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Music News

April 14, 2009

Stay up to date with weekly classical music news from the Bay Area, across the US & around the World.

Bates Preview at YouTube Symphony

At the April 15 Carnegie Hall debut performance by the YouTube Orchestra, there will also be a preview of California Symphony Composer-in-Residence Mason Bates' The B-Sides.

The San Francisco Symphony will give the world premiere of the full work at Davies Symphony Hall, May 20-23. (Not so incidentally, those concerts, under MTT's direction, will also feature Yuja Wang as soloist in the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2, and Sibelius' Symphony No. 4.)

Bates' work is named for the "B side" of hit single recordings (attention children: this is from the time when CDs were really big and made of vinyl), and it utilizes orchestra musicians, recordings, and electronic elements.

Following the May 22 SFS concert, Bates, under his moniker DJ Masonica, will spin at Davies After Hours, the Symphony’s new late night genre-crossing after-party, free to all concertgoers.

Wanted: Girls and Boys to Sing

Beth Avakian's San Francisco Girls Chorus School and Ian Robertson's San Francisco Boys Chorus will hold joint auditions in June. For the boys (ages 5 to 12), auditions are on June 20, by appointment in San Francisco, San Rafael, and Oakland. For the girls (ages 7 to 12), it's on both June 20 and 27, in San Francisco and the East Bay.

No musical experience is necessary to audition for entry level auditioners. Both these Grammy Award-winning organizations perform home seasons in the Bay Area, as well as tour and record both nationally and internationally.

For appointments to SFBC, visit the Chorus’registration page, call (415) 861-7464 x319, or e-mail [email protected] For the SFGC School, call (415) 863-1752, x333 or e-mail [email protected] No walk-ins for either group.

Rossetti Piano Quartet at Kohl Mansion

The Rossetti will perform quartets by Mozart, Dvořák, and Fauré at Kohl Mansion on April 19, beginning at 7 p.m. There's a preconcert talk by Kai Christiansen at 6 p.m. Tickets are priced $20-$42.

Three members of the Rossetti String Quartet (Henry Gronnier, violin; Thomas Diener, viola; and Eric Gaenslen, cello) join forces with Israeli pianist Rina Dokshitsky to create the Rossetti Piano Quartet. The four are old friends from early days in New York, who reunited in Los Angeles a few years ago, and the Rossetti Piano Quartet was born.

Dokshitsky made her debut at the age of 13 with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performing Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor. She has won prizes at the International Competition for Young Pianists in Senigallia, Italy; the Jerusalem Symphony's Young Artists Competition; the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York; and the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv.

Gronnier is a founding member of the Rossetti String Quartet. As a soloist, he has performed worldwide in recital, including Carnegie’s Weill Hall and Wigmore Hall (London). He has performed at many of the leading international music festivals as an orchestral soloist and as a collaborator in chamber music ensembles, including Spoleto (Italy and Charleston), Festival Mediterranean and Zino Francescatti Festival (France), and San Miguel de Allende (Mexico).

Opera for the 'Off-Season'

While no opera resounds in the War Memorial during spring (where, oh, where is Spring Opera?!), broadcasts of the last season on KDFC-FM may provide some consolation.

Special recommendation for the next broadcast, on May 3, of the Nicola Luisotti-conducted La bohème, with Angela Gheorghiu and Piotr Beczala.

June 7 is the date for the Stewart Wallace-Amy Tan The Bonesetter's Daughter; July 5 brings Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, and Aug. 2 Mozart's Idomeneo, conducted by Donald Runnicles.



Mocking and Mucking Contemporary Music

"Tonality," intones the hero of (Untitled), "is a capitalist ploy to sell pianos." Hmmmm. Makes you think. But perhaps not for long.

Not to worry, director Jonathan Parker makes fun of his (so to speak) hero, a sullen, antisocial, no-talent composer, named Adrian (after the character in Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus). Played — sullenly — by Adam Goldberg, Adrian composes works consisting of paper crumpling, glass breaking, and bucket kicking.

In one climactic scene, Adrian and his musicians perform — a la John Cage's 4'33" — a work of complete silence. The Russian soprano participating in the concert turns to Adrian at the end and says, with respect in her voice for the first time: "That is your best work."

It's a spoof about a composer whose clamorous and pretentious music is a throwback to Harry Partch and Karlheinz Stockhausen, but "not in a good way." Parker, the director, in his youth performed with both symphony orchestras and punk bands, and the direct connection with this film is his participation "in a sparsely attended Stockhausen recital at which I played the bongos."

