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March 10, 2009

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

Where There Is a Will, There Is Festival del Sole

When IMG Artists owner/chairman Barrett Wissman — whose stable of artists includes Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Julia Fischer, Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Evgeny Kissin, Murray Perahia, Antonio Pappano, Vladimir Jurowski, Franz Welser-Möst, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic with Yuri Temirkanov, the Oslo Philharmonic with Andre Previn, the Emerson String Quartet, and scores more — brought his Sun Festival from Italy to Napa, it was an act of daring and largesse.

Even then, in 2006, those far-away days of a seemingly functioning economy, bringing big-name artists to Napa for a sumptuous festival was a newsworthy event. Festival del Sole was a great critical and popular — if not necessarily financial — success, and Wissman repeated it the following year, and then (against a background of gathering storm clouds) again last year.

The surprising good news, just out, is that there will be a 2009 festival, and with a roster of artists that shows no economizing of any kind. Besides Fleming, soloists include Sarah Chang, Leif Ove Andsnes, Antonio Pappano, Nikolaj Znaider, Conrad Tao ... and Robert Redford.

The festival runs July 17-25, opening night is on July 18 in the Napa Valley Opera House. July 19 will have Chang performing again, with the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, under the direction of Alondra de la Parra.

On July 20, Darioush winery is the venue for an "Evening of Persian Fantasy," with performance by Anoushirvan Rohani, one of Iran's finest composers and pianists.

Redford is participating in a concert benefitting the Sundance Preserve on July 21, in Castello di Amorosa, vintner Dario Sattui's medieval-style Tuscan castle and winery. Fleming makes her Festival del Sole debut on July 23, in a recital at Castello di Amorosa. Pianists Andsnes and Pappano, cellist Nina Kotova, and violinist Znaider are also featured. On July 25, Pappano conducts the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, Andsnes and Kotova appearing as soloists, in Lincoln Theater.

The festival's main supporters include Calistoga Ranch, Bouchaine Vineyards, Blackbird Vineyards, Darioush, Far Niente, PlumpJack and the Robert Mondavi Winery, the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, Tatiana and Gerret Copeland, Athena and Timothy Blackburn, Dede Wilsey, Maria Manetti Farrow, The Orchard at The Carneros Inn, and Napa/Sonoma Magazine.

Back to topEureka! S.F. Symphony Inks Contract

Unlike the bitter struggles of the not-too-distant past, the San Francisco Symphony and Musicians Union Local 6, AFM, are now making beautiful music together. Their just-announced contract came as the result of unusually fast negotiations, without much discussion in public, and it was agreed on for a stability-supporting four-year period. Included in that period: the Symphony's centennial year in 2011.

Credit is obviously due to the top people on both sides — SFS President John Goldman and Executive Director Brent Assink; Local 6 President David Schoenbrun and David Gaudry, head of the union negotiators — and perhaps to the economic environment in which going on strike (or being shut down by labor action) is the last thing in anybody's mind.

In 1996, when Peter Pastreich was SFS executive director, orchestra musicians went on a 10-week strike, leaving longlasting financial, psychological, and public-relations damage behind for management and union alike. The immediate cause for the strike was something relatively minor: the $40 per week difference between the $150 raise demanded by the musicians' union and the $110 offered by management. There were far deeper and emotional problems between the two sides.

By 1999, the atmosphere changed drastically, and contract negotiations went well. There was a "hiccup" in 2004 when the Symphony Chorus contract was being negotiatiated, but eventually labor and management got into sync so that the 2009-2013 contract situation seems all resolved.

On what terms? The new weekly scale for the 103 musicians covered by the agreement is $2,400 for 2008-2009, increased by $95 for the following season, then by $110, and finally by $120, for a total of $2,725 for 2011-1012. "Scale" means minimum salaries; individual contracts for principal players and some others boost the figures.

In comparison, 2007 minimum weekly orchestra salaries were (approximately) $2,200 in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Says Assink:

We are pleased to announce the ratification of a new, four-year contract that a bridges the San Francisco Symphony's first century to its second, setting a stage for an even stronger Symphony in the future. Modest increases in weekly scale are coupled with a greater flexibility in our ability to address health care costs, a new way of addressing future pension costs, and a new media agreement that will enable us to develop a more robust digital presence at significantly lower cost.

All of these elements propel this institution forward into its second century with significant momentum while remaining consistent with our financial plan and long range forecasts. I commend all those who worked so hard in this collaborative process for their commitment to the future of the San Francisco Symphony.

No comment was available from Local 6.

Back to topCrowden and Yoshi's Together

Crowden Music Center is teaming up with Yoshi's Oakland, in a benefit for classical-music education, under the title of "Off the Classical Beat." Crowden students and Quartet San Francisco will jazz it up on May 5, featuring Jeremy Cohen and his Violinjazz (pianist Larry Dunlap, bassist Jim Kerwin, and guitarist Dix Bruce) and Karen Blixt's combo (of pianist Frank Martin and bassist Abraham Laboriel).

