Friday, March 31, 2017

Naxos (finally?) Releases its Album of Weinberg Violin-Piano Sonatas

Near the beginning of this month, Naxos released a two-CD album of the complete sonatas for violin and piano by Mieczysław Weinberg. Born in Warsaw on December 8, 1919, Weinberg fled to the Soviet Union, escaping the Nazi advance, shortly after graduating from the Warsaw Conservatory in 1939, meaning that he spent his entire life as a “professional musician” inside the Soviet Union. I cite this fact as a parallel to the observation that both of the musicians on this album, violinist Grigory Kalinovsky and pianist Tatiana Goncharova, were born in Russia and now spend most of their time teaching and performing in the United States.

As a result, all of the selections on this album, six sonatas and one sonatina, were recorded in New York at Brown Recording. The reason for the parenthesis in the above headline is that all recordings took place between March and December of 2010. This seems like a rather long time for postproduction activities, particularly when one realizes that, in July of 2013, Challenge Classics released an album of 3 CDs covering all of the same music along with a Moldavian rhapsody (Opus 47, Number 3) and an unpublished set of three pieces, performed by violinist Linus Roth, accompanied at the piano by José Gallardo. In that collection both the second (Opus 15) and sixth (Opus 136) sonatas were premiere recordings. (This was followed by another Roth album that included the three solo violin sonatas, released last year, which also includes Dmitri Shostakovich’s three “Fantastic Dances” for solo violin.)

Weinberg was younger than Shostakovich by a little more than thirteen years, but the latter was consistently supportive of the former. This is more than a little ironic, since it had only been in 1937 that Shostakovich had redeemed himself from his first denunciation by Soviet authorities in response to his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. On the other hand Shostakovich’s experience may have been sufficient to convince Weinberg of the virtue of keeping one’s head down as much as possible. Nevertheless, his discretion did not prevent him from being arrested for “Jewish bourgeois nationalism” in February of 1953. Shostakovich tried to intercede on Weinberg’s behalf; but it is likely that Weinberg’s release was a “fortuitous side effect” of the death of Joseph Stalin on March 5 of that same year.

Outside of Shostakovich, Weinberg does not appear to have had many champions. Nevertheless, he was remarkably prodigious, writing 22 symphonies, seventeen string quartets, 24 preludes for solo cello, and seven operas. When the authorities were watching him too closely, Weinberg sustained himself with prodigious activity in providing music for cinema and theater. In more recent times his music has been championed by Gidon Kremer; and between 2006 and 2009 Quatuor Danel recorded all of the string quartets, as well as two short early pieces. Those willing to give his music serious listening will not take long to appreciate that Weinberg’s work is far more than “warmed-over Shostakovich.” Caution may have muted any brashness in Weinberg’s rhetoric, but he never seemed to have trouble finding other ways in which to embody his expressiveness. Furthermore, Shostakovich himself wrote only one sonata for violin and piano, his Opus 134 in 1968!

The “bottom line” is that there are a little over two hours of opportunities for engaging listening in this album. Each of the sonatas (along with the sonatina) has its own virtues, although those virtues are probably better appreciated in isolation rather than in any attempt at “binge listening.” My only real quibble is with the booklet notes provided by Richard Whitehouse, which only seem to skim the surface of each of the selections. Most notably, he misses the appearance of a fugue in the fifth (Opus 53) sonata. Weinberg composed this in 1953, which would have been about two years after Shostakovich completed his full cycle of 24 preludes and fugues inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. There is a good chance that Weinberg knew about this work and admired it enough to respond by offering Shostakovich an instance of his own skills at writing a fugue.

Last-Minute Announcement: Candlelight Concerts Presents One Great City Duo

I just realized this morning that I have not yet written about the One Great City Duo on this site, even though I had tried to follow them closely back when I was writing for The group consists of guitarists Timothy Sherren and Alexandra Iranfar, who first met when they were students at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore but only began to play as a duo when they were in the Master of Music program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). However, they are not just a pair of guitarists, because Iranfar is also a soprano. who continued her vocal studies at SFCM.

Tomorrow evening One Great City Duo will be the featured performers at The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin as part of the 2016–2017 Candlelight Concert Series. This series, which was established in 1978, is now being run by its Interim Director of Music, Eric Choate, another SFCM graduate, this time in Composition. The program that the One Great City Duo has prepared will feature a work composed for them by their former SFCM teach Sérgio Assad.

The program will also include original guitar duo music by Celso Machado, whose compositions were included on the pair’s debut album Excursions. That album also demonstrates Iranfar’s talent as a song stylist with a selection of three songs by Cole Porter, and the Porter canon will also figure in the duo’s Candlelight Concert program. They will also perform music by former SFCM guitar teacher Dušan Bogdanović and Chick Corea. The group now plays on a matching pair of Glenn Canin guitars.

The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin is located in Cow Hollow at 2325 Union Street at the corner of Steiner Street. All concerts in the series are early evening events, beginning at 6 p.m. The One Great City Duo recital will take place tomorrow, Saturday, April 1. Admission will be free, and no reservations will be required.

San Francisco Symphony Previews the Mahler it will Take to Carnegie

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) led the San Francisco Symphony in the first of four performances of the second program that they will perform in Carnegie Hall at the end of next week. The entire program was devoted to Gustav Mahler, beginning with the Adagio (first) movement from his tenth symphony in F-sharp major and following the intermission with his first symphony in D major. This made for a slightly unbalanced distribution, since the Adagio lasts about half an hour, while the D major symphony runs more on the order of an hour. Separating them by an intermission blunted the idea of the late movement serving as an “overture” for the early symphony; but, given the stylistic gulf between these two works, that separation was probably a good idea.

There are probably as many well-formulated arguments in favor of playing the F-sharp major Adagio in isolation as there are well-considered supports for keeping it in the context of a full five-movement symphony, even if the latter can be no more than a performing edition resulting from intense scholarship. My own preference is for the five-movement version; and I shall not even begin to try to dispute the “isolationists.” MTT certainly does an excellent job of presenting the Adagio as a composition unto itself; and one can even argue that his presentation unfolds a self-contained narrative arc. That arc covers a journey from an uncertain restlessness that ultimately terminates in a sense of inner calm.

That sense of restlessness emerges through a variety of highly imaginative devices, some of which can be found in past Mahler scores while others forge paths into new territory. Most disquieting for the listener is the opening passage, a long stretch of monody played only by the violas in unison that almost seems to represent a helpless sense of disorientation. This is followed immediately (no Classical bridge devices here!) by a second theme that is literally spread out across the entire ensemble. The entire movement is scored in a way that only makes real sense when the first and second violins are facing each other, because the very sense of that second theme only emerges through its migration from one section of the ensemble to another. By the time he began work on this movement, Mahler had mastered this rhetorical device; and one can only really appreciate it in a concert setting in which one is aware of the seamless peregrinations (and sometimes cinematic “dissolves”) of the theme across the entire “floor plan” of the orchestra.

One also comes to appreciate how specific physical locations serve to establish different dispositions of expression. Thus, one is as likely to confront abrupt changes as smooth ones. Furthermore, as the movement develops, Mahler gets more and more involved in the superposition of his elements as a rhetorical device. This comes to a climax about two-thirds of the way through the movement, when the prevailing quietude is abruptly interrupted.

The interruption amounts to a full-bore chorale declaimed by the entire brass section. The contributing instruments then withdraw, leaving the first trumpet (Mark Inouye) to sustain a high A. Different sections of the orchestra then enter, each providing its own distinct chord to “harmonize” that A. However, harmony is the last thing Mahler had in mind. When all of those chords are superimposed, they cover all twelve tones of the chromatic scale. All the instruments withdraw, leaving the trumpet alone again; but then they all return simultaneously in what may be the first documented instance of a tone cluster. This is one of those cases in which those with biographical knowledge can easily imagine Mahler staring Death in the face, a defiant rejection of the submissiveness of the “Maiden” in that poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, best known for having been set as a song (D. 531) by Franz Schubert. (Mahler planned a string orchestra arrangement of Schubert’s D. 810 string quartet whose second movement is a set of variations on that song. However, he only completed that second movement.)

Confrontation is then followed by resignation. The dynamic level drops quickly, and the coda introduces a new theme through which the restlessness of the two opening themes can finally find closure. From that point of view, the Adagio movement is a “closed story” with a perfectly valid conclusion; and last night MTT could not have done a better job of telling that story.

The first symphony also involves narrative qualities of disclosure that unfold over a sustained duration. While the first movement is decidedly more “Classical” in its structure, it is distinguished by an introduction that threatens to overwhelm the exposition. However, where the thematic materials of the F-sharp major Adagio unfold as elaborately wandering paths, the introduction to the opening movement of the first symphony barely advances beyond manifold ways of looking at a descending fourth. From one point of view, one might say that Mahler was playing with a bird call; but it might be fairer to say that, in that single interval, he was trying to capture the full extent of nature itself (which keeps getting interrupted by distant fanfares).

