June 23, 2009
Ali Akbar Khan
Yehudi 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 student of his father, the legendary Baba Allauddin Khan.
World-famous but always an artist, not a star, the man known as Khansahib or by the title Ustad (master), sarod master Ali Akbar Khan died Thursday in his San Anselmo home. He was 87. I have wonderful memories of his many concerts in the Bay Area, especially in recent years, and including the grand event on his 80th birthday. Spend a few minutes with the virtuoso musician and with his meditative Raga Marwa of Sunset and Twilight. (Imagine it orchestrated by Debussy!)
Graeme Vanderstoel, El Cerrito antiquarian bookseller and former international concert manager for Khansahib (and other artists from Asia), has been involved with Asian performing arts for decades. He told Classical Voice:
After Menuhin invited Ali Akbar Khan to perform at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1955, Khansahib recorded an LP for Angel, Music of India, with tabla player Chatur Lal, and a recorded introduction by Menuhin.
Released around the world, it was for me, like so many, a breathtaking introduction to one of the great music traditions. It was one reason I left Australia for India in 1959. In my first week in Bombay I heard Khansahib playing a duet with Ravi Shankar. Backstage, he handed me his card and asked: "When are you coming to Calcutta? Phone me and hear some music."
We stayed in touch and met again in 1963 when he was invited to the Festival of India at the Edinburgh Festival. There we met Sam and Louise Scripps, who had just started the American Society for Eastern Arts (ASEA) in Berkeley. In 1965, they invited Khansahib to teach and tour for ASEA. By then, I was his international concert manger and joined him. Khansahib continued to teach each summer for ASEA while I became the director of programs.
He had started the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta in 1956 and wanted a branch in California. With assistance of students, it opened in late 1967, and is still going strong. He was teaching classes as of two weeks ago. The College will continue in San Rafael with his gifted American son, Alam Khan, and long-time resident teacher and tabla accompanist for Khansahib, Swapan Chaudhuri.
Tributes to Khansahib from around the world give glimpses into his life as court musician for the Maharaja of Jodhpur, receiving high awards in India and in the U.S., and life with a loving family. During the funeral Sunday at Mt. Tamalpais Cemetery, we heard the recording of a concert he gave for his College over 40 years ago. The unique sounds of his alap in Raga Bhimpalasi reminded us of the incredible art of a gentle, generous man and teacher who many consider the greatest Indian musician of the past century.
The College has recordings of hundreds of concerts and classes. To complete archiving this work, the family requests donations for the Ali Akbar Khan Library.
Malloy to Head Early Music Society
The San Francisco Early Music Society has named lutenist-vihuelist-guitarist Harvey Malloy as its new executive director, effective July 1. The onetime music teacher in the California State University system went on to develop music performance programs in lute, vihuela, and classical guitar at CSU/Long Beach.
Malloy's international business career, according to the SFEMS press release, included the presidency of TOTO Frontier U.S.A., Inc. (which features "super hydrophilic coating"), and the presidency of the ceramic tile company Deutsche Steinzeug America, Inc. He continues to consult for other businesses.
Malloy succeeds Robert Jackson, who served as director some 18 years until his retirement last year. Says SFEMS President Meryl Sacks: "More than anyone, he has kept us going, during good times as well as during more challenging times. He is also a long-time member of the board, and he will continue to participate in the organization in that capacity."
Malloy's comment: "Robert has been more than just the SFEMS administrator/director; he has been a key member of the management team and a tireless worker dedicated to doing whatever was necessary to help realize SFEMS' mission of making the Bay Area a leading center for the performance of early music."
The Society was formed in 1975 to promote study and performance of Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music by both amateurs and professionals in Northern California.
Crocetto-Melton 'Sweep' at UCLA Competition
Two of the most prominent and promising current San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows, Leah Crocetto, 29, and Heidi Melton, 27, won the first and second prize, respectively, among vocalists in the third annual Jose Iturbi International Music Competition at UCLA. Crocetto received the $50,000 first prize and additional awards, including the $3,000 People's Choice Prize. The $25,000 second prize went to third-year Adler fellow Melton.
