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Music News

April 28, 2009

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

The Merolini are Coming!

With over half a century of tradition and a $2.1 million annual operating budget, the Merola Opera Program has begun its 2009 program by selecting 29 artists from eight countries for three months of coaching, training, and performances. In the past — while Merola still carried the now-affiliate San Francisco Opera name — the Program produced scores of singing greats.

These are the winners of month-long auditions held locally and in Seattle, Chicago, Houston, and New York:

Sopranos: Susannah Biller, Georgetown, Tennessee; Lara Ciekiewicz, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; Kate Crist, Agency, Iowa; Sara Gartland, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Lori Guilbeau, Golden Meadow, Louisiana

Mezzo-sopranos: Margaret Gawrysiak, Geneseo, Illinois; Caitlin Mathes, Dayville, Connecticut; Ellie Jarrett, Dallas, Texas; and Maya Lahyani, Hod-Hasharon, Israel

Contralto: Suzanne Hendrix, Charles City, Iowa

Countertenor: Ryan Belongie, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

Tenors: Eleazar Rodríguez, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico (studying at the S.F. Conservatory); Gregory Carroll, Des Moines, Washington; Brian Jagde, Piermont, New York; Alex Mansoori, Seattle, Washington; and Nathaniel Peake, Humble, Texas

Baritones: Aleksey Bogdanov, Odessa, Ukraine; John Chest, Greenville, South Carolina; Paul Scholten, Muskegon, Michigan; and Michael Sumuel, Odessa, Texas

Bass-baritone: Yohan Yi, Pohang, Republic of Korea

Basses: Evan Boyer, Louisville, Kentucky; Benjamin Leclair, Royal, Iowa

Apprentice coaches: Keun-A Lee, Seoul, Republic of Korea; Stephanie Rhodes, Alpine, Utah; Tamara Sanikidze, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia; Suzy Smith, Medicine Hat, Alberta; and Canada Miaomiao Wang, Lanzhou, Gansu, China

Apprentice stage director: Fernando Parra Bortí, Chihuahua, Mexico

Merola public performances include Schwabacher summer concerts, July 10-12; Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz, July 24-26; Mozart's Così fan tutte, Aug. 7-9; and the Merola Grand Finale, Aug. 22.

Rinaldi Honored in Marin

Hugo Rinaldi — who has led opera, youth orchestra, and school music programs in Marin over decades — will be honored on May 3 at a Marin Music Chest concert in San Anselmo. The event is also the Scholarship Winners’ Concert at San Domenico School (whose Virtuoso Program was created by Faith France, Rinaldi's wife).

Rinaldi himself received a Marin Music Chest scholarship award — 71 years ago. The program's founder, Maude Fay Symington, mentored Rinaldi, and sponsored private music lessons for him. During World War II, Rinaldi served in the Army as a band director. He also founded both the Marin Symphony Youth Orchestra, which he conducted for 27 years, and the Marin Opera Company, where he served as its musical director for nine years.

He was also director of music for all schools within the San Rafael City School District and over a period of 32 years developed its famed Music Education Program, which included orchestras, choirs, bands, musicals, and festivals.

Rinaldi also served as associate professor of music at Dominican University where he directed the University Orchestra and taught undergraduate and postgraduate music courses including Opera Lecturer.

For 35 years, Rinaldi served as resident conductor and violinist for the San Francisco-Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, and three years during the mid-1990s as Austrian-American Mozart Academy professor of music and conductor in Attersee, Austria.

'Hands Off Poland,' Says Pianist

Before the main story, here's a local angle from Graeme Vanderstoel in Berkeley, who attended Krystian Zimerman's recital at Zellerbach on Friday (see review). No "scandal" similar to the one in Los Angeles, "Zimerman did make a few comments about being so glad to be in a country with a new president, and also made a reference to those entering Poland in earlier years having their fingerprints taken. 'Can you imagine that?' he asked." Apparently, his extramusical comments were received with great approval in Berkeley. Now for the main event, taking place two days later, in Los Angeles, as reported by Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times:

Zimerman, widely regarded as one of the finest pianists in the world, created a furor Sunday night in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation's military policies overseas.

Before playing the final work on his recital, Karol Szymanowski’s Variations on a Polish Folk Theme, Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world.

"Get your hands off of my country," he said. He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

About 30 or 40 people in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities. "Yes," he answered, "some people when they hear the word military start marching."

Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano. But many more cheered. Zimerman responded by saying that America has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy.

