Friday, July 20, 2018

World Percussion Arts Festival this Weekend

Poster for the San Francisco World Percussion Arts Festival (from the festival’s Facebook Events Web page)

This weekend, Maikaze Daiko will host the 2018 San Francisco World Percussion Arts Festival. This event will consist of two concerts taking place on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The bottom of the poster for the festival, reproduced above, provides the names and nationalities of several of the participants. These may be too small to be read by many of those visiting this article. The leftmost most photograph shows a taiko ensemble. Proceeding from left to right, the remaining photographs present Yoshikazu Fujimoto and his wife Yoko (Japan), Faisal Zedan (Syria), Pezhham Akhavass (Iran), a member of the Nori Project (United States), Abbos Kosimov (Uzbekistan), and Sruti Sarathy (India).

The two concerts will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 21, and at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 22. Both concerts are expected to last for two hours. The venue will be the Dance Mission Theater, located in the Mission at 3316 24th Street. Tickets will be sold at the door for $30, but there will be a $5 discount for tickets purchased online through Brown Paper Tickets. Tickets for both concerts must be purchased separately but from a single Brown Paper Tickets event page. There will also be a VIP Reception following the Saturday concert. Admission will be $10, payable at the door.

Merola’s Delightful Account of Early Mozart

Last night in the Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the 2018 Summer Festival of the Merola Opera Program presented the first of two performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K.208 opera in two acts, Il re pastore (the shepherd king). Mozart was nineteen years old when he composed this opera on a commission to honor the visit of the Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria to Salzburg. The libretto was written by Pietro Metastasio, who took Torquato Tasso’s Aminta as his source. Metastasio’s text was subsequently edited by Giambattista Varesco.

The Wikipedia page for Il re pastore describes it as an opera seria, suggesting a contrast to the more comic rhetoric of Mozart’s previous K. 196 opera, La finta giardiniera (the pretend garden-girl), which he had composed several months earlier, described on the title page of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe score as “drama giocoso.” Nicholas Muni staged K. 196 for Merola in the summer of 2012; and, while he did not downplay the “giocoso” elements, his approach to the “drama” was gut-wrenchingly intense. By way of contrast, Tara Faircloth’s staging of K. 208 dispensed with almost all of the “seria” elements (except for honoring the da capo structure of the arias), establishing the element of farce from the very opening gestures and maintaining the comic rhetoric with impeccable timing and prodigious diversity in every element of the plot structure.

Clearly, there was nothing comic about Tasso’s source, which dealt with the aftermath of the conquest of Sidon (now in southern Lebanon) by Alexander the Great. Tasso’s title character is a shepherd, who is discovered to be the rightful heir to Sidon, an ancestry that is revealed in the libretto through Agenore, a Sidonian aristocrat. The libretto thus turns Tasso into an anticipation of W. S. Gilbert; and, when it comes to who loves whom, we may as well be in the Venice of The Gondoliers as in Sidon. 

Aminta is in love with the shepherdess Elisa, whose father has consented to the marriage. Meanwhile, Agenore has fallen in love with Tamiri, daughter of Stratone, the tyrant who ruled Sidon until Alexander’s invasion. Seeing himself as a benevolent conqueror, Alexander (Alessandro in the libretto) turns the rule of Sidon over to Aminta and arranges his wedding to Tamiri, presumably as a way to win the approval of the Sidonian population. Fortunately, by the time of the finale of the second act, Aminta has won approval for his marriage to Elisa, leaving Agenore free to express his love for Tamiri. Tamiri’s noble descent is honored by Alessandro promising to turn the rule of his next conquest over to Agenore and Tamiri.

Faircloth’s staging of this topsy-turvy unfolding of events was so convincing that it is hard to imagine this opera being given a more serious interpretation. Granted, the music itself tends to follow the necessary formality of seria rhetoric. However, under the musical leadership of Stephen Stubbs, conducting from a fortepiano, the music was given a brisk account, whose energy never short-changed the rapid-fire delivery of the madcap elements unfolding up on the stage.

Note that, in the above summary of the plot, there are only five characters; and that is the entire cast of the opera. The role of Aminta was written for soprano voice, originally sung by the castrato Tommaso Consoli. Last night the part was taken by Cheyanne Coss, whose “trouser” costuming by Callie Floor required only slight suspension of disbelief. The two female roles were also written for soprano, taken by Patricia Westley (Elisa) and Simone McIntosh (Tamiri). Both Agenore and Alessandro were sung by tenors, Charles Sy and Zhengyi Bai, respectively. The absence of any low voices suggests further evidence that this opera was never intended to be as “seria” as the Wikipedia author would have us believe. Indeed, given some of the weak character traits shoved off on tenors in Mozart’s more “mature” operas, last night was rather a pleasure to encounter tenors singing the roles of characters with a bit more substance, even if the context was a farcical one!

The happily-ever-after finale, when Elisa (Patricia Westley) and Aminta (Cheyanne Coss) look down on the “other happy couple,” Agenore (Charles Sy) and Tamiri (Simone McIntosh) and a proudly satisfied Alessandro (Zhengyi Bai) (photograph by Kristen Loken, courtesy of the Merola Opera Program)

It is also worth dwelling a bit on where Mozart was in his development in 1775, given how well we know what he would later be doing. Those who really know their Mozart will have no trouble detecting seeds of what would subsequently emerge in future compositions while listening to both the instrumental and vocal lines. Furthermore, those “anticipations” are not limited to opera, since I was able to detect at least one seed that would later emerge in a violin concerto. As a result, the very act of listening to this music, regardless of what is happening on stage, makes for a thoroughly engaging encounter with “the once and future Mozart.”

Still, Faircloth’s staging the was element that carried the rhetorical spirit of this music from start to finish, never interrupted by any dull moments. Stubbs may have guaranteed that Mozart’s music was never short-changed. However, Faircloth was the one who made the experience a memorable one.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Two New Works Coming from Garrett + Moulton

courtesy of Garrett + Moulton Productions

While I tend not to follow dance activities on a regular basis, those who have followed my work on both this site and know that I have taken great interest in the collaborative efforts of Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton due to their innovative ways of working with music. As a result, I have been drawn to past performances by virtue of my knowledge of the musicians that would be performing with the dancers. On the other hand the next performance to be presented by Garrett + Moulton Productions will involve only recorded music, but the recorded selections are definitely worthy of attention.

In the words of the company itself, the program will present two premieres that “traverse a vivid visual, musical and theatrical landscape of both the sacred and the profane, evoking a journey of transformation and exploring the capacity of the heart to meet adversity with love and grace.” While some may find this language to be a bit over the top, it provides a fascinatingly viable perspective on one of the major hymns of the Catholic liturgy, the Stabat Mater. I still hold to my aforementioned conviction that the words of this hymn amount to “a monument to pietistic tedium,” whose unrelenting trochaic tetrameter rhythm amounts to a depiction of the nails being driven into the Cross. Nevertheless, those who see beneath the surface to the underlying semantics will find themselves at the heart of adversity confronted with “love and grace.” Fortunately, the composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi seems to have appreciated that semantic infrastructure; and his realization of that infrastructure through music remains to this day one of the major achievements of the first half of the eighteenth century.

Choreography created for that music will be one of the two premieres to be presented by Garrett + Moulton. That choreography will be performed by five dancers (Carolina Czechowska, Gretchen LaWall, Nol Simonse, Haiou Wang, and Miche Wong) and an eighteen-person movement choir (a concept that was also used in the production I covered about two years ago). This approach to Pergolesi will then be contrasted by “Mad Brass,” which opposes the adversity of the Stabat Mater text with unbound joy. This will be high-energy choreography set to recordings of Fanfare Ciocarlia, a twelve-piece Roma brass band based in Romania.

