Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Choices for November 10 and 11, 2017

Readers may recall that the choices for the first weekend in November were limited only to Saturday and Sunday. Through an ironic twist of circumstances, during the following weekend, choices will have to be made on Friday and Saturday. (This may mark the beginning of things quieting down prior to Thanksgiving, but I do not want to speak too soon on this matter.) On the other hand the first option involves activities that will begin on Friday and continue into Saturday of the following week. Specifics are as follows:

Friday, November 10, 6:30 p.m. through Saturday, November 18, 10:30 p.m., The Lab: Annea Lockwood will bring her surround-sound installation A Sound Map of the Danube to the Gallery space at The Lab. This was based on five field-recording trips that Lockwood made between the winter of 2001 and the summer of 2004. Her intent was to create an audio document of the 1785-mile extent of Europe’s second longest river, beginning at the sources in the Black Forest, progressing through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, and concluding at the delta formed at the Black Sea. Captured audio included the sounds of the river itself (both at the surface and underwater), aquatic insects, and the various inhabitants along the banks. In addition to the physical projection of the captured audio, the installation incorporates a large wall map of the river itself, a book of interview texts, and a rock taken from the river.

The duration of the captured audio is 167 minutes. It will be played twice a day on six days between Friday, November 10, and Friday, November 17. On each of those six days, the time of the first projection will be as follows:
  1. Friday, November 10: 6:30 p.m.
  2. Saturday, November 11: 4:30 p.m.
  3. Sunday, November 12: 12:30 p.m.
  4. Wednesday, November 15: 4:30 p.m.
  5. Thursday, November 16: 4:30 p.m.
  6. Friday, November 17: 6:30 p.m.
The second projection will begin shortly after the conclusion of the first. There will be no charge for admission, so visitors will be welcome to come and go freely. They are also invited to supplement the listening experience by bringing food, drinks, pets, pillows, and anything else within the bounds of common-sense reason.

Lockwood will then conclude her visit to The Lab with a performance of Jitterbug, a full-evening concert in which photographs of rocks are used as graphic scores. She will be joined by percussionist William Winant and guitarist Fred Frith. They will play within the context of a pre-recorded surround-sound environment consisting primarily of insect sounds. This performance will begin at 9 p.m. on Saturday, November 18, and is expected to last about 90 minutes.

The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street. This is a short walk from the corner of Mission Street. This is particularly good for those using public transportation, since that corner provides bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel as well as a BART station.

Admission for Jitterbug will be $20, and members of The Lab will be admitted for $12. Advance registration is strongly advised. Separate Web pages have been created for members and the general public. Doors will open at 8:30 p.m., half an hour before the performance is scheduled to begin. Events at The Lab tend to attract a large turnout, so early arrival is almost always highly recommended.

Friday, November 10, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre: For those who wish a more conventional listening experience, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra will be presenting the next program in its 37th season. The title of the program will be Vivaldi in Venice; and long-time co-concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock will lead the ensemble. The program will begin with the seasonally-appropriate “Autumn” concerto from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons; but the rest of the program will sample works by other composers known to Vivaldi and/or his fellow Venetians. Those composers will be Pietro Locatelli, Johann Georg Pisendel, Francesco Maria Veracini, George Frideric Handel, Tomaso Albinoni, Giuseppe Tartini, and André Campra.

Herbst Theatre is located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices will range from $30.50 to $122.50 dollars for premium seating. Tickets are currently available for advance purchase through a City Box Office event page.

Saturday, November 11, 7:30 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The next event in the 37th season of the Dynamite Guitars concert series presented by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts will be a solo recital by Russian classical guitar virtuoso Irina Kulikova. She will play her own arrangements of three of the movements from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1007 solo cello suite in G major and the second (in C-sharp minor) of Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 64 set of waltzes for solo piano. The Russian composers to be represented on her program will be Sergei Rudnev and Vassiliev Konstantin. Other composers on the program will be José María Gallardo Del Rey, Federico Moreno Torroba, and Agustín Barrios.

[article updated 11/3, 5:20 p.m.: Due to a visa complication during her travels, Kulikov will not be able to enter the United States for her concert schedule. She will be replaced by French guitarist Judicaël Perroy, who joined the teaching faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) this past March. He will play five of the short pieces ("brevidades") that his colleague Sérgio Assad wrote for brother Odair Assad. He will also play suites by Bach (BWV 997 in C minor) and Heitor Villa-Lobos (Suite Populaire Bresilienne), as well as an arrangement of Isaac Albéniz "Seville." The program will also include pieces by Agustín Barrios (Mangoré) and Johann Dubez. All information about tickets in the following paragraph, including the City Box Office hyperlink, remain the same.]

St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. All tickets will be general admission. Orchestra level seats will be sold for $55 with $45 for seats in the balcony. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page. Those wishing further information may call 415-242-4500.

Saturday, November 11, 8 p.m, Herbst Theatre: Benjamin Beilman will debut as guest concertmaster to lead the New Century Chamber Orchestra. This past February Beilman made his San Francisco recital debut in the first of the three Young Masters Series programs presented last season by San Francisco Performances. Before that, he had made his San Francisco Symphony debut in July of 2014. At this concert his solo work will be featured in a performance of Bach’s BWV 1042 violin concerto in E major, as well as the solo violin part in Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s musical depiction of a battle. His ensemble work will offer Gustav Mahler’s arrangement for string ensemble of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 95 (“Serioso”) string quartet in F minor, Igor Stravinsky’s “Basle” concerto in D, and Andrew Norman’s “Gran Turismo.”

There will be the usual Open Rehearsal held in the Kanbar Performing Arts Center at 44 Page Street, a short walk from the Muni Van Ness station. This will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, November 8. All tickets are $15.

Concert tickets range in price from $29 to $61. City Box Office has set up a single Web page to handle both the open rehearsal and tickets for all concerts remaining in the season. It is also still possible to create a three-concert subscription, purchasing tickets for three concerts in three different months. Finally, discounted tickets are available at $15 for patrons under the age of 35 and at $10 for students with valid identification.

Chopin Evocations Fare Better than Chopin

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) hosted the latest installment in its Great Performers Series, a solo recital by Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov. Trifonov made his debut in Davies during two concerts given by the Russian National Orchestra (also through the Great Performers Series) in February of 2013; and the following year he made his SFS debut under the baton of visiting conductor Osmo Vänskä as a Shenson Young Artist. Last night was his recital debut in Davies.

The visit was part of a six-city tour of the United States during which Trifonov has been playing selections from his latest album, Chopin Evocations, released by Deutsche Grammophon at the beginning of this month. The idea behind the album was to juxtapose selected works by Frédéric Chopin with reflections on Chopin’s music by other composers. Those composers included Chopin’s contemporary, Robert Schumann, composers from the transition from the nineteenth century to the twentieth (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Edvard Grieg), and even two composers from the middle of the twentieth century, Federico Mompou and Samuel Barber. (The Barber contribution was actually a homage to John Field, who was one of Chopin’s influences, particularly where the nocturne was concerned.) The album also included Chopin reflecting on another influence in his early Opus 2 set of variations on the seduction duet “Là ci darem la mano” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 527 opera Don Giovanni. In addition to these pieces, Trifonov’s program concluded with Chopin’s Opus 35 (“Funeral March”) sonata in B-flat minot.

