Saturday, August 31, 2019

Center for New Music: October, 2019

The October calendar for events scheduled at the Center for New Music (C4NM) seems to have been going through some flux. In the course of spot-checking to see when a “critical mass” of events has been scheduled, I encountered one that was dropped from the schedule. Since it involved a visitor from overseas, my guess is that the update was due to a change in travel plans. In any event there are now enough events to justify creating this article; and, as usual, I shall use my Facebook shadow site to put out the word of any updates to the schedule.

C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, which is where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. All tickets may be purchased in advance through a Vendini event page. Hyperlinks to the appropriate Web pages will be attached to each of the dates in the following summary:

Thursday, October 3, 7:30 p.m.: This will be a duo performance by two jazz artists distinguished for proficient inventiveness in both compositions and improvisation. Brooklyn-based Fay Victor calls herself a “sound artist,” rather than a vocalist; and she will be joined by pianist Myra Melford from Berkeley. This program will be co-presented with The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University. It will be the first double-program in its Fall 2019 In Common Writers Series, supported by the Walter & Elise Haas Fund. There will be no charge for admission, but advance registration through the Vendini hyperlink is required.

[added 9/6. 1:30 p.m.:

Friday, October 4, 8 p.m.: This will be an evening of three improvised sets. Burton Greene will present a set of solo piano works and improvisations. He will be followed by the duo improvisations of gabby fluke-mogul on violin and Bruce Ackley on saxophones. In the final set all three will come together for a trio improvisation. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.]

[added 9/3, 4:30 p.m.:

Saturday, October 5, 8 p.m.: Slow Wave is a new music trio based in San Francisco, whose members are Kyle Beard on clarinets, Justine Preston on viola, and Naomi Stine on piano. They will give premiere performances of compositions by Julie Barwick and Brett Austin Eastman. They will also present a recent piece by Israeli composer Aviya Kopelman. Their program will also include a work by twentieth-century composer Gordon Jacob. The charge will be $18 for general admission and $8 for C4NM members and students.]

Sunday, October 6, 7:30 p.m.: Glenda Bates will curate Site: Yizkor, an interactive work for sound and video developed jointly by interdisciplinary artist Maya Ciarrocchi, who will be visiting from the Bronx in New York, and composer Andrew Conklin, currently based in Stockton. “Yizkor” is the Hebrew word for “remembrance,” and it refers to prayers to be recited by those that have lost at least one parent. Yizkor services are held in conjunction with four major Jewish holidays. The source material for Site: Yizkor includes architectural renderings of demolished temples, maps of vanished Eastern European shtetls, field recordings of folk music, and memorial books comprised of prose remembrances. Conklin has created a new composition, which will be performed by violinist Alisa Rose, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, and Jon Arkin on percussion and electronics. Conklin himself will play guitar and provide vocals. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.

Thursday, October 10, 8 p.m.: Chris Brown will curate The Chromelodia Project, a program of music he has composed based on Harry Partch’s 43-tone just intonation gamut. The title refers to the Chromelodeon, a reed organ that Partch built with a keyboard based on his 43-tone scale. Brown will play keyboard and electronics. He will be joined by Theresa Wong (cello and vocals) and oboist Kyle Bruckmann. The project itself has been funded by InterMusic SF’s Musical Grant Program. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.

Saturday, October 12, 8 p.m.: Saxophonist and composer Darius Jones will make a special Bay Area appearance at a fundraising benefit event for C4NM. His performance will be preceded by a reception at 7 p.m. hosted by the C4NM Board of Directors. Tickets will be sold only at the door. General admission will be $30, and C4NM members will be admitted for $20.

[added 9/6, 1:40 p.m.:

Wednesday, October 16, 8 p.m.: This will be a two set program. The opening set will be taken by a new trio of local performers, I Lo U, with Matt Ingalls on reeds, Scott Looney on piano and Hyperpiano DSP, and Ken Ueno on vocals, membranes, and devices. They will be followed by the Ensemble EKT trio visiting from Europe. Instrumentation consists of baritone saxophone, bass, and custom electroacoustic sound sculpture. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.]

[added 9/3, 4:40 p.m.:

Thursday, October 17, 7:30 p.m.: Following a first-rate performance in the Old First Concerts (O1C) series, the Friction Quartet of violinists Otis Harriel and Kevin Rogers, violist Lucia Kobza, and cellist Doug Machiz will return to C4NM. They will revisit Piers Hellawell’s “Family Group with Aliens,” which was a high point in their O1C program. They will also play “October,” a new work by Michael Torke, Marc Mellits’ “Titan” and “Folkolours” by Sebastián Tozzola. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.]

Monday, October 21, 7 p.m.: Joshua W Bruner will present a program entitled Brainwave Curious? The audience will explore different approaches to ambient listening techniques. Soundscapes will be based on both sonification of electroencephalographic (EEG) data and a variety of virtual instruments. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.

Friday, October 25, 8 p.m.: Glenda Bates will also host a two-set program. The first set will be taken by the duo of Jesse Perlstein and Shinya Sugimoto involving vocals, field recordings, and both acoustic and electronic instruments. They will perform materials from their forthcoming album I Confess. They will be followed by Bates herself presenting OboeTronics, her ongoing performance project featuring recent works for oboe and tape. Featured composers will be Daria Semegen, Jacob ter Veldhuis, and Mazdak Khamda. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.

[added 9/6, 1:50 p.m.:

Saturday, October 26, 7:30 p.m.: The Founder’s Series will present composer and laptop performer Neil Rolnick. He will be joined by pianist Kathleen Supové to present a new composition. The concert will also include the world premiere of “Journey's End,” written Supové. Finally, there will be West Coast premieres of “Mirages,” for piano and computer, and “Messages,” for solo laptop. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.

Sunday, October 27, 3 p.m.: This two-set program will open with a solo electronic set by Kim Nucci. This will be followed by the Kinda Green duo of Tim Perkis and Tom Djll, combining electronics and trumpet. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.]

Friday, August 30, 2019

Song Cycles of Valerie Saalbach Launch New Label

Composer Valerie Saalbach (from her Web site)

This Sunday will mark the debut of a new record label, True Capture Records. Those “in the business” that expect new releases to come out on Fridays may find this odd. However, there is something timely about a new label coming out on the first of a month, even if that particular day falls in the middle of Labor Day Weekend. The label is the brainchild of baritone Matthan Ring Black, and he created it to empower emerging talent to create new art.

For this first album Black approached soprano Elyse Anne Kakacek, who has recently been making her mark in opera, oratorio, and contemporary music. Black suggested that Kakacek prepare an album of modern art song for his label. Kakacek, in turn, decided that this album would be devoted to the music of composer Valerie Saalbach, who has, to date, composed three song cycles. This provided sufficient content to fill a CD album, and the result bears the title Untethered.

To the best of my knowledge, this album is currently available only through digital download. However, this is a case in which an Amazon.com pre-order will make one song from the album available immediately, after which the remaining tracks can be downloaded on Sunday. Unfortunately, the Web page for pre-orders gives no indication of available metadata; and I suspect there are many that will be reluctant to explore new repertoire in art song without the benefit of text sheets.

The good news is that there is a crystalline clarity to Kakacek’s voice. Attentive listeners are likely to recognize quickly that two of the Emily Dickinson poems on the album have been set by other composers (Aaron Copland and John Adams) and will probably have no trouble negotiating the delivery of the words. Furthermore, Saalbach clearly knows how to keep the piano from getting in the way of the vocalist; and the chemistry between Kakacek and pianist Christopher Fecteau could not be better.

