Thursday, November 15, 2018

Two SF Venues for Chanticleer’s Xmas Music

The members of Chanticleer (photograph by Lisa Kohler)

Next month Chanticleer will present is annual holiday concert, A Chanticleer Christmas, at eight different venues throughout the Bay Area. While this will involve only two performances in San Francisco, our city will also host a special preview event, entitled A Very Special Chanticleer Christmas, before the full run of eleven performances gets under way. As usual, the full program will provide reflections on the Nativity through music composed as early as the thirteenth century and as recently as the present day. Indeed, Peter Bloesch’s “Behold, a Simple, Tender Babe” will be receiving its first round of premiere performances over the course of the tour.

The earliest composed music will be the plainchant with which the program will begin. The earliest composed music will be represented by the “big three” composers from the end of the sixteenth century, Orlande de Lassus, his successor at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and Tomás Luis de Victoria in Spain. The transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque will be represented by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck; and, at the other end of the timeline will be one of the four Christmas motets composed by Francis Poulenc, “Quem vidistis, pastores dicite.” The program will also include arrangements of traditional English and Spanish carols.

The preview performance, A Very Special Chanticleer Christmas, will be presented as part of the Salon Series at Trinity+St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, located at 1620 Gough Street on the northeast corner of Bush Street. The performance will last for only an hour and will take place on Monday, December 10, beginning at 7 p.m. There will also be a post-concert reception. All tickets are being sold for $100 and may be purchased through the Salon Series Order Form on the Chanticleer Web site.

The two San Francisco performances of A Chanticleer Christmas will take place at 8 p.m., the first on Saturday, December 15, and the second on Sunday, December 23. The venue for both performances will be Saint Ignatius Church, which is located on the campus of the University of San Francisco at 650 Parker Avenue on the northeast corner of Fulton Street. Ticket prices will be $75 for Premiere seating, $64 for Preferred seating, $51 for Reserved seating in the Balcony, and $35 for general admission seating in the side sections of the sanctuary. All tickets are being sold online by City Box Office with separate event pages for December 15 and December 23.

A Broad Scope of Modernist Perspectives

Don Byron at the Unterfahrt jazz club in Munich, Germany (photograph by OhWeh, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license)

Almost exactly a month ago the Zürich-based Intakt Records released a debut album that reminded me of why that label has become one of my favorites for adventurous jazz modernism. The debut is that of the duo that brings veteran clarinetist and saxophonist Don Byron together with Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz. Since Ortiz is about fifteen years younger than Byron, their performances arise from not only a meeting of minds but also an imaginatively productive bridging of generations. At the same time it is worth noting that Byron was born on November 8, 1958, meaning that the release of the new album, Random Dances and (A)tonalities, could be taken as an “overture” to his 60th birthday.

The title is clearly a playful one, which sets the overall tone for the listening experience without necessarily requiring literal interpretation. Thus, the oldest track on the album goes all the way back to Johann Sebastian Bach with the second movement from the BWV 1002 solo violin partita in B minor, the “Double” variation on the Allemande of the first movement. Whether or not the Double is as danceable as the music in the first movement is left for an exercise for the listener. Byron plays this as a clarinet solo, which is true to the notes set down in the score but definitely has its own way with both phrasing and rhythm, making the music more suitable for modern dance than Baroque tradition!

At the other extreme of the time-line, the final track is a joint composition by both Byron and Ortiz; but it is also a “spiritual collaboration” with a third composer. As a latter-day reflection on a major bebop tradition, “Impressions on a Golden Theme” is an invention based on what Frank Tirro calls a “silent theme.” That theme is the tune “Along Came Betty,” composed by saxophonist Benny Golson, whose last name is cryptically encoded in the composition’s title. This is a case in which the theme could not be more “silent,” with only the most perceptive beboppers likely to mine it from the fragmentary nature of the Byron-Ortiz “impressions.” Indeed, one might be forgiven for taking those impressions as reflections on Anton Webern, rather than Golson! Even if there is a clear sense of progression in Ortiz’ accompanying chords, this is one of those tracks for which the “A” in the album title does not have to be hidden with parentheses.

By the time Byron was coming into his own, of course, he had progressed quite some distance from bebop traditions. Indeed, he was studying with George Russell at the New England Conservatory of Music at a time when the Third Stream “school” was seeking out ways in which jazz practices could build on the Second Viennese School and its calculated efforts to depart from the need for a tonal center. Third Stream never got very far, but Byron found his own voice by negotiating the influences of both Russell and Gunther Schuller (also at the New England Conservatory). As a result, any intimations of Webern among the “(A)tonalities” of this album are far more than merely coincidental!

Ortiz, on the other hand, cites Byron himself as a significant influence as he was finding his own modernist approaches to jazz piano. As a result, there is a certain evolutionary quality that emerges as one listens to side-by-side tracks of compositions by Byron and Ortiz. Furthermore, three tracks reflect on key pianists from the past, each with his/her own unique approach to modernism. The jazz influences come from Duke Ellington (“Black and Tan Fantasy”) and Geri Allen (“Dolphy’s Dance,” citing yet another jazz player not afraid of atonality). However, there is also a performance of one of the movements from Federico Mompou’s Música callada (silent music) collection. Mompou tended to be unabashedly tonal; but the first volume (of four) of Música callada was published in 1959, long before anyone in “serious music” was talking about “minimalism,” the most salient quality of Mompou’s rhetoric.

Taken as a whole, this new album is impressive for how much ground it covers; but the content is so rich that every track will continue to disclose new discoveries, even after several listenings.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Fischer Duo’s Brahms Album

Jeanne Kierman and Norman Fischer on the cover of their new Brahms album (from Web page)

Back when I was writing for, in April of 2014, one of my more enjoyable experiences was writing about an album of the “complete++” music for cello and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by the Fischer Duo of cellist Norman Fischer and his wife, pianist Jeanne Kierman. The “++” had to do with the fact that, over the course of four CDs, the duo covered not only the “official” music for “pianoforte and violoncello” (as Beethoven’s title pages would have put it) but also arrangements for that coupling of instruments for both the Opus 3 string trio in E-flat major and the Opus 17 horn sonata in F major. There was also a “bonus” CD that included an early draft of the opening movement on the Opus 69 sonata in A major and Carl Czerny’s arrangement for cello and piano of the Opus 47 (“Kreutzer”) violin sonata in A major.

This Friday Centaur will release another album featuring the Fischer Duo. This one is only a single CD, and it consists entirely of music by Johannes Brahms. That accounts for the two sonatas for cello and piano, Opus 38 in E minor and Opus 99 in F major. However, there is again a “bonus” offering, in the form of Opus 91, the two “alto songs” originally composed for alto voice, viola, and piano. These are played basically as Brahms had written them but with Fischer’s cello substituting for the viola part. This is again a “family affair,” since the vocalist is the Fischers’ daughter Abigail. As usual, has a Web page processing pre-orders for those who cannot wait until the end of this week.

Readers that have been following my work regularly probably know that I cannot get enough of good cello performances. In this respect Fischer is somewhat special for me, since I have had the pleasure of following some of his Master Class work at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. (Fischer is Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Cello and Director of Chamber Music at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston. Kierman is also on the faculty as an Artist Teacher.) It was through his coaching insights that I was drawn to his Beethoven album, and my pleasure with that extended package drew me to the new Brahms album.

Consistent with what I observed in his Master Class, Fischer’s approach to Brahms is concerned primarily with giving a clear and expressive account of what the composer tried to capture in his marks on paper. Brahms was never particularly interested in show-off virtuosity; and Fischer does not try to pile on fireworks where they are neither necessary nor desirable. These are readings in which one readily appreciates what Brahms was trying to say and why it was worth his time to say it and our time to listen. The same can be said of the Opus 91 songs, truly modest in scope but nevertheless compelling for the intimacy that is captured by those brief gestures.

This is an album likely to be consulted consistently when I wish to think more about the role of the cello in performing the music of Brahms.