Last night’s performance was thus the realization in concert of an ambitious undertaking. The approach to preparing the program was a bold one, but it was also uneven. The good news is that things got off to a first-rate start with the set of variations that Mompou wrote on the seventh (in A major) of Chopin’s Opus 28 preludes. It is more than a little unfortunate that the program book did not allow space for enumerating these twelve variations (one of which was explicitly called “Évocation”) and their tempo markings, although Scott Foglesong’s notes for the program book did call out the fact that the tenth variation appropriated Chopin’s Opus 66 “Fantasie-Impromptu.”

Fortunately, the music itself more than compensated for the words that had been omitted. The attentive listener quickly recognized how many of the variations (even before that tenth one) were making reference to genres associated with Chopin, such as the mazurka and waltz dance forms. Mompou also derived many distinctively different ways of restructuring the notes of the theme itself to arrive at new thematic material that was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Most importantly, it quickly became clear that Mompou had approached the writing of these variations with a playful spirit. The theme itself probably has the lightest rhetorical touch of any of the Opus 28 preludes. Mompou derived any number of different and distinctive ways to play with that light touch. By the time he had progressed through about half of the variations, Trifonov began to let a faint smile show while he was performing, conveying that he clearly “got” that sense of play that seems to have motivated Mompou’s approach to writing variations.

The opening selection was followed by the four short pieces by Schumann, Grieg, Barber, and Tchaikovsky (in that order), played without any pause for applause. Unfortunately, the program sheet did not indicate that Trifonov would play them this way (although Foglesong grouped them in a single section in the program notes). This led to a certain amount of confusion on audience side, particularly among those unfamiliar with the music. This led to uncertainty among those confused as to when the final selection for the first half, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 22 set of variations, composed in 1902 and based on another one of the Opus 28 preludes (the twentieth in C minor), had gotten under way.

That confusion may have been exacerbated by the fact that the Rachmaninoff selection was the weakest part of the first half of the program. Those who know their Rachmaninoff can easily appreciate just how far his craft as a composer had advanced in the thirty-odd years between this set of variations and his Opus 43 “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Opus 22 almost comes across as a struggle, both “in the small” at the level of how each variation is shaped and “in the large” with respect to the overall plan of the composition. Both of those logical challenges were met with far more confidence in Opus 43; and last night Opus 22 served only to top off the influenced-by-Chopin theme of the program. (That composition is not included on Trifonov’s recording.)

Unfortunately, the second half showed no signs of things getting better. Like Rachmaninoff’s Opus 22, Chopin’s Opus 2 variations are the product of an early effort. There are signs of wit, which Trifonov managed to convey effectively; but the statement of the theme is preceded by an introduction that is laborious unto an extreme and has absolutely nothing to do with Mozart. It almost seemed as if Chopin wished to delay Mozart’s appearance as long as possible, perhaps under the assumption that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

From that point of view, there was no room for any kind of fondness in Trifonov’s approach to the Opus 35 sonata. The good news was that he could sustain passages of very soft material as well as he could belt out the loud stuff. However, there was no sense of overall rhetorical shape, either within or among the sonata’s four movements. The Funeral March itself was taken at an exaggeratedly slow tempo, providing plenty of time for the informed listener to dwell on how Chopin had written the final movement to flash by like a bolt of lightning. Taken as a whole, the reading was one of self-indulgent rhetoric that allowed no room for either the syntactic details of harmony and counterpoint or an overall logic for the entire sonata.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Monday Make-Out: November, 2017

Last month readers may recall that I provided a heads-up regarding the Monday Make-Out at the Make Out Room prior to the usual announcement of such events in a Bleeding Edge column. Such astute readers may have noticed the absence of such a Bleeding Edge column today. This was due to the fact that everything in San Francisco listed by BayImproviser this morning had already been accounted for in previous articles. Furthermore, next week’s Monday Make-Out was not yet listed; so, once again, this series gets an article of its own.

Not all the details have been provided, but next week’s gig will follow the usual three-set format. For those who follow Bleeding Edge activity closely, there will be a lot of familiar faces next Monday. The opening set will be taken by Instagon, an adventurous group that is now based in Sacramento, having moved there from Orange County in 2005. By its own description, the group takes free jazz improvisation as an approach to playing garage rock. Because the ensemble itself never uses the same combination of players twice, the scope of free improvisation has been very broad. As of the summer of 2016, the group had given over 715 shows with over 700 different players. Next Monday’s performance will be Session #740. Two of the members will be founder LOB on bass and Mark Pino on drums.

The second set will be taken by a more stable organization, the ROVA saxophone quartet of Larry Ochs, Jon Raskin, Bruce Ackley, and Steve Adams. They will be followed by the free jazz improvisations of Rent Romus’ Life’s Blood Ensemble. They will preview tracks from their upcoming album Rogue Star. Saxophonist Romus leads the group, whose other members will be Timothy Orr (percussion), Safa Shokrai (bass), Max Judelson (bass), Heikki Koskinen (electronically enhanced trumpet and recorder), and Mark Clifford (vibraphone).

Doors will open at 8 p.m. this coming Monday, November 6; and the music starts half an hour later. The Make Out Room is located at 3225 22nd Street in the Mission, near the southwest corner of Mission Street. The Make Out Room is a bar. That means that tickets are not sold, nor is there a cover charge. Nevertheless, a metaphorical hat is passed between sets; and all donations are accepted, not to mention welcome!

A Compelling Account of Crumb at Davies

Yesterday afternoon Davies Symphony Hall hosted the opening concert in the 2017–18 Chamber Music Series. This series was initiated by the San Francisco Symphony to provide a platform for SFS members and their colleagues to perform works from the chamber music repertoire. Yesterday afternoon offered the audience one of the most adventurous challenges taken on by those players. This was George Crumb’s only composition for string quartet, “Black Angels.”

It is worth noting that this is not the first time that Crumb’s music has been performed in a Chamber Music Series recital. The program for May 24, 2015 included his “Vox Balaenae” (the voice of whales), performed by the trio of Linda Lukas (flute), David Goldblatt (cello), and Gwendolyn Mok (piano). All three instruments were electronically enhanced and played on a darkened stage lit only by dim blue lights. In addition each of the players wore a black mask. As a result the performance was theatrical as well as musical.

Yesterday afternoon Goldblatt returned with his cello, performing this time with Sarn Oliver (first violin), Yun Chu (second violin), and David Gaudry (viola). This time the instruments were not merely “electronically enhanced.” They were electric versions of the traditional instruments. Only the basic frame supporting the strings, bridge, and tuning pins was left intact. The rest was a minimal suggestion of the shape of the instrument, serving only to accommodate the physical instincts of the performer. All sounds were the results of pickups on the frame and the electronic logic processing the signals from those pickups.

Each player also had a table of “additional gear,” consisting of objects to be used in the process of playing his respective part. The two violinists and the violist each had a sent of tuned crystal glasses, and the second violinist and cellist were required to play a suspended gong. A full account of all the materials required to play “Black Angels” is included on the composition’s Wikipedia page.

Crumb gave the piece the subtitle “Thirteen Images from the Dark Land.” He also had his own way of writing the date on the title page: “Friday the Thirteenth, March 1970 (in tempore belli).” This is the most explicit gesture Crumb made in acknowledging the Vietnam War (“tempore belli”). Both Gaudry and Oliver introduced the performance with some explanatory remarks, including structures involving the interplay of the numbers 13 (for Hell) and 7 (for Heaven). Their remarks were further enhanced by James M. Keller’s notes for the program book.