The three song cycles themselves are another matter. They make up almost the entirety of the COMPOSITIONS Web page on Saalbach’s Web site. They are listed in alphabetical order on that Web page as follows:
  1. Caterina to Camoens sets nineteen short poems that Elizabeth Barrett wrote during her betrothal to Robert Browning. The names refer to Caterina de Ataide, a young girl of the sixteenth-century Lisbon court that inspired the fiery love poems by Luis de Camoens. Camoens’ passions were ill-fated. Caterina was only thirteen years old, and he was banished from court. (For the record, Barrett was in her late thirties when she began her correspondence with Browning.)
  2. Journey of Desire sets seven poems by Steve Kowit inspired by erotic Indian poetry written in the Bengali language most likely between the fourth and twelfth centuries.
  3. Poems of Emily Dickinson is just that; the aforementioned poems associated with other composers are “Going to Heaven!” (Copland) and “Wild Nights” (Adams).
For the most part, Saalbach’s approach to setting poetry is well-crafted. Nevertheless, her style seems to be more rooted in the first half of the twentieth century than in her own time. (Her biographical Web page does not give a birth date, but she began work on Caterina to Camoens in 1985.) As a result, those who know the art song repertoire will be quick to find a comforting familiarity in her songs; but that comfort is unlikely to sustain over the duration of the entire CD. I would therefore be bold enough to suggest that Black might do better to prepare more adventurous sermons to be delivered from his new pulpit.

A Splendid Survey of Pamela Z’s Inventiveness

from the cover of last night’s program

Last night The Lab hosted a solo recital by Pamela Z entitled Other Rooms. The concert was held in conjunction with side by side/in the world, an exhibition featuring California artists reflecting on the current nature of immigration and the rise of sanctuary cities. That exhibition will be on display through September 14 in the San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery, located on the first floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue. The Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In her program note Z described Other Rooms as “a suite of solo works (some old, some new) for voice, electronics, gesture-controlled MIDI instruments, and projected moving image.” Since she will be leaving soon to take up her residency at the American Academy in Rome as a winner of the 2019–20 Rome Prize, she could have added that the program served as a sort of “short-term farewell concert.” For those who have attended many of Z’s performances, many of the older compositions were familiar; but the visuals were, for the most part, original, often conceived as an integral part of some of the newer pieces.

The program note also included brief descriptions for each of the compositions. However, given the integral significance of the projections, distraction from the performing area was definitely not a good idea. As the performance progressed, I used my program only to seize quick glances of the titles of the individual selections, saving the descriptions themselves for later consultation. For the most part, the music spoke for itself, although I must confess to feeling a bit of advantage on the basis of both past performances and basic engineering knowledge of the technology she was engaging in each piece.

Many of the selections were witty. “Typewriter” left me wondering just how many in the audience knew what a typewriter was, let alone used one. As a result, I had a particularly nostalgic reaction to the sampled sounds of the key strokes themselves. The spoken text suggests the efforts of a contemporary individual trying to write electronic mail on a typewriter; and I found it a hysterically funny perspective on my own transition from physical to digital writing.

Equally witty was “Unknown Person” from the larger Baggage Allowance composition. The text reflected the routine instructions given at the airport related to the scanning of carry-on luggage. The projected images suggested the results of the scans until surrealist “invasions” began to take over the pictures, many suggesting that live creatures were crawling around inside the bags.

It is also worth noting that the opening selection, called, simply, “Opening,” provided just the right workout for cognitive perception to prepare for the remainder of the program. The projections were initially blurred, even before Z began her solo. However, as she sang, one began to realize that the images would come in and out of focus, the precision of focus correlated with the amplitude of Z’s voice. Thus, “Opening” was not just an opening but also a “perceptual warm-up,” getting the audience in shape for the prodigious variety of experiences to follow.

Following the suite itself, Z offered an encore in the form of her personal interpretation of Meredith Monk’s “Scared Song.” Monk composed this piece for her own singing and keyboard accompaniment. Z explained to the audience how she reconceived this piece to work with her electronic gear without compromising the spirit behind the original composition. Thus, taken as a whole, the evening was an engaging exposition of the many ways in which Z has harnessed contemporary technology for her own creative purposes, and her results continue to be refreshing in both their novelty and their expressiveness.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Violinist Ruggiero Ricci’s “Showpieces”

from the Amazon.com Web page for this recording

My listening activities have now advanced me to the third of the three box sets in the 1918–2018 Ruggiero Ricci Centenary Edition, released by RHINE CLASSICS. Those who have been following this site regularly know that I have already written about the collections for concertos and sonatas. The “subtitle” for the remaining box is “showpieces,” which I originally took as “a euphemism for ‘encore favorites.’” This anticipation turned out to be faulty. However, like the other two collections, this box is based on remastered “discovered tapes,” previously unreleased recordings from both concert and studio settings made between 1946 and 1986. For those following this journey into Ricci’s recorded repertoire, 1946 the earliest start date of the three boxes; and 1986 is the latest end date.

Personally, I am not sure that I would classify some of the recordings in this collection as “showy.” Indeed, there is a bland, if not tedious, quality in Ricci’s performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Suite italienne. This is the suite for violin and piano of arranged excerpts from the score for the one-act ballet “Pulcinella” that Stravinsky prepared in 1933, working with violinist Samuel Dushkin (not to be confused with the suite for cello and piano that Stravinsky prepared with Gregor Piatigorsky, which has the same title). The recording was taken from a Carnegie Hall recital given on October 5, 1947; and, curiously, Ricci chose to omit the Scherzino movement. Given his technical skills in taking on Niccolò Paganini’s Opus 1 caprices, it is hard to imagine that he would have passed on the Scherzino for being too difficult.

Indeed, Paganini can be found on each of the four CDs in this collection; and he may be the motivating force behind the “showpieces” label. The booklet enumerates the aforementioned six audio recordings that Ricci made of Opus 1 in its entirety, as well as the two video documents. The fourth CD in this collection bumps the audio count up to seven. The recording was made at the Teatro Communale in Monfalcone on November 21, 1986. For the record, my own recording from among these options is the one produced by Vox in 1973, which includes the premiere recording of the “Caprice d’adieu” (farewell caprice), a set of variations on an original theme. Sadly, from a technical point of view, the 1986 concert recording comes nowhere near the polish of the 1973 studio document.

At the end of the day, the greatest satisfaction will be found in Ricci’s performance of Paul Hindemith’s third solo violin sonata (Opus 31, Number 2), composed in 1923. In terms of my own personal listening, this made for a welcome complement to Hindemith’s 1935 sonata in E major for violin and piano, which I had recently encountered on the RHINE CLASSICS collection of recordings of the violinist Ivry Gitlis. Perhaps the “showpieces” collection was conceived simply to tie up any “loose ends” in the recordings that RHINE CLASSICS had discovered. However, much as I admire completeness, that “showpieces” collection has little to show of Ricci at his best.

Choices for September 27, 2019

If the weekend of September 21–22 is now “on record” as the first weekend of choices in the new season, it will be followed by the need to make a choice on the following Friday. As of this writing, there are two events of interest on September 27, both of which will begin at 7:30 p.m. Both of these involve innovative approaches to chamber music, but the paths to novelty follow decidedly different directions. Specifics are as follows:

Zion Lutheran Church: This is the latest benefit concert to be produced by the church in partnership with the Interfaith Refugee Welcome group, which provides refugee support both in the Bay Area and abroad. Once again the proceeds will go directly to Dirty Girls of Lesvos, an on-the-ground NGO (non-governmental organization) that has pioneered the cleaning and redistribution of used and discarded clothing, bedding, and other materials for humanitarian relief. The featured work on the concert itself will be Stefan Cwik’s “American Troubadours.” This is a duo for violin and piano, which will be performed by Patrick Galvin and Jungeun Kim, respectively, having recently given the world premiere of this composition.