This program will be given four performances at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) Theater. These will take place at 8 p.m. on Thursday, September 6, Friday, September 7, and Saturday, September 8, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, September 9. The Theater is located at 700 Howard Street on the northwest corner of Third Street. Orchestra tickets are $42 and those in the Terrace at $35. Students with valid identification will be admitted for $25. YBCA members, seniors, and groups of ten or more receive a 20% discount. There will also be a special gala benefit following the Saturday performance. Tickets that cover both the performance and the gala are priced between $75 and $500. A single Web page has been created on the YBCA Web site with hyperlinks for online purchase of all tickets.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Opera on the Spot Returning to C4NM

Opera on the Spot poster (from the Eventbrite event page)

When I first reported on a forthcoming show by Opera on the Spot, they had prepared performances of two twentieth-century operas, Samuel Barber’s “A Hand of Bridge,” with a libretto by Gian-Carlo Menotti, and Menotti’s own opera, “The Old Maid and the Thief.” These performances took place at the Center for New Music (C4NM). However, I did not get a chance to see this group, which calls itself “San Francisco’s pop-up opera troupe,” until they returned to C4NM last season. On that occasion they performed Lee Hoiby’s “The Italian Lesson,” composed in 1981 (and therefore “newer” than either of the operas by Barber and Menotti) with a libretto by Mark Schulgasser based on a monologue by Ruth Draper. This would coupled by “not-so-new music,” Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s one-act “La serva padrona” (the servant mistress).

At the end of this month, Opera on the Spot will pay a “return visit” to C4NM. Program specifics have not yet been announced beyond the statement that the program will be “a fun mix of classical and contemporary opera scenes and arias.” However, the performers are likely to be those included on the “singers” Web page on the Opera on the Spot Web site. Sorted by vocal range, they are:
  • sopranos: Autumn Allee, Jordan Amann, Aisha Campbell, Cara Gabrielson, Emily Thebaut
  • mezzos: Emma Lacenski, Claire MacKenzie
  • tenors: Kevin Gino, Marcus Paige
  • baritones: Sergey Khalikulov
Those who attended the last C4NM performance will probably recall the first-rate account of Pergolesi given by Amann and Khalikulov and Campbell’s tour de force approach to the only role in “The Italian Lesson.”

This program will begin at C4NM at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 28. Admission will be $15. C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an Eventbrite event page.

Google Honors Masur with Today’s “Doodle”

Google’s “Doodle” honoring Kurt Masur (from the Google home page)

Google users have probably become accustomed to the replacement of the Google logo with an ad hoc digital sketch intended to honor the significance of the date. Those with an interest in these graphic gestures probably know by now that they are called “Google Doodles” and are often used to celebrate birthdays. (The first Google Doodle I encountered was for Clara Schumann’s birthday. I wrote about it on, taking note of the many children climbing all over her.)

Today is the 91st birthday of German conductor Kurt Masur. Sadly, he died at the age of 88 on December 19, 2015 from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He had been a regular visitor to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony; and, once we had become residents of the Bay Area, my wife made it a point to attend as many of his appearances in Davies Symphony Hall as we could manage.

Kurt Masur conducting the San Francisco Symphony on January 13, 2007 (photograph by Magic5227, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

(We also had the good fortune to have a chat with him when he was sitting behind us in the Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for a recital prepared by pianist Menahem Pressler. I opened the conversation by saying that we were looking forward to his performance of the music of Sofia Gubaidulina, and he could not say enough good things about her.) Over the course of his final visits, one could see the Parkinson tremors when he came out of stage; but once he was focused on the music, his beat was always consistently clear.

However, as Steven Musil’s CNET article about the Google Doodle makes clear, Masur was far more than just a conductor. His music education took place between 1946 and 1948 at the University of Music and Theatre in Leipzig, which, at that time, was in Communist East Germany. He became Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1970 and maintained that position until 1990.

That meant that he was in Leipzig in 1989, the time of the rise of the pro-democracy movement across East Germany, whose results included the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Leipzig Masur was actively part of a group that succeeded in avoiding a bloody confrontation between the police and the pro-democracy demonstrators. Masur’s negotiating skills had such impact that there were subsequent rumors that, with the return of democracy, he would be elected Leipzig’s mayor.

Fortunately, he preferred to maintain music as the principal source of his attention. In 1991 he moved to New York to become Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, holding that post until 2002. Once again, Masur found himself living in “historical times,” since he was working in New York on 9/11. He responded by arranging for the Philharmonic to give a performance of Johannes Brahms Opus 45, known as A German Requiem, drawing on texts from both the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Apocrypha.

To this day Masur is the only conductor with whom I have exchanged more than a few polite words in passing, but my understanding of the nature of listening owes more to the performances I had the good fortune to experience than it does to any of his words.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Plan for Performance of Klooj Project in Full

Yesterday I reported about tomorrow evening’s “preview” performance of one of the three movements from Action in the Stacks, a collaborative project between Klooj, the electronic duo of Thom Blum and Charles Kremenak, and Janet Silk’s Si-si Dance & Performance Art Project. I now have the necessary information concerning when this work will first be performed in its entirety. For those of the “new generation” who may not be acquainted with the concept of a physical library, the online Oxford Living Dictionaries Web site includes a specific definition for the plural use of the noun “stack” as follows:
Units of shelving in part of a library normally closed to the public, used to store books compactly.
(Those who have been following The Magicians on the Syfy channel will probably be a bit more comfortable with this concept.)

The “stacks” where the “action” will take place (Picasa image from Google Maps view of the Russian Hill Bookstore)

What does such a static concept have to do with action? The Magicians has come up with several inventive answers in the unfolding of its narrative. However, the collaborators from Klooj and Si-si have their own interpretation: “curious collisions of sound, action art, spoken word, and space… in places with books.”

That interpretation will be fulfilled through a performance at the Russian Hill Bookstore, which is located at 2161 Polk Street between Broadway and Vallejo Street. The performance will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 29, and last for about three hours. (Each of the three movements should be about an hour in duration.) There will be no admission charge, but any acts of donation are likely to be greatly appreciated.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Entertaining the Post-WWII Power Brokers

The violinist and his audience, a composite photograph of violinist Stuart Canin and his “audience” of Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, and Joseph Stalin (courtesy of Citizen Film)

Last Friday evening KQED aired “The Rifleman’s Violin,” a memoir, produced by Citizen Film, of an American soldier in Germany following the defeat of Germany in World War II. However, this was not just any soldier. The recollection came from Stuart Canin, long-time Concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), initially appointed to the position by Seiji Ozawa and, after leaving SFS, founder of the New Century Chamber Orchestra.

Following the fall of the Nazis, most of the American fighting forces were shipped off to Asia. Canin, however, found himself in Germany along with another musician-soldier, Eugene List. In June of 1945 they were both ordered to Potsdam, where they quickly learned that they would be performing for the three world leaders that would be discussing the fate of conquered Germany: Harry S. Truman from the United States, Joseph Stalin from the Soviet Union, and Winston Churchill from Great Britain.

Canin’s account of this episode, which he narrates while the film shows historically-appropriate footage, is a bit like a shaggy dog story. It begins when he is first shipping out to Europe and is carrying his violin along with the rest of his gear. His sergeant stops him and asks, “What are you doing with that violin?,” to which Canin replied “You never know,” suggesting that an occasion would arise for his playing it. Subsequently, his violin skills helped him form his acquaintance with List.

Between Canin’s narration and the music selected for the soundtrack, one gets the impression that they entertained the Potsdam leaders with little more than encores. However, List won Stalin’s heart by playing the opening theme from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 23 (first) piano concerto in B-flat minor. On the basis of this account, it would appear that this one recital was their only appearance at Potsdam; but List’s Wikipedia page notes that List was asked to play Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 42 waltz in A-flat major. When he confessed that he had not yet memorized the piece, Truman turned pages for him.

At the end of the film, Canin comments that, after that experience, he would never go anywhere without his violin, because “You never know.”