Harkening back to observations about the curious lack of Americans at the Van Cliburn Piano Contest's finals, there were none of them among the piano winners in Los Angeles; first prize winner Dmitri Levkovich is from Ukraine, now a resident of Canada; the others are Russians and a Croatian.
On the other hand, all singer finalists were American. Go figure.
Lawrence Granger, 57, a cellist with the San Francisco Symphony for 30 years, died last Sunday. Rather than being a cancer victim, as previously reported, he suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after an operation for a brain tumor, which was discovered just a few days previously.
He joined the Symphony's cello section in 1979. In addition to his performances with the Orchestra, he performed many times over the years with colleagues in the Chamber Music Series and in Chamber Music Sundaes. During the Symphony's 1993 Wet Ink Festival, he performed in the West Coast premiere of Su Lian Tan's By Leaps and Bounds for Cello and Piano, and the San Francisco premieres of Steven Stucky's Sappho Fragments and Bright Sheng's Four Movements for Piano Trio.
Granger also performed the solo work Trois Strophes sur le nom de SACHER by Henri Dutilleux at the Wet Ink Festival in 1992. He played with Composers Inc. and the Pleasanton Chamber Players, and was involved in several community orchestras, as a guest section leader and soloist.
Born in San Diego, Granger moved with his family to the Bay Area in 1966, where he studied with Bonnie Hampton. While still in college at California State University-Hayward, he won the Oakland Symphony's cello audition and joined that orchestra as principal cellist a year later. He also continued his studies with SFS Principal Cellist Michael Grebanier and played for three years with the San Francisco Ballet orchestra. He was a faculty member at California State University-East Bay and frequently recorded radio, television, and movie soundtracks.
SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas said:
We are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of our friend and colleague. Larry had a special appreciation of music — a mixture of his understanding of its technical side from his background as a pilot and, mostly, its emotional side, coming from the caring person that he was.
From time to time he went out of his way to let me know how much he appreciated a new piece that the orchestra was playing or a new soloist that we were meeting for the first time. He was actively interested in the future of music and played a real role in encouraging young artists, young composers, and new independent performing groups to find their way. I will miss his friendly and savvy spirit.
Music From Iran
There is a particularly timely and excellent compilation of Iranian music, traditional and contemporary, on Mondomix, a prominent site for "exploring the world through music."
Among the featured artists: Mohammad Reza Shajarian, Shahram Nazeri, Hossein Alizadeh, and others. This "Music Under Surveillance" collection is on the French site only, not available in the English version, but just how much explanation is needed for great music?
Watch Berlin Concerts Without the Bother of Travel
The Berlin Philharmonic's "Digital Concert Hall" is just an early (however brilliant) example of a coming major mode of classical music consumption. In last weekend's Financial Times, attention is called to the "free sample" on the Philharmonic's Web site, where:
...you'll see Sir Simon Rattle close up, conducting the final movement of Brahms' First Symphony. Every flicker of his eyes, every wave of his baton is there, making you feel as if you are there too — not 15 rows back but invisibly roaming over the front desks of the orchestra.
It's not a rehearsal, it's not a mock-up, it's a high-definition film of a recent concert. Pay an online fee of $13.76 and you can watch the Berlin Philharmonic's next indoor concert (Aug. 28) from your home. For $123, you get a season of live concert transmissions.
To watch the free Brahms performance, you can bypass the registration form by clicking on center photo of the Philharmonie building: That's good for a couple of minutes and getting a sense of the service. (Medici.TV users already know, but that formerly mostly free site is now vibrating heck out of the picture unless you pay up; still, registration alone will get you the current Rattle-Philharmonie concert of Tchaikovsky/Rachmaninoff/Stravinsky in Berlin's Waldbühne.)
Since the Philharmonia of London did the first live classical webcast in 2005, orchestras have realized that their potential audience is vastly bigger than the 2,000 that fills the average concert hall. (On the Philharmonia's City of Dreams site there is a plethora of audio excerpts and extensive film documentation of life and art in Vienna, 1900-1935. Esa-Pekka Salonen, who directs the nine-month-long festival, tells about the period and the project.)
For classical music, the implications of digital technology are huge. It's not just a process of disseminating video clips to a global audience or selling downloads of in-house recordings. It's about giving novice listeners a feeling for the concert experience in a way that encourages them to go out and sample the real thing.