As the title suggests, the score is a reflection on a variety of influences from different American folk styles. The remainder of the program will be devoted to music from Johann Sebastian Bach to Béla Bartók, and each selection will be preceded by remarks about the influences for those particular compositions. The performers will also discuss the differences in work practices between dealing with a living composer and interpreting pieces by composers of the past.

All tickets for this concert will be sold for $20. They may be purchased in advance online through an Eventbrite event page. Zion Lutheran Church is located at 495 9th Avenue near the northwest corner of Anza Street.

Herbst Theatre: San Francisco Performances (SFP) will launch its 40th anniversary season with the first concert in the 2019–2020 Shenson Piano Series. This will be a unique approach to a duo recital to be presented by Natasha Paremski and Alfredo Rodriguez. While Paremski is an established recitalist with a keen taste for technically challenging compositions, Rodriguez is a Cuban jazz pianist, who is also proficient in the classical repertoire.

What will make the recital unique is that these two pianists will not perform as a duo. Rather, Paremski will perform three “historical” compositions, each of which will trigger improvisations by Rodriguez. The “source” pieces selected by Paremski will be Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 22 collection Visions fugitives, Maurice Ravel’s suite Gaspard de la nuit, and Mily Balakirev’s finger-busting “Islamey.”

Because this is the first concert in the Piano Series, subscriptions for the entire series are still on sale. Prices are $390 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $295 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $200 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. 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. The corresponding prices for single tickets are $70, $55, and $45; and they may be purchased through a separate City Box Office event page.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

MTT Conducts SFS: September, 2019

Following the opening week festivities celebrating the 25th season of Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) serving as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), MTT will kick off his final season as Music Director with three weeks of subscription programming as follows:

September 12–15: The subscription season will begin in MTT’s “comfort zone,” devoting an entire program to the music of Gustav Mahler. The program will be consist of a single composition, which many take to be Mahler’s darkest symphony, the sixth in the key of A minor. Indeed, Mahler was so superstitious about the three “hammer blows of fate” in the fourth and final movement of his symphony that he eliminated the final blow from the score, fearing that it was a sign of his own death.

This concert will be given four performances, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, September 12, Friday, September 13 (talk about superstition), and Saturday, September 14, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 15. There will be an Inside Music talk given by Jon Platoff that will begin one hour before the performance. Doors to the Davies lobbies open fifteen minutes before the talk begins. Ticket prices range from $35 to $160. 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 Davies Box Office, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. Flash must be enabled for online ticket purchases. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and two hours prior to Sunday performances.

September 19–22: The first visiting soloist of the season with be pianist Daniil Trifonov, performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 40 (fourth) concerto in G minor. The “overture” for this overture-concerto-symphony program will be a world premiere. The program will begin with a composition by John Adams commissioned jointly by SFS and Carnegie Hall. The title of the new work is “I Still Dance.” The concluding symphony will be another selection from MTT’s “comfort zone,” Robert Schumann’s Opus 97 (“Rhenish”) symphony in E-flat major.

This concert will be given four performances, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, September 19, Friday, September 20, and Saturday, September 21, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 22. The Inside Music talk will be given by Sarah Cahill in conversation with Adams. Ticket prices range from $20 to $160. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program.

September 26–28: The final concert of the month will feature the music of another one of MTT’s “comfort zone” composers, Igor Stravinsky. The program will begin with “Canticum Sacrum,” a cantata based on Biblical texts in the Latin Vulgate sung by a chorus with tenor and baritone solos. Director Ragnar Bohlin will prepare the SFS Chorus, and the tenor soloist will be Nicholas Phan. This is the only piece composed by Stravinsky that requires an organ, while neither violins nor cellos are included in the score. The SFS Chorus will also be featured in a performance of the 1948 revision of Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” (also setting texts in the Latin Vulgate), originally composed in 1930. For this piece the only strings are cellos, basses, and harp. The program will conclude with Stravinsky’s “Symphony in Three Movements,” commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and first performed (with Stravinsky conducting) on January 24, 1946. The concerto soloist will be cellist Oliver Herbert playing Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken VIIb/2 concerto in D major. Herbert’s appearance is supported by the Shenson Young Artist Debut Fund. This will be Herbert’s first performance as a subscription soloist. However, he made his SFS debut in a SoundBox concert at the end of 2017 and performed in Davies last year as the soloist in the All San Francisco Concerts program.

This concert will be given three performances, all at 8 p.m. on Thursday, September 26, Friday, September 27, and Saturday, September 28. The Inside Music talk will be given by Scott Foglesong. Ticket prices range from $35 to $160, and an event page has been created for online purchase. That event page also has sound clips from previous SFS performances of both “Symphony of Psalms” and “Symphony in Three Movements.” As is the case for online ticket purchases, Flash must be enabled to play these excerpts.

William Christie Brings Monteverdi to Salzburg

courtesy of PIAS

This Friday harmonia mundi will release an “Anniversary Edition” package of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L'incoronazione di Poppea (the coronation of Poppea), the last of his three surviving operas and one of his last compositions. The recording was made during a performance at the 2018 Salzburg Festival, and the package consists of three CDs of audio and a DVD of what was happening on stage. As may be expected, Amazon.com is currently taking pre-orders for this release.

I should begin with a cautionary disclaimer. I have never been to Salzburg. As a result, my only knowledge of the annual festival there is based on streaming video. In the context of those experience, where a composer such as Monteverdi is concerned, my first thoughts are whether “star power” will take priority over “subject matter experts.”

The good news is that one could not hope for a better subject matter expert than William Christie, who conducts his own instrumental ensemble, Les Arts Florissants. (2019 marks the 40th anniversary of this group, hence the “Anniversary Edition” designation of the release.) On the other hand I was not quite sure what to make of the photographs of the staging in the accompanying booklet, so I decided that I would focus strictly on the audio portion of the release. Even there, however, I must confess to having some doubts about soprano Sonya Yoncheva in the title role, given that all previous knowledge of her came from Metropolitan Opera video documents of her performances of nineteenth-century selections.

Still, we must remember that this opera was composed for performance at a Venice Carnival pre-Lenten celebration. This was an occasion for indulging in vulgarity to get it “out of one’s system” during the solemn honoring of Lent. That point of view tends to prioritize purveyors of spectacle over subject matter experts, and that priority is richly honored by Giovanni Francesco Busenello’s libretto. The opening Prologue, sung by the allegorical figures of Fortune (soprano Tamara Benjesevic), Virtue (soprano Ana Quintans), and Love (mezzo Lea Desandre), makes it clear from the outset that Virtue has not got a chance. The power of Love will bias Fortune in favor of vice over virtue.

For those who do not already know the story, the basic narrative involves how the Roman Emperor Nerone (Nero, mezzo Kate Lindsey) gets rid of his Empress Ottavia (mezzo Stéphanie d’Oustrac) so that he can marry his mistress Poppea. In the midst of all this unbridled passion, the philosopher Seneca (baritone Renato Dolcini), Nero’s former tutor, tries to sway the Emperor to follow a more virtuous course. His failure to do so results in his taking his own life. As a result, Poppea’s path to the Imperial Throne is a grotesquely bloody one. Nevertheless, at the end of the opera, she and Nero sing what may well be the most ravishing duet in the pre-Classical repertoire, “Pur ti miro, Pur ti godo” (I gaze at you, I possess you).