Like “Vox Balaenae,” the performance was as much theater as it was music. With the assistance of all the background material provided, the theatrical experience was intensely compelling, matched only by a sense of marvel at the rich variety of sonorities coming from the stage and the attentive skills of the performers in eliciting those sonorities. For those interested in history, “Black Angels” was the first piece performed by the Kronos Quartet; but, when they brought their performance to the University of California at Los Angeles, members of the audience had only a program sheet giving the title and the composer and no other background information. However, “Black Angels” is anything but “pure music;” and the rich body of context provided by both the program book and the performers did much to intensify the theatrical experience while also allowing the listener to appreciate the intricate structures behind the musical experience.

Equally expressive was the account of Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 87 piano quartet in E-flat major. In this case the performers were violinist Dan Carlson, violist Matthew Young, cellist Amos Yang, and pianist Sayaka Tanikawa. As many know, Johannes Brahms had been a strong advocate for Dvořák going back all the way to 1875, when he was on a competition jury that awarded Dvořák the Vienna State Prize. The two only met in 1877, probably after Brahms had successfully recommended Dvořák to his own publisher, Simrock. By that time Brahms had completed all three of his piano quartets, so Dvořák’s decision to compose Opus 87 in 1889 may have had personal connotations.

Without dwelling on wordplay, the music is definitely personable. It even picks up on Brahms’ preference for the cello during the slow movement. This is followed by a dumka movement, providing Dvořák with yet another opportunity to explore what was probably his favorite structural framework. Taken as a whole, the quartet is a thoroughly joyous composition; and yesterday afternoon’s performance did not short-change any of the exuberance that the composer had packed into the score’s rhetoric.

Similar exuberance could be found in the remaining work on the program, the Opus 6 divertissement that Albert Roussel composed for wind quintet and piano. The pianist was Britton Day, performing with his father Tim Day (flute), Russ deLuna (oboe), Steve Sanchez (clarinet), Rob Weir (bassoon), and Robert Ward (horn). The piece consisted of a single movement in ternary form, embedding a slow section between spirited outer sections.

Keller’s notes focused on the year in which Roussel wrote this piece, 1906. He noted that the music itself was closer in spirit to composers like Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc than it was to the work of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Both Milhaud and Poulenc were particularly comfortable in writing chamber music for winds, and Poulenc even wrote a sextet for exactly the same resources Roussel had required. Thus, the music is a bit of a “forward pass;” and yesterday’s performance seemed to be aware of those “future connections,” acknowledging them through the rhetorical verve brought to the execution.

Chamber Music Series programs are often distinguished by the broad diversity explored by the performers, but that diversity was particularly notable yesterday afternoon and in ways that were thoroughly satisfying.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

LSG Creative Music Series: First Half of November, 2017

Like many (but not all) performing arts groups, the LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) Creative Music Series will be taking a Thanksgiving break. However, prior to that break, there will be three two-set evenings of adventurous improvisation in a variety of genres during the month of November. As usual, these events will begin on (or close to) 8 p.m. on Thursday evenings. LSG is located at 1007 Market Street, across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street; and admission is usually on a sliding scale between $6 and $15. Specifics for the concerts this month are as follows:

November 2: The first set will be taken by the Song & Dance Trio, led by Filipino-American guitarist and composer Karl Evangelista. Evangelista’s influences are decidedly eclectic, including jazz, the twentieth-century experimentalists, and the full breadth of pop songs. The other members of the trio will be Cory Wright on reeds and Jordan Glenn on drums. The second set will be a solo by Lithuanian sound performance artist Arma Agharta.

November 9: Plans for the opening set have not yet finalized [updated 11/6, 8:10 a.m.: The opening set will be taken by Kataryna Kopelevich playing organ enhanced with electronics, accompanied by Alex Baum on bass]; but the second set will be a visit from Los Angeles by Derek Gaines, a guitarist who works with live electronics as part of his improvisations.

November 16: The opening set will be taken by a trio called The Senders. Members are Gino Robair, Astronauta Pinguim, and Benjamin Tinker; and they will be performing with a special guest artist. The second set will be a trio improvisation by Gretchen Jude, Kevin Corcoran, and Matt Davignon.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

MTT will Conduct the Four SFS Subscription Programs for November

San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) has prepared four distinctive programs for the month of November. These will cover an impressive breadth of repertoire and feature a host of significant solo appearances. This will make for a busy month in Davies Symphony Hall, so let us review the specifics without any further delay.

The first program will continue of celebration of the Bernstein Centennial with Leonard Bernstein’s second symphony, entitled “The Age of Anxiety.” The piece was named after an 80-page poem by W. H. Auden, a “Baroque Eclogue” (the author’s ironic subtitle) involving an encounter among four strangers in a seedy New York City bar. The symphony has extensive passages for solo piano, which will be played by guest soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The second half of the program will consist entirely of Richard Strauss’ Opus 40 tone poem “Ein Heldenleben” (a hero’s life).

This concert will be given three performances, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, November 2, and Friday, November 3, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 5. The Inside Music talk will be given by MTT, who will share his thoughts about both composers on the program. The talk will begin one hour before the performance, and doors to the lobbies open fifteen minutes before the talk begins. Ticket prices range from $15 to $155. They 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. In addition the event page has a hyperlink for a free podcast about “The Age of Anxiety” hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone. There is also a hyperlink for sound clips from “Ein Heldenleben.” Both of these hyperlinks require Flash for listening. 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.

In addition, these performances will be preceded by a Katherine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal. This special behind-the-scenes experience begins at 8:30 a.m. with coffee and complimentary doughnuts, followed by a half-hour introductory talk by John Palmer at 9 a.m. The rehearsal itself begins at 10 a.m.; and, of course, the pieces rehearsed are at the conductor’s discretion. General admission is $30 with $40 for reserved seats in the Premiere Orchestra section, the Side and Rear Boxes, and the Loge. Tickets may be purchased online through a separate event page.

The second offering of the month will be an American-themed program. The featured composer will be Charles Ives, represented by both his setting of Psalm 90 and his third symphony, which was given the title “The Camp Meeting.” In addition, Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 102, “The American Flag,” will be given its first SFS performances. The vocal soloists for this rarely performed American-inspired composition will be tenor Amitai Pati and bass-baritone Philip Skinner. The other American composer on the program will be George Gershwin, whose “An American in Paris” will conclude the performance. The SFS Chorus, prepared by Director Ragnar Bohlin, will also perform.

This concert will be given three performances, at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 10, and Saturday, November 11, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 12. The Inside Music talk will be given by James Keller. The talk will begin one hour before the performance, and doors to the lobbies open fifteen minutes before the talk begins. In addition Steven Winn will lead of Prelude Series discussion on the First Tier Lobby, which will begin 45 minutes before the performance. Ticket prices range from $35 to $159. They 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 addition, prior to the performances themselves, the Program Note Podcasts Web page will have a free podcast about the Ives symphony hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone.

The third offering will offer more Ives, this time coupled with Ludwig van Beethoven. The first half of the program will be devoted entirely to Ives’ fourth symphony. This will again involve the participation of the SFS Chorus, along with solo piano work by Peter Dugan. The complexity of this score is such that performance often requires more than one conductor, and Christian Reif will assist MTT in this capacity. By way of contrast, the second half of the program will consist entirely of Beethoven’s Opus 61 violin concerto in D major, which will feature performances by two soloists.