The Lab: December, 2018 and January, 2019

Over the course of the next two months, The Lab will present three concerts, one of which will be given two performances, that would usually be announced through the weekly Bleeding Edge articles. However, because there have been so many weekends, not to mention individual dates, that require making serious choices, it seemed desirable to give the readers “early warning” about these particular events. For those who do not already know, 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. Doors open half an hour before each concert begins, and it is usually the case that a long line has accumulated before then. Specific dates and times are as follows:

Wednesday, December 5, 8 p.m.: The will be a two-set evening of alternative vocal techniques. BEAM SPLITTER is the duo of Audrey Chen and Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø. Performance brings improvised amplified voice together with trombone and occasional analog electronics. They will be followed by the Voicehandler duo in which percussionist Jaco Felix Heule accompanies vocalist Danishta Rivero working with electronics. Admission will be $15 and $10 for members. Seats may be reserved through a login Web page for members and a guest registration Web page for others.

Friday, December 7, and Saturday, December 8, 8:30 p.m.: This will be a “farewell concert” of sorts for jazz saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell. Mitchell will be returning to Madison, Wisconsin, having spent eleven years as the Darius Milhaud Chair of Composition at Mills College. The scope of his performances has ranged from classical to the immediate present; and he is as much at home with wild and forceful free jazz as he is with ornate chamber music. He will lead a quartet, whose other members will be Ambrose Akinmusire, Junius Paul, and Vincent Davis. Admission will be $25 and  $20 for members. Members can register for either concert (or both of them) through the usual login Web page. Others will be required to complete separate guest registration forms for the Friday and Saturday concerts.

Saturday, January 12, 8:30 p.m.: Vocalist Haley Fohr will present a 60-minute collection of études and undulations of the mouth. Admission will be $15 and $10 for members. Seats may be reserved through a login Web page for members and a guest registration Web page for others.

Maltman’s SFP Recital: “nothing quite like it”

Baritone Christopher Maltman (from his SFP event page)

Last night in Herbst Theatre, San Francisco Performances (SFP) launched its replacement for its past annual Vocal Series. Under the new name “The Art of Song,” SFP plans to expand the scope of vocal programming beyond traditional “art song.” Last night English baritone Christopher Maltman launched the new series with a recital that definitely took the art song repertoire beyond its usual traditional boundaries. Along with pianist Audrey Saint-Gil, he presented a program entitled Carnival of the Animals, which had nothing to do with Camille Saint-Saëns and everything to do with texts, primarily in French and German, involved with animal life.

There was certainly no break from tradition in his choice of composers. The French texts were set by Francis Poulenc, Maurice Ravel, and Emmanuel Chabrier. Those in German were set by Robert Schumann, Max Reger, and Hugo Wolf. However, the Poulenc and Ravel sets were both collections conceived by their respective composers consisting entirely of poems about animals.

Before he began the performance, Maltman explained that the program had grown out of his desire to sing Ravel’s Histoires naturelles. From there he realized that the literature abounded with other songs of animal life, and it was not long before he had accumulated enough material for a complete program. Before last night I had known the five songs in Histoires naturelles only through recordings, so Maltman’s initial motive was sufficient to draw me to his recital. It is easy to think that the title, taken from the source of the texts, a collection of prose poems by Jules Renard, means “natural history.” However, in French “histoire” is the noun for “story” or “tale;” and what struck me most about Ravel’s selections was how each embedded rich description within the setting of a narrative, each of which is rich with connotations.

Maltman clearly appreciated this narrative infrastructure. Without ever compromising the many details (some subtle, some blatant) of Ravel’s settings, he knew how to approach each song with the rhetoric of a storyteller, always keeping the listener curious about what would happen next (even if that listener had the “full plan” in the text sheet on his/her lap). One of the more shattering moments comes in the very first song about a peacock in search of his mate. At the very center of the text is the bird’s “diabolical” cry, elicited by Renard with just the right chilling combination of phonemes and rendered by Maltman with all the shock value the poet had in mind.

Poulenc’s Le bestiare ou Cortège d’Orphée (the bestiary or procession of Orpheus) is based on a book of animal poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, each illustrated by a woodcut by Raoul Dufy. Each poem is a miniature. (The longest has five lines.) Yet, as is often the case in a haiku, the description provided in the text discloses an underlying narrative. Maltman’s evocation of the imagery behind each of these poems elapsed with such spontaneity that the momentum allowed him to advance to the two Schumann settings with only a barely noticeable break.

Those two Schumann selections, composed at different times in the composer’s life, were both about lions. In both of them description is subordinated to the unfolding of narrative; and both of the narratives evolve as chilling Gothic tales, each climaxing in a gruesome ending. The Reger selections, taken from his Opus 76 Schlichte Weisen (simple airs) collection, are far more light-hearted, if not downright cheerful. It is hard to think that these little gems of simplicity came from a composer best known for pushing the technique of prolongation to extremes in his compositions for organ.

The penultimate coupling of Chabrier and Wolf provided a study of rhetorical opposites. The Chabrier settings were unabashedly cheerful, given just the right lightness of touch in Maltman’s delivery. Wolf, on the other hand, was notorious for expressing his neuroses through his music. Each of Maltman’s accounts proceeded down a dark road, at the end of which was his setting of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s account of a rat catcher with sinister overtones of the pied-piper of fairy tales.

All of this programming led up to a “dessert course” of three songs setting the English texts of Michael Flanders, composed by Flanders’ “partner in crime, Donald Swan. The two of them compiled enough songs about animals to fill an entire album. Maltman selected “The Armadillo,” “The Warthog,” and “The Gnu.” Some of Flanders’ texts no longer hold up under the test of time; but all three of these are absolute gems, each with its own characteristic take on eccentricity.

After taking his bows Maltman acknowledged that his encore selection was inevitable. “The Hippopotamus” is probably the most beloved selection in the entire Flanders/Swan catalog. Audiences around the world can sing the “Mud, mud, glorious mud!” chorus at the drop of a hat (shamelessly appropriated from the title of the first Flanders and Swan show taken on tour from London to Broadway). However, one must not overlook Flanders’ mastery of light verse at its best (read “a regular army/of hippopotami” aloud to see how well it scans).

The World Wildlife Fund never had it so good.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Choices for November 18, 2018 (and beyond)

At the very beginning of this month, I wrote a “Choices for November 17, 2018 (and beyond)” article. At that time it seemed as if Saturday was going to be far busier than Sunday, enough so to be examined on its own; but, as they say, things change. Two events for this coming Sunday have already gone “on the record:”
  1. The final San Francisco Symphony (SFS) performance at 2 p.m. of Michael Tilson Thomas’ “From the Diary of Anne Frank,” with the composer conducting in Davies Symphony Hall
  2. The final Hotplate Festival concert at the SFJAZZ Center based on Jackie McLean’s 1965 Blue Note album It’s Time with two performances at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively
That leaves three further events interleaved among these two as follows:

Taube Atrium Theater, 3 p.m.: Symphony Parnassus will present the opening concert of its 2018–19 season. Since Music Director Stephen Paulson will be “otherwise engaged” with SFS (where he is Principal Bassoon), the conductor will be Emil de Cou, acting Music Director of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, where he is responsible for conducting all Nutcracker performances. The concerto soloist for the program will be the winner of the 2018 Symphony Parnassus/San Francisco Conservatory of Music Competition, eleven-year-old violinist Dustin Breshears. He will play Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 64 violin concerto in E minor. The program will begin with Paul Hindemith’s “Symphonia Serena” and conclude with the waltz that Aram Khachaturian composed for incidental music for a production of the play Masquerade by Mikhail Lermontov.

The Taube Atrium Theater is located on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Tickets will be sold for $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students and those under the age of 26 upon proof of identification. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a Brown Paper Tickets order form on the event page for this concert.