From a musical point of view, Christie’s direction could not be more satisfying. There is a clarity and expressiveness that is maintained consistently by all contributing vocalists. For all of its underlying irony, the account of “Pur ti miro” is a loving one; and Yoncheva could not fit better into the seventeenth-century context that Christie established. Listeners can also enjoy the full extent of the vulgarity that countertenor Dominique Visse brings to the role of Arnalta, Poppea’s aged nurse, most of whose contributions to the libretto are all about “looking out for number one.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Monday Make-Out: September, 2019

Monday may be the Labor Day holiday, but it is still the first Monday of a new month. That means that the first of the two Monday Make-Out concerts of the month will take place as usual. Furthermore, it is still the case that there will be a second Monday Make-Out at the end of the month. For those not familiar with the venue, 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! The one difference for September is that the two concerts will begin at different times as indicated below. As always, doors open a half hour prior to the beginning of the first set. Specifics are as follows:

September 2, 8 p.m.: The opening set will be the Practitioner duo of Ben Goldberg on clarinet and Michael Coleman on keyboard. They will present a selection of interpretations of the music of reed player Steve Lacy. The second set will be taken by Poncho Poncho, which calls itself a “jazz pop” combo. The group is led by Japanese singer Saki Minamimoto. Goldberg will contribute to the instrumental backup, joined by guitarists Robert Woods-LaDue and Karl Evangelista, and percussionist Robert Lopez. The evening will conclude with a free improvisation set taken by gabby fluke-mogul on violin, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, and Jordan Glenn on drums.

September 23, 8:30 p.m.: Glenn will bring his percussion work back to the Make Out Room for a duo improvisation with saxophonist Jonathan Kay as the first set of the evening. They will be followed by a modern jazz ensemble led by pianist Ruthie Dineen. The other members of her group have not yet been announced. The final set will be taken by Dave Slusser’s Lost Plant. This is a quartet led by Slusser on winds and keyboards in a rock-infused approach to modern jazz. Slusser is joined by two guitarists, Len Paterson and Steve Clarke, and drummer Thomas Scandura.

Decca to Release Bychkov’s Tchaikovsky Project

courtesy of Universal Music Group

In 2016 the Czech Philharmonic, with its newly appointed Chief Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov, began a recording relationship with Decca. The relationship was cemented with a project to record the full cycle of the symphonies of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The first album was released on October 14, 2016, coupling the Opus 74 (“Pathétique”) symphony in B minor with “Romeo and Juliet,” described by the composer as an “Overture-Fantasy.” As the project progressed, the scope was expanded to include the three piano concertos with Kirill Gerstein as soloist. This Friday that project will come to full fruition with the release of a seven-CD box set entitled simply The Tchaikovsky Project. As expected, Amazon.com is currently processing pre-orders for the new release.

I have long had an interest in getting beyond the concluding “big three” of the six numbered Tchaikovsky symphonies, all of which I fear are performed in excess with interpretations that do little to enhance appreciation of the composer. As a result, when PENTATONE collected its recordings by Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra covering not only those six symphonies but also the Opus 58 programmatic “Manfred” symphony, I was more than delighted to write about the release on Examiner.com. My most important observation at that time concerned Pletnev’s sensitivity to Tchaikovsky’s tempo specifications and their rhetorical implications.

Because Bychkov has been a consistent visitor to the podium of Davies Symphony Hall, I have had many opportunities to experience his talent as a conductor, both with the San Francisco Symphony and with visiting ensembles. All of that scrutiny over the years has made him one of my favorites. However, while, in the immediacy of “live” performance, he consistently knows how to mine every necessary rhetorical detail from the content of the text, that sense of immediacy does not emerge with the same impact in the recordings of the Tchaikovsky symphonies. All seven of them (including “Manfred”) are given dutiful accounts; but they lack the fire that Pletnev brought to his PENTATONE sessions.

The good news, however, is that the fire is definitely there when Gerstein enters the picture. Once again, we have a situation involving one over-played concerto and two ignored by just about everyone other than George Balanchine. The ballets he created were “Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2” (originally called “Ballet Imperial”) and “Allegro Brilliante,” named after the tempo marking of the only movement completed for the third concerto. I have long appreciated both of these ballets. However, many years ago I had an opportunity to listen to the second concerto (Opus 44 in G major) in concert with Bella Davidovich as the soloist; and I would give anything for that kind of lightning to strike again.

While waiting for that opportunity, however, I am more than pleased with the sparks that fly from Gerstein’s keyboard and the energetic supporting drive provided by Bychkov. The same can be said for the recording of the Opus 75 (third) concerto in E-flat major. For that matter, for all of its familiarity, there is a freshness that Gerstein and Bychkov bring to the Opus 23 (first) concerto in B-flat minor. These concertos may be the “lesser portion” of Bychkov’s Tchaikovsky Project; but the resulting performances are the ones that place the composer in the best possible light. Perhaps, as I become more familiar with these concerto recordings, I shall become more receptive to the interpretations of the symphonies.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Bleeding Edge: 8/26/2019

In England today is August Bank Holiday Monday, and here in San Francisco things are going to be very quiet as we approach Labor Day Weekend. Tonight’s Monday Make-Out has already been reported as part of my new effort to account for what is now a pair of adventurous sessions on a month-by-month level. The other previously-reported performance for this week will be the appearance of Pamela Z at The Lab (most likely her final gig prior to leaving for Rome) this coming Thursday.

That leaves only one other event at a venue that is new to me. This will be the music provided for the closing reception of something of a body, of a tempo, the current exhibition at the Et al. gallery in Chinatown (not to be confused with the Et al. etc. gallery in the Mission). The exhibition combines portraits of friends painted by Heidi Howard with sculptures created by Katy Cowan:

The current installation at the Et al. gallery (photograph taken from the Web page for the exhibition)

There will be two sets of music performances. The first will be taken by Eve Essex, currently visiting from New York City. Her media are alto saxophone, piccolo, voice, and electronics; and her compositional style brings together elements of classical, drone, free jazz, and distorted pop. Her performance will probably include selections from her solo album Here Appear. She will be followed by the Cranky trio of Sean Keenan (bass), Jake Parker Scott (alto saxophone), and Mitch Stahlmann (flute, soprano saxophone, and electronics). This will be free improvisation by students currently in the graduate Music program at Mills College.

The Et al. gallery is located on the edge of Chinatown at 620 Kearny Street. The doors will open for the reception on Friday, August 30 at 6 p.m., and music will begin at 7 p.m. The reception will continue through 9 p.m. There will be no admission fee, but a $5 donation for the musicians will be greatly appreciated.

A Saxophone Tribute to a Major Puerto Rican Vocalist

courtesy of Braithwaite & Katz Communications

This coming Friday Miel Records will release a new album of a quartet led by saxophonist Miguel Zenón. This is a tribute album entitled Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera. The title can probably be traced back to the Cuban producer Ángel Maceda, who owned the Bronx Casino club in New York, who declared Rivera to be sonero mayor (best translated into German as Meistersinger). Because Rivera, known by the nickname Maelo, was not a composer, Zenón’s album consists of quartet realizations of his Maelo’s interpretations of songs composed by others (along with an opening track of a brief sample of Maelo’s singing). The other quartet players are Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass), and Henry Cole (drums). As might be expected, Amazon.com is currently processing pre-orders for this recording.

I must confess that my own appreciation of the many different approaches to Latin jazz is seriously limited. Nevertheless, I was drawn to this album by virtue of several satisfying experiences of Zenón’s performances, both in concert and on recording. As a result, I owe a significant debt to ethnomusicologist César Colón-Montijo, who provided an impressively informative presentation of background material, including song-by-song descriptions, for the accompanying booklet. As a result of following Colón-Montijo’s texts while listening to the ten songs on this album, I gradually acquired an awareness of what made Rivera a sonero mayor and how Zenón translated those vocal qualities into his own saxophone improvisations.

