Monday, October 23, 2017

Angela Gheorghiu Returns to Warner Classics

from Amazon.com

This past Friday Warner Classics released the first studio recording to be made in six years featuring soprano Angela Gheorghiu. The title of the album is Eternamente – The Verismo Album. Its fourteen tracks survey the repertoire of opera and song by Italian composers of the generation that followed Giuseppe Verdi. This is a period that is roughly framed by Arrigo Boito (who provided Verdi with some of his best libretto texts) at one and and Giacomo Puccini at the other. The conductor is Emmanuel Villaume leading the Prague Philharmonia, for which he is Chief Conductor, and, on two tracks, the Prague Philharmonic Choir.

Releases like these tend to be “all about the diva” albums; so it is worth noting that Gheorghiu is joined by tenor Joseph Calleja on three tracks that happen to make for some of the most compelling listening on the recording. The opening three tracks of the album are devoted to Pietro Mascagni’s one-act opera “Cavalleria rusticana,” the last of which is the climactic duet between Santuzza and Turiddu. At the other end the album concludes with the final duet from Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, in which Chénier and Maddalena de Coigny sing of their love before both of them are summoned to their execution of the guillotine by the jailer Schmidt (one spoken line delivered by Emmanuel von Oeyen). They also sing in the excerpt from the third act of Boito’s Mefistofele, when Faust visits Margherita in her prison cell, only to be interrupted by Mefistofele (bass Richard Novak). The excerpt continues to the end of the act, when Margherita rejects Faust and the Celestial Host (the choir) proclaims her redemption.

Taken as a whole, the album brings to mind that famous remark made by Abraham Lincoln:
For people who like that sort of thing, that is about the sort of a thing they would like.
Those who follow this site regularly know that I spend a generous amount of time at opera performances. However, I tend to focus on the “big picture” of how the score has been interpreted, as well as the suitability of the staging. This sometimes puts me at odds with those in the audience who just want to be blown away from powerful solos and duets.

With that as context, I have to say that I felt that Gheorghiu was singing to the most distant balcony seats even though she was in a recording studio. There are almost always intimate moments in even the most familiar warhorse selections, but intimacy does not seem to be a priority in this album. Nevertheless, “those who like that sort of thing” will probably be more than satisfied with what this album delivers.

The Bleeding Edge: 10/23/2017

This is shaping up to be a relatively quiet week. Aside from two gigs that have already been announced, the major activity in San Francisco will be a series of four concerts under the selective title Psycho Jazz in the Bay. The two previously announced events are as follows in chronological order:
October 24: the visit of Left Edge Percussion to the Center for New Music
October 26: the final Luggage Store Creative Music Series event in October
The four Psycho Jazz in the Bay concerts will take place at three different venues. The last will be an early show beginning at 5:15 p.m., and all others will start at 8 p.m. Each gig will feature a performance by Wolf Eyes, which has arranged the entire series. Admission will be $15 at the door for all performances. Here are the day-by-day specifics, including performers, venue, and, where appropriate, a hyperlink for advance purchase:

October 25, Peacock Lounge: The Peacock Lounge continues to host groups that are definitely out there on the bleeding edge, in name as well as in practice. The four sets for the opening concert will be taken by Wolf Eyes, SBSM, Neha Spellfish, and Beast Nest. Doors will open at 7:45 p.m. to enable the first set to begin at 8 p.m. sharp. Tickets purchased in advance are available through a Brown Paper Tickets event page and are only $12. The Peacock Lounge is located in the Lower Haight at 552 Haight Street.

October 26, Peacock Lounge: The Peacock Lounge will also host the second concert in the series. Wolf Eyes will return; and the other three sets will be taken by Bran(…)Pos, Gaiamamoo, and False None. Doors will again open at 7:45 p.m. for a prompt beginning. Discounted tickets are again available from the same Brown Paper Tickets event page. (There is a pull-down menu for selecting the date.)

October 27, Seismic Retrofitters: This will be a longer evening with greater variety. The first hour will be devoted to Guerilla Comedy, featuring performances by A Wolf Home Companion, Annick Adelle, Richard Savate, and Florentina Tanase. The music will then start at 9 p.m. and last for about three hours. In addition to Wolf Eyes, the performing groups will be Las Sucias, the William Winant Quartet (featuring Josh Allen, Joshua Marshall, and Aaron Levin), and Oracle Plus. Discounted tickets for this concert will be available from a separate Brown Paper Tickets event page. Seismic Retrofitters is located near Alamo Square at 650 Divisadero Street at the southeast corner of Grove Street.

October 29, Elbo Room: This is the concluding early show, which will be a program of music and magic. Wolf Eyes will be joined by Cruor Incendia, Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase, and Matt & Paul Magic. Doors will open at 5 p.m. for a prompt beginning at 5:15 p.m. Tickets will be sold only at the door on a first-come-first-served basis. The Elbo Room is located in the Mission at 647 Valencia Street.

The Organist as Orchestrator

Every season I try to make sure that my schedule includes at least one of the organ recitals presented by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in Davies Symphony Hall. This is due in part to my desire to maintain an acquaintance with the Ruffatti Concert Organ, which I have always felt deserves to be heard rather than just seen. During my student days I had a generous number of friends that were serious about the organ, many just as listeners but some as students of the instrument. However, after I left the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, my contacts with organs and organists were few and far between, which is why I am now glad to live in a city that offers the sort of series of scheduled recitals that SFS does.

Nevertheless, I must confess that my tastes are about as limited as my familiarity with organists. Where personal listening is concerned, there are only three composers that really occupy my time: Johann Sebastian Bach, Max Reger, and Olivier Messiaen. On the performance side, there is only one organist that I try to make a point of listening to on the infrequent occasions of his visits, Paul Jacobs.

In spite of those restrictions, I came away from yesterday afternoon’s first concert in this season’s SFS Organ Recital Series with more lively memories than usual. This was a debut recital by Nathan Laube, Assistant Professor of Organ at the Eastman School of Music. Laube was one of those organists who is not shy about presenting a personal perspective on what he has chosen to play. This may have been due, at least in part, to his decision to play one of his own transcriptions; but, from a more general point of view, he had much of value to say about the music, the instrument, and how he chose to approach that instrument.

Most important was probably the way in which he compared preparing a performance to the process of orchestration. Organ scores rarely specify very much about stop selection, which makes sense because every instrument has its own set of pipes situated in its own unique acoustical space. As a result, these are decisions that must be left to the performer.

In Bach’s day these decisions were relatively limited, but diversity of available sonorities was already on the rise during the Baroque period. When electricity began to prevail over mechanics (for smooth control of the bellows as well as stop selection), the possibilities for a wide variety of sonorities grew significantly. Digital technology advanced the possibilities even further. The restoration of the organ at Notre Dame de Paris involved a control system that requires three local area networks.

What has emerged from all of these advances amounts to a challenge to every organist. The challenge is that the performer must know as much about orchestration, which involves not only choosing instruments but also understanding how they blend, as about the physical technique of managing multiple manual keyboards and one pedal keyboard. In that context it should be no surprise that one of the best-known conductors from the twentieth century, Leopold Stokowski, should have established a career as an organist before taking on his first conducting assignments. Virgil Thomson was well aware of this connection; and his reviews frequently referred to how Stokowski would conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra as if he were playing an organ, treating the different sections of the ensemble as different ranks of pipes. It should also be no surprise that Stokowski arranged Bach organ compositions for full orchestra, as did Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Eugene Ormandy; and they are but two of many. The only orchestral score I have seen for Bach’s BWV 582 passacaglia in C minor was by Ottorino Respighi, but I have yet to listen to his treatment.

BWV 582 was Laube’s Bach selection yesterday afternoon. Listening to his command of the five manuals and the pedals, I found it hard to resist thinking of Stokowski. For Bach this may have been yet another exploration of the possibilities of variation on a theme that could then be used as a fugue subject. For Stokowski-the-transcriber variation in sonority become the foremost priority, even to a point that Bach’s ingenious approaches to counterpoint would occasionally be obscured. From that perspective one might say that Laube was truer to Stokowski than he was to Bach; but, when one has the abundant resources of the Ruffatti Concert Organ at one’s disposal, why restrict oneself to the more limited resources of past centuries?