And then, there are these strange facts, including the demolition of his piano:

Zimerman has had problems in the United States in recent years. He travels with his own Steinway piano, which he has altered himself. But shortly after 9/11, the instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. Thinking the glue smelled funny, the TSA decided to take no chances and destroyed the instrument. Since then he has shipped his pianos in parts, which he reassembles by hand after he lands. He also drives the truck himself when he carries his instrument from city to city over land, as he did after playing a recital in Berkeley on Friday.

Balanchine and Taylor at Choreographer Summit

Two personal favorites and everybody's kings of the realm — George Balanchine (1904 – 1983) and Paul Taylor, who turns 79 on July 29 — are being superbly represented in San Francisco. The Paul Taylor Dance Company performs a rich repertory program at Yerba Buena Center through May 4; Balanchine and his full-length Jewels are at the War Memorial Opera House through May 10.

In the Taylor repertory new to San Francisco: his 129th ballet, the 2008 Beloved Renegade, which combines Walt Whitman poems with Francis Poulenc’s Gloria; the 1963 Scudorama, not performed in over 40 years, is an anticipation of Armageddon, using Dante's poetry and an original score by Clarence Jackson.

Among the returning Taylor classics: Byzantium (with excerpts from works by Edgard Varese), Private Domain (Iannis Xenakis), Changes (music by John Phillips, John Lennon/Paul McCartney, John Hartford), Esplanade (J.S. Bach, Violin Concerto in E Major and Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor), Mercuric Tidings (Schubert, excerpts from Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2), Arden Court (William Boyce, excerpts from Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8), and Offenbach Overtures.

In the Opera House, four decades after its creation, Balanchine's Jewels still creates a gasp every time the curtain goes up during the evening, quite independently from the ovations when the curtain comes down.

That opening reaction is a combination of ohhhh! and awwww! and it happens three times: first when the green costumes and backdrop of Emeralds are revealed, then in registering the red glow of Rubies, and finally at the dazzling white of Diamonds. Tony Walton's scenic design and Karinska's costumes (in Haydee Morales' new realization) create a fitting companion to the glorious music and choreography that follow, even while setting the mood for some of the most elegant and beautiful events in all performing arts.

Usually, the individual jewels of Jewels are performed separately, as parts of a repertory program; San Francisco didn't see the entire work until 2002, 35 years after the world premiere in New York.

The reason, I think, is the slow, quiet, understated choreography of Emeralds. Using Gabriel Fauré's graceful music (mostly from Pelléas et Mélisande), Balanchine created a meditative, elegant piece, just about the opposite of Stravinsky's rhythmic excitement for Rubies, and quite different from the "typical ballet music" of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3 excerpts for Diamonds.

To the credit of the company's brilliant principal dancers, a corps de ballet performing with a discipline worthy of Balanchine's standards, Martin West's orchestra (Michael McGraw as soloist in the Stravinsky Capriccio), and coaching by some of the stars of the original production, San Francisco Ballet is offering very different pieces, each in an authentic fashion, the three coalescing into a superb evening length experience.

Preparations for Jewels have been extraordinary: Balanchine star and Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson has invited Elyse Borne, herself a Balanchine veteran of renown, to stage the work, with the assistance of three great ballerinas from the original production: Violette Verdy, Mimi Paul, and Suzanne Farrell. For balletomanes, that list alone should produce a gasp similar to the audience reaction to the staging.

At the Sunday matinee, Maria Kochetkova and Frances Chung realized the graceful solos of Emeralds with elegance and unpretentious dignity. Pascal Molat partnered Tina LeBlanc and Sofiane Sylve in Rubies with brilliance creating its own gasps and, at one time, incredulous laughter. Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan not only made those of Armenian descent proud everywhere, but their Diamonds pas de deux seemed to stop time itself, as they alternated fluid passages with quick exhibitions of bravura.

The other cast features Yuan Yuan Tan and Chung; Zahorian, Molat, and Elana Altman; Sylve and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba.

The Ballet's final program of the season, through May 8, offers Yuri Possokhov's Fusion (to music by Graham Fitkin and Rahul Dev Burman, arranged by Osvaldo Golijov), Alexei Ratmansky's Russian Seasons (music by Leonid Desyatnikov), and Jorma Elo's Double Evil, to a mindboggling mix of Philip Glass’ Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra and Vladimir Martynov’s Come In!.