As the quartet leader, Zenón shows a sensitivity to polyphony that one seldom encounters in jazz combos. One aspect of this can be found during Perdomo’s improvisations. Zenón adds a “highlighting” voice, which, on the basis of Colón-Montijo’s notes, seems to reflect a technique that Maelo engaged frequently. On a more contrapuntal scale there are also several engaging moments in which Zenón and Glawischnig seems to be improvising simultaneously without each ever stepping on the other’s figurative toes.

As might be guessed, the heart of most of the song selections lies in the underlying rhythms. Cole clearly understands the rhythmic foundation of each song. Nevertheless, he seldom dominates. He instead seems to play the same sort of role that one encounters in a harpsichordist providing continuo support in pre-Classical music.

To return to confession, however, all of these amount to “first impressions.” This is an album that, due to the abundance of inventiveness, will stand up to multiple listenings. I know, personally, that the mind behind my pair of ears still has much more to digest; and I look forward to returning to this album to become better acquainted with an aspect of jazz history that deserves more of my attention.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Live Music Performance to Return to Lands End

The Lands End trail leading to the Sutro Baths (photograph by Justin Scott, courtesy of the National Park Service, from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy event page)

Those with long memories may recall that, in July of 2017, John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit” was given the sort of outdoor performance that the composer had intended at Lands End. The result was a highly stimulating listening experience in which stimulation had as much to do with the physical setting as with the percussionists performing Adams’ score. The performance itself was enabled through a partnership between SFJAZZ and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

This coming October the Conservancy will venture into another partnership. Those who enjoyed “Inuksuit” will be able to revisit Lands End as a setting for outdoor performance. Those who missed it will enjoy the benefit of a second chance. Once again, percussion will be involved. This time the partnership will be The Living Earth Show, the duo that brings percussionist Andy Meyerson together with guitarist Travis Andrews.

This time the music will be a new work composed specifically with the venue in mind. The title of the work is “Tremble Staves,” created by Raven Chacon from the Navajo Nation. The work is a synthesis of mixed media installation, manipulation of natural and artificial lights and sound, wordless opera, and theatrical performance. The piece is a personal one for the composer, since he has chosen to depict the approaching crisis of water shortage that will impact land from California to the Navajo deserts.

The performance will be set in the flooded ruins of the Sutro Baths, which used to be a swimming pool complex. The performers will use water as a manipulated and amplified instrument. The audience will share this environment with the performers, creating a sonic ecosystem in which all participants are surrounded by water. Audience members will be anchored in a pond of resonance, but they will also find themselves complicit in the draining of the water.

The performance will last for about an hour, beginning at 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 19. The Sutro Baths ruins are located at 680 Point Lobos Avenue. They are best approached by taking the 38R bus down Geary Boulevard to the end of the line and then walking the remaining distance. As was the case for “Inuksuit,” there will be no admission charge. Nevertheless, the event page created by the Conservancy includes a DONATE hyperlink; and all financial assistance for the Conservancy’s activities will be greatly appreciated.

An Unclassifiable Homage to Stéphane Grappelli

courtesy of PIAS

This Friday harmonia mundi will release the second album on which French violinist Mathias Lévy pays homage to the legacy of the legendary French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. The first album, Revisiting Grappelli (currently available from Amazon.com only through MP3 download), was the more conventional tribute album, providing contemporary takes on some of the most memorable compositions from Grappelli’s repertoire. The tribute was “sweetened” by Lévy playing the Pierre Hel violin, made in Lille in 1924, that had belonged to Grappelli, currently part of the collection at the Museum of Music, one of the venues at the Philharmonie de Paris.

In contrast the new album is prospective, rather than retrospective. This time the repertoire consists entirely of recent original compositions. The title of the album is Unis Vers; and, in the accompanying booklet, there is a translator’s note that describes the title as a pun of two French homonyms, which translate as “universe” and “in league.” The album is part of a series of harmonia mundi releases called the Stradivari Collection, all of which involve performances on historical instruments housed at the Museum of Music. As usual, Amazon.com is processing pre-orders for this new release.

The album consists of ten original compositions, eight of which are by Lévy himself. He performs in a trio whose other members are bassist Jean-Philippe Viret, who had played with Grappelli, and Sébastien Giniaux, who alternates between guitar and cello. Each of them contribute one original composition to the album. There are also two “guest artists,” cellist Vincent Ségal and Vincent Peirani on accordion. Finally, there is an initial track labeled as “Intro,” which seems to be an improvised “warm-up” solo by Lévy. Considered as a whole, all eleven performances can be taken as either jazz as chamber music by other means or chamber music as jazz by other means.

This is the sort of offering that runs the risk of descending into a gimmick gone wrong. However, all five of the contributing musicians are too masterful at their respective techniques to allow the descent to occur. Even Lévy’s “Thelonious,” which almost flirts with an arrogant nod to Thelonious Monk, finds just the right thematic lexicon to evoke Monk’s spirit without the slightest hint of cheap imitation.

Indeed, in reflecting on this album, I recalled another jazz musician, who was subjected to homage treatment by Monk himself, Duke Ellington. Many associate Ellington with his favorite motto, “It’s all music.” That motto is all we need to know while listening to Lévy’s Unis Vers album.

Sunset Presents “Viennese-French Axis” Program

Pianists Arianna Körting and Robin Giesbrecht (from their Sunset Music and Arts event page)

Last night at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, Sunset Music and Arts presented the second four-hand piano recital in this season’s Instrumental series. The performers, Arianna Körting and Robin Giesbrecht call themselves the A&R Duo, which not only honors their respective initials but also offers a sly nod to the “artists and repertoire” division in both the recording and the music publishing business. The program was conceived to complement two Viennese composers, Carl Czerny and Franz Schubert, with two French composers, Camille Saint-Saëns and Claude Debussy.

The first half of the program offered the more familiar repertoire. Schubert’s D. 940 fantasia in F minor was the opening selection, followed by the four-hand arrangement (probably by Ernest Guiraud) of Saint-Saëns’ Opus 40 orchestral tone poem “Danse macabre.” Schubert composed extensively for four-hand keyboard music. D. 940 is probably his best known achievement in that genre, perhaps because, while it is highly demanding, ambitious amateurs can still muster a credible account. (I make this claim out of personal experience.) What makes the music particularly appealing is its widely diverse approaches to polyphony that unfold within what is basically a “classical” four-movement (played without interruptions) structure.

A&R brought a personal chemistry to their performances through which the intricacy of that polyphony was never short-changed. The overall rhetoric is dark (although not necessarily as morbid as Giesbrecht suggested in his introductory remarks). However, through Schubert’s prodigious inventiveness, that darkness reveals itself in a wide variety of distinctive shades. A&R clearly appreciated the scope of those distinctions, bringing forth an account that disclosed the many details of Schubert’s fabric without neglecting an overall sense of how the entire journey progresses.

One might think that the “Danse macabre” arrangement would short-change all the diversity of Saint-Saëns’ orchestral coloration. However, the thematic material originated in an earlier song that he composed for a poem by Henri Cazalis. Thus, Guiraud’s “reduction” actually goes back to the composer’s original vision, so to speak.

Nevertheless, this music is so popular that most listeners will be reminded of the orchestral version, rather than the seldom-performed song. The risk, however, is that a four-hand performance will have more to do with triggering memories, rather than drawing attention to the duo pianists. Thus, while the A&R account was “true to the text;” the arrangement could not really rise to a level of standing on its own merits.

The second half of the program was far more diverse in its content. It began with Debussy’s 1889 Petite Suite. Structurally, this music combines reflections on earlier structural forms with tone-poem-like imagery derived from the titles of the four movements. A&R clearly understood how to honor both sides of this coin. Like Saint-Saëns’ Opus 40, this is music that tends to get more attention in the orchestral version prepared by Henri Büsser. However, Debussy clearly knew what he was doing in conceived this music for a four-hand setting; and, regardless of instrumental coloration, there is a transparency in his original score that Büsser never quite managed to capture.

