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.
Cellist Alisa Weilerstein began her career at age 4 when her grandmother presented her with a homemade instrument assembled from cereal boxes. The young musician gave her first public concert six months later, albeit on a more traditional cello. Since then, Weilerstein — the daughter of violinist Donald Weilerstein and pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein — has been widely acclaimed as one of the leading interpreters of her generation, in a variety of repertoire.
Stapp, renowned dramatic soprano and former artistic director of Festival Opera will direct the company’s first complete production this coming weekend. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro will be conducted by Jonathan Khuner, assistant conductor at the San Francisco Opera and well known to Berkeley audiences as the artistic director of Berkeley Opera. The production, with a chorus of eleven and a professional chamber orchestra of the same number will feature locally based soloists. The show will be costumed with a “makeshift set” according to Khuner, and will be a polished production, giving the essence of the opera but without the fancy trimmings.” Coming in at just under three hours, the show will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
The cast features Julian Arsenault as Figaro and Aimee Puentes as Susanna. Nicolai Janitsky, who debuted this season with San Francisco Opera as Shchelkalov in Boris Godunov will sing the Count and Open Opera’s cofounder, Elizabeth Baker, also a student of Olivia Stapp, will sing Cherubino.
As St. Thomas tells it, the real impetus for the founding of this company was twofold. First to showcase the great talent of singers here in the bay area and second to provide opera free to the public in a time when attending opera is, for many, prohibitively expensive. Making use of talent from all over the bay area, the cast includes both students and professionals. Elliot Nguyen, who will sing Antonio and Taylor Thompson, who will sing Don Curzio, are past participants of the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley, which provides training opportunities for young people from throughout the bay area. Also from that program is Kendra Dodd in the chorus. Another local connection some of the singers have is to the former program in Contra Costa County “Summersong.” For example, Adrien Roberts who will sing the Countess, came through Summersong, a former program for young singers run by Olivia Stapp and Lucy Beck. Julian Arsenault is also a former Summersong participant. Arsenault, who at the age of 20 will be reprising the role of Figaro which he performed recently at UCLA, is from Lafayette and well represents Open Opera’s dedication to featuring local talent.
St. Thomas says that it is Stapp’s dedication to excellence that inspired her to help found this company. She goes on to say that Baker works to craft the image of the company for the public, through the website, artwork, posters etc. and that Stapp works to set the company’s high artistic standards. St. Thomas, a former producer of television pieces for the Virginia Public schools as well as an accomplished singer, works to make it all happen.More »
Brett Dean is on a roll. In the past few years, the 48-year-old Brisbane native has conducted and recorded (for BIS) his Viola Concerto and worked with some of the world’s finest orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic, where he played viola for 16 years. That orchestra’s celebrated conductor, Simon Rattle, encouraged Dean’s nascent compositional career, and this year led the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in the premiere of three arias from Dean’s first opera, Bliss, which debuts next year. Last year, Ensemble Wien-Berlin performed the premiere of his chamber work Polysomnography, a Lucerne Festival commission, and he’s featured composer at this year’s Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and Cabrillo Festival.
Dean’s breakthrough stretch culminated in winning the world’s largest composition prize, the 2009 Grawemeyer Award, for his violin concerto The Lost Art of Letter Writing; Dean himself conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in its premiere.
Bay Area audiences get a double dose of one of Australia’s finest composers when Brett Dean returns to this year’s Cabrillo Festival for the U.S. premieres of his 2000 work Amphitheatre (inspired by an ancient Roman one described in Michael Ende’s children’s book Momo) and 2004’s Moments of Bliss, which Dean describes as “a suite of four purely orchestral movements that will form the basis for several orchestral interludes throughout the opera,” which is based on the celebrated novel by Australian author Peter Carey, later made into a popular film. The music reflects various moods — an amorous encounter, a heart attack, a visit to hell, and a contemplation of life’s vicissitudes.
As celebrated as he is in his home country, Dean is hardly the best-known composer in Cabrillo’s opening weekend. That honor goes to Osvaldo Golijov, probably the hottest composer alive, who’ll be in Santa Cruz for the opening night performance of his 2007 cello concerto, Azul (Blue). Unsatisfied with his original version (composed for Yo Yo Ma and itself based on an earlier piece for soprano and string quartet), the Boston-based Argentine-American composer substantially revised it — by press accounts to magnificent effect — for the brilliant young cellist Alisa Weilerstein, who’ll play it in Santa Cruz. Employing electronically enhanced “hyper-accordion” and extensive percussion and partly inspired by a Pablo Neruda poem, Azul traverses characteristically eclectic territory, from Baroque to tango to Middle Eastern influences. Golijov has composed at least two absolute masterpieces and this is a great chance to hear an important, and hitherto unrecorded, recent work.
