig at age 12, spending time with the 73-year-old Goethe. "Every morning," George quotes Mendelssohn's diary, "I receive a kiss from the author of Faust. After dinner, I entertain with Bach fugues and improvisations. I saw where Bach worked and composed!"

A few years later, the Bach-Mendelssohn connection flowered, George says, "through Sarah Itzig Levy, a sister of Bella Salomon, Mendelssohn's maternal grandmother, Felix copying the then little-known St. Matthew Passion (can you imagine that!), and then another 'activist,' the actor Edward Devrient, sang the role of Jesus, and suddenly St. Matthew was — rightly — considered the greatest German art." Devrient has been quoted saying "It took an actor and a young Jew to return the greatest Christian music to the German people."

More about SFSU School of Music and Dance »
Music News
May 5, 2009

S.F. Opera Opts For Being Safe, Not Sorry

The economic downturn, which has hit art organizations with the double whammy of declining contributions and a drop in ticket sales, is really wreaking havoc on opera companies — always troubled by production costs, which are inevitably the highest among performing organizations.
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CD Review
April 28, 2009
Among the many astonishing things about Yuja Wang is her relationship to time. At 22, already a leading pianist in the world, she not only made her first appearance — as a virtual unknown — only three years ago in San Francisco at a Chinese New Year Concert matinee, but a mere eight years ago she was still studying at the Beijing Conservatory, where Western music meant the time before Brahms.
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