The costs are considerable. You need an experienced director and crew, as well as camera equipment that does not distract the audience. Musicians usually expect higher fees. Editing time is extra, as are publishers' rights. Filming a single concert can cost up to $50,000.
The Digital Concert Hall, sponsored by Deutsche Bank, cost more than $1.4 million. Thanks to the Berlin Phil's international reputation, and its sophisticated digital facilities, enough music lovers worldwide have signed up to make it financially viable.
Chaz Jenkins, head of LSO Live, the London Symphony Orchestra's record label, sees digital technology primarily as a promotional tool: "Watching a concert online is a non-intimidating way to experience classical music. You see how it all works, because you can have cameras within the orchestra. It's a big growth thing for the future."
Speaking of the Berlin Philharmonic, former San Francisco Opera General Director Pamela Rosenberg will be succeeded next year by television producer Martin Hoffmann, 49, as the orchestra's administrative director. Rattle, the music director and chief conductor, said Hoffmann is "the right person to support us on our creative journey." Rosenberg announced last year that she would not seek to extend her contract at the Berlin Philharmonic beyond 2010 because she wants to spend more time on individual projects.
Ethnicity May Divide Elsewhere, But Music Unites Here
"Up with People," "It's a Small World After All," and choruses of "kumbaya!" normally set my teeth on edge, but I must admit being swept away and genuinely moved by a combination of all that and a lot more Saturday afternoon in the Palace of Fine Arts.
Following the matinee of the ongoing San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, all the performers spilled out into the lobby and danced together — and with audience members — to a frantic drum solo. The musicians and dancers included a two-man Chinese dragon, an unforgettable bharatanatyam temple dancer, Peruvian zapatero body percussionists, Nigerian and Cuban musicians, the Latin band Futuro Picante, a Lebanese Beledi drum soloist, the large and impossibly young Imani's Dream group — all dancing, shouting, blissed out on music and dance.
It was only then that I realized that something special happened that afternoon, making this celebration possible and real. The program was unique in having no weak link, offering nothing less than engaging performances, all superbly done. Let's be honest: any "variety program," including the Ethnic Dance Festival, will have its ups and downs, a fascinating number followed by something less memorable. Not this time.
If there were no low spots, there were definitely "firsts among equals" at the high end, truly memorable performances. The effortless athleticism, flowing elegance, and self-assured musicality of Savitha Sastri's Anjali (Offering) was breathtaking. Carnatic music from South India is one of the world's oldest, Sastri's selection was a temple dance composed by Meera Nathan, and recorded in Fremont by singer Asha Ramesh, Ramesh Babu (mridangam), Krishna Kutty (violin), and V.K. Raman (flute).
This is the second time I saw the Festival present Imani's Dream, and now I know that the impact of the group's first appearance was no fluke. It's difficult to convey what this Oakland-based youth group does, but the result is simple: big smiles and moist eyes. Created by Caprice Armstrong just seven years ago, Imani's Dream includes and embraces young people from the inner city without any stage experience, turning them into irresistible performers. Combining ballet, jazz, African, hip-hop, and probably genres without a name, the kids of Imani's Dream put body and heart into what they do, and it's impossible to have enough of them.
They came with a world premiere this year: Love Radio Station, about practical and difficult problems faced by the youngsters, who "dance their troubles away" in real time, before your eyes, giving a convincing demonstration of art's healing power.
Cannot guarantee another perfect program, but give the festival a try on this coming weekend, when it concludes with performances Saturday and Sunday.
San Jose Chamber Orchestra In the Running
Writes Barbara Day Turner, of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra:
I couldn't help but notice your welcome column entry on the ASCAP awards, but was surprised we weren't mentioned. I know we are small, but it's our third award. Thanks for the Music News column — first thing I read every week.
Awards for Programming of Contemporary Music Expenses of $470,000 or less: Second Place: San Jose Chamber Orchestra / Barbara Day Turner, Music Director/Conductor
And then, nearby, another ASCAP site gave us two more local awardees we missed:
ASCAP and Chorus America have honored four choral ensembles for their adventurous programming, including Volti and Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir; Robert Geary is artistic director of both.
Apologies and congratulations to all.