Here, again, one might make a case for a narrative thread. This time, however, one can follow that thread through the full cycle of the symphony’s four movements. The narrative is one of opposition between an idealized sense of the pastoral (which is distilled to its essence through that descending fourth) and the intrusions of worldly brutality (first revealed through those distant fanfares). That worldliness is particularly emphasized in the peasant dancing of the second movement and the funeral march of the third. That third movement includes one of two references to Mahler’s earlier song cycle, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (songs of a wayfarer). Having endured all the slings and arrows of unrequited love, the protagonist of the song cycle lies down under a linden tree, finding rest for the first time in a “pure” natural setting. The third movement of the first symphony suggests that he never wakens from his slumber.

If the F-sharp major Adagio had a relatively straightforward rise-and-fall dynamic contour, the entire first symphony is a roller coaster of dynamic levels. This makes it a bit of a challenge to identify where those “highest peaks” of climax are to be found. One peak is clearly evident in the coda of the first movement; and Mahler’s decision to have it return in the final movement was clearly a matter of well-calculated symmetrical design. However, in the fourth movement that moment is clearly not the last word. The conductor is thus faced with the challenge of recalling the shock value from the first movement while preparing the listener for shocks yet to come.

Unfortunately, MTT did not quite achieve this effect in handling the conclusion of this movement. As in the past, the horn players stood (as instructed by the score) during the coda. However, this visual cue was not accompanied by a sense that the intensity of the moment was still rising and would keep rising until the abruptness of the final measure. It goes without saying that this is a rhetorical challenge that is extremely difficult to confront, but it involves figuring out how to hold back on the first signs of Mahler’s grand gestures to make sure that the grander ones to come are recognized as such. Thus, while one could definitely appreciate the impact of the occasion, that sense of a “highest peak” at the conclusion never quite registered.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Benkman will Return to the Cadillac Hotel with a Solo Piano Recital

Following up on last Friday’s innovative and engaging duo recital with cellist Rebecca Roudman, pianist Noel Benkman will return to the lobby of the Cadillac Hotel next month for a solo piano recital. It was clear, from the reception that these two received, that the classical repertoire has as much of an impact on Cadillac audiences as jazz does. Furthermore, last week’s repertoire required the pianist to serve as an equal partner with the cellist; so there was much to enjoy in Benkman’s interpretations of both Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms, not to mention the experience of discovering the work of Johann Nepomuk Hummel.

As a result there should be much to anticipate in Benkman’s return. Thus far he has only announced the composers whose music he will play, rather than their specific compositions. Once again both Beethoven and Brahms will be on the program, but Benkman also plans to play music by Beethoven’s best-known teacher, Joseph Haydn.

It is hard to try to second-guess what Benkman will be playing. None of these three composers ever settled into a single, predictable approach to composition. Rather, each of them went through several different periods through which their individual creativity revealed itself through an impressive diversity of techniques. All we know for certain is that it is virtually impossible to select a solo piano composition by any of these composers that can be dismissed as uninteresting!

Like all Concerts at the Cadillac events, this recital will begin at 12:30 p.m. and will take place on Friday, April 7. The Cadillac Hotel is located at 380 Eddy Street, on the northeast corner of Leavenworth Street. All of these events are presented without charge. The purpose of the series is to provide high-quality music to the residents of the hotel and the Tenderloin District; but all are invited to visit the venue that calls itself “The House of Welcome Since 1907.”

Pierre Fournier as Concerto Soloist

Following up on Mstislav Rostropovich: Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon (DG), last month DG released another major cello anthology, The Pierre Fournier Edition: Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon, Decca & Philips. (For those who do not already know, the Rostropovich collection also included his Decca and Philips recordings.) This is a more modest collection, 25 CDs compared with the 37 for Rostropovich. Also like Rostropovich, Fournier’s performances can be found on other labels; but his name tends to be less well known, particularly to the current generation that is only interested in what is trending in cyberspace.

Born on June 24, 1906, Fournier was about two decades older than Rostropovich. As another point of reference, his age puts him about halfway between Jascha Heifetz and Yehudi Menuhin. That makes him part of that early generation that benefitted from the proliferation of recorded performances. However, he also taught at the Paris Conservatoire between 1937 and 1949, meaning that he was in Paris during the Nazi occupation.

Fournier had little profile in the United States until he made his first tour in 1948. This turned out to have the consequences of bad timing, because the following year it was discovered that he had given 82 performances on Radio-Paris, the Nazi radio station broadcasting from France. This was sufficient to classify him as a Nazi collaborator, and he was punished by being banned from performing in France for six months. The recordings in this collection cover a period between 1952 and 1984, the latter being some of his last recordings, since he died on January 8, 1986.

As I had done for Rostropovich, I shall divide my examination of this collection into the concertante recordings and the chamber music recordings. (To the best of my knowledge, there are no recordings of Fournier as either a conductor or a piano accompanist.) I shall begin, again, with the concerto recordings.

In that genre there is little that is likely to surprise the listener familiar with the cello repertoire. Furthermore, the selections on the three CDs of Decca recordings all duplicate works that were also recorded by DG. In addition the Decca recordings come from the early Fifties, while most of the DG recordings are at least a decade later.

In many ways the collection is more interesting as a source of the conductors with whom Fournier recorded than it is of the cellist himself. For example, the Decca recording of Richard Strauss’ “Don Quixote” was made with conductor Clemens Krauss, who was particularly close to Strauss himself, while the DG recording is a session with the Berlin Philharmonic led by Herbert von Karajan. There is no faulting this latter recording for its clarity. However, even in the absence of later audio technology, there are more visceral qualities in Krauss’ interpretation; and Fournier responds to that conductor’s leadership in kind.

We must also bear in mind that most of the eighteenth-century repertoire labors under misconceptions of nineteenth-century thinking. This is most evident in Friedrich Grützmacher’s arrangement of Luigi Boccherini’s B-flat major cello concerto, which shows up on both the earlier Decca and the later DG recordings. These days we appreciate that eighteenth-century style for what it was and no longer feel that it needs to be aligned with more familiar nineteenth-century practices. Even more distressing is the E minor “concerto” by Antonio Vivaldi (again on both Decca and DG), which is actually a cello sonata arranged by Vincent d’Indy and Paul Bazelaire. (To be fair, however, Bazelaire was probably Fournier’s most influential teacher.)

On the more positive side Fournier definitely was thoroughly in touch with the visceral qualities of Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 104 cello concerto in both of the recordings in this collection. The earlier Decca has Rafael Kubelik conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, while the DG session has George Szell conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. Here I must confess personally that I cannot get enough of Kubelik, and his chemistry with Fournier was thoroughly engaging. At the same time Szell turned out to be quite a surprise, since so many of his Cleveland recordings were impressive for their precision but tended to lack much interest in rhetorical values that would take the performance beyond the marks on the score pages. The combination of Fournier and Vienna seems to have brought out the best in Szell, and this is definitely a recording I am likely to revisit.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pamela Z Announces her Next Two ROOM Series Concerts

Last July Pamela Z used the final installment in the 2016 season of her ROOM Series to celebrate both the tenth anniversary of the concert series and her own 60th birthday. Next month will see the launch of that series’ 2017 season. Only two programs have been announced thus far, and tickets have only gone on sale for one of them. However, because these performances tend to be consistently imaginative, it is worth documenting the “state of play” at the present, not only for those ready to buy tickets for the first event but also for save-the-date purposes for the second.

That first concert will be a visit by Splinter Reeds. This is the Bay Area’s first reed quintet, which consists of two double-reed players, Kyle Bruckmann (oboe and English horn) and Dana Jessen (bassoon), and three single-reed players, Bill Kalinkos (clarinet), Jeff Anderle (bass clarinet), and Dave Wegehaupt (soprano and alto saxophones). The program will feature the world premiere of a composition by Theresa Wong, along with works by Eric Wubbels, Ken Ueno, and Tom Johnson. The Johnson composition requires a narrator, and Z will perform in that capacity.

This program will be given only one performance. It will begin at 8 p.m. on Monday, April 17. Like all other ROOM Series events, the performance will take place at the Royce Gallery. The gallery offers an intimate performance space located in the North East Mission Industrial Zone at 2901 Mariposa Street on the northeast corner of Harrison Street. General admission will be $10. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page. That page also includes the True Cost Ticket option of $16, which better represents the actual cost of producing this concert.

The second program will be a joint project developed by Z working with Donald Swearingen. Pascal’s Triangle will be an evening-length composition combining electroacoustic music with live interactive media. Those familiar with the title will appreciate that the work has been conceived to celebrate the beauty, ubiquity, and indispensability of mathematics. Media will include sampled text and sounds, the integration of voice and electronics, and interactive video all of which involve techniques that have been frequently encountered in Z’s work. Compositional structures will be based on numbers, patterns, and constructs derived from mathematical principles (such as Pascal’s Triangle), all conceived to evoke the poetic elegance of numbers.

