Friday, September 30, 2016

Center for New Music: October 2016

Tomorrow sees the beginning of a new month; and, as was reported at the beginning of this week, a full concert schedule at the Center for New Music (C4NM) will begin with a program of electroacoustic music for flute presented by Jessie Nucho. One major change is that, while in the past, tickets for most concerts were available only at the door, advance purchase through an online Web page will be available for all of the coming concerts. For those who need reminding, C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. Here is a basic summary of concerts that will be taking place during the remainder of the month:

Friday, October 7, 7:30 p.m.: Anne Sajdera and Davide Verotta will present an evening of original music composed by both of them. Their respective styles encompass jazz, classical foundations, and modern techniques. There will also be one composition written by neither of them a concertino for two pianos by Dmitri Shostakovich. General admission will be $20 with a $12 rate for C4NM members, and tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Saturday, October 8, 7:30 p.m.: Jazz wind player Peter Kuhn will celebrate the release on NoBusiness Records of the latest work by his trio. Rhythm is provided by Nathan Hubbard on drums and Kyle Motl on bass. The trio will also be joined by trumpeter Eddie Gale, who has collaborated with Kuhn frequently in the past, for collective composition of the highest order. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members, and tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Sunday, October 9, 3 p.m.: This concert will mark the kick-off (hey, it’s Sunday afternoon) of a monthly Sunday afternoon series entitled Quiet Time. Danny Clay will curate the launch of the series with a performance of John Cage’s Empty Words. This piece was the result of Cage composing lectures based on chance techniques that would reassemble text sources at verbal, syllabic, and phonemic levels. Empty Words is in four sections, and Clay has organized a performance in which all four will be read simultaneously. Luciano Chessa, Ben Zucker, and Pamela Z will join Clay as readers. The performance is expected to last two and one-half hours. General admission will be $10 with an $8 rate for C4NM members, and tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Friday and Saturday, October 14 and 15, 8 p.m.: Kyle Bruckmann will curate this month’s sfSoundSalonSeries event, which will be a “festlet” of two concerts entitled Jingle Five-O. The festive occasion will be the 50th birthday of sfSoundGroup saxophonist, conductor, and founding member John Ingle. For the first concert Ingle will improvise with the Volcano Radar duo of Elbiio Barilari and Julia A. Miller. In the second concert Ingle will lead an ensemble of friends, some from sfSoundGroup, in a structured improvisation entitled “Babylon Lottery,” based on “The Library of Babel,” a story by Jorge Luis Borges. General admission for each concert will be $15, and the $10 rate will apply to C4NM members, students, and the underemployed. Separate event pages have been created for the online purchase of tickets to the Friday and Saturday concerts.

Sunday, October 16, 7 p.m.: This program will present new works for instruments, voices, and dancer, by both Anne Hege and Julie Herndon. Hege’s major work will be her setting of Bertolt Brecht’s “For Those Who Come After.” She will also perform some of her works for an analog live looping circuit of her own design. Herndon’s composition, which uses both graphic and traditional notation, is entitled “There’s no place like home.” It is an improvisatory piece in which she will be joined by Josh Marshall on saxophones and Erika Oba on flute. The dancer for these performances will be MaryStarr Hope. General admission will be $12 with a $10 rate for C4NM members, and tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Thursday, October 20, 6:30 p.m.: This will be the first concert in this season’s Soundings concert series prepared by the Del Sol Quartet. This concert series explores different approaches to the combination of the performance of music with the display of visual art. The music for this concert will be Lembit Beecher’s quartet entitled “These Memories May Be True;” and he will provide his own animated drawings to supplement the music. General admission will be $20 with a $15 rate for C4NM members, and tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Saturday, October 22, 7:30 p.m.: This will be a somewhat unconventional double bill. It will begin with a screening of the silent film Häxan, a documentary by Benjamin Christensen that includes dramatized sequences about practices of witchcraft. The film will be accompanied by live electronic music scored by Chris Sneeringer. He will then be followed by Alma Sangre, a three-piece ensemble whose repertoire covers a wide variety of forms of traditional Spanish and Mexican music. General admission will be $10 with a $5 rate for C4NM members. Tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Sunday, October 23, 4 p.m.: The Bay Area Chapter of the American Harp Society (BACAHS) will present a jazz trio led by harpist Sarah Voynow. (Bass and drum players have not yet been announced.) She will play arrangements of music by the great jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby, as well as pieces by Freddie Hubbard, Billy Cobham, Cole Porter, and Bruce Springsteen. General admission will be $18. The $15 rate will apply to both C4NM members and BACAHS members. Students will be admitted for $5, and $30 will pay for both a ticket and BACAHS membership. Tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Tuesday, October 25, 8 p.m.: The next concert in the permutations series will present Ensemble dal Niente’s harpist Ben Melsky and flutist Emma Hospelhorn. The program is entitled New Paradigms, and it will feature two world premieres and three classics of the contemporary flute and harp repertoire. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members. Tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Thursday, October 27, 8 p.m.: This will be a two-set evening featuring piano, viola, and electronics. The first set will bring together pianist Lucian Ban and violist Mat Maneri performing selections from the ECM recording Transylvanian Concert. They will also premiere pieces for a follow-up album. The second set will be a performance of Space Ghost Études, music scored for two pianos, two electronics tables, two sets of objects and toys, and two very, very odd musicians, Joe Lasqo and Derek Gedalecia (performing as Headboggle). General admission will be $20 with a $15 rate for C4NM members. Tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Friday, October 28, 8 p.m.: Meerenai Shim will curate a visit by the flute (Tessa Brinckman) and percussion (Terry Longshore) duo Caballito Negro. They have prepared a program entitled Resist, which will utilize six flutes, spoken word, film, images, and more percussion than can be imagined. Brinckman will be assisted by the Left Edge Percussion ensemble. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members. Tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Saturday, October 29, 8 p.m.: Mark Alburger’s Opus Project will celebrate Halloween with a concert of compositions all given opus number 46. The pieces will be played in chronological order, and the complete list may be found on the C4NM event page for this concert. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members, seniors, and students. Tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Sunday, October 30, 8 p.m.: Halloween weekend will continue with an evening of three eerie sets. Susan Rawcliffe will perform on a variety of different indigenous flutes and ocarinas. This will be followed by “Pahoehoe,” a ballet for butoh dancers with music composed by David Samas for his invented instrument collective Pet the Tiger. Finally, the 1910 Edison Studios silent film Frankensein will be given live improvised accompaniment by Jaroba (saxophone and invented instruments), Kevin Corcoran (found objects and extended percussion techniques), Jorge Bachmann (modular synthesizer), and Samas, this time with invented vocal techniques, General admission will be $10 with an $8 rate for members. Tickets may be purchased online in advance.

Andy Meyerson Makes his Solo Album Debut on slashsound

Those who have been following this site recently probably know about percussionist Andy Meyerson from his participation in Do Be, a full-evening theatre piece resulting from the collaboration of The Living Earth Show with Post:Ballet. Meyerson is half of the Living Earth duo, performing with guitarist Travis Andrews. My first encounter with them was in April of 2012; and that encounter made it to my annual end-of-year list of memorable concerts. The following year Living Earth released their debut album on the innova label under the playfully ambiguous title High Art. In addition Meyerson was one of the founding directors of the Hot Air Festival, an annual festival of adventurous music produced by students of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Today slashsound released Meyerson’s debut solo album, My Side of the Story, currently available only for digital download from and other sources. Just about every Living Earth recital had two salient features. The first was that the duo was just as good at playing soft as at unleashing all the decibels of an electric guitar and a full drum kit. The second was just how diverse Meyerson could be in his percussion work. I am not sure if he learned how to create a vibrato while striking a metallic bar from one of his teachers or if he figured out how to do it himself. He certainly provided my own introduction to a sonority I would have thought was physically impossible.

My Side of the Story offers up the same diversity of both dynamic range and imaginative sonorities. The album has only five tracks, each the work of a different composer, as follows:
  1. Humble Servant, Adrian Knight
  2. Percussion Music for Robert and Andy, Samuel Carl Adams
  3. Structural Harm, Jude Traxler
  4. Sherlock Horse: Disintegration Machine, Brendon Randall-Myers
  5. May you find what you’re looking for, and remember what you have, Danny Clay
Both Knight and Adams had also contributed to the High Art album, while Clay, like both Living Earth members, is based in San Francisco. Both Traxler and Randall-Myers are New Yorkers.

Randall-Myers is probably the most aggressive contributor to the album, and his score requires electronics as well as acoustic percussion instruments. The title amounts to a “sequel” of a piece he composed for Meyerson to perform with the Friction Quartet entitled “Sherlock Horse: Horse Detective.” However, before the listener is confronted with the intense energy of that track, (s)he has been led down several fascinating paths that supplement a wide variety of approaches to percussion with electronic enhancement. Clay’s piece then serves almost as a reassuring calm after the storm (not that the storm has vanished altogether), drawing heavily upon the reverberations of a vibraphone and also requiring Meyerson to hum as part of the performance.

