Sunday, June 30, 2019

Lee Morgan Birthday Bash at Balboa Theater

Lee Morgan performing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in a 1959 concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam (photograph by Herbert Behrens, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license)

Jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, one of the leading figures in the hard bop movement of the Sixties, was born on July 10, 1938. He received his first trumpet as a gift from his sister Ernestine on his thirteenth birthday; and, while still a teenager, he was fortunate enough to take some lessons from Clifford Brown. His first major paying gig was with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, which he joined at the age of eighteen.

Around that time (fall of 1956) he recorded his first sessions with Blue Note Records, which became the primary source of his studio performances. That included his participation in the only Blue Note album led by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, Blue Train, sessions in September of 1957 that also included trombonist Curtis Fuller and a rhythm section consisting of Kenny Drew on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. He would then go on to be one of Art Blakey’s “Jazz Messengers” between 1959 and 1961.

For all of his prolific efforts as both leader and sideman, his life ended tragically at the age of 33 on February 19, 1972. He died at Slugs’ Saloon, one of the most adventurous jazz clubs in Manhattan. On that particular night he had an angry confrontation with his common-law wife Helen, which resulted in her shooting and killing him.

The Balboa Theatre will celebrate Morgan’s birthday with a screening of the film I Called Him Morgan. Swedish director Kasper Collin made this documentary, which was first seen at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, where it was first screened in the “Out of Competition” category. It received its first theatrical screening in both the United States and Europe in 2017. As might be expected, the documentary features many leading jazz figures, including Wayne Shorter, Bennie Maupin, and Albert Heath.

The Balboa Theatre is located in the Outer Richmond District at 3630 Balboa Street, which is between 37th Avenue and 38th Avenue. It can be reached easily by the Muni 38 line. The screening will begin at 8 p.m. in Wednesday, July 10. However, it will be preceded at 7 p.m. by a set of live jazz performed by The Noise All Stars. The entire program is expected to run for 150 minutes. Admission will be $15, and the Balboa Theatre has created an event page for advance purchase of tickets online.

Poul Ruders’ Latest Opera Coming to Santa Fe

from the Web page for the recording being discussed

Next month will see the world premiere of the latest opera created by Danish composer Poul Ruders. The Thirteenth Child was written on a joint commission by the Santa Fe Opera and the Odense Symphony Orchestra. Santa Fe Opera will perform the opera for the first time on July 27, followed by an additional five performances during this summer’s season. The libretto is written in English by Becky and David Starobin, the latter having performed several of Ruders’ compositions for guitar. The libretto text basically unfolds a dark fairy tale, consistent with Ruders’ interest in such narratives reflected in previous operas such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Kafka’s Trial (both with librettos by Paul Bentley), as well as an operatic treatment of Lars von Trier’s almost unbearably grim film Dancer in the Dark entitled Selma Ježková.

In anticipation of this premiere performance, the Odense Symphony Orchestra recorded Ruders’ score over the course of more than two years during the period between September of 2016 and December of 2018. Those sessions resulted in a CD produced by David Starobin, which was released by his Bridge Records label on June 21. While the accompanying booklet gives little