[updated, 4/3, 1:40 p.m.:

Three performances have been planned for Friday, May 5, Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7. The concert will again begin at 8 p.m., and it is expected to last for about 90 minutes. Once again, the venue will be the Royce Gallery. General admission will be $13. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page. That page also includes the Generous option of $20, which better represents the actual cost of producing this concert. However, there is also a Pick a Number! sliding scale for both those concerned about limited income and those whose support may be called more than generous. The only constraint is that the lower bound for admission is $7.]

Discovering Toshio Hosokawa through Pianist Momo Kodama

Earlier this month ECM New Series released its second solo album of Japanese pianist Momo Kodama. The title of the album is Point and Line, which is also the title of the second of six piano études written by the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa between 2011 and 2013. This is very much a “programmed” album, because Kodama has chosen to interleave these six études with the twelve solo études that Claude Debussy composed in 1915. Furthermore, Kodama seems to have a deliberate interest in how the individual compositions in both collections relate to each other, because neither set is performed in the order in which it was published.

It is worth beginning by observing that Hosokawa has not gotten a particularly fair shake on the Internet. His Wikipedia page is depressingly skimpy; and the list of his compositions is not even explicitly marked as incomplete (meaning, of course, that the études are not included there). The entry that Yoko Narasaki prepared for Grove Music Online has a bit more substance, but it is still pretty sketchy. At least in this case the list of Hosokawa’s works is explicitly marked as “selective.” The result is that the best “third party” source to consult for information about his études can be found on the sales page for the sheet music provided by the publisher Schott.

Attempts to provide the “program” for this album have been provided in the accompanying booklet by both Kodama and Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich (translated into English by J. Bradford Robinson). Having listened to this album several times, I must confess that I have not been convinced by either of them. Nevertheless, I would not want to let that opinion cast negatively on the album itself. Thus, I shall try to be bold enough to develop my own perspective on Hosokawa based on the sources available to me.

Hosokawa was born in Hiroshima in 1955; but his talents as a composer were shaped in Germany, first at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin by Isang Yun and then at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg by both Klaus Huber and Brian Ferneyhough. (Note that none of these teachers were either Japanese or German.) During his time in Berlin, Freiburg, and the Darmstadt summer courses, Hosokawa had considerable exposure to what came to be called the “new complexity.” However, his own interest tended to techniques based on Asian visual influences in both calligraphy and landscape paintings. As a result he faced the problem of realizing his perspective on Asian creativity through Western techniques and, in the case of these études, an instrument whose very nature had been shaped by the progress of Western music. Thus, three of the six études (including the one after which the album is named) seem to have been conceived as impressions of the “Asian visual” refracted through the capabilities of a “Western” instrument.

This contrasts sharply with Debussy’s approach to his own set of études. Written late in his life, they reflect back on the pedagogical origins of compositions created to develop and refine specific technical skills. As Jungheinrich observes in his booklet notes, that is a practice that basically goes all the way back to Ludwig van Beethoven’s best-known pupil, Carl Czerny (who is recognized by name in the first étude in Debussy’s collection), as well as the two sets of études (Opus 10 and Opus 25) published by Frédéric Chopin. In addressing how this difference in motive reflects back on Hosokawa, Jungheinrich asserts that, for Hosokawa, “‘exercise’ has been wholly sublimated into a spiritual posture.” He then suggests that the “transcendental” études of Franz Liszt might be more appropriate predecessors of Hosokawa’s set by virtue of being “entirely divested of pedagogical dross.”

As a scholar I have to say that I am intensely curious as to how Kodama would reply to Jungheinrich’s assertion. However, I must now go back to my cautionary observation in the third paragraph that “technical” matters of theory should not be allowed to interfere with the in-the-moment practices of listening (not to mention performing). Each of the eighteen tracks on Point and Line makes for a thoroughly engaging opportunity to reap the rewards of serious listening. Kodama has performed all of these pieces frequently, and she has clearly established techniques for presenting them with her own perspectives on expressiveness. From that point of view, the question of whether or not there is a logic to the overall “programming” of the album bears little relevance.

Will listening to Debussy influence how one listens to Hosokawa? Will listening to Hosokawa influence how one listens to Debussy? Personally, I am reluctant to give an affirmative answer to either of these questions. Nevertheless, Kodama’s performances have definitely provided me with new “auditory lenses” for considering Debussy’s études, while, on the other hand, I am more than satisfied with the opportunity to engage with Hosokawa’s music strictly on its own terms. I suppose the result is that, where this album is concerned, I am likely to turn to iTunes to provide me with more selective ways to listen to the tracks.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Aaron Gervais’ “Pharmacological Suite” will be Premiered with Choreography

Those who have been following the Mobius Trio of guitarists Robert Nance, Mason Fish, and Matthew Holmes-Linder know that, over the last two years, they have been involved with the development of Prescription Drug Nation, an evening-length work composed by Aaron Gervais. The score is a suite in six movements, each of which explores the effects and side effects of a pharmacological product that has made a serious impact on our society through its use, overuse, and abuse. San Francisco audiences received their first dose (so to speak) of this project at an Old First Concerts in March of 2015 when Mobius played the opening movement, “Adderall,” for the first time. This past December, there was a final preview event devoted to the last three movements of the suite, “Vicodin,” “Prozac,” and “Viagra.” (The drugs for the second and third movements are Ambien and Xanax, respectively.)

All six of these pieces will be played in their entirety next month. The three Mobius guitarists will be joined by three of the dancers in the Here Now Dance Collective, who will be performing choreography by the group’s founder Michelle Fletcher. Because many are likely to be more than a little curious as to just what will come out of this synthesis of dance and music, Gervais has prepared a preview video:

In addition, he has uploaded to YouTube videos of three of the movements being placed last June at the Center for New Music. Here is the one for Adderall:

Others may be found on Gervais' YouTube home page.

Prescription Drug Nation will be given four performances, three at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 13, Friday, April 14, and Saturday, April 15 (the perfect music for Tax Day), and a matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 16. The program will run for 90 minutes with no intermission and no late seating. The venue will be the ODC Theater, which is located in the Mission at 3153 17th Street on the southwest corner of Shotwell Street. General admission will be $25 with a $15 rate for students and seniors. There is also an Arts Patron rate of $40 that provides preferred seating. Tickets for all four performances may be purchased, through hyperlinks, from a single event page created on the ODC Web site. Tickets will also be available at the box office before each performance.

The Knights’ Second Warner Classics Album Features Yo-Yo Ma

Towards the end of 2014, the Brooklyn-based orchestral collective known as The Knights announced their debut as exclusive Warner Classics artists; and their debut album, entitled the ground beneath our feet was released in January of 2015. This coming Friday Warner will release their second album, Azul; and, as usual, has already created a Web page for the album from which pre-orders may be placed. The title of the album is also the title of the longest composition to be included, a work by Osvaldo Golijov that had been commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and written for cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who gave the premiere performance. Ma is also soloist in this performance; and, along with his performance in two shorter selections, his contribution amounts to more than half of the entire album.

Ma seems to be building up a reputation as the Yehudi Menuhin of this new century. This has less to do with his music-making than the way in which he has established himself as a “citizen of the world,” not only through his global presence as a performer but also by seeking out a broad scope of “intercultural” performance opportunities, rather than confining himself to “standard repertoire.” In Menuhin’s case, however, the downside was that he did not always “get into” the spirit of many of his cross-cultural collaborations, while, at the same time, his “standard repertoire” performances tended to settle into the comfortable category of being merely capable. Ma’s departures from “standard repertoire” are almost always adventurous; but their rewards, at least for serious listeners, tend to be variable.

To a great extent, then, “Azul” can be taken as an opportunity for Ma to come back to the “concert zone,” but with a composition that is very much situated in our immediate present. The title is the Spanish word for “blue;” and its relevance is established in the accompanying booklet by the words of astronaut Charles Walker documenting his first impression of seeing our planet from his viewpoint in outer space. However, the music was inspired by verses from a book-length poem in twelve parts completed by Pablo Neruda in 1945 and entitled Alturas de Macchu Picchu (the heights of Macchu Picchu), the Inca citadel that Neruda had visited in 1943.

The verses that Golijov selected dwell on one of his own favorite themes, the loneliness of an individual in the vastness of the cosmos. This is also the underlying theme of “Tenebrae,” a Golijov composition that has enjoyed several different performances by different chamber groups in my home town of San Francisco. Indeed, the spirit of “Tenebrae” returns in the final movement of “Azul,” while each of the preceding movements explores specific phrases from Neruda and, in the case of the first movement, specific text.

The result is surprisingly effective; and it is definitely to the advantage of all those who take listening seriously that there is now such a fine document of this music in performance. However, since such listeners tend to be interested in acquiring and maintaining a broad repertoire, many will be struck by the motif that pervades this composition from the very first statement by the solo cello. It is also the opening motif in Leoš Janáček’s first string quartet, based on Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata. Presumably, Ma has played the cello part in at least one quartet performance of this piece; but (fortunately) he does not seem to have tried to establish a connection between Janáček and Golijov!

