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

Upcoming Concert
June 9, 2009

Artists, along with dung beetles and leafcutter ants, are among the most efficient recyclers in the world. They’re always creating new works out of old, so much so that we have literally dozens of words to describe the process — remix, cover, troping, parody, and so on.

In their upcoming concerts, Re-Cycle, Re-Sing, Sing New the San Francisco Choral Artists perform new works that give you some insight into the artistic process as well as being entertaining on their own. Lluvia/ Primavera takes a poem by California poet Lucha Corpi, and sets it to music taken from a 19th-century Spanish folksong.

Funeral Sentences is a choral remix of a piece by Henry Purcell, the 17th-century English composer. And then there’s my favorite, based on the title, Missa L’Homme on the Range, which gives “Home on the Range” the 16th-century polyphony treatment, a la Palestrina. Dress retro and enjoy.

More about San Francisco Choral Artists »
Upcoming Concert
June 9, 2009
For most of their long and fruitful collaboration, East Bay composer Peter Josheff made the music-first move and counted on librettist Jaime Robles to follow. “I would ask for her text, and she would give me exactly what I wanted,” said Josheff, 54, in a recent conversation. He once requested the words for six male voices. Robles responded with a libretto for a poker game (Three Hands).

The pattern changed decisively with Inferno, an ambitious two-part opera based on Dante’s epic poem. This was Robles’ idea from the start, a dramatic work in which hell is treated as a music-theater analog for the psychological stages of depression. “It might have been called Melancholia,” noted Josheff. “The spirit is immobilized.”

Previewed in an instrumental suite that was performed at San Francisco’s Temple Emanuel-El in April, the first half of Inferno receives its theatrical world premiere June 17, 18, and 21 in a San Francisco Cabaret Opera staging at the Live Oak Theater in Berkeley.

Tenor Adam Flowers and soprano Eliza O’Malley star as the doom-kissed lovers Paolo and Francesca, with bass Richard Mix cast as Hell’s Wind, the story’s detached, demonic force. An ensemble from the Huckabay McAllister Dance troupe embodies the chorus. Eric Zivian, Josheff’s comrade in the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, performs the piano-reduction score. Cabaret Opera’s Harriet March Page directs, with choreography by Jenny McAllister. Robles designed the urban, dead-end alley set.

Josheff’s musical touchstone for his Inferno – The Second Circle of Hell: The Lustful is “popular song and the way it influences our emotions.” When Paolo launches into his doo-wop inflected crooning, the composer wants listeners to feel complicit in the seduction this “washed-up singer” is spinning for his beloved.

Francesca, by contrast, “is very aware of what’s going on. She’s stuck in hell, and pleading — sometimes directly with the audience.” Josheff likened the characters to a street person, “someone who’s in this loop of telling her story over and over again. You can identify with her pain and still mistrust it a little.”

As for Hell’s Wind, the final singing role of this operatic triad, a slight resonance with Baroque recitative and aria is meant to characterize a figure who is both tormenting and commenting on the lovers. “The characters are blown about by a wind,” said Josheff, “an infernal wind that represents the passions they could never control in life.”

Josheff, a noted new-music clarinetist as well as a composer, and Robles, a writer and editor/publisher of the Five Fingers Review, have been approaching the idea of a full-length opera since the early 1990s, when they contemplated a project about the first Gulf War. Getting Inferno up onstage after a long wait has Josheff feeling “ecstatic. It’s a fulfillment of something that’s been developing for a very long time.”

Writing frankly lyrical vocal music for this 70-minute opera has freed Josheff to give his musical ideas “their natural size and length.” He continued, “I make my living playing complex, virtuosic, contemporary music. The music I compose is in some sense therapy for the music I perform.”

Further treatments await. Inferno – Part Two: The Ninth Circle of Hell is already in the works, with hopes for a production sometime in the next several years.

More about Goat Hall Productions »
Artist Spotlight
June 8, 2009

Sarah Cahill is a pianist who wears a lot of hats, which may account for her high profile among local, Bay Area pianists. She hosts the radio program Then and Now on KALW on Sunday evenings, wrote music reviews for The East Bay Express until the late 1990s, and for San Francisco Classical Voice, when it began, and has commissioned a number of new works for piano. She talked to SFCV about her current projects and upcoming concerts.

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Upcoming Concert
June 7, 2009
Pride comes naturally when you’re a singer with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. Just ask eighth-grader Dominique Shaw about the delightfully eclectic program that he and fellow choristers will be presenting at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco on June 13.

“We take chances, we try different things,” Shaw points out. “We just don’t stick to regular old classics.”

“Which chorus gets to go to the Inauguration and sing in the presence of the first African-American president?,” adds fifth-grader Julian Moreno, another boy soprano in the SFBC’s advanced Concert Chorus Group. “That was a big honor!”

