Previews

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.

Upcoming Concert
April 20, 2009
David Ramadanoff first encountered Carl Orff’s irresistible Carmina Burana as a student at Temple University in the late 1960s, singing in the massed choir that performed the lusty oratorio with players from the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra. Like countless others before and since, he was hooked.

“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 »
Artist Spotlight
April 20, 2009

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.

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Upcoming Concert
April 14, 2009

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.

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Upcoming Concert
April 14, 2009
Music Director Nicholas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra conclude their 28th season with Handel’s Athalia (see feature, an eminently operatic 1733 oratorio about the daughter of Jezebel, who usurped the throne of Judah by slaughtering all its rightful heirs with one exception, who — but let’s not spoil the story. The outstanding cast includes Marnie Breckenridge, Dominique Labelle, Robin Blaze, Thomas Cooley, and Roderick Williams. More »
Upcoming Concert
April 14, 2009

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 miss

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Upcoming Concert
April 14, 2009

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.

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Upcoming Concert
April 14, 2009
Benjamin Britten's monumental War Requiem will be heard Wednesday, April 22 at the UC Berkeley campus. The 200 voices of the University Chorus, Chamber Chorus, and Alumni Chorus will be joined by the Piedmont Children's Choir and a double orchestra, under the direction of Marika Kuzma, at 8 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall. Given that the large forces needed to perform this work are rarely available, this is an event not to be missed.

In the early 1960s, Britten set the War Requiem to traditional sacred texts along with the poetry of Wilfred Owen, who died in the trenches of World War I. It is disheartening to think how often the work has been a reflection on the times — looking back to the two World Wars and to the several wars since then, and seemingly finding no end to the use of war as the way to resolve disputes. The brutality, hypocrisy, and futility of war is described in many of Owen's poems. One of them, the powerful "Strange Meeting," is given voice by Britten at the end of his Requiem. In the words of Kuzma's announcement of the concert: "In the midst of the current economic crisis and continuing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the choirs offer this concert to our community as an acknowledgement of our common humanity and overriding desire for peace."

The soloists are Janice Chandler Eteme, Christòpheren Nomura, and Brian Staufenbiel. Chandler Eteme has sung Mozart, Mahler, and Brahms with the Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Cleveland orchestras, as well as specializing in spirituals and gospel music. Nomura, always welcome back to his native Bay Area, has performed with many distinguished orchestras, including a number of early music orchestras, such as the Philharmonia Baroque. His opera performances have included several Mozart roles, and he is the recipient of prestigious awards. Brian Staufenbiel, who has sung throughout the United States and Canada, is also an opera director. He is on the voice faculty of UC Santa Cruz.

More about UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus »
Upcoming Concert
April 13, 2009
During a season otherwise filled with the iconic works of Beethoven, Mahler, and Handel, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus under the baton of Ragnar Bohlin will explore its eclectic side on April 19. The program features Carl Orff’s hugely popular work Carmina Burana, but will also introduce listeners to the work of Lars Johan Werle, Eric Whitacre, Joseph Rheinberger, and Veljo Tormis.

Audience favorite Carmina Burana, arranged for choir, two pianos, and percussion by Wilhelm Kilmayer, earned a Grammy for the San Francisco Symphony in 1993. This time, it will feature soloists Chester Pidduck, Brian Leerhuber, and Ji Young Yang (described by San Francisco Classical Voice as having a “bright and stunningly agile” voice), as well as the Lower School Choir of Berkeley’s Crowden School.

While Carmina Burana will lure audiences, the works of the four lesser-known composers will be arguably more interesting. Joseph Rheinberger, born in Lichtenstein, wrote at the end of the 19th century, and is known primarily as an organist and composer of organ music. His Drei Geistliche Gesänge brings to mind the motets of Rheinberger’s contemporary Anton Bruckner in their densely romantic style.

The selections by Eric Whitacre (I thank you, God) and Lars-Johan Werle (trees) are both settings of e.e. cummings poems. Werle uses short, percussive phrases reminiscent of the quirky poet. I Thank You, God, on the other hand, is tuneful and sweeping. The Symphony Chorus will surely make great use of Whitacre’s soaring phrases and gestures.