At a time when even the thinnest narrative can easily be subjected to epic treatment, the idea of a film that tells a single anecdote over the course of about twenty minutes is a bit of a novelty. Nevertheless, this brief encounter with a leading violinist could not have been better paced. As a result, we never hear about how Canin and List jointly created the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra; nor do we hear about how the Griller Quartet, a British ensemble, also played for Truman, Stalin, and Churchill (even though they subsequently became the subject of a play by Sidney Griller’s son-in-law, David Pinner). All we get is one story with one punch line; and that, in itself, emerges as a fascinating sidebar to the history of World War II.

The Bleeding Edge: 7/16/2018

The good news is that last week’s increase in activity was not a statistical anomaly. Things will continue to be busy during the coming week, which will include the opening events for the 17th Annual Outsound New Music Summit, which will begin on Sunday and continue through the following week. Concerts already accounted for also include the latest installment in Julia Ogrydziak’s HUSH Series at the Center for New Music and Sarah Cahill’s Old First Concerts recital. Remaining events for the week are as follows:

Tuesday, July 17, 8 p.m., and Thursday, July 19, 7 p.m., Z Below: The ongoing 2018 FURY Factory Festival of Ensemble and Devised Theater, organized by the foolsFury Theater Company and taking place at a variety of venues in both San Francisco and Oakland, includes a series of Raw Materials programs to showcase works-in-progress. This summer the Thingamajigs Performance Group is participating in the second of these programs. They will present stations 2: bearing the burden, which will be part of a ceremonial, durational performance event being developed for the 2020 spring equinox.

As can be seen above, this showcase will be given two performances. Z Below occupies the basement level of Z Space, which is located in NEMIZ (the NorthEast Mission Industrial Zone) at 450 Florida Street, between 17th Street and Mariposa Street. All tickets for this event are $15. Tickets for both performances can be purchased online from separate event pages managed by Goldstar Events for the Tuesday and Thursday performances.

Tuesday, July 17, 9 p.m., Elbo Room: The last time this site reported an event at the Elbo Room was when it was one of the venues for last year’s Psycho Jazz in the Bay concert series. Once again this space will be hosting an evening of four off-the-wall performances. Each of the four acts will involve a duo. Mistresses is a new project by Arone Dyer and Ryan Oslance involving melodic vocals, live drums, and “grimy” synthesized sounds in a genre that the pair likes to call “Arty Dance Pop.” There will also be two electronic duos, KYN and IMA, the latter consisting of Amma Ateria working with percussionist Nava Dunkelman. The final duo is Smile Lines, whose members are drummer Greg Saunier and Rozie Jordan. Doors will open at 8:30 p.m. for a prompt beginning at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 and will be sold only at the door on a first-come-first-served basis. The Elbo Room is located in the Mission at 647 Valencia Street.

Wednesday, July 18, 8 p.m., Peacock Lounge: This venue also participated in Psycho Jazz in the Bay; but regular readers are probably used to seeing it pop up once a month for experimental offerings that are out there on the “bleeding edge.” This month’s offering will feature a preview of a larger project. Action in the Stacks is a collaboration of Klooj, the electronic duo of Thom Blum and Charles Kremenak, with Janet Silk’s Si-si Dance & Performance Art Project. For their visit to the Peacock, they will present the movement from this piece entitled “Tales from Hunter’s Point Shipyard.” The remaining sets will be taken by Horaflora, which is the performing name for Raub Roy, the 404 Not Found duo of Claire Staples and Alex Cargile, and a tape release party for Fletcher Pratt’s Dub Sessions.

The Peacock Lounge is located in the Lower Haight at 552 Haight Street. Doors will open at 7:45 p.m. to enable the first set to begin at 8 p.m. sharp. Admission on a sliding scale will begin at $5. However, this will be a NOTAFLOF (no one turned away for lack of funds) event.

Thursday, July 19, 8:15 p.m., Luggage Store Gallery (LSG): Preceding the Outsound New Music Summit, there will be the usual installment of the LSG Creative Music Series. The first set will be taken by Chamberlain Zhan, who combines his electronic improvisations with poetry. He will be followed by Megan Mitchell’s Cruel Diagonals project, which is her outlet for destructive sample processing and vocal exploration, as well as a palette for inter-media contemplations and applications. The final set will be an electronic and instrumental improvisation by the Seattle-based musician who calls himself rEEk.

LSG is located at 1007 Market Street, across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street; and admission is on a sliding scale between $8 and $15.

Friday, July 20, 7:30 p.m., Adobe Books: Following her improvisation set at LSG, Mitchell will come to Adobe Books to present her first album, Disambiguation. She will be preceded by an opening set taken by Fyrhtu, the latest project from the duo of Leila Abdul-Rauf and Nathan A. Verrill. (For those curious about that particular mix of consonants and vowels, the word is the Old English noun for “fright.”)

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

Mike Greensill’s Ellington Afternoon at O1C

Mike Greensill (from his Old First Concerts event page)

Yesterday afternoon at the Old First Presbyterian Church. jazz pianist Mike Greensill made his annual visit to Old First Concerts (O1C). This was about a month and a half earlier than his usual Labor Day visit; but he explained to the audience that he had an out-of-town booking for Labor Day Weekend this year. This year’s concert was entitled The Art of the Duo, and the only other performer was Joe Cohen alternating between alto and tenor saxophones.

According to the original announcement, Greensill had planned to devote the program primarily to the music of Duke Ellington; but I predicted that he would not resist the temptation to include some of his own compositions. At the performance itself there were six Ellington selections, while Greensill kept his own pieces down to four. Between them they made up for the lion’s share of the fourteen tunes Greensill and Cohen presented.

Most striking was Greensill’s decision to include a selection representing a close tie to San Francisco. The first of Ellington’s three “sacred” concerts, released on an RCA album entitled A Concert of Sacred Music, was written for performance in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral in honor of its opening in 1965. Greensill and Cohen gave an instrumental account of “Come Sunday,” which was part of that concert, although it had originally been written over ten years earlier for the extended concert suite Black, Brown and Beige as one of the parts of the “Black” movement.

As with all of the Ellington selections, both players respected tradition by beginning with a clear statement of the tune. Cohen tended to take the first round of improvisations. Greensill then took over with his approaches before the two of them wrapped things up with an equally clear recapitulation. For the most part the attentive listener always knew where the tune was, but both players knew how to take their improvisation work into adventurous territory. As in the past, Greensill “seasoned” many of the songs with his own vocal work; but “Satin Doll” was the only Ellington tune to get a vocal treatment.

As usual, Greensill’s own songs were imaginatively playful, often with titles whose wordplay reflected the rhetoric of his keyboard work. He revisited “Puce,” which he called a parody of “Tangerine,” this time introducing it with a bizarre (and possibly true) account of the etymology of “puce.” “Puce” (the song) is not so much a parody as it is an example of invention based on what Frank Tirro calls a “silent theme” (in this case the tune for “Tangerine”). Indeed, the theme is not quite as silent as those that formed the basis for some of Charlie Parker’s classic tunes; but Greensill’s approach tends to be more playful.

Of the selections that were not by either Ellington or Greensill, the most memorable were Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight” and Earl Hines’ “You Can Depend on Me.”

Sunday, July 15, 2018

San Francisco Conservatory of Music: September, 2018

As was observed this past Friday, it is not too early to start making plans for the 2018–19 season. Activities at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) will get under way during the first week of September, even though the “official” Kick-off Weekend will not take place until the end of the month. Unless otherwise specified, all events will be free of charge; and reservations will not be required. The SFCM building is located at 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni Station. Readers are encouraged to consult the Performance Calendar Web page at the SFCM Web site for the most up-to-date information about any of these offerings. Here is a chronological listing of events likely to be of interest to serious and attentive listeners:

Thursday, September 6, 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall: The first Faculty Artist Series concert of the season will be presented by Ian Swensen, who holds the Isaac Stern Chair of Violin and co-chairs String and Piano Chamber Music. Pianist Weicong Zhang will accompany him in two duo sonatas, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 23 (fourth) sonata in A minor and Maurice Ravel’s second sonata in G major. The two of them will then be joined by cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau to perform Bedřich Smetana’s Opus 15 trio in G minor. While reservations are not required, they are recommended and may be arranged through a Google Forms Web page.