Pinchas Zukerman will be the soloist at the performances at 2 p.m. on Thursday, November 16, and ay 8 p.m. on Friday, November 17. The soloist at 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 18, will be Viviane Hagner, who will be making her SFS debut. The Inside Music talk will be given by Peter Grunberg. The talk will begin one hour before the performance, and doors to the lobbies open fifteen minutes before the talk begins. Ticket prices range from $35 to $159. Separate event pages have been prepared for the respective performances by Zukerman and Hagner. In addition, prior to the performances themselves, the Program Note Podcasts Web page will have a free podcast about the Ives symphony hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone.

The final offering of the month will combine the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with a symphony by Gustav Mahler. Soprano Isabel Leonard will return to Davies for both of those composers. In the first half of the program she will sing Mozart’s K. 165 cantata Exsultate, jubilate, and in the second half she will sing in the final movement of Mahler’s fourth symphony in G major. The program will begin with the first SFS performances of Mozart’s K. 509 set of German dances.

This concert will be given three performances, at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 24, and Saturday, November 25, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 6. The Inside Music talk will be given by Scott Foglesong. The talk will begin one hour before the performance, and doors to the lobbies open fifteen minutes before the talk begins. Ticket prices range from $35 to $159. They 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 addition the event page has a hyperlink for a free podcast about the Mahler symphony hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone. There is also a hyperlink for sound clips from that symphony. Both of these hyperlinks require Flash for listening.

Landmark OFS Season Off to an Impressive Start

Last night the One Found Sound (OFS) chamber orchestra presented the first program in its fifth anniversary season. For those who do not already know, this ensemble prizes itself on being highly collaborative, so collaborative that it has neither a conductor nor any other form of music director. The five founders of the ensemble were all students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, from which they acquired not only their solid grounding in technique but also a healthy sense of adventure in their approaches to repertoire.

Over the past five years that sense as been delightfully evident in every concert program the group has prepared. It has also influenced many of the choices of performance venues, and last night provided a prime example. The concert took place in the headquarters of Monument, a group loosely organized around bringing together creative people from both the arts and the sciences. The headquarters building (located in SoMa) serves as a workspace, a gallery, an event space, a residence, and a place to meet and make friends.

The title of last night’s program was Monster Masquerade, which was inspired by the date’s proximity to Halloween and provided an excuse for most of the performers (not to mention members of the audience) to sport outrageous costumes. At the same time there was also a sense that the instrumentation for the three selections on the program allowed for an exploration of the different “guises” that music can assume.

This was most evident in the opening selection, which involved the largest ensemble of players. This was Anton Webern’s arrangement of the six-voice fugue from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1079, The Musical Offering. Webern was a student of Arnold Schoenberg, and the influence of his teacher took on not only his best-known efforts to “emancipate” dissonance but also an adventurous approach to instrumental coloration that may have originated from Schoenberg’s parallel interest in painting. Webern’s arrangement of Bach was particularly adventurous in his approaches to instrumentation and orchestration, breaking a melodic line into fragments (sometimes individual notes) and distributing those fragments across different instruments with radically different sonorities.

The result is as fascinating as it is challenging, particularly for a group that plays without a conductor. All the performers must always be aware of the contrapuntal activity at the heart of the fugue, grasping the contributions of not only each of the six voices but also Bach’s keen sense of point-against-point superposition of those voices. Last night one came away with the impression that every OFS player had established her/his own personal grasp of the entire fugue. As a result, even when playing only a single note in isolation, (s)he always knew how that note fit into the “big picture.” Through this performance the attentive listener could attain not only new ways of thinking about Bach and the traditions of counterpoint but also a clearer perception of how Webern had applied his thoughts to his own compositions, works like his Opus 21 symphony.

Similar diversity of “guises” could be found in the final work on the program, Igor Stravinsky’s “Danses concertantes.” This originated with no specific ballet in mind, although George Balanchine would create two different ballets based on the same score. Like “Scènes de Ballet,” which Stravinsky composed about two years after “Danses concertantes,” the piece can be called music about the idea of dance, rather than music for the dance. This is most evident in the Pas de deux movement, which almost seems to be using relationships between individual instruments to reflect how the dance form establishes a relationship between a pair of dancers.

In many respects the Stravinsky selection was more challenging than the Webern arrangement, since, as a result of their music education, the players had a clear understanding of Webern’s point of departure. Stravinsky, on the other hand, had far more personal motives, which were also far more idiosyncratic. Nevertheless, that distinction did not daunt any of the performers; and the result was a thoroughly engaging journey, which was probably a journey of discovery for almost everyone in the audience.

Between these two full-ensemble pieces the wind players performed Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 44 serenade in D minor. This was scored for two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, and three horns, to which subsequently the composer added a bass part. The thematic material of the piece’s four movements is consistently accessible, but the real treat comes with how the tunes are handled by different combinations of instruments with an overall rhetoric that serves up just the right mix of competition and cooperation. Even in the Andante con moto movement, there is something joyous about the overall mix; and the coda of the Finale, which brings together the opening theme of the first movement with the principal theme of the last, ties up the whole affair with an almost smug sense of satisfaction.

The best that can be said of this five-year milestone is that it should lead all of us to look forward to what will happen over the next five years.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Two Jazz Events at CMC in November

The Community Music Center (CMC) has become a regular venue for Jazz in the Neighborhood events. However, next month’s installment will be preceded by another series of events held regularly in conjunction with San Francisco Performances (SFP). That will involve a current SFP Artist-in-Residence who is also a jazz player.

The series is Concerts with Conversation. SFP contributes by bringing world-class artists to the CMC concert hall. Every visitor offers a free community concert, after which the performer is open for conversation with the audience. The Artist-in-Residence who will launch the series this season is jazz trumpeter Sean Jones, who is also one of the current members of the SFJAZZ Collective. Jones is no stranger to conversation. His first performance following his Artist-in-Residence appointment was a one-hour gig in the SFP Salon Series, which always concludes with a Q&A session with the audience.

Jones’ Concert with Conversation event will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, November 10. CMC is located in the Mission at 544 Capp Street, between Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue and between 20th Street and 21st Street. To repeat, there will be no charge for admission.

The following Friday will be the next Jazz in the Neighborhood event to be hosted by CMC. The featured artist will be vocalist Clairdee. Her instrumental rhythm will be provided by the Ken French Trio, led by French at the piano. The other trio members will be Gary Brown on bass and Jim Zimmerman on drums. Clairdee will also host a special guest artist, Daria Johnson, who is both vocalist and percussionist.

This performance will also be held in the CMC Concert Hall, beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 17. Tickets will be sold at the door at prices of $20 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. However, there will be a $2 discount on full-price tickets purchased in advance. CMC has created an event page for advance purchase, which will be operable until 3 a.m. on the day of the concert.

Vänskä Brings Intense Expressiveness to SFS

Yesterday afternoon conductor Osmo Vänskä once again returned to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in Davies Symphony Hall for a visit that, sadly, only involves three performances. His soloist was Latvian violinist Baiba Skride, making her SFS debut. The concerto selection was Jean Sibelius’ Opus 47 violin concerto in D minor, a composition that Vänskä knows so well that he has recorded the original version of this concerto, which was completed by the beginning of 1904, as well as the revised version, which was first performed on October 18, 1905 and is the published version that is almost always presented in concerts.