The title of the album clearly refers to Meyerson striking (pun probably intended) out on his own, which is fair enough given that Andrews has also been giving guitar performances in other settings (one of which took place near the end of this past August). Much of the technique that is encountered on My Side of the Story grew out of the many explorations that have taken place in his Living Earth work; but playing solo allows him to take those explorations into more remote regions. It would be fair to say that Meyerson is a performer that is not afraid to experiment and knows full well that experiments do not always turn out as anticipated. However, having seen him in performance, I know that he is highly skilled in his in-the-moment approach to playing; and if, from time to time, the moment takes him into some precarious positions, he never seems to lose his balance. As a result, one can appreciate the sense of immediacy in My Side of the Story as much as one can enjoy the breadth of its diversity.

Friction Quartet Celebrates its First Five Years at the Center for New Music

Last night the Center for New Music (C4NM) hosted the first of two Friction Turns 5 concerts. The group was formed in 2011 by violinist Kevin Rogers and cellist Doug Machiz. The other two members are violinist Otis Harriel, who alternates with Rogers in leading the ensemble, and violist Taija Warbelow. The concerts mark the conclusion of Friction’s C4NM residency.

The quartet is very much a “new music” ensemble; and this was clearly affirmed by the program they prepared for last night. It included one world premiere, one West Coast premiere, another work written for Friction, and one written on a commission from the Kronos Quartet. Only the encore involved a composer who is now deceased (Maurice Ravel).

The evening began with the world premiere of Stephen Feigenbaum’s “Forever Reaching,” described on the C4NM event page as “a piece saturated with sorrow, and one that the composer has asked to be used for memorial services.” The music is a latter-day reflection on the lament form of Baroque tradition, usually involving variations on a bass line that descends through four steps, usually from a minor scale. Feigenbaum, on the other hand, worked with a much longer (but still stepwise) descending pattern; and he did not confine it to the bass. (Conceivably Feigenbaum took Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten” as a point of departure.) Furthermore, the descent is not a steady one, as there is considerable variation in rhythmic patterning and even the underlying pulse. The most recognizable feature is simply that the descent is a slow one.

Feigenbaum departed from the bass register in preference for a pitch range that would be comfortable for all four instruments. One by one, the instruments enter slowly to intone the descent, all starting on exactly the same pitch. The variations in rhythm lead to a sense of both tight stretto and a thick texture through which one loses track of how each instrument is descending through the “theme.” However, once the pattern of descent has been established, Feigenbaum begins to alter it, changing the alternation of whole steps and half steps in a way that begins to blur the modal quality of the descent itself. The thickening of texture is matched by an increase in dynamic level until finally all four players are descending with a more deliberate sense of synchronization but each in a different “mode.” Achieving this effect demands intense discipline, but Friction’s command of Feigenbaum’s intentions was positively bone-chilling.

The West Coast premiere was “Besides” by Loren Loiacono. She wrote the composition for the Altius Quartet, and it was given its world premiere this past June at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival. This makes it one of those rare instances of new music enjoying performance by more than one ensemble. This music also had a dark side of lamentation, although it was not quite as stark as “Forever Reaching.” Friction did well to separate the two pieces with the far more upbeat “Friction,” written for them by Roger Briggs, which provided an excellent platform for displaying their abilities as a group to work with complex and energetic rhythmic patterns.

The real rhythmic tour de force, however, was a repeat performance of Brian Baumbusch’s Three Elements, which they had performed earlier this month to mark the beginning of their tenure as Artists-in-Residence in the Old First Concerts series. Baumbusch’s score requires that the performers listen to click tracks, and each performer listens to a different track. This makes for some of the most disorienting rhythms encountered since Conlon Nancarrow tried to punch a piano roll for a rhythmic canon based on the ratio of two to the square root of two. Once again Friction gave a solid account of all of the demands Baumbusch had imposed on them. Also, in the more casual C4NM setting, there was a bit more exchange of humor with the audience as Rogers discussed the implications of the second movement having been named after Lithium.

The final work on the program had also been performed at Old First. This was Garth Knox’ three-movement suite Satellites. This was written for the Kronos Quartet, commissioned under their 50 for the Future project. This will culminate in 50 new works composed, respectively, by 25 women and 25 men. Knox’ contribution was one of the earliest. It was particularly distinguished by the use of non-standard techniques for producing sound. This included playing the instrument without the bow and playing the bow without the instrument. The affair was as compelling visually as it was aurally and concluded the program in high spirits.

Those spirits were further elevated by an encore. The selection was the final movement of Ravel’s string quartet. This quartet has been part of the Friction repertoire since its first year, and they had selected it to begin their Old First recital. Nevertheless, the music is as fresh as it ever was when the group was first presenting itself to audiences; and it was delightful to be reminded that they are still keeping it in circulation.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ignoring Consequences Continues to be Dangerous!

The latest issue of The New York Review of Books includes a scathing article bu Geoffrey Wheatcroft entitled "Tony Blair's Eternal Shame: The Report." The report in question is the so-called Chilcot, whose proper title is The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, the review of the motives and consequences associated with Great Britain entering the war in Iraq as a partner of the United States. The report was prepared by a Committee of Privy Counsellors chaired by Sir John Chilcot. This is a massive document, 6275 pages distributed across twelve volumes. However, as Wheatcroft observes, it should suffice for most to read the "62,000-word executive summary." To the extent that Wheatcroft's article amounts to a summary of that "executive summary," even that may be hard to take.

As might be guessed from the title, Wheatcroft's major target in former Prime Minister Blair. While he does not call
Blair's relationship with George W. Bush an "unholy alliance," it is clear that he was straining very hard to avoid that phrase. (He does, on the other, rather neatly deflate that concept of a "special relationship" between the United States and the United Kingdom as little more than a deceptive myth.)

The summary of Wheatcroft's summary comes with his concluding assessment of Blair:
And yet in the end Tony Blair isn't a messiah or a madman or a monster. He's a complete and utter mediocrity. He might have made an adequate prime minister in ordinary days, but in our strange and testing times he was hopelessly out of his depth. Now we are left with the consequences.
Since Wheatcroft is British, he kept his attention focused primarily on Blair. Whether or not that description holds just as well for George W. Bush is our business, not his. Nevertheless, I have to emphasize that the most powerful word in that quotation is the last one.

I have long held that we have become a culture that has tried to banish the word "consequences" from our working vocabulary. The last time I expressed this explicitly was in March of 2015. The idea emerged in my writing through observations that everyone seemed to be eager to jump into new technologies without thinking through the implications that technology might have for "unanticipated use." In other words we think only about the cool things we shall be able to do, assuming that they are also good things, totally overlooking the possibilities that "the next new thing" may serve more nefarious purposes we never bothered to consider. By all rights the aftermath of our adventures in Iraq should have been a wake-up call to us all to think about consequences before taking action, yet in today's immediate present, it would seem that few are bothering to think about how the vote they case in November (or the decision they make not to vote) is likely to have consequences on the same magnitude of those examined by Wheatcroft.

The Italian Cultural Institute will Host a Piano Recital in its New Location

The Italian Cultural Institute (Istituto Italiano de Cultura, IIC) in San Francisco was founded in 1978 as an official branch of the Italian government, dedicated to the promotion of the Italian language and culture in the United States through the organization of cultural events. About a year ago IIC moved from its historic red-brick building on Montgomery Street near Jackson Square to the more central location of the Civic Center. It now occupies Suite F of the Opera Plaza complex at 601 Van Ness Avenue between Golden Gate Avenue and Turk Street.

Next month one of the cultural events it has organized will be a free piano recital by Luciano Bellini, who is a composer and conductor as well as pianist. His program will include selections from his Mediterrando album, based on a volume of short pieces he composed for young piano students. His program will also include works by composers better known for their operas, including Giuseppe Verdi (a “song without words” and a waltz), Ruggero Leoncavallo (a canzonetta), and Giacomo Puccini (a short waltz). He will also play “Un rêve” (a dream) from the eighth volume of Gioachino Rossini’s Péchés de vieillesse (sins of old age). Other Italian composers will be included in the form of  two one-movement sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, K. 380 in E major and K. 64 in D minor, a nocturne by Ottorino Respighi, “All’Italia!,” the second of Ferruccio Busoni’s six elegies, two ricercars by Alfred Casella based on the letters of the name “Bach,” and three encores composed by Luciano Berio. Finally, the program will present one non-Italian composer with the Opus 1 piano sonata by Alban Berg.

IIC organized this concert in collaboration with the Leonardo da Vinci Society. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 13, and is expected to last for two hours. Again, IIC is located in the Civic Center at 601 Van Ness Avenue. Admission is free, but registration is required to assure having a place. IIC has created a registration page specific for this event. Anyone who registers may also add the names of a maximum of four guests. Those wishing further information may call IIC at 415-788-7142.

Yuja Wang Returns to Davies Symphony Hall with Sassy Wit

This week in Davies Symphony Hall the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), under the baton of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), is presenting the second of the three programs previewing the selections that will be performed when SFS makes its tour of Asia in November. Pianist Yuja Wang will be joining SFS on this tour, and last night she gave the first performance of the first of the two concertos she will be playing. This was Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 35 (first) concerto in C minor. The score actually describes this as a concerto “for piano, trumpet, and string orchestra;” and the second solo part was taken by SFS Principal Trumpet Mark Inouye.