The full season will consist of three additional concerts held either in the Taube Atrium Theater or the Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). All performances will take place on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. Single ticket prices will be the same for both venues. SFCM is located at 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street and a short walk from the Muni Van Ness station. Program specifics are as follows:
  1. January 27, Taube Atrium Theater: Violinist Sean Mori will be soloist in a performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 35 concerto in D major. The “overture” for the program will be the prelude music for Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Khovanshchina. The concluding “symphony” will be Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony Dances.”
  2. April 7, Taube Atrium Theater: Once again the program will feature a violin concerto, this time by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, his Opus 35 in D major. As was recently observed, Korngold wrote this concerto for Bronisław Huberman in 1945, by which time he had provided scores for a wide variety of Hollywood films. Many of the themes for the concerto can be traced back to soundtrack material, and the Wikipedia page for this concerto seems to account for all of those sources. As might be guessed, there is no shortage of high spirits in this concerto; and the audience will be prepared for those high spirits with the opening selection, Emmanuel Chabrier’s “Joyeuse marche,” originally written as a four-hand piano composition. The concluding “symphony” will be Edward Elgar’s Opus 68, “Falstaff – Symphonic Study,” in C minor.
  3. June 9, SFCM: The soloist for the Season Finale concert will be Mark Inouye, SFS Principal Trumpet. He will play the trumpet concerto by Grace Mary Williams, which was first performed in 1964. The “overture” selection will be the world premiere (not yet given a title) of an orchestral composition by composer-in-residence Preben Antonsen. The program will conclude with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 54 (sixth) symphony in B minor, one of that composer’s symphonies that reflects inspirations provided by the symphonies of Gustav Mahler.
Because the season has not yet begun, subscription tickets are still on sale. General admission for all four concerts will be $75, rather than $100. A separate Web page has been created for processing subscription orders. Single tickets are also being sold for the three remaining concerts through their respective event pages, which may be accessed through the hyperlinks attached to the above dates.

Church of the Advent of Christ the King, 4 p.m.: The November installment of the Third Sundays at 4 O’Clock series organized by the Church's Music Director Paul Ellison will honor the centenary of the death of the English composer Sir Hubert Parry. This will be a Solemn Evensong service with music for the Anthem, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis drawing upon Parry's compositions. Other music for the service will be provided by Richard Ayleward and Edward Elgar.

No admission will be charged, but donations will be requested. Those planning of attending should be advised that each of these events will cost approximately $500. 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.

house concert, 7 p.m.: The other evening offering for this Sunday will be the latest house concert to be arranged by pianist Ian Scarfe. The title of the program will be, appropriately enough, A Little Sunday Night Music. It will feature songs by Jake Heggie to complement the San Francisco premiere of his latest opera, It’s a Wonderful Life, the preceding Saturday evening (one of the options for November 17). The vocalist will be soprano Amy Foote. Scarfe will also be joined by cellist Charles Akert.

This concert will take place at a private home in the Marina neighborhood. Those attending will be advised to arrive around 6:30 p.m., so the concert can begin on time. Those wishing to attend should RSVP to Scarfe through electronic mail, and he will reply with the necessary details concerning the venue.

Monday, November 12, 2018

ASQ’s Mahler CD to be Released on Friday

courtesy of Naxos of America

Readers may recall that last month concluded with a release party hosted jointly by the Alexander String Quartet (ASQ) and LIEDER ALIVE! The object of the celebration was ASQ’s latest CD on Foghorn Classics, entitled In meinem Himmel: The Mahler Song Cycles. The release date has now been set for this coming Friday; and, as usual, is taken pre-orders.

The joint festivities brought all four ASQ players, violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarbrough, and cellist Sandy Wilson, together with mezzo Kindra Scharich, who performs regularly at LIEDER ALIVE! recitals. As the album title suggests, the CD presents the three song cycles representative of Gustav Mahler’s efforts as a mature composer,  the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (songs of a wayfarer), which Mahler set to his own texts, and two settings of poems by Friedrich Rückert, the Kindertotenlieder (songs on the death of children) and the five songs for voice and orchestra or piano known simply as the Rückert-Lieder. None of these originally provided string quartet accompaniment for the vocalist. Instead, on this recording ASQ plays transcriptions of the original scores by Grafilo.

We know from the historical record that Mahler’s interests as a composer primarily addressed orchestral resources (usually very large ones). However, we also know that chamber music arrangements of his music were prepared for Arnold Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances (Verein für musicalische Privataufführungen). However, that organization was founded in 1918, about seven years after Mahler’s death. Nevertheless, Mahler’s widow Alma attended those “private musical performances” regularly, suggesting that she was not put off by listening to her late husband’s music played by chamber resources.

However, those resources did not confine themselves to the limitations of a string quartet. Instead, the arrangers tended to work with collections of instruments that would honor the sonorities that Mahler had in mind. On the other hand, while Grafilo did an impressive job in making sure that “the notes that mattered” were always taken into account, he could not do the same for the sonorities that mattered.

That distinction is most evident in the setting of “Um Mitternacht” from the Rückert-Lieder collection. It is worth bearing in mind that all five of these songs can hold up very well when performed by a chamber orchestra, and I was fortunate enough to listen to them performed this way back when I was regularly going to concerts at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Nevertheless, “Um Mitternacht” demands far more than what one would expect from a chamber orchestra, including a contrabassoon and a full brass section. However, the real kicker in instrumentation comes from a harp glissando that punctuates the primary climax of the setting; and there is no way in which the sonorous connotations of that moment can be captured by a string quartet.

On the other hand, there is much to be said for an accompaniment that does not oblige the vocalist to struggle to be heard. The texts that Mahler set are consistently introspective. As a result, they fare best when they are delivered through a rhetoric of understatement. That rhetoric runs the risk of being overwhelmed by full orchestral resources. However, no such competition is provided by Grafilo’s arrangements; and Scharich is consistently impressive in the rhetorical sensitivity she brings to her interpretations. In the long run this is likely to matter more than whether some of the composer’s critical “sound effects” had to be sacrificed in the interest of making sure that the resources at hand would still do justice to how the music is interpreted.

The Bleeding Edge: 11/12/2018

If last week was described as “minimally placid,” this coming week will get back up to speed with a vengeance. Between tomorrow and next Monday, there will be a performance at the Center for New Music (C4NM) every night except for Saturday, November 17. This will also be a week when San Francisco Performances will venture out in the direction of the bleeding edge by hosting the recital debut of the Brooklyn Rider string quartet. In addition, it has already been announced that Outsound Presents will use Sunday’s SIMM (Static Illusion Methodical Madness) Series to honor beat poet ruth weiss. In the midst of all that abundance, that leaves only four items not yet taken into account as follows:

Thursday, November 15, 8:15 p.m., Luggage Store Gallery (LSG): Drummer Booker Stardrum will participate on both of the sets of improvisations in this week’s installment of the LSG Creative Music Series. The first set will be devoted to his solo work. During the second set he will joining forces with the Sontag Shogun trio, which will have performed at C4NM the previous evening. That trio is led by pianist Ian Temple working with two performers of analog sound gear, Jeremy Young and Jesse Perlstein. This set will be a large group improvisation in which Stardrum will be joined by vocalists Danishta Rivero and Briana Marela (also playing synthesizer), Amma Ateria on electronics, Andrej Hronko on lap steel guitar, and Andrew Bernstein on saxophone. LSG is located at 1007 Market Street, across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street; and admission is on a sliding scale between $8 and $15.

Friday, November 16, 7 p.m., Adobe Books: Once again this will be a three-set evening in which the performers are only identified by their respective URLs. The opening set will be the duo of Laetitia Sonami and Wobbly. They will be followed by a solo set taken by Chris Brown. Efectos Humanos will wrap up with the final set of the offering.

Adobe Books is located at 3130 24th Street in the Mission between South Van Ness Avenue and Folsom Street. The concert is free. However, donations will go directly to the performing artists and are strongly encouraged. At past events Adobe has provided free refreshments to those who make a book purchase of $6 or more, and it is likely that the managers of the book store will maintain this effort to encourage reading their offerings.

Saturday, November 17, 8 p.m., ODC Theater: Jazz bass player Matt Small will lead a sextet called The Crushing Spiral Ensemble in a performance of his latest compositions. The other performers will be Steve Adams (saxophones), Sheldon Brown (saxophone and clarinet), Chris Grady (trumpet), Steve Blum (piano), and Michael Pinkham (drums). The ODC Theater is located in the Mission at 3153 17th Street on the southwest corner of Shotwell Street. The performance will last for about 90 minutes with no intermission, and all tickets are being sold for $25. They may be purchased through an event page on the ODC Web site.

