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
May 11, 2009
Chatting with subscribers who have been with her for all of her ensemble’s 17 seasons, Barbara Day Turner had her mission confirmed. “They’re noting how much being constantly exposed to different things has changed how they listen to music,” Turner reports. “And how it’s changed their tastes.”

Her San José Chamber Orchestra’s May 17 concert at Le Petit Trianon assembles 17 string players in a breadth of emotion as well as chronology. The evening begins with 18th-century contemporaries Luigi Boccherini and Franz Josef Haydn, and continues with a pair of world premieres by the Bay Area’s William Susman and Anica Galindo, and for good measure a couple of 20th-century hits by George Gershwin and Dave Brubeck.

As music director and conductor, Turner’s success in championing new music (including more than 75 world premieres) last year earned the SJCO a first place ASCAP Award for Adventuresome Programming. Her advocacy of new music is also reflected “by the amount of scores that find their way to my front door, unbidden. It’s magnificent and sort of frightening at the same time.” That is, until she and the ensemble get familiar with the “language” of composers like Susman and Galindo, whom she has showcased before.

Their two new works are “actually sort of opposites,” says Turner. With Galindo’s Trinitas, the first part of a commissioned trilogy, “you have an extremely lyric piece that uses strings sort of in the way that Barber does in the Adagio, but not at the upper extreme so much. She uses larger blocks of sound, creating a really rich and warm texture.”

Zydeco Madness, in the words of Palo Alto composer William Susman, is “a response to and a reflection on Hurricane Katrina: the disaster, the tragic events that transpired during and after, and the lack of response to the people.” The title implies a connection to the popular music of the black Creoles of Louisiana, and to that music’s lead instrument, the accordion. The piece was presented in Chicago last month in a solo accordion setting, as performed by Russian virtuoso Stas Venglevski, and has been reset with the SJCO functioning “like a giant accordion on steroids,” in Susman’s words. The composer’s notations on the score reflect his approach to depicting the tragedy, setting out with rapid phrases of “Flowing Hell,” slowing with “Marooned,” and building to a “Hysterically Grinding” emotional high point. Susman, who had grown close to the bedeviled area during his student days at Tulane, evokes the funkiness of zydeco and the wail of Katrina through extensive use of Sul ponticello bowing, tremolo, and other dramatic techniques.

For Turner, the other pieces of her May 17 program are linked with the new compositions in that they all convey “the concept of spirit.” The Boccherini, arranged by Michael Touchi, reflects “the particular flair of Spanish dance” through the eyes and ears of a classical Italian. Touchi’s arrangement of Haydn’s “Emperor” Quartet transports the listener to the “incredibly elegant Austrian spirit” of the late 18th century. Gershwin’s Summertime (arr. William Zinn) and Brubeck’s Blue Rondo à la Turk (arr. Jeremy Cohen) will end the evening in “a quintessentially American spirit,” with evidence of the rewards of cross-pollinating genres.

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Upcoming Concert
May 11, 2009
America can’t get enough of Mason Bates, the young alchemist who blends the sonority of traditional ensembles like the symphony orchestra with the limitless possibilities of computer-generated “electronica.” It’s almost as if we’ve been waiting for just such a sorcerer to put a bit of groove in our Grieg, to mix up our Messien, to bring something fresh and transformational to the concert hall. This isn’t your grandpa’s orchestra. Plus, Bates' novelty is paired with Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto, with youngster Yuja Wang on the bench.

On Wednesday, May 20, and Friday and Saturday, May 22-23, the San Francisco Symphony unveils Bates’ pithy new work  The B-Sides, commissioned and conducted by Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas. The work amalgamates Bates’ mastery of symphonic composition and his active career as DJ Masonic, mixing and spinning dance music in techno clubs, modern art museums, and art spaces. The B-Sides refers to Bates’ concept of the more alternative, edgy songs found on the flip side of a popular album, and serves to unify the five short movements.

Bates, who will trigger the electronic elements on his laptop from the percussion section, describes the piece as five sound environments based on texture and groove. The first section is “Broom of the System” and utilizes an actual broom in its pulsing rhythmic soundscape. The second, “Aerosol Melody (Hanalei),” is a purely acoustic evocation of the Northshore of Kauai and the softly undulating sea. “Gemini in the Solar Wind” is an example of how Bates uses electronica elements as “more than just a dance beat.”

He says: “Electronics add a totally different acoustic to the orchestra, such as the low sound of a subwoofer. In the case of this movement, I’m excited about the addition of voices, actual samples from the 1965 Gemini IV Voyage given to me by NASA. These are sounds you could not otherwise produce from an orchestra.” The fourth movement “Temescal Noir” (after the Oakland neighborhood) does not use electronics but adds a typewriter and an oil drum to the percussion section. Finally, “Warehouse Machine” is what Bates describes as “an all-out tribute to Detroit techno.” Hear this last movement‘s trial run at Carnegie Hall on April 15 by the YouTube orchestra, also the brainchild of MTT.

