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.
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 »
On Saturday, the Symphony performs its much-anticipated tribute to the music of the Final Fantasy video game.
That is followed by Sunday's free concert in Dolores Park, with James Earl Jones narrating Copland's Lincoln Portrait, along with music by Samuel Barber, George Gershwin, and a performance by the U.C. Berkeley Marching Band.More about San Francisco Symphony »
Romus, a saxophonist, runs a year-round music series at the Luggage Store (a gallery on the edge of the Tenderloin) and the Musicians’ Union Hall. His philosophy is “no limits,” meaning that he doesn’t know exactly what will happen during the New Music Summit concerts. He plans them for uninitiated listeners; you just have to like a bit of the unpredictable in your concertgoing experience. “Everything we do has that edge of being fun,” says Romus.
Opening the festival, as always, is the Touch the Gear event (July 19), which is both free and family friendly. Attendees can walk among the instruments, look them over, try a few of them out, and ask questions of the artists. And of course, we’re not talking violins here. For starters, you may get to see a Waterphone up close. This ambient music instrument from the 1960s has become a staple of sci-fi movie and television scores (The Matrix, Star Trek) and also was heard in Tan Dun’s score for the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Richard Waters, its inventor, hasn’t performed on the West Coast for many years, though he’s scheduled to appear both in concert and at Touch the Gear. In another vein, you’ll be able to visit a homemade, tabletop, electro-acoustic banjo, created by Tom Duff, a computer-graphics wizard at Pixar Studios. And Marnie Fox will bring the handmade cranks from his Crank Orchestra, among other things.
The concerts themselves are put together around large, somewhat amorphous categories of alternative music — free improvisation and composition (July 22); industrial soundscapes (July 23, earplugs provided); InterMedia (mixed media, July 24); and deep listening and improvisation. The range of music is extraordinary, helped by generous grants from the Zellerbach Foundation and the Meet the Composer Foundation. Unusual uses of computer electronics pop up in profusion. Natto brings its Japanese instruments to the Deep Listening concert, where you can also hear Waters, and the Left Coast Improv Group. Speaking of the latter, Romus says, “It’s an incredible group to behold — cellists, inventions, gongs, electronics, acoustic piano, a Chinese sheng, trumpet, trombone. And it varies.”
For the InterMedia night, composer/performer Jess Rowland has convinced the Dreamland Puppet Theater to travel from Ypsilanti, Michigan, to perform one of the musicals it created with Rowland. Romus is especially excited about the art installation, which will be shown that night. “Kathleen Gilbert has this beautiful set of translucent, recycled food barrels. They’re probably about four-and-a-half feet tall by three or four feet wide. And she lined these barrels with these beautiful cutouts, like old-fashioned shadow puppets. And then inside each one is a little sound device, and you can put your ear up to it and hear the sound. So in the courtyard that night we’ll have seven or eight different barrel scenes. And then inside they’re going to do some type of film and music performance.” And you didn’t think that an alternative music concert could be child-friendly.More about Outsound Presents »
Geary was honored with a Peace Child International Medal for cofounding the festival in 1993. Since then, the event has been held every two, now three, years. Top choirs, with children from 6 to 18, are chosen by audition to participate in the highly selective festival. Visitors are housed with local families, which enables cultural exchange and ultimately creates young musical ambassadors.
The award-winning Finnish choir Vox Aurea, directed by conductor Pekka Kostiainen, is the festival’s special guest ensemble, which will entertain throughout the week. Vox Aurea and Denmark’s MidtVest Pigekor are the featured ensembles on the Preview Concert, Sunday, July 12 at 2 p.m. at the San Leandro Main Library. The week continues with nightly community concerts at various Bay Area venues, most concerts being free.
Historic/Folk Competitions are held at First Congregational Church of Berkeley on July 15-17, when choirs will showcase indigenous music to the public. Also public is the contemporary music competition, which unfolds on Thursday the 17th at Oakland’s Mormon Interstake Center. Additionally, 35 choristers will compete in a vocal solo competition, closed to the public. A special Gala Closing Concert tops off the week, with all 500-plus voices on stage, led by a celebrated conductor and the lead competition adjudicator, Bob Chilcott. Festival Chair Robert Cole, along with concert emcee Sara Cahill, will welcome the audience, which will be treated to music by the competition winners of the week, on Saturday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall.
For members of the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, the festival is a learning opportunity. Both the training choir and select choirs are invited to sing along during opening and closing ceremonies, and to get to know some of their visitors on the week’s excursions. With the common love of music, new friends lead to new understandings. It’s a small world, after all.
GGF Participating Choirs
- Cantabella Children’s Chorus, from California
- Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale, from Colorado
- Hangzhou Aiyue Tianshi Choir, from The People’s Republic of China
- Kaohsiung Municipal Children’s Chorus, from Taiwan
- MidtVest Pigekor, from Denmark
- Mississippi Boychoir, from Mississippi
- Ragazzi Young Mens’ Enemble, from California
- SingersMarin, from California
- Vox Aurea, from Finland
For a full description of public events, visit the Web site.More »