Monday, September 17, 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall: The second Faculty Artist Series concert will feature the members of the Historical Performance faculty. These are violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock and the Co-Directors of the Baroque Ensemble, cellist Elisabeth Reed and harpsichordist Corey Jamason. They will be joined by violinist Carla Moore appearing as a special guest. Program details have not yet been announced; but the selected composers will be Henry Purcell, Jean-Marie Leclair (whose contribution to the repertoire includes sonatas for two violins), Dieterich Buxtehude, and Johann Christoph Pepusch. While reservations are not required, they are recommended and may be arranged through a Google Forms Web page.

Sunday, September 23, 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall: By my records I have not written about an OcTUBAfest concert since October of 2011, but it appears to be an annual event. In trying to track down information about past dates, I discovered that the label is shared across several different educational institutions, all dedicated to promoting the talents of their tuba students. The astute reader will notice that this year’s concert is taking place in September. This sort of deflates the cleverness of the name and recalls Walt Kelly’s ongoing joke about Friday the Thirteenth taking place on a Wednesday. Details have not yet been announced; but this tends to be one of the most interesting free concerts (with no option for reservations) of the season.

Monday, September 24, 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall: The final Faculty Artist Series concert of the month will involve three faculty members involved with chamber music for strings and piano. This will includes both co-chairs Swensen and Dimitri Murrath and Jennifer Culp, Chair of the Strings Department. The one selection that will involve piano as well as strings will be Robert Schumann’s Opus 47 quartet in E-flat major, which will feature Paul Hersh as pianist. The Schumann selection will be preceded by the third of Beethoven’s Opus 9 string trios, written in the key of C minor, and Ichiro Nodaira’s arrangement of the chaconne that concludes Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1004 D minor partita for solo violin, rescored for four violas. While reservations are not required, they are recommended and may be arranged through a Google Forms Web page.

The month will then conclude with five Kick-off Weekend concerts as follows:

Saturday, September 29, 5:30 p.m., Recital Hall: This will be the annual opening concert featuring the Pre-College students. Details have not yet been announced. While reservations are not required, they are recommended and may be arranged through a Google Forms Web page.

Saturday, September 29, 7:30 p.m., Concert Hall: Three students will join four members of the faculty in a program music of chamber music for strings and piano. Participating faculty will be Swensen, Murrath, Culp, and Fonteneau; and the program will include a reprise of the Beethoven C minor string trio. The program will also include Leoš Janáček’s sonata for violin and piano and the string quartet that Henri Dutilleux entitled “Ainsi la nuit” (thus the night). While reservations are not required, they are recommended and may be arranged through a Google Forms Web page.

Sunday, September 30, 2 p.m., Recital Hall: Jamason is preparing a different kind of Historical Performance concert, which will honor three significant anniversaries. The most familiar will probably be that of Scott Joplin, born 150 years ago. However, the program will also feature music by two remarkable women ragtime composers, Irene M. Giblin and May Aufderheide, both of whom were born 130 years ago in 1888. Faculty members will be joined by both collegiate and pre-college piano students. In addition, Jamason will prepare visual projections to display the artistry of sheet music covers prepared for the ragtime age. While reservations are not required, they are recommended and may be arranged through a Google Forms Web page.

Sunday, September 30, 7 p.m., SFJAZZ Center: This will be the first “side-by-side” concert that brings the students of the Roots, Jazz, and American Music program together with the SFJAZZ Collection. The performance will take place in Miner Auditorium. The SFJAZZ Center is located on the northwest corner of Fell Street and Franklin Street. While reservations are not required, they are recommended and may be arranged through a Google Forms Web page.

Sunday, September 30, 7:30 p.m., Concert Hall: The weekend will conclude with a performance by the New Music Ensemble led by conductor Nicole Paiement. The program will feature the four-movement suite Grand Central, for which Composition alumnus Ian Dicke (class of ’04) was awarded the 2012 Hoefer Prize, named after Jacqueline Stanhope Hoefer and granted annually to an SFCM graduate to cover all fees involved in producing a new work. The performance requires live audio processing, which will also be the case for the other work on the program, Steve Reich’s “City Life.”

Fascinating Cultural Mix at the Red Poppy

Jorge Glem and Sam Reider (from their Red Poppy Art House Web page)

Last night at the Red Poppy Art House was practically a case study of how the attraction of opposites can often lead to highly imaginative synthesis (whether or not you happen to subscribe to the dialectic philosophical stances of either Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel or Karl Marx). Accordionist Sam Reider composes his own music by drawing heavily on the extensive breadth of American “roots” music, with a possible preference for Appalachia. However, when he first encountered Venezuelan cuatro virtuoso Jorge Glem, Reider was determined to establish a partnership. (Those really interested in dialectical opposition will probably make something of the fact that, when they met, Reider was living in Brooklyn, while Glem was living in the Bronx.)

When the two first encountered each other, neither was particularly fluent in the language of the other. Partnership was a matter of establishing communication on a variety of different levels. What eventually emerged, however, was, indeed, a synthesis of folk styles from two different countries with two different native languages. That synthesis has now progressed to the point where the pair is making their first tour, and last night that tour took them to the Poppy.

Personally, this was one of those rare evenings for me when absolutely nothing was recognizable. I thought I had at least a journeyman’s acquaintance with American roots (particularly after a stint playing washtub bass for an impromptu bluegrass group that formed at a research laboratory where I was working); but Reider’s world turned out to be fascinatingly terra incognita, to the point where any of the titles I scribbled down are probably inaccurate. Similarly, while I knew what kind of an instrument the cuatro was, I had never really thought about it terms of anything other accompaniment for song, perhaps in the manner of its physically close but geographically distant relative, the ukulele.

Fortunately, it did not take me long to realize that the cuatro was, indeed, capable of virtuoso display in its own right. Glem’s finger-work was so fiery and so rapid that I kept staring in disbelief at what he was doing physically to evoke such rich sonorities out of four nylon strings spanning a relatively modest sounding body. Furthermore, Glem was not about only virtuoso display. His duo work with Reider covered a broad diversity of rhetorical stances, meaning that each of their selections had its own unique personality derived (synthesis again) from each player’s own characteristic approaches to performance.

For most of the selections, the duo was extended to include local percussionist Jackeline Rago. She played only a few instruments, one of which was a cajón, which continues to fascinate me with the extensive diversity of sounds it can deliver. She also had an earthenware pot with a hole cut into the side, yielding richly-colored deep tones each time she slapped the hole. Her command of rhythm often played a significant role in negotiating the melodic lines coming from both Reider and Glem, particularly when those lines involved a 5/8 rhythm with extensive fluidity in assigning weight to the individual beats.

The whole affair turned into such a rich journey of discovery that I realized after an hour that the first set had already crammed my cerebral capacity with more than it could manage.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Last-Minute Announcement of Original Jazz

Dan Zemelman’s back, Fred Randolph, Sheldon Brown, Greg Wyser-Pratte (mostly obscured), and Erik Jekabson (from the Fred Randolph Music Facebook site)

Through my Facebook “friend” connections, I just received word of what promises to be an adventurous jazz gig. Recently, I have been announcing “late show” events at Bird & Beckett Books and Records, which begin at 9 p.m. and last for about two hours. Tomorrow, however, Bird & Beckett will host what may count as a “Sunday matinee.” Fred Randolph, who is equally adept at on acoustic and electric bass, will lead his own quintet in which way west?, a program of original and newly-composed music. The front line for this quintet consists of Sheldon Brown on saxophones and Erik Jekabson alternating between trumpet and flugelhorn. The rest of the rhythm section consists of Dan Zemelman on piano and Greg Wyser-Pratte on drums.