Czerny was the Viennese counterpart for the second half of the program. He is best known as a key pivotal figure of the nineteenth century. Having been a pupil of Ludwig van Beethoven, Czerny had no trouble making a successful career as a teacher. His best-known pupil was Franz Liszt.

Alas, Czerny-the-composer never rose to the heights of Czerny-the-teacher. Last night A&R performed his Opus 10 C minor sonata, described as a “Brilliant Grand Sonata.” Since the piece was completed in 1822, one wonders how Beethoven would have reacted to the hypertrophied rhetorical excesses of this four-movement sonata. On the other hand the sonata serves as a bellwether for the flock of excesses that would later flow from Liszt’s pen. While there is no questioning A&R’s talent in rising to the many technical challenges of Czerny’s Opus 10, there was little to persuade the listener that the journey was more than a tedious slog.

Fortunately, the evening ended on a more refreshing note. The encore selection was the fourth of Johannes Brahms Hungarian dance settings in the composer’s original four-hand version. This music was all about high spirits, leaving all listeners gratefully refreshed after the Czerny ordeal.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

New Faces Coming to Opening of NCCO Season

Daniel Hope front and center with the NCCO string players (from an NCCO Web page)

In almost exactly one month’s time, the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO) will present the first performance in San Francisco for its 2019–2020 season. The title of the program is Fin de siècle, which will refer to the transitional period between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Music Director Daniel Hope will conduct and will also perform as soloist in the opening selection, Ernest Chausson’s Opus 21 concerto in D major. This was originally scored for violin, piano, and string quartet; but for this performance the accompaniment will be an arrangement for string ensemble. The pianist will be teenaged prodigy Maxim Landos, who will be making his NCCO debut. In addition, Greek violinist Simos Papanas, a longtime collaborator of Hope’s, will be making his debut as Guest Concertmaster.

In the “chamber spirit” of the Chausson concerto, the program will also include Edward Elgar’s Opus 47 coupling of an Introduction to an Allegro movement, scored for string quartet and string ensemble, and an arrangement for violin and strings of Richard Strauss’ song “Morgen” (the fourth in his Opus 27 collection). Strauss had prepared a version for voice and orchestra of this song, which included an extended violin solo. Other selections will be the second of Elgar’s Opus 15 short pieces, “Chanson de Matin,” the Adagio movement from Christian Sinding’s Opus 10 Suite im alten Stil, the “Méditation” intermezzo from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs, and an early nocturne that Arnold Schoenberg scored for strings and harp.

The San Francisco performance of this program will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 28. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, which is entered through the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Tickets are on sale for $67.50 for premium seating in both the Orchestra and the Side Boxes, $55 for the remainder of the Box seating, the very front and sides of the Orchestra, and the front of the Dress Circle, and $30 for all other seating. Tickets may be purchased online through a City Box Office event page, which shows availability based on the Herbst seating plan.

In addition, because this is the beginning of the season, subscriptions are still available. These will cover both the full five-concert season and “subset” subscriptions for three or four concerts. NCCO has created a single Web page for processing all of these alternatives.

Two Centuries of Cello Music from Robert Howard

Cellist Robert Howard (from his Web site)

Last night’s Old First Concerts recital, prepared by cellist Robert Howard, covered almost exactly two centuries worth of repertoire. The earliest work on the program was the first (in C major) of Ludwig van Beethoven’s two Opus 102 sonatas for cello and piano, composed in 1815, while the most recent was a solo cello composition by Akshaya Avril Tucker, completed earlier this year and given its West Coast premiere last night. The other eighteenth-century piece came from the other end of the century, Max Bruch’s 1880 Opus 47 “Kol Nidre,” while the twentieth century was represented by Leoš Janáček’s 1910 “Pohádka” (a tale) and Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1934 Opus 40 sonata in D minor for cello and piano. The accompanist for this program was pianist Kevin Korth.

Howard kept his remarks about the Tucker premiere to a minimum. Basically, he attributed it to Indian influences on Tucker’s life (including the choice of her first name) and the paradox of emptiness and fullness (which he did not elaborate). He did not mention that Tucker was, herself, a cellist, as well as a trained Indian Classical dancer.

Philosophical allusions aside, the piece was an engaging study in alternative techniques in which the aforementioned paradox presented itself on the scale of audibility, between the emptiness of near silence and the fullness of more aggressive sonorities. It is easy to imagine Tucker experimenting on her own instrument, finding subtle ways to draw the bow that yielded sound just on the audible side of absolute silence. Whether the piece itself was a product of improvisation or a more calculated layout of opposing sonorities could not be decided on the basis of a single listening experience. More relevant is that the experience left this listener curious to attend subsequent performances of the composition, perhaps even one by the composer.

If this experimental experience was situated near the middle of the entire program (just before the intermission), the evening itself was flanked by the two major sonatas from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, respectively. Those who know their Shostakovich probably know of the influences of Johann Sebastian Bach and Gustav Mahler on his work. However, Beethoven also played a role in shaping Shostakovich’s approach to composition, albeit primarily through the earlier composer’s late string quartets.

Thus, the Opus 40 sonata is not so much a reflection on Beethoven’s legacy as it is an early effort of a composer beginning to command the craft through which he could establish his voice. From a rhetorical point of view, the music can dwell on past traditions, rhapsodical darkness, and, perhaps just for the sake of contrast, outlandish prankishness. Ironically, this piece was completed just before Shostakovich was subjected to denunciation by the Soviet authorities for the “offensive” qualities of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. (Many years ago, when James Conlon visited the podium of the San Francisco Symphony, he played instrumental excerpts from this opera, pointing out a musical depiction of sexual intercourse that may have been the straw the broke the camel’s back for those Soviet authorities.)

Needless to say, there is nothing offensive about Opus 40. Thus music just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the more recent past cellists such as Mstislav Rostropovich revived interest in the sonata; but I must confess that I am more familiar with this piece through recordings, rather than in performance. As a result, I welcomed the opportunity to listen to Howard play the piece last night in recital; and, as is often the case, the rhetorical subtleties came across with greater clarity in performance than through the sterility of most recordings. There is clearly much to be gained from listening to this composition, and I certainly would not mind listening to Howard play it again on a later recital program.

To the extent that Shostakovich was seeking out new approaches to expression in Opus 40, the Beethoven selection was an appropriate complement. The Opus 102 sonatas are some of the earliest efforts in what is sometimes called the “late Beethoven” period. While many like to point out the extent to which Beethoven was pushing the limits of tonality towards the end of his life, just as important was the way in which he was rethinking overall structural plans. Thus, the C major sonata consists of only two movements; but there are a few key moments when the second movement reflects on the content of the first. Thus, we encounter some of the earliest efforts to deal with a multi-movement composition as an “organic whole.” Howard’s interpretation provided a first-rate vantage point from which the attentive listener could recognize and appreciate those organic qualities, making it clear that this was far from a “same old Beethoven” performance.

Bruch’s Opus 47 is a bit of an anomaly, particularly since the composer was Protestant. Indeed, I suspect that the most orthodox Jews would object to finding what is probably the most solemn chant in the liturgical calendar transformed into a richly harmonized instrumental composition. Removed from the liturgical setting, however, the music serves up a lush rhetoric of minor-key tropes, allowing listeners of any faith (or no faith at all) to appreciate the intense expressive qualities of the solo cello part. Howard’s account did not short-change any of those expressive qualities, serving up a thoroughly satisfying, albeit secular, experience.