However familiar Vänskä may be with this music, there was a stimulating freshness in the immediacy of his interplay with his soloist. Sibelius wrote out many long extended passages for the violin, many of which are, for all intents and purposes, cadenzas, even when the ensemble inserts punctuation marks. Vänskä’s attention to detail reached all the way down to those punctuation marks, each of which affirmed the narrative character of the concerto itself by asserting its own unique expressive stance. When the ensemble does more than punctuate cadenzas, it is exploring thematic material that frequently contrasts what the violin has been saying, endowing each movement of the concerto with passions that run high and low, almost as if they were on a roller coaster.

For her part Skride had clearly internalized every expressive nuance that Sibelius expected from the violin soloist. Her give-and-take with the ensemble was particularly effective in the final movement (Allegro, ma non tanto), which almost emerged as a depiction of an ancient bard and those listening to the tale with rapt attention. This was very much a concerto in which dramatic qualities counted for as much as virtuoso skill. Because there was never any doubt that Skride and Vänskä shared the same commitment to those dramatic qualities, the result was a thoroughly memorable account of a concerto that now gets frequent exposure in the concert halls.

As an “overture” to this concerto, Vänskä selected what is probably Sibelius’ best known composition, his Opus 26 “Finlandia.” (This was also a case in which Vänskä had recorded the composer’s early effort, a tone poem entitled “Finland Awakes.”) Here, too, he knew how to make every moment signify.

Through Vänskä’s leadership, the attentive listener could appreciate just how meticulous Sibelius was in making decisions as to which instruments would play when and with what qualities. The result was a reading in which the steady flow of contrasts carried as much significance as the familiar themes and motifs. By the time the full ensemble was roaring out the concluding measures, the experience of listening to this warhorse emerged as an stimulating journey that was as fresh as it was unique.

The second half of the program was devoted to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 10 (first) symphony in F minor. This was written when Shostakovich was still in Maximilian Steinberg’s composition course at the  Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad) Conservatory. It was completed in December of 1925 as a graduation exercise.

The result is a four-movement display of an emerging composer with a rich sense of humor with absolutely no fear in parading his prankishness. The comic gestures in the first two movements are fired off with such rapidity that even the most attentive listener can barely keep up with them. Even after things “get serious” in the third (“Lento”) movement, it is clear that Shostakovich is far from done with identifying targets for nose-thumbing. Finally, when he establishes an ambiguous boundary between the final two movements, it is clear that, when necessary, he can even add a layer of sophistication to his leg-pulling.

Vänskä’s reading of this symphony was straightforward and precise. He did not have to point out any of the jokes, because each one spoke for itself perfectly well on its own. Nevertheless, he also knew how to push the limits of rapidity during the second (Allegro) movement; and Robin Sutherland’s work at the piano keyboard almost gave the impression that he was channeling Charlie Chaplin. The result was a reading of this composition that made it sound less like a student exercise and more like an “opening statement” of the Shostakovich canon with a clear agenda of where the composer sought to take his creative imagination, apparently free of any fear of how Soviet authorities would react to what they thought was too much creativity or imagination.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Historical Stravinsky Program Led by Boulez

courtesy of Naxos of America

Last month IDIS, the house label of the Istituto Discographico Italiano (Italian discography institute), released a new CD entitled Boulez conducts Stravinsky. Those who know about Pierre Boulez know that there is no shortage of recordings of him conducting the music of Igor Stravinsky. Indeed, Boulez’ interest in Stravinsky predates the cultivation of his reputation as a conductor, dating back to the concerts he organized for the Domaine Musical during the Fifties.

Nevertheless, this recent release has major historical significance. It is a recording of a concert performance that Boulez gave with the Orchestre National de France of the score for the ballet in two parts, The Rite of Spring. Boulez presented this program on June 18, 1963 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the score’s premiere performance, which had resulted in a riot. To emphasize the significance of that anniversary, Boulez present the work in the same venue that had seen the premiere, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. As might be guessed, the audience reaction was again extreme; but this time the extreme was on the positive side, doing much to firm up Boulez’ reputation as a rising conductor of note.

(By way of context, 1963 was also the year in which Boulez conducted his first opera. This was a Paris Opera production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck directed by Jean-Louis Barrault. I, for one, will be curious to see if a recording of that debut ever comes out of the woodwork!)

Furthermore, Boulez decided that his entire program should be devoted to Stravinsky’s music. Thus, in addition to honoring the legacy of The Rite, Boulez scheduled four more orchestral works, all of which were not receiving very much attention in 1963 (not that they are receiving much more attention these days). One of these was a piece he had conducted during his Domain Musical days, the “Symphonies of Wind Instruments” (presumably in the 1947 version he had prepared for Domain Musical). Another connection to those days could be found in his selection of the four orchestral études that Stravinsky had published in 1928. These were arrangements of his three pieces for string quartet (whose Domain Musical performance Boulez had organized) followed by the “Étude pour pianola,” which became the last orchestral étude entitled “Madrid” and was subsequently published in a version for two pianos prepared by Stravinsky’s son Soulima.

The remaining two works on the program may well have been “first contact” experiences for Boulez. “Le roi des étoiles” (the king of the stars) is a very early piece (1912) setting a text by the Russian poet Konstantin Balmont. The vocalists were part of the resident chorus for Radiodiffusion-Télévision Français, prepared by chorus master Rene Alix. San Francisco readers may know that Michael Tilson Thomas has been a champion of this piece since the days of his tenure as Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra during the first half of the Seventies. The final selection on the album is Stravinsky’s three-movement cantata, A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer, the one composition that Boulez included on the program that presented Stravinsky’s use of serial techniques.

Taken as a whole, this is a prime example of wish-I-had-been-there programming. In the absence of a time machine, this new IDIS release is the most viable alternative. Attentive listeners are likely to come away feeling more informed about both Stravinsky and Boulez!

More Music for All Souls’ Day

Having already written about the selections of music to be performed at the Church of the Advent of Christ the King by resident choir Schola Adventus on both All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, I wanted to inform readers of the singing of a twentieth-century setting of the Requiem text at another church. The music will be Maurice Duruflé’s Opus 9, which was completed and published in 1948. The work was written for four-part choir with brief solos for mezzo and baritone.

This piece will be performed as part of a Feast of All Souls’ Choral Requiem Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Several different versions have been published to accommodate different resources for instrumental accompaniment. At this service Jonathan Dimmock will provide the accompaniment in the version for organ alone. Here is a sample from that edition, which shows that Duruflé, himself an organist, provided specific stop selections:

A page from the score that will be used at the performance being discussed (from Wikipedia, fair use)

The choral resources will involve the St. Mary’s Parish Choir performing with the Lacuna Arts Choral. The conductor will be Eric Choate, the church’s Director of Music. The service will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 2. The church is located at 2325 Union Street, between Steiner Street and Pierce Street.

Imaginative Approach to Philip Glass From SFGC

Last night in Herbst Theatre the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) began its 2017–2018 season with a program entitled Philip Glass and the Class of ’37. This is the first of two of the programs in the season that have been designed to celebrate the 80th birthday of Philip Glass, which took place this past January 31. The “class of ’37” refers to three other composers, each born in the 37th year of a different century: Dietrich Buxtehude (1637), Michael Haydn (1737), and Mily Balakirev (1837). Short selections from each of them opened the program, after which all of the works were by Glass with SFGC Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa contributing to arrangements of two of them.