This concert will begin tomorrow afternoon, July 15, at 4:30 p.m. Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, which is a short walk from the Glen Park BART station. It can also be reached by the Muni J trolley, which runs down Church Street and whose schedule is not impacted by the closing of the Twin Peaks tunnel. Admission will be by donation, with a recommended amount of $20. For regulars, students, and those on fixed income, a donation of $10 will be viewed as acceptable.

North Indian Classical Music at Old First

Arjun Verma and Sudhakar Vaidyanathan (courtesy of Old First Concerts)

Last night at Old First Presbyterian Church, Old First Concerts (O1C) presented an evening of North Indian Classical Music featuring the young sitar virtuoso Arjun Verma. Verma studied with Ali Akbar Khan for roughly the last eight years of that master’s life. This would have been after Khan had settled in California and served as Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of California at Santa Cruz. This was also a time when Khan would make regular visits to San Francisco and perform in several of the earliest programs presented by O1C.

The Western world first became aware of North Indian Classical Music during the Fifties through the earliest tours given by Khan and Ravi Shankar. Yehudi Menuhin also played a key role in promoting their performances and recorded a series of sessions with Shankar and his musicians, primarily between 1967 and 1968. Through both concerts and recordings Western listeners began to become aware of the raga as an approach to music making, whose documentation reaches back earlier than the first millennium BCE.

A raga is a gamut of at least five notes that serves as a framework for improvisation. The first raga to be performed last night by Verma, along with drummer Sudhakar Vaidyanathan and a drone provided by Rhiannon Ledwell on tanpura, lasted for about an hour. However, just as a symphony is divided into movements, the act of playing a raga goes through a series of episodes, which can also be called movements.

While symphonic movements are usually distinguished by different genres, the movements of a raga have more to do with how the music itself is made. The raga usually begins with an introduction to its constituent gamut without any strict rhythmic structure. Those notes are subsequently fitted to a simple metric pattern, followed by more sophisticated interactions between pitch and rhythm, usually also entailing the introduction of percussion. As the content itself becomes more elaborate, so, too, does the tempo increase, culminating in a finale of intense rhythmic and thematic activity.

All this makes for a somewhat demanding listening experience. As is the case with much of the jazz repertoire, attention is concerned less with what is being played in favor of how it is being played. However, while most of us are familiar with the instruments and performing styles of a jazz combo, the “building blocks” of North Indian Classical Music tend to be much less familiar; and the fact that listening experiences tend to be less frequent means that it can take a while for the mind behind the ear of the attentive listener to adapt itself to what emerges from this approach to making music.

From that point of view, I should come clean about the fact that my own mind is just beginning to find its way; and this was actually my first encounter with an experience lasting on the scale of an hour. (My times date back to those folk festivals at which usually at least one North Indian group would come out to “do their thing” for about fifteen minutes. Last night, therefore, was a significant reality check, albeit a highly satisfying one.)

Ironically, there was one brief moment that seemed to bridge Eastern and Western cultures. When Verma was first introducing the pitches of his raga, their was a passing gesture that recalled a similar approach to introduction encountered in Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane.” In retrospect this was less surprising than it seemed at “first contact.” After all, “Tzigane” was composed around Gypsy tropes; and the origins of the Romani people can be traced back to northern India. (That connection never seemed to surface in any of Menuhin’s sessions with Shankar.) As Duke Ellington famously said, “It’s all music;” and, if I were to call out any specific listening experience that served as a framework for negotiating Verma’s one-hour approach to a raga, it would have to be past encounters with similarly exploratory efforts at the piano by Cecil Taylor.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Free Concerts in Union Square: September, 2018

While we have not yet made it into August, information about the 2018–2019 season is already beginning to accumulate in my Inbox. That means that a variety of season preview articles will soon be appearing on this site. As a result, I wanted to wrap up information about the free Union Square Live concerts that will be taking place throughout the month of September, just to make sure that any items of interest do not get lost in the shuffle. For this last round I shall continue to confine myself to summarizing dates, times, and genres. As in the past, any further information should be available through the Events page created by Union Square Live for their Facebook site.

Wednesday, September 5, 6 p.m.: The Well Known Strangers (Americana and rock)

Sunday, September 9, 2 p.m.: Bitter Blues Band (blues)

Wednesday, September 12, 6 p.m.: Moonalice (rock band with interests in American roots and folk)

Sunday, September 16, 2 p.m.: Haopinka (traditional Hawaiian with hula dancers)

Wednesday, September 19, 6 p.m.: The Fito Reinoso Cuban Quartet (Latin)

Sunday, September 23, 2 p.m.: Little Charlie’s Organ Grinder Swing (jazz and blues)

Wednesday, September 26, 6 p.m.: Lavay Smith (swing, blues, and jazz performed with her Swingtet)

Salonen’s Nordic “Preferences” on Sony

The final CD in the Sony Classical 61-CD box set of all of its recordings made by conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen is entitled A Nordic Festival. Salonen conducts the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in what amounts to a survey of Nordic composers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most of the tracks involve familiar composers: Edvard Grieg, Carl Nielsen, and Jean Sibelius. For my generation Hugo Alfvén is also a “known commodity,” if not by name than by the opening theme of his first Swedish rhapsody, entitled “Midsommarvaka” (midsummer vigil), music that seemed to be favored by producers of the early generations of children’s television programming. The remaining composers on the album are Armas Järnefelt and Jón Leifs, who may be familiar to only a handful of my readers (if that many).

Because these selections cut across the categories I formed to account for the rest of the collection, I decided that I would set aside a separate “Nordic preferences” category to account for the selections I had not yet discussed. These included albums devoted by Grieg, Nielsen, and Sibelius, as well as one for Lars-Erik Larsson and a rather enigmatic album devoted primarily to Anders Hillborg. Taken as a whole, this is a category that has its ups and downs; but, as far as my own personal tastes are concerned, the ups definitely outweigh the downs.

One reason that my tastes are impressed is that, within the sixteen CDs in this collection, the composer that receives the most attention is Nielsen. That amounts to all six of his symphonies and all three of his concertos, as well as an engaging assortment of additional works. Like many I had never even heard of Nielsen until Columbia released a recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of his fifth symphony in 1962 with an album cover that declared the music to capture “the drama of Denmark.” Like many (most?) contemporaries, my personal knowledge of Denmark was pretty much limited to Victor Borge and his preference for comedy over drama. Nevertheless, I would guess that all of us making our “first contact” with Nielsen through that album were arrested by his inclusion of a cadenza for snare drum, if not by the overall impact of the symphony.

I moved to the Bay Area in 1995, an arrival that coincided with Michael Tilson Thomas succeeding Herbert Blomstedt as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and Blomstedt’s assumption of the role of Conductor Emeritus. During his own tenure as Music Director, Blomstedt had championed Nielsen’s music, recording all six of the symphonies (along with a selection of shorter works) on four Decca CDs. In his Emeritus capacity he frequently returned to Nielsen’s music; and listening to his interpretation of the fifth symphony made it clear that there was far more to this music than its snare drum cadenza and that drama-of-Denmark marketing pitch.

As a result I have become more sensitive to identifying conductors interested in Nielsen and the approaches they take. Most recently Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic released recordings on the orchestra’s “house label” of all of the symphonies and concertos. As a result I felt well-prepared to address Salonen’s recordings, all of which were made with Swedish ensembles. My overall reaction is the wish that Salonen would visit SFS as frequently as Blomstedt and pay just as much attention to Nielsen. My hope is that listening to him conduct this repertoire in performance will have just as much impact as his recorded documents (and, hopefully, more so).

The Sibelius offerings in this category are far more modest. The only symphony included is the fifth (Opus 82 in E-flat major). After he composed his first three symphonies (which seem to have become favorites in concert programs), Sibelius began to “push the envelope” when it came to questions of how a symphony should be structured. The results tended to be both enigmatic and intense, and the fifth seems to have garnered the most attention. Salonen’s recording presents a sure-handed reading that does not try to smooth over any of the rough edges, making it as valuable an account of Sibelius as is encountered in his approaches to Nielsen.