Sunday, November 18, 7:30 P.M., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: November 18 is the birthday of jazz trumpeter Don Cherry. Through his work with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, Cherry established himself as one of the pioneers of the free jazz movement. Trumpeter Henry Hung will honor the occasion by performing tracks from Cherry’s album Complete Communion. He will be joined by Matt Zebley on alto saxophone with rhythm provided by John Wiitala on bass and Hamir Atwal on drums. The performance will be preceded by a brief talk about Cherry, which will begin at 7 p.m. Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station for both Muni and BART. There will not be a cover charge; but donations will definitely be welcome (as will be any purchases of books or records).

Czech Philharmonic Honors its “Native Son”

When the Czech Philharmonic presented its debut concert in 1896, it was conducted by Antonín Dvořák. Since that time the ensemble has cultivated a rich repertoire with particular attention to Czech composers, but its bond with Dvořák will always be the strongest. Therefore, it should be no surprise that, when the ensemble visited Davies Symphony Hall last night for the latest installment in the Great Performers Series presented by the San Francisco Symphony, the program consisted entirely of Dvořák’s music, all the way down to the two encores that concluded the evening.

Conductor Semyon Bychkov (photograph by Sheila Rock, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony)

The ensemble was led by Chief Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov. The soloist was Alisa Weilerstein in a performance of the Opus 104 cello concerto in B minor. This one composition accounted for the first half of the program, whose second half also presented only one piece, the Opus 70 (seventh) symphony in D minor. Those with the right vantage point were able to notice that Weilerstein returned to the stage to take a place as a member of the cello section. Both of the encores were taken from Dvořák’s two collections of Slavonic dances.

The Czech Philharmonic made its first appearance in Davies in 2000 as part of the Great Performers Series. Given how many young faces were up on stage, it is likely some major changes in personnel have taken place between then and now. Most importantly, however, is that this is a highly disciplined ensemble that could not have been better matched to Bychkov through both his attentiveness to the text and his capacity for expressiveness across a broad range of emotional dispositions. Indeed, both concerto and symphony take an expansive approach to that breadth, perhaps due to Dvořák’s potentials for expressiveness when working in a minor key.

Where that “text” was concerned, Bychkov was particularly effective in recognizing the rich palette of sonorities that Dvořák evoked in the use of a relatively “routine” ensemble of strings, winds, and brass. Indeed, the choice of instruments was so conventional that the appearance of a triangle at the beginning of the final movement of the Opus 104 concerto almost comes as a shock. Nevertheless, Bychkov’s sense of balance was so acute that the attentive listener could be easily surprised at the wide diversity of imaginative sonorities that emerge behind the cello’s solo work.

For her part Weilerstein has a long history with this concerto. Nevertheless, like Bychkov, she seemed to appreciate just how many stunning details there were in the score. Thus, even in the most familiar passages, there was always a sense that Weilerstein was consistently finding new lights that would bring the freshness of discovery to her interpretation. Sadly, there are some prominent cellists out there susceptible to “bathing” in the lusher qualities of Dvořák’s score. Fortunately, Weilerstein is not one of them; and last night’s interpretation felt more like new discovery than an encounter with old friends.

Where the Opus 70 symphony is concerned, Bychkov did not have to worry quite so much about excessive familiarity. The piece is not ignored; but it does not have the popular draw of either Opus 95 (“From the New World”) in E minor or Opus 88 in G major. Nevertheless, the music serves up a rich variety of imaginatively expressive passages, delivered through tempi that range from the raging Vivace of the Scherzo to the intensely introspective Poco adagio second movement.

That expressiveness remained in play through the two encore selections of Slavonic dances. The first came from the second series, Opus 72, the second dance in the set of eight in the key of E minor. This took the attentive listener back to those introspective moments in both Opus 70 and Opus 104, which Bychkov had disclosed with so much sensitivity. Having served up a healthy round of sentiment, Bychkov wrapped up the evening with the very first (C major) dance in the Opus 46 series.

The one departure from Dvořák came in Weilerstein’s encore selection. She, too, opted for the virtue of a shift in mood. However, for her solo encore performance she went back to the mother lode of solo cello music, the suites of Johann Sebastian Bach. She chose the quietude of the saraband from the E-flat major suite (BWV 1010), almost a reflection of the quietude encountered in the final measures of the solo cello part in the Opus 104 concerto (before the orchestra has a last hurrah for its own say).

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Choices for December 7–9 (and beyond)

This year Advent will begin on Sunday, December 2. To paraphrase Percy Bysshe Shelley, when Advent comes, can holiday programming be far behind? The answer will be found during the first full weekend in Advent, although, to be fair, the choices will be so abundant that there will be no shortage of “secular” alternatives. On the other hand the “any beyond” portion of this article will definitely take into account seasonally appropriate offerings for the rest of the month. Furthermore, my guess is that updates to this page will be in the works, meaning that the Facebook “mirror” page for this site will be busier than usual. Nevertheless, here is the “first pass” at the specifics:

Friday, December 7, 7 p.m.–Sunday, December 9, 2 p.m., Marines’ Memorial Theater: As previously announced this past summer, Opera Parallèle will begin its 2018–2019 San Francisco season with a holiday revival of its colorful and engaging production of Rachel Portman’s two-act opera The Little Prince, based on the book of the same name by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with a libretto in English by Nicholas Wright. Staging will again be by Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel, and Artistic Director Nicole Paiement will conduct the cast and instrumental ensemble joined by the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

The opera will be given four performances at 7 p.m. on Friday, December 7, and Saturday, December 8, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, December 8, and Sunday, December 9. The Marines’ Memorial Theatre is located at 609 Sutter Street, just off Union Square. (Note that the venue does not have an elevator to the balcony level and that the orchestra level is on the second floor of the Marines’ Memorial building.) Tickets are priced from $25 to $75, and City Box Office has created a single Web page through which tickets may be purchased online for each of the four performances.

Friday, December 7, 7:30 p.m., Red Poppy Art House: December will begin at the Poppy with the return of Drómeno, a quartet whose repertoire is based on Turkish-influenced tunes from Anatolia (frequently known as Asia Minor). The group is a “family-based” ensemble, led by Christos Govetas, who alternates between clarinet and oud and also provides vocals. He is joined by daughter Eleni alternating among violin, saxophone, and defi, while son Bobby focuses on percussion. Vocals are also provided by accordionist Ruth Hunter, who also plays the Turkish qanun.

The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street on the southwest corner of 23rd Street. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20. Tickets will be available in advance online through and Eventbrite event page. Given the demand for these concerts, it is often the case that only a limited number of tickets will be available at the door. The Poppy is a small space. Even those who have purchased their tickets in advance should probably make it a point to be there when the doors open one half-hour before the performance is scheduled to begin.

Friday, December 7, 8 p.m., Heron Arts: One Found Sound will present the second “chapter” in its season of three concerts organized around the overarching theme of storytelling. The title of this “chapter” is Divergence; and the three works on the program will constitute a departure from usual expectations. The program will begin with “Teen Murti” by American pianist and composer Reena Esmail, who draws upon her Indian roots to take an “interdisciplinary” approach to composition. This piece will be followed by a decidedly non-standard concerto composed by Frank Martin for seven wind instruments, timpani, percussion, and string orchestra. The program will conclude with Mozart’s K. 183 symphony in G minor, often called the “little” G minor symphony when compared with K. 550. With its driving use of syncopation and wild melodic leaps, this symphony is a bold departure from conventions at the middle of the eighteenth century.

Heron Arts is located in SoMa at 7 Heron Street on the block between 7th Street and 8th Street. All tickets are being sold for $25. They may be purchased online through an Eventbrite event page.