However, if “Azul” elevates the listener to other-worldly heights, the rest of the album brings him/her back to earth with a dull thud. The opening selection is a followup to the concerto for santur (Persian dulcimer) and violin composed jointly by Siamak Aghaei and Colin Jacobsen (one of the two Artistic Directors of The Knights) featured on the ground beneath our feet. Entitled “Ascending Bird,” the piece allows Ma to cut loose with some non-standard cadenza work; and there is no questioning the richness of the work’s overall instrumentation. However, I found it difficult to resist recalling the sex therapist’s response to the exchanges between Frank Drebin and Jane Spencer at the beginning of Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, “Please, I’m a diabetic.” The sugar-coating on this music has been laid on far thicker than my personal tastes prefer! The same can be said of Jesse Diener-Bennett’s arrangement of the “Song to the Moon” from Antonín Dvořák’s opera Rusalka, in which Ma’s cello work never really rises to the expressiveness that a skilled soprano can bring to this music.

The remainder of the album consists of The Knights playing two decidedly non-standard arrangements. The first of these is Caroline Shaw’s “Leo” movement from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s zodiac-inspired Tierkreis, originally composed for music boxes. This music is often held up as the prime example of a Stockhausen composition that does not sound like Stockhausen, and it is unclear that Shaw has done anything to establish either an alternative or an enlightening point of view.

The album then concludes with a suite of movements from Run Rabbit Run, an album that took the tracks from Sufjan Stevens’ Enjoy Your Rabbit and rearranged them for string ensemble. Five of those arrangements were created by Michael Atkinson, who plays horn for The Knights; and four of them are included in this suite. This is definitely “fun music;” but, with due respect to John Updike, who wrote Rabbit, Run and its four sequels, the whole thing sounds a bit too much like “Kronos Redux” for a larger ensemble.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ensemble InterContemporain Considers New York on its Latest Alpha CD

This past Friday the Alpha recording label released its third album featuring Ensemble InterContemporain and its current Artistic Director and conductor Matthias Pintscher. The title of the recording is New York, and it is the first album in the series to focus on American music. Over the course of two CDs, the package offers a profile of some of the more “bleeding edge” examples of music created by composers living in New York.

The first of those composers, Edgard Varèse is not, strictly speaking a New Yorker. However, he is represented by “Intégrales,” which is one of the pieces he composed while living in New York. The “New York School” is represented by its two members that could definitely be counted as New Yorkers, John Cage (even though he was born in Los Angeles) and Morton Feldman. Similarly, Elliott Carter was very much a New Yorker; and some of Cage’s writings even cite what it was like having Carter and his wife as neighbors. The generation subjected to influences from both Cage and Carter is represented by Steve Reich. Finally, there are two composers of roughly the same age, who may be regarded as representative of the current generation of New Yorkers, Sean Shepherd and David Fulmer.

Beyond any geographical base of operations, the seven compositions in this collection have one thing in common. None of them were intended for “casual” listening. This seems entirely appropriate, since casual listening was probably the last thing on Pierre Boulez’ mind when he created Ensemble InterContemporain. While this makes the album a valuable document of creative practices emerging from New York over the last 100 years, it also poses a cognitive challenge that should not be disregarded. Each of these seven pieces has its own unique point of view, and that point of view is not necessarily reinforced by listening to any one of these works before or after another track on the album.

Nevertheless, the juxtapositions of the track arrangement occasionally bring some interesting insights to the surface. The first CD begins with “Intégrales;” and, while I would like to say that this piece has been around long enough that we can sit back and enjoy it as much as, say, one of the late quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven, the truth is that this just ain’t so. Scored for eleven winds and enough percussion to require four players, “Intégrales” is as spiky as ever. However, after one accepts the spikes for what they are, the music offers up a visceral experience that feels as if it will never be dated; and Ensemble InterContemporain has no trouble keeping those spikes as sharp as ever.

In the track ordering “Intégrales” is followed by Carter’s clarinet concerto. Now it turns out that Carter was a Visiting Professor at the Massachusetts Institute Institute of Technology during my senior year there. What this meant in reality was that he would come by once a week to give a somewhat rambling seminar on whatever topic happened to interest him at the time. On one of those occasions the topic of Varèse arose, but all Carter wanted to talk about was the friction between Varèse and Nadia Boulanger. There was a faint subtext in his approach to Varèse that sounded a bit like, “I paid my dues; why didn’t he pay his?”

In that personal historical context I found myself struck by the extent to which the dissonances in Carter’s concerto were not only as spiky as Varèse’s but could almost be taken as downright reminiscent of them. Mind you, Carter wrote this concerto over 30 years after Varèse’s death. (He wrote it for the twentieth anniversary of Ensemble InterContemporain, which makes it a particularly appropriate selection for this album.) Thus, one of my own reactions to listening to this recording was one of revelation, musing over whether Carter had come to a stage in his personal sense of aesthetics at which he could admit (and even leverage) the idea that Varèse may have been up to something with consideration!

Those wishing to start their listening experiences with something more “accessible” would probably do well to select the second CD in this collection and turn to Reich’s “WTC 9/11.” This piece was scored for string quartet and tape and written for the Kronos Quartet. In many respects it complements “Different Trains,” which was also introduced in both concerts and recording by Kronos. Both pieces explore the potential for melodic contours in spoken text; and, of course, both are unabashedly political. “Different Trains” was basically reflections on the Holocaust by a Jew who escaped that catastrophe by having been fortunate enough to be born in the United States. “WTC 9/11,” on the other hand, was about a catastrophe that took place in the composer’s “home town” (a town whose environment he had previously celebrated in “City Life”). Curiously, this is not the first time that “WTC 9/11” has been recorded by a European ensemble, since there is also a recording made by Quatuor Tana. On this recording the performers are violinists Jeanne-Marie Conquer and Diego Tosi, violist Grégoire Simon, and cellist Eric-Maria Couturier; and they certainly know how to bring clarity to what Reich had in mind in creating this piece.

The most surprising selection in the collection is probably Cage’s “Music for Wind Instruments.” Composed in 1938, this was a piece in which Cage used the twelve-tone technique to provide him with a systematic approach to pitch selection. He was equally systematic in determining how silences were added to the overall structure. The piece is in three movements, the first a trio (for flute, clarinet, and bassoon), the second a duo (for oboe and horn), and the last a quintet for all five instruments. Given Cage’s “bad boy” reputation (which is probably as fresh today as it was 75 years ago), the music is surprisingly affable, thus offering a striking contrast to the dissonances of Varèse and Carter. Considering the level of rhetorical intensity in this album’s perspective on New York, it is nice to know that Cage’s “sunny disposition” (his choice of words) provides the listener with a chance to enjoy a smile or two. The two younger composers that contributed to this album might make a note of how effective Cage could be in that regard!

The Bleeding Edge: 3/27/2017

Much of this week will be devoted to the continuation of the outdoor performances based on the Beowulf epic that begin at sunset and peregrinate along the waterfront. Details were described two weeks ago. This week’s performances will take place on March 30 and 31 and April 1 and 2. The remaining three events of the week will take place in familiar locations:

Thursday, March 30, 8 p.m., Luggage Store Gallery: This week’s installment of the Luggage Store Creative (LSC) Music Series, curated by Outsound Presents, will consist of two trio improvisations, one electronic and the other acoustic. The electronic offering will take the first set, performed by the Punjabi Tea House trio of Paul Buser, Mark Lentczner, and Dylan Phan. They will be followed by the Sacramento-based Alex Jenkins Trio, led by Jenkins on drums. Jacam Manricks plays both alto and soprano saxophones, and rhythm is reinforced with Gerry Pineda on bass. 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 always admission will be on a sliding scale between $6 and $15.

Saturday, April 1, 7:30 p.m., Episcopal Church of the Incarnation: This will be the third concert in the 2017 Chamber/Ensemble Series produced by Sunset Music | Arts. While these tend to be relatively traditional offerings, this particular event is definitely on the adventurous side. It will feature the members of the San Francisco Guitar Quartet, Mark Simons, David Dueñas, Patrick O'Connell, and Jon Mendle; and the program will include pieces written for the group by Christopher Gainey and Garry Eister. They are also planning to perform compositions by Paul Dresher and Phillip Houghton.

The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, is located at 1750 29th Avenue, about halfway between Moraga Street and Noriega Street. Ticket prices are $20 for general admission with a $15 rate for students and seniors. Because the demand tends to be high, advance purchase is highly advised. Tickets may be purchased online through Eventbrite.

Sunday, April 2, 4 p.m., Old First Presbyterian Church: Friction Quartet continues to be one of the most adventurous of San Francisco’s chamber music ensembles. Violinists Otis Harriel and Kevin Rogers alternate occupancy of the leader’s chair. The other members are violist Taija Warbelow and cellist Doug Machiz. The members of the group are currently Artists-in-Residence in the Old First Concerts series, and this will be the next recital they give in that capacity. The program will feature “Spheres,” which John Halle composed in 2001 and revised in 2007.