The Janáček selection turned out to be a “first encounter” for me. The “tale” of the title is the epic poem The Tale of Tsar Berendyey by Vasily Zhukovsky. It is basically about a man whose wife cannot bear a child; and a child only appears at the end of the tale after the tsar has returned from a very long journey (leaving the reader of the poem to draw his/her own conclusions)! (Any resemblance to Eddie Jefferson’s “Benny’s from Heaven” is probably coincidental.)

The score for “Pohádka,” on the other hand, is not narrative. Rather, it serves as a reflection of certain qualities of the narrative distilled down into three short movements. Both the brevity and the fragmented approach to thematic material will be familiar to those with past encounters with Janáček’s music, and Howard endowed this music with enough expressiveness to suggest an underlying narrative without explicitly accounting for it.

It is also worth pointing out that, over the full breadth of this repertoire, Korth’s accompaniment always made for an excellent match to Howard’s rhetorical stances. There was consistently a highly satisfying clarity to the interplay of soloist and accompanist. Thus, everything that was convincing about the four duo compositions on the program can be attributed as much to attentive accompaniment as to first-rate solo execution.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Plans for One Found Sound’s Seventh Season

The One Found Sound string section (courtesy of One Found Sound)

As was the case last year, One Found Sound (OFS), which calls itself the “conductorless, collaborative, chamber orchestra,” will begin its seventh season in September. This is a very competitive time, considering how many other performing arts groups will be launching their respective seasons next month. However, OFS opened their sixth season at the end of September of 2018; so it appears that the group is prepared to do the same next month. The overall title of the season will be Sounds of 7; and, as was the case last season, all performances will take place at Heron Arts in SoMa, beginning at 8 p.m. [updated 8/24, 8:55 a.m.: The December 14 concert will be held at Monument SF, rather than at Heron Arts.] While there will be several “auxiliary events” of note, the season itself will again consist of three concerts, each with its own title, as follows:

Friday, September 27, Celestial: The most “cosmic” of the selections on the program will be Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question.” However, the idea of a relationship between individual stars and constellations may have motivated the opening selection, Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1048 (third) “Brandenburg” concerto in G major. This was written for one-to-a-part performance by nine string players: three violinists, three violists, and three cellists (with continuo support specified for violone and keyboard). The result is an ingenious conception of a whole that emerges as more than the sum of its parts. The program will conclude with the eleventh (in F major) of the twelve symphonies for string ensemble that Felix Mendelssohn composed between the ages of twelve and fourteen.

Saturday, December 14, Chroma: As might be guessed, the title refers to different sonorous colors that emerge from imaginative combinations of instruments. The program will conclude with Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphonies of Wind Instruments.” Like BWV 1048, this was written in 1920 for one-to-a-part performance by 24 players of wind and brass instruments. (Stravinsky wrote a revision in 1947 requiring only 23 players, removing the requirement for an alto flute from the instrumentation.) Similarly imaginative approach to winds will be found in the opening selection. Francis Poulenc composed a suite of arrangements of dance tunes collected by Claude Gervaise in Le livre de danceries for wind ensemble supplemented by drum and harpsichord. The result was the seven-movement Suite française. This will be followed by “Youth,” composed late in life by Leoš Janáček and scored for a sextet of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and bass clarinet.

Friday, February 21, Wonder: This program was inspired by literary sources of imagination. The second half of the program will be devoted to Ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose), Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of a five-movement suite he originally composed for piano duet. Each of the individual movements was inspired by a fairy tale. This will be preceded by “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” Samuel Barber’s setting of excerpts from a prose poem of the same name written by James Agee in recollection of his childhood. The program will begin with the string orchestra arrangement (by the composer) of Caroline Shaw’s 2011 string quartet entitled “Entr’acte.”

Heron Arts is located in SoMa at 7 Heron Street on the block between 7th Street and 8th Street. [added 8/24, 9 a.m.: Monument SF is also in SoMA at 140 9th Street.] General admission tickets are being sold for $25. Tickets may be purchased online in advance through Eventbrite. Tickets are being sold only for individual concerts, and the hyperlinks on the above dates will lead to the appropriate event pages for ticket purchases. The price for tickets purchased at the door will be $30.

In addition, there will be two Chamber Music Series concerts, each focusing on a single extended composition. Both performances will take place on a Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Dates and content will be as follows:
  1. November 9: Ludwig van Beethoven: Opus 20 septet in E-flat major for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and bass
  2. March 28: Igor Stravinsky: “L’Histoire du soldat” (the soldier’s tale), scored for three actors, one or more dancers, and a septet of violin, bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, and percussion
Information about venues and ticket prices has not yet been released. When it is available, it will be found on the EVENTS Web page on the OFS Web site.

In addition, OFS will team up with Indre Viskontas for a program entitled Music + The Brain. Viskontas holds a doctoral degree in cognitive neuroscience from the University of California at Los Angeles. In November of 2016, she gave a similar presentation of her work in a musical context in a Faculty Artist Series recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, partnering on that occasion with the members of the Telegraph Quartet. Music + The Brain will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 16. Again, information about venue and tickets has not yet been released and will subsequently be available through that same EVENTS Web page.

Finally, the annual Gala will again wrap up the season at Heron Arts. The date has been set for Friday, May 8; and the theme will be Virtue and Sin. Further details have not yet been announced. Once again they will be made available through the EVENTS Web page.

Bowman’s Tribute Album Falls Short Musically

from the Bandcamp Web page for this recording

This coming Thursday Mama Bama Records will release the second album to be recorded by jazz vocalist Deb Bowman. The title of the album is Fast Heart; and it was conceived as a tribute to Bowman’s sister, who recently died of ovarian cancer. It is therefore worth noting at the outset that a portion of the revenue from this album will be notated to Ovarian Cancer Research. Since the recording can not yet be found on Amazon’s radar, it is important to note that Bandcamp has created a Web page for processing both physical (CD and vinyl) and digital orders. Note, however, that the vinyl version has only eight of the ten songs on the CD; but the purchase will come with an MP3 download of all of the tracks.

It would be churlish to argue with the noble intentions behind the production of this album. Alas, my personal mission commits me to write about matters of the music and how it is performed; and I am afraid that there are many shortcomings encountered over the course of listening to those ten songs that Bowman prepared. Much of the difficulty comes from the relatively shallow quality of her voice, which tends to suggest that she prioritizes style over substance. When she is singing her own material, I can appreciate that such priorities are her own business and do not deserve argument.

However, when the music and the words come from other sources, I feel I have to draw a line in the sand. There are two particular tracks that land on the wrong side of that line, and it would be unfair to those who take jazz vocals seriously for me to overlook them. The first of these is “Pannonica,” originally written by Thelonious Monk as an instrumental piece (with particularly attention to the piano that Monk himself played) but later given lyrics by Jon Hendricks, who, during his lifetime, became an undisputed master of setting words and scat singing to some of the greatest compositions of jazz in the twentieth century. While Bowman gives Hendricks’ words the respect they deserve, she is simply not up to negotiating Monk’s eyebrow-raising approach to chromaticism that establishes the heart and soul of this particular tune.

Bowman is on equally shaky ground in taking on “Moody’s Mood for Love,” whose pedigree is even more elaborate than that of Hendricks’ interpretation of Monk. As might be guessed, this song had its origins in Jimmy McHugh’s “I’m in the Mood for Love.” In 1949 saxophonist James Moody recorded a performance of this tune with elaborate embellishments that many have interpreted as a tribute to Charlie Parker. (Parker’s own take on “I’m in the Mood for Love” would not show up on a recording until 1950.) Eddie Jefferson then set words to Moody’s improvised version in 1952; and “Moody’s Mood for Love” was born. After King Pleasure recorded it in 1954, its popularity took off; and Moody himself sang it on his Moody’s Mood for Love album.