Curiously, there are two recordings of the Opus 47 violin concerto in D minor. The earlier is with Cho-Liang Lin and the Philharmonia Orchestra, recorded in 1987; and the second is with Joshua Bell and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, recorded in 1999. The Lin recordings predate the recordings for Salonen’s album of violin concertos by Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, made with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1992. Taken together all of these recordings show a powerfully productive relationship between conductor and soloist that consistently hits the mark when the rhetorical expressiveness of the early twentieth century is at stake. The Bell recording, on the other hand, seems to be more about Bell than about a conductor-soloist partnership. (On the original cover for this album, Bell’s name is given a larger font than Salonen’s!) Fortunately, Lin is also the violinist for the recording of Nielsen’s concerto.

Album cover for Joshua Bell playing Sibelius (from

The Grieg recording consists of excerpts from the Opus 23 music written for a production on Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt. That means that it offers a lot more than the two suites. However, if I want “more,” I would prefer going for “all,” which is what I have gotten for many years from the Unicorn-Kanchana two-CD release, which was the premiere recording of the full score. The Larsson album is devoted primarily to the suite God in Disguise with Swedish texts both sung and narrated. Since the box set does not come with a text sheet for this, there is little that I can say beyond observing that Larsson’s style tends to be moderately pleasant.

The one clunker in the collection is Jag vill se min älskade komma från det vilda (I want to see my beloved coming from the wild). This album is devoted almost entirely to the music of Anders Hillborg, one of Sweden’s most adventurous composers, whose influences include Brian Ferneyhough. Hillborg has a good relationship with Salonen; but, as a composer, he has been working freelance since 1982. That means he takes his revenue where he can get it, and the CD in this collection is devoted entirely to his work in the pop genre. As a result, if one wishes to talk about influences, it is probably the case that ABBA has far more to do with this album than Ferneyhough. My guess is that many listeners will find this particular album a refreshing change of pace from all of the other offerings in this box set, but I am not one of them!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Vân-Ánh Võ Coming to Yerba Buena Gardens

Vân-Ánh Võ and her đàn tranh (from the YBGF Facebook event page)

One of the more interesting performances to be offered by this summer’s Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (YBGF) will be a visit by Vietnamese composer Vân-Ánh Võ. Võ has been a frequent partner with the Kronos Quartet as both composer and performer, having last appeared in that capacity this past April as part of KRONOS FESTIVAL 2018. Her instrument is the sixteen-string đàn tranh, a Vietnamese plucked zither similar in nature to other Asian instruments, such as the guzheng (China), koto (Japan), and gayageum (Korea). The đàn tranh has been around since the end of the thirteenth century; but the sixteen-string version only appeared in the nineteenth century and subsequently became the standard form. For her visit to YBGF, Võ will perform with her VA’V trio, whose other members are string player Gari Hegedus and percussionist Jimi Nakagawa, whose instruments include taiko drums.

This performance will take place on the YBGF “main stage” in the Yerba Buena Gardens Esplanade, which is near the northwest corner of Howard Street and Third Street. It will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 25, and should last for about 90 minutes. Seats are usually set up in front of the stage; but, if August 25 happens to be one of those rare days when the sun comes out, attendees should be prepared to have their own ways to shade themselves. There are also a few shady spots under trees near the stage, and some may even have chairs set up there. There is no charge for this (or any other) YBGF event; so showing up is all that is required. Donations will be collected throughout and after the performance.

Swing Dance Music (and Dance) in Union Square

Fil Lorenz (third from right) and his Little Big Band (photograph by Linda Dembo)

Yesterday evening I made my first visit to the free Union Square Live concerts. The group performing was the Fil Lorenz Little Big Band, which amounts to a “chamber version” (one player per instrument) of the classic big bands that provided a major source of entertainment and music for dancing during the Thirties. Lorenz led the group from the alto saxophone chair, joined by Danny Brown on tenor saxophone. The “brass section” consisted entirely of Mike Olmos on trumpet and Paul Lennik on trombone. Rhythm was provided by Mike Hennings on drum kit, Larry Dunlap on keyboard, and Andrew Riggin on bass. Three of the selection in the first set featured vocalist Natalie Smith.

The band’s book reached back to swing classics associated with groups led by the likes of Benny Goodman and Harry James but advanced forward to the Ray Charles repertoire. Indeed, one of the earliest selections in the set was Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You;” but the band’s style came closer to memories of the Thirties than it did to Marty Patch’s arrangement for Charles. (Another nod to Charles came near the end of the set with Rudolph Toombs’ “One Mint Julep,” which Charles sang in a “real” big band arrangement by Quincy Jones.)

The real spirit of the Thirties came into full gear, however, at the end of the set with Harry James’ “James Session.” James himself could have been looking down from Heaven upon all of the inventive energy that Olmos brought to his solo trumpet work, not to mention the stratospheric heights of his pitch range toward the end of that solo. For that matter, Hennings had no trouble channeling Buddy Rich in the extended drum solo he took about midway through the piece.

To be fair, however, the band itself was only half the show. There was a generous space between the bandstand and the front row of the audience to serve as a dance floor. It did not take long for that space to fill up with about a dozen couples, all of whom were right at home with the swing dance moves for which those Thirties bands provided the music. There was also an impressive amount of partner-changing, which led me to ask one of the dancers if they were all part of some club. He smiled and said, “It look’s that way, doesn’t it? I would say about 60% of the people dancing know each other.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

SF International Piano Festival to Return

In August of last year, the New Piano Collective, founded by Bay Area pianist Jeffrey LaDeur, launched the San Francisco International Piano Festival. Over the course of a week, the festival offered nine concerts in seven different venues around the Bay Area, three of which took place within the San Francisco city limits. Next month the festival will return for its second round, this time lasting eleven days and taking place in eight different venues. This time, however, five of the concerts will be held in San Francisco. Specifics (to the extent to which they are available) are as follows:

Saturday, August 18, 8 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), Solo Spotlight: Pianist Daria Rabotkina will present a solo recital featuring two compositions, both entitled “Moments musicaux” (musical moments), the first by Franz Schubert (D. 780) and the second by Sergei Rachmaninoff (Opus 16).

Sunday, August 19, 2 p.m., Legion of Honor, The Poet Speaks: This program will present two significant and ambitious piano sonatas, each played by a different pianist. In the first half Albert Kim will play Charles Ives’ second sonata, given the title “Concord, Mass., 1840–60” with the movements reflecting on leading American figures within that time frame. He will precede his sonata performance with “Aubervilliers,” composed by Charlie Usher for piano and monophonic audio track. In the second half Bobby Mitchell will play Robert Schumann’s Opus 11 (first) sonata in F-sharp minor, which depicts the fictitious characters that embody the two sides of the composer’s personality, Florestan and Eusebius.

Monday, August 20, 7:30 p.m., Knuth Hall, Solo Spotlight: This will be a solo piano recital by Johnandrew Slominski. He will play two selections by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the K. 511 rondo in A minor the the K. 310 sonata, also in A minor. He will also perform Johannes Brahms’ Opus 118 collection of short piano pieces. Details of the remainder of his program have not yet been announced.

Tuesday, August 21, 12:30 p.m., Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Noontime Concerts: LaDeur will contribute to the festival with a free performance that will be given as part of the Noontime Concerts series. Noontime Concerts has played a significant role in LaDeur’s efforts to prepare all of the solo piano music by Claude Debussy for performance in honor of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death this past March 25. For this return to Noontime Concerts he will play Debussy’s collection of twelve études.

Sunday, August 26, 2:30 p.m., Legion of Honor, Life Cycles: This will be the Festival Finale. LaDeur will shift his attention to chamber music. In the first half of the program, he will accompany mezzo Kindra Scharich in a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s only song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte (to the distant beloved), his Opus 98. In the second half LaDeur will join his Delphi Trio colleagues, violinist Liana Bérubé and cellist Michelle Kwon, in a performance of William Bolcom’s 2014 piano trio. Delphi’s chamber offering will be followed by the two-piano version of Bolcom’s suite of four rags, The Garden of Eden, played by Jiyang Chen and Igor Lipinski. The only solo piano composition on the program will be Robert Schumann’s Opus 17 fantasia in C major.