The make-belief music was composed by the very real David Lang (winner of last year's Pulitzer), who also contributed the soundtrack, his first. Says Variety:

[The film] surveys two art worlds represented by a pair of competitive brothers: a terminally self-important composer and a commercially successful painter — as well as the network of gallery owners, dealers, patrons, critics, and audiences that puts the work in the public sphere ... [A] precarious balancing act between satirizing pretentiousness and delivering a credible portrait of downtown culture.

(Untitled) will be shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival April 24, 25, and 27.

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Come for Orff, Stay for... Tormis

Adding to this issue's preview to the April 19 San Francisco Symphony Chorus concert, here are some notes from Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin:

Veljo Tormis' Curse upon iron is based on text from the Finnish national epic Kalevala, and augmented by the Estonian poets Paul-Eerik Rummo and Jaan Kaplinski. It is a curse upon iron, the mother of all evil, because it is from iron that man has learned to make weapons. "Ohoy, villain! Wretched iron! Cursed bog ore! You flesh-eater, gnawer of bones, You spiller of innocent blood!" The music is set to chorus, two male soloists, and shaman drum.

"From that protest against wrongful use of technology," says Bohlin, "we'll switch to songs praising the beauty of nature." Joseph Rheinberger's "Morgenlied" is the first of his Drei Gesänge, and describes a beautiful morning. On a tree branch, a nightingale sings praise and honor to the Lord of the world.

Two pieces follow with lyrics by e.e. cummings, also praising the beauty of nature and the whole creation. Eric Whitacre's beautiful setting of "i thank You God for most this amazing day" makes use of rich harmonies. Lars-Johan Werle's trees, based on four poems by cummings, with a double quartet, baritone soloist and chorus; it is at times playfully jazzy, and is in form similar to cumming's poetry, with a sense of haphazard improvisation and freedom from convention.

Carmina burana is performed in Wilhelm Killmayer's arrangement for two pianos and percussion. The SFS Chorus won a Grammy in 1993 for its recording of the work. It is actually part of a musical triptych that also includes the cantata Catulli carmina (performed together with Burana, but rarely), and Trionfo di Afrodite, almost never heard, even though musically it's an equal to the other two.

Burana II Up North

Choral societies of Solano and Vallejo are joining the Solano Community College Chamber Choir, under the baton of David Ramadanoff, to perform Orff's Carmina Burana on April 25 at Hogan High School. Soprano Aimee Puentes, tenor Brian Staufenbiel, and baritone Austin Kness are among the soloists. Tickets are $10-$40; information at (707) 643-4441.

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Crowden Lays Claim to FORMERLY

Jen Strauss, of Crowden School, wishes it to be known that all those talented young folks of FORMERLY, who will give a free concert on April 17, are products of the school, Preben Antonsen, Matthew Cmiel, Gabriella Smith, and Dylan Mattingly among them.

"Matt graduated from the school in 2003, Preben attended 2001–2003 (his original opera Cerberus, composed jointly with Cmiel, was premiered by Crowden students in 2003), Gabriella attended from 2000–2002."

Smith and Mattingly study composition with Yiorgos Vassilandonakis as part of Crowden's John Adams Young Composers Program. Their new compositions will be premiered at Crowden by members of another unusual group of young (if professional) musicians, Classical Revolution, in a free concert on May 16.


Chamber Deluxe

Usually, ticket prices are mentioned at the end of these brief column previews, but in this case, they belong in the lead. A chamber group from Israel is giving concerts in private homes in the Bay Area, and tickets go for $250 or, "$1,000 to $5,000 for packages for two," noting that, "additional levels are also available!" Hmmmm. Student tickets, it must be said, cost only $25 a pop.

So, what is this highly priced event? (Tickets may be obtained by calling (310) 445-8406 or e-mailing [email protected].org.)

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's Woodwind Octet is making its West Coast debut, May 17 at the Tiburon home of Varda and Irving Rabin, and on May 18, in the Los Altos home of Eta and Sass Somekh. On the program: Mozart’s Serenade for Winds in E-flat Major and Beethoven’s Octet for Winds in E-flat Major, Op. 103.

The unusual Honorary Committe for this unusual event: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blum, Rita Moreno, Leonard Gordon, Mayor Gavin Newsom, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.


EMI's April Orgy

EMI Classics is releasing some choice collections this month, including multiple-CD albums of performances by Corelli, Caballé, and Hotter, as well as a Glyndebourne album — and surely numerous others. But these are the four that really caught my attention. To those who say "ho-hum, reissue," I say the more the better, and these are just the best.