Indeed, Laube’s skills were most evident when he presented his own efforts at transcription. His selection was Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 54, a solo piano composition that he entitled “Variations sérieuses.” This is music that abounds with Mendelssohn’s capacity for virtuoso keyboard technique. Nevertheless, Laube managed to rethink those variations in terms of different sonorous effects, rather than displays of keyboard skill. The results were, for the most part impressive, only losing their way in the Presto coda for the set, which would have been as much of a strain on a full orchestra as it was on the Ruffatti pipes.

The remaining selections on the program were all by twentieth-century organists. Of these the most engaging was Jean Roger-Ducasse’s 1909 pastorale, with its portrait of a country landscape before, during, and after a storm. Less convincing were the compositions of Maurice Duruflé and Joseph Jongen, both of whom had a capacity for elaborate development of thematic material but tended to exercise that capacity beyond the limits of human patience. More compelling was Laube’s encore selection, the Andante sostenuto from Charles-Marie Widor’s ninth organ symphony, which was given the title “Symphonie Gothique.”

However, even if yesterday afternoon succumbed to occasional lapses in over-indulgence, Laube’s approach to the Ruffatti instrument was far more revelatory than one tends to expect from these Davies recitals; and he definitely deserves to be invited back for a return visit.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Red Poppy Art House: November, 2017

Like the Center for New Music (C4NM), the Red Poppy Art House will have a busy November with the “density” of events lessening around Thanksgiving time. However, things will be a bit more active at the end of the month. In any event, while October was busy enough for the first half of the month to merit its own column, this article will take in all scheduled musical events for next month.

The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street on the southwest corner of 23rd Street. Tickets are usually available only at the door. In November not all of the shows will begin at 7:30 p.m.; so starting time will be indicated on an event-by-event basis. Those who have not previously been to the Poppy need to know that it is a small space. Even if tickets have been purchased in advance, it is almost always a good idea to be there when the doors open one half-hour before the performance is scheduled to begin. Here are the specifics for the events scheduled for the November:

Thursday, November 2, 7:30 p.m.: Beautiful Death is a program that will bring the local WaterSaw quartet together with Sisu Brassland. Both groups will be appearing at the Red Poppy for the first time. The title of the program refers to a series of selections that will explore the raw beauty and viscerally moving aspects in the transition from life to death. WaterSaw has two vocalists, Nicole Laby, who also plays both percussion and guitar, and Mia Pixley, who doubles on cello. They are joined by a rhythm section of Michael Tornatore on drums and Mark Fasset on both bass and guitar. Sisu Brassland is led by Aaron Priskorn, and the other members have not yet been announced. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Friday, November 3, 7 p.m.: Four Poets and Their Music: Internationalist Poems & Music of Resistance will feature poetry readings by Bonafide Rojas, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Bonne Kwong, and Josiah Luis Alderete. They will collaborate with guitarists Peck the Town Crier, Oliver Mok, and Eli Carlton-Pearson. The poems will explore themes of imperialism, cultural identity, cultural resistance, love, and revolution.  Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Saturday, November 4, 7:30 p.m.: This program will celebrate the release of a new ten-inch vinyl record of original cinematic acoustic music by Doralice, the duo of violinist Rima Ash and guitarist Yates Brown. The opening set will be taken by Wolf & Crow, the cinematic folk duo of vocalists Zachary Vieira and Mathieu Stemmelen, both of whom accompany with guitars. The record albums include custom paper-cut art by Bianca Levan, who will be sharing some of her work as part of the evening. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20. A limited number of tickets will be available in advance for $15 online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page.

Sunday, November 5, 7:30 p.m.: The passing of Daylight Savings Time will be celebrated with two sets of solo guitar music. In the first set Wonder will be making her Poppy debut with a selection of her original songs and stories. Her vocal work is self-accompanied on acoustic guitar, ukulele, and effects pedals. She will be followed by the 100 Years of Guitar project of William Smith, who will explore the last century of acoustic and electric guitar tradition. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Wednesday, November 8, 7:30 p.m.: This program will celebrate the recent release of the album Monduland by Brazilian percussionist Tulio Araujo. Araujo plays the pandeiro, a tambourine-style frame drum. (The name is used in Portugal and Galicia, as well as Brazil.) He will lead a combo that will include Luca Telles on seven-string guitar, Igor Neves on piano, and Felipe Vilas Boas on bass. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20. A limited number of tickets will be available in advance for $15 online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page.

Thursday, November 9, 7:30 p.m.: This will be an eclectic evening of Balkan, Turkish, and Spanish songs. Jenny Luna will be the vocalist accompanying herself on the cajón, a box drum that originated in Peru. She will be joined by clarinetist Calvin Lai and guitarist Gopal Slavonic. In addition, Bianca Rodriguez will perform flamenco dance. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Friday, November 10, 7:30 p.m.: Prior to performing its double bill of one-act operas at C4NM on November 12, Opera on the Spot will present the same program two days earlier at the Poppy. The price will basically be the same as that charged at C4NM. General admission will be $20, and students will be admitted for $15. However, in this case tickets will be sold only at the door.

Friday, November 17, 7:30 p.m.: Vocalist and New Orleans native Michelle Jacques will return to the Poppy, having established herself as Oakland’s “Queen of New Orleans Music.” She has accumulated a repertoire of jazz, funk, soul, Creole, Cajun, gospel, Caribbean, African, Zydeco, rock, and Mardi Gras Indian chants, all of which she blends into her own musical gumbo. She will be performing with Rhonda Crane (vocals), Bryan Dyer (vocals and horn), Donna Viscuso (woodwinds), Eric Swinderman (guitar), Kevin Scott (bass), and Michaelle Goerlitz (drums). Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Saturday, November 25, 7:30 p.m.: Two visitors will join forces to present a program of modern chamber jazz with Latin and pop influences. Jason Anick plays both violin and mandolin and is currently one of the youngest instructors at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He will be joined by pianist Jason Yeager, who is currently based in New York City. Their influences include both the Great American Songbook and the Beatles. This will be their first Red Poppy show together, and they will probably play songs from their recently released album United. Members of their rhythm section have not yet been announced. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Sunday, November 26, 2 p.m.: This will be the October installment of the free Monthly Community Rumba, which has been previously described. While this is a free event, donations are warmly accepted. All donated money goes to the performing musicians, and a recommended amount is between $5 and $10.

Thursday, November 30, 7:30 p.m.: The month will conclude with a visit from pianist and composer Dahveed Behroozi. Behroozi is equally at home with jazz, classical, and new music. He has planned an evening of Great American Songbook explorations and improvisations. This will be his Red Poppy debut as a leader, but the members of the rest of his group have not yet been announced. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Splendid Shostakovich from Conservatory Orchestra

Last night in the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), the Conservatory Orchestra gave the first of two performances under the baton of visiting conductor Christian Reif. The high point of the evening came with the appearance of the winner of the 2016–17 Piano Concerto Competition, Thai pianist Puripat Paesaroch (’17). His concerto selection was Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 102 concerto in F major, which the composer wrote for the graduation performance by his son Maxim at the Moscow Conservatory.

The concerto was first performed in May of 1957, a little over four years after the death of Joseph Stalin. Stalin had been a ruthless scourge of artistic creativity, and Shostakovich had to endure much of the worst of his discontent. Nevertheless, brutal authoritarianism remained in the Soviet Union even after Stalin’s death; and Shostakovich never got over the haunting thought that he could always be a target for those who disliked his music. Nevertheless, the Opus 102 concerto is clearly an affectionate composition and one in which the composer succeeded in reviving that sense of humor that had made his first piano concerto (Opus 35 in C minor) such a thoroughly raucous delight.

Several different moods permeate Opus 102, but unabashed wit lies at its heart, dominating the two outer movements. Within that framework the inner Andante movement is unabashedly intimate and might even be taken as a reflection on the piano concerto writing of Maurice Ravel. However, it is the outrageous prancing of the two Allegro movements that frame this Andante that make the concerto such a delight. It is as if Shostakovich had finally mustered the courage to smile again, and every smile seemed ready to erupt into an unrestrained belly laugh.

Beyond the overall spirit, there is one explicit joke directed at Maxim. The third movement includes an explicit citation of the very first exercise in The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises by Charles-Louis Hanon (not Carl Czerny, who was mistakenly cited in Madison Roesler’s note for the program book). Shostakovich supposedly said that this was the only way to get Maxim to do his exercises!

Paesaroch’s performance rose superbly to every technical challenge that Shostakovich wove into this score and then took things up a notch. He appeared as a highly physical pianist but just as much a focused one. The result was that the composer’s high spirits were unleashed in full force, but the letter of the text was never neglected. From the podium Reif masterfully commanded the many different instrumental punctuation marks that embellished all of that piano work. The attentive listener was well aware of the many colors of the composer’s approach to instrumentation, firmly establishing that this was not a concerto that was only about displaying the soloist’s skills.