SFCM is located at 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street and a short walk from the Muni Van Ness Station. The Legion of Honor is located in Lincoln Park. It is approached by following 34th Street north of Clement Street (which is the southern boundary of the park). Knuth Hall is in the Creative Arts Building at San Francisco State University. This is a short walk from the SFSU Muni stop at the corner of 19th Avenue and Holloway Avenue. However, for many getting to this corner will be complicated by the closing of the Twin Peaks Tunnel; so those planning to attend the Slominski recital are advised to make their plans well in advance of the recital itself. Finally, Old St. Mary’s is located at 660 California Street, on the northeast corner of Grant Street.

With the exception of LaDeur’s free recital, tickets for all concerts will be sold separately. General admission will be $25 with a $15 rate for students and seniors. Those age eighteen or less will be admitted without charge. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online through the hyperlinks attached to the dates in the above descriptions.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Lamplighters to Launch New “Pirates” Staging

The next production of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta by Lamplighters Music Theatre will offer a new perspective on an old favorite. The performance will feature the first production staged by director Nicolas Aliaga Garcia, and he has chosen to introduce himself through The Pirates of Penzance. His approach will be to view this old favorite through a modern lens, presenting the daughters of “modern Major-General” Stanley as spunky, resourceful, and equal to the challenges posed by the pirates (who were never particularly bright bulbs in the operatic Christmas tree). Garcia’s perspective is actually quite consistent with feminist ideals that emerged during the late nineteenth century through the concept of the “New Woman.” Other concepts, such as Frederic’s absurd perspective on duty and the muddled mathematics of birthdays are expected to remain intact. This first production of the 2018–2019 season will be conducted by Music Director David Drummond.

As in the past, San Francisco performances will take place at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in the YBCA Theater, which is located at 700 Howard Street on the northwest corner of Third Street. There will be three performances, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 18, and Sunday, August 19, and at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 18. Orchestra tickets are $64.50 and those in the Terrace are $54.50. Seniors (aged 62 or older) are entitled to a $5 discount in both sections; and there is a $25.50 rate for students, also in both sections. The Box Office can be reached by telephone at 415-978-2787. A single Web page has been created with hyperlinks for purchasing tickets for each of the three performances. The Box Office is closed on Mondays and opens at 11 a.m. on all other days. It closes at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and closes at 6 p.m. on the remaining days. The Box Office also opens 90 minutes prior to each performance.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Bleeding Edge: 7/9/2018

Things are coming back up to speed with what feels like a “harmonic convergence” of many of the “usual suspects” venues that readers expect to encounter when they read these articles. This week there are two events at the Center for New Music (on Wednesday and Sunday), one at the Red Poppy Art House (on Friday), and one at The Lab (on Saturday) that have already been announced. Remaining events for the week (beginning tonight) are as follows:

Monday, July 9, 7 p.m., Adobe Books: Last month I suggested that Adobe Books was “back in the groove of offering one concert per month.” Ironically, this week there will be two concerts at that venue. Once again, relatively little information is offered beyond the names of the groups for the three sets and some hyperlinks. Two of the groups seem to be visiting from Portland (Oregon): Sea Moss, which describes itself as “Extreme Synth Punk,” and The Social Stomach, which presents “Electromental Spoken Word.” The remaining set will be taken by IDHAZ.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 7:30 p.m., Canessa Gallery: Once again the Composers in Performance Series curated by the Meridian Gallery will present a four-set program that has as much to do with physical invention as with imaginative approaches to performance. Bill Brovold, who makes his own instruments and is unabashedly genre-eclectic, will be visiting from the Hudson Valley in New York. He will be leading a trio whose other members are both longtime collaborators, violinist Kurt Zimmerman and Mark Ormerod on both guitar and electronics. Closer to home will be the set taken by the Thingamajigs Performance Group, which describes itself as “a sound-based ensemble working co-creatively in a variety of mediums.” The performers for this set will be Dylan Bolles, Keith Evans, Suki O'Kane and Edward Schocker. foreignfire is the duo of David Katz and Sam Genovese, which takes adventurous approaches to vocal genres. The remaining set will be taken by another instrument builder, Peter Whitehead.

The Canessa Gallery is located at 708 Montgomery Street, right on the “border” between the Financial District and North Beach; admission is usually between $5 and $20, payable at the door and/or collected between sets.

Thursday, July 12, 8:15 p.m., Luggage Store Gallery (LSG): This week’s installment in the LSG Creative Music Series will present three sets of improvisations. The evening will begin with a solo set taken by Josh Martin on electric bass. He will be followed by Faults, which is the trio of Jaroba (reeds and electronics), Jorge Bachmann (electronics), and Kevin Corcoran (percussion and electronics). The final set will be taken by the “experimental homebrew sound art” of Tambalaya (Tammy Duplantis).

LSG is located at 1007 Market Street, across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street; and admission is on a sliding scale between $8 and $15.

Friday, July 13, and Saturday, July 14, 9 p.m., The Chapel: Composer John Zorn and bassist Bill Laswell will be performing together for the first time in San Francisco. They will present two benefit performances of a full-evening composition, Konx Om Pax. Each of these three words is a translation of “peace” into a different language: Assyrian, Sanskrit, and Latin. Aleister Crowley combined them as the title of a collection, which he subtitled “Essays in Light;” and that source seems to have inspired Laswell, who first cited it in the booklet for his Hallucination Engine CD. (For the record, “Konx-Om-Pax” is also the name of a work for very large orchestra composed by Giacinto Scelsi between 1968 and 1969, about 25 years before Hallucination Engine was released.) The beneficiary of the proceeds will be Keep Families Together, which transfers the money it raises to over half a dozen different charities supporting institutions on both sides of our country’s southern border.

The Chapel is located in the Mission at 777 Valencia Street. Tickets for both performances will be $65 at the door. However, there is a reduced price of $60 for advance purchase; and there are separate event pages for Friday and Saturday, which are currently processing orders. Doors will open at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 14, 7 p.m., Adobe Books: The second Adobe gig of the week will present two sets of improvisations given, respectively, by Swimming in Bengal and Invasive Species.

Ron Thompson at Biscuits and Blues

Ron Thompson (left) with his Resisters, Larry Vann and Gary Rosen (photograph by Linda Dembo)

After many years of promising myself that I would check out the Biscuits and Blues club, I finally made good on my promise last night, going over to catch the first set given by Oakland-born blues man Ron Thompson. Over the course of the evening he played three different guitars, all electric but each with its own set of “personal” sonorities, and sang along with all of them. He performed with his trio, called Ron Thompson and His Resisters, whose other members were Larry Vann on drums and Gary Rosen on bass guitar.

Thompson spent seven years leading John Lee Hooker’s backing band, and he made no attempt to hide Hooker’s influence on his own work. I have to confess that my command of the blues repertoire is, to say the least, weak. Since Thompson’s diction was not his primary concern, there were any number of tunes last night that I could not identify. However, there was no mistaking his honoring his experiences with Hooker through his own take on “Boom Boom;” and, to reach back to earlier decades, I had no trouble recognizing Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” Towards the end of the set, Thompson mentioned Robert Johnson; but I have not yet succeeded in internalizing all of the handful of songs he managed to get recorded. There was also a gutsy account of Ray Charles “Sinner’s Prayer.” Most astonishing was a gradual segue into Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” one local musician’s way of honoring another.

More interesting than trying to identify the recognizable, however, was the sheer pleasure of Thompson’s diversity. Across the three guitars he played, Thomson came up with any number of ways of inventing new licks for what too many take to be a limited form of musical expression. Each song revealed its own palette of innovative approaches to the different guitars Thompson played; and, even when it seemed as if he was returning to a familiar trope, he never failed to pull out yet another new twist on that trope.

