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The Oakland East Bay Symphony's April 17 concert at the Paramount Theatre "pairs two composers who were revolutionaries in their time, and who changed the course of music forever," says Music Director Michael Morgan. In the case of Beethoven, it's the youthful and pathbreaking 1798 Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Sara Buechner as soloist), and from Stravinsky, it's the riotous Petrouchka ballet suite (1947 version).
In addition to new harmonies and dynamics in both works, wild rhythms are special characteristics: In the third movement of the piano concerto, syncopation reaches the point of jazz, and the adventures of Petrouchka the puppet overwhelm with arrhythmical motions on the order of Chorea sancti viti (St. Vitus' dance), just on this side of dyskinesias. Both pieces burst with colors, huge swings in mood, and waves of raw power.
Petrouchka has an important role in the history of ballet. Stravinsky composed the music for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, which premiered it at the Théâtre du Chatelet in 1911, under Pierre Monteux — who, it may behoove young audiences to know, later became the longest-serving music director of the San Francisco Symphony, from 1935 to 1952. With choreography by Mikhail Fokine, sets by Alexandre Benois, and Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role, it's hard to get more historic. But the greatness of the occasion took decades to be appreciated, and the public had a hard time with the music, although it refrained from the outright riot that greeted The Rite of Spring two years later in the same Paris theater. (OEBS originally scheduled Rite, which requires a larger orchestra, for this program.)
It wasn't just the audience troubled by Petrouchka: The mighty Vienna Philharmonic refused to play the score, calling it "dirty music." I wonder what they would have made of Bartók's near-contemporary, far more erotic The Miraculous Mandarin back then; it did upset listeners in Cologne, and was banned in Germany. Thirty-six years after the premiere, Stravinsky reworked Petrouchka as an orchestral suite, but not to worry — he didn't "clean it up."
Not as well known as Wagner's "Tristan Chord," the "Petrouchka Chord" is interesting enough, with two major triads played together. Listen for this bitonality device heralding the appearance of the tragic hero of the piece.
This being Morgan's ever-contemporary OEBS, there is something new on the program. It's Mark Lanz Weiser's Four Scenes From the Story of Toccata and Fugue. The Southern California composer, 40, equally busy with movies and concert pieces, is a multiple ASCAP winner. His opera, Where Angels Fear to Tread, premiered at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.
Of Four Scenes, Morgan says: "It's a short piece, a series of selections from a film score (tonal, evocative) and because it's for string orchestra, it reminds you of that other great string orchestra film score, Psycho — but without the insanity."
The film in question is Neal Thibedeau's 2007 thriller The Story of Tocatta and Fugue, whose main characters are named Gil Toccata and Andi Fugue, played by Graham Sibley and Annika Marks. ("Tocatta" in the film becomes "Toccata" in the concert program because, as the composer admitted to us: "I didn’t want people to think I don’t know how to spell that Italian word.")
To enhance further the concert's aural pomp and grand circumstances, Morgan opens the evening with Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 Russian Easter Overture. Note how the celebratory theme in this piece will later resonate in Petrouchka's carnival scenes. Mother Russia will be well served.
An hour before the concert starts (as Russian Orthodox Obikhod canticles, mixed with pagan rhythms, ring out), John Kendall Bailey presents a preconcert lecture.More »
The full name of the organization is Formerly Classical, but somehow “FORMERLY” has more punch, more marketing power. Let’s put “marketing” in quotes also, because its concerts are free and little or no money changes hands. FORMERLY, say participants, “is a group dedicated to the revival of excitement in classical music and the dispelling of the myth that classical music ended in 1940.” That year, besides its musicological values, may well mark the birth of some parents of the FORMERLY tribe.
It is an entirely teen-run group whose musicians are drawn from the ranks of prestigious Bay Area institutions, such as the San Francisco Youth Orchestra, the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra, the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the School of the Arts in San Francisco.
The free concert Mattingly announced, just hours before turning — gasp! — 18, will take place in Lick Wilmerding High School, 755 Ocean Ave., San Francisco, at 7:30 p.m. on April 17. The program includes works by Ben Johnston, Henryk Górecki, Lou Harrison, Kaija Saariaho, Arvo Pärt, Nico Muhly, and György Ligeti, plus premieres by Antonsen, Mattingly, and Gabriella Smith.
FORMERLY was founded three years ago by guitarist, composer, and Classical Voice contributor Matthew Cmiel, who now studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. The baton of leadership has passed to Antonsen and Mattingly, the former a pianist and composition student (with John Adams), the latter also a composer besides being a cellist, pianist, guitarist, bassist, and singer in the bands Funky Bus and the U-Turns.
Antonsen’s Thresh of Gear was recently premiered by the San Francisco Youth Orchestra. Mattingly’s many compositions include a piece performed by the Berkeley Symphony in an Under Construction concert, a short work performed in the Vox Novus program in cities around the world (including Berlin, Sydney, and New York City), and a recent piece for piano and orchestra, performed by the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra.
Smith’s orchestral works have been performed by the Berkeley Symphony, also in its Under Construction series, while her chamber music has been played around the Bay Area. She and Mattingly both study with Yiorgos Vassilandonakis.
Having quoted the top of Mattingly’s e-mail, it may behoove us to follow it to the end, just above his full — if semifictitious —signature of “Dylan Cassius Ramón Eugene Thelonious Apollinaire Mattingly”:
If you were not the right person to send this to, please feel free either to ignore it or to send it to the right person to read it. ... Thanks!More »
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!