Less impressive was the world premiere of the Jim Highsmith Award, granted every year to an SFCM composition student or alumnus. The 2017 winner was Peter Englebert, due to graduate this coming spring after studying with both David Conte and David Garner. Englebert provided the following note for the program book:
Vagaries is a single-movement tone poem for orchestra, a story of sudden and unpredictable change, about experiencing the unpredictable events of life that leave us a changed person. It is about the impossibility of returning to the past: how things that once gave us pleasure no longer, or perhaps we suddenly appreciate things we used to overlook.
That is an awful lot of words for such a short composition. The fact is that “aboutness” is a field planted with numerous deadly mines, even when one is restricting attention to the semantics of natural language. When one moves into any other medium of expression, the mines graduate to the power of thermonuclear devices.

There is a (probably apocryphal) story about John Cage in this regard. One day he was approached by someone on the street who demanded to know what 4’33” was about. Not missing a beat, Cage replied that it was about four minutes and 33 seconds long.

Presumably Englebert recognized that any semantic capacity of music must be connotational, rather than denotational. Such connotations were evident in his opening measure, but they did not last very long. Ultimately, “Vagaries” emerged as an exercise in exploring the full breadth of sonorities of a large symphony orchestra. However, the composer’s ability to balance those different resources was never up to a caliber that could suggest “sudden and unpredictable change.” Instead, one was subjected to soaring gestures by large groups (such as the string section) and punctuations struggling to be heard when so many instruments were so active.

This raises the question of whether balancing those resources was more a problem of conductor John Masko (’18), currently a conducting fellow, or that of the score itself. Masko certainly led the Conservatory Orchestra with confidence, and he appeared to have internalized enough of the score to devote most of his focus to the players. Nevertheless, it was hard to ignore problems with overall balance within all the activity that Engelbert had packed into that score.

On the other hand the problem may have been one of too many musicians packed into a space never intended for such a crowd. That was certainly the case during the second half of the program, when Reif conducted Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 45 “Symphonic Dances.” While the dance qualities of his thematic material are unmistakable, one gets the impression that Rachmaninoff was more interested in finding new dimensions of expressiveness through the exploration of instrumentation. In contrast to Masko, Reif brought a sure hand to the management of the full breadth of Rachmaninoff’s instrumental demands. However, even with his attentiveness to detail, it was clear that there were still sonorities struggling to be heard; and one had to wonder whether that struggle could have been averted by cutting down the string sections enough to provided everyone else with a bit more “breathing space.”

On a more positive note it is important to conclude by observing that, following his success with the Shostakovich concerto, Paesaroch responded to audience approval with an encore. He selected “Feux d’artifice” (fireworks), the last of Claude Debussy’s 24 preludes for solo piano. This seemed like the perfect response to all the fireworks that Shostakovich had unleashed in his Opus 102 concerto; and Paesaroch’s technique in approaching this highly challenging score was consistently right on the money. Nevertheless, “Feux d’artifice” is also one of Debussy’s longer preludes; and Paesaroch seemed to be still trying to establish an overall framework in which the music is more than a series of colorful detonations. Having established his firm hand on every technical challenge that Debussy posed, Paesaroch now needs to start thinking about how to make the “aboutness” of this music (with such a semantically explicit title) succeed to a greater extent than Englebert had achieved with the concept of vagaries.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Music for All Saints and All Souls from Schola Adventus

 Fra Angelico's The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

November begins with two major Christian festivals celebrated on two consecutive days. In the Western calendar All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1, followed by the commemoration of the faithful departed on All Souls’ Day, November 2. Indeed, to be accurate about things, All Saints’ Day is preceded by a Vespers service at the end of the preceding day, October 31. That is known as the All Hallows’ Eve service, whose name would subsequently be shortened to Halloween. Thus, the services taking place on the three days from October 31 to November 2 are known collectively as Allhallowtide, during which prayers are said for the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and those aforementioned faithful departed.

The Church of the Advent of Christ the King will celebrate High Mass on both All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. As is always the case on such major occasions, resident choir Schola Adventus, under the leadership of Music Director Paul Ellison, will provide the music for both of these services. The Mass setting for All Saints’ Day will be Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Missa O quam gloriosum, and on All Souls’ Day Schola Adventus will sing Juan Vásquez’ setting of the Requiem text.

The All Souls’ Day service will also included the chanting of the Dies irae (day of wrath) sequence, along with additional Gregorian chant interpolations. On All Saints’ Day Schola Adventus will sing the Gregorian chant for the propers of the day. They will also sing an introit (“Rejoice we all” by Healy Willan), a gradual (“Holy is the true light” by William Henry Harris), and an anthem (“Give us the wings of faith” by Ernest Bullock). Finally, there will be a performance of Victoria’s “O quam gloriosum” motet, the thematic source for the Mass setting that will be sung on All Saints’ Day.

The High Mass for All Saints’ Day will be celebrated by Father John Porter, and the Requiem Mass for All Souls’ Day will be celebrated by Father Rod Thompson. Father Paul Allick will assist as Preacher for both services. The Church of the Advent of Christ the King is located at 261 Fell Street, between Franklin Street and Gough Street. The entry is diagonally across the street from the SFJAZZ Center. This is an inclusive parish of the Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Those wishing further information may call 415-431-0454. Those driving will be able to use the parking lot adjacent to the church whose entrance is on Hickory Street.

Engaging Arrangements for Guitar and Bandoneon

Last night in Herbst Theatre, San Francisco Performances presented the first concert in the annual Guitar Series that it organizes in partnership with the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. The featured guitarist was Jason Vieaux. The program was a duo recital for which Vieaux was joined by Julien Labro, alternating between bandoneon and accordina, a variant of the melodica using an array of accordion buttons, rather than a piano-like keyboard. Both Vieaux and Labro were making their respective SFP debuts.

The entire program consisted of arrangements that were prepared by the performers.  Most straightforward were the prelude and scherzo movements that Rossen Balkanski scored for guitar and piano. In this case Labro basically transcribed the piano part to fit the fingering suitable for the button keyboards of the bandoneon.

Both players collaborated on arranging Astor Piazzolla’s “Esucalo” (shark), which was originally composed for tango violinist Fernando Suarez Paz, who probably played it with one of Piazzolla’s combos. However, the music itself was a significant departure from the sorts of tango idioms one tends to associate with Piazzolla. Indeed, the rhythmic patterns were sufficiently complex that any attempt at dance would strain the efforts of even a sophisticated choreographer. As Vieaux and Labro played it, the music still reverberated with that “Piazzolla flavor;” but their execution amounted to an impressive account of the score’s uniqueness.

Vieaux’ other arrangement was of the Pat Metheny song “Antonia.” This was one of two selections in which Labro shifted from bandoneon to accordina. Metheny had originally scored this with an accordion as lead instrument, resulting in a rhetoric that was both sensitive and nostalgic. Vieaux’ arrangement captured that spirit, but the programming of the piece seemed to provide a respite from the more ambitious selections being presented.

Most ambitious was Radamés Gnattali’s Suite Retratos (portraits). Each of the four movements depicts a major Brazilian composer, and that composer is associated with a particular style. In order of appearance, Pixinguinha is represented by a choro, followed by a waltz for Ernesto Nazareth, a schottische for Anacleto de Medeiros, and the corta jaca (the Brazilian version of the tango) for Chiquinha Gonzaga. The suite was originally composed for two guitars and was part of the repertoire of the duo of Sérgio and Odair Assad. Each of the movements is punctuated with tropes and idioms associated with its respective composer. Labro’s arrangement maintained those references, translating the give-and-take between two guitarists into an equally engaging exchange between guitar and bandoneon.

Most fascinating, however, was the opening selection, which was Labro’s arrangement of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” (brothers). This is probably Pärt’s most familiar composition. The score consists of a series of chord sequences, each with either eight or nine chords. Soft percussion beats are inserted to punctuate those sequences. Pärt has prepared or authorized eighteen different versions of the basic score; and other groups have adapted it for their own resources. The California Guitar Trio of Hideyo Moriya, Bert Lams, and Paul Richards may well have learned the piece simply by listening to the ECM New Series Tabula Rasa album, which includes one performance by violinist Gidon Kremer and pianist Keith Jarrett and another by the twelve cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Labro’s arrangement tended to follow the version performed by Kremer and Jarrett (which was the piece’s original version). Labro’s account of some of the more elaborate arpeggios that Kremer played at the very beginning of his performance was impressively virtuosic. Percussion involved both Labro and Vieux knocking on their respective instruments. Pärt’s rhetoric of a hushed but intense stillness registered just as effectively as it has done in other violin-piano interpretations. The choice to begin the evening with this selection made it clear that this entire program would offer all the benefits of attentively focused listening.

