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Music News

May 19, 2009

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

PBO appoints Peter Pastreich Executive Director

Peter Pastreich, 70, former executive director of the San Francisco Symphony (1978-1999), has been appointed executive director of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, effective June 1, according to Philharmonia Board President Paul Sugarman. The position, the Robert A. Birman Executive Director Chair, is named for the orchestra's previous administrator, who served 2001-2008. He is now chief operating officer of the Louisville Orchestra.

In the announcement, Sugarman spoke of being "tremendously excited about Peter's wealth of experience and his tremendous love of music." Pastreich thanked the board and said "I love the music this orchestra performs, the instruments on which it performs and its unique and exciting approach to concert-making."

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Pastreich majored in English literature at Yale University, studied the trumpet at Yale and in Paris, and played in orchestras and bands until 1970. During his leadership of SFS — working with music directors Edo de Waart, Herbert Blomstedt, and Michael Tilson Thomas — Pastreich oversaw a major expansion of the organization, the planning and construction of Davies Symphony Hall (opening in 1980), and $9 million corrective renovation in 1992.

In 1996-1997, a standoff between the executive director and the orchestra musicians resulted in an unprecedented 9 1/2-week strike, characterized by mutual hostility, more than a fight over specific issues. By 1999, in time for the next contract and shortly before Pastreich's departure, most of the wounds were healed.

In 2005, the Honolulu Symphony engaged Pastreich as a consultant to help the orchestra out of its deep crisis that was threatening its very existence. Pastreich's proposal to take over the Symphony as interim president was rejected, the CEO and three board members resigned in protest against his proposal. (The orchestra survived, barely.)

For the past 10 years, Pastreich has offered an "Essentials of Management" seminar for the League of American Orchestras, and developed an international consulting practice that included clients such as the Berlin Philharmonic, London’s South Bank, and The Detroit Symphony, the Philharmonia Baroque announcement says.

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Matías Tarnopolsky Named New Director of Cal Performances

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau named Matías Tarnopolsky, 39, the new director of Cal Performances. Tarnopolsky succeeds Robert Cole, who announced his plans to step down in 2007 and held the post since 1986.

Previously, Tarnopolsky served as vice president of artistic planning for the New York Philharmonic since 2006, and before that he was senior director of artistic planning at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was also a producer for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers, and his extensive writing about music includes material for liner notes, program notes, and articles for magazines and other publications. He takes the helm of Cal Performances on Aug. 10.

Birgeneau welcomed the new director, noting his strong devotion to classical music and the arts: "This is an individual with a superior musical intellect whose enthusiasm for all of the performing arts truly knows no boundary. Matías has demonstrated a keen ambition to advance the important role that the performing arts play in our world." He added, "His distinct artistic vision will enrich the cultural offerings in the greater Bay Area."

As director, Tarnopolsky is responsible for the overall artistic vision and executive leadership of the performing arts program, which encompasses a variety of musical fields including chamber music, opera, early music, new music, vocal and instrumental recitals. His charge involves initiating and commissioning new artistic and educational ventures, as well as introducing new orchestras to the Bay Area. The Cal Performances season, which runs from September to June, presents 60-75 different events in approximately 90-120 performances.

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Addio Maestro!

With moving vans due at his house to start the long haul to Berlin, Donald Runnicles attended a reception in his honor at the War Memorial Opera House Monday afternoon, hosted by General Director David Gockley. The warm going-away party — complete with official greetings from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and various consulates — was an important occasion, but altogether premature.

After 20 years of conducting at the War Memorial, the last 17 as the company's second music director (the first was Sir John Pritchard, 1986-1989), Runnicles is yielding the baton to Nicola Luisotti, who will open the next season with Il trovatore in September.

The goodbye is premature for a number of reasons: Runnicles will conduct the Verdi Requiem on May 29, following that with nine La traviata performances, June 13 – July 5 [see next item for the Summer 2009 schedule], and then returns next year to lead Die Walküre, and also in 2011 for the entire Ring cycle.

With his actual departure still very much in the future, Runnicles has already written a significant chapter in the history of the San Francisco Opera. He leaves indelible memories of leading in a superb fashion — not only the standard repertory, Wagner (the Ring, Tristan und Isolde, Tannhäuser) and Britten (Peter Grimes) — but also the new and unusual, such as Adams' Doctor Atomic and Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise.

