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.
Catching up with Nicholas McGegan isn’t easy. He may be based in Berkeley, but as a conductor and expert in Baroque and early music, he’s in demand across the country and in Europe, with forays into Asia. But when he is at home, one of his roles is as music director laureate of San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Their upcoming performances of Handel’s Athalia will allow us to hear one of the composer’s lesser-known oratorios. We caught up with him at Yale, where he answered some questions about the upcoming concerts and his approach to music in general.
According to Chanticleer's Music Director Matt Oltman, the young men have written "very different and very remarkable pieces of music." It undoubtedly helped that two of them, Bates and Crouch, are choral singers well-versed in what sits well in the voice. While all the works are contemporary in their language, and "bursting with the creativity and inventiveness of youth," they have an accessibility that sets them apart.
O'Regan, born in London in 1978, has already won two British Composer Awards and been nominated for two Grammys (for Threshold of Night on Harmonia Mundi). and a BBC Music Award (for Scattered Rhymes, same label). His piece No Matter sets excerpts from Samuel Beckett's 1983 nihilistic poem Worstward Ho. "The poem itself is bits and pieces that Beckett wrote, trying to achieve as little as possible," says Oltman. "Tarik sets it in a rather monotonous stream of quarter notes with not very much pitch differentiation. Against that, these beautiful melodic lines weave in and out like little ephemeral gusts of wind that swoop in and around."
Crouch teaches at Hunter College and the Walden School for Young Musicians. With several awards under his belt, he has based his Garden of Paradise on poems by Iraq war veteran Brian Turner and the 13th-century Persian Sufi ecstatic Rumi.
"My younger brother served two tours of duty in Iraq in the Marine Corps," Crouch explains. "I was drawn to the visceral images Turner paints with his text, which reminded me of what my brother Kyle described when he returned from the Middle East. I strive to emphasize the lyrical qualities and changing colors of the poems, which emerge as arching musical lines that often layer upon themselves. There is heavy use of canonic fragments that 'dance' throughout the ensemble, much like the whirling dervishes that Rumi might describe in his poems. The composition brings the listener from descriptions of the desert landscape, through Turner's view of what it means to take a life, and finally to a place of acceptance."
Bates, who hails from the South, has made his mark with the Cabrillo Festival, California Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and Berlin Philharmonic; in May the S.F. Symphony will perform his work. A student of John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, and Samuel Adler, the Columbia- and Juilliard-trained composer works as a club DJ in San Francisco; he composes alternately for traditional instruments and laptop/electronica.
His Sirens contains siren songs set in five languages. Two movements are drawn from Homer's Odyssey. Also included is Heine's poem Die Lorelei, Italian poet Pietro Aretino's beautiful piece about the stars and how they're singing in the sky with a siren perched atop each star; a Quechuan text; and the "fishers of men" passage from the Book of Matthew.
"Mason's treatment of global mythological ideas is quite an achievement," says Oltman. "Each movement has a very different sound, mostly determined by the language. The Quechuan siren has an ecstatic rhythmic melody that would sound right on the dance floor of a club in the Mission, the German Lorelei song has a beautiful sonority with its own rhythmic motive, whereas Jesus basically screams at everyone in straightforward declamation."More »
Anyone who enjoys their pears and Stilton or their ham-and-pineapple pizza appreciates the blending of complementary flavors. Why, then, not sample a few electronics along with your opera, or take in modern music played on traditional Chinese instruments? The second Switchboard Music Festival on March 29 promises to serve up exactly such an eclectic feast.
Building on the success of last year’s inaugural festival, founders Ryan Brown, Jeff Anderle, and Jonathan Russell have programmed a “come-and-go-as-you-like,” eight-hour marathon of what they term “genre-bending,” innovative music. The performers are musicians who play and compose outside the box, creating sounds and rhythms from world music, heavy metal, jazz, or klezmer on classical instruments. Some are classically trained virtuosos now making music on electric guitars, found objects, accordions, and even laptops.
According to cofounder Russell, a composer and bass clarinetist, little institutional support presently exists for this type of music. “This music typically happens in clubs and not in concert halls where the more academic form of ‘new music’ is given a place,” says Russell. “We founded Switchboard in order to give a framework, a venue, and a recognition to highly creative music that isn’t currently formalized.” Anderle echoes that: “We also want to bring like-minded audiences together. They might enjoy other interesting groups that they would not be exposed to otherwise.”
Part of Switchboard’s mission is to highlight Bay Area talent, with a healthy mix of established musicians on the scene such as Paul Dresher, Pamela Z, and Adorno Ensemble, as well as emerging artists like the heavy-metal bass-clarinet quartet Edmund Welles and guitarist/composer Ryan Brown. Also on the bill are Zoyres, with an exciting new twist on Eastern European folk; dada percussionist Moe! Staiano; a “French circus meets Willie Nelson and Mingus” mishmash from Japonize Elephants; new sounds on Chinese instruments from Melody of China; Ted Brinkley and Neptune’s Rogue Apothecary, the experimental jazz big-band; Classical Revolution; and music composed by Ken Thompson, Damon Waitkus, Max Stoffregen, and Jonathan Russell himself.
Think “Bang on a Can” in New York — an organization that has clearly contributed to a more hip and casual presentations of serious art music — and you have some idea of where Switchboard is going. In addition to the annual Switchboard Festival marathon, founders would like to eventually present additional concerts, form an in-house ensemble, and even launch a record label. For now, this quirky show promises music that’s anything but vanilla. This music will move you, surprise you, and satisfy a wide range of musical tastes.More »