This concerto was completed in 1933 at a time when Shostakovich saw no risk in exercising his wit to the fullest. Even the poignancy of his Lento movement cannot hide its undercurrent of irony. Indeed, the trumpet almost takes the role of a circus clown, the prototypical sources of humor emerging from sadness. The trumpet’s voice alternates between brash interjections and well-worn clichés; and last night they were all delivered by Inouye with the best possible deadpan expression. The piano, on the other hand, is more like a stand-up comedian, firing off comic salvos and almost defying the listener to keep up the pace. Yuja executed her part with all the tightly-knit precision that makes this kind of comedy so successful; and her physical composure was always focused entirely on what was happening at the keyboard. Not only did her fingers fire away with the precision of an elaborately complex system of mechanical linkages; but also all that precision climaxed in the full-elbow tone cluster in the final movement.

As was the case when she performed this concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra in March of 2015 (again with MTT conducting), Wang capped the madcap spirit of Shostakovich’s concerto with her thoroughly off-the-wall paraphrase of the final movement (“Turkish Rondo”) of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K, 331 A major piano sonata. She first played this at an SFS concert in May of 2009, at which time it seemed as if she had used an arrangement by Arcadi Volodos as a point of departure. However, each time she plays it, there seems to be less of Volodos (and therefore less of Mozart) and more even wilder sources. Last night gave the impression that she had been discovering Fats Waller at his most over-the-top with a generous number of intrusions from Rowlf the Dog.

If SFS resources were somewhat modest for this portion of the program, they had already pulled out everything for the opening selection, composed by Bright Sheng and entitled “Dream of the Red Chamber Overture.” This piece was commissioned by SFS and was given its world premiere last night. Sheng has made it clear that this is not the “overture” for the performances of Dream of the Red Chamber currently being performed by the San Francisco Opera. Rather, this is a stand-alone concert overture that draws upon thematic material from the full opera.

As has already been observed, the score for the opera itself has some of the thickest textures of counterpoint that one is likely to encounter in any setting; and, when things get that thick, the mind behind the ear has to take on the management of a plethora of dissonant ambiguities. That puts quite a demand on the listener when most of the voices of that counterpoint have been confined to an orchestra pit in an opera house. It should therefore be no surprise that the Davies stage provided a far more accommodating acoustic setting. Indeed, not only did the sounds themselves have a clearer path to the ear but also the eye had greater capacity to scan the different sections of the ensemble, thereby identifying specific lines in the counterpoint on the basis of the movements of the players.

Nevertheless, the full opera puts quite a demand on even the most attentive observer. Having seen the opera performed only about ten days ago, I have to confess that I was curious as to how much of the “Overture” music would be recognized. The honest answer in my case was about 50%. Given the vast scope of the opera, that level of recollection left me pleasantly surprised. Mind you, the audiences in Asia will not have to worry about this matter, since the opera will not be performed anywhere in Asia until next spring at the Hong Kong Arts Festival; and Hong Kong will not be one of the stops on the SFS tour!

During my first contact with the full opera, mind often tried to link listening in the present to past listening experiences. As a result my account of that performance suggested that there might be some connection to Igor Stravinsky’s opera The Nightingale. Last night the intermission was followed by “Le chant du rossignol” (the song of the nightingale), Stravinsky’s symphonic reflection on themes from that opera, possibly in the same spirit behind Sheng’s “Overture.” Neither piece tries to “tell the story” in an abbreviated instrumental form. Indeed, the thematic material of Stravinsky’s opera gets pretty thoroughly shuffled in “Le chant du rossignol.” Nevertheless, the contrast between the nightingale (Principal Flute Tim Day) and her mechanical imitation (Principal Oboe Eugene Izotov) was a clear as it was in the opera, even if the rest of the narrative had been sliced and diced almost beyond recognition.

The evening concluded with the 1919 suite that Stravinsky extracted from the full score he had composed for the one-act ballet “The Firebird.” The movements of the suite follow the order in which the music is played in the ballet; but, again, there is little sense of the underlying narrative. On the other hand there is no shortage of rich instrumental coloration, all of which could not have been better managed by MTT leading the far-more-than-capable SFS resources. Stravinsky occupied the entirety of the second half of the evening, and he could not have been better served.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble will Begin 2016–2017 Season Next Month

For those who missed last July’s article about the 2016–2017 season of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (LCCE), or have forgotten it, the first San Francisco performance of the new season will take place at the end of next month. The title of the program will be A Close Correspondence, and all four of the compositions on the program have been inspired by letter writing. Two of them, written by Onur Türkmen and Mark Winges, respectively, are new works, which will have received their world premieres when this program is first performed in Berkeley on October 15. This concert will also be distinguished by the appearance of the new music chorus Volti as special guest artists, who will be singing in three of the four pieces being prepared for performance.

Indeed, Winges, whose work will conclude the program, is Volti’s current resident composer. Entitled “Letters for String Quartet and Chorus,” his piece is in three movements, each of which draws its texts from a different era involving different writers. The first movement is set, so to speak, in the twelfth century for the correspondents Peter Abelard and Héloïse, prioress at the convent in Argenteuil. The remaining two movements are set in the twentieth century. The first involves the correspondence between Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, which began not long after Janáček’s “informal” divorce from his wife Zdenka in 1916. (Stösslová was not only married at the time but also 38 years younger than Janáček.) In 1928 Janáček himself would document this relationship in his second string quartet, to which he assigned the title “Intimate Letters.” That quartet will be the only selection on the LCCE program that will be performed without Volti participation. The final movement of Winges’ new piece will draw upon texts from the correspondence of Virginia Woolf.

Volti will also be joined by a string quartet in the performance of Türkmen’s new composition. Entitled “but you alone,” the piece was inspired by a single letter, written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Charlotte von Stein. Like Stösslová, Goethe’s correspondent was a married woman; but in this case she was older than him. (For those curious about such matters, Goethe did not meet her until after he had created her namesake for his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther.) The remaining work on the program will be an a cappella performance by Volti of David Lang’s “A Father’s Love,” in which the correspondent is a soldier bidding farewell to this father.

The San Francisco performance of A Close Correspondence will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, October 24. The venue will be the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Tickets will be sold at the door for $35 for general admission and $18 for those under the age of 35. However, if tickets are purchased in advance from a Vendini event page, general admission will be $30 with a $15 charge for those under the age of 35. In addition, because this is the first concert of the season, subscriptions for the full season are still available. The rates are $125 for general admission, $105 for seniors, and $50 for those under the age of 35. Subscriptions may be purchased through a separate Vendini event page. There is open seating for all concerts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monterey Symphony Chamber Players Return to Noontime Concerts with Exquisite Brahms

This afternoon Christina Mok, Concertmaster of the Monterey Symphony, returned to Noontime Concerts with the same Monterey Symphony Chamber Players that joined her last week, violinist Tina Minn, violist Chad Kaltinger, cellist Drew Ford, and clarinetist Steve Sanchez. This week, however, the ensemble performed only one composition, the Opus 115 clarinet quintet in B minor by Johannes Brahms. This composition has one of the more interesting back-stories in the history of music; but, however familiar it may be, it bears repeating.

In 1890, at the age of 57, Brahms made the decision that he would retire from composing. It didn’t last because Richard Mühlfeld, clarinetist with the Meiningen orchestra, made such a deep impression that Brahms could not resist providing him with new pieces to play. Yes, the noun was plural. By 1894 Brahms had completed four pieces for Mühlfeld, the Opus 114 clarinet trio, Opus 115, and the two Opus 120 sonatas. By this time, composing more pieces was a bit like eating potato chips; and Brahms would also create a healthy number of new pieces for piano, the Vier ernste Gesänge (four serious songs, settings of Biblical texts) for bass and piano (Opus 121), and eleven chorale preludes for organ (Opus 122).

It is important to bear this “track record” in mind, because it is too easy to fall into the illusion that Opus 115 is some kind of “twilight” composition. Mind you, Brahms may have encouraged that illusion. Even without listening, one can look at the final system of the score and see signs of the final exhalation of a dying man:

However, even if Brahms still had plenty of music in him left to write, there are any number of musical examples to reinforce that the dominant rhetoric of Opus 115 is melancholia. The way in which those final measures above recall the very opening of the composition followed by the “gasping” gestures of the last five measures make a strong case that Brahms had landed on one of the most effective musical renditions of Sehnsucht, that untranslatable German noun that often ends up in English as “longing,” on his side of Gustav Mahler.

All this goes to show that Brahms was as concerned about expressive rhetoric as he was with the grammatical constraints of both harmony and counterpoint and the overall logic of structure. Taking this tripartite foundation as a baseline, it is important to note that Mok and her colleagues clearly comprehended all three of these “dimensions of musical thinking” and brought forth a performance that fired on all cylinders. In doing so they reminded one of how well the nineteenth century had been framed by giants of chamber music, with Ludwig van Beethoven at one end and Brahms at the other. Furthermore, if there is cause for melancholy, it would be in the difficulty of finding any chamber music from the twentieth century that would show as much command of logic, grammar, and rhetoric as Opus 115 had done.

(Anyone wishing to rise to the challenge implicit in that last sentence should feel free to do so through a comment. I have a few contenders of my own, but I also have some refutation arguments. The claim is not an attack on the twentieth century but simply an observation that, after the nineteenth century played itself out, composers moved on to other interests in priorities.)

