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
October 7, 2009
You may not have heard Edward Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for String Orchestra, Op. 47, which opens Itzhak Perlman's concert with the San Francisco Symphony next week. But its neo-Baroque form and polyphonic wizardry make an interesting counterpoint with the following work on the program, Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2. Elgar is one of those eminent Edwardian-era composers often easily dismissed as the author of Pomp and Circumstance and Enigma Variations and not much else. Because his music is so little played in this country, the 14-minute Introduction and Allegro should provide concertgoers with a lively and delightful surprise. More about San Francisco Symphony »
Upcoming Concert
October 7, 2009

It's not hard to imagine a small organization like Earplay having a "now what?" moment in the wake of the economic devastation that dried up foundation grants, donations, and other sources of arts funding. But the determined new-music group came up with a winner of a fundraiser. They play composer William Kraft's Vintage Renaissance and Beyond (a recent work co-commissioned by Earplay), and then Peter Sellars, the famous director discusses his new projects.

If you've never heard Sellars talk, then you don't know that it's the thing he does best (or second-best). He can be fascinating, and the opportunity to meet him and ask him questions should not be missed. It's a fine thing for Sellars to donate his time to help out a small organization like Earplay, and we hope the fundraiser is a success.

More »
Artist Spotlight
October 6, 2009

The founders of the summer music festival [email protected] are returning to the Peninsula this fall. Wu Han and David Finckel, along with Anthony McGill, are performing on Oct. 11 at the opening of the new Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, on the campus of Menlo-Atherton High School. It’s a state-of-the-art building, and, says Wu Han, “I can’t wait to play there.”

How did you become involved with this project?

More »
Upcoming Concert
October 5, 2009

If vocal chant is the most pure, devotional form of music (as was thought in the Middle Ages), then Anonymous 4 is its guardian angel. This female group of four a cappella singers has done much to preserve and expose this form of music through live performance and more than 20 recordings, even offering “Chant Camp” for those who want a deeper experience. The group performs its new program, “Secret Voices: Music From Las Huelgas, ca. 1300,” at Stanford Lively Arts on Oct. 21; Chant Camp is Oct. 19. 

Based in New York, Anonymous 4 consists of Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, and Ruth Cunningham. California native Genensky, originally a traditional folksinger, resides in Menlo Park and has been a visiting assistant professor at Stanford University. The group is known for its unearthly tonal blend and technical virtuosity, and possesses the necessary historical scholarship required for bringing this fascinating music to life. It has been a frequent guest at major festivals worldwide, has been featured on radio and TV programs such as A Prairie Home Companion and NPR’s Weekend Edition, and has sold some two million records on the Harmonia Mundi label.

Its new program comprises music from the Codex Las Huelgas, an extensive collection of polyphonic and monophonic music from the 13th and early 14th centuries. A listener coming for the first time to this music should realize that the education of women in that era was limited. Few were taught Latin or singing, or were even allowed to take part in worship, with the exception of women entering certain convents. Depending on the establishment, religious women were more or less simply given the skills and freedom to perform the Divine Office and to sing plainchant. Las Huelgas, or “the refuge,” was a Spanish nunnery founded for women of noble birth who wanted to pursue a spiritual life. Yet their strict Cistercian order forbade the singing of polyphony in most convents.

These headstrong royal nuns were having none of it. Says Susan Hellauer, “While there is some controversy about whether this wonderful 13th-century repertoire was sung by the nuns of the royal monastery of Las Huelgas or by their hired singers, [sources indicate] we’re following in the footsteps of our much older sisters, who collected and sang the greatest music of their time.”

The “Secret Voices” program is structured like a day of music devoted to the Virgin Mary, including a few songs with texts dealing with the daily lives of the nuns themselves. Among the pieces are elegant French love motets like Claustrum pudicicie/Virgo viget/Flos Filius, about pastoral love in the springtime. There are conductus with unpredictable rhythms and lively hockets. A playful Benedicamus Domino à 3 is written in rondellus fashion, like a catch or round typical of 13th-century British polyphony. Also to be sung are heartfelt laments, like the monophonic song O monialis conscio, written on the death of a beloved member of the sisterhood, and elegant duos with intertwining lines, like the sequences Verbum bonum et suave and In virgulto gracie.

But how, you might wonder, was this music notated? And exactly what is a “psalm tone”? And can plainchant really feel like a religious experience? For those who want to learn more and try this music first-hand, Anonymous 4 and Stanford Professors William Mahrt and Jesse Rodin will lead an evening “Chant Camp” on Monday, Oct. 19. For the curious and the aficionado alike, “Secret Voices” will provide a tantalizing glimpse into medieval history and the heart of the Western spiritual tradition, and sounds simply divine.

