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.
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 »
Over the last 18 years, Maestro Bruno Weil has transformed the Carmel Bach Festival into a major international event. The seaside festival, which celebrates the music of J.S. Bach and the composers inspired by him, is known for the rich range of its programming and the consistent high quality of its performances.
Not yet 29, conductor Alondra de la Parra made history as the first woman from Mexico to conduct in New York City. In her short career, she has presented more than 20 world premieres by such composers as Clarice Assad, Enrico Chapela, Paul Brantley, Paul Desenne, and Eugenio Toussaint.
In 2000, de la Parra moved to New York City where she received her B.A. in piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music, and her master’s in conducting. She has since made the city her home, where she resides with her husband.
But Bizet did much more than Carmen (and his Pearl Fishers does pop up often), Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci is just one of his 11 operas, and so on. What’s at work here is the popularity of one work, often at the expense of others.
The 1890 Cavalleria rusticana is what Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) is known for, though he actually produced 16 other operas and operettas. His Iris is an especially fine example of an unjustly neglected opera, and the 1891 L’amico Fritz (Friend Fritz) — the subject of our sermon today — is a splendid piece, coming soon to your neighborhood.
One of two operas staged by and for the 2009 Merola Program participants, L’amico Fritz will be performed at Cowell Theater on July 24 and 26. (The other Merola production is Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Aug. 7 and 9.)
Unlike the blood-and-gore verisimo of Cavalleria rusticana, Mascagni’s second opera, L’amico Fritz, is a “lyric comedy,” closer to operetta than opera. It is based on the novel L’ami Fritz by Émile Erckmann and Pierre-Alexandre Chatrian, taking place in a French community of Jews. (Although this has nothing to do with the opera, it’s worth noting that the Judeo-Alsatian community has a thousand years’ history.)
The story opens with a bet (shades of Così fan tutte!) between landowner/bachelor Fritz Kobus (sung by tenor Nathaniel Peake), and his friend, Rabbi David (baritone Aleksey Bogdanov).
Fritz stakes his vineyard on the bet that he will never marry. What and why the rabbi puts up against that is unclear. Of course, we all know how all this will work out, so not to worry about details.
The wager is greatly handicapped by the presence of the beauteous Suzel (soprano Sara Gartland), daughter of one of his tenants. Three acts, some minor complications, some gorgeous music, and the “Cherry Duet” later — excuse the spoiler — then the couple unites and the rabbi returns the vineyard to Suzel as a wedding present.
Warren Jones conducts members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and the stage director of the black-box production is Nic Muni. Other Merolini in the cast are Yohan Yi, Eleazar Rodrìguez, Susannah Biller, and Maya Lahyani.
The opera’s one and only local main stage production goes all the way back to 1924, on a double bill with Gianni Schicchi. It had a remarkable cast: Tito Schipa, Giuseppe de Luca, and Thalia Sabanieva; Gaetano Merola himself conducted. In 1976, Spring Opera produced L’amico Fritz with Vinson Cole, Frederick Burchinal, and Leona Mitchell.More »
This year, Gordon’s idea of fun involves not only music, but also pictures, colored lighting, spoken narrative, and a dash of playful stage business. For two performances of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, which Gordon calls “statistically the most recorded composition in history,” the festival will heighten the listening experience with projected paintings and stage lighting keyed to the program of the movements: a harsh orange light of the sun for “Summer,” something thinner and blue-toned for “Winter.”
As for the paintings, Gordon is tapping the composer’s Venetian contemporary Sebastiano Ricci, who actually may have inspired Vivaldi’s famous four-panel concerto. Instead of simply projecting full-frame images by Ricci and others of the period, a strategy that risks literalizing the score, Gordon plans a more impressionistic approach. Twelve scenes, of trees, sky water, shepherds, and so on — one for each section of The Four Seasons — will appear in partial, semiabstract, vague, or slightly blurred treatments on a five-by-10-foot screen at the Sunset Center Theater. Muslin drapes will add a further softening touch.
“The idea here is not to draw attention to how trendy and geeky we are, but to enhance the music’s affect and heighten our sensory awareness of it,” notes Gordon, who began his 21-year tenure at the festival as a tenor soloist. By employing the “basic principles of classical rhetoric — to entertain and engage the heart and thereby open opportunities for learning and insight” — Gordon believes this fresh approach to Vivaldi will remain true to the festival’s core mission.
This kind of experiment is a Carmel first. Details of how all the elements will come together are still being worked out. Gordon and Music Director Bruno Weil considered something similar a few years ago, when the idea of combining Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Albrecht Dürer etchings was proposed. But the match felt too specific and confining. The mixed-media scheme was scuttled until the right piece came along.
Festival regulars may feel more at home when it comes to “Haydn Seek: An Aha! Concert” scheduled for July 21 and 28. In a format first used in Carmel four years ago and repeated every year since, the “Aha!” programs merge spoken commentary and, recently, some visuals with the music. “It’s not a lecture concert,” Gordon hastens to explain. “We’re not telling the life of the composer or building some kind of argument. It’s a potpourri concert with a narrative thread.”
Built around movements from various symphonies, a piano trio, The Seasons, Mass in Time of War, and more, this year’s “Aha!” will touch on everything from Haydn’s superstar career in London to his depressions and his reputation as a ladies’ man. Don’t expect to have any gentle Papa Haydn predispositions confirmed. “People may experience a Haydn who is more exciting, more innovative, and more original than they think,” says Gordon, who will serve as onstage narrator.
No picture of Haydn would be complete without a nod to his humor. In what’s billed as a “reenactment” of the “Farewell” Symphony (No. 45, in F-sharp minor), the musicians will get into the act by getting offstage.More about Carmel Bach Festival »
Jonathan Khuner is a Bay Area classical music fixture. He is artistic and musical director for the Berkeley Opera. He also divides his time between the San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera as assistant conductor and a prompter for both companies.
The Berkeley Opera Company is doing The Ballad of Baby Doe this July. Why did you chose this opera?