Along with Azul and Amphitheatre, the opening night program features the world premiere of David Heath’s Rise From the Dark — a piece he wrote almost a quarter century ago. Like much of the Scottish composer's work, including 2007's Cabrillo world premiere Colourful World, this one is “based rhythmically and harmonically on the music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and structurally on classical music,” says Heath's program note.
The festival has always been a showcase for emerging compositional talent, and it’s a welcome to see Music Director Marin Alsop refreshing her regular corps of contemporary composers with young blood. The August 8 concert features intriguing works by composers born in the 1970s, including the U.S. premiere of Mexican composer Enrico Chapela’s 2003 ínguesu. In seeking a model for a modern nationalistic work, he looked to sports — specifically the Mexican soccer team’s stirring 1999 triumph over Brazil in the Confederation Cup championship in Mexico City.
Assigning roles to each instrumental group (brass to Brazilians, strings to audience, and so on), Chapela then contrived the musical themes (based on Mexican and Brazilian folk tunes and sports chants) to match the game’s significant moments, sort of like a modern version of Debussy’s Games or Stravinsky’s Card Game.
The final work, Avner Dorman’s 2006 Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!, marks the second year in a row the Israeli composer’s music has spiced Cabrillo’s menu. It combines Middle Eastern percussion and scales, Indian rhythmic structures, jazz sonorities, Baroque references, and minimalist elements — a microcosm of the multifarious ingredients embraced by today’s polycultural composers.More about Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music »
Sarah Cahill presents another in a series of concerts of music from her commissioning project, A Sweeter Music, on the theme of peace.
As she detailed in her interview with SFCV, her husband, John Sanborn will provide video art to accompany the music by Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, Ingram Marshall, and others.More about Old First Concerts »
Expect to see Deadheads (the term for die-hard fans in tie-dyed T-shirts) seated blissfully among the Cabrillo regulars. Johnson, an Emmy-winner for his film collaboration, points out that his only symphonic work based on the music of others was conceived and commissioned by a devoted Deadhead, Mike Adams, like Johnson a resident of Georgia. Adams also financed a 2007 recording by the Russian National Orchestra (available from www.deadsymphony.com and at the Festival). Deadheads and orchestra aficionados have much in common, Lee believes. “They’re [both] live music communities. And they’re well-trained listeners who can listen to a theme or motif being transformed, with all of the compositional techniques for how you’d modify or extend anything organic.”
Johnson, who teaches at LaGrange College in Georgia, has found inspiration for others of his nine symphonies in human rights, Jewish philosophy, and even diving. But he was not a Deadhead, and had to be introduced by Adams to the songbook of guitarist and banjoist Jerry Garcia, who assembled the Grateful Dead in San Francisco in 1965. The Dead Symphony’s dozen movements, briefer than the Dead’s trademark long, live jams, bear the titles of such songs as Saint Stephen, Here Comes Sunshine, Stella Blue, China Doll, and Sugar Magnolia (the last of which Cabrillo Music Director Marin Alsop adopted for the name of her Aug. 9 program, which also includes a composition titled Rave-Elation (Schindowski Mix) by Australian composer Matthew Hindson). The Dead songs, however, are not merely dressed up in strings by Johnson, but are variously reimagined, deconstructed, and revoiced, with a genial artfulness evocative of the approach of Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland to American folk themes.
What may seem somewhat retro and a turn away from the avant-garde is a sign of the times, Johnson explains. “The change that has happened in the compositional community of the last few years is that the language they’re using and the interest of composers seem to be swinging back into the same areas of interest that audiences have,” he says. “And the result is that you can have something that belongs to a culture, even though it’s brand new.” Johnson’s particular goal “is to make the genre of the symphony something that an American audience would feel is all about them and is something they just would not want to miss, rather than something you would respond to politely.”