Several of the patriotic pieces from that historic performance will be showcased at the upcoming concert. But “I didn’t want to do an entire concert of Americana,” notes SFBC Artistic Director and Conductor Ian Robertson. “I wanted to broaden it to the American hemisphere.”

Opening the evening is the magnificent Missa Criolla, a setting of the Catholic mass in Rioplatense Spanish, the dialect of the piece’s Argentinian composer, Ariel Ramírez. (The dialectal pronunciation of the second word of the title is ‘Cree-o-ja’.) In place of the usual classical ensemble, the Missa makes use of Latin American percussion, a string bass, and piano, as well as unfamiliar rhythms based on regional Argentinian dances. Robertson was impressed with how “The opening movement [Kyrie eleison] and the final movement [Agnus Dei] draw from that sense of spiritual stillness which the people on those flat open grasslands feel. And there’s this rambunctious stuff in the middle, which takes these rhythms and thrusts them up to their God.”

Following the transcendent drama of the Missa and an interlude by the SFBC Bellringers will be a Mexican folk lullaby, a favorite of choristers Shaw and Moreno. “It’s peaceful,” says Moreno, who sang it for his grandmother’s funeral. Then comes a kalenda, a precursor of the calypso from Trinidad, sung in pidgin French. A second Argentinian selection, based on a poem, is “altogether more astringent harmonically, very expressive,” says Robertson. San Sereni is a Puerto Rican children’s song with hand movements depicting characters, and for El Barquito, a Venezuelan folk song, “you get to do your own percussion with your hands and feet,” notes Shaw, “and you have to keep the [separate] rhythm of your voice. It’s tough!” A contemporary Venezuelan song is accompanied on the four-stringed cuatro by voice coach Jimmy Kansau, who also sings tenor in this and some other selections. The Chorus closes out the first half of the program with its three souvenirs from the Inauguration, including a setting by Bay Area composer David Conte of words from Obama’s nomination acceptance speech.

After intermission, the younger members of the SFBC's Apprentice, Junior Apprentice, and Intermediate Choruses offer music from Central and North America, as well as France and England. The older Concert and Intermediate Chorus boys will rock out with hits from Bill Haley and the Beach Boys, and all 250 choristers convene for the finale, Irving Berlin’s perennial God Bless America, “With the purity of the boys’ voices,” Robertson says, “there’s always that extra frisson, if you will, of ‘I didn’t expect it to sound like this.’”

More about San Francisco Boys Chorus »
Upcoming Concert
June 4, 2009
I meet with each of the contestants several times over the course of competition week, often driving them to and from events, to get an instrument repaired, sometimes just to get a milkshake or a burger between performances.

I'm amazed at the split and multiple lives they all lead — on one hand, skateboarding, playing video games, checking out the NBA finals, and text messaging their friends, doing everything that 15-23 year olds do. Talk can range from a favorite pair of sneakers to their pick for American Idol.

On the other hand, they are each consummate and oftentimes seasoned professional musicians, performing incredibly demanding works by Bach and Beethoven, interpreting the Klein commissioned works, and carefully preparing their next performances while keeping their ears tuned to each of the competitors' rounds.

That is Larry Chung's experience of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, of which he has been executive director for the past 12 years. Says Competition Director Mitchell Sardou Klein:

This competition was inspired by my father, Irving M. Klein, the cellist of the Claremont Quartet, and a devoted and inspiring cello and chamber music pedagogue. When he died in 1984, many of his colleagues and I searched for a suitable memorial to continue his belief in service to young musicians. Knowing that the Irving Klein Competition has become a permanent and respected part of the musical world gives us great personal satisfaction.

The California Music Center and San Francisco State University's College of Creative Arts present the 24th annual competition, June 11-14, with public concerts on June 13-14 at SFSU's Knuth Hall; tickets range from $5 to $20.

From a field of 62 entrants from nine countries, eight semifinalists are now vying for solo and recital appearances, with cash prizes, ranging from $1,500 to $14,000, to be applied to their education expenses. They include San Francisco-born cellist Meta Weiss, 21, a student of Norman Fischer at Rice University in Houston; and violinist Eunice Kim, 17, from Daly City, who studies with Wei He at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, and is also a member of the Formerly Known As Classical ensemble.

The others are Jacqueline Choi, 22-year-old cellist from Old Tappan, N.J., who studies with Paul Katz at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; SuJin Lee, 17-year-old cellist from South Korea, who studies with Paul Katz at the New England Conservatory; Vicki Powell, 20-year-old violist from Chicago, who studies with Roberto Diaz at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; So Jin Kim, 23-year-old violinist from South Korea, a student of Cho-Liang Lin at Rice University in Houston; Nikki Chooi, 19-year-old violinist from Victoria, Canada, student of Joseph Silverstein and Ida Kavafian at Curtis; Xiang Yu, 20-year-old violinist from Shanghai, China, studying with Donald Weilerstein at the New England Conservatory.