Friday, December 7, 8 p.m., Old First Presbyterian Church: The holiday season begins for the Old First Concerts series (O1C) with a program of festive and romantic music for guitar (performed by Larry Ferrara) and cello (Shiqi Li). Selections will include works by Manuel de Falla and Astor Piazzolla, as well as Ferrara’s arrangement of a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi. 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 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. The remaining holiday concerts, with hyperlinks to their respective event pages for ticket purchases, are as follows:
  • Sunday, December 9, 4 p.m.: The Ragazzi Boys Chorus will present a program entitled For the Beauty of the Earth. The selections will honor composers through the ages who have contemplated natural surroundings, giving thanks through music for nature’s gifts. The composed and arranged works will be followed by traditional carols with an invitation to the audience to join the boys in song.
  • Friday, December 14, 8 p.m.: Golden Bough is the trio of Margie Butler, Paul Espinoza, and Kathy Sierra, all vocalists accompanying themselves on a a wide variety of acoustic instruments. Those instruments include Celtic harp, penny-whistle, violin, octave-mandolin, mandolin, accordion, guitar, harmonica, recorder, and bodhrán. Selections will include rare versions of Celtic songs of Winter, as well as their unique take on better known Christmas carols.
  • Friday, December 21, 8 p.m.: Kitka will return to include O1C on its annual Wintersongs tour. Because this group tends to be in high demand, there will be a change in the prices for admission. “Golden Circle” tickets for preferred seating will be sold for $40. The remaining general admission tickets will be $30 with a rate of $25 for seniors aged 65 or older. Tickets for full-time students showing valid identification will be $10; and children aged twelve and under will still be admitted for free. None of these prices will be subject to discount, but tickets may still be purchased in advance online.
  • Sunday, December 23, 4 p.m.: The holiday offerings will conclude with a solo piano recital by Steinway Artist Sandra Wright Shen. Her program will feature Christmas-themed offerings by composers such as Franz Liszt, Percy Grainger, Vítězslav Novak, Olivier Messiaen, and George Crumb. The program will be framed by two major “secular” offerings, Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 829 partita in G major and Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 20 scherzo in B minor.

Friday, December 7, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The December program for the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale will be led by guest conductor Patrick Dupré Quigley. Because Quigley is Founder and Artistic Director of Seraphic Fire, the title of the program will be Philharmonic Fire. Bruce Lamott will prepare the members of the Philharmonia Chorale; and the program will feature four vocal soloists, soprano Margot Rood, countertenor Reginald Mobley, tenor Steven Soph, and baritone Steven Eddy. Selections will focus on sacred music with works by Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi, as well as two cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 61 Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland (now come, Savior of the heathens, written for the first Sunday in Advent) and BWV 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (awake, calls the voice to us). There will also be one secular offering, the music by Henry Purcell for the second scene of the third act of King Arthur, known as the “frost” scene.

The San Francisco performance of this concert will take place on Friday, December 7, beginning at 8 p.m. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, which is located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices will range from $32 to $120 for premium seating. Tickets are currently available for advance purchase through a City Box Office event page, which displays a color-coded seating plan that shows which areas correspond to which price levels.

Friday, December 7, and Saturday, December 8, 8:30 p.m., The Lab: Jazz saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell will lead his quartet in his last performances before returning to Madison, Wisconsin; details may be found in an article about concerts at The Lab.

Saturday, December 8, 7 p.m., Red Poppy Art House: As of this writing, only one other concert has been scheduled for next month. The performers will be the duo Dos BandOLEros, presenting a program entitled Power Rumba Flamenca in the Mission. Alberto Gutiérrez is the guitarist, and Raúl Vargas takes care of percussion, including cajón, with occasional ventures into an electric kazoo. Both Gutiérrez and Vargas also provide vocals.

This concert will begin at 7 p.m. on Sunday, December 8. Admission will again be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20. Tickets will again be available in advance online through an Eventbrite event page.

Saturday, December 8, 8 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): Apparently, singer, songwriter, and composer Derek Schmidt will be using C4NM for the public presentation of his Major Arcana project, even though this event is not listed on the C4NM concert calendar Web page. Schmidt has been working on this project for five years. The result is a cycle of 22 songs, each of which represents one of the trump cards of the tarot deck. The settings of these songs draw upon both acoustic and electronic resources.

C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, about half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. Admission for this concert will be $10 for all. Tickets will only be available at the door.

Sunday, December 9, 2 p.m., War Memorial Opera House: This will be the final performance of Jake Heggie’s opera It’s a Wonderful Life, based on both Frank Capra’s film of the same name and the short story on which the film was based, Philip Van Doren Stern’s “The Greatest Gift.” The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, on the northwest corner of Grove Street. As with all preceding performances of this opera, single tickets are priced from $26 to $398. 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 the performance. They are sold for $10, cash only.

Sunday, December 9, 3 p.m., Herbst Theatre: San Francisco Performances will launch its three-concert Discovery Series with a recital by the Telegraph Quartet, whose members are violinists Eric Chin and Joseph Maile, violist Pei-Ling Lin, and cellist Jeremiah Shaw. Winner of the 2016 Walter W. Naumburg Chamber Music Award, the ensemble is currently Quartet-in-Residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. They will present a diverse program with an emphasis on Eastern European composers. The program will begin with Czech composer Antonín Dvořák's Opus 51 (“Slavonic”) quartet in E-flat major. He will be followed by a later Czech composer, Erwin Schulhoff, who collected five pieces for string quartet reflecting spirited and colorful dancers. The program will conclude with the Opus 35 (sixth) quartet by Polish-born Mieczysław Weinberg, who managed to flee to the Soviet Union before the Nazis took over his native land. In his new home he became a close friend and colleague of Dmitri Shostakovich. All tickets are being sold for $45. They may be purchased online in advance through a City Box Office event page. The SFP event page provides a menu from which the specific date may be selected.

In addition, because this it the first concert of the series, subscriptions are still available for $120. These may be purchased through a separate City Box Office event page. The remaining concerts in the series will all take place in Herbst at 7:30 p.m. on the following dates:
  • Wednesday, February 20: Young Turkish tenor Ilker Arcayürek will make is San Francisco debut by performing a program consisting entirely of songs by Franz Schubert; his accompanist will be pianist Simon Lepper.
  • Tuesday, May 21: Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi was a protégé of both Murray Perahia and Alfred Brendel. His major undertakings will be Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 36 (second) piano sonata and the pieces that Claude Debussy collected for his second Images book. He will begin with a generous assortment of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, most of which were arranged by either Ferruccio Busoni or Wilhelm Kempff.

Sunday, December 9, 4 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: San Francisco Choral Artists, led by Artistic Director Magen Solomon, will begin its 2018–2019 season with a program entitled Jingle! Angels! Silent! Merry! The focus will be on holiday music from around the world; and, as the title program suggests, content will range from sublime to silly. In addition to time-honored works by a wide diversity of familiar composers, the program will present new works by Composer-in-Residence Jean Ahn and Composer-Not-in-Residence Robinson McClellan.

St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. Tickets are on sale at the door for $33 for general admission, $29 for seniors, and $15 for those under the age of 30, respectively. A Brown Paper Tickets event page has been created for all online purchases at a discounted rate.

Once again, this is the first concert of a series. As a result there is also a Brown Paper Tickets event page selling subscriptions for the entire three-concert series. General admission is $75, and the senior rate is $67. The remaining concerts will also take place at the same venue on the following dates and times:
  • Saturday, March 9, 8 p.m.: Out of the Garden, Into the Woods: from Paradise to Scary will consist entirely of songs about the many different aspects of the natural world.
  • Sunday, June 9, 4 p.m.: Castle, Court and Chamber: Harpsichords at Home will feature a visit from harpsichordist Jillon Stoppels Dupree. She will be joined by cellist Paul Hale. The offerings will be both sacred and profane appropriate to the different divisions of social status under different forms of authoritarian rule in Europe.

Discovering Barber’s Cello Concerto at BARS

Last night in the Everett Middle School Auditorium, the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony (BARS) presented the “winter installment” (over four weeks ahead of schedule) in their seasonally-structured programming of four concerts correlating roughly with the four seasons. Like the Fall Concert, last night’s performance featured a guest conductor, Leif Bjaland. It also featured, as the soloist for the evening, cellist Evan Khan, a recent graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. At the end of last year, when he gave the first of his two Graduate Recitals, Kahn played the first movement of Samuel Barber’s Opus 22 concerto in A minor with piano accompaniment. Last night he played the concerto in its entirety accompanied by the necessary instrumental resources.