The encore, on the other hand, was another matter. Vieaux and Labro let down their guard with an arrangement of the Tears for Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Labro returned to accordina for this one, making it clear that the encore was about having fun with a pop song from a more carefree past.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Center for New Music: November, 2017

Next month will get off to a busy start at the Center for New Music (C4NM); but things will probably start to quiet down around the middle of the month due to preparations for the Thanksgiving holiday. So it probably makes sense to account for the month in its entirety, although readers will note the “density” change after November 19. C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, which is where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. Not all of the events listed below will have the same price of admission, so that information will be provided with the description of each particular show. However, all tickets may be purchased in advance through a Vendini event page. Hyperlinks to the appropriate Web pages will be attached to each of the dates in the following summary:

Wednesday, November 1, 7 p.m.: This will be an evening of original compositions by three pianists, all of whom will be playing their own works. The pianists are Steven Cravis, Doug Hammer, and Philip Wesley. The music involves a blend of new age, classical, and jazz. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members.

Thursday, November 2, 7:30 p.m.: Julia Ogrydziak is curating a program entitled Poland Meets World. The Cracow Duo, whose members are cellist Jan Kalinowski and pianist Marek Szlezer, will be visiting San Francisco; and C4NM will host their recital program, which includes works by Polish and international composers. Each selection will be by a different composer. The composers to be performed during the first half of the program will be Tomasz Jakub Opalka (“The Glitch”), Arvo Pärt (“Spiegel im Spiegel”), Andrej Panufnik (“Dreamscape”), and Witold Lutosławski (“Grave, Metamorphoses”). The composers whose works will follow the intermission will be Jakub Polaczyk (“Act for T.K.”), David Rodriguez de la Pena (“Desplegar”), Marcel Chyrzyński (“Farewell”), and Wojciech Widłak (“All my angers”). General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members, students, and seniors.

Friday, November 3, 7:30 p.m.: Adam Marks will curate a benefit concert for the American Civil Liberties Union. The concert will be a solo piano recital by Russian-American Liza Stepanova. The title of the program will be Immigrant Voices. Stepanova is, herself, an immigrant; and she will be playing music by composers currently based in the United States but coming from countries around the world. “Tahiri, the Pure,” by Iranian composer Badie Khaleghian, will be given its world premiere; and, “The Way North,” by Venezuelan-American Reinaldo Moya will receive its first performance on the West Coast. Stepanova will also perform pieces by Lera Auerbach, Anna Clyne, Chaya Czernowin, Gabriela Lena Frank, Kamran Ince, Eun Young Lee, and Pablo Ortiz. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members.

Saturday, November 4, 7 p.m.: This will be “movie night” with a program entitled Light Moves Like Sound Waves. Two films by Lynne Sachs will be screened, both of which are products of her five-year collaborative relationship with sound artist Stephen Vitello, who provided the soundtracks. Vitello will also present selections of his recent compositions. This event will be free to SF Cinematheque members. General admission for all others will be $10.

Sunday, November 5, 7 p.m.: Jim Santi Owen will curate a program entitled Mexcla Music – Music for String, Percussion, and Breath Instruments of Europe, India, and Mesoamerica. Elements of different forms of indigenous music will be combined with the Western classical tradition, resulting in a contemporary language for musical expression. The performers, Jxel Rajchenberg and Christopher Garcia, will play on a prodigious variety of instruments. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members.

Monday, November 6, 8 p.m.: This will be the first anniversary of the election of Donald Trump to the position of President of the United States. To mark the occasion Phillip Greenlief and his colleagues will give a performance of THE STATES UNITED. This is one of Greenlief’s map scores, created for any ensemble or group of performers from diverse disciplines. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members.

Wednesday, November 8, 8 p.m.: The latest installment of the permutations series will bring together two string chamber groups. andPlay is the duo of violinist Maya Bennardo and violist Hannah Levinson, both of whom are based in New York City. Their set will be followed by the “transnational” trio, consisting of violinist Myra Hinrichs (Chicago), violist Carrie Frey (New York City), and cellist Helen Newby (San Francisco). General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members.

Saturday, November 11, 8 p.m.: This will be the second part of Emma Logan’s Alone/Not Alone series. Flutist Jessie Nucho will join pianist Anne Rainwater for a program of music for flute, piano, and electronics by living women composers. Contributing composers will be Alex Temple, Mei-Fang Lin, Elaine Lillois, and Anne LaBerge. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members and students.

Sunday, November 12, 7 p.m.: Kurt Rohde will curate a double bill of one-act operas hosted by Opera on the Spot. The first selection, “The Italian Lesson,” was composed by Lee Hoiby, taking a comedic monologue by Ruth Draper has his point of departure. This will be followed by a much older comic opera, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s “La Serva Padrona.” General admission will be $20 with a $15 rate for C4NM members.

Tuesday, November 14, 7 p.m.: Katarina Countiss is a multimedia artist who has been working with the phenomena arising from ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). She will present a 90-minute performance with live sounds inspired by graphic scores, live drawing, projection art, audience participation, and ASMR. After the performance concludes at 8:30 p.m., there will be a post-performance hang out at which the artist will compare experiences with those members of the audience who choose to participate. General admission will be $10 with a $5 rate for C4NM members.

Thursday, November 16, 8 p.m.: This will be a program of new works by graduate composers from the University of California at Berkeley. Contributing composers will be Andrew Harlan, Clara Olivares, James Stone, and Jon Yu. Their music will be performed by the Sound Icon ensemble, which will also play Helmut Lachenmann’s “Trio Fluido.” General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members, students, and the underemployed.

Friday, November 17, 7 p.m.: Searching for Serotonin will be a cello and electronics program by an (as yet) unnamed cellist. The performance was conceived to evoke the sorts of anxieties that emerge from our relationships with advanced technology. General admission will be $10 with a $5 rate for C4NM members.

Saturday, November 18, 7:30 p.m.: This will be a release show for Brett Carson’s latest album, Mysterious Descent. This is a recording of a mythodramatic song cycle in twelve movements. The presentation of Mysterious Descent will be preceded by an opening set taken by guitarist Jakob Pek. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members.

Sunday, November 19, 8 p.m.: Readers may recall the Jellyphones that Dennis Aman provided for the performance of Jelly Choruses, the final selection on the program entitled The Voice and The Machine, which was performed at C4NM last Saturday. Next month Aman will join forces with writer and sound artist Martin Azevedo (who was the librettist for Jelly Choruses). The title of the November program will be Disassembling The Clocks. Aman will perform on custom-designed instrument to explore a family history of inventions, devotions, confinements, and escapes. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members.

Roman and Urbański Bring Compelling Dvořák to Davies

Last night visiting conductor Krzysztof Urbański returned to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in Davies Symphony Hall for the first performance of the second program he had prepared for his visit. The entire first half of the program was devoted to Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 104 cello concerto in B minor. The concert had been planned for the SFS debut of Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta, but her newborn baby was unexpectedly not able to travel with her. She was replaced by Joshua Roman, who had just performed last week as a recitalist for San Francisco Performances and had made his SFS debut in February of 2010 under the baton of Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt.

Roman’s repertoire is impressively diverse and eclectic. He played Joseph Haydn (the Hoboken VIIb/1 concerto in C major) with Blomstedt, while last week’s program involved all living composers (one acting as an arranger) with Roman as one of those composers. For all of that breadth of tastes, Dvořák’s Opus 104 probably marked the closest Roman has come to playing an unabashed warhorse in San Francisco. The music positively gushes with sentiment, but its emotional intensity never crowds out the consummate skill behind the concerto’s structure.

Indeed, it is only when one gets away from the recordings and experiences the immediacy of a concert performance that one can begin to recognize many of the subtleties the composer has engaged. As a lover of chamber music, I have particular affection for the duo work that couples the concerto soloist with the concertmaster (Jeremy Constant). This is music in the final movement that soars even higher than the solo cadenza passage for the Adagio ma non troppo (second) movement. On the orchestral side Urbański stationed two trumpeters in the uppermost tier for the “farewell fanfare” that emerges near the concerto’s conclusion.