If you go:

Tickets for Anonymous 4’s “Secret Voices,” presented by Stanford Lively Arts on Wednesday, October 21 at 8:00 p.m. at Memorial Church, are $40 for adults and $10 for Stanford students. Half-price tickets are available for young people age 18 and under and discounts are available for groups and non-Stanford students. For tickets and more information, call 650-725-ARTS (2787), or visit

Tickets for Chant Camp on Monday, October 19 at 5:00 p.m. at Memorial Church are $10 for Anonymous 4 ticket holders and $20 for Chant Camp only. For reservations, call the Stanford Tickets Office at 650-725-ARTS (2787). Enrollment deadline is Friday, October 16.

More »
Upcoming Concert
October 5, 2009
On most weekdays, you can probably hear a collective groan on Interstate 80 from commuters traveling to and from the Sacramento area. Chances are, they just heard KDFC’s long-time host Dianne Nicolini announce that a perennial listener favorite was coming up, with the line, “But first, here’s Haydn [or his brother, son, nephew, second cousin twice-removed].” On Oct. 28, however, braving the commuter soundtrack to drive to the Mondavi Center at UC Davis (or simply staying put if you live near there) will be worth it, because the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg is presenting a piece that is both by Haydn and a favorite.

The 168-year-old orchestra is one of the premier symphony orchestras in Austria. Focusing on music from the Viennese Classical school, it presents the “Mozart Matinees” at the annual Salzburg Festival. Its musical sensibilities are particularly well-rounded, due to the variety of its repertoire: playing in the pit for musicals and operas for the Salzburg Landestheater, performing great symphonic works from all eras for the Salzburg Kulturvereinigung in the Large Festival Hall, and presenting a thematic series in the concert hall of the Mozarteum. The orchestra has had myriad glowing adjectives attached to its name at one time or other. In the end, though, it is simply very Austrian — more sensitive and less heavy-handed than the Germans, without any sacrifice in musicianship.

The program will begin with Mozart’s overture to The Marriage of Figaro, whose opening theme, incidentally, also opens the musical lock on the door to the edible garden in the original screen version of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (Music Director Ivor Bolton looks better in a tux than Gene Wilder did.) It will close with Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C Major, also known as “The Great.”

Now, what about that Haydn favorite? His Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major will feature Johannes Moser as both the soloist and the concert’s way of fulfilling the orchestra’s motto, “The cutting edge of classical music.” Moser may be our next Yo-Yo Ma, not because they play with similar styles, but because they are both enthusiastic ambassadors for classical music. Where Ma pairs with pop artists for crossover recordings, Moser promotes the Youtube Symphony Orchestra and participates in outreach activities with children and young adults across U.S. campuses, introducing connoisseurs of synthetic sound to prepared and toy cellos and pianos. Performing contemporary pieces is his signature. Even Pierre Boulez sings his praises, and he’s a much tougher customer than Bobby McFerrin.

There’s no doubting Moser’s musical heft. His tone isn’t quite commanding, yet his phrasing flows from a seeming sixth sense of the way in which musical figures relate to each other and of how to convince the listener that he’s playing a piece as it was intended to be played. In his hands, the cello seems to become a living being; we almost forget there’s a musician behind its sound. Is it something we have never heard before? Not really, but after Lang Lang’s appearance last month, shouldn’t we see what youth is really capable of?

More »
Upcoming Concert
September 29, 2009

The BluePrint Festival is the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's ongoing 20th century/ new music series, and it takes advantage of the Conservatory students' technical prowess and their fearlessness in approaching unusual music.

This season Music Director Nicole Paiement organizes several concerts for mixed forces, including artists from other disciplines.

The opener, on October 10, features Darius Milhaud's fierce denunciation of fascism, La mort d'un tyran (The Death of a Tyrant) for a chamber ensemble and a chorus which resorts to shouting in places. Local composers share the billing with Milhaud, who, of course, had his own local connections.

More about San Francisco Conservatory of Music »
Upcoming Concert
September 29, 2009
For families with young children, deciding whether to enjoy live music together is usually a matter of priorities. Weekends scheduled with wall-to-wall soccer matches, birthday parties, and assorted play dates can seem like a frenetic sprint to Monday morning.

Add to that mix the sometimes-daunting challenge of discovering an appropriate live classical music performance for children. Can the kids sit through an entire concert? Will the music engage them? Finally, the cost of tickets needs to be considered.

