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.
While these works hardly amount to a survey of Copland’s music (no one program could accomplish that), they do illuminate one of the composer’s most fertile periods: the years between 1942 and 1946, when he refined the distinctive American vocabulary — the spare harmonies, spacious textures, forthright melodies, and vital rhythms we have come to think of as quintessentially Copland. Hoe-down, part of an orchestral suite excerpted from the 1942 ballet score Rodeo, paints a vibrant picture of the American West — one that Copland, a Brooklyn-born Jew who studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, had never actually seen.
No matter — written for dancer/choreographer Agnes DeMille, who gave the ballet’s wildly successful first performance in New York, the work remains a singularly inventive vision of the American West, and an exuberant example of this composer’s most accessible work. So, too, does Appalachian Spring, also created for DeMille; the austere and serenely beautiful 1944 score, built around the Shaker tune A Gift to be Simple, never fails to move an audience.
The Third Symphony rounds out the program. Commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky, who called it the greatest American symphony to date, the 1946 score evokes both a mythical America, and a specific one. The fourth movement incorporates music Copland wrote earlier as a tribute to the ordinary men and women who were “doing the dirty work” in World War II — a short piece for brass and percussion he titled Fanfare for the Common Man, which went on to become one of the most popular and oft-performed musical works of the century.
The program concludes Marin Symphony’s 2008-2009 season. Neale, who has a proven track record with Copland’s music, both in Marin and during his previous tenures as San Francisco Symphony’s associate conductor and music director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, gives a preconcert talk one hour before each performance.More about Marin Symphony »
This week, from April 22 through April 25, the San Francisco Symphony will be performing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4 (1935), one of the composer's best. Long-time symphony member and Associate Concertmaster Nadya Tichman is the soloist for the same composer's haunting tone poem, The Lark Ascending (1914, rev. 1920). A member of the San Francisco Symphony since 1980, Tichman is noted for her musicianship as well as her grace and presence. I had a chance to speak with her and to get a glimpse of the person behind the violin.
Frederic Rzewski is still playing his 1975 masterwork, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 variations on a Chilean song associated with the Unidad Popular coalition, which supported the Salvador Allende government.
Rzewski’s piece is virtuosic, imaginative, and accessible, and with the composer’s advocacy at the piano, it has become a staple of the modern piano repertory. At some point, Rzewski is sure to retire from playing, so take the opportunity to hear him at the Mondavi Center.More about Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts »
“It made a tremendous impression on me musically,” says Ramadanoff, who will conduct Orff’s pulsing 1936 crowd-pleaser on April 25 with the Vallejo Symphony. “The rhythms capture you instantly. The music is relentless and hypnotic.” The maestro, who has shaped the symphony over the last quarter century, will lead a 65-piece orchestra; extra musicians have been hired to play the score, which calls for two pianos, celesta, four percussionists, and a full complement of wind players.
They will be joined by the Solano and Vallejo choral societies, the Solano Community College Chamber Choir, the St. Vincent Elementary School Children’s Choir, and three soloists: soprano Aimee Puentes, who sang the piece with the Santa Cruz Symphony in 2003, baritone Austin Kness, and tenor Brian Staufenbiel, who did Carmina with Ramadanoff and the Oakland East Bay Symphony last May.
Orff’s visceral music builds on driving repetitive rhythms and simple motifs. Carmina, with its aspects of ritual and various repetitive devices, was strongly influenced by Igor Stravinsky, particularly works like his 1917 ballet Les Noces, the conductor notes. The German composer set the music to 24 poems from the Carmina Burana, a collection of love poems and vagabond songs apparently written in the 11th and 12th centuries by satiric student clerics known as Goliards, in Latin and German. The lyrics speak of sweet longing, the pleasures of the flesh and the grape, the joys of spring.
“The chorus has to be a character, in a lot of respects,” Ramadanoff says. “When the men are in the tavern, it’s the ultimate bachelor party, and they need to convey that bachelor party.” It’s no wonder that the blood-rushing “O Fortuna,” which opens and closes the oratorio, has cropped up in a slew of ads and movies, from The Doors to Excalibur.
“The piece grabs you,” the maestro says. “It’s well-written. It’s obvious in its appeal, but it’s a good piece.”
Rounding out Saturday’s performance will be James Beckel’s 1996 Musica Mobilus, a four-and-a-half-minute homage to sculptor Alexander Calder, master of the mobile. Written for brass choir, the contrapuntal piece was specifically inspired by Calder’s Five Pieces Suspended at the Indianapolis Museum. Beckel based his work on five pitches — A, F-sharp, G, C, and D — that continually shift in harmony and mood. This version uses four horns, three trombones, a tuba, and three percussionists playing suspended cymbal, glockenspiel, and wind chimes.More about Vallejo Symphony Orchestra »
Life is full for guitarist and composer Sérgio Assad. The Brazilian performs with his brother, Odair, in arguably the best guitar duo on the planet, tours for other ensemble projects, and teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Last November he won the 2008 Latin Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for a piece he composed titled Tahhiyya Li Ossoulina, from The Assad Brothers’ album Jardim Abandonado. There’s an urgency to all the activity, the kind that comes from an artist in full swing.
Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman is known for his technical polish, recently seen here as in a performance of Witold Lutoslawski’s 1987 Piano Concerto under the baton of Herbert Blomstedt. (Zimerman was the concerto’s dedicatee who premiered the work at the Salzburg Festival in 1988.)
In this Cal Performances presentation Zimerman will be touring with his own Hamburg Steinway piano. This allows him to do some degree of control over having to adjust to unfamiliar instruments, a regulation that may fare him well in Zellerbach Hall. And the program: Bach's Partita No. 2 in C Minor, BWV; Beethoven's Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111; Brahms' Klavierstücke, Op. 119; and Szymanowski's Variations on a Polish Theme, Op. 10 should showcase his talent's well.More about Cal Performances »
For those who know the quartet through its recordings — more than 20 years’ worth, spanning Haydn, Mozart, and early Beethoven, and stretching forward to Schubert and Mendelssohn — this first Bay Area visit by the Quatuor Mosaïques needs no recommending. But those who haven’t heard the ensemble yet are in for an uncommon pleasure.
I could wish that the players (who met as members of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Concentus Musicus Wien) were bringing some of their more far-flung recent repertoire; lately they’ve been playing music as late as Bartók and Webern. But the Schubert (including “Death and the Maiden”) and Mozart on their Cal Performances debut recital are enticement enough. If you love thoughtful, minutely detailed, joyous quartet playing, this is the one recital this spring you can least afford to missMore about Cal Performances »
The British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is beloved for his evocation of pastoral, folk-song-infused landscapes in works like The Lark Ascending. But also on the program is a totally different “VW,” the violent, take-no-prisoners maniac of the Symphony No. 4, a piece that grabs listeners by the throat and never lets go.
Come hear which is better, the Jekyll, the Hyde, or French music by Georges Bizet and Francis Poulenc. Yan Pascal Tortelier conducts the San Francisco Symphony, and the young organist Paul Jacobs is soloist. Jacobs came to international attention at the age of 23 when in 2000, he twice performed the complete organ works of J.S. Bach in 14 consecutive evenings, in New York City and in Philadelphia and then held an 18-hour non-stop marathon of works in Pittsburgh.More about San Francisco Symphony »