This piece will be framed by works by Johannes Brahms and Arnold Schoenberg (and those who know their Schoenberg know that this coupling is less unlikely than others might think). The program will begin with Brahms’ Opus 67 (third) quartet in B-flat major. The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to the original string sextet version of Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” (transfigured night). For this performance Friction will be joined by violist Jodi Levitz and cellist Jennifer Culp.

The Old First Presbyterian Church is located at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southeast corner of Van Ness Boulevard. General admission will be $20 with discounted rates of $17 for seniors and $5 or full-time students showing valid identification. Children aged twelve and under will still be admitted for free. In addition there is a $2 discount for tickets purchased online in advance from the event page for this concert on the Old First Concerts Web site. There is also a discount available for those parking at the Old First Parking Garage at 1725 Sacramento Street, just up the street for the church.

An All-Czech Program from a Prague-Based String Quartet

The Prague-based Pavel Haas Quartet (PHQ) has made regular appearances in San Francisco for some time and has become a favorite visiting ensemble among those who take their chamber music seriously. While past performances have been arranged by San Francisco Performances, yesterday afternoon in Herbst Theatre PHQ appeared in San Francisco for the first time under the auspices of Chamber Music San Francisco (CMSF). This was also our first opportunity to listen to violist Radim Sedmidubský, who replaced Pavel Nikl some time after the last PHQ performance here in October of 2015. The other members remain the same, founder and first violinist Veronika Jarůšková, her husband Peter Jarůšek on cello, and second violinist Marek Zwiebel.

The program consisted entirely of music by Czech composers. The three pieces were played in reverse chronological order, and only the earliest of these was written in the composer’s native land.  That was Bedřich Smetana’s first string quartet, composed in 1876 after the onset of deafness and given the programmatic title “From My Life.” Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 96 (“American”) quartet in F major was written in 1893, during the time the composer spent in the United States; and the most recent composition, Bohuslav Martinů’s third quartet was written in 1930, about seven years after he left Prague and moved to Paris.

Listening to PHQ is a bit like eavesdropping on a conversation in which each conversant has his/her own distinctive opinions but there is always common ground on which agreement is established. Such an approach well serves the Smetana quartet, which is a product of deeply-felt autobiographical recollections. Each instrumental voice seems to draw upon a different side of the composer’s character.

The opening theme for viola is particularly assertive, suggesting the boldness with which Smetana chose to make his first impressions, while the cello captures his more obstreperous side, particularly in the highly eccentric recollection of a polka in the second movement. Jarůšková, on the other hand, has a thoroughly astonishing command of soft extremes in her dynamic range. This allows her to begin a theme with a whisper and then gradually “raise her voice” to reveal the full expressiveness of that theme. Her technique allowed for a particularly hushed quality in the third movement of the quartet; but her part also requires her to interrupt the final movement with that high E played with harmonic bowing through which Smetana documented the onset of tinnitus that foreshadowed his deafness. The result was an account of Smetana’s score whose dramatic connotations were particularly well-defined by the personality types evoked by each of the PHQ members.

Dvořák’s Opus 96, on the other hand, was much sunnier in its disposition. However, here, too, Jarůšková brought a freshness to this particularly familiar music through her impeccable command of the full breadth of dynamic range. Thus, once again, she could introduce a theme as a hint of a suggestion and then let it unfold with the richness of some exotic flower.

That command of dynamics was particularly crucial in the execution of Martinů’s quartet. This piece begins with hushed whispers from which themes first emerge only as fragments. By 1930 Martinů had been involved in a variety of avant-garde projects in Paris; but the quartet marked a move to neoclassicism, which could well have been his own way of responding to a similar move by Igor Stravinsky about a decade earlier. Stravinsky, of course, did not think very much of string quartets, either the ensemble or its repertoire, while Martinů was far more sympathetic. Indeed, there is a prevailing rhetoric of cheerfulness that suffuses the third quartet’s three movements, almost as if he was reflecting on the high spirits that must have been experienced when Joseph Haydn played second violin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played viola in string quartet gatherings with Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (first violin) and Johann Baptist Wanhal (cello). From this point of view, PHQ could bring their own rich sense of individual personalities to bear on this twentieth-century perspective of eighteenth-century music-making.

As might be guessed, the entire program was enthusiastically received by the CMSF audience. That was sufficient to persuade PHQ to take an encore. They returned to Dvořák to play the first (in A-flat major) of his two Opus 54 waltzes for string quartet. This selection had an easy-going salon-like feel, yet another reminder that a string quartet is as much a social encounter as a musical one.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Håkan Hardenberger will return to SFP as a Virtuosi Series Soloist

[added 4/5, 5:40 p.m.: CANCELLATION NOTICE

Due to family reasons, Håkan Hardenberger is unable to travel abroad. Sadly, that means that he has had to cancel his engagement with San Francisco Performances (SFP). Ticket holders have the options of exchanging for other tickets, receiving a refund, or making a donation to SFP. This can be arranged by calling SFP at 415-398-6449 or by sending electronic mail to]

April is the month in which three of the four concerts in the Virtuosi Series of the San Francisco Performances 2016–2017 season will take place. As was observed this past Thursday, the duo of violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien will lead off the month with their second SFP visit as a duo. They will be followed a little over a week later by virtuoso trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, who will be making his third SFP appearance. He made his SFP debut in 2005 with pianist Aleksander Madzar and returned in 2007 to give a duo recital with percussionist Colin Currie. Next month Hardenberger will be accompanied by pianist Roland Pöntinen, who made his SFP debut in 2007 accompanying clarinetist Martin Fröst.

The major work on the program will be Staffan Storm’s “Three Autumns,” which was commissioned by Musik i Syd for the 2016 Malmö Chamber Music Festival, at which Hardenberger and Pöntinen gave the world premiere performance. The work is a single-movement thirty-minute composition that imposes major technical challenges for both performers. The title refers not to the structure of the work but to its inspiration, the title of a poem by Anna Akhmatova. The poem examines three different senses of autumn; and, while the score mirrors those different senses, those impressions are seamlessly integrated into one uninterrupted movement. This recent composition will be preceded by an earlier work that is still known for its modernism, George Antheil’s four-movement sonata for trumpet, which was first performed in 1954 at Columbia University by pioneering American trumpeter Edna White Chandler.

The second half of the program will feature Pöntinen as both composer and arranger. However, the most familiar selection will be his solo performance of George Gershwin’s three solo piano preludes. His own composition is entitled “L’éléphant rose,” explicitly referring to the “pink elephants on parade” in Walt Disney’s Dumbo. In writing a trumpet part for Hardenberger, Pöntinen drew upon his interest in jazz and his appreciation of the styles of both Miles Davis and Lester Bowie, the latter having become involved in the mid-Sixties with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago and then became one of the cofounders of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The two arrangements on the program are both based in narrative. The first of these draws upon Thomas Newman’s score for the HBO miniseries Angels in America, while the second comes from incidental music for a production of Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull written by Swedish jazz pianist Jan Lundgren.

The remainder of the second half will feature two Swedish composers and one American. Sweden will be represented by Wilhelm Stenhammar from the nineteenth century and Nils Björkander from the twentieth. The Stenhammar selection is another solo piano composition, the first (in B minor) of the three fantasies he published as his Opus 11 in 1895. Björkander’s “Idyll” is also a piano solo, one of the four short pieces in a collection entitled Skärgårdsskisser (archipelago sketches) composed in 1924. The program will conclude with a concert waltz for trumpet and piano by the American composer Virgil Thomson entitled “At the Beach,” which nostalgically recalls an earlier era of “public music.”

This recital will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 11. It will take place in Herbst Theatre, located on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Tickets are being sold for $40 in the balcony, $55 for most of the Dress Circle, and $65 for premium seating. They may be purchased in advance through a City Box Office event page, which shows the Herbst floor plan and which prices apply to which sections. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545, as well as at the Herbst Box Office on the evening of the performance.

Bruch Thrives Under Nicola Benedetti’s Interpretation of his Concerto

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall violinist Nicola Benedetti gave the first of two performances of Max Bruch’s Opus 26 (first) violin concerto in G minor with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) conducted by Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT). Benedetti made her SFS debut on December 31, 2011 as part of the festivities of the New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball, so it has been quite a wait for the chance to listen to her in a more conducive concert setting. Fortunately, that patience was well rewarded.

Opus 26 definitely counts as a warhorse in the serious violinist’s repertoire, and it tends to count just as much as an audience favorite. It has a generous supply of accessible and memorable themes, interleaved with an equally generous supply of virtuoso technical display. With thoroughly conventional instrumentation, it also boasts of some truly soaring orchestral support, particularly in the lyricism of the Adagio (second) movement. In other words this was music that allowed both Benedetti and MTT to show off their best moves, and the chemistry between the two of them could not have been better.

