Previews

Each week, SFCV looks behind the scenes to give you a sneak peak of what's coming up on stages around the Bay Area...so you can learn about concerts before they happen.

Upcoming Concert
February 25, 2009
Walking into Paul Dresher’s studio, a casual observer might think it was a rehearsal space, an experimental sound lab, or an inventor’s workshop. It’s actually all those things, and Dresher, the award-winning composer, musician, instrument maker, and founder of the acclaimed Paul Dresher Ensemble, presides over each aspect with the eyes and ears of a Renaissance master.

On a recent afternoon, Dresher was in the studio — which takes up three large rooms on the upper floor of an old West Oakland warehouse — working on his latest music-theater production, Schick Machine. The evening-length work makes its world premiere March 7 at Dinkelspiel Auditorium on the Stanford University campus. Percussionist Steven Schick will be the solo performer. But, with a score by Dresher, text and stage direction by Rinde Eckert, and original instruments created by Dresher, Matt Heckert, and Daniel Schmidt, the production is a decidedly collaborative effort.

Schick Machine, which was commissioned by Stanford Lively Arts, is written for a solo performer, but features two characters: an inventor of musical instruments, and the musician who discovers them after the inventor’s death. The musician, not surprisingly, is a virtuoso percussionist — a character, says Dresher, who is “very much like Steven Schick.”

“He’s the person who can play all these things, who can actually discover sound in almost anything,” says the composer. “He comes across this trove of arcane instruments, and his task is to find out whether it has any value. That’s the question we’re asking: What is the value of sound?”

Dresher, whose previous works include the large-scale Soundstage and the chamber opera The Tyrant, says that Schick Machine has evolved into a larger meditation on the relationships between sound, memory, and emotion.

Still, Dresher fans might suspect that the production will transcend by virtue of sheer sonic invention. The instruments on display in the composer's studio offer a tantalizing glimpse of what the audience at Stanford (and, in the fall, at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis) will hear.

At one end of the studio sits Dresher’s latest creation, an enormous hurdy-gurdy. The instrument has a traditional crank, but at nearly 10 feet long, with seven strings and an electronic soundboard, it produces an eerie, one-of-a-kind singing sound.

Five Heckert-built instruments are nearby. One, called the Big Disc, is a large metal wheel powered by a high-velocity motor; Dresher activates it, and it spins and clashes, sending sound spiraling through the room. Others — a thrusting piece they’ve dubbed the Fencer, and an elegant construction called the Bird that, when set in motion, flaps in avian rhythm — add to the mechanized chorus.

Most intriguing is a large sound sculpture that Dresher calls the Field of Grass. It’s a grouping of wood blocks perched on metal rods. Inside each block is a ball bearing (“from tractors,” says Dresher); given a nudge, the blocks wave back and forth, tocking like metronomes. With its sculpted shape and hypnotic motion, the piece is as beautiful to watch as it is to hear.

In the next room, meanwhile, Schmidt is working on an old pipe organ that the group recently acquired and dismantled. He’s rebuilding it with new circuitry that allows the pipes to be played by mallets hitting strings, rather than the traditional keyboard.

It’s an impressive collection, much of it made from found objects. “A lot of it comes from Dumpsters, junkyards, or weird industrial suppliers you’d never deal with for traditional instrument-building or music-making activities,” says Dresher. The organ and hurdy-gurdy will provide melodic texture, says the composer, while text will be spoken and projected on a rear screen. But Schick Machine is all about percussion, and Dresher says that Schick — a virtuoso performer, percussion scholar, and veteran of the New York–based Bang on a Can All-Stars — will supply the work’s “X” factor. “That’s the world of percussion,” says Dresher.

“These aren’t instruments in the way a violin is an instrument. But when you hear them played, they’re no less interesting. A drum does a limited number of things, but a good musician can make a drum do anything.”

Which is why, as March 7 approaches, Dresher says he still isn’t sure exactly how Schick Machine will sound. “This kind of piece can’t come together in advance,” he says. “You can’t know what you have until you are literally doing it.”