Ruth A. Felt will Thank her Bay Area Audiences by Producing a “Concert of Gratitude”

Last week it was announced that French-Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin would launch this season’s Concerts with Conversation at the Community Music Center while visiting San Francisco to participate in A Concert of Gratitude, being presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP). Readers probably know by now that Ruth A. Felt, Founder and President of SFP, announced her retirement last season and that her 37 years of service will be honored by a gala concert, entitled A Heartfelt Gala, which will take place at the end of this month. Next month Felt will return this gesture of thanks with one of her own. She has arranged one last concert, entitled A Concert of Gratitude, as her way of thanking Bay Area audiences for 37 years of supporting SFP activities.

The concert will be organized around performers who have made frequent visits to San Francisco to give SFP recitals. Hamelin is one of those performers, having appeared regularly, both as a soloist and in chamber music ensembles, since his SFP debut in 2003. The program will also include Midori, whose SFP debut dates back to 1998 and who last visited to perform all of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin in March of 2013. Finally, the program will include the members of the Alexander String Quartet (ASQ). Based in San Francisco, they serve collectively as the Directors of the Morrison Chamber Music Center in the College of Liberal and Creative Arts at San Francisco State University; and they also have been the SFP Ensemble-in-Residence since 1989.

ASQ will begin A Concert of Gratitude by performing one of their specialities, a string quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven, the Opus 95 (“Serioso”) in F minor, the last of the so-called “Middle” quartets. They will also conclude the program by joining Hamelin in a performance of Robert Schumann’s Opus 44 quintet in E-flat major. Hamelin will give a solo performance of the three intermezzi in Johannes Brahms’ Opus 117; and Midori will perform the first of Bach’s solo violin sonatas, BWV 10001 in G minor.

This concert will take place on Sunday, October 23, beginning at 7 p.m. The venue will be Herbst Theatre (the same venue for the Heartfelt Gala concert), located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. There will be reserved seating; but all tickets will be priced at a symbolic $37 (as in the duration of Felt’s tenure). As of this writing, very few tickets remain. Those interested are advised to consult the City Box Office event page, whose seating chart indicates where tickets remain.

Ann Moss’ New Album Pursues Some Serious Poetry

About two weeks ago soprano Ann Moss released her latest recording, Love Life, as a digital album, available for download from bandcamp, and in physical form from CD Baby. Moss is Artistic Director of CMASH (Chamber Music Art Song Hybrid), a repertory group committed to establishing and nurturing long-term collaborative relationships between composers and performers. Two of the CMASH composers are featured on Love Life. The opening selection, Full Fathom Five, a cycle of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, was composed by Liam Moss in 2014. The other two sets are by Jake Heggie. The earlier of these (2013) consists of setting of four of the poems from Galway Kinnell’s collection The Book of Nightmares. The other, composed the following year, assembles four poems by Emily Dickinson under the title Newer Every Day: Songs for Kiri (dedicated to soprano Kiri Te Kanawa). In addition the album concludes with Heggie’s setting of Philip Sidney’s “My True Love Hath My Heart.” CMASH pianist Steven Bailey is the accompanist, joined by CMASH cellist Emil Miland for all of these selections except Newer Every Day.

In addition the album offers three “interludes” in the form of arrangements of popular songs, presumably inserted as reflections on younger days. The earliest of these is the 1965 Beatles hit “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” given an a cappella arrangement by CMASH composer Josh Grimmett in which Moss sings with the members of Chanticleer. Moss and Bailey collaborated on arranging Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome;” and the final selection is Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” arranged by Wade with accompaniment by cello (Miland) and violin (CMASH member Isaac Allen).

In her notes for the accompanying booklet, Moss surveys the many different aspects of love that are revealed through the selections she assembled. While this provides valuable orientation for the listener, I must confess that I was more interested in homing in on the poetry. If Moss has been informed by her own personal experiences, then I must confess that I shall never forget my eleventh-grade English teacher, if only for the compelling way in which she would read Millay’s poems. Millay packed so much into her verses that a rhetorically-sensitive recitation of any one of her poems had a music of its own that would make both vocalists and instrumentalists superfluous. As a result I found myself somewhat disappointed that Full Fathom Five seemed to be more about the music than about the powerful texts being set. In many respects Dickinson poses similar problems, but Heggie seemed to have found just the right sweet spot to bring Dickinson’s voice into alignment with Moss’ in a setting established by his piano accompaniment. (Heggie himself was the pianist for this selection.)

The pop selections were bold experiments. However, particularly where the Beatles and Dylan were concerned, even when the music was affectionate, there was always as sense that the edges were a bit too sharp for sentiment. One could not listen to the original tracks without wondering just how much irony was behind the delivery. Moss seems to have dispensed with the irony and gone to the core of the underling sentiment. This is certainly consistent with the overall theme of the album, but it will probably be a bit disorienting for anyone with fond memories of the originals! (Joni Mitchell, on the other hand, was a bit more susceptible to the arrangement her song was given.)

Still, at the risk of sounding a bit too pretentious, I would argue that it is the “real” poetry that lies at the heart of this album. When the words of the poet align with the expressiveness of the composer, which they do in Heggie’s treatments, the listener is reminded of why poetry is worth reading in the first place. Moss clearly knows how to say what she wants to say through poetry; and, particularly in the Heggie interpretations, she says it successfully by singing it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Andrew Cyrille Makes his ECM Leader Debut

This past Friday ECM released a new recording on which jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille appeared as leader for the first time. The other members of the group, known collectively as the Andrew Cyrille Quartet (what else?) are Bill Frisell on guitar, Ben Street on bass, and Richard Teitelbaum on both synthesizer and piano. The title of the album is The Declaration of Musical Independence, which seems to be justified by Street’s booklet notes.

Street’s essay begins with the following sentence:
As the 21st century began, Elliott Carter strongly indicted the musical world of the 20th, pointing out that we had become enmeshed completely and needlessly in steady, even time signatures deriving from military applications, to the exclusion of any other understanding of musical flow.
With all due respect to a composer whose innovative contributions to the concert repertoire cannot be overestimated, I must express a certain amount of regret that Carter never pried himself out of those concert halls to check out some of “farthest-out” jazz clubs in Manhattan. To choose just one example that is particularly relevant to this new recording, I find it impossible to believe that Carter would have made such a sweeping generalization had he put some time into listening to Cecil Taylor.

I first came to recognize Cyrille’s name through his work with Taylor; and, since the beginning of this decade, I have been following with great interest his contributions to the Trio 3 collective, in which he performs with Oliver Lake on saxophone and Reggie Workman on bass. Come to think of it, I would guess that Carter was not aware of at least one other member of Cyrille’s new quartet. Had he been bold enough to expose himself to the world of live electronic music that was brewing back in the Sixties, he might have encountered Musica Elettronica Viva, which Teitelbaum co-founded along with Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzewski. Teitelbaum was also a sideman for some of the pioneering recordings that Anthony Braxton made on the Arista label, where Teitelbaum himself pioneered the practice of jamming on a Moog synthesizer, rather than using it to make tape music. These diverse backgrounds all add up to the proposition that, if the title of the album refers to independence from the “even time signatures” that Carter cited, then independence had already been declared about half a century before this new album was released!

Mind you, such an extensive historical legacy does not, in any way, detract from the experience of listening to this new album. If anything, it enhances it. Just as Anton Webern lectured on how the “new music” that he was making, as well as that of his teacher Arnold Schoenberg, could be traced back to past music-making practices, the music-making practices captured on The Declaration of Musical Independence can be traced back for even more than half a century, at least as far back as the sources that were influencing Thelonious Monk, many of whom are given generous discussion in Robin D. G. Kelly’s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.

In all fairness it should be observed that all four members of the quartet participated in the composition of one or more of eight of the nine tracks on this recording. The opening track, “Coltrane Time,” is described by Cyrille as “a piece written by John Coltrane that he never recorded.” However, Coltrane’s drummer Rashied Ali learned it and taught it to Milton Graves, who shared it with Cyrille when they recorded the Dialogue of the Drums album. This is a perfect example of what can happen when a drummer has the courage to depart from a steady beat; and, because Coltrane died in 1967, we really are talking about Carter having missed out on things about half a century before he put his discontent into words!

Nevertheless, the title “Coltrane Time” may confuse some serious jazz mavens. Coltrane Time is actually the name of a United Artists Records Coltrane album that was originally issued under Taylor’s name as Hard Driving Jazz in mono and Stereo Drive in stereo. There is now a Hard Driving Jazz CD with the four tracks that Coltrane recorded with Taylor’s quartet (before Cyrille was playing with Taylor), along with six “bonus” tracks. Coltrane is not credited as having composed any of those four tracks. Two are standards, one is by Kenny Dorham, and one is by Chuck Israels. However, the “Coltrane Time” that Cyrille performs has more to do with Coltrane’s interest in the complex rhythms of Indian music than with the “free” rhythms that Taylor was exploring.