It is important to note at the beginning that all of the Glass selections were written for theater pieces. Glass’ career has been rich with experiences that required him to be a “team player;” and some of the products of those experiences maintain a rich connection to Glass’ own name. Excerpts from two of them were included in last night’s program, the monument-scale four-act opera Einstein on the Beach, created with artist and stage director Robert Wilson, and the soundtrack for Geoffrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi. However, the most compelling performance last night came from the third and final act of a mixed media chamber opera first performed in 1982, The Photographer.

The photographer referred to by the title is Eadweard Muybridge, best known for his pioneering motion studies. To the extent that the opera had a narrative, the plot was based on Muybridge having been tried from the murder of a man he suspected to be his wife’s lover. In the original production, the final act involved bringing together all of the characters from the first act (the basis for the trial) for an extended dance. The music for that dance is moderately long; and it is repeated three times, each time at a faster tempo.

When The Photographer was first performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, attention to the narrative was almost entirely absent. The dance in the third act, choreographed by David Gordon, was, instead, inspired by Muybridge’s motion studies. The realization of that concept did not quite work, and the overall duration of that act proved to be rather a strain on even the most attentive members of the audience.

The music for the dance was scored for chamber ensemble and chorus vocalizing without any words. Last night SFGC and local instrumentalists were joined by two members of the Philip Glass Ensemble, Michael Riesman on electric keyboard and Andrew Sterman, playing flute for the Photographer excerpt. Some sense of the strain of the overall duration remained, even 35 years after the piece was first performed. Perhaps because it was the final work on the program, my vantage point provided me with a generous view of people getting up to leave while the music was still being performed.

Nevertheless, Music Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe clearly appreciated the three stages of tempo in the score. They could not have been more clearly distinguished, as was the rising tension in the final iteration. Considering the minimality of content and the scrupulous need for precision, the SFGC singers could not have been better. This was a performance that was not afraid to remind us of how notorious Glass was when pieces like this were first presented; and those three and one-half decades have not blunted the sharp edginess of the composer’s rhetorical stance. Indeed, the fact that this was a performance that could still provoke may be the best testament to its staying power.

On the other than the two excerpts from Einstein on the Beach were sufficiently short that they were hardly provocative at all. Indeed, listening to “Building” (the first scene of the fourth and final act) without the eyes being flooded by Wilson’s vast images and his dancers’ glacial pace, one could pay more attention to the lyrical wailing of Sterman’s saxophone work (which never rises above the background with much strength in the recording of this opera). The same could be said for the violin solo performed in “Knee Play 5.” (The violinist was supposed to be the embodiment of Albert Einstein. Last night the solo was taken by Owen Bhasin Dalby.) On the other hand the narration that takes place while this music is performed (“Lovers on a Park Bench”) was omitted last night, thus depriving listeners of appreciating just how affectionate the concluding moments of this opera could be.

The excerpt (“Vessels”) from Koyaanisqatsi was situated in the program between Einstein and The Photographer. While this reading was as attentive as the other Glass selections had been, there is a good chance that those familiar with the film missed the images. Glass did not write his score for this film to be “art music;” and this was a case in which the part could not stand on its own without the whole being present.

A similar problem with lack of context arose with “Father Death Blues,” originally written for six solo voices at the conclusion of Hydrogen Jukebox a chamber opera in two parts with a libretto created from poems by Allen Ginsberg. “Father Death Blues” is the song that brings together all six of these characters; and the choral arrangement (prepared jointly by Glass and Bielawa) did nothing to establish connections between words and personalities. Instead the music amounted to an abstract depiction of the process of adding voices to a mix and then removing them. Any semantic link to the text was purely coincidental.

Nevertheless, in a context rich with Glass’ imaginative rhetoric, the members of “the class of ’37” seemed awkwardly out of place. The readings of all three of the composers emerged as almost entirely featureless and little more than routine. This was more than regrettable, since the selections themselves reflected wide differences in personal outlook across these three composers. The overall result was a program that could have done with far more attentiveness to part-whole relationships.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Leila Josefowicz will Return to SFP Next Month


At the beginning of next month, violinist Leila Josefowicz (shown above) will be the first of the outstanding performers to participate in the Virtuosi Series of four recitals organized by San Francisco Performances (SFP). She will be accompanied by pianist John Novacek, and this will be the fourth time that the two of them have performed for SFP, having made their debut together in 1996. Throughout her career Josefowicz has been a passionate advocate of contemporary music. This was experienced most recently in San Francisco this past February, when she performed “Scheherazade.2,” which John Adams composed for her in 2014 on a joint commission by the New York Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Here in San Francisco she performed with the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas.

For next month’s recital Josefowicz has prepared a much earlier Adams composition, his 1995 “Road Movies,” scored for violin and piano. Adams will be the only American on the program, which will include two sonatas for violin and piano, the earlier by Sergei Prokofiev (Opus 80 in F minor), completed in 1946, and the later composed by Bernd Alois Zimmermann in 1950. Josefowicz will begin her program with “Valse triste,” the first of two pieces that Jean Sibelius originally composed as incidental music for the play Kuolema (death) and published as his Opus 44. Sibelius wrote this for full orchestra, but the piece was arranged for violin and piano by Friedrich Hermann.

This recital will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 7, in Herbst Theatre. 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.

Because this is the first concert in the Virtuosi Series, subscriptions are still on sale. The respective prices for the four performances in a full subscription are $240, $200, and $140. Subscriptions may be purchased online in advance through a City Box Office event page. Orders may also be placed by calling the SFP subscriber hotline at 415-677-0325, which is open for receiving calls between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. For all other matters SFP may be contacted by calling 415-392-2545.

Warner Releases Music Better Suited for “Live” Performance

 from Amazon.com

About a week and a half ago, Warner Classics released a new album featuring the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia led by its current Music Director, Antonio Pappano. The CD offers two familiar compositions by Camille Saint-Saëns, a live recording of his Opus 78 (“Organ”) symphony in C minor and a studio recording of his fourteen-movement suite, “The Carnival of the Animals.” Of these two, the latter has more going for it.

Note the lack on an opus number. “The Carnival of the Animals” was written for a private performance; and the instrumentation is minimal. Performance requires two pianos (played by Pappano and Martha Argerich), two violins (Carlo Maria Parazzoli and Alberto Mina), viola (Raffaele Mallozzi), cello (Gabriele Geminiani), bass (Libero Lanzilotta), flute doubling on piccolo (Carlo Tamponi), clarinets in B-flat and C (Stefano Novelli), glass harmonica, and xylophone. (The booklet lists percussionists Marco Bugarini and Edoardo Albino Giachino without says who plays what, and the photographs in the booklet suggest that the glass harmonica was replaced by a synthesizer.) Except for Argerich, all performers are members of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

Saint-Saëns intended this to be humorous entertainment to be enjoyed among friends. He expected those friends to be knowledgeable about repertoire, which is clear when he has elephants dancing to the “Dance of the Sylphs” from Hector Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust. He also has the tortoises dance Jacques Offenbach’s famous can-can music at a glacial pace. (Both of those examples tend to be cited in just about any account to this score. On the other hand not even the Wikipedia page for this piece makes note of the presence of Jean-Philippe Rameau among the hens.) However, tucked in among all of these familiar animals is a movement entitled “Pianistes,” which depicts a pair of young piano students going about their exercises. All too often, this is played “straight;” but both Argerich and Pappano had the confidence to give this music the sort of error-laden treatment that Saint-Saëns most likely envisioned.