However, when it comes to surface features, there is more to Opus 26 than appealing tunes and technical legerdemain. From the very beginning of this concerto, the listener is aware that Bruch attached great rhetorical significance to the long sustained tone; and that device recurs in a variety of settings throughout the entire concerto. Establishing audience attention by beginning with one of those tones is no easy matter. The fact that Benedetti had a solid logic for endowing that tone’s full duration with expressiveness won the attention of the serious listener firmly on the basis of first impressions. From then on it was just a matter maintaining attention throughout the rest of the journey, and this was where the joint effort of Benedetti and MTT proved to be particularly rewarding.

After such an intensely absorbing experience, it was not that all surprising that Benedetti’s encore be a bit of a let-down. It was certainly an unconventional selection, an excerpt from the cadenza for Wynton Marsalis’ violin concerto, which he wrote for Benedetti. To be fair, cadenzas “untimely ripped” from their context rarely lend themselves to sensemaking on the part of the serious listener, particularly if that context is unfamiliar or, as was probably the case for most of the audience, entirely unknown. Listening to the music’s few tropes that seemed a bit uncertain about how jazzy the rhetorical stance should be, I recalled the Sixty Minutes profile of Marsalis, during which Raymond Leppard observed that, as Marsalis matured, he would have to decide to commit himself fully to either classical or jazz practices, rather than try to alternate between the two. Without a context to establish it, the excerpt Benedetti played did not seem to commit itself to either side, leading this listener (at least) to wish that she had chosen something a bit more consistent with Bruch, however decadent that might have been.

Returning to Davies last night also provided an opportunity to view the full five-screen video projection, created as “accompaniment” for the SFS performance of John Cage’s “The Seasons,” which was not presented this past Thursday due to technical difficulties. On that occasion only the middle of the five side-by-side screens displayed the video conceived by Clyde Scott. Even it that limited scope, Scott’s images did much to facilitate awareness of Cage’s interpretation of the (Asian) Indian connotations of the seasons, winter as quiescence, spring as creation, summer as preservation, and fall as destruction. With the images on all five screens, the viewer could better appreciate the “linguistic elements” of Scott’s language through his ability to move them from one screen to another, thus endowing them with both foreground and background roles. Also the rhetorical impact of the more aggressive contacts, such as destruction, made a deeper impression, reinforcing the boldest sonorities of Cage’s instrumental language.

Nevertheless, Cage’s use of preludes for each of the seasons suggested that he was as interested in the transitions between the seasons as he was in the seasons themselves. To some extent the lighting design by Luke Kritzeck seemed to have been conceived with such transitions in mind. However, the result was not entirely convincing, leaving the impression of suggesting what Cage had wanted to achieve through his music without actually capturing the effect itself.

As was the case on Thursday, the program again concluded with Béla Bartók’s 1943 “Concerto for Orchestra.” Once again MTT was in firm command of the full scope of SFS resources, and one could enjoy the full scope of imaginative devices that Bartók had doled out to all of the instruments. Furthermore, on this occasion it seemed as if MTT decided that the ultimate climax of the piece took place when the fugue subject in the Finale is given its final statement as a “chorale theme” from the brass while the rest of the ensemble is busily playing out “chorale prelude” embellishments. After that final establishment of the theme, the full ensemble rushes headlong into the coda, which culminates in the mother of all perfect cadences. In other words, while the piece ends with a bang, that bang is not the “highest peak” but simply a very well punctuated afterthought.

For this listener, at least, MTT’s decision was a good one. The fugue is central to the finale, since it does not begin until roughly halfway through the movement. However, it is the culminating device that surveys the full breadth of orchestral sonorities. It makes perfect sense that the climax of that fugue should also be the climax of the entire composition, and MTT made a solid case for that point of view.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rademann Returns to the “Sacred Symphonies” for the Latest Carus Schütz Project Release

Those who followed my national site probably know that I have been following a major project to record the complete works of Heinrich Schütz since I first became aware of it in 2013. The project is the brainchild of German choral conductor Hans-Christoph Rademann, who is currently the Director of the Dresdner Kammerchor (Dresden chamber choir); and the recordings are being released by Stuttgart-based Carus-Verlag in coproduction with Deutschlandradio Kultur. (Carus-Verlag also has a parallel project to publish performing editions of Schütz’ complete works.) At the very least Rademann and his ensemble are “geographically suited” for this project, since Schütz was based, for the most part, in Dresden between 1615 and his death in 1672 after which he was buried in the old Dresden Frauenkirche. (His tomb was destroyed in 1727 when the church was torn down to build a new one.)

Nevertheless, Schütz time in Dresden was interrupted for a variety of reasons. The most notable of these was the Thirty Years War. Fortunately, he had previously traveled to Venice to study with Claudio Monteverdi in 1628; and, as a result, Venice served as a place of refuge when that war was at its worst. One result of these circumstances is that Schütz’ music tends to have a close kinship with the music of Monteverdi, both sacred and secular, as well as his other distinguished Venetian teacher, Giovanni Gabrieli. A corollary result is that the texts for Schütz’ vocal music cover not only good Lutheran German but also both Latin and Italian, reflecting the sacred and secular aspects of his influences. Thus, the first nineteen entries in the Schütz-Werke-Verzeichnis (SWV) catalog are five-voice Italian madrigals, published in Venice in 1611 as Schütz’ Opus 1.

At little over a week ago, Carus released the fourteenth volume in their Schütz project, the first of the three volumes that Schütz entitled Symphoniae sacrae (sacred symphonies). Schütz probably appropriated this title from Gabrieli, who used it for two of his own collections of liturgical music published in 1597 and in 1615 (after his death). Schütz published his own first volume in Venice in 1629, presumably for services held at St. Mark’s Basilica; and, as a result, all of the texts are in Latin. (The other two volumes were published in Dresden in 1647 and 1650, respectively; and they are all settings of liturgical texts in German.)

The noun “symphony” constitutes a major departure from current semantics. Basically, it entails the “concord of sound” (taken from the word’s Greek origins) arising when many parts, both vocal and instrumental, sound together with a sense of overall consonance. This particular collection involves vocal solos, duets, and trios performing with different collections of string and wind instruments, along with the consistent use of a keyboard continuum provided by an organ (performed by Ludger Rémy). As the booklet notes by Oliver Geisler (translated by David Kosviner) observe, Schütz was as specific in identifying instruments as he was in designating vocal ranges; and those instruments included cornets, recorders, trombones, violins, bassoons (or dulcians), gambas, and “fiffari.” (Scare quotes indicate that Geisler acknowledged that the denotation of that noun is uncertain; but it is like to be some cross-blown version of a flute or pipe.)

It would probably be fair to say that Schütz expected his listeners to be as moved by his “concords of sound” as by the denotations (and connotations) of the sacred texts he chose to set. For example, his use of four trombones (Sebastian Krause, Julian Nagel, Masafumi Sakamoto, and Fernando Günther) to accompany a solo bass voice (Felix Schwandtke) in a setting of David mourning the death of his son Absalom is as moving in its tragedy as it is ravishing in its sonorities. Furthermore, there is a crystalline clarity to the delivery of all of the vocalists on this album, which means that those with even a smattering of knowledge of Latin are likely to pick up on the semantic implications of each of the texts that Schütz set in this collection.

With fourteen volumes in this project released and another one scheduled for next month, it is unclear how to advise those who wish to establish a “first contact” with Schütz. However, those familiar with the Roman Catholic ritual can probably draw upon that familiarity to provide a frame of reference for this particular collection, since it represents so well Schütz’ productivity in the sacred music that he wrote while in Venice. Between the familiarity with the texts and the delightful instrumental diversity, it should not be difficult for such listeners to get quickly “hooked” on this composer, who definitely rose to the heights of his two major teachers, Gabrieli and Monteverdi.

Hard Choices for the Second Sunday in April

Weather permitting, April tends to be a good month for spending Sundays in the park. However, April 9 will provide several opportunities to lure serious listeners into a concert hall setting. As of this writing there will be three choices, each beginning at a different time in the afternoon. In chronological order the options are as follows:

3 p.m., Herbst Theatre: Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet will be making his San Francisco Recital Debut in the first of the four April concerts to be presented in the Chamber Music San Francisco (CMSF) 2017 season in San Francisco. Bavouzet is no stranger to those who frequent Davies Symphony Hall. He made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony in October of 2012, performing Béla Bartók’s third piano concerto with visiting conductor Vasily Petrenko on the podium. Almost exactly two years later he performed in two separate programs during a visit by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with their Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski. His selections for those two concerts were Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 26 (second) piano concerto in C major and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 43 rhapsody on the last of Niccolò Paganini’s 24 solo violin caprices. As a recording artist he released an impressive five-CD “collectors edition” of the complete piano music of Claude Debussy on the Chandos label.

That latter achievement will be represented when he will conclude his CMSF recital with Debussy’s “L’isle joyeuse,” which he has programmed to serve somewhat as an “appendix” to his performance of Maurice Ravel’s five-movement suite Miroirs, which includes the original piano version of “Alborado del gracioso” (the jester’s aubade), which is better known in the orchestral version that Ravel subsequently prepared. Bavouzet’s more recent recording projects have turned to the sonatas of Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven, both of whom will be presented on the first half of his program. He will begin with Haydn’s Hoboken XVI/46 sonata in A-flat major. That will be followed by the first two of the three sonatas that Beethoven published as his Opus 10, the first in C minor and the second in F major.