As was the case with his first program, Urbański conducted the concerto without a score. Not only the soloist but also every member of the ensemble had his full attention for every single measure of this piece. His approach to rhetoric enabled even the first-time listener to appreciate just how extensive was the emotional palette upon which Dvořák drew to shape each of the composition’s three movements. At the same time, those who can no longer count the number of times they have listened to this concerto could appreciate the in-the-moment freshness that was so firmly under the command of both conductor and soloist. It is hard to imagine a past occasion when Dvořák was better served.

As might be expected, Roman returned to play an encore. He dedicated it to all of the victims of the many fires in the northern counties. His intention was to summon up a more meditative spirit in the wake of Dvořák at his most impassioned. He achieved his goal through a movingly expressive account of the Sarabande movement from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1007 solo cello suite in G major. Bach may have written this music for pedagogical purposes, but last night it was there to help heal many wounded souls. Roman knew exactly how to let the music speak for itself, which is just what the occasion required.

However, the first half of the evening proved to be a tough act for the second half to follow. Urbański followed the intermission with a vigorous account of the overture Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed for his K. 620 opera The Magic Flute. While his attentiveness to detail was as keen as it had been for the Dvořák concerto, he was a bit too blustering for what amounts to a light-hearted fairy-tale cooked up for suburban entertainment. Nevertheless, one could still appreciate the wit behind the music, which made for a refreshing contrast.

More problematic was the major work on the second half, the three-movement composition that Witold Lutosławski called “Concerto for Orchestra.” The title was clearly inspired by Béla Bartók, as was the composer’s intention to give voice to the full diversity of instruments found in the symphony orchestra. However, while Bartók had designed five well-crafted structural frameworks, each of which situated those instruments in different contexts, Lutosławski’s structures came across as somewhat arbitrary; and, in the last of the piece’s three movements, they were downright lumbering. Those more familiar with the folk sources upon which the composer drew for his thematic material may have found it easier to orient themselves. However, even when working with similar folk sources, Bartók always knew how to keep his rhetoric in the concert hall. In disappointing contrast, last night’s performance suggested that thoughts of convincing rhetoric did not occupy much of Lutosławski’s attention.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

San Francisco Conservatory of Music: November 2017

It is with a certain amount of relief that I find myself ready to start presenting heads-up articles about activities in November. Checking my records, I see that I am doing so only a few days later than I did last month. As I did at that time, I shall begin by summarizing some of the key events taking place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). All of them will be free, but some will require reservations. The SFCM building is located at 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni Station. Readers are encouraged to consult the Performance Calendar Web page at the SFCM Web site for the most up-to-date information about any of these offerings. Here is a chronological listing of events likely to be of interest to serious and attentive listeners:

Wednesday, November 1, 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall: This will be the first of three Faculty Artist Series recitals to be offered in the month of November. The soloist will be Dimitri Murrath, who is the new Co-Chair of the String and Piano Chamber Music program. He will be accompanied by pianist Hyeyeon Park. His one solo selection will be the passacaglia in G minor that concludes the Rosary Sonatas collection by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. Both of the sonatas for viola and piano will come from that transitional period from the end of the nineteenth century into the beginning of the twentieth. Murrath will begin with the F minor sonata by Joannes Brahms, the first of his two Opus 120 sonatas, which were originally composed for clarinet and piano. He will then conclude with the sonata that Rebecca Clarke composed in 1919. Murrath prepared this program to celebrate his new album release, and a reception will follow the performance. Reservations will be required, which may be made online through a Google Forms Web page.

Saturday, November 4, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 5, 2 p.m., Concert Hall: Eric Dudley, Conductor of the Conservatory Orchestra, has prepared a program entitled New Music for Chamber Orchestra. However, the sense of “novelty” has multiple connotations and reaches back almost 100 years. The oldest work on the program is a set of four pieces that Ernest Bloch called “episodes;” and, completed in 1926. This set was one of his first compositions after he assumed the directorship of SFCM in 1925. Similarly “Common Tones in Simple Time” was composed by John Adams in 1979 during the time when he was teaching at SFCM. The remaining work on the program will be Julia Wolfe’s “The Vermeer Room,”, which was composed in 1989 and given its first performance by the San Francisco Symphony.

Tuesday, November 7, 7:30 p.m., Concert Hall: SFCM will host a Community Concert organized by the Kronos Quartet in collaboration with both SFCM students and the San Francisco Unified School District. The program will draw heavily upon the results of Kronos’ Under 30 Project, a major commissioning and residency program to provide a platform for composers under the age of 30. Performances will be not only by Kronos but also by the Lowell Quartet, the SOTA Chamber Orchestra, the Lowell Orchestra, and a full orchestra in which Kronos members will perform with both SFUSD students and SFCM students. Reservations will be required, which may be made online through a Google Forms Web page.

Saturday, November 11, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 12, 2 p.m., Concert Hall: Corey Jamason, Chair of Historical Keyboards and Co-Director of the Baroque Ensemble, will bring his Theatre Comique group, which he co-directs with Eric Davis, to SFCM, where they will perform with members of the SFCM Orchestra. Readers may recall that Theatre Comique will be presenting a program of music from the time of the California Gold Rush as part of the all-day symposium on October 28, organized by San Francisco Opera in preparation for the premiere of Adams’ latest opera, Girls of the Golden West. The SFCM program will present both orchestral and vocal music by Victor Herbert and Jerome Kern, including selections from Kern’s Very Good Eddie, which will be performed in its entirety the following weekend. Soprano Erica Schuller, mezzo Katherine Growdon, and tenor Brian Thorsett will join forces with SFCM voice students. Reservations will be required, and there are separate Google Forms Web pages for the Saturday and Sunday performances.

Saturday, November 18, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 19, 4 p.m., Recital Hall: Michael Mohammed, Director of the Musical Theatre Workshop, will present a staging of Very Good Eddie in its entirety, working with Music Director Lauren Mayer.

Sunday, November 19, 2 p.m., Recital Hall: The second Faculty Artist Series recital of the month will be performed by violist Jonathan Vinocour. Program details have not yet been announced. Reservations will be required and may be made through a Google Forms Web page.

Thursday, November 30, 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall: The final Faculty Artist Series concert of the month will be presented by pianist Jon Nakamatsu. Clarinetist Jon Manasse will be Nakamatsu’s special guest. Program details have not yet been announced. Reservations will be required and may be made through a Google Forms Web page.

Adam Shulman Launches SFP’s 2017–18 Salon Season

courtesy of San Francisco Performances

According to my archives, last night was my third encounter with jazz pianist Adam Shulman (pictured above) at the Hotel Rex presenting a one-hour Salon series recital for San Francisco Performances (SFP). At my first encounter, which was in April of 2014, he led a trio with John Wiitala on bass and Smith Dobson on drums to wind up that season’s Salon programming. The following November Shulman returned to accompany trumpeter Sean Jones, who was giving his first performance in his new capacity as jazz Artist-in-Residence.

Last night Shulman returned to the Rex for another trio gig. Wiitala was again on bass, but this time the third member was Lyle Link playing alto saxophone and taking one tune on soprano saxophone. The program sheet described the event as “an evening of the Great American Songbook.” However, allowing for all of the impressive and extensive improvisation work, an hour was barely enough time for only six numbers; and half of them were by Shulman himself.

This was far from a problem. Shulman is as imaginative in coming up with tunes as he is in improvising on them, and the other trio members had no trouble working with his material. He also disclosed what I found to be a throughly engaging approach to invention.

Reader’s may recall my having written about Frank Tirro’s “silent theme” thesis, according to which many bebop “originals” were products of elaborate embellishments of older favorite tunes. (The best-known example is probably Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” whose “silent tune” is “How High the Moon.”) Listening to Shulman’s own pieces, it struck me that he, too, was drawing on older favorites. However, rather than “disguising” them with thick embellishment, he would simply pick up the incipit, tweak the tempo, and then point it in an entirely new direction. Thus, when listening to Link play the first statement of the tune for Shulman’s “Full Tilt,” one could almost think that he had started to play John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and then decided to play something else. The wide descending intervals were still there, but they bounced around to a more eccentric beat and almost immediately staked out new territory.

Another possible source was even more surprising. Shulman wrote “Katy” for his girlfriend (or so he said). This left me wondering if she was a dancer, because, in this case, the incipit seemed to come from the “Flowers” waltz music that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed for the second act of the ballet The Nutcracker. Needless to say, any resemblance to Tchaikovsky was held off at football-field length; but the incipit spoke for itself as Shulman guided it off into another field.