The jury for the competition includes members of the Alexander String Quartet, members of the Cypress String Quartet, Peter Gelfand, Marc Gottlieb, Alan Grishman, Joel Hoffman, Joshua Kosman, Patricia Taylor Lee, Jeffrey Miller, and Alice Schoenfeld.

More about Irving M. Klein International String Competition »
Upcoming Concert
June 3, 2009
When Michael Tilson Thomas programmed the San Francisco Symphony's semistaged production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe for June 18-21, little did he know how au courant it would be. As rehearsals begin on this great send-up of the English Parliament, the news from England is full of Parliamentary scandal and speculation on the fate of the government, while our government is working on "a new and original plan," like G&S's Lord Chancellor's, to govern honestly.

The U.S., in the throes of controversy over a Supreme Court appointment, may well come to long for the good old days of former Chief Justice William Rehnquist who, inspired by Iolanthe, added four golden stripes to his sleeves and quoted the Lord Chancellor in one of his opinions: "The Law is the true embodiment/Of everything that's excellent./It has no kind of fault or flaw/And I, My Lords, embody the Law."

Iolanthe is a fairy, who once married a mortal and had a son, was therefore banished from Fairydom but has now been pardoned. Her son, the shepherd Strephon, loves Phyllis, who is the ward of the Lord Chancellor and is beloved by him and the entire House of Lords. Strephon appeals to Iolanthe and the Fairy Queen to help him win Phyllis. As anyone can see, the plot will proceed to be exceedingly complicated. Somehow, by the end, Strephon and Phyllis will be united, and the peers of the realm, faced with opening the peerage to competitive examination, will abandon Parliament and fly off with the fairies.

Gilbert outdid himself on the libretto, and Sullivan wrote a masterful score, with echoes of Mendelssohn and Wagner. MTT was originally scheduled to conduct, but George Manahan, the musical director of New York City Opera, will take over for him. This production does not propose to undertake the kind of manic staging offered by our Lamplighters, but the Lamplighters were big enough to recommend, in their publicity earlier this year, that people take in both their performance and the Symphony's.

More about San Francisco Symphony »
Upcoming Concert
June 3, 2009

The pops concerts are coming! The pops concerts are coming! First up, a wide-ranging program from the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra that covers all the bases: Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite, Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, selections from John Williams’ score for Star Wars, a couple of Leroy Anderson pieces, and Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever.

It’s still technically spring, but it’s not too soon to, like the concert title suggests, say "Hats Off" to summer and join the fun. David Ramanadoff is music director of the YPSO, California's oldest youth orchestra and the second oldest youth orchestra in the U.S.

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Upcoming Concert
June 2, 2009

When Tosca throws herself from the parapet of the Castel Sant' Angelo, at the end of Puccini's brilliant opera, the assembled crowd watching the San Francisco Opera production on the electronic scoreboard at AT&T Park this Friday, may be waiting to hear the splash. The ballpark's setting is every bit as spectacular as those that Puccini imagined for his opera, and admission to the opera telecast is free.

Bring a sweater or two (or three) just in case, open a bottle of wine (or a beer, or a 24-oz Coke), spread a blanket on the infield and enjoy. This is one of those operas that can hardly fail to entertain — especially when you've got the quality cast S.F. Opera has assembled.

More about San Francisco Opera »
Upcoming Concert
June 2, 2009
The San Francisco Bay Area is a little foretaste of chorus heaven. Choruses flourish here, and their activities are constant. So what makes a person want to found another chorus? In the case of the International Orange Chorale of San Francisco, it’s as simple as wanting to choose your friends.

“I wanted to conduct great music and I wanted to do it with people that I liked,” says Jeremy Faust. “It started with a bunch of friends who all wanted to sing together. And we wanted to do difficult, challenging music. At first it was going to be a social and artistic thing, but as time went on it became much more of an artistically driven pursuit.”

Founded in 2003, the group concentrates on contemporary music of all kinds, like Jake Heggie’s Faith Disquiet, which figures prominently in the group’s approaching concert at Presidio Chapel, with soprano Nicole Folland.

“I met Jake at some random event at the San Francisco Opera, I think in 2003. And from there we sort of knew each other vaguely. And so when I wanted to do this California concert this past May [reviewed in SFCV], I really wanted to do something of Jake’s. So I gave him a call and said ‘What do you have lying around?’ And he had this wonderful piece that hasn’t been done very often, Faith Disquiet. The first two movements have just been revised and we just did the California premiere.”