Cohen and Blixt have demonstrated a deep personal interest in the Crowden Music Center: Cohen studied with founder Anne Crowden, and has been a dedicated supporter throughout its history. Blixt's daughter will graduate in May from Crowdenís day school for musically-interested children.

The ever-modest school is charging a modest $10 to $25 for tickets to the benefit.

Back to topFilm Festival's Free Music for All

As part of the 27th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, March 12-22, there will be a day-long free concert in Japantown's Peace Plaza on March 14.

The Bay Area's Asian American arts communities are participating with a broad range of performances, including a Brazilian drum ensemble, rock bands and breakdancers, booths with interactive experiences via social networking websites. The day will culminate in a screening of the festival's popular Music Video Asia program, followed by a presentation of the wacky Japanese film Big Man Japan, and two winners from the festival's annual Do-It-Yourself Music Video contest, presented by Locus Arts at KSW.

Back to topKissin Concert Rescheduled

Evgeny Kissin's San Francisco Performances recital in Davies Hall has been rescheduled from Wednesday, March 11, to Thursday, March 12, at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday tickets are good for the Thursday concert; for exchanges or returns, call (415) 398-6449.

Back to topMerola Summer Announced

Members of the 2009 Merola Opera Program will offer Pietro Mascagni's relatively rarely-seen L'amico Fritz (Warren Jones conducting, Nic Muni director) and Mozart's ever-present Così fan tutte (Ari Pelto conducting, Robin Guarino director), the former on July 24 and 26; the latter on Aug. 7 and 9. All performances will be at Cowell Theater.

Merola will also offer a concert of opera scenes from operas by Wagner, Gluck, Menotti, Rossini, and Puccini, at Herbst Theatre on July 10, and in a free matinee in Yerba Buena Gardens on July 12. Mark Morash conducts, Roy Rallo is stage director.

Antony Walker conducts the Aug. 22 season finale in the War Memorial Opera House. As if honoring the tradition of the days when the season finale was free, the Opera is making a "limited number" of free tickets to those who send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Grand Finale, San Francisco Opera Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F. 94102. Free, that is, not counting the $8 handling fee per order (2 tickets per order maximum), and checks made payable to the Opera Box Office.

Back to topFelicitating Felix

The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra celebrates the 200th nirthday of Felix Mendelssohn in free concerts - in San Francisco, Berkeley and Palo Alto. Music Director Benjamin Simon conducts the program of the Violin Concerto D Minor (with 12-year-old Stephen Waarts' local debut), the String Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, and the Octet for Strings. Mendelssohn wrote the three works between ages 13 and 16.

The concerts are scheduled in Herbst Theatre on March 13, at 8 p.m., Palo Alto's St. Markís Episcopal Church on March 14, at 8, and Berkeley's First Congregational Church on March 15, at 3. In addition, Mendelssohn is also on tap at the Chamber Orchestra's free "Rush Hour" concertsw in downtown San Francsico, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on March 12, at 5:30.

Back to topSay Bye-Bye to DeccaAll recording companies are undergoing intense crises (with the possible exception of thrifty, level-headed Naxos), and now - according to an inside source - once mighty Decca, a long-ago stronghold of classical music publication, is falling on the sword, according to Norman Lebrecht:

The sackings have started at Decca. Out of 32 staff at the London headquarters, just six are being retained. That is one to manage the office, one to answer the phone and open the mail, two to look after the royalty accounts and two more to deal with whatever instructions come down from corporate headquarters. One thing is clear: there is nobody left at Decca to make records.

Classical artists, including the now-celebrated Tutula Bartley, are being transferred to Universal Classics and Jazz (UCJ), a crossover business that produces such half-baked trivia as the boy band Blake and the East London lad who gave up his junior football career to play the saxophone. Cecilia will feel in good company. The residual staff at Decca will report to Michael Lang, head of Deutsche Grammophon in Hamburg.

The notion that Decca will continue to function as a production centre after these abolitionary measures is a mixture of wishful thinking and corporate fiction. The author of the fantasy is Christopher Roberts, head of UCJ.

Roberts once tried to persuade me that corporate ciphers like himself earn huge salaries and bonuses in order to protect madcap artists from their wild whims and maximise the revenue potential from their works. Given that Roberts has dedicated so much of his energy to eliminating outlets for classical artists, I wonder if should perhaps think of revising his job description — so long as he still has a job.

Decca is dead. A grand tradition has been laid waste. What remains is history — and a golden opportunity to reinvent the spirit of enterprise in classical music.

LATE EXTRA: A sharp-eyed reader directs me to a news release from Universal Music Group, the monster that killed Decca. UMG has just appointed three more vice-presidents, just what the music world most needs right now, to "erase lines between physical and digital." One of the new bonus-guzzlers is called Rotter, Mitch Rotter.