The entrance to Herbst Theatre is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices are $51 (Orchestra and Boxes), $42 (Dress Circle), and $33 (Balcony). Tickets may be purchased online through a City Box Office event page, which includes a floor plan that shows the number of seats available in the different sections. In addition, it is still possible to save $4 on each ticket with the purchase of a mini-series of four or more concerts. The best way to do this will be to contact CMSF by phone at 415-392-4400, but there are also hyperlinks on the Subscription Packages Web page through which one can create a PayPal shopping cart of mini-series selections.

4 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: Like this month’s concert, next month’s offering by the San Francisco Early Music Society (SFEMS) will feature artists based in the Bay Area. Hallifax & Jeffrey is the duo of Peter Hallifax and Julie Jeffrey, both viol performers. They have prepared a program entitled Big, Beautiful and French: Music for Several Viols and Continuo. The will be joined by two other gamba players, Josh Lee and Marie Dalby Szuts. Continuo will be provided by John Lenti on theorbo. The program will survey French composers with particular attention to Marc-Antoine Charpentier, as well as both Louis and François Couperin, Marin Marais, and Michel Corrette. This will be the final offering of the SFEMS 2016/17 concert season.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. General admission is $40 with a $36 rate for seniors and $34 for SFEMS members. A Web page has been created for online purchases of single tickets.

5:30 p.m., Taube Atrium Theater: The third of the four concerts being offered in the 34th season of the Schwabacher Debut Recitals, presented jointly by the San Francisco Opera Center and the Merola Opera Program, will offer an interesting departure from the usual format. The vocalists will be mezzo Renée Rapier and bass Anthony Reed, both Merola alumni with experience as Adler Fellows; and they will be accompanied at the piano by the San Francisco Opera Head of Music Staff John Churchwell. The title of the program will be The Woods: A Rom-Com Recital. Reed has compiled a collection of songs by American composers of both art song and show tunes and structured them around a narrative for which he has provided original dialogue. That narrative will then be realized through staging by first-year San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Aria Umezawa. To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first time that a stage director has contributed to a Schwabacher Recital; but this will be an opportunity to take advantage of the flexibility of the Atrium Theater space.

The Taube Atrium Theater is part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which, like Herbst Theatre, is located in the Veterans Building (on the fourth floor) at the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. General admission will be $30. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an event page on the San Francisco Opera Web site. Note that, because much of the seating is raked, it is possible to select the option of Wheelchair Accessible seats. In addition, subject to availability, student rush tickets will go on sale at 5 p.m. at the reduced rate of $15. There is a limit of two tickets per person, and valid identification must be shown.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Discovering Late Hummel in the Tenderloin

I am a firm believer that anyone serious about listening to music should take an interest in discovering new works regardless of the period in which they were composed. There is too much of a tendency among recitalists to either adopt or commission recent or brand-new works while always falling back on the “same old same old” when it comes to any of the preceding centuries. This afternoon at the Cadillac Hotel the duo of cellist Rebecca Roudman and pianist Noel Benkman provided a striking opportunity for such discovery involving a “Grande Sonate” composed in 1824.

The composer was Johann Nepomuk Hummel; and, when one considers the scope of his life, it is more than a little disappointing that his music is not played more often. He was born on November 14, 1778 and showed a talent for music at a very early age. Indeed, that age was so early and the talent so notable that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart not only took him as a pupil when Hummel was only eight but also arranged for Hummel to stay in his house. While on tour in London, Hummel received instruction from Muzio Clementi; and, after he returned to Vienna, his teachers included Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri. By 1824 he had a reputation in just about every city in Europe that had a serious commitment to the performance of music.

One of the interesting things about that year, however, is that it predates Frédéric Chopin’s move to Paris and the beginning of his notable reputation as a composer. Thus, Hummel’s “Grande Sonate” predates Chopin’s Opus 3, his C major “Polonaise brillante” with an introduction, by about half a decade. Yet there are so many adventurous moves in Hummel’s sonata that one has to wonder why the more conventional Chopin work gets so much more attention. The 6/4 metre of the opening Allegro cantabile e grazioso movement makes it clear from the opening gesture that this is not the sort of rhetoric one is used to encountering in “classical” sonatas. Less unconventional may be how the structural plan migrates from A major to A minor; but there are still any number of “stops along the way” at which the attentive listener will wonder why (s)he had not previously encountered this music.

That said, the lobby of the Cadillac is not the most ideal spot for encountering unfamiliar chamber music. The Patricia Walkup Memorial Piano, a fully-restored 1884 Steinway Model D Concert Grand, is always prepared for performance the previous day. However, the space is a lobby of a working hotel. One cannot avoid a fair amount of coming and going against a “background wash” of ongoing chatter. Nevertheless, where the seats are set out, there are always listeners intently focused on the performers; and, considering that one is in the heart of the Tenderloin, these tend to be audiences that show the performers more respect than might be encountered at free concerts in “better” parts of town.

Roudman and Benkman followed their “discovery offering” of Hummel with two more familiar composers. The first of these was Ludwig van Beethoven with the first (in C major) of his two Opus 102 sonatas. They then concluded their program with Johannes Brahms’ Opus 99 (second) cello sonata in F major. This made for a lot of music. Cadillac events usually run for about an hour. However, it was clear that the Brahms was going to exceed that limit; and there were occasional signs that Roudman and Benkman were trying to pick up the pace a bit. Nevertheless, both of these pieces said what they had to say with a suitably energetic rhetoric and the occasional surprising turn of phrase.

The Cadillac calls itself “The House of Welcome Since 1907;” and that welcome clearly extends to those who are serious about both making and listening to music.

Italian Pianist Beatrice Rana will Conclude the SFP Young Masters Series

At the beginning of next month, San Francisco Performances (SFP) will present the last of the three recitals in its Young Masters Series, designed to introduce audiences to rising talents. The recitalist will be Italian pianist Beatrice Rana, making her San Francisco debut. In 2013 Rana won both the Silver Medal and the Audience Award at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Warner Classics released her debut album in November of 2015, a concerto album that combined Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Opus 23 in B-flat minor (the concerto that launched Cliburn’s own reputation for taking the Soviet Union by storm and winning the very first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958) with Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 16 in G minor.

Almost exactly a month ago Warner Classics released Rana’s first solo album. This was an ambitious undertaking for a solo album debut, since the recording consisted entirely of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 988 set of (“Goldberg”) variations on an Aria theme. Rana has decided that this will also be the program for her San Francisco recital debut. This music is best known for its namesake, the harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who, according to Johann Nikolaus Forkel, would play selected variations for his patron Count Hermann Karl von Keyserlingk, who had problems with insomnia.

“It may not be true, but it is a good story” is an old Italian saying. Rana probably knows it and sympathizes with it. However, it is probably the case that she is aware of and appreciates a less romanticized account of this music. That reality is based in Bach having published BWV 988 as the fourth and final volume of his Clavier-Übung (keyboard practice) collection, a project that suggests that, if Bach wanted to leave anything for posterity, it would be his wisdom as a pedagogue. In this particular case that wisdom had to do with the inventive art of variation on a simple theme. Rana’s notes for her recording booklet observe that the Aria theme can probably be traced back to a chaconne theme for which George Frideric Handel had composed 64 variations. Bach-the-pedagogue may have known about these and decided that the virtue of one set of variations is that it encourages the invention of another!

Nevertheless, there is a wide gulf between the depth of mastering the diverse inventiveness of 30 variations and the ability to translate that mastery into performing in front of an audience. Rana’s album makes a solid case that clarity of her understanding of what makes these variations tick can be translated to an equal clarity of execution. Nevertheless, a recording is never a substitute for those in-the-moment qualities that can only arise through the immediacy of establishing a relationship between the performer and the listener. Maintaining such a relationship for over an hour (Rana’s recording clocks in at almost 78 minutes) is never an easy matter, even when the music is familiar. If Rana’s album informs us of her cerebral and expressive skills in a studio, next month’s recital will allow us to appreciate how those skills translate into a concert setting.

Her performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 7. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, which is located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. All tickets are $40. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page. SFP may be contacted for further information by calling 415-392-2545.

Jeffrey Anderson Introduces a Delightful Tuba Concerto to Davies

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), under the baton of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), presented the first North American performance of Robin Holloway’s Opus 121, “Europa & the Bull.” This was a result of a co-commission between SFS and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, which gave the world premiere on October 8, 2015, conducted by Andrew Manze. While it is not immediately apparent from the title, the work is basically a concerto for tuba and orchestra; and last night’s soloist was SFS Principal Tuba Jeffrey Anderson.