There was also an almost uncanny craft in swinging between dynamic extremes. Most of the evening was hard-driving, an onslaught of decibels reinforced by Vann’s solid drumming, always regular but always spiced with little twists on the basic beat. In that wash of intensity, Rosen’s bass work often came through only in its own beats and the occasional reminder of where the tonic was. Every now and then, however, Thompson would drop down to the barely audible, allowing for better attention to his finger-work, Rosen’s bass line, and Vann’s diversity of embellished rhythms. Towards the end of the set, both Vann and Rosen were given extended solos, each of which provided a stimulating account of the fuller scope of what the player could do with his instrument.

As a departure from my usual listening habits, this all made for a stimulating brew, not to mention a reminder of how much diversity can be encountered among musicians who really know how to make their instruments sing.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Old First Concerts: August, 2018

Plans seem to have been finalized for next month’s offerings to be presented by Old First Concerts (O1C). As usual, this Web page will be updated in necessary; and notification will be provided through this site’s Facebook shadow page. All O1C events take place at the Old First Presbyterian Church, located at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southeast corner of Van Ness Avenue. If purchased in advance online from an O1C event page, general admission will be $23 with a discounted rate of $18 for seniors aged 65 or older. Hyperlinks to specific event pages will be attached to the date-and-time information given below. Tickets for full-time students showing valid identification will be $5; and children aged twelve and under will be admitted for free. There is also a discount available for those parking at the Old First Parking Garage at 1725 Sacramento Street, just up the street from the church. Here are the specifics for the month of August:

Sunday, August 12, 4 p.m.: Ensemble Draca is a quartet that showcases songs through the centuries and across the world. The vocalist is soprano Katina Mitchell. Featured instruments include the triple harp, which originated in sixteenth-century Italy and will be played by both Mitchell and Catherine Stiles, a variety of keyboard instruments played by Arthur Omura, and viols of different sizes, all played by Alexa Haynes-Pilon. There will be particular emphasis on the music of John Dowland, as well as works by Barbara Strozzi, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, and Tarquinio Merula. There will also be songs from the French baroque court, Scottish folk tradition, and American folk sources.

Friday, August 17, 8 p.m.: Seventeen-year-old Henry Plotnick is a Piano major at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. He specializes in both playing and composing jazz. He is recruiting some of his friends to present an evening of jazz standards and original works.

Sunday, August 19, 4 p.m.: Will Chow, cellist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, will visit San Francisco to give a duo recital with Bay Area pianist Yi-Fang Wu. They will survey the standard repertoire with performances of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 69 (third) sonata in A major, Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 3 polonaise with an introduction, and “Le Grand Tango,” composed in the last century by Astor Piazzolla for Mstislav Rostropovich. Less familiar will be two selections by jazz-influenced Nikolai Kapustin, his Opus 97 burlesque and Opus 98, entitled “Nearly Waltz.” The program will begin with Orfeo Mandozzi’s arrangement of the aria “Schafe können sicher weiden” (sheep may safely graze) from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 208 “hunting” cantata.

Friday, August 24, 8 p.m.: The last of the four Debussy Centennial Festival concerts will feature pianists from the New Piano Collective. The solo piano selections will include the first book of études and the suite En blanc et noir (in white and black). The program will also include the two duo sonatas that Claude Debussy composed. Liana Bérubé will be the soloist in the violin sonata, and the cello sonata will be played by Michelle Kwon.

Sunday, August 26, 4 p.m.: Soprano Vanessa Langer will return to the Bay Area to perform with the current incarnation of her Firesong Ensemble. The other performers will be pianist Vera Breheda and cellist JoAnne DeMars. The program will survey the diverse vocal repertoires of Gabriel Fauré, Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Arnold Schoenberg. In addition DeMars will play Fauré’s Opus 117 (second) cello sonata, and Breheda will play preludes by both Debussy and Rachmaninoff.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sarah Cahill’s Flower Piano Recital

 Sarah Cahill playing the Flower Piano Wissner instrument (photograph by Linda Dembo)

This afternoon in the Exhibition Garden of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, pianist Sarah Cahill presented a two-hour solo recital. This was one of twelve piano performances, all taking place simultaneously and each on an instrument placed in a different region of the Botanical Garden as part of the twelve-day Flower Piano event being co-hosted by Sunset Piano. While the Flower Power Performance Schedule said that Cahill would be playing music by Terry Riley and Meredith Monk, her program was far more diverse, demonstrating the rich scope of her repertoire.

Nevertheless, there were three Riley compositions on the program. The first of these was “Be Kind to One Another,” conceived as a reflection on 9/11 and first recorded by Cahill on her A Sweeter Music album released on Other Minds Records. Riley called this piece a rag; and, while he definitely brought his own voice to the music, it was a voice that seemed to reflect some of the more reflective or melancholy rags that Scott Joplin had composed, rather than usual lively examples taken from ragtime tradition. Since the tracks for A Sweeter Music were recorded in 2013, Cahill has built up a long history with this piece; and it was easy to grasp and appreciate the affection she brought to her interpretation.

On the more abstract side she had planned to play music from Riley’s Keyboard Studies, but the sostenuto pedal of the Wissner instrument she was playing was not up to realizing this music in a matter that reflected either Riley’s intentions or Cahill’s interpretation. More interesting was “The Philosopher’s Hand,” which Riley originally performed as a solo piano improvisation for the Kronos Quartet album Requiem for Adam. The piece was subsequently transcribed as solo piano music by Toon Vandevorst. Riley had conceived the improvisation in memory of Adam Harrington, son of the Kronos first violinist David Harrington. Pandit Pran Nath had attended the funeral and had silently taken Harrington’s hand. Harrington would later tell Riley that Nath’s was “the softest hand he ever held;” and Riley responded to that observation with his improvisation, which was then added to the Kronos recording. Cahill explained this backstory before performing Vandevorst’s transcription, and one could appreciate the sensitivity of touch that she brought to her keyboard work.

Monk was represented by another selection from Cahill’s A Sweeter Music album, “Steppe Music." Her other contributions to the program were her “St. Petersburg Waltz” and “Railroad (Travel Song).” I must confess that my own knowledge Monk’s work has been restricted almost entirely to her vocal compositions. In all three cases one could appreciate the affection that Cahill had for these pieces. This was also true of her performance of “Embers,” the second movement of Phil Kline’s mini-suite The Long Winter, also included on A Sweeter Music. One might not have been able to grasp the implications of warmth in the midst of cold, but this was again music of affectionate reflection.

The other Cahill album that was generously represented in this afternoon’s recital was Patterns of Plants, the music of Japanese composer Mamoru Fujieda. The album consists of selections from a very large repertoire of works created by Fujieda, each of which involves transcribing a geometrical pattern identified on a specific plant into a melodic pattern. Two of the pieces that Cahill played were taken from “collections” (which is how Fujieda describes his groups of individual compositions) with titles that cite specific plants, Begonia in My Life (the twentieth collection) and The Olive Branch Speaks (the nineteenth collection). In the absence of images of the plant patterns, it is not easy to think about how Fujieda’s music is associated with those patterns; but there is definitely an elegance to Fujieda’s style that one could not fail to notice in Cahill’s interpretations of his pieces.

Other composers on the program included John Adams (“China Gates,” which he wrote for Cahill), Pauline Oliveros (“Quintuplets Playpen,” a rare example of her working with conventional notation), Ingram Marshall (“Authentic Presence”), and Gabriela Lena Frank ( a movement from “Sueños de Chambi”). However, most interesting was Cahill’s decision to begin and end with the same selection, Kyle Gann’s “Going to Bed.” This was his transcription of the music that Philip Glass composed for “Bed,” the penultimate scene of his opera project with Robert Wilson Einstein on the Beach. This seemed to set the tone for the modernist stance of the selections that would follow, meaning that its repetition allowed for reflection on what one had experienced.