Since that time, several impressive vocalists have recorded the song. As might be guessed, quality differs among all of those singers. Suffice it to say that any evidence of Moody, Parker, or even Pleasure is pretty much impossible to detect in Bowman’s delivery. Since Moody was a saxophonist, it is no surprise that his vocal take clearly honors his instrumental nod to Parker; but Pleasure delivered just as much sensitivity without a saxophonist’s background. Bowman’s account does very little to honor either the vocal or the instrumental legacy of this tune.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Choices for September 21–22, 2019

According to my records, last season serious listeners did not have to worry about making hard choices until the long weekend of October 19–21. By now readers should know that the new season will be getting off to a busy start. That means that next month will present the first weekend of making those hard choices. As was the case last season, two of those choices will involve season-opening concerts; so this article will summarize the entirety of those seasons. Specifics are as follows:

Saturday, September 21, 7:30 p.m., Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church: The Chamber Music Society of San Francisco (CMSSF) will begin its season with a program entitled Beethoven and the Avant-Garde. The CMSSF players are the members of a string quartet founded by violinists Natasha Makhijani and Jory Fankuchen, violist Clio Tilton, and cellist Samsun van Loon. Their program will present Ludwig van Beethoven’s final string quartet, Opus 135 in F major, in a context established by two adventurous composers, one from the end of the last century and one from the immediate present.

The earlier of those composers will be Alfred Schnittke, whose “Moz-Art à la Haydn” was originally composed for two violins and string ensemble in 1977; and it was performed with those resources by the New Century Chamber Orchestra in May of 2011. Schnittke’s witty reflection on the First Viennese School will be complemented by three works composed by Caroline Shaw. Two of them are string quartets, “Valencia” and selections from “Plan & Elevation: The Grounds of Dumbarton Oaks.” In addition, Tilton and van Loon will play the duo “Limestone & Felt.”

Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church is located at 455 Fair Oaks Street. Ticket prices at the door will be $25 with a $15 rate for students and those under the age of eighteen. Tickets may be purchased at a discounted rate online in advance through an Eventbrite event page.

Saturday, September 21, 8 p.m., Z Space: Andy Meyerson, the percussionist in The Living Earth Show (TLES) duo, will present a solo recital of works exploring tension, resonance, ritual, and control. The title of his program will be Humble Servant, which is also the title of the composition by Adrian Knight found on the opening track of his album My Side of the Story. The program will also present a world premiere performance of a composition by Samuel Adams, who has been a long-time TLES collaborator. The remaining works on the program were also written for Meyerson by Sarah Hennies, Christopher Cerrone, and Amadeus Julian Regucera, respectively.

Z Space is located in NEMIZ (the NorthEast Mission Industrial Zone) at 450 Florida Street, between 17th Street and Mariposa Street. All tickets are being sold for $35. Z Space has created a Web page for online purchases.

Saturday, September 21, 8 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: Clerestory will begin its 2019–2020 season with a program entitled War & Peace. Program details have not yet been announced, but the selections will recognize the historic anniversaries of both the Leo Tolstoy novel after which the concert has been named and the end of World War II. St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. Currently, only subscriptions for the entire season are on sale. The season will consist of three concerts, and the prices are $75 for general admission and $60 for seniors. A Web page has been created for online purchase. The remaining two concerts in the season will also take place at St. Mark’s. Dates and times are as follows:
  • Sunday, February 2, 4 p.m.: The program for Suffragette will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, given women the right to vote.
  • Sunday, April 19, 4 p.m.: Into the West will present works by composers that have been inspired by the energy and majesty encountered west of the Mississippi River.
Presumably, the event page for War & Peace will have a hyperlink for purchasing single tickets closer to the date of the performance.

Sunday, September 22, 2 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM): As has already been announced, this will be a Faculty Chamber Music Concert presented by cellist Bonnie Hampton. There will be no charge for admission, but reservations are strongly recommended. Details may be found in or through the article summarizing September activities at SFCM.

Sunday, September 22, 4 p.m., Church of the Advent of Christ the King: The San Francisco Early Music Society (SFEMS) will begin its 2019–20 concert season with a recital by the Costanoan Trio. This is the piano trio consisting of Cynthia Black on violin, Frédéric Rosselet on cello, and Derek Tam on fortepiano. They will present a program of piano trios by the four great composer-pianists of the late eighteenth century: Joseph Haydn (Hoboken XV/20 in B-flat major), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (K. 542 in E major), Muzio Clementi (Opus 22, Number 1, in D major), and Ludwig van Beethoven (Opus 1, Number 2, in G major).

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. General admission is $50, with special rates for seniors ($45), SFEMS member ($42.50), and students ($15). Tickets may be purchased (with seat selection) online through the event page for this concert.

In addition, because this is the first concert of the season, two subscription options apply. The price for all five concerts in the season will be $212.50 for general admission and $187.50 for SFEMS members. In addition, those who purchase tickets for three or more concerts will be entitled to the mini-subscription rate. This is a 25% discount off the single-ticket price for SFEMS members and a 15% discount for all others.

All four of the remaining concerts will also take place at 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. The February concert will be held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and all others will take place at the Church of the Advent. Dates and performers are as follows (with hyperlinks for purchasing tickets attached to the dates):
  • November 24: Two new medieval music ensembles, Aquila and Tres Harmonicas, will join forces for this program. The repertoire will be shared between cantigas (medieval monophonic song often based on Galician-Portuguese lyrics) and Sephardic song. The program will also include storytelling and dance.
  • January 12: Les Voix Humaines is a gamba ensemble based in Quebec. It is led by Susie Napper and Margaret Little. The program will be organized around a “deep dive” into one of the greatest compositions from the English baroque repertoire: Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares by John Dowland. This is a cycle of seven variations on the “Lachrimæ pavan” theme, which Dowland had composed as a lute solo.
  • February 16: Musica Pacifica consists of Judith Linsenberg on recorders of different sizes, violinist Ingrid Matthews, cellist William Skeen, percussionist Peter Maund, and Charles Sherman on harpsichord. They will be joined by guest artist David Greenberg, whose baroque violin skills are complemented with a talent for Cape Breton fiddling. The program will thus alternate between playing for part pages and playing by ear.
  • March 22: Violinist Rachel Barton Pine and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour will join forces for a program consisting entirely of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. Last year they released an album of Bach’s sonatas for violin and keyboard accompaniment, and they will perform selections from that recording. Each of them will perform solo partitas written for their respective instruments.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sunday Streets to Present Free Choral Concert

Members of the CMC Older Adult Choirs in rehearsal (photograph by Linda A. Cicero, courtesy of CMC)

For those not familiar with the organization, the mission of Sunday Streets is to set aside extended periods of time during which car-congested streets are transformed into up to four miles of car-free community spaces where kids can play, seniors can stroll, organizations can connect, and neighbors can meet. Inspired by the Ciclovías in Bogotá, Columbia, Sunday Streets events have thus far been held in seven different neighborhoods this year. Next month will see the second Sunday Streets event of the year to be held in the Tenderloin. This occasion will mark the inauguration of Getting There Together, a citywide celebration of seniors and adults with disabilities presented by the Coalition of Agencies Serving the Elderly.

The Community Music Center (CMC) will contribute to this event with a free performance by the Older Adult Choirs. This is a vocal group of over 350 singers coming together from all over San Francisco. They will sing on the steps of the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL). A specific program has not yet been announced. However, the group will present a half-hour program of music sung in Spanish, Tagalog, and English, highlighting the rich traditions of the singers’ respective neighborhoods.

The entire Sunday Streets event will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 8. The Older Adult Choirs performance will begin at 1 p.m. The steps of SFPL face City Hall at the eastern end of the Civic Center. The SFPL building is on the northeast corner of Larkin Street and Grove Street. Like all the other Sunday Streets offerings, this performance will take place free of charge.