Known for his large-scale choral works, Veljo Tormis often draws inspiration from Estonian folk traditions. Rather than simply setting folk tunes for chorus, however, the inspiration is more likely to come from a small phrase or gesture in a song, or even a textual reference. His extended 1972 work A Curse Upon Iron uses voices in a very orchestral manner, with speechlike phrases emerging from the thick texture. The work uses influences from shamanistic tradition to comment on what he called the “evil of war.”

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Upcoming Concert
April 10, 2009

The Oakland East Bay Symphony's April 17 concert at the Paramount Theatre "pairs two composers who were revolutionaries in their time, and who changed the course of music forever," says Music Director Michael Morgan. In the case of Beethoven, it's the youthful and pathbreaking 1798 Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Sara Buechner as soloist), and from Stravinsky, it's the riotous Petrouchka ballet suite (1947 version).

In addition to new harmonies and dynamics in both works, wild rhythms are special characteristics: In the third movement of the piano concerto, syncopation reaches the point of jazz, and the adventures of Petrouchka the puppet overwhelm with arrhythmical motions on the order of Chorea sancti viti (St. Vitus' dance), just on this side of dyskinesias. Both pieces burst with colors, huge swings in mood, and waves of raw power.

Petrouchka has an important role in the history of ballet. Stravinsky composed the music for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, which premiered it at the Théâtre du Chatelet in 1911, under Pierre Monteux — who, it may behoove young audiences to know, later became the longest-serving music director of the San Francisco Symphony, from 1935 to 1952. With choreography by Mikhail Fokine, sets by Alexandre Benois, and Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role, it's hard to get more historic. But the greatness of the occasion took decades to be appreciated, and the public had a hard time with the music, although it refrained from the outright riot that greeted The Rite of Spring two years later in the same Paris theater. (OEBS originally scheduled Rite, which requires a larger orchestra, for this program.)

It wasn't just the audience troubled by Petrouchka: The mighty Vienna Philharmonic refused to play the score, calling it "dirty music." I wonder what they would have made of Bartók's near-contemporary, far more erotic The Miraculous Mandarin back then; it did upset listeners in Cologne, and was banned in Germany. Thirty-six years after the premiere, Stravinsky reworked Petrouchka as an orchestral suite, but not to worry — he didn't "clean it up."

Not as well known as Wagner's "Tristan Chord," the "Petrouchka Chord" is interesting enough, with two major triads played together. Listen for this bitonality device heralding the appearance of the tragic hero of the piece.

This being Morgan's ever-contemporary OEBS, there is something new on the program. It's Mark Lanz Weiser's Four Scenes From the Story of Toccata and Fugue. The Southern California composer, 40, equally busy with movies and concert pieces, is a multiple ASCAP winner. His opera, Where Angels Fear to Tread, premiered at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

Of Four Scenes, Morgan says: "It's a short piece, a series of selections from a film score (tonal, evocative) and because it's for string orchestra, it reminds you of that other great string orchestra film score, Psycho — but without the insanity."

The film in question is Neal Thibedeau's 2007 thriller The Story of Tocatta and Fugue, whose main characters are named Gil Toccata and Andi Fugue, played by Graham Sibley and Annika Marks. ("Tocatta" in the film becomes "Toccata" in the concert program because, as the composer admitted to us: "I didn’t want people to think I don’t know how to spell that Italian word.")

To enhance further the concert's aural pomp and grand circumstances, Morgan opens the evening with Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 Russian Easter Overture. Note how the celebratory theme in this piece will later resonate in Petrouchka's carnival scenes. Mother Russia will be well served.

An hour before the concert starts (as Russian Orthodox Obikhod canticles, mixed with pagan rhythms, ring out), John Kendall Bailey presents a preconcert lecture.

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Upcoming Concert
April 7, 2009

San Francisco Chamber Orchestra concerts are always lively affairs. Music Director Benjamin Simon conducts and emcees, and the whole atmosphere is less formal than your average orchestra concert. Still, the players are good and musical values are properly attended to.

Bach is featured on this weekend's program – the ever popular Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, with flutist Tod Brody taking us through the bravura passagework of the final dance, and the Wedding Cantata (BWV 210), with soprano soloist Anja Strauss, who has been frequently lauded by SFCV reviewers. Also scheduled is a piece by an award-winning, young composer, Michael Gilbertson, and the Schleptet in E-Flat by P.D.Q. Bach, the goofiest Bach of them all.

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