Caballé is represented by four CDs, with generous excerpts from Guillaume Tell, I Puritani, Macbeth, Otello, La Rondine, and much more, plus Turina's Canto a Sevilla and Montsalvatge's Cinco canciones negras.

Corelli also has four CDs, one completely devoted to popular Italian songs (that sounds better than "pop songs"), with the other three CDs devoted to opera. Besides the obvious selections (Il Trovatore, Turandot, and the like), there are arias from Catalani's Loreley, Donizetti's La favorita, Handel's Serse, and Rossini's Petite Messe solennelle.

The Hotter collection of six CDs is a treasure, from Bach's "Ich habe genug" to Brahms and Wolf lieder to complete cycles of Winterreise and Schwanengesang, and excerpts from Wagner and Strauss operas, Orff's Der Mond.

Glyndebourne excerpts, on five CDs, are from Mozart, Rossini, Monteverdi, Busoni operas, plus Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, and arias from the Centenary Gala.

As to the "numerous others," there is one that must be mentioned: a three-CD album, Martha Argerich and Friends, chamber music performed with Drobinsky, Godel, Maisky (both L. and M.), Slokar, Zilberstein, et al. — works by Mozart, Schumann, Arensky, Rachmaninov, Janáček, Ravel, and Piazzolla.

I wish Argerich (who probably never accompanied singers) had performed with Hotter, and as long as I'm in the wishing mode, how about a collaboration with Quasthoff?

Lang Lang Long

Always fascinating, occasionally irritating, sometimes amazing, Lang Lang is the Franz Liszt for our times — flamboyant, flashy, often a pianist first, and a musician second.

Last weekend, The Financial Times of London devoted a full page to Lang Lang, and true to form, in the interview with Rahul Jacob, he entertained the reader well. A few excerpts:

... I fret that I have mangled the tones — so crucial when speaking Cantonese and Mandarin – in pronouncing his name. While the two words look identical in English, his given name means "happiness and sunshine" and his surname means "educated gentleman" in Chinese.

... He first burst into the international consciousness in a fairy-tale debut in 1999, aged 17, when he stood in for André Watts in front of 17,000 people at the Ravinia festival near Chicago. He had dreamed the night before that his piano was "a rocketship orbiting the globe"

... The assembled musical luminaries, including the conductor Christoph Eschenbach, the violinist Isaac Stern, the festival’s musical director and others, prolonged the night by asking him to play Bach’s difficult Goldberg Variations from memory, in a private recital that began after 2 in the morning...

... Today more than 30 million Chinese people are learning to play the piano; a popularity at least partly attributable to his meteoric career...

... He is particularly excited about a masterclass on April 18, which will climax with a performance of Schubert’s March Militaire for 100 pianists of all abilities from schools in east London. This is part of an effort he makes in several cities to make music fun for young people. "What I find is the problem is the image of our work. The kids think that we are very boring people; never talk, like a robot, and are very arrogant. [They think] we are the elite. Actually, we’re not. We’re just a normal person. And that is the first thing we need to change when we go to all the schools, to inspire them and to say, ‘Look, guys, we are a normal person.'"

... Lang Lang is evangelical in his efforts to spread the popularity of classical music. For a man who does as many as 130 concerts a year at about $50,000 each (according to figures published in The New Yorker), he still spends a lot of time in schools.

... Lang Lang was born in June 1982 in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang. His mother was a telephone operator; his father was a policeman by profession and a musician by vocation. Lang Guoren, who played a two-stringed Chinese fiddle called the erhu, started his son playing the piano at three. At four, Lang Lang had his first lessons with a woman named Zhu Ya-Fen. Her own teacher committed suicide during China’s Cultural Revolution, when western classical musicians were ridiculed by students...

... When Lang Lang was nine, his father gave up his job and took his son to Beijing so he could study for a place in the prestigious conservatory there. The two lived off the $150 his mother sent from Shenyang every month, in an apartment so cold that his father would get into bed first to warm it up for his son. Life was miserable and father and son rowed bitterly over how much he practised. After his father lost his temper one day and shouted hysterically that Lang Lang should kill himself rather than bring shame on the family, the boy refused to play for four months...

... For all his technical fluency, Lang Lang has been criticized for "self-indulgent" playing. In part to help rein himself in, he has enlisted the conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim — a former boy wonder himself — to be his latest mentor. (Lang Lang asked the legendary Israeli musician to teach him on their first meeting.) Every few months Lang Lang visits Barenboim in Berlin. "He teaches me how to control myself... and not to let the emotion take over the knowledge. But the thing is, you need to have the fantasies — otherwise everyone plays the same."

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