Similarly, one often encounters performances that involve an entire orchestra. This would probably be more effective when the performance is given in a large concert hall, but the chamber resources are far more effective. When one is closer to the performers themselves, those performers are more likely to wink-and-nod their way through the composer’s many jokes; and the chemistry between those making the music and those listening to it is all the stronger for that intimacy. However, when technology imposes the detachment, the humor is up against greater obstacles. At best this new recording will help the listener become more familiar with the score and thus be more receptive to the full extent of the composer’s humor when given the opportunity of a chamber music performance.

Physical presence is also a major factor where Opus 78 is concerned. The fact is that this is music that really does not deserve to be recorded, particularly for listeners who now experience music only through their ear buds. Indeed, when the organ is encountered in the Poco adagio section that concludes the first of the symphony’s two movements, its appearance is not so much thematic as one of a viscerally physical presence of pedal tones. (Those who follow articles about opera on this site may recall that Giacomo Puccini achieved the same effect with equal success in his use of the organ at the end of the second act of his Turandot opera.) I have been fortunate enough to have listened to this symphony in two major concert halls, one on either side of the country; and I therefore feel qualified to say that, once you have experienced your body vibrating sympathetically with the lowest tones in Saint-Saëns’ score, you will never be satisfied with any currently available recording.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Choices for November 4 and 5, 2017

Having written about choices for every weekend of this month except the first, I realize that I had better settle into the same generic format I have been using for busy weekdays. The only distinction will be over whether Friday is or is not part of the weekend. While each of my “choices” articles for October included options on Friday, the choices for the first weekend in November will involve only Saturday and Sunday. Thus, I plan to use the headline to indicate the “span” of each weekend for which one of these pieces will be written. Here are the options for the first Saturday and Sunday of next month:

Saturday, November 4, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: The month will begin with the tenth annual celebration of the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). Traditionally, this has been an afternoon affair with both a concert and other amusements for the entire family. This year, however, there will be a second concert in the evening with programing for a more adult audience.

The conductor for the afternoon will be Alondra de la Parra, and she will lead SFS in Mexican orchestral works, including “Huapango” by José Pablo Moncayo, “Sensemayá” by Silvestre Revueltas, and the second of a series of dance pieces composed by Arturo Márquez. Prior to these selections, the concert will begin with a neon Quetzalcoatl serpent dance performed by the Casa Círculo Cultural theater group to music played by the Canción de Obsidiana ensemble. For the remainder of the program SFS will accompany Mexican cultural icon Eugenia León, who will sing pieces specific to the holidays and selections from her own catalogue of hits. For the evening concert León will return for a more intimate song concert with accompaniment provided by her own musicians, Rosino Serrano on piano and Flavio Meneses alternating among guitar, vihuela, and requinto.

Both of these concerts will be preceded by lobby festivities that will begin 75 minutes before the performance in the Davies auditorium. Guests will be welcomed by Aztec dancers and performers from Casa Círculo Cultural. The lobbies on the different levels will offer an assortment of activities involving both food and artifacts.

There will also be a fundraising lunch, which will be held in the Wattis Room, located just to the right of the Box Office. This is being organized by the San Francisco League to support education and community programs. The VIP Package for this event will include a seated lunch with mimosas, sangria, and other culinary surprises. The Package will also include tickets for premium seating at the afternoon concert. The luncheon will conclude by 1 p.m., providing ample opportunity for the guests to enjoy the many lobby activities.

Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue and fills an entire city block. The other boundaries are Grove Street (north), Hayes Street (south), and Franklin Street (west). The main entrance (which is also the entrance to the Box Office) is on Grove Street, roughly halfway down the block. Concert tickets for both the afternoon and the evening are priced between $25 and $95. VIP Packages begin at $250. A single event page on the SFS Web site has hyperlinks for purchasing both concert tickets and VIP Packages. VIP Packages may also be purchased by calling the Volunteer Council at 415-503-5500. Those interested only in concert tickets can visit the Box Office or call 415-864-6000.

Saturday, November 4, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 5, 2 p.m., Z Space: The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble will continue its 25th anniversary season with a program of two chamber operas, both composed by LCCE violist Kurt Rohde. One of the selections will be a revival of Rohde’s first opera, “Death with Interruptions,” which was premiered in 2015 with a libretto by Thomas Laqueur based on a novel by José Saramago. The original cast of baritone Daniel Cilli, soprano Nikki Einfeld, and baritone Joe Dan Harper will return for a new staging of the opera. The other Rohde opera will be a singspiel inspired by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s novel Don Quixote. “Never was a knight…” was written for solo tenor (Harper) and a chamber ensemble of seven instruments; and the text amounts of a monologue by Don Quixote as he lies on his deathbed.

Z Space is located in NEMIZ (the NorthEast Mission Industrial Zone) at 450 Florida Street. Ticket prices are between $15 and $55. Z Space has set up separate event pages for purchasing tickets to the Saturday and Sunday performances. Each page has a seating chart showing which seats are available at which prices.

Saturday, November 4, 7:30 p.m., War Memorial Opera House: This will be the opening night for the fourth opera in the 2017–18 season of the San Francisco Opera (SFO). This will be a new production of Jules Massenet’s Manon in a production shared with the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Israeli Opera. Staging will be by French director Vincent Boussard. The conductor will be Patrick Fournillier, who is also French and specializes in Massenet’s music. Almost all of the vocal soloists will be making their respective role debuts. These will include soprano Ellie Dehn in the title role and tenor Michael Fabiano as the Chevalier des Grieux. Ian Robertson will prepare the SFO Chorus.

Following the opening night, this opera will be given another five performances, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. on November 7, 10, 16, and 22 and at 2 p.m. on November 19. The libretto will be sung in French with English supertitles. The approximate running time will be three hours and 25 minutes with two intermissions.

The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, on the northwest corner of Grove Street. Single tickets are priced from $26 to $370. Tickets may be purchased online through an event page on the SFO Web site. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office in the outer lobby of the Opera House. The Box Office may also be reached by telephoning 415-864-3330. Standing room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance. They are sold for $10, cash only.

This opera will also be given the next Insight Panel of the season. This provides members of both the cast and the creative team to share their thoughts on preparing this production. Participants have not yet been announced. Time is left at the end of the discussion for a Q&A with the audience. The entire event is one hour, and it will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 1. The venue will be the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theatre, located on the top floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Admission is free for SFO members, subscribers, and students with valid identification. The charge for all others is $5. Pre-registration (including for those who do not have to pay) can be arranged through an Eventbrite event page.

Saturday, November 4, 8 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: At a time when most seasons are just beginning, the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra (SFCCO) will be giving the final concert in its 2016–2017 season. The title of the program will be A Free and Frank Exchange of Ideas, and it will amount to a world tour of musical thought. The program will include a suite of five sections from Erling Wold’s currently work-in-progress opera, The Sinking of the Szent István. The title refers to an Austro-Hungarian battleship that sank on its maiden voyage, probably due to a perfect storm of foolishness and mishaps. The event thus emerged as an omen of the future of the Austro-Hungarian empire itself. Another excerpt will be the fourth scene from John Beeman’s Ishi. Set in Northern California, the title of that scene is “The Demon Train.” Other works on the program will be “Turkish Impressions” by Nancie Kester, “True of Voice Finale,” a reflection on ancient Egypt by Stardust, Harry Bernstein’s “Stringtet,” and ripped-from-the-headlines “2017” by SFCCO Music Director Mark Alburger.