Back to topYoung Man with a Throat

Eleazar Rodriguez, still a student at the Conservatory of Music, but already making big impressions on opera audiences, can be heard as the tenor soloists in Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle with the Valley Concert Choral, on March 14 in Pleasanton and March 15 in Livermore. On April 16, Rodriguez will have a Conservatory junior joint recital with baritone Daland Jones in the school's Recital Hall.

Back to topAn Adams Duet

Composer John Adams will appear in conversation with historian Kevin Starr on March 23, at 8 p.m., in the Jewish Community Center of San Francico. The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic composer has helped shape the landscape of contemporary classical music.

Combining the narrative power of opera, the atonal themes of 20th-century classical music, the spooky modulations of jazz and the complex rhythms of the Beatles and the Band, he created a new music that could express the fractiousness of the political scene of the 1960s and 1970s.

Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life, Adams recently completed volume of memoirs and commentary on American musical life, is the first in-depth anthology of texts dealing with more than 30 years of Adamsís creative life.  and 

Back to topThe Spirit of Music Over There

According to the Guardian, alcohol and drug abuse is as rampant in symphonic orchestras as among rock bands. A "taboo subject," the trouble became "endemic — ranging from drinking a pint before a concert to steady the nerves, to full-blown inebriation on stage." Speaking at this year's Association of British Orchestras annual conference, Bill Kerr, the orchestral organizer of the Musicians' Union, recalled some "regrettable incidents" involving alcohol and musicians. One involved one of the UK's most celebrated opera and ballet orchestras "and its heavy brass section. They should have been sacked really but they would have been very hard to replace," he said.

Back to topMusic in an Effervescent EnvironmentThe ever-adventurous Cypress String Quartet will be showing up in the Bubble Lounge, 714 Montgomery St., on March 24 for a 6 p.m. free "intimate concert, a true salon performance."  Back to topVallejo Symphony's Viennese Program

David Ramadanoff's Vallejo Symphony, now in its 77th year, celebrates "The Viennese Connection" on Saturday, with an 8 p.m. concert, in the city's Hogan High School Auditorium. On schedule: Haydn's Symphony No. 104, and the Beethoven Violin Concerto, with Gregory Fulkerson as soloist. On April 25, the Vallejo orchestra performs Orff's Carmina Burana, featuring Adler Fellow baritone Austin Kness, tenor Brian Staufenbiel, and soprano Aimee Puentes.

Back to topSymphony Silicon Valley and Chorale vs. the Mighty Wurlitzer

The Chorale has 90 voices, but the California Theatre's Wurlitzer organ — 1,521!

All those voices (and the orchestra's) will be heard in service of the next two SSV concerts. On March 14 evening, and 15 matinee, the program is Felix Guilmant's Organ Symphony No. 1 (with Jonas Nordwall as soloist, Paul Haas conducting), the Barber Adagio for Strings, and Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C Major. On the evening of March 15, Vance George will conduct the Faurè Requiem.

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Digging Deep Into Musicians' Brains

Never missing an issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience really paid off with the March 3, 2009, issue. There, I found an interdisciplinary Northwestern research team's study, Musicians' Brains 'Fine-Tuned' to Identify Emotion.

The study suggests that those "looking for a mate who in everyday conversation can pick up even your most subtle emotional cues, should find a musician." The research team claims proof that musical training enhances an individual's ability to recognize emotion in sound.

"Quickly and accurately identifying emotion in sound is a skill that translates across all arenas, whether in the predator-infested jungle or in the classroom, boardroom or bedroom," says Dana Strait, primary author of the study.

The doctoral student and Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory Director Nina Kraus have done pioneering work on the neurobiology underlying speech and music perception and learning-associated brain plasticity.

Their study, funded by the National Science Foundation, found that the more years of musical experience musicians possessed and the earlier the age they began their music studies also increased their nervous systems' abilities to process emotion in sound. "Scientists already know that emotion is carried less by the linguistic meaning of a word than by the way in which the sound is communicated," says Strait. A child's cry of "Mommy!" - or even his or her wordless utterance - can mean very different things depending on the acoustic properties of the sound.

The Northwestern researchers measured brainstem processing of three acoustic correlates (pitch, timing and timbre) in musicians and non-musicians to a scientifically validated emotion sound. The musicians, who learn to use all their senses to practice and perform a musical piece, were found to have "finely tuned" auditory systems.

This fine-tuning appears to lend broad perceptual advantages to musicians. "Previous research has indicated that musicians demonstrate greater sensitivity to the nuances of emotion in speech," says Ashley, who explores the link between emotion perception and musical experience. One of his recent studies indicated that musicians might even be able to sense emotion in sounds after hearing them for only 50 milliseconds.

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