One of the compositions that is overlooked by the booklet notes deserves some attention, Bill Frisell’s “Kaddish.” This is based on a major multimedia interpretation of Allen Ginsberg’s poem of the same name, which I saw at the SFJAZZ Center in April of 2013. By all rights this counts as chamber music for which Frisell conducted an ensemble consisting of Ron Miles on trumpet, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Doug Wieselman on clarinet and bass clarinet, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Hank Roberts on cello, Kenny Wollensen on drums, and Robin Holcomb on piano, doubling as vocalist. There were also two actors, Hal Willner as “Ginsberg’s voice” and Chloe Webb reading quoted passages of Ginsberg’s dying mother Naomi.

This piece probably has the steadiest rhythm of the album. It is basically a guitar solo that, like the Kaddish prayer itself, amounts to an incantation of mourning. Street provides what (in the spirit of the original chamber music conception of the composition) amounts to a continuo; and, as the piece progresses, Teitelbaum uses a synthesizer to color the texture, but only slightly so. Cyrille is present only in a few low rumblings. This basically works as a highly distilled recollection of what had initially been a far grander musical conception. While that distillation does little to evoke Ginsberg’s poetry, it is almost painfully effective as an “alternative incantation” of the Kaddish prayer.

The Bleeding Edge: 9/26/2016

The month will close with a busy week. Most likely it will involve the need to negotiate overlapping events. So let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of the specifics:

Wednesday–Sunday, September 28–October 2, Gray Area Art & Technology Theater: The RECOMBINANT festival will be a five-evening showcase of 360-degree spatial cinema and sound, featuring live audio-visual performances developed in collaboration with Recombinant Media Labs over the last twenty years. Performances will take place in the newly revived ten-screen CineChamber in the Gray Area Theater building. The first three nights will consist of screenings in the CineChamber. There will be two alternating series of programs, CineChamber Classics and Panorama Paranormal. Each program will be screened twice a night, and tickets will be sold separately for each screening. Saturday and Sunday will present full-evening programs of wraparound audio-visual performances with a single ticket for the entire program. The Sunday program will be preceded by a two-hour Re-cog-ignition Symposium, for which tickets will be sold separately. All tickets may be purchased through hyperlinks on the RECOMBINANT festival home page. The Gray Area Art & Technology Theater is located in the Mission at 2665 Mission Street.

Wednesday–Thursday, September 28–29, 7:30 p.m., SAFEhouse Arts: RAW (the resident artist workshop) will showcase the work of four SAFEhouse Arts residents. The first piece will be Katrina Countiss’ “ASMR with Katarina,” 30 minutes of sound art, improvisation, poetry, and experiments all based on ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) experiences. Estefano Romani’s “LINE” is “a joyful attempt to use form in order to get closer to people.” “Freedom’s Fancy” is a narrative theater piece by Ariel Daly about what happens in a city after the bars close. Finally, Nasina Shastri will give a Bharatanatyam performance of “Waiting - the game of Love” with music by Charlie Mariano and the Karnataka College of Percussion.

SAFEhouse Arts is located in the Civic Center at 1 Grove Street, where Grove Street meets Market Street. Admission at the door will be on a sliding scale between $10 and $20. However, tickets may be purchased online in advance for $15. Ticketfly has created separate event pages for the Wednesday and Thursday performances.

Wednesday, September 28, 7:30 p.m., Canessa Gallery: The September installment of the Composers in Performance Series will be another two-set offering. The first set will be between 40 and 60 minutes of structured duo improvisations bringing bassist Steuart Liebig together with Emily Hay, a vocalist who also plays all sizes of instruments in the flute family. Both improvisers will also be contributing electronic effects. The second set will be a multimedia partnership, bringing the real-time video creations of Bill Wiatroski together with Tom Djll on trumpet and electronics. The Canessa Gallery is located at 708 Montgomery Street, right on the “border” between the Financial District and North Beach. Admission will be between $10 and $20, payable at the door.

Thursday, September 29, 8 p.m., Luggage Store Gallery: This week the Luggage Store Creative (LSC) Music Series will host this year’s NorCal Noise Fest. The performers will be Scot Jenerik and Aleph (from F-Space/Chrome) performing as the duo Aume, vocalist Cher Von, violinist Mia Zabelka, noise artist Phog Masheeen, and a special appearance by the duo of Tatsuya Nakatani and Phillip Greenlief. The Luggage Store Gallery is at 1007 Market Street, directly across from the Golden Gate Theatre at the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street. As with all LSC concerts, admission will be on a sliding scale between $6 and $15.

Friday, September 30, 5:30 p.m., Bird and Beckett Books and Records: The following evening Greenlief will take his tenor saxophone over to Bird and Beckett Books and Records. He will lead The Lost Trio, in which he will be joined by Dan Seamans on bass and Tom Hassett on drums. The trio will be playing mostly original compositions by Greenlief and Seamans. They will be there until 8 p.m., probably offering an early evening of two sets.

Bird and Beckett Books and Records is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station for both Muni and BART. Admission is free, but donations are always appreciated. The collections of both books and records are pretty impressive, so making a purchase will also be looked upon with great favor!

Saturday, October 1, 7:30 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): San Francisco flutist Jessie Nucho will present a program for electroacoustic music for flute. The major work on her program will be Adam Shield’s new work, “The Uncertainty Principle.” It will be preceded by Kaija Saariaho’s “NoaNoa” and Benjamin Broening’s “Trembling Air.”

C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members and students. Tickets may be purchased in advance through a Vendini event page, as well as at the door.

Saturday, October 1, 8 p.m., Turquoise Yantra Grotto (TYG): The theme of the next house concert hosted by the Turquoise Yantra Grotto will be Butoh. Having contributed to NorCal Noise Fest, Nakatani will come over with his percussion to perform with fellow percussionists Jacob Felix Heule and Kevin Corcoran. The three of them will provide the auditory environment for a performance by Butoh dancer Ronie Baker. They will be preceded by an opening set in which another Butoh dancer, Chel Sea, will be accompanied by Kanoko Nishi-Smith on koto and Soo Yeon Lyuh on haegeum. TYG is located at 32 Turquoise Way. Admission is between $10 and $15.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Umberto Giordano’s Music of Irony

It is difficult to imagine any narrative of the French Revolution that would be void of irony. Indeed, I have to admire Simon Schama’s restraint. In his 900-page Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, he seems to have resisted the urge to paraphrase Winston Churchill and declare that the whole story of the French Revolution comes down to one damned irony after another. It is therefore no surprise that irony is rife throughout the libretto that Luigi Illica prepared for Umberto Giordano’s opera Andrea Chénier. Watching the San Francisco Opera (SFO) production of this opera for the second time this afternoon, I could not help but marvel at the barrage of ironies that unfold over the course of the opera’s four acts. Indeed, Illica even went so far as to have Carlo Gérard (the servant who rises to political power after the Revolution) quote the journalist (and Royalist sympathizer) Jacques Mallet du Pan with the phrase that, in the spirit of Saturn, “the Revolution devours its children.”

This afternoon, however, I had the advantage of a seat that afforded an excellent view of both the SFO Orchestra and its conductor, Music Director Nicola Luisotti. I tend to be consistently impressed with the effectiveness of the chemistry that Luisotti establishes with the vocalists up on the stage. It is one thing to make sure that the musicians capture all of the rhetorical turns that support the narrative, even when the narrative is at its most preposterous (which it is not in this particular opera). Aligning the expressiveness of the musicians with that of the vocalists is quite another matter, particular when those vocalists also have to be taking marching orders from the stage director.

However, in this particular opera, one would be justified in asking whether or not Giordano appreciated just how much irony was in Illica’s text; and, if he did, what did he do about it? After this afternoon’s performance, I concluded that, for the most part, Giordano was busy frying other fish, meaning that he was willing to cede almost all conveyance of irony solely to the words. Nevertheless, there is at least one moment in which Giordano seems to have reinforced the irony established by the text. It concerns the spy known only as “The Incredible,” the sort of character that would provide the perfect model for a librettist committed to working on an opera about Joseph Stalin in which Lavrentiy Beria (Chief of the NKVD) would be one of the characters. There is an episode in which The Incredible (sung by tenor Joel Sorensen) explains to Gérard (baritone George Gagnidze) that Chénier (tenor Yonghoon Lee) can be used as “bait” to attract Maddalena di Coigny (soprano Anna Pirozzi), whom Gérard has loved since he was a servant in her mother’s château. This is the closest The Incredible comes to an extended aria; and it is a delicate little ditty (absent of all sinister intent) that bears a “family resemblance” to the gavotte danced at that château during the first act (which is interrupted by a chorus of starving peasants). In other words The Incredible’s aria has strong connotations of what-goes-around-comes-around; and capturing those connotations is music suggests that Giordano’s one attempt at irony succeeded admirably. Sadly, Stage Director David McVicar decided that the memory of the gavotte needed to be reinforced by having The Incredible prance around while singing. Fortunately, the music retained its sense of irony in spite of any visual interference!