The title refers to the myth that concerns one of Jupiter’s many dalliances with beautiful young nymphs. He has his way with Europa after turning himself into a bull and the carrying her off to a secluded place to consummate his lust. The concerto is actually more of a tone poem, organized around seven seamlessly connected episodes. In many respects the tuba is a “natural” for the “male lead” of this tale, capturing the dominating massiveness of both Jupiter as the king above the other Olympic gods and the image of his transformation into a hyper-charged (not to mention rapacious) bull. Nevertheless, the tale of the seduction of Europa concludes with a birth that symbolically represents the origins of the European continent.

Thus, while there is no shortage of aggressive scoring for both soloist and orchestra, there is also no shortage of highly lyrical qualities. Igor Stravinsky supposedly once made a throw-away remark to the effect that even raw lust can result in a fruitful offspring; and the scenario behind Holloway’s score almost seems to be more interested in celebrating the “creation” of Europe than in providing a blow-by-blow (so to speak) account of the aggressive violence that led to that creation. From that point of view, Anderson was thoroughly engaging through the lyrical qualities he could bring to his performance.. Yes, he had to master some imposing technical challenges, particularly in the section marked “Quasi una Cadenza” (almost a cadenza); but it was his consummate skill in capturing the sweetness of many of the melodic lines that made his solo work so impressive.

(Holloway was not the first to explore this lyric side of the tuba; Ralph Vaughan Williams F minor concerto for the instrument, which he composed in 1954, achieved the same goal in a more conventional, and abstract, three-movement structure.)

Those lyrical qualities were anticipated by MTT opening the program with the score that John Cage wrote for Merce Cunningham’s ballet “The Seasons.” MTT had introduced this piece to current SFS audiences 2015. (Charles Wuorinen had conducted the first SFS performances in 1986.) This piece will probably continue to surprise those who associate Cage only with silence and noise. Like many of his earliest piano compositions, this score has a delicacy structured primarily around an uneven rhythmic structure in which sonorities reveal themselves through an exquisite sensitivity to instrumentation.

Last night the music for “The Seasons” was to be augmented with both lighting effects and video projected on five screens arrayed side-by-side in front of the Terrace area. Unfortunately, one of the power supplies died and could not be replaced on short notice, so the projections were confined to the center screen. This did not seem particularly detrimental.

From a philosophical point of view, the music is more “about” the smooth transitions between the seasons than it is about the seasons themselves. By including the text markers that identify the different movements, the projection brought clarity to how the music itself migrated through the course of a year, concluding with a repetition of the prelude to the quiescent Winter section with which it began. That sense of smooth transition was reinforced by the changes in the lighting sources, some of which were almost too subtle to be noticed while others were strikingly abrupt. The result was an account of Cage’s score that enhanced awareness of the underlying philosophy without detracting from the music itself.

The intermission was followed by Béla Bartók’s 1943 composition, which he entitled “Concerto for Orchestra.” As was the case during the first half of the evening, this was music that explored diverse sonorities; but Bartók’s approach to overall structure was far more conventional. Indeed, he wanted it to be conventional. He knew he was dying when he wrote the piece, and he hoped that music with greater audience appeal might lead to a revenue stream of royalties for his widow.

True to its title, this is music that explores a wide and diverse range of sonorities afforded by the many different instruments in a full orchestra. For the most part Bartók summons up those sonorities through combinations, rather than extended solo passages. Those combinations can just as easily involve sharp contrasts as blends of similar timbres across different registers. All those different sonorities play out through relatively conventional structural designs, culminating it a wild and wooly Presto Finale in which the whole ensemble erupts like one massive volcano of sonic energy. Almost as if to thumb his nose at more “progressive” elements, Bartók concludes his concerto with a triumphant perfect cadence that would have been just as comfortable in the late nineteenth century.

Nevertheless, this score was conceived as music to make you feel good about listening to music. MTT clearly felt good about presenting it to last night’s audience. After that final cadence if felt as if all of Davies vigorously responded in kind.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien will Return to SFP Next Month

The duo of violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien made its San Francisco Performances (SFP) debut in 2014 with a highly imaginative approach to programming. (Ibragimova had already given an SFP solo recital in 2012.) On that occasion two sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (K. 301 in G major and K. 304 in E minor) were separated by “Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard,” composed by John Cage in 1950, while Anton Webern’s Opus 7 (four pieces for violin and piano composed in 1910) separated Mozart from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 47 (“Kreutzer”) sonata in A major. (Those familiar with Cage’s opinions about music would probably recognize that his spirit would have been comforted by the distance from Beethoven!)

At the beginning of next month, Ibragimova and Tiberghien will return to SFP. Once again, they will use music from the twentieth century as “spacers” between their other selections. This time, however, those “spacers” will be solo performances. Tiberghien’s solo will be Alban Berg’s only piano sonata, his Opus 1, one of the first products of his studies in free composition with Arnold Schoenberg. (Berg had previously studied both harmony and counterpoint with Schoenberg beginning in 1904.) This sonata will separate two sonatas for violin and keyboard, both of which are, themselves, decidedly different from one another. The program will begin with Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1017 sonata in C minor, and the Berg will be followed by Johannes Brahms’ Opus 100 sonata in A major. The Brahms sonata, in turn, will be paired with Robert Schumann’s Opus 121 sonata in D minor. The closer kinship between these two pieces will be separated by Ibragimova’s solo performance of the fifth sonata in Eugène Ysaÿe’s Opus 27 collection of six solo sonatas. Each of these sonatas reflected on the style of a famous violinist Ysaÿe knew at the time; and the violinist for the fifth sonata, consisting of two movements, entitled “L’Aurore” (the dawn) and “Danse Rustique” (rustic dance), in the key of G major, was Mathieu Crickboom.

This recital will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 3. It will take place in Herbst Theatre, located on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Tickets are being sold for $40 in the balcony, $55 for most of the Dress Circle, and $65 for premium seating. They may be purchased in advance through a City Box Office event page, which shows the Herbst floor plan and which prices apply to which sections. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545, as well as at the Herbst Box Office on the evening of the performance.

Nicholas Phan Brings his Gods and Monsters to This Month’s SFP Salon

Yesterday evening at the Hotel Rex, San Francisco Performances (SFP) presented the second recital in its 2017 Spring Salons series. The recitalist was tenor Nicholas Phan, who has recently moved to San Francisco and has been appointed SFP Vocalist-in-Residence. The title of the concert was Gods & Monsters, which is also the title of Phan’s latest album for Avie Records, released in January, as well as the title of his debut recital at Wigmore Hall in London, which he gave last month.

Yesterday evening’s performance provided a generous account of the album. The number of tracks omitted could be counted on one hand. Each of the four key “topics” was represented by either three or four songs. The program began at the top of Mount Olympus with three songs by Franz Schubert, two of which set poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Phan then descended to the earthly realm of “Knights and Kings” with Goethe settings by Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven and settings of texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn by both Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler.

The Beethoven selection was actually a song about a flea that Mephistopheles sings in a tavern; so it might have fit just as well into the following “Things that Go Bump in the Night” section. This section offered the greatest diversity of poets, a different one for each of the four songs: Matthäus Kasimir von Collin (Schubert), Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (Robert Schumann), Eduard Mörike (Hugo Wolf), and Ludwig Christoph Heinrich Hölty (Felix Mendelssohn). Two more of Wolf’s Mörike settings were included in the final “Fairy Tales” section, along with a Schumann setting of Hermann Kletke. This theme also covered the encore selection with the one departure from German into English and the only piece from the twentieth century, “Giants in the Sky” (with both music and words by Stephen Sondheim) from the musical Into the Woods.

In this intimate setting it was possible to appreciate the full breadth of Phan’s dynamic range. There was a bone-chilling stillness in his account of Mahler’s “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen” (where the beautiful trumpets blow) in which a maiden is visited by her soldier sweetheart; and it is only in the final line of the poem that the narrative discloses that her visitor is a ghost. In Wolf’s “Storchenbotschaft” (stork’s message), Phan’s command of facial expressions perfectly captured the comic revelation that the protagonist is about to become the father of twins. On the other hand he brought his account of Wolf’s “Der Feuerreiter” (the fire-rider) to the brink of unbridled hysteria, keeping the listener guessing as to whether the protagonist, who rides is horse headlong into a burning mill, is mortal or supernatural.

Similarly, Phan knew how to pace the overall program. He knew full well that the sort of outburst of melodrama that Wolf could command so skillfully could not be just another shot in an ongoing salvo. The moments of highest intensity always stood out from the quieter (even if just as sinister) instances of rhetoric that surrounded them. The result was a one-hour recital in which every moment was meticulously calculated for its impact from beginning to end. This served as an exhilarating reminder of just how far we have progressed from those one-thing-after-another recitals which used to be the norm for concert practices.

Phan has become a familiar face in our concert halls, having given splendid performances with both the San Francisco Symphony and Philharmonia Baroque. Yesterday evening made the case that he is just as much at home in the art song recital setting. Furthermore, he clearly knows how to use that setting to exercise his own capacity for innovation. We should all hope to hear more of that capacity.