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.
Few events can match the Carnival of Venice for sheer decadence. Since medieval times this annual celebration has blended civic festival, public holiday, and colorful masquerade to create a spectacle of unrivaled resplendence. The festivities could easily devolve into raucousness, with rivalries between geographical or religious factions played out through bull fights, street races of oxen and pigs, or even physical combat.
Although SFRV’s performance probably won’t lead to fisticuffs, Banchieri’s Festino should offer a heavy dose of the Carnival spirit. Originally composed as dinner entertainment, this madrigal collection incorporates everything from commedia dell’arte high jinks to an aesthetic debate on the virtues of newer versus older music. (For the record, Banchieri comes out firmly on the side of the avant-garde.) According to SFRV Music Director Todd Jolly, “The piece is just as entertaining today as it was in 1608 when Banchieri described his opus as ‘modern music,’ and will give our audiences a sense of the celebration of the Carnival of Venice.”
In stark contrast to Banchieri’s bacchanalia, Palestrina was the undisputed master of the refined prima prattica (first practice) that defined 16th-century Italian sacred music. Although he is just the kind of composer Banchieri might have faulted as old-fashioned, his pure, graceful, and elegant style has masterfully stood the test of time and remains extremely popular even to this day. Hearing one of Palestrina’s lesser-known masses, juxtaposed against the more boisterous Banchieri, offers an ideal window into the stunning diversity and craftsmanship of the Italian Renaissance.
But don’t go just for the music; go also to experience SFRV’s uniquely flamboyant performance style, a standout within the crowded field of Bay Area early music ensembles. Jolly takes particular delight in enlivening the traditional concertgoing experience using costumes, staging, and other theatrical devices. For the upcoming set, Jolly reports that the ensemble will be masked and in costume for the Banchieri, and also joined by distinctive guest artists including local actor Rick Homan, performing the narrative parts that Banchieri himself would have performed, plus members of the Celtic-tinged early music ensemble Brocelïande playing recorders, harp, and octave mandolin.
On a final note, one audience member will have a special chance to participate more directly in the festivities. For each performance, a raffle will be held and the lucky winner gets to appear onstage for a special cameo. No singing required — just a Carnival spirit.More about San Francisco Renaissance Voices »
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 »
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?