The B-Sides is one in a series of successful commissions by this prolific young composer. In March Bates presented the premiere of his new work Sirens with Chanticleer, and a new work for the California Symphony where he is Young American Composer-in-Residence. His Music from Underground Spaces was premiered by the California Symphony in May 2008. Other recent projects are almost too numerous to mention. Liquid Interface was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Leonard Slatkin at the Kennedy Center and later in Carnegie Hall. In the past five years he’s received commissions from notable orchestras such as The Juilliard School (celebrating its 100th anniversary in January 2006), the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the American Composers Orchestra in New York.

When Michael Tilson Thomas became aware of Bates’ music in 2007, he invited him backstage during intermission at Davies Symphony Hall to discuss the possible commission. During that short break in the concert the concept was born. Mason was thrilled to work with a conductor who is also a composer, and with musicians who are friends of his.

Bates is also excited about his DJ project Mercury Soul, which he says “superimposes a techno dance party on classical music”. He and a creative cast together with conductor Benjamin Shwartz present this extravaganza on May 28 at San Francisco’s Mezzanine. (Visit for more information.) Get a taste of this project at the Symphony’s “Davies After Hours” party, Friday, May 22, after the concert, free to all concertgoers.

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Upcoming Concert
May 11, 2009

Volti’s motto is “Singing without a net,” and the San Francisco-based vocal ensemble led by Music Director Robert Geary does indeed stay on the forefront of contemporary choral music.

Currently in its 30th anniversary season, the group returns in May with a far-reaching program featuring premieres by Donald Crockett and Robert Paterson, along with contemporary choral works by Kirke Mechem, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Sungji Hong.

Of particular interest is Crockett’s Daglarym/My Mountains. Composed on commission from Volti, with texts by Katherine Vincent, the set of five movements is inspired by the folk music traditions of Tuva. Geary praises the beauties of the score, calling it “evocative of sweeping landscapes and a pastoral and meditative existence.”

Paterson’s On the Day the World Ends (another Volti commission) is a cycle of three pieces incorporating poetry by Czeslaw Miosz, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Mary Elizabeth Frye. Also included are Mechem’s Three Madrigals, a setting of texts by the composer’s father, poet and author Kirke F. Mechem, and Kernis’ Ecstatic Meditations, which incorporates writings by 13th-century mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg. Hong’s Emendemus in melius completes the program.

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Upcoming Concert
May 6, 2009

Well-known Bay Area cellist Bonnie Hampton’s relationship with the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra goes back to the time when she was a principal with the orchestra, and played a concerto with them. And, in fact, the group was founded 74 years ago at the suggestion of her mother, Clarabelle Bell.

For the group’s spring concert, their honored alumna returns to play Ernest Bloch’s powerful “Rhapsody on Hebraic Themes” Schelomo with them. David Ramadanoff, who has helmed the orchestra for the past 20 years, also conducts Jim Beckel’s Musica Mobilis and a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The concert is preceded by a silent auction at 6:30 p.m.

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Upcoming Concert
May 5, 2009

The San Francisco Symphony and the Symphony Chorus contribute to the year’s Handel festivities with performances of three of the composer’s Coronation Anthems for King George II, and the Dettingen Te Deum. Both the anthems and the Te Deum (which commemorates a British military victory) are celebratory in the grand sense.

The Te Deum, especially, is festooned with a riot of instrumental color and moods that swing wildly from the bristling, martial opening, to the gentler chorus that follows and the more introspective “When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man.” Rarely has a royal family been so well-served by its official composer.

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Upcoming Concert
May 5, 2009

The last of the season’s San Francisco Performances-sponsored “Salons at the Rex” features the Cypress Quartet’s cellist, Jennifer Kloetzel, accompanied by Lara Downes on piano. The Salons are a wonderful, interactive musical experience.

They are short concerts, in an intimate setting ideal for chamber music. The atmosphere is informal and musicians may talk about the selections they perform, and sometimes about themselves as well.

Both Kloetzel and Downes share wide-ranging musical interests, so there may be some delightful surprises in store for the lucky audience.

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Upcoming Concert
May 5, 2009
Quality is a given when it comes to the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus (GGMC). First and foremost, its director for the last 13 years has been Joseph Jennings, longtime music director of Chanticleer. Even if you don’t know the repertoire, which is most likely the case with the chorus’s forthcoming concert of "Sacred Harmonies," the fact that Jennings has chosen it insures that beautiful, oft-compelling discoveries are in store.Chief among the attractions of the forthcoming concert, which will be held in the glorious acoustic of the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco, is the U.S. premiere of contemporary Lithuanian composer Vytautas Miškinis’ 10-movement Magnificat for men’s chorus and organ. Born in 1954, Miškinis is artistic director of the Azuoliukas Boys’ and Men Choir, professor of choral conducting at the Lithuanian Academy of Music, and president of the Lithuanian Choral Union. Although recordings of his music are hard to come by, we are assured by long-time chorus member LaMont Ridgell that his Magnificat is “very melodic.” When the GGMC sang Miškinis’ Te Lucis at the Association of Gay and Lesbian Choruses Convention last summer, they received a standing ovation.