Eine Kleine Tutankhamunmusik
Music News will not be left behind in the upcoming tsunami of King Tut hoopla as the Boy King returns to the de Young Museum on June 27, after 30 years' absence.
At the Friday Nights at the de Young series, when the museum is open until 8:45 p.m., there will be Tut-related arts programs from 5 p.m. to closing, including live music, poetry, films, dance, tours, and lectures.
June 26: music by Flowers of the Nile and dance performance by the graduates of the Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance. July 3: music and dance from the Middle East, North Africa and the Roma. July 10: music from the Arab world, featuring Georges Lammam and friends. July 17: Saed Muhssin and the Arab Orchestra of San Francisco (plus extra-musical henna tattooing by Henna Garden). July 24: music of eastern Africa. July 31: classical Arabian music by Mohammed Nejad and friends.
Russian soprano Ekaterina Shcherbachenko, 32, won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2009 title in the final contest on Friday.
Shcherbachenko performed in French and Italian in St. David's Hall, before closing in English with an aria from Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. The four other finalists were: soprano Eri Nakamura, 31, from Japan; tenor Giordano Luc, 21, from Italy; bass Jan Martinik, 26, from the Czech Republic, and countertenor Yuriy Mynenko, 30, from Ukraine.
How exciting was the prospect of a sterling (if "too-operatic") cast for the San Francisco Symphony's presentation of Iolanthe last week. How disappointing was the amplified din of "fat Broadway music" up with which the sainted Sir Arthur Sullivan would not have put.
There are Gilbert & Sullivan fans, and there are devotees of big operatic voices. A few of us are avid followers of both — if not necessarily when they are mixed. After all, we still remember the Te Kanawa-Carreras West Side Story ... and Bernstein is made of sterner stuff than G&S.
And yet, you head to Davies Hall eagerly when you see a cast like this: Joelle Harvey (Leila), Sally Matthews (Phyllis), Joyce Castle (Queen of the Fairies), Sasha Cooke (Iolanthe), Alfie Boe (Earl of Tolloller), Lucas Meachem (Strephon), Paul Whelan (Earl of Montararat), Robert Lloyd (Private Willis). Zowie and gadzooks! This is a cast fit for Lohengrin (so much of which is quoted liberally in Iolanthe whenever the fairies flitter about).
Big voices for G&S, right? But guess what — "When tempests wreck thy bark / And all is drear and dark ..." this is what goes down: somebody at the Symphony told the audio people who amplify hell out of everything — spoken text, songs, chorus... tout, alles, all. This in a hall not exactly ideal for voices, but doing very well without amplification for two decades, thank you very much.
When Meachem and Matthews sing full out and are amplified in a big way — it's a rock concert, and you cannot appreciate either what Sullivan hath wrought or what Gilbert wrote. In the din, the otherwise exemplary diction of Ragnar Bohlin's great SFS Chorus (Schubert Mass No. 6! Ligeti Requiem!) came across similarly to a high school glee club in a noisy gym.
Somebody, I say, was out of his mind. "Shocking taste / It is rude, madam / To intrude, madam / With your brood."
Those were my thoughts; now, fortuitously, here is a note from a far more qualified source, David Sloss, of the Fremont Symphony and Opera:
In fact, what the Symphony played was not Sullivan's music. Sullivan's orchestrations are models of clarity and delicacy. For many years, however, D'Oyly Carte jealously guarded the original orchestrations, and companies in the U.S. had nothing but bad arrangements available.
That situation has now changed, and for years, Sullivan's original versions have been readily available from a number of American publishers. Inexplicably, what the Symphony played was one of those awful arrangements in which everything is doubled and all of Sullivan's deftness is smothered. Any conductor today who knows G&S should know better. The Lamplighters have been using Sullivan's own orchestrations for years, although they have to reduce them a bit ... Shame on the Symphony!
And yet, hope rises once again, contemplating the joint project of the Conservatory of Music's Summer Music West and The Lamplighters, a program called Gilbert & Sullivan Scenes, at 2 p.m., Saturday, June 27, in the Conservatory Concert Hall. Tickets, at the door, are $10 for adults, $5 for children.
The concert features 42 students, between ages 10 and 18. Ellen Kerrigan is program director, Jane Erwin Hammett is stage director, and Baker Peeples is music director.