So it’s that easy, to start up a chorus, get to know Jake Heggie, and start doing premieres of his work?

“It’s been a difficult road and a lot of work,” admits cofounder Elaine Robertson. “We’re very democratic in some ways. We have a lot of input from the choristers, and we always welcome choristers' suggestions for repertory.” There are no sponsors or guardian angels. “Everyone in the group also does something else to make the group work,” says Faust. “Our P.R. is done by Elaine [who works as program manager for the San Francisco Boys Chorus, and children’s wrangler for the San Francisco Opera], so she’s volunteering her professional skills. And when it comes to, like, our Web site, you know, our Web site is run by people in the choir who just sort of happen to work for Google.

“It’s a labor of love. No one pays any dues, and no one gets paid, including the conductors. And, in fact, other than this [upcoming] concert and one other, in six years we’ve never charged any admission for any of our concerts, as well.”

Most of the singers in the International Orange Chorale sing with other groups, but are drawn to IOCSF by the camaraderie and the eclectic repertory, like Daniel Handler’s Attack of the Crab Monsters. Handler, of children’s book fame (the Lemony Snicket series) wrote the piece in college. “Some one I know back East told me about it,” says Faust. “It was actually given to him by the poet, Larry Raab. And Larry Raab is a National Book Award type of guy, a very famous poet. And he said to this choral conductor back East, ‘Hey, back when Daniel Handler was in college, he wrote this funky little piece on my poetry, and I think it’s great.’ So my friend did it, and then said, ‘Hey, why don’t you do it in San Francisco, since Daniel’s from there.’ And I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ And next thing I know I got an e-mail from Daniel saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ and I said ‘Well, we want to do your piece,’ and so we’re doing the California premiere, and he’ll be there at the concert. Daniel is also a really well-respected accordian player, apparently.”

According to Robertson, the IOCSF has already found an audience. “My goal is to bring music to as many young people as possible. And my friends are all very interested in IOC and what we do.”

“Because all the singers in the group tend to be on the younger end of adulthood,” says Faust, “a lot of word-of-mouth happens. And there are people who have never heard choral music before and say to me, ‘Wow, I play in a rock band, but that was awesome.’ So you can really connect with people who have no preconceived notion of what this music is.”

“Before each piece,” explains Robertson, “One of the chorus members reads out a description of that piece and about the composer. And then, we also have the audience vote on an audience favorite for that concert, and then we sing that piece on our next concert. It’s a little interactive. I like that.”

More about International Orange Chorale »
Upcoming Concert
June 2, 2009
To hear pianist (and longtime SFCV contributor) Jerry Kuderna tell it, his upcoming concert at Trinity Chapel in Berkeley on June 6 was an extreme example of serendipity. There he was, innocently practicing music of the Catalan composer Federico Mompou, “the first Spanish composer who really got into my system,” he says. Kuderna normally swims in the more heavily modernist, nontonal, end of the 20th-century pool, music completely different from Mompou's. Knowing that Joaquin Nin-Culmell (1908-2004), then working in the music department at UC Berkeley, had been Mompou's student, Kuderna called him up for some pointers.

A few years later, one of Kuderna’s students, who was also a close friend of Nin-Culmell’s, gave him the four volumes of the composer’s Tonadas, some of which appear on this coming program. “They’re all fairly short pieces — dances, songs. You really feel that it grows right out of Spanish folk music — it’s deep, it’s powerful, it gets into you. I would sometimes play them during the Offertory at church, and people would always come up to me after and say, ‘What was that you played?’ I began to realize that these pieces really were communicative. I realized that if there’s quality in it, it’s worth playing.

“And then I was down at Serendipity — the bookstore — and all of [Nin-Culmell’s] music was there. All of the stuff he left behind [when he died] — they had it. So I just bought the whole lot of it. And then I found in there all this Falla and music by his other teachers, all this really rare stuff. And I started playing that, and I began to think, ‘Maybe I have some genetic connection to this music.’

“[Nin-Culmell’s] niece, Gayle Nin Rosencrantz, asked me last year to play on [the composer’s] centennial concert. The pay that I got for that concert was more scores. (You know, that’s the great thing about my life, I don’t get paid in coin, I get paid in music.) And among these were pieces Joaquin had written when he was 20, dedicated to Falla. And I thought, ‘Wow, what a talent!'”

So having lived with this music for about a year, Kuderna thought that it was time to bring together some of this unexpected wealth of music that had come into his possession in a concert. And here it is. You won’t have many opportunities to savor this music, wonderful as it is, so you should push to get to this event, and reap the rewards of the music of another underappreciated 20th-century master. “I’m just sorry,” says the composer’s newest acolyte, “that Joaquin died before I ever had a chance to tell him how great he was.”

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