St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. Tickets will be sold only at the door. General admission is $25 with a sliding scale available for students and seniors. Further information is available by calling 628-400-2144.

Sunday, November 5, 4 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM): Following up on this Sunday’s concert, the Historical Performance program will present a program entitled San Francisco Songs. Jamason has compiled a roughly chronological account of songs from and/or about San Francisco, beginning at the time of the Gold Rush (when, for the most part, new words were put to familiar tunes), proceeding through the 1906 earthquake and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, up to original songs written in the Twenties and Thirties. Once again student vocalists will be accompanied at the piano by Corey Jamason, Chair of Historical Keyboards and Co-Director of the Baroque Ensemble.

The performance will take place in the Sol Joseph Recital Hall. SFCM is located at 50 Oak Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station. There will be no charge for admission, and reservations will not be required.

[added 11/30, 9:25 a.m.:

Sunday, November 5, 4 p.m., Old First Presbyterian Church: Old First Concerts (O1C) will present the duo of violinist Nato and pianist Monica Chew. They have been performing as the Minsky Duo since the spring of 2016. Their goal is to prepare chamber music recital programs that combine both popular and obscure composers. Their O1C program is entitled Minsky Duo Raises the Barn, and it will consist entirely of American composers. They will perform sonatas by Ned Rorem, Aaron Copland, and Charles Ives, the last of which was given the title “Children's Day at the Camp Meeting.” They will also perform John Adams' “Road Movies,” as well as the world premiere of a set of preludes and fugues for piano by Aaron Andrew Hunt.

The Old First Presbyterian Church is located at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southeast corner of Van Ness Avenue. If purchased in advance online from an O1C event page, general admission will be $23 with a discounted rate of $18 for seniors aged 65 or older. Tickets for full-time students showing valid identification will be $5; and children aged twelve and under will still be admitted for free. There is also a discount available for those parking at the Old First Parking Garage at 1725 Sacramento Street, just up the street from the church.]

[added 11/29, 8:35 a.m.:

Sunday, November 5, 7:30 p.m., Musicians Union Hall: The next concert to be offered by Outsound Presents in the Static Illusion Methodical Madness (SIMM) Series will be a release party for the latest Noertker's Moxie album. Bill Noertker is a bass player who composes much of the music that he plays. He formed Noertker's Moxie in 2001 as a vehicle for compositions inspired by art, poetry, sculpture, architecture, and film. (Several of the earlier releases collectively accounted for what Noertker called the Blue Rider Suite as a way of acknowledging past multidisciplinary influences.) The title of the new album is druidh fenestrae:


The second of those words the the plural for "windows" in Latin. Noertker sees the tracks on this new album as bringing light to a prodigious number of thematic influences, including childhood chants, poetry, math puzzles, word play, syllabic abbreviations, chicanery, critiques of religion, James Joyce, and Greek mythology. Performances at this release party will be the members of the Noertker's Moxie Chamber Trio, consisting of Noerkter (on bass) and two wind players, Annelise Zamula (alto saxophone and flute) and Masaru Koga (tenor saxophone and flute). The Musicians Union Hall is located at 116 9th Street, near the corner of Mission Street in SoMa. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $10 and $15.]

Sunday, November 5, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: The China National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra will give the penultimate concert of its six-city United States tour here in San Francisco. This will be a special concert arranged by SFS but not associated with any of its subscription series. Of particular interest to our own audience, the ensemble will play Lou Harrison’s pipa concerto. The soloist will be Wu Man, known to many for her frequent performances with the Kronos Quartet; and she will be accompanied only by the string section, led by Music Director Lü Jia. This will be the center of an overture-concerto-symphony program with the symphony selection being Johannes Brahms Opus 98 (fourth) in E minor. The opening selection will be “Luan Tan” by Chinese composer Chen Qigang.

Concert tickets are priced between $20 and $50. Tickets may be purchased through the event page for this concert on the SFS Web site. That page also includes both sound clips from and a podcast about the Brahms symphony. Both of these may be played through hyperlinks on the event page, but Flash must be installed and activated.

Sunday, November 5, 8:30 p.m., The Lab: Drummer John Colpitts will give a solo concert performing as Man Forever. Colpitts’ tastes are broadly eclectic, encompassing rock and jazz improvisation along with contemporary classical. The title of his program is Play What They Want, and it is the culmination of 25 years of his own characteristic approaches to musical engagement.

The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street. This is a short walk from the corner of Mission Street. This is particularly good for those using public transportation, since that corner provides bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel as well as a BART station.

Admission will be $15, and members of The Lab will be admitted for free. Advance registration is strongly advised. Separate Web pages have been created for members and the general public. Doors will open at 8 p.m., half an hour before the performance is scheduled to begin. Events at The Lab tend to attract a large turnout, so early arrival is almost always highly recommended.

Profil Follows Richter’s Schubert with Beethoven

 courtesy of Naxos of America

Earlier this month this site reported on the ten-CD album entitled Sviatoslav Richter Plays Schubert – Live in Moscow, released on the Profil label from Edition Günter Hänssler this past July. At the beginning of September, Profil followed up with the release of Sviatoslav Richer Plays Beethoven, a twelve-CD collection consisting primarily of piano sonatas. This is not a complete account of all 32 sonatas, but it definitely touches on the most familiar ones. There are also four sets of variations, including the monumental Opus 120 collection of 33 variations on the theme provided by Anton Diabelli. Shorter pieces include rondos and bagatelles with no intentions of thoroughness.

Indeed, the closest Richter gets to being complete is in the final two CDs, which cover the five cello sonatas, which he performs with Mstislav Rostropovich. There are also two concertos and the WoO 6 orchestral rondo. Each of these three selections is performed with a different ensemble and conductor. The Opus 15 concerto in C major is played with the USSR TV and Radio Large Symphony Orchestra led by Kurt Sanderling. Hermann Abendroth conducts the USSR State Symphony Orchestra in the Opus 37 concerto in C minor. Finally, Kirill Kondrashin leads the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in the brief performance of the WoO 6 rondo in B-flat major.

As was the case with the Schubert recordings, all performances are made with a contemporary piano. The allows Richter to explore very wide swings in dynamic level; and, on the basis of all of the listening I have achieved, I would suggest that his Beethoven swings are noticeably broader than those he applied to his Schubert interpretations. Whether this amounted to Richter’s impression that Beethoven was writing for the “mass appeal” of concert halls, while Schubert was more directed toward the intimacy of the salon, is left for those better informed of the history to resolve.

Whatever the case may be, Richter is never shy about being emphatically assertive in his approach to Beethoven. This definitely gets a rise out of audiences. However, the many gestures of wit that can be found across much of Beethoven’s repertoire, tend to get cast into the shadows, if one is aware of them at all. To be fair, however, all of these recordings were made between 1947 and 1963, a time when audiences expected Beethoven to be “heroic” rather than witty. Richter knew how to give his audiences what they wanted, and he provided it with a consistently solid technique through which clarity is the highest priority.

As was the case with the Schubert collection, there are couplings of live and studio recordings for six of the sonatas. The live recordings were made in Russia. As was the case with Schubert, there are also studio recordings from Paris, as well as one each from London and New York. My guess is that comparisons will only appeal to those whose interest in Richter goes to extreme levels. For the rest of us, this collection makes for an excellent time machine. We may not embrace all of the aesthetic values that dominated the twentieth century, but Richter’s performances could not provide a better opportunity to identify those values and take them on their own terms.

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.