To call this concerto challenging would be the height of understatement. Kahn wrote his own notes for the program book in which he explained that the concerto was composed for the Russian cellist Raya Garbousova. Garbousova’s technique was prodigious unto an extreme; and, during an initial “orientation” session with her, Barber realized that no technical challenge would be too great for her. The result was a concerto whose “text” verged on the impossible, delivered through unabashedly aggressive rhetoric. Completed in 1945, the work contrasted sharply with the lyrical qualities of his Opus 14 violin concerto, composed in 1939. (Mind you, these two concertos were separated by Barber’s service as an army corporal during World War II.)

Whatever challenges Barber posed, Kahn rose to them with all the necessary technical skill and rhetorical expressiveness. Those fortunate enough to have been exposed to a generous sample of Barber’s repertoire (not an easy achievement these days) would have encountered occasional gestures of recognition in some of the composer’s more familiar tropes. Nevertheless, this is music that is solidly established in its own context, a context established by Barber’s personal life history and the virtuoso reputation of the cellist for whom the concerto was composed. When I wrote about the concerto’s performance at Kahn’s graduate recital, I described the occasion as “a particularly stimulating journey of discovery.” Last night the journey was just as stimulating, all the richer for the overall three-movement plan and the sharply contrasting colors of Barber’s orchestral writing.

Indeed, rich orchestral colors were in play throughout the entire program. In describing the opening selection to last night’s audience, composer Byron Adams explained that he intended his “Capriccio concertante” to serve as a platform for the full palette of instrumental sonorities. He also unabashedly asserted that he wished to music to be a declaration of his own gay identity. Beyond any political agenda, however, this was upbeat music that readily seized the attention of anyone willing to listen; and the sheer joy of the rhetoric established a mood that would pervade the entire evening.

Seating in the hall was open last night; and, through the “luck of the draw,” I happened to find myself across the aisle from Adams. During his enthusiastic verbal introduction, I was reminded of one remark that Roger Sessions dropped at one of the Norton Lectures he gave at Harvard University. It was a cautionary observation that the best composers are the ones that can listen to a piece they had written twenty years earlier without blushing. “Capriccio concertante” was completed in 1990. Whenever I glanced at Adams listening to BARS play his music, he was having one hell of a good time, about as far from blushing as you can conceive!

Adams also provided introductory remarks for the second half of the program, Edward Elgar’s Opus 36 set of concert variations on an original theme. The noun “Enigma” was added to the title page when the score was published by Elgar’s friend August Jaeger. Each variation has a cryptic title that refers to one of the composer’s close acquaintances. Adams, however, suggested that these variations are not so much character sketches as they are reflections of what each of the characters thought of Elgar himself.

Photograph of Elgar taken not long after the completion of his Opus 36 (photographer unknown, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

While I find this an interesting perspective, the documentary record has at least one counterexample. This concerns the eleventh variation, “G.R.S.,” named for George Robertson Sinclair, organist at Hereford Cathedral. Elgar provided his own account of the ideas behind this variation (quoted in the Wikipedia page for the composition):
The variation, however, has nothing to do with organs or cathedrals, or, except remotely, with G.R.S. The first few bars were suggested by his great bulldog, Dan (a well-known character) falling down the steep bank into the River Wye (bar 1); his paddling upstream to find a landing place (bars 2 and 3); and his rejoicing bark on landing (second half of bar 5). G.R.S. said, 'Set that to music'. I did; here it is.
Any thoughts that Sinclair himself (or Dan) had about Elgar do not seem to have figured into this variation!

Indeed, I have long felt that any well-conceived interpretation of the Opus 36 can stand up quite well without the listener having to “decode” any of the variations. Bjaland provided such an interpretation last night, and the full forces of the BARS ensemble were with him every step along the way. Since Elgar himself made it clear that “the work may be listened to as a ‘piece of music’ apart from any extraneous consideration.” I, for one, took great pleasure in attending almost entirely (Dan is always the inevitable exception) to the clarity that Bjaland brought to establishing the relations between variations and theme.

In the midst of all this rich instrumental color and rhetoric, the one introspective moment came with Kahn’s solo encore after his concerto performance. Indeed, the very title of his encore selection was introspective, one of the nine movements from “After Reading Shakespeare” by Ned Rorem. According to the list of compositions on The Official Ned Rorem Website, this was Rorem’s only composition for solo cello. These were clearly personal reactions to specific passages and characters. Kahn did not provide any details, but one could still appreciate the composer’s sensitivity to the spirit of close reading.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Other Minds Launches 25th Anniversary Season

The 25th anniversary season of Other Minds (OM), whose dedication to shining a light on contemporary and experimental music continues to thrive as vigorously as it did when Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian launched this endeavor, gets under way at the beginning of next month. The program will be the first of two duo piano recitals that will precede the beginning of OM Festival 24 in March. The pianists for this recital will be Gloria Cheng and Terry Riley.

Terry Riley at a performance in Tokyo on November 8, 2017 (photograph by Takahiro Kyono, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

All of the compositions on the program will be by Riley. The one duo performance will be the Bay Area premiere of “Cheng Tiger Growl Roar,” which Riley completed earlier this year explicitly for performance with Cheng. Cheng will give solo performances of some of Riley’s earliest work, two pieces composed between 1958 and 1959, both of which reflect his early interest in atonality and the rhetoric of the Second Viennese School. The remainder of the program will then reflect music more familiar to those acquainted with recordings of Riley’s music. Cheng will play “The Walrus in Memoriam,” composed in 1991 and revised in 1993, and the seventh book in Riley’s The Heaven Ladder series, consisting of five compositions. Following the intermission Riley will give performances of two of his other solo works, “Simply M…” and “Requiem for Wally;” and the program will then conclude with “Cheng Tiger Growl Roar.”

This recital will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 5. The venue will be the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). Specifically, the performance will be held in the YBCA Forum, which is on the west side of Third Street between Howard Street and Mission Street (directly across from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). All tickets are being sold for $45. Tickets may be purchased in advance through an event page on the YBCA Web site.

PBO Showcases Two Generations of Talent

The full title of last night’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) concert at Herbst Theatre was Vivaldi the Teacher: When Reigning and Rising Stars Align; and it offers much to unpack. Antonio Vivaldi may be best known today for the extraordinary number of concertos he composed (not to mention over 40 operas and a comparatively modest body of engaging sacred music); but his “day job” was that of maestro di violino (master of violin) at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, which served as convent, orphanage, and music school. Vivaldi began working there at the age of 25 and remained for about 30 years.

Plaque commemorating Vivaldi’s services as a teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà (photograph by G.dallorto, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Italy license)

Over that period his primary responsibility was to provide the girls with a musical education. (The boys were instructed in trades that would provide employment when they left the orphanage at the age of fifteen.) Thus, almost all of his prodigious output as a composer was created in the service of his commitment as a teacher. Today his legacy is solidly established through that output, while next to nothing is known about any of the orphans subjected to his teaching skills.

This brings us to the “reigning and rising stars” part of the program title. The guest artists for that program were three alumni from the Historical Performance program at the Juilliard School: violinist Alana Youssefian, cellist Keiran Campbell, and oboist David Dickey. Each was paired with a PBO musician, violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock, cellist Phoebe Carrai, and oboist Gonzalo X. Ruiz, respectively. In other words each “rising” performer was given the opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder with a “reigning” one. To this end the program consisted almost entirely of Vivaldi concertos composed for pairs of instruments. Indeed, in addition of concertos for pairs of violins, oboes, and cellos, there was also a “pair of pairs” concerto for two violins and two cellos. Each of these involved a generous “call-and-response” rhetoric in which one soloist (the teacher) would present a passage which would then be repeated by the other (the student), encouraged to add his/her own personal stamp, rather than just mimic the teacher.

The result was a series of performances in which the visual impressions were often as stimulating as the musical ones. One not only listened intently to how these give-and-take exchanges would unfold; one could also observe the physical manifestations of chemistry between teacher and student. Anyone who went into last night’s performance with the assumption that there was cookie-cutter uniformity to Vivaldi’s many concertos was quickly disabused of that presupposition by a convincing case that the music was entirely in the acts of performances, rather than in the marks on paper being interpreted. Furthermore, both Youssefian and Campbell took seats in the full PBO string ensemble for the final work on the program, Francesco Geminiani’s concerto grosso arrangement of the last of the twelve violin sonatas in Arcangelo Corelli’s Opus 5, his set of variations on the “Folia” theme in D minor.