While composers Hugo Wolf and Felix Mendelssohn are household names to the initiated, few know either Wolf’s Six Spiritual Songs on poems by Joseph von Eichendorff or Mendelssohn’s four movement sacred cantata for men’s chorus, Es Werde Licht. A diligent search on iTunes reveal 30-second clips of the Wolf, performed in SATB form, which are as warm and lovely as can be. In this performance, rearranged for male voices, Jerome Lenk will play the basilica’s Allen organ.

Jennings has also chosen even more obscure repertoire for the concert, including Dixit Dominus Domino Meo by Lajos Bárdos and two works that take full advantage of Mission Dolores’ antiphonal, “surround sound” capacity, Salve Regina by Renaissance composer Andreas Hakenberger, and Amen by living composer Dan Forrest. Rounding out the program is the “hauntingly beautiful” Milost Mira (A Mercy of Peace) by Soviet composer Nikolai Golovanov.

The 50-member all-male GGMC, originally known as the Dick Kramer Gay Men’s Chorale when gay chorus pioneer Kramer founded it in 1982, attempts to reflect the ethnic and social diversity of San Francisco. Jennings has promoted such a high degree of musical proficiency among its members that the GGMC frequently tackles challenging repertoire that other community choruses tend to avoid. This is a great opportunity to discover wonderful music rarely performed in this country.

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Upcoming Concert
May 5, 2009
On Mother’s Day, as on most holidays, concertgoing opportunities will be limited, as presenters fear loss of their audience to other activities, such as the traditional Mother’s Day whitewater rafting trip, or the traditional Mother’s Day Spam-sandwich-dinner-cooked-by-your-5-year-old.

For those who would celebrate the holiday by taking mom to a concert there is an option courtesy of Chamber Music San Francisco. As part of its newly expanded activities, CMSF has asked prominent Bay Area early music musicians to present a program of Bach and Vivaldi. These heavy hitters (Judith Linsenberg and Kit Higginson on recorders; Kati Kyme, Cynthia Freivogel, Cynthia Roberts, David Daniel Bowes, Tanya Tomkins, Farley Pearce, strings; and Katherine Heater, harpsichord) may not be household names, but they’re all top-rank professionals playing on period instruments. And since most of them are members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the American Bach Soloists, they play together a fair bit.

There’s a reason Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are among his best-loved pieces — they’re great entertainment as well as great music. All of these players have the early music knowledge to make the Brandenburgs dance (Nos. 4 and 5 are on the program). And Linsenberg has been putting virtuosic zing into Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Minor (RV 441) for some time. You can hear her on Fire Beneath My Fingers and a number of other CDs released by Musica Pacifica, the group she cofounded.

Kyme was an original member of both PBO and ABS, and has performed in orchestras worldwide, including the premiere performance of Shaker Loops at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, back in 1979. She’s also a member of the New Esterházy Quartet, which has just released another recording in its series of Haydn string quartets, The Fabulous Fifties.

Tomkins is as renowned a soloist as an orchestra member, and her performance of the Bach Cello Suites was a highlight of this past season. She’s also one of the more physically expressive players you’ll see, so she’s great to watch as well as hear.

The Frances Gould Theatre at the San Francisco Legion of Honor is the perfect place to go see a concert. You’re up close and the sound is better than in most of the auditoriums where you typically get to hear these players. And the musicians are exciting to watch, too, as anyone was has attended a Philharmonia Baroque or ABS concert can aver. So no matter how you’ve planned to fete Mom, a little live music can only make it better.

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Artist Spotlight
May 4, 2009

From May 14 through May 19, the New Century Chamber Orchestra will perform its final program of the season, titled "Shadows and Light." The conductorless string orchestra, led by one of the world’s most preeminent violinists, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, will be performing in Berkeley, Palo Alto, Marin, and San Francisco. I caught up with her to chat about the program and the orchestra as well as find out more about what makes her tick.

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Upcoming Concert
April 28, 2009

The pleasures and horrors of night follow upon one another when the New Century Chamber Orchestra opens its program with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and follows it immediately with music from Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho.

If you die and go to heaven, you could next do worse than listen later in the program to the passionate violinist/conductor Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg play a world premiere by the melodic Brazilian composer Clarice Assad. Also featured is music by Alexander Borodin and Johann Strauss Jr.

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