In the end, we tend not to take many musical chances with our children. We may make an annual trek during the holiday season to a performance of The Nutcracker, or perhaps take in a recital by one of the many fine musicians who specialize in bringing accessible music to young audiences.

If you’re seeking such a family music experience, you might consider arriving with your favorite young people at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 11 a.m. to hear the Katona Twins, a classical guitar duo of amazing virtuosity. Along with baritone Christòpheren Nomura, the Katonas will offer an interactive, hour-long recital of music that’s sure to delight you and your children — all for a price that’s comparable to taking the family to the movies.

For the past two years, Peter and Zoltán Katona have been resident artists of San Francisco Performances, the presenter of the family matinee concert, while Nomura is an alumnus of the same program. As resident artists, the musicians spend several weeks each year performing and working directly with students in public schools around the Bay Area.

While the Katona Twins and Christòpheren Nomura are artists of the first degree, with worldwide performances, rave reviews, and prizes to their credit, their work with students enables them to meaningfully communicate their love of music to young people.

“The concert will be informal,” said Peter Katona recently during a phone interview from England. “We will talk a bit about the music and answer questions from the audience during the program. When we work in the schools, we often play for children who have never heard live music before. It’s wonderful to involve them with music.”

The Hungarian-born twins have been playing guitar, together and solo, since they were 10, performing at Carnegie Hall, the Purcell Room of London’s Royal Festival Hall, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, and dozens of other famous venues in Asia, Europe, and North America. Their CD releases include music by Scarlatti, Handel, Rodrigo, and Albéniz, as well as pieces by Piazzolla, Granados, de Falla, and Mozart.

Nomura made his professional operatic debut in the boys choir of the San Francisco Opera at age 6, performed his first solo role in Die Zauberflöte at age 11, and continues to perform in traditional and contemporary operatic roles in Europe, Asia, and North America. The American-born singer was the first-place winner in the International Vocal Competition Mozarteum in Salzburg, and a recipient of a Fulbright grant to pursue musical studies and performance in Germany.

At Herbst, the Katonas and Nomura will perform separately at first, then share in a performance of Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Folksongs, which was originally composed for piano and mezzo-soprano.

“I’m excited to hear the piece with two guitars and a baritone,” said Peter Katona. “It will definitely be different.”

Their San Francisco performance will be the Katona Twins’ final engagement before participating in “Night of the Proms,” a series of no fewer than 40 concerts spanning two months across Europe and Scandinavia that combines rock bands and classical music. The event is the largest annual organized indoor event on the continent.

“We will play in 17 enormous venues, and the organizers are expecting a total audience of 400,000,” said Peter Katona. “We will reach audiences that have never heard of us before. It’s a very unusual and extravagant opportunity.”

More about San Francisco Performances »
Upcoming Concert
September 29, 2009
You’re stuffed into a car trunk with three people for so many hours that, when you’re let out into the dark night, your eyes don’t work at first. To your horror, you discover you’ve been dumped off in a cemetery in a foreign country. To the sound of ghostly church bells, bizarre yellow dots flash before your eyes. As you sway from cramped limbs, you fear that your eyesight is forever damaged. 

Gabriela Frank's Welcome to AmericaThis you can experience — what a Latina immigrant endured on her arrival in the U.S. and saw fireflies for the first time — when you hear one of the testimonios (testimonies) set to music by composer Gabriele Lena Frank at the Berkeley Symphony’s season-opening concert under its new music director, Joana Carneiro.

Thanks to an innovative grant, Frank had the opportunity to work with Latino immigrants in one of the less-predictable destination cities, Indianapolis; internalize their stories over time; and translate their hopes and dreams into the orchestral suite Peregrinos (Pilgrims). Frank herself is no stranger to diversity, having a Chinese/Peruvian mother and a Jewish/Lithuanian father.

“We’re at too important a moment of history to not look for connections in the community,” Frank, a resident of Berkeley, relates in a PBS documentary chronicling the creation of her work (shown two days before the concert — details here). “When I’m looking at my own truth and my own humanidad, my own humanity, I try to keep on with creating music and with everything that I’ve got, to tell a story that really resonates.” Like Béla Bartók’s masterpiece Concerto for Orchestra that will conclude the program, Peregrinos is in five movements.

Peregrinos/ Pilgrims: A Musical Journey
Besides the already mentioned movement, “Fireflies,” the suite begins and ends with “Arbol de sueños” (Dream trees), laundry racks that social workers encourage immigrants in group sessions to festoon with colored ribbons on which their hopes for the future are written. The remaining movements are “Heroes,” a jaunty description of two close preteen brothers, and “Devotional for Sarita Colonia,” a visionary depiction of the Peruvian patron saint of immigrants.