In addition, instead of the usual lecture, last night’s program was preceded by a “Prelude Recital” featuring all three of the Juilliard alumni. The recital presented three short chamber music selections by George Frideric Handel and Georg Philipp Telemann, as well as Vivaldi. Continuo was provided by Hanneke van Proosdij, alternating between harpsichord and organ. As a result, by the end of the evening, most of us on audience side felt we had formed a rather strong acquaintance with our three visitors. Hopefully, I was not the only one wondering what they will next be making of the many benefits of their educational experiences.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Wilhelm Backhaus before World War II on APR

Wilhelm Backhaus on the cover of one of the recent APR releases (courtesy of Naxos of America)

This past March I wrote about a three-CD collection of concert performances given by pianist Wilhelm Backhaus produced by Germany’s Southwest Broadcasting, Südwestrundfunk (SWR). All of these recordings were made following World War II. However, Backhaus’ reputation was established long before that war began; and that reputation included North America as well as Europe. Indeed, as I previously observed, he taught at the Curtis Institute of Music in 1926.

Last month Appian Publications & Recordings (APR) released two two-CD sets of recordings made by Backhaus for HMV prior to the outbreak of World War II. One of these is entitled Chopin, Liszt, Schumann & encore pieces and the other is The complete pre-War Beethoven recordings. Ludwig van Beethoven figured significantly on the SWR release, but the only overlap is in a performance of the Opus 73 (“Emperor”) piano concerto in E-flat major. I am not yet prepared to compare these “before and after” interpretations; but only the post-War conductor, Joseph Keilberth, was familiar to me. The deepest impression, however, was left by the APR tracks of the Opus 111 piano sonata in C minor, leaving me with rather strong thoughts about how those Curtis students must have learned a lot about Beethoven from Backhaus.

The “encore” album, on the other hand, has much to offer because it departs from Beethoven, while history tends to remember Backhaus for his Beethoven performances. Particularly interesting is that Franz Liszt appears as both composer and arranger. In light of the title of the collection, it is important to note that Robert Schumann is represented not only by his piano music but also by Liszt’s arrangement of the “Widmung” (dedication) song from Schumann’s Opus 25 Myrthen (myrtles) collection.

I was also struck by Backhaus’ interest in Spanish music for his encores. Two of the last three tracks in that collection are by Isaac Albéniz (although the second of them is Leopold Godowsky’s arrangement of the tango movement from Albéniz’ Opus 165 collection, which is definitely more Polish than Spanish). Nevertheless, I was more than a little taken with how Backhaus brought the “Triana” movement from Iberia into his own comfort zone and would be happy to listen to that track several more times to see just what Backhaus “got” out of Spanish idioms (not to mention whether anything he “got” rubbed off into his performance of Mortiz Moszkowski’s Opus 37 “Caprice espagnole.”

Most importantly, however, is that both of these collections have a lot to offer to those interested in the history of piano performance, as well as those interested in new takes on old favorites (not to mention the discovery of old favorites that have fallen out of favor).

Choices for November 30–December 2 (and beyond)

The transition from November to December will be another busy weekend. Once again it will also mark the beginning of December’s series of concerts at a few venues. As a result, this will be another one of those “and beyond” preview articles. As usual, the monthly summaries are often subject to change. That means that there are good chances that this page will be updated; and, as usual, notification of those updates will appear on the Facebook “mirror” page for this site. So, without further ado (as everyone seems to insist on saying), let’s get down to business:

Friday, November 30, and Saturday, December 1, 7:30 p.m., ODC Theater: Ars Minerva will return to the ODC Theater to give two performances of another forgotten opera from the Baroque period. Last year the group presented Pietro Andrea Ziani’s La Circe, first performed in 1665. This year’s offering comes from the first half of the eighteenth century, Giovanni Porta’s Ifigenia in Aulide, premiered in 1738 as part of the Munich Carnival. In all likelihood, this will be the first staging of the opera since its premiere.

The libretto by Apostolo Zeno serves as a “prequel” to the tales of the Trojan War. The Greek fleet is waiting at Aulis to sail for Troy but the goddess Artemis, who has been offended by Agamemnon, is withholding the winds. He is informed that Artemis will only unleash the winds after he has sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. In Euripides’ play based on this story, this leads to a major conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles. Nevertheless, Iphigenia is sacrificed; and, as those who know the full canon of Greek mythology are aware, Agamemnon’s action will have consequences that extend beyond the fall of Troy.

Ars Minerva Executive Director and mezzo Céline Ricci has prepared the staging for the revival of Porta’s opera. She will also sing the role of Achille. Other vocalists will include Matheus Coura (countertenor) in the role of Teucro, Spencer Dodd (baritone) in the role of Arcade, Cara Gabrielson (soprano) in the role of Elisena, Kevin Gino (tenor) in the role of Ulisse, Nikola Printz (mezzo) in the role of Agamennone, Shawnette Sulker (soprano) in the role of Clitennestra, and Aura Veruni (soprano) in the role of Ifigenia. Derek Tam will conduct from the harpsichord, leading an instrumental ensemble whose members are concertmaster Cynthia Black, violinists Erik Andersen, Natalie Carducci, Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo, Anna Washburn and Aaron Westman, cellist Gretchen Claassen, and Paul Psarras on theorbo.

The ODC Theater is located in the Mission at 3153 17th Street on the southwest corner of Shotwell Street. Ticket prices are the “Gold” rate of $89 and the “Silver” rate of $59. Students will be admitted for $25, and there is a special VIP rate of $250 that includes a post-performance reception with the artists and a tax-deductible contribution of $130. Tickets may be purchased through separate event pages for the Friday and Saturday performances.

Friday, November 30, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: San Francisco Performances will continue its “The Art of Song” series by hosting a return visit by jazz vocalist Luciana Souza. The program will be based on her new album, The Book Of Longing. Drawing upon texts from a wide diversity of sources including Leonard Cohen, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Emily Dickinson, the selections will explore the influences, inter-relationships, and interpretations of poets and music. All of the music was written and arranged by Souza, who will be accompanied only by Chico Pinheiro on guitar and Scott Colley on bass.

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. Ticket prices will be $70, $55, and $45. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

Friday, November 30, 8 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: Many readers may know that Nomad Session is an octet consisting of four woodwinds (flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon) and four brass instruments (horn, trumpet, trombone, and tuba), which is the first ensemble of its kind in the Bay Area. Last season they presented a movement-by-movement introduction to Nicolas Benavides’ Cool Grey City as a series of concerts. The title of their second season is The Eight, referring only to the size of the group.

Programs will include premiere performances of commissioned works as well as arrangements of familiar works for the available resources. The new work on the first program of the season, entitled Crazy Eights, will be “Shedding Game” by Emily Shisko. Arrangements will be of Gustav Holst’s first suite for wind ensemble, George Gershwin’s three piano preludes, and Eric Whitacre’s “October.”

The Noe Valley Ministry is located at 3021 Sanchez Street, a short walk from the 24th Street stop on the Muni J trolley line. General admission for all concerts in the season will be $25. However, because this will be the opening concert of the season, subscriptions are still available for $60 for all three of the concerts. Students with appropriate identification will be admitted to all concerts for $5. A single Web page has been created for both subscriptions and tickets for all three individual concerts.

The remaining two concerts in the series will also be held at 8 p.m. on Fridays. Programming specifics are as follows:
  1. March 15, Tales for Eight: The new work will be Benavides’ “Ocho Cuentos;” and the arrangements will be of Malcolm Arnold’s collection of four Scottish dances, Johannes Brahms’ fifth Hungarian rhapsody, and Roger Zare’s “Mare Tranquillitatis.”
  2. May 31, Infinity: The new work will be Mario Godoy’s “Figure Eight;” and the arrangements will be of Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat setting and Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy suite.
Friday, November 30, 7:30 p.m., Taube Atrium Theater: San Francisco Opera (SFO) will present a special concert by the SFO Chorus led by Director Ian Robertson. The program will include both a cappella choral music and accompanied works with instrumental support from Associate Chorus Master Fabrizio Corona at the piano and members of the SFO Orchestra. Operatic selections will include choruses from George Frideric Handel’s HWV 34 Alcina, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio, and two operas by Richard Wagner, The Flying Dutchman and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. There will also be selections by living composers, including Morten Lauridsen, Gabriela Lena Frank, Frode Fjellheim, Mårten Jansson and Whitacre. The program will also include staging by Aria Umezawa.