St. Petersburg Quartet to Kohl Mansion

Russia's St. Petersburg String Quartet, now based in the U.S., returns to Burlingame with guest pianist Mack McCray, to close Music at Kohl Mansion's 26th season on May 3.

Founded in 1985, the Quartet consists of Alla Aranovskaya and Alla Krolevich, violins; Boris Vayner, viola; and Leonid Shukayev, cello. On the program: Borodin's String Quartet No. 2 in D Major, Tsintsadze's Five Miniatures on Jewish Folk Tunes, and Dvořák's Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81.

On May 4 at 7:30 p.m., the Quartet will appear in a "musical conversation," followed by a reception at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center, in Foster City.

San Francisco Performances Season No. 30

Ruth Felt's San Francisco Performances is celebrating its 30th year, and the 2009-2010 season is celebratory indeed. Among the recitals, dance performances, and chamber music concerts, there are many items whetting the appetite. For a full list, see www.performances.org. Significantly, ticket prices are kept at the current $24-$49 range.

Highlights: The season-opening concert on Sept. 30, with baritone Thomas Hampson and Song of America; the Juilliard String Quartet, with its new first violinist Nick Eanet, on Oct. 18; numerous concerts by the Alexander Quartet; an appearance by the Kronos (May 2, 2010); and recitals by mezzo-sopranos Joyce DiDonato (Nov. 16) and Alice Coote (April 2, 2010).

Yuja Wang, the hottest young pianist around, appears on April 22, 2010, to play Scarlatti, Schumann, Scriabin, and Prokofiev; two days later, The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross will read from his The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, the text "illustrated" by pianist Ethan Iverson. The great Bach specialist Angela Hewitt is due at Herbst Theatre on Dec. 1, Richard Goode follows on Jan. 22, and composer-pianist Thomas Adès appears on March 16.

Among dance programs, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon (whose work we have long enjoyed at the War Memorial) is bringing his Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company to the usual S.F. Performances dance space at Yerba Buena Center (Jan. 23-24). England's DV8 Physical Theatre is due Nov. 12-14, and British choreographer Akram Khan presents his eight-member company that includes guests from the National Ballet of China to perform the multicultural work bahok on Feb. 18-20 at the YBCA Novellus Theatre.

For contemporary music, two giants of the genre lead the way: on Jan. 31, violinist Midori appears with Music of Her Time, a concert of 20th-century works complemented by a full day of workshops and master classes.

Following his memorable appearance at the deYoung Museum two years ago, pianist Marino Formenti returns with a pair of concerts, Dec. 5 and 11, the first featuring Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus, the second a unique combination of music by Haydn and the contemporary composer Bernhard Lang. Formenti will also play at a family matinee on Dec. 6, certain to inspire young ones not yet sufficiently motivated to practice many hours.

"When I got the idea to start an independent presenting organization in 1979, there were many who said it wouldn’t succeed," says Felt, "but here we are 30 years later, continuing the mission we had from the start — to present world-renowned and emerging artists in chamber music, recitals, contemporary dance, and jazz. During that time we have also developed our highly regarded arts education programs."

Italy's First Female Principal Conductor

Milan's Orchestra Sinfonica Giuseppe Verdi has chosen 35-year-old Xian Zhang as its musical director. The Chinese conductor, a mother with a 2-month-old baby, is the first woman to hold such a post in Italy. She succeeds Riccardo Chailly, who resigned the position four years ago.

Xian Zhang has just reached the end of a contract as associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic, a role for which she was nominated in 2005 by Lorin Maazel. She has also conducted the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the London Symphony, and the Dresden Staatskapelle (she was the first woman ever to conduct in the principal hall).

Forthcoming debuts are scheduled with the Concertgebouw and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome. She will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with piano soloist Yefim Bronfman, on May 8, 9, and 10.

Xian Zhang will make her first official appearance on April 30 at the Vatican in a concert for the Pope to include symphonies by Mozart and Haydn, the Vivaldi Magnificat, and Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618.

Whose Athalia Is It Anyway?

Most of us have just made the acquaintance of Handel's oratorio, performed wonderfully by the Philharmonia Baroque, and here comes news (again, to most of us) that the dreaded queen has been otherwise musified as well. Adam Luebke reports in Opera Today from Stuttgart that Bach specialist Helmuth Rilling has performed and recorded Mendelssohn's Athalia. It is incidental music (old-timey soundtrack) to Racine's play, in the same manner as the composer's infinitely better-known A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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