More »
Upcoming Concert
January 30, 2009
Now in her absolute prime, Cecilia Bartoli has established herself as one of the greatest singers of this or any age. It’s not just her phenomenal technique and unique, rapid-fire coloratura, both of which will be amply demonstrated in her presentation of María Malibrán’s Salon Romantique. Nor is it simply a matter of vocal beauty, which she supplies in abundance. Rather, it is the fact that she employs her gifts with consummate musical intelligence. With Bartoli’s singing, the art of bel canto, which depends upon subtle nuance and inflection, has been given a new lease on life. While the recital is sold out, there is always a chance that tickets will be turned in, released, or scalped at the last minute. If you’ve never heard Bartoli in person, there’s nothing like it. The spirit in the hall will be tremendous. As is her graciousness. More »
Upcoming Concert
January 30, 2009
Stanford Lively Arts has been at the forefront of local Messiaen centenary year celebrations. In their last presentation, Christopher Taylor returns to the Bay Area with Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus for solo piano, a lyrical, mystical, and profoundly virtuosic meditation on the nature of the Christ child. More »
Upcoming Concert
January 30, 2009
It has been more than 20 years since the debut of Helgi Tomasson’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake for the San Francisco Ballet. This time around the most-cherished and well-known of ballets gets a complete restaging featuring scenery and costumes by European designer Jonathan Fensom, who will try to avoid that “museum piece” feel. For this full-length premiere, one of the few this season, Tomasson says he was intruigued by working with Fensom, a newbie to ballet, but a Tony Award nominee (for Journey’s End in 2007) who has created costumes and sets for dozens of plays in London’s West End and on Broadway, plus some opera. More »
Upcoming Concert
January 30, 2009
San Francisco Symphony’s new Phyllis C. Wattis Composer Residency program starts with two weeks devoted to the music of the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina. The first of the programs features The Light of the End, which the composer herself describes as a dramatic work in which much of the drama arises from the nature of musical instruments themselves. She also says, “For some time I have experience this conflict as my own drama: the incompatibility, in principle, of these intrinsic qualities with real-life circumstances in which nature neutralized. Sooner or later, this pain had to be manifested in some composition.” The Light of the End is paired with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, “Romantic.” More »
Upcoming Concert
January 30, 2009
Music in Twelve Parts, written in 1974, was a breakthrough work for Philip Glass, a giant summing-up of his style and musical explorations to that point. The Philip Glass Ensemble, with the composer on keyboards, comes to San Francisco for the first live West Coast performance of this four-hour landmark in late-20th century music. The performance will have intermissions and a one-hour break for dinner. More »
Upcoming Concert
January 30, 2009
The TAGI ensemble, previously known to fans as the New York Lyric Chamber Players, is celebrated for their innovative programming that jumps around different genres. TAGI takes its name from the three Russian musicians: Tatiana Goncharova, piano; Grigory Kalinovsky, violin; and Igor Begelman, clarinet … with no word (or letter) on the Italian-born cellist Francesco Mastromatteo. But what’s in a name? Maybe the answer will come once they start playing these juicy selections: Fauré’s Violin Sonata No. 1, Schoenfield’s Trio, Shostakovich’s Trio No. 1, and Brahms’ Clarinet Trio. More »
Upcoming Concert
January 30, 2009
For a young (21-year-old) violinist, Chloë Hanslip has taken on some off-the-wall recording assignments. (John Adams’ Violin Concerto? Benjamin Godard’s? Not just Antonio Bazzini’s familiar Ronde des lutins, but a whole disc’s worth of Bazzini?) Her San Francisco Performances debut recital seems by comparison disappointingly old school: two big sonatas (Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” and Prokofiev’s F Minor), with Brahms’ C-Minor Scherzo and Karol Szymanowski’s arrangements of three Paganini caprices serving as garnish. All the same, such a demanding program can’t help but give an idea what she (and her pianist, a rising name in his own right) can do. More »
Upcoming Concert
January 29, 2009
The late James Schwabacher established a debut recital series 26 years ago, providing performance opportunities for young singers many of whom have gone on to great fame. The 2009 series features tenor Alek Shrader (Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner, and making several impressive War Memorial appearances last month), baritone Quinn Kelsey, tenor James Benjamin Rodgers, and Steven Blier’s “New York Festival of Song,” with soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo Renée Tatum, and tenor Andrew Bidlack. More »
Upcoming Concert
January 29, 2009
Allan Shearer’s new opera The Dawn Makers is based on the ancient Greek myth of Eos, goddess of the dawn and her human lover, Tithonys, who is made immortal but not eternally youthful. In this comic updating, the couple are joined by a pool man who knows enough to decline the offer of immortality, and two Valley girls who double as the horses of the Goddess’ chariot. Composers, Inc.’s fully staged production (in honor of their 25th anniversary) boasts a distinguished cast, including Christine Brandes, John Duykers, and Eugene Brancoveanu. More »

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