The Taube Atrium Theater is located on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. All tickets will be sold for $35. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an SFO event page.

The concert itself is expected to run for about 90 minutes. An abbreviated 45-minute version will be presented the following Tuesday as part of Noontime Concerts’ celebration of its 30th anniversary. This performance will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 2. The venue will be Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, located at 660 California Street, on the northeast corner of Grant Street in Chinatown. There is no charge for admission, but this concert series relies heavily on donations to continue offering its weekly programs.

Friday, November 30, 8 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: For the second program in 2018–2019 season of the California Bach Society, Artistic Director Paul Flight has prepared a program entitled Buon Natale: 500 years of Italian Christmas music. The program will cover music from the 16th century (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s motet “Hodie Christus natus est”) to the 20th (“Lauda per la Nativitá del Signore by Ottorino Respighi). St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. Tickets are on sale for $30, $25, and $10, respectively. A Brown Paper Tickets event page has been created for all online purchase.

Saturday, December 1, 4 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The New Esterházy Quartet (NEQ) will present another program of an arrangement for string quartet of music not originally composed for those resources. This time the selection will be Franz Schubert’s D. 911 song cycle Winterreise (winter’s journey). The vocalist will be baritone Paul Max Tipton, and bassist Kristin Zoernig will join the NEQ players (violinists Lisa Weiss and Kati Kyme, violist Anthony Martin, and cellist William Skeen). General admission is $30. Seniors, the disabled, and members of the San Francisco Early Music Society will be admitted for $25; and there is a $10 rate for students with valid identification. A Brown Paper Tickets event page has been set up for all online ticket purchases.

Saturday, December 1, 7:30 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), Recital Hall: Pianist Gilbert Kalish has prepared a special program in celebration of John Harbison’s 80th birthday. He will gather four of his friends to present a performance of Harbison’s piano quintet. SFCM is located at 50 Oak Street. This is about halfway between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. It is also a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station. This concert will be free, but reservations are recommended and may be arranged through a Google Forms Web page. Because the end of the calendar year marks the end of the first semester, only a few other events of note will be taking place in December. They will be as follows:
  • Thursday, December 6, and Friday, December 7, 8 p.m., Recital Hall: The Opera and Musical Theatre Departments will present a production of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Staging will be by Michael Mohammed, Director of the Musical Theatre Workshop. The Music Director will be Lauren Mayer. Reservations are recommended for this free performance, and there are separate Google Forms Web pages for Thursday and Friday.
  • Saturday, December 8, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, December 9, 2 p.m.: Christopher Rountree will conduct the final performance of the semester by the SFCM Orchestra. The program will feature Ashley Fure’s “Bound to the Bow.” The program will also include Ralph Vaughan Williams’ fantasia for string based on a hymn by Thomas Tallis and Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition. Tickets will be $20 for general admission and $15 for seniors, students, and SFCM members. Tickets may be purchased online through separate Web pages for Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday, December 1, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, December 2, 4 p.m., Calvary Presbyterian Church: As in the past, the San Francisco Bach Choir, directed by Magen Solomon, will give two performances of its annual traditional Christmas concert. The title of the program will be Joyeux Noël! A (Mostly) French Candlelight Christmas. Selections will span from the sixteenth century to the immediate present with a world premiere of music by Bay Area composer Brian Holmes. Once again The Whole Noyse will perform on a selection of Renaissance instruments. They will be joined by John Walko at the organ, Peter Maund on historically-informed percussion, and Steven Bailey on other keyboards.

Tickets purchased in advance will be $35 for general admission and $30 for seniors age 62 or older. These constitute a savings of $5 off of the price paid at the door. Patrons under 30 and students with identification will be admitted for $10 and youth under the age of nineteen will be admitted for free. Tickets may be purchased online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page will a pull-down menu for date selection. This page also include an option to donate $25 to purchase a seat for a singing senior.

Sunday, December 2, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): Crown of Eternity is an ensemble of over 50 overtone-rich instruments including gongs, bells, hammered dulcimer, and tuned metal instruments. Performances are planned and implemented to Mike Tamburo, who calls his events “sound experiences,” rather than concerts. Those who attend will be able to choose between sitting and lying on the floor. Those who choose the latter should bring a yoga mat, blanket, or cushion. Tickets for floor seating will be $25 with a $20 rate for C4NM members. The price for chair seating will be $20 with a $15 rate for members. Tickets for both concerts may be purchased through a single BrightStar Live Events Web page. C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, about half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street.

As of this writing there will be only one other December concert at C4NM. It will be a solo percussion recital by Andy Meyerson entitled Ritual & Resonance. The program will consist entirely of works written for Meyerson composed by Adrian Knight, Sarah Hennies, Samuel Adams, Amadeus Regucera, and Christopher Cerrone. It will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 7. Admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for members. Tickets may be purchased in advance through a Vendini event page.

Sunday, December 2, 3 p.m., McKenna Theatre: The third concert in the 2018–2019 season of the Morrison Artists Series, presented by the College of Liberal and Creative Arts at San Francisco State University (SFSU), will be given by a local ensemble, the Thalea String Quartet. As part of its Morrison debut, the group will present the world premiere of “A History of the String Quartet in its Natural Habitat," composed for string quartet and electronics by Vincent Calianno. The program will also include Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken III/33, the third (in G minor) of his six Opus 20 “sun” quartets. Thalia will conclude with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 73 (third) quartet in F major.

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, beginning on November 11, through the event page for this concert. As usual, there will be a pre-concert lecture, which will begin 2 p.m. in Knuth Hall. Also as usual, all of the Ensemble members will give a collective Master Class, which will be held at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 28. This two-hour session will take place in the Creative Arts Building in Room FA 348 and will be open to the general public at no charge and with no requirements for tickets.

Sunday, December 2, 4 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The San Francisco Early Music Society will host a performances by Cappella SF, the a cappella ensemble led by Artistic Director Ragnar Bohlin. The program will consist of sacred music composed between the early sixteenth century and the early eighteenth century. The change in style will be most evident through performances of two different settings of “Miserere mei, Deus,” the earlier by Josquin des Prez and the later by Gregorio Allegri. The program will also include the third of François Couperin’s Trois Leçons de Ténèbres, composer for Holy Wednesday prior to Good Friday. Finally, there will be two compositions by Heinrich Schütz, the motets collected in his Musikalische Exequien and his SWV 494 setting of the Magnificat text in German.

Single ticket prices will range between $45 and $12. In addition, there are membership and subscription options for attending three or more concerts with discounts of up to 25%. All information about ticketing options has been summarized on a single Web page.

Sunday, December 2, 4 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: The next Noe Valley Chamber Music program will concluded a visit to San Francisco by Decoda, the affiliate ensemble of Carnegie Hall in New York. The group has a “resident composer,” Evan Premo, who also plays bass. The other string players are violinist Owen Dalby and violist Meena Bhasin. The group also includes oboist James Austin Smith and clarinetist Alicia Lee. The program will include two of Premo’s compositions and two of his arrangements. Other composers to be featured will be Benjamin Britten, Morton Gould, and Sergei Prokofiev.

Tickets are $40 at the door with a $35 rate for seniors and a $15 rate for students aged thirteen or older. NVCM has created a Web page for online purchase. Tickets may also be purchased in advance by calling NVCM at 415-648-5236.

Sunday, December 2, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: The Great Performers Series organized by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) will present a “dynamic duo” performance by cellist Gautier Capuçon accompanied by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The program will consist of three major duo sonatas in the cello repertoire, Claude Debussy’s sonata in D minor, Johannes Brahms’ Opus 38 (first) sonata in E minor, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s sonata in G minor.

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 ticket prices are priced from $35 to $105. Tickets may be selected and purchased through an event page on the SFS Web site. Flash must be installed for interactive seat selection. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office or by calling 415-864-6000.