Response to the Dead Symphony among some of its more discriminating observers has been so far enthusiastic. Mike Adams felt “stunned.” Former Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally is satisfied that the symphony “honors Jerry Garcia’s compositional skills” and that it “documents that great music is endlessly malleable, and that it can be transposed in style into many forms and still make sense and be beautiful.” McNally, who authored the definitive book A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, and who will join Lee and Dead author and radio host David Gans in a panel discussion at Cabrillo, notes that Alsop had attempted, without success, to contact Garcia before his premature death in 1995. “She obviously recognized that he was one of the outstanding musicians of Northern California,” says McNally, “and that’s what Cabrillo is about, is reaching out to a larger community.”More about Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music »
On Program IV of the festival, Aug. 3-5, Mendelssohn is represented by three of his Songs Without Words (Op. 19, No. 6; Op. 85, No. 2; and Op. 67, No. 4), Jalbert by his 1998 Piano Trio. Also in the running: the Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata (Op. 47), and Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 26. [email protected] programs are always generous.
The program is called “Mendelssohn Perspectives,” and its purpose is to “illuminate the music of Mendelssohn’s predecessors and heirs.” Selections from the eight volumes of Songs Without Words well represent the romantic-lyrical-ethereal sound that’s part of Mendelssohn’s essence.
The Kreutzer was a Mendelssohn performance favorite, while the Brahms is called — somewhat vaguely — representative of “the latter half of the Romantic journey begun by Beethoven and propelled by Mendelssohn.”
And Jalbert? He “gives voice in our own time to the Mendelssohnian ideal of expressive pathos combined with impeccable design,” intones the festival announcement. If that sounds too general, “let’s look at the record,” and therein find another Mendelssohnian characteristic: fecundity.
Jalbert (“JAL-burt”), born in New Hampshire and gallivanting around the country virtually nonstop, has been making a deep impression around the Bay Area for almost a decade now. In 2002 alone, he made his mark as composer in residence with Barry Jekowsky’s California Symphony in Walnut Creek, and showed up on the program of Jeffrey Kahane’s farewell concert as he was leaving the Santa Rosa Symphony.
The same year, Jalbert began his residency with Kahane’s Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, premiering his work called Les Espaces infinis. It was described in an enthusiastic Los Angeles Times review as a piece “holding the listener through a canny blend of instrumental colors and combinations, chromatic but not dissonant, and ultimately pleasing.” It is the kind of characterization that often appears in reviews of his works.
Jalbert’s contributions to the Walnut Creek orchestra continued for years, even before he garnered the Rome Prize, the BBC Masterprize, and — more recently — the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s 2007 Stoeger Award.
His 1998 Piano Trio — a bold, craggy, expansive work — has been performed around the country and in Europe. As a “typical Jalbert,” it combines modal, tonal, and dissonant harmonies, but reassuringly settles in some sort of tonal center.
The first movement is titled “Life Cycles.” It was inspired by the sound of the “really really fast” heartbeat of his first son that Jalbert heard before the boy was born — “the pulse becoming the inspiration for the music.”
The second movement, “Agnus Dei,” is slow and lyrical, following the three-part structure of the prayer for which it’s named. It is dedicated to Mother Theresa, who died at the time of the Trio’s composition.
For a still-young composer (a profession in which everybody under 60 is considered “young”), Jalbert has a significant CD presence, including his Chamber Symphony performed by Kahane’s L.A. Chamber Orchestra; his Visual Abstract by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble; Wood/Metal Music by the University of Houston Percussion Ensemble; the Trio (on the [email protected] program) from Cedille Records; and a handful more. Remarkable.
Amazingly productive, Jalbert has recently completed L’Œil écoute (The eye listens) for film/digitally created images with live music, premiered by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble earlier this month; Sonata for Piano, premiered in Houston last month; String Trio, premiered by the commissioning Janaki String Trio in Los Angeles; Autumn Rhapsody for string orchestra, premiered by the Vermont Symphony; String Quartet No. 4, premiered by the Escher String Quartet at the Caramoor Festival last summer, and being performed on the Escher tour of Europe this year; and Sonata for Cello and Piano, premiered by David Finckel and Wu Han at the Aspen Music Festival.
New Jalbert projects include a string quartet for the Emerson, and Quattro Mani for piano duo and percussion.More »
George Cleve is the conductor and founder of the Midsummer Mozart Festival. He was conductor of the San Jose Symphony for 20 years, and continues to conduct both in the U.S. and abroad.
Congratulations on the 35th season of the Midsummer Mozart Festival. What factors do you consider when programming the festival after all of these years?
More about Midsummer Mozart Festival »