The concert launches the Symphony’s first season with Music Director Carneiro. Each concert includes a work by at least one living composer, along with fairly heavy-duty favorites from the standard repertoire. It’s always a test to see how brilliantly any conductor can handle the alternating hell-bent, then deliberately sluggish, pacing of the Bartók concerto’s last movement, and finally bring off its final flourish, a race to the skies that leaves hearts in throats when done well. You probably can ask Carneiro yourself how she’ll manage it if you attend her interview by pianist Sarah Cahill at the Berkeley Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 3:00 p.m.

The concert opens with music by another Berkeley composer, John Adams’ Chairman Dances, derived from his groundbreaking opera Nixon in China. It’s worth fox-trotting up to Zellerbach Hall to give it a listen. 

More about Berkeley Symphony »
Artist Spotlight
September 29, 2009

This week Bay Area music lovers can look forward to two events featuring the music and scholarship of baritone Thomas Hampson. Tuesday evening, he will be joined at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music by curators from the Library of Congress to discuss their collaboration celebrating the history of American song. Wednesday he will perform a concert at Herbst Theatre with pianist Wolfram Rieger, titled “Song of America.” Hampson took time out from his preparations to discuss the project, the relationship between poetry and music, and his latest e-book download.

More »
Upcoming Concert
September 28, 2009
Amid the glamour and glitz of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s’s 2009-2010 season, the ensemble’s October concert set “The Concerto: An Adversarial Friendship” may draw more headlines for its guest leader (the dynamic violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch) than its repertory, comprising mostly less-familiar German figures (Muffat, Biber, Schmelzer). But dig deeper into the program, performed Oct. 9-17 in various Bay Area locales, and you’ll find some flashy selections and intriguing backstories to this highly engaging repertory.

Georg Muffat’s Florilegium secundum, a set of ensemble suites published in 1698, helped cement that composer’s reputation as a “cosmopolitan” figure — that is, one well-versed in the varying national styles of France, Germany, and Italy. But being cosmopolitan had its risks: The Florilegium was composed during a war between France and much of the rest of Europe, sparking criticism of the composer for his alleged cultural sympathies with the enemy. His pithy response suggests a pacifist streak: “As I mix the French style with the German and Italian, I do not begin a war, but perhaps a prelude to the unity, the dear peace, desired by all the peoples.” Of the two selections on PBO’s program, Fasciculus I, nobilis juventus (Noble youth) in D major is an international potpourri, each movement redolent of a specific national style, while Fasciculus VIII, indissolubilis amicitia (Inseparable friendship) in E major is lithe and graceful, in the French style. Two selections by Heinrich Biber showcase his flamboyant streak.

The Serenade in C Major, “Der Nachtwächter” (Nightwatchman’s call) features a repeating ground pattern (or “ciacona”) in the middle movement, drawn from ’s famous madrigal Zefiro torna. Biber provides some colorful instructions for the performers: “In the Ciacona the Nightwatchman comes, calling out the hour as they do these days. And the other instruments are all to be played without the bow, like lutes (in the Gavotte as well), with the violins held under the arm; this looks great.”

Biber’s Battalia, meanwhile, assembles a panoply of militaristic effects, from rat-a-tat rhythms to meandering melodies jumbled together in a dissonant depiction of drunken soldiers. Here the composer’s performance instructions include some smirk-inducing directives: “Where the strokes are written, one must knock on the violin with the bow. You have to try this.” Another battle piece, Die Fechtschule (Fencing school), by Johann Schmelzer, depicts a fencing lesson, running from student warm-ups to the main event, complete with foot-stomping, gnashing of blades, and thumping march rhythms.

More-subtle twists underlie two works by the ever-prolific Georg Philipp Telemann. In the Concerto for Two Violins and Bassoon in D Major, Telemann upends traditional differentiations between soloist and ensemble. The solo trio conglomerates into a sort of independent trio sonata, set against the accompanying string ensemble; interchanging musical material among all instruments blurs the dividing lines. In the Sonata in C Major for Four Violins Without Bass, Telemann abandons the traditional “continuo” (bass) instrument, and each of the four violinists takes turns covering the bass part.

After all this razzle-dazzle, the inclusion of J.S. Bach’s more-stolid Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major might seem jarring. Bach displays a distinctly traditionalist bent in this piece, drawing on his predecessor Antonio Vivaldi in several aspects of formal structure and musical motives. Yet in its classic elegance and impeccable elaboration of themes, this outstanding concerto remains a masterwork not to be missed.

More »