Noe Valley Chamber Music Announces 24th Season

Noe Valley Chamber Music (NVCM) has finalized plans for its 2016–17 season. All concerts will take place on Sundays at 4 p.m. beginning next month. There will be six of these concerts, along with an evening benefit concert that will be held in April. Programming has not yet been finalized for all of the events. However, full details are available for the opening concert of the season. Specifics are as follows:

October 23: The season will begin with the recently-formed Thalea String Quartet, whose members are violinists Christopher Whitley and Kumiko Sakamoto, violist Luis Bellorin, and cellist Bridget Pasker. All are students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), where the group is in its second year as that institution’s first Quartet-in-Residence. In addition, Thalea was selected as NVCM Emerging Artists for the 2016–17 season. The program will begin with Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken III/75, the first of the Opus 76 quartets that he composed in 1797 and dedicated to Count Joseph Erdödy. This “opening gesture” will be complemented by concluding with Felix Mendelssohn’s final string quartet, his Opus 80 in F minor, composed half a century later in 1847. Between these two classics, Thalea will play “Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector,” which Terry Riley composed for the Kronos Quartet in 1980. Kai Christiansen will give an introductory talk prior to the concert, beginning at 3:15 p.m.

November 13: Thalea will be followed by another string quartet with ties to SFCM. The Friction Quartet consists of violinists Kevin Rogers and Otis Harriel, violist Taija Warbelow, and cellist Doug Machiz. They will be joined by special guest pianist Jenny Q Chai for a program consisting entirely of piano quintets. Featured will be the San Francisco premiere of a quintet by Andy Akiho. The remainder of the program will offer a rather unique coupling of the classical and the contemporary. The former will be Robert Schumann’s Opus 44 in E-flat major; and it will be complemented by a “rethinking” of this piece in the form of a piano quintet by Timo Andres, which was given its world premiere here in San Francisco in March of 2013 as part of a four-concert series for San Francisco Performances organized by pianist Jonathan Biss and titled Schumann: Under the Influence. For this program Christiansen will moderate a discussion after the concert.

January 15: 2017 will begin with a shift back to pre-Classical times with a recital given by Musica Pacifica. The members of this group are Judith Linsenberg on recorder, violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock and Katherine Kyme, William Skeen on gamba, and harpsichordist Charles Sherman. The program has not been finalized, but Musica Pacifica specializes in bringing rarely-performed gems of early music to light. In this case they will offer works by two Scarlattis, Alessandro and his son Domenico, along with several less-familiar composers from the same period in music history.

February 12: Soprano Christine Brandes will return to NVCM with her piano accompanist Laura Dahl. Cellist Marcy Rosen will join them to premiere two new works for cello and voice by Eric Moe and Richard Festinger, respectively. Other composers to be included on the program will be Lori Laitman, Maurice Ravel, Johannes Brahms, and Haydn.

March 19: San Francisco Symphony (SFS) bassoonist Steven Dibner is preparing a program with his SFS colleagues including pianist Robin Sutherland, clarinetist Carey Bell, and other members of the SFS wind section. This will be a program of solos and ensemble works concluding with an all-hands performance of a sextet for piano and winds. Scott Foglesong, who frequently gives the pre-concert talks for SFS concerts in Davies Symphony Hall, will offer an introductory talk for this concert, beginning at 3:15 p.m.

May 21: The season will conclude with a visit by the Farallon Clarinet Quintet, which brings clarinetist Natalie Parker together with violinists Dan Flanagan and Matthew Oshida, violist Elizabeth Prior, and cellist Jonah Kim. They will present two newly-commissioned works by composers Durwynne Hsieh and Chad Cannon, respectively. There will again be an introductory talk by Foglesong at 3:15 p.m.

All concerts take place in the recently renovated Noe Valley Ministry, located at 1021 Sanchez Street, just south of 23rd Street. Subscriptions are available for both the full series of six concerts and for a Custom Series of any four concerts. General admission for a full subscription is $120 with a $96 rate for seniors. The Custom Series charge is $90 for general admission and $72 for seniors. Brown Paper Tickets has created an event page for ordering both of these subscription options. Tickets for individual concerts will be $30 if paid at the door. However, if paid in advance, the charge is $25 for general admission and seniors and $15 for students. Children aged twelve and under are admitted at no charge. Each concert has its own Brown Paper Tickets event page, and hyperlinks to all of them may be found on the season summary Web page in the NVCM Web site.

The benefit concert will be held on April 23, beginning at 6 p.m. Geraldine Walther, former Principal Viola with SFS and currently viola in the Takács Quartet, will be the featured artist. She will perform with pianist David Korevaar. The program will present the premiere of “True Divided Light,” written on a commission from NVCM by David Carlson. They will also perform Schumann’s Opus 113 collection of four short pieces entitled Märchenbilder (fairy-tale pictures), as well as a viola performance of César Franck’s A major violin sonata. Jules Delsart prepared an alternative version for cello (with Franck’s approval); and, since the viola strings have the same tuning as those of the cello (but an octave higher), it is likely that Walther’s performance will be based on Delsart’s version. As is the case at most benefit events, both food and drinks will also be provided. All tickets for the benefit concert will be $85, $50 of which is tax-deductible. Tickets are currently on sale and may be purchased online from an Eventbrite event page.

Kate Stenberg and Sarah Cahill Cover Over 160 Years of Music History at Sunset Music | Arts

Last night at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, Sunset Music | Arts presented what appears to be the final chamber music concert of its 2016 season. The performers were violinist Kate Stenberg and pianist Sarah Cahill. The program spanned a wide range of music history with sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at one end (1784) with his K. 454 in B-flat major and Henry Cowell (1945) at the other, with Johannes Brahms (Opus 100 in A major, composed in 1886) and Claude Debussy (his last extended work, composed in 1917) between those extremes.

Note the absence of the noun “accompanist” and the use of the noun “sonatas” without any modifiers. This was recital whose program sheet was prepared in a way that respected the differing priorities of the different composers. Thus, while the Debussy and Cowell pieces were listed as “Sonata for Violin and Piano,” the way one usually expects, the ordering of the instruments was reversed for both Mozart and Brahms. According to the report included in the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe, K. 454 was originally published in Vienna in 1784 in a set of three sonatas. The first two were for keyboard solo; and the (rather wordy) title page then continues, “La troisieme est accomp. d’un Violon oblg.” (the third is accompanied by an obligato violin). Since Mozart enjoyed his reputation as a virtuoso keyboardist, he may well have provided this wording that describes the violinist as the “accompanist.” Similarly, the original title page provided by N. Simrock for Opus 100 lists the piano before the violin, possibly again in recognition of Brahms’ reputation as a pianist.

One might therefore say that last night’s program was well-balanced with “primary attention” shared equally between the two performers. However, this would be unfair to the spirit of chamber music, which is (or at least ought to be) less a matter of “who is in charge” and more one of how music emerges through mutual agreement among shared perspectives. Yes, one could detect signs of Mozart (not yet thirty) still channelling the rambunctious spirits of a decade earlier; but last night’s performance was more about give-and-take exchanges on a more level playing field. As a result it was clear that Stenberg had as much of a voice in where the music was going as Cahill did (even if the latter was kept busier with more notes on the page).

Indeed, this was consistently the case throughout the evening. The Brahms and Debussy sonatas were performed back-to-back during the second half of the program; but neither case showed significant signs of one performer having priority over the other. More interesting was that, given the significant differences in surface structure between these two sonatas, both were interpreted with a personal intimacy that ran far deeper than any of the surface features. Even the wide differences in the composers’ personalities seemed to recede into a background, whose foreground was focused primarily on how two voices of decidedly different sonorous qualities could come into so much harmonious agreement.

The one anomaly of the evening was the Cowell sonata. This was written for Joseph Szigeti, and it would appear from Cowell’s correspondence that working on it was not an easy matter. Mind you, Szigeti had taken an interest in the violin sonatas of Charles Ives, but Cowell was even more of an outlier than Ives. Thus, while the pianist has to use his/her fingers to mute some of the strings in the final movement, there are few signs of the adventurous (if not outrageous) spirit behind Cowell’s earlier piano music. Instead, the music is highly melodic, drawing heavily on Cowell’s “world music” interests with a particular focus on Irish styles. The result is far more affable than what one usually expects of Cowell, but that affability certainly resonated with the approach that Stenberg and Cahill took to performance. One has to wonder whether a violinist as austere as Szigeti would have warmed to that sort of rhetorical stance.

That spirit of world music was maintained in the encore for last night’s recital. This was the final movement from Alan Hovhaness’ Khirgiz Suite, composed in 1947 and published as Opus 73, Number 1. Hovhaness was Armenian on his father’s side and Scottish on his mother, both countries with lively folk traditions. In this case the music reflected the same sorts of Armenian influences that surface so often in the music of Aram Khachaturian. However, while Khachaturian was inclined to throw everything but the kitchen sink into his orchestral ensembles, Hovhaness could express himself just as effectively through chamber music; and last night’s encore selection presented this seldom-performed modernist in the best possible light.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dynamite Guitars will Begin its 2016–2017 Season with a Flamenco Sextet

Next month Dynamite Guitars will open its 36th season of guitar concerts with a flamenco program. Tomatito (José Fernández Torres) will make a return appearance, this time leading a sextet from his guitar. The second guitar performer will be his son, José del Tomate. The sextet will also include the dancer José Maya. Vocals (and clapping) will be provided by both Kiki Cortiñas and David Maldonado. That leaves Israel Suárez as the group’s percussionist.

This concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 22. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices are $45, $55, and $65 for premium seating. City Box Office has created an event page for online purchase that shows which sections of the house are covered by which prices and how many seats are available in each section. Tickets may also be purchased by calling the Omni Foundation at 415-242-4500 or by calling City Box Office at 415-392-4400. In addition, because this is the beginning of the season, all subscription options are still on sale. Subscription purchases can only be made through the Omni Foundation telephone number.

Lisa Delan Releases a New Album of Unfamiliar American Art Song

At the beginning of this month, PENTATONE released an album by soprano Lisa Delan entitled Out of the Shadows: Rediscovered American Art Song. That may be a rather long-winded title; but it is definitely not an inaccurate one. Most likely, at least some of the composers’ names will be familiar to those who take their listening seriously; but the songs are quite another matter. Indeed, when the song is recognizable, most likely the arrangement will be unfamiliar. The blurb for this recording on the Web page explains that Delan encountered these songs when she was a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), some of her teachers were contemporaries of the composers included on this recording. Since I am probably a contemporary of many of those teachers, I appreciate their mindset. However, I have to confess that, like almost all of my contemporaries, I knew of Randall Thompson only through his a cappella “Alleluia” (which was not only sung by every high school choir but also performed every summer at Tanglewood, where it was usually sung by everyone).

On the other hand, if the songs themselves are unfamiliar, almost all of the text authors are a part of my personal reading experience. They include Conrad Aiken, Ford Maddox Ford, Tennessee Williams, and even E. E. Cummings (who preferred to spell his name with only lowercase letters). Furthermore, there are composers that I make it a point to seek, such as Paul Bowles, since I know them through compositions other than art songs. Thus, while this entire album amounts to an extended journey of discovery, I can confess that, from the very beginning, I was eager to make that journey.

I should also confess that I have been going to concerts at SFCM ever since the school moved from the remote Sunset district of San Francisco into the heart of the Civic Center in 2006. (By way of disclaimer, I should note that, when my wife and I downsized from a house in Palo Alto to a condominium in the Civic Center, I donated my Baldwin grand piano to SFCM!) Over the course of many SFCM concerts, I came to know both Delan and her piano accompanist Kevin Korth. Ironically, however, my concert experiences of her work seem to have taken place in Davies Symphony Hall, where she was singing music by Gordon Getty with the San Francisco Symphony. On this album Getty appears only as an arranger, although his setting of “Shenandoah” for soprano, cello (Matt Haimovitz), and piano is engagingly non-traditional. Indeed, the album has two other arrangements for the same resources, both of which are equally innovative, David Garner’s treatment of “Auld Lang Syne” and Jack Perla’s take on “Home, Sweet Home.”

The biggest surprise on the album is the appearance of John Kander, better known as the “composer half” of the team of Kander and Ebb. Their Broadway hits include Cabaret and Chicago. The title of his song is “A Letter from Sullivan Ballou.” The letter was written on July 14, 1861; and the author was a major about to encounter his first Civil War battle fighting on the Union side. Within a week he would be one of the fatalities in the Battle of Bull Run. The song itself is framed by a spoken prelude and postlude, setting a poignancy that intensifies the impact of the sung portion.

Nevertheless, because everything on this album is so new, it is a bit unfair to account for it only on the basis of early impressions. What is important is that Delan brings both clarity and rhetorical relevance to her approach to each of the 31 songs on this album. Thus, while the album as a whole will be a journey into unfamiliar territory, Delan’s command of these songs definitely makes the journey worth taking.

Paul Dresher’s “Schick Machine” Begins its Run at Z Space

Last night Z Space hosted the first of four performances of Schick Machine, a music theater production that, while only about an hour in duration, is awe-inspiring in both its concept and the realization of that concept. A synthesis of monodrama and recital, the piece was created for percussion virtuoso Steven Schick under commissions from Stanford Lively Arts and Meyer Sound Labs. The creative team involved Schick collaborating with composer and artistic director Paul Dresher, writer and stage director Rinde Eckert, instrument inventor Daniel Schmidt, mechanical sound artist Matt Heckert, and lighting and visual designer Tom Ontiveros.

Eckert’s note for the program book suggests that the narrative behind the monodrama was inspired by Labyrinths, the New Directions anthology of both stories and poems by Jorge Luis Borges. The stories have uncanny brevity. In a few pages Borges could summon up a logical paradox or absurdity, play with it, and then pull the rug out from under the reader, often through a self-mocking conclusion. New Directions probably chose the title because Borges could pack innumerable twists and turns into even his shortest tales.

Such twists and turns became an inspiration for Eckert. As he put it, reading Borges was “when Lazlo Klangfarben came to mind, or rather Steve Schick as a man unable to remember Steve Schick who has named himself Lazlo Klangfarben, but still has all of Steve Schick’s memories. Klangfarben, as opposed to Steve Schick, is an inventor. His latest brainchild is something he calls the Schick Machine, after a percussionist whose name he dimly recalls.”

Over many years of collaboration with Dresher, Eckert has created a variety of characters with fragile, and often frightening, mental states. Schick Machine is probably his most convoluted creation to date. The “machine” is not so much a moving device created for some work process. Rather, it is an entire environment that fills the Z Space stage with a panoply of objects capable of producing sounds when struck, rubbed, pushed, or simply allowed to resonate. Indeed, to go back to Eckert’s inspiration, the stage itself is a labyrinth of such objects within which Schick, the percussionist dimly recalled by Klangfarben, engages his music-making practices, probably involving a combination of “scored” activities and improvised ones. Off to the side of this environment, Dresher sits at a table with a laptop running Max/MSP software, primarily to capture samples of Schick’s performances and direct them to the Meyer speakers mounted above the stage, thus creating an environment in which Schick is playing with the accompaniment of his own memories.

The visual impact of the stage is as stunning as the percussion performance. Size matters, whether in the form of an enormous colored circle of organ pipes (orange for C natural, yellow for the “white keys,” and brown for the “black keys”), a koto whose length takes half the stage, or a four-foot spinning disc mounted off-center and looking as if it will fly off its axle at any moment. There are also many metallic and wood ranks of organ pipes, provided courtesy of the Sonoma Community Center; they are played by a rotating metal cylinder with bolts sticking out of it, a latter-day version of how the mechanical organs of Mozart's day were programmed. Then, there are the more familiar objects, such as hoops and a tea kettle that whistles when the water boils. Finally, there are a variety of metal and wood items that look as if they would not be out of place in an orchestral percussion setting.

Steven Schick in performance (image courtesy of the Paul Dresher Ensemble)

Within this rich environment Schick ambles around, occasionally checking blueprints and frequently looking as if he is haunted by some sense of foreboding or malaise. At least that is the way he appears until he starts being a percussionist. Then everything converges into a highly focused personality whose sharp sense of rhythm enables intricate exercise of the dual semantics of “play,” both musical and ludic. The “message” (scare quotes added for caution) seems to be that, however plagued a mental state may be, identity may still be found in the act of making music.

Schick Machine will be given three more performances at Z Space. They will take place today both in the afternoon and the evening and tomorrow (Sunday) in the afternoon. Following each performance the audience is invited to the stage for closer inspection of the instruments. Tickets may be purchased online from an OvationTix event page.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Delos Releases a Second Recording of Tenor Lawrence Brownlee

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee made his debut on the Delos label in March of 2014 with an album entitled Virtuoso Rossini Arias. The eight tracks on this album established his engagingly light touch to execution that could serve him just as effectively in the seria selections as in the comic ones. His well-balanced approach to the two dispositions of the bel canto style can now be found on his second album, released at the beginning of this month. The title is Allegro io son (happy am I), which is also the title track of the album, the aria sung by Beppe in Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera Rita about the title character’s relationship with her current and former husbands. (Beppe is the current one. Rita is more than a bit of a shrew, and she married Beppe after the death of her first husband Gaspar. Beppe is happy when he learns that Gaspar is not dead after all.) Brownlee also sings two arias each from three other comic operas by Donizetti, Don Pasquale, L’elisir d’amore (the elixir of love), and La fille du régiment (the daughter of the regiment). The serious side of bel canto is represented by Donizetti’s La Favorite and Dom Sébastien, as well as two arias from Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani.

What is important about Brownlee’s lightness of touch is that it allows him to take a nuanced approach to both comedy and tragedy. His sensitivity to the texts he sings is further enhanced by a highly effective rapport with conductor Constantine Orbelian leading the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra. These are the same conductor and orchestra that accompanied him on his Rossini album. That chemistry also extended to the quartet “A te, o cara” (to thee, dear one) from I puritani, in which Brownlee is joined by Viktorija Miskunaite, Liudas Mikalauskas, and Andrus Apsega; and Miskunaite also joins him in the “Son salvo” (I am safe) duet. (His high note is a bit forced in the duet; but, for better or worse, the “high drama” of this opera is also a bit forced.)

Such details aside, most readers will probably want to “cut to the chase” and check out Brownlee’s approach to “Una furtiva lagrima” (a furtive tear) from L’elisir. They will not be disappointed. This aria makes its mark not only through the quiet sense of revelation expressed by Nemorino but also by Donizetti’s highly effective restraint in the instrumental resources he engages. In the bel canto repertoire, this is one aria in which even the most intensely serious listener is rewarded.