Link took out his soprano saxophone for “The Peacocks,” a piece by Jimmy Rowles that was first recorded by Stan Getz on an album of the same name. Link clearly had his own approach to conveying bird-like connotations, although those who really know their Maurice Ravel scores will probably always find it hard to shake the haunting quality of the bird’s call that must be summoned up by a soprano vocalist. Rowles took the “middle ground” of the three “songbook” composers, much younger than Cole Porter and slightly older than George Shearing. Shulman opened with a Porter rarity, “Dream Dancing;” and it is always fun to encounter an unfamiliar piece by a familiar composer.

At the other end the program concluded with Shearing’s “Conception.” This was also the title of the Prestige album that Miles Davis released after having recorded Birth of the Cool. Shearing’s piece was one of the tracks. Shulman’s decision to close with it reminded jazz lovers of just how broad Shearing had been in the music he created and how amenable his tunes have been to adventurous interpretations by others.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Last Weekend in October will be Another Busy One

Yesterday it was observed that making choices for the final weekend of this month will actually begin on the preceding Thursday. Indeed, that article even noted the first two options for both Friday and Saturday, those being the weekend performances by the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of visiting conductor Osmo Vänskä. However, those concerts will have a lot of competition, as will be seen from the following:

Friday, October 27, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra (SFCO) will launch its Main Stage concert series for its 64th season with a program entitled Strings Attached. The entire program will be devoted to the SFCO string section conducted by Music Director Ben Simon. Concertmaster Robin Sharp will be the featured soloist in a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1042 violin concerto in E major, and the second half of the program will be devoted to Béla Bartók’s three-movement divertimento for strings. The program will open with Franz Schubert’s D. 703 in C minor. Generally known as the “Quartettsatz,” this is a single Allegro assai movement that demands both intense energy and meticulous precision from a string quartet. Achieving the same result from a string ensemble will be quite a challenge, but Simon seems to rise to the occasions for such challenges.

Herbst Theatre is located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. As is always the case, there is no admission charge for all SFCO Main Stage concerts. The doors will open at 6:45 p.m. for general admission on a first-come-first-served basis. Supporting members will receive priority seating and priority entrance at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, October 27, 7:30 p.m., Red Poppy Art House: This will be a two-set evening. The first set will be presented by the vocal duo Kilbanes, both of whose members also play an instrument. Kate Kilbane plays electric bass along with Dan Moses’ piano work. They will be previewing the forthcoming release of a recording of their rock opera Weightless, which will be their way of paving the way for Halloween.

The second set will be a performance by the Vox Angelica Trio, whose members are Jodi Hitzhusen, Meena Malik, and Aristides Rivas. Hitzhusen and Malik are the vocalists, and Rivas accompanies on cello. In addition all three members play percussion instruments. Their repertoire combines the Western classical traditions with a wide diversity of folk music from different cultural sources.

The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street. Doors will open at 7 p.m. Because the Poppy is a small space, it is almost always a good idea to be there when the doors open. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Friday, October 27, 8 p.m., McKenna Theatre: The Morrison Artists Series, presented by the College of Liberal and Creative Arts at San Francisco State University (SFSU), will continue its 2017–2018 season with a concert by the Bay Area’s own Telegraph Quartet. The program will feature John Harbison’s sixth quartet, composed last year and co-commissioned by Telegraph. The second half will be devoted to Arnold Schoenberg’s Opus 7, his first published string quartet written in 1905. The program will also include Hugo Wolf’s 1887 “Italian Serenade.”

The McKenna Theatre is in the Creative Arts Building at SFSU, a short walk from the SFSU Muni stop at the corner of 19th Avenue and Holloway Avenue. Tickets are free but advance registration is highly desirable. Reservations may be made through the event page for this concert. As usual, there will be a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m., which will be a conversation between Harbison and Richard Festinger, Artistic Director of the concert series. Also as usual, the four members of the quartet will give a collective Master Class at 2 p.m. on Friday, October 20 (another event to take in consideration for this coming weekend). This two-hour session will take place in Knuth Hall, also in the Creative Arts Building, and will be open to the general public at no charge and with no requirements for tickets.

Friday, October 27, 8 p.m., Monument SF: Appropriate to the season, the One Found Sound chamber orchestra will open its fifth anniversary season with a program entitled Monster Masquerade. While SFCCO will be exploring the possibilities of the string section, One Found Sound will explore the “guises” afforded by a broader palette of instruments. Thus, the focus will be on the wind section (abetted by a bass) in a performance of Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 44 serenade. The program will conclude with Igor Stravinsky’s “Danses concertantes,” which was set to two different ballets by George Balanchine. The program will begin with the six-voice fugue from Bach’s BWV 1079, The Musical Offering, in an arrangement by Anton Webern, which experiments with assigning individual notes to different instruments.

Monument SF is located in SoMa at 140 Ninth Street. General admission will be $25 with a VIP rate of $45 for preferred seating. Tickets may be purchased through a window on the Concerts Web page of the One Found Sound Web site. This Web page also has a window for purchasing “Silver” tickets to all three concerts in the season. The remaining two concerts will also begin at 8 p.m. on December 8 and February 9, respectively. They will take place at Heron Arts, which is also in SoMa. Finally, those who follow this ensemble may wish to save the date for their annual gala, which will take place in the spring on April 27.

Saturday, October 28, 9 a.m., Taube Atrium Theater: Yes, you read the time correctly! San Francisco Opera (SFO) has organized a day-long multidisciplinary symposium by way of preparation for the world premiere of John Adams’ latest opera, Girls of the Golden West, which will take place on November 21. The event will be organized as three panel discussions and a vocal recital. The schedule for these four sessions will be as follows:
  1. 9:30–10:45, Girls of the Golden West, The Opera: SFO Dramaturg Kip Cranna will moderate a discussion with both Adams and Peter Sellars, who will direct the opera’s premiere performance and has also written the libretto.
  2. 11–12:15, Dame Shirley and Life during the California Gold Rush: One of Sellars’ primary sources is a collection of letters by Louise Clappe, whose husband was the doctor for one of the California mining camps during the Gold Rush. These letters were collected and published under the pen name “Dame Shirley.” The collection has been published at least three times, and their most recent editor, Marlene Smith-Baranzini will be on hand to discuss Clappe’s work. She will be joined by one of the chroniclers of Gold Rush history, Gary Kamiya. The discussion will again be moderated by Cranna.
  3. 1:30–3, Women, Culture and Politics in the Gold Fields: This discussion will explore the Gold Rush from a variety of perspectives, including the experiences of both women and immigrants; the discussants will be geographer and historian Mark McLaughlin, historian Christoper O’Sullivan, and writer Mary Volmer.
  4. 3:15–4, A Musical History of the Gold Rush: This will be a performance by Theatre Comique, whose co-directors are Corey Jamason and Eric Davis. Selections will be presented by tenor James Hogan and baritone Radames Gil. Jamason will accompany at the piano.
The Taube Atrium Theater is part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which is located on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building at the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. General admission will be $45 for the entire day. Tickets may be purchased in advance through an event page on the SFO Web site. Because the seating area is steeply raked, those who purchase tickets online have the ability to request wheelchair accessibility.

Saturday, October 28, 7:30 p.m., Red Poppy Art House: The Poppy will follow its “Halloween programming” with an evening recognizing the Day of the Dead. The program will be prepared by Bay Area rhythm all-star Javier Navarrette, who is calling the evening A Musical Tribute to the Ancestors. He will lead an all-percussion ensemble in an evening of personal songs and music originating from both Afro-Cuban and Afro-Mexicano traditions. The other members of the group are Sergio Duran, Jessie Webber, Alison Hammond, Monica Fimbrez, and Kevin Repp. Hammond will also dance, and Fimbrez plays string instruments. Everyone in the group will participate as a vocalist. Doors will again open at 7 p.m.; and early arrival is again encouraged. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Sunday, October 29, 2 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: This will be the opening concert in the 2017–18 Davies Symphony Hall Chamber Music series, which features performances by members of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and their colleagues. The most ambitious selection will be “Black Angels,” a string quartet by George Crumb that requires all performers to do much more than play their instruments. Those performers will be violinists Sarn Oliver and Yun Chu, violist David Gaudry, and cellist David Goldblatt. A more conventional approach to music for strings will be found during the second half of the program with Dvořák’s Opus 87 piano quartet in E-flat major. Pianist Sayaka Tanikawa will join violinist Dan Carlson, violist Matthew Young, and cellist Amos Yang. The program will begin with Albert Roussel’s Opus 6 divertimento, composed for piano (Britton Day) and wind quintet (Tim Day on flute, Russ deLuna on oboe, Luis Baez on clarinet, and Rob Weir on bassoon, and Robert Ward on horn).