Runnicles is also music director of the Grand Teton Music Festival and principal guest conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. His new posts are general music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony. With Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonic, Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin Staatsoper (with S.F. Opera's Ron Adler as his acting general director), and Kent Nagano heading the Munich Opera, Runnicles doesn't have to worry about German (which he started learning at the beginning of his career, in Mannheim) — he can always relax in a conductors' club where only English is spoken.

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Opera Summer Season Fact Sheet

San Francisco Opera summer season, May 29 – July 7

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

What and When:

* Verdi Requiem, May 29 at 8 p.m.

* Puccini, Tosca — June 2, 5, 20, 23, 26 at 8 p.m.; June 11, 17 at 7:30 p.m.; June 14 at 1 p.m.

* The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess — June 9, 12, 27 at 8 p.m.; June 14, 18, 24 at 7:30 p.m.; June 21 at 2 p.m.

* Verdi, La traviata — June 13, 16, 19 at 8 p.m.; June 25, 29, July 1, 2 at 7:30 p.m.; June 28, July 5 at 2 p.m.

Tickets: $20 to $250 [standing, $10; rush tickets: students $25, senior and military, $30]

Contact: (415) 864-3330,

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Honett to Head Contemporary Music Players

Succeeding Adam Frey as executive director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Christopher Honett will take up the post on July 15. He is former executive director of the Manhattan Sinfonietta, holds a doctorate in composition from Harvard University. Honett was chosen from among more than 60 applicants after a seven-month search.

Honett grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and received his undergraduate education at UC Santa Barbara. He directed the Harvard Group for New Music from 2004 to 2006. His musical mentors have included Julian Anderson, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Chaya Czernowin, Mario Davidovsky, Joshua Fineberg, Magnus Lindberg, and Bernard Rands. He is coauthor of The Listen, a book of reflections on the experience of listening to contemporary music. Honett's compositions have been performed by such ensembles as the Arditti String Quartet and Ensemble Intercontemporain.

SFCMP Board President Susan Hartzell chaired the executive director search committee, which was composed of musicians and Board members. Frey led the ensemble for 18 years, starting in 1991. He is responsible for the 2009-2010 season, to be announced this week (and to be published in next week's Music News).

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, now in its 38th year, performs, commissions, and records the music of today’s composers. A 10-time winner of the national ASCAP/Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming, SFCMP has won this award more times than any other ensemble. It has commissioned 74 pieces and performed over 1,150 new works, including 72 U.S. premieres and 141 world premieres.

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Irene Dalis Competition Winners

At Sunday's third annual Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, Opera San José, in association with Arts Management Services of San Francisco, presented 10 finalists competing for $50,000 in prizes. These were the final results:

  • First place — Jordan Shanahan, baritone
  • Second place — Gregory Carroll, tenor
  • Third place — Audrey Luna, soprano
  • Audience Choice Award — Jordan Shanahan, baritone
  • Wagner Society Award — Gregory Carroll, tenor

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Oakland Opera to Make Big Move

After 22 years in a small and — let's be polite — quaint venue, Oakland Opera Theater is "within striking distance" of moving from the Metro. The 135-seat venue on Broadway was short on such luxuries as bathrooms or anything much backstage. The new theater — at 630 3rd Street, with Jack London Square only three blocks away — is a veritable palace in comparison, twice the size and complete with "facilities." It will have the same name: Oakland Metro Opera House.

The owners, Meritt Sher, Mark Seiler, and Metrovation, have long supported local arts groups. Together, they have already spent over $500,000 on seismic improvements, sprinkler and other fire safety systems, as well as a new roof. Contributing to developing the new facility: the Fleishhacker Foundation, East Bay Community Fund, and Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency. Individual donations are still needed to complete the building facade and a few additional requirements.

The company is planning to present Handel's Agrippina in a "postmodern production" called Agrippina 2000, July 24-26. It is being created in collaboration with filmmaker Ethan Hoerneman, "whose unique chaotic style of projected imagery evokes the absurdist animation of Terry Gilliam," according to the announcement.

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Saura's Fados Returns

Carlos Saura, whose exceptional music films have covered everything from Carmen to El amor brujo, has turned his attention to the fado, Portugal's national music genre, characterized by passionate tunes and lyrics.

A mesmerizing film, Fados includes the greatest masters of the musical form: Mariza (who sang in Berkeley earlier this month), Camané, Carlos do Carmo, and Chico Buarque, adding such world-renowned singers from other countries as Caetano Veloso, Lila Downs, and Cesaria Evora.

Shown in last year's San Francisco International Film Festival, Fados returns to the city, presented by the San Francisco Film Society, June 5-11, at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.