The release of this album has been particularly well-timed in my home town of San Francisco. On September 28 San Francisco Opera (SFO) will begin a run of six performances of Don Pasquale, in which Brownlee will be making his SFO debut as Pasquale’s nephew Ernesto. The production will be directed by Laurent Pelly, whose comic touch in staging operas by both Rossini and Donizetti should provide just the right match for the lightness of tone that Brownlee delivers so well.

Concerts with Conversation will Begin at the Community Music Center with Marc-André Hamelin

Concerts with Conversation is an annual series of free community events hosted by the Community Music Center  (CMC) in partnership with San Francisco Performances (SFP). As the title implies, each event involves not only the performance of music but also a general Q&A session through which the audience can learn more about both the music and the performer. Usually, the artist is in San Francisco in conjunction with performing for an SFP event.

That will be the case for the first Concert with Conversation of the 2016–2017 season. The performer will be French-Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin. Hamelin has been giving regular recital performances for SFP since his debut in 2003. He will be in San Francisco next month for A Concert of Gratitude, a concert organized by SFP Founder Ruth A. Felt as a means of expressing her thanks to Bay Area audiences for their support of the organization she has served as President for 37 years. The program will include Hamelin performing the three intermezzi that Johannes Brahms published as his Opus 117. In addition, he will join the Alexander String Quartet for a performance of Robert Schumann’s Opus 44 quintet in E-flat major. However, Hamelin’s repertoire is hardly limited to the nineteenth century, and one of his recent recordings involved his performing Dmitri Shostakovich’s G minor piano quintet (Opus 57) with the Takács Quartet.

Hamelin’s visit to CMC will take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 21. To repeat, like all the events in this series, his appearance will be free and open to the general public. It will take place in the CMC Concert Hall, which is located at 544 Capp Street, between Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue and between 20th Street and 21st Street. These tend to be popular events, so early arrival is encouraged.

Eighteenth-Century Italy Thrives Best with the San Francisco Symphony

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), under the baton of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), gave the first of three performances of its all-Italian program. The selections covered the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, the last being represented by one of the most opulent gestures of modernism from a composer prominent in the wake of the Second World War, Luciano Berio. However, it was the eighteenth century that thrived best in the grand scheme of the overall program, due in large part to the efforts of the concerto soloist.

That soloist was Eugene Izotov, who became SFS Principal Oboe during last season, occupying a chair named after past SFS Music Director Edo de Waart. While de Waart was a significant champion of modernism during his SFS tenure, his “chair-holder” chose to turn to the Italian Baroque to introduce himself to San Francisco audiences as a concerto soloist. His selection is a favorite among audiences; but, as was observed about a week ago, it has a curious pedigree. It was published as a set of parts in 1716 as an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello the key of D minor. It was subsequently cataloged as Marcello’s Opus 1. It then went through a series of republications, one of which is a circa 1717 document transposed into the key of C minor; and at least one version of that publication attributed the transposed version to Alessandro’s younger brother Benedetto. The popularity of the concerto extended to Germany, where it was one of many Italian Baroque concertos that Johann Sebastian Bach rearranged as a solo harpsichord composition (BWV 974).

Izotov chose the C minor version of this concerto, and last night he performed as both soloist and leader. His solo work was both finely polished and agile. As leader he arranged a significantly reduced ensemble of strings (a scale that would have served Haydn much better had it been engaged last week) with a continuo provided by harpsichord (Robin Sutherland) and (very) occasionally reinforced by a single bass. The physical appearance of his leadership seemed to involve little more than marking time, but it was clear that his bond to the ensemble also involved listening. Thus, his shaping of the phrases in his solo line did much to influence the rhetorical tone of the strings. Last night emerged as a perfect example of how the Baroque repertoire can be performed on an appropriately reduced scale and still thrive in the vast space of Davies. It also left at least one listener curious as to how Izotov would take on some of the other major oboe concertos in the repertoire.

Then, like a pendulum swinging to the opposite extreme, the full SFS resources filled the stage, joined by the eight vocalists of The Swingle Singers (sopranos Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson and Sara Brimer Davey, altos Clare Wheeler and Joanna Forbes L’Estrange, tenors Oliver Griffiths and Richard Eteson, and basses Kevin Fox and Edward Randell), each carrying a wireless microphone. MTT bubbled over with enthusiasm at the prospect of bringing this music to Davies. (Its only previous performance was conducted by de Waart in 1979.) However, within the first few measures it was clear that things were just not going to click into place.

Composed in 1969 on a commission for celebrating the 125th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic, “Sinfonia” was created after Berio had spent an academic year as a Visiting Professor at Harvard University. By way of context, this was when Leon Kirchner, Chair of the Music Department, was working on his third string quartet that included an obligato tape of electronic music. (The electronics were provided by the recently-departed Don Buchla; and the tape itself was created by Morton Subotnick.) This was a good time to be an adventurous modernist in the Harvard Music Department, but Berio was more interested in hanging out with pioneers of what came to be called “cognitive science” at both Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with particular attention to the psychology of linguistic behavior.

In this context “Sinfonia” emerged as what might be called a massive experiment in sensemaking, that process by which the mind behind the sensory organs figures out how to differentiate signal from noise. Drawing upon texts (by authors such as Claude Lévi-Strauss and Samuel Beckett) that “all the other kids on the block” were reading, Berio concocted a canvas of sound whose scope was as wide and dazzling as any physical canvas by Jackson Pollock. His scope ranged from the microlevel syllabic decomposition of the name of Martin Luther King to a wild collage of sources too numerous to itemize figuratively pasted on top of the score pages of the third (Scherzo) movement of Gustav Mahler’s second (“Resurrection”) symphony. The mix was further enhanced by the Swingles both singing and declaiming.

The result may be one of those rare examples in which it may be unlikely that any performance will rise to the level of any of the available recordings. Recording engineers, after all, have the luxury of deploying as many microphones as they see fit and connecting them to a single mixing board from which they can call every shot they wish when it comes to sorting out the foreground from the background. In fairness where “Sinfonia” is concerned, that sorting must be a matter of personal judgment; but that judgment is easier to exercise when one is working from behind a mixing board without the constraints of real-time performance. Standing in front of the full panoply of resources required by Berio’s score is quite another matter, and last night it was unclear whether MTT was leading his resources or just providing a basic orientation in which everyone would add his/her piece to the mix.

Given how responsive Davies had been to the intimate scale required for the Marcello concerto, it is somewhat ironic that the ingredients of that mix that fared most poorly were the Swingles with their microphones. This may be because those mikes fed the house speakers, which hang above the stage at a significant height, about as remote from the rest of the ensemble as one can expect. I have to say that personally I found myself recalling how Mason Bates would always provide his own speakers for his electronica and have a say as to where they would be placed on the Davies stage. This made for a more integrated ensemble approach than the relationship between voices and instruments that emerged last night.

However, it may also be that the “original cast” had a better sense of what to make of the text than the current generation of Swingle Singers does. Ward Swingle himself carried most of the burden of the Beckett text, and he presented it as one who seemed to have seen a goodly share of Beckett on the stage and knew just the right kind of voice to bring to the performance. Oliver Griffiths now holds Swingle’s place in the group. Last night’s performance did not convince that he had ever read very much Beckett, let alone seen what good actors can do with that author’s words.

Berio also surfaced briefly during the second half of the program with an orchestration of one of the few art songs that Giuseppe Verdi composed, “Il poveretto” (the poor one). This was a case of chamber music being scaled up to a symphony orchestra. However, if the colors of “Sinfonia” were splashed all over the place, instrumentation for “Il poveretto” was meticulously applied to provide just the right instrumental shading of every word in Manfredo Maggioni’s text. The result was a dramatic experience as powerful as any of the intense moments of grand opera, if not more so.

The vocalist for “Il poveretto” was tenor Michael Fabiano, who accounted for opera with two additional Verdi selections and one by Gaetano Donizetti. The most familiar of these was “Una furtiva lagrima” (a furtive tear), the tenor aria at the turning point in the plot of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (the elixir of love). This was also the most intimate of his selections, and his balance with the relatively modest instrumental resources could not have been better. Unfortunately, when left to his own devices in the concluding cadenza, his pitch began to waver and never came back into alignment with the musicians. The Verdi arias, on the other hand, were over-emoted to a fare-thee-well. In the aria from Simon Boccanegra, musicianship gave way to chewing the scenery (a bit problematic when the only “scenery” was the conductor’s podium), while the aria from Il corsaro amounted to an exercise in cheerleading reinforced by the male voices of the SFS Chorus.

The Chorus began the second half of the program with Verdi’s “Te Deum” setting, one of four “sacred pieces” he wrote towards the end of his life. The setting is for double chorus and orchestra, and the spatial disposition of the singers facilitated an appreciation of how Verdi could do wonderful things with counterpoint when he put his mind to it. Unfortunately, he could not resist a series of instrumental outbursts, each of which MTT chose to deliver at a setting of eleven on the amplifier. The first one was a real jolt, but the impact quickly wore off as the others followed almost like carbon copies. Italians seem to know best how to react to such excesses. The word “basta!” could not put things better.