All tickets for this concert will be sold for $40. Tickets may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. It will also open two hours before the performance begins. All six concerts in this series take place on Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. For those wishing to save the dates in advance, the remaining five concerts will take place on February 4, February 25, April 18, May 6, and June 3.

Sunday, October 29, 4 p.m., de Young Museum: On Wednesday, October 25, Juilliard415, the period instrument ensemble whose members are in the Historical Performance graduate program at the Juilliard School, will perform at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Alice Tully Hall. Their conductor will be Nicholas McGegan; and, following that concert, he will bring those performers to San Francisco, where they will repeat the program in Koret Auditorium. The title of the program will be Le Monde Galant: Around the World in 80 Minutes; and it will feature music inspired by the cultures and peoples of France, Spain, Scotland, the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and China. The featured soloist will be Juilliard violinist Alana Youssefian playing the violin concerto by Antonio Vivaldi entitled “Il Grosso Mogul.” Other composers on the program will include Christoph Willibald Gluck, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Domenico Scarlatti.

The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park. All tickets will be $25. Ticket holders may arrive early to enjoy free access to the dynamic exhibit in Wilsey Court, the Café and Terrace with its sculpture garden, and the Hamon Observation Tower. These tickets may be purchased in advance through a Philharmonia Baroque event page. Those wishing to see more of the museum will be able to purchase tickets on site.

Sunday, October 29, 5 p.m., Mission Dolores Basilica: The title of Cappella SF’s fall concert will be Timeless: Music Through Ten Centuries. At one end of that spectrum will be the music of Hildegard of Bingen. At the other end will be a 2012 composition by Composer-in-Residence David Conte entitled “The Kingdom of God.” Conte composed this piece in memory of the school shootings that took place at Sandy Hook. For this performance Cappella SF will be joined by the members of the Young Women’s Choral Projects, whose Artistic and Executive Director is Susan McMane. The entire program will be conducted by Cappella SF Artistic Director Ragnar Bohlin.

Mission Dolores Basilica is located on the southwest corner of Dolores Street and 16th Street. For those planning to drive, free parking will be available in the schoolyard, whose entrance is off of Church Street. General admission will be $40 with an $20 rate for students with identification and all those aged fifteen and under. VIP seating will be available for $55. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an Eventbrite event page.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

More Schubert Blasts from the Past

Those who follow this site regularly are probably well aware of my enthusiasm for the recent release on the Profil label of Franz Schubert’s music played by pianist Sviatoslav Richter between 1949 and 1964. That enthusiasm has been further stoked by yet another recording produced by Praga Classics, which will be released this coming Friday. This also involves a pianist from the past, Mieczysław Horszowski; but the performers that dominate the entire album are the members of the Budapest String Quartet. The earliest recording was made in 1934, and all other selections fit into the same time frame of the Richter collection. As is probably expected, this recording is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com.

The Budapest String Quartet was formed in 1917, the product of four Hungarian musicians who had lost their jobs as a result of World War I. By 1934 through group had already experienced several personnel changes; and it consisted of first violinist Josef Roisman (previously second violinist), second violinist Alexander Schneider, violist István Ipolyi, and cellist Misha Schneider. The one piece recorded at that time (at the Abbey Road Studio in London) was Schubert’s D. 703 in C minor, a single Allegro assai movement known most frequently at the “Quartettsatz” (piece for quartet).

The heart of the two-CD album, however, consists of Schubert’s last three quartets taken from concert recordings made in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress at three concerts in May of 1953. By that time Jac Gorodetzky had become second violin, and Boris Kroyt was playing viola. These quartets were written between February of 1824 and June of 1826, meaning that none of them are “final year” compositions. Nevertheless there is no shortage of strikingly mature imagination in any of them. The most recent of the recordings is the one in which Horszowski participates. This is a 1962 studio recording of the D. 667 (“Trout”) quintet in A major, which also includes Julius Levine on bass.

There is no end to the delights offered up by these recordings. One could not ask for the Library of Congress performances to be more vivid. Yet that sense of urgent immediacy is just as present in the studio recordings. Furthermore, it is perfectly clear that Horszowski fit into the setting of playing with the Budapest as well as a hand fits into a well-tailored glove. D. 667 is at its most delightful in the many different combinations of exchanges that take place among all the players; and, on this recording, the attentive listener can savor every one of those exchanges. The vintage of these recordings may reach back into the better part of the last century; but there is no doubting the freshness that will draw that attentive listener into every well-shaped phrase in all five of the Schubert chamber music selections that have been recorded.

Rust was at Her Best in Her Duo with Edelmann

As was announced about a week ago, members of the San Francisco Munich Trio performed in this afternoon’s installment of the Noontime Concerts series (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”). Cellist Rebecca Rust performed a suite in G minor for cello and bassoon by Jean-Baptiste Loeillet, joined by bassoonist Friedrich Edelmann. The remainder of the program was then devoted by Edvard Grieg’s Opus 36 cello sonata in A minor, which Rust performed with pianist Laura Magnani.

Loeillet’s suite presented itself as an excellent example of the compatibility of low-register instruments at its best. From a technical point of view, Rust took the “melody” line, while Edelmann’s bassoon work provided the continuo. However, Loeillet’s techniques for blending these two lines gave the impression of an intimate conversation between equals; and both Rust and Edelmann could not have been more attentive to keeping that blend properly balanced. Thus, while each of the four dance movements was relatively brief, there was no denying that each one had its own characteristic approach to establishing musical impact.

Sadly, the attempt to perform the Grieg sonata was far more unfortunate. To be fair, Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the venue for Noontime Concerts, is not consistently amenable to the piano when it is performing with one or more other instruments. Looking back on the many chamber music concerts I have attended there, I would say that the number of duo performances that have floundered on acoustical grounds is about equal to the number that have succeeded.

I would conjecture that success is often due to a familiarity with the idiosyncrasies of both the space and the instrument. Thus, the simplest explanation is that Rust and Magnani never had enough time to work out how Rust could balance with the piano as effectively as she had with the bassoon. To be fair, however, Grieg himself may have been an issue.

After all, his “strong suit” was clearly the piano; and much of the sonata sounded as if he was revisiting thematic material from his first set of his “lyric” pieces (Opus 12) while trying out material for subsequent collections in that series. (The second set was published as Opus 38.) It was hard to resist the impression that the composer had not quite gotten his head around the conventions for sonata form, but it is unclear how much of that was his fault and how much resided with the performers not coming to terms with what Grieg did write.

Finally, there was a problem with “audience relations.” The performance of the entire sonata was punctuated by a trickle of audience exists, which, fortunately, tended to be restricted to the pauses between the movements of the Grieg sonata. Since this concert is a “lunch break,” there seems to be a consensus that things will be done by 1:15 p.m., allowing time for audience members to get back to work. Grieg may have not had very much to say, but he certainly took a lot of time to say it. The concert did not conclude until around 1:30 p.m. To be fair, however, today’s Mass was led by a priest who rarely “goes by the clock;” so things may well have gotten off to a late start. It is hard to plan a program that will satisfy the necessary constraints when the boundaries of those constraints may get moved with out any advance notice.

Choices for October 26, 2017

As we brace ourselves for the next upcoming busy weekend, it is necessary to note it will be preceded by the next busy weekday of choices on October 26. One of the alternatives has already been discussed, which is the return of Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and the SFS debut of violinist Baiba Skride, who will be performing Jean Sibelius’ Opus 47 violin concerto. The good news, for those worrying about conflicts, is that this performance will be at 2 p.m. in Davies Symphony Hall, while the other alternatives for the day will be in the evening. In addition the SFS program will also be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 27, and Saturday, 28 (thus contributing to that forthcoming busy weekend). So those who have now braced themselves for the many choices arising this coming weekend can also start to prepare for choosing between two evening events the following Thursday, October 26, both of which will begin at 7:30 p.m.:

Herbst Theatre: The second program in the San Francisco Performances (SFP) Vocal Series will feature soprano Dawn Upshaw, accompanied at the piano by Gilbert Kalish. She will perform two relatively recent song cycles, both based on American songs of war, peace, hope, death, night, and the sea and one receiving its Bay Area premiere. The latter is Caroline Shaw’s Narrow Sea, which draws upon sources from colonial America, African-American spirituals, and others. Those who had an opportunity to listen to excepts from Shaw’s earlier collection By and By, performed at last week’s installment of PBO SESSIONS, will have had a taste of how she has approached such material in the past.