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Orff and the Cranks

Urs Leonhardt Steiner's mixed paid/volunteer San Francisco Sinfonietta is getting ready for a May 31 concert at Calvary Presbyterian Church. The highlight: Carl Orff's big, difficult, and popular orchestral-choral Carmina Burana (performed by the S.F. Symphony, the San Jose Ballet, and the Peninsula Symphony in recent days, and scheduled by Chora Nova on May 24).

Loretta Taylor, concertmaster since Steiner's creation of the orchestra in 1994, says working with music director Steiner and all the musicians is "a real joy ... presenting to the public such varied programming." The mix includes standard classical repertoire, "the unusual, the interesting, and the out-of-the-ordinary musical genres."

The first half of the May 31 concert, for example, will offer the U.S. premiere of Aman by Chicago-based rock composer Brendan Byrnes; Sinfonietta musician (and accelerator operator at the Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory) Jan Pusina's Selon l'Une (According to her); and Krankitup! by Steiner and Larnie Fox, founder-director of the Crank Ensemble.

Fox, a visual artist who has been singing with the Sinfonietta, came up with "hand-cranked instruments made from recycled materials, producing sounds such as a bird feather spine plucking rubber bands or the bristles of a broom brushing against wires cut from a coat hanger." In Krankitup!, the musicians will improvise "over and around Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, providing surprise 'quotes' from well-known classical pieces, unusual sounds, and sonic landscapes and textures."

Of Steiner, the musicians say he is "very charismatic and funny in rehearsals, a master at using people of any ability, from rank amateur to seasoned professional, to make great music." Fox says: "We need tenors currently — and donations! This is a hard time for community based nonprofits."

Michael Kimbell, principal clarinetist and resident composer, comes from the Community Music Center Orchestra, another organization headed by Steiner, which is now merged with Sinfonietta. He says participating in these two groups has been "immensely rewarding for me as a player and composer." Eight of his works were introduced here.

Immediately following the May 31 concert, Kimbell is flying to Germany, where his Poem for Violin and Harp is being premiered at the music festival in Ottobeuren. That town happens to be home to the Benedictine abbey, established in 764, where the 13th-century texts for Carmina Burana were found.

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Comes Now Escala

Called the "bow Belles," Escala, the four-member electronic-classical violin quartet from England — even more eye-catching dressers than the Kronos — is winning crowds, and publishing a CD. Enjoy!

They came out of the same "Britain's Got Talent" Simon Cowell show which also produced Susan Boyle, possibly the most overhyped Youtube phenom ... ever.

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Peter Shelton

Peter Ward Shelton, a cellist with the San Francisco Symphony for more than 30 years, died in his Oakland home earlier this month after a lengthy illness. He was 54. Born in Livermore in 1954, Shelton joined SFS in 1977, while completing a master's degree at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music under Michael Grebanier, SFS principal cellist.

Shelton was a member of the Conservatory's quartet that took top honors in national competitions. His first appeared with the Symphony as soloist at age 18. During his tenure with the orchestra, he served both as associate principal and assistant principal cellist. He was a cofounder of Chamber Music Sundaes, along with Jorja Fleezanis, Geraldine Walther, and Lucy Stoltzman, and he performed often in that series.

"The most important thing you can do in performance," Shelton recalled his teacher, Margaret Rowell, telling him, "is to show the audience how much you love what you're doing. That has been the most important thing in my playing ever since," he once told an interviewer.

In 1993, with SFS musicians Robin McKee, Robin Sutherland, Mark Volkert, Geraldine Walther, Lawrence Granger, and Barbara Andres, he performed Bach's Trio Sonata in C Minor from The Music Offering, the Sonata in C Major for Two Violins and Continuo, and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 as part of the SFS Bach Festival Marathon.

Shelton was the recipient of the Symphony's first named section cello chair, the Christine and Pierre Lamond Second Century Chair, honoring him during his 30th season with the Symphony. "Peter was a wonderful man and an inspired musician," said SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. "It was a great joy and privilege to make music with him from the first moment we met when I guest conducted the orchestra over 30 years ago. The warmth and generosity of his spirit poured through every moment of his life and his music. This is a sad day for all of us at the San Francisco Symphony. I will never forget him."

MTT and the orchestra will dedicate to Shelton their performances of Schubert's Mass No. 6 during the week of June 10. Shelton is survived by his partner of 14 years, Javier Valencia; his mother, Catherine, of La Jolla; his brother Andrew, of Descanso, CA; and extended family.

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