However, Narrow Sea was actually written as a response to Upshaw’s other selection, George Crumb’s Winds of Destiny, which is the fourth volume in his six-volume American Songbook series. Crumb scored all of the pieces in this collection for accompaniment by both piano and percussion quartet. Thus, for this performance, Upshaw and Kalish will be join by the four members of So Percussion, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Eric Cha-Beach. This group will be making its SFP debut. The program will begin with Bryce Dessner’s 2013 “Music for Wood and Strings,” which was given its world premiere in Carnegie Hall by So Percussion.

The entrance to Herbst is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Tickets prices are $65 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $55 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $40 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

Red Poppy Art House: As fate would have it, a “completely different” approach to American songs will be taking place at exactly the same time in another part of town. The vocalist will be Iranian-American Adrienne Shamszad, who was born in Oakland. Shamszad accompanies herself on guitar and has a solid command of American sources in both folk and soul. She has also traveled extensively throughout Asia, India, and the Middle East; and her approach to traditional Persian songs, particularly those inspired by the mystic poets of Iran, is equally well-grounded. For this performance she will be accompanied by Schuyler Karr on bass and a percussionist, who has not yet been announced.

The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street. Doors will open at 7 p.m. Because the Poppy is a small space, it is almost always a good idea to be there when the doors open. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Bleeding Edge: 10/16/2017

Given that this is the week of the busiest weekend of the month (at least thus far), it stands to reason that most of the adventurous activities of this week have already been taken into account. That even goes for a generous number of gigs that will take place prior to that weekend, several of which are taking place on weekdays already singled out as being busy. As always, this article will begin with a list of those events already discussed, which will return to its usual format of chronological order:
October 16: Elliott Sharp at the Canessa Gallery
October 17: Sounding Limits at the Center for New Music (C4NM)
October 18: Skeleton Flower at the Red Poppy Art House (also October 19) and Gordon Grdina’s visit to C4NM
October 19: This week’s gig at the Luggage Store Gallery
October 20: The second concert of the month at Adobe Books
The rest of the weekend: San Francisco Contemporary Music Players begins season; the Bottesini Project at C4NM; Dohee Lee and Raphael Radna at the Poppy; the latest SIMM Series gig from Outsound Presents
With so many choices, it is likely that many will be relieved that there are only a few events to add as follows:

Tuesday, October 17, 8 p.m., El Rio: The latest adventurous programming at El Rio will involve a one-of-a-kind night of three sets of roving, ravishing, electric music. Each set will be a duo performance. EFFT consists of Sarah Palmer and Noah Phillips. Grex is the duo of Karl Evangelista and Rei Scampavia. Finally, For Now is the duo of Zeina Nasr and Alex Vittum.

El Rio is a bar, community space, and garden. The address is 3158 Mission Street near the southwest corner of Cesar Chavez Street. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $5 and $10. Doors will open at 7 p.m.

Tuesday, October 17, 8 p.m., The Hotel Utah Saloon: At exactly the same time in another part of town, a similarly adventurous program will be taking place at the Utah. This one will offer five sets performed by, respectively, The Golden Path, Silk Mother, Tainted Pussy, Brand New Heartache, and Wobbly. The Utah is located in SoMa at 500 Fourth Street on the corner of Bryant Street. Only those aged 21 or older will be admitted. Admission will be $10. There is a hyperlink for advance purchase through Ticketfly; but, as of this writing, it is not working.

Thursday, October 19, 6:45 p.m., Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM): The next concert to be given in conjunction with the current The 613 exhibition will be given by students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Selections will include Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint” and Philip Glass’ “Music in Similar Motion.” Other selections have not yet been announced.

The CJM is located in SoMa at 736 Mission Street, just north of Yerba Buena Gardens. The performance is expected to last about one hour. General admission will be $10, with a $5 rate for CJM members. Advance tickets will be required for seating. These may be purchased online through an Eventbrite event page.

Clarinetist Tom Rose Brings a New Trio to O1C

Local clarinetist Tom Rose has been giving chamber music recitals in San Francisco for as long as I have been writing about chamber music (and probably longer than that). He usually performs with pianist Miles Graber, and I have heard him give several trio recitals with a number of different cellists. His latest trio is called The Berkeley Trio; and the cellist is Krisanthy Desby, noted on this site as the founder for Strobe, which adds an oboe to the usual string quartet resources. (The group’s name is a mash-up of the nouns “strings” and “oboe.”) Yesterday afternoon The Berkeley Trio gave a recital in the Old First Concerts (O1C) series at Old First Presbyterian Church.

The program spanned from the late eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth, consisting of four compositions played in chronological order. The earliest of these was also one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s early chamber compositions, his Opus 11 trio in B-flat major, composed in 1797. Beethoven was probably thinking in terms of advancing his career, since the use of woodwinds in chamber music was still regarded as a novelty (probably known best thanks to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart); and, as a result, such music tended to draw audiences.

Like Mozart, Beethoven appreciated the wide range of expressiveness the clarinet could achieve through different registers. He also recognized that, through its sonorities, the instrument could be very assertive, a quality that could be put to use in the service of that exercise of wit that Beethoven had picked up from his teacher, Joseph Haydn. Opus 11 is thus a sunny piece, even in its middle Adagio movement; and that quality was clearly evident in yesterday’s performance.

Nevertheless, the modern clarinet has a tendency to assert itself far more strongly than its eighteenth-century ancestors. As was recently observed, the instruments frequency spectrum has “an edge sharp enough to cut through almost anything.” Fortunately, Rose knew how to keep his sonorities under control and blended excellently with Graber’s short-stick playing. On the other hand Desby does not yet seem to have summoned up sufficient moxie to meet these two players on their agreed-upon levels of dynamics. Given that some of Beethoven’s best writing in this trio was for the cello, the result was a disappointing account, even if it was clearly seeking out its own individual approach to Beethoven’s imaginative rhetoric.

Even so, the Beethoven performance emerged as the high point of the afternoon. His trio was followed by a D minor trio that composer Mikhail Glinka called “Trio Pathètique.” This was scored for clarinet, piano, and either bassoon or cello. The trio was composed in 1832 during the time Glinka spent at the Milan Conservatory studying composition. Milan, of course, is the home of La Scala; so it should be no surprise that Glinka was subjected to generous exposure to the operas of Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti. (To set some historical context, 1831 was the year in which Norma was premiered at La Scala.)

It would probably be unfair to call “Trio Pathètique” a “bel canto” trio; but the clarinet line does an impressive job of capturing vocal qualities. On the other hand it is clear that engaging tunes take priority over the sorts of thematic development that the listener had just encountered in music written when Beethoven was still at journeyman level. As a result the trio is in four relatively short movements, each of which does very little more than just state its themes and then move on to the next movement. The result is somewhat like an opera with all the mood and none of the narrative; but, considering the durations of most of those bel canto operas, Glinka’s brevity can definitely be taken as a virtue.

The intermission was followed by Paul Juon’s four-movement Trio Miniatures suite. Each movement is an arrangement of an earlier solo piano composition, three from the Opus 18 set and the last from the Opus 24 set. Juon scored the arrangements for piano trio but allowed for the replacement of the violin with a clarinet and the replacement of the cello with a viola.

If Glinka’s brevity tended to feel short-sighted, Juon’s was right on the money. His sources dated from the early twentieth century; but, because he had been born in Russia (albeit to Swiss parents), there was a uniqueness to his rhetoric that led Sergei Rachmaninoff to describe him as “the Russian Brahms.” Through yesterday’s performance the attentive listener could appreciate the traditions into which Juon had been born and his own efforts to find his own unique voice within those traditions.

More disappointing was the final selection, Robert Muczynski’s Opus 26 “Fantasy” trio. Each of the four movements was given a highly expressive tempo marking, but the music itself came off feeling as if it was doing little more than ambling. Muczynski was clearly trying to do far more than bring bel canto to chamber music, but his results never really rose to the level of his ambitions. However, if the conclusion of the program was disappointing, one could still leave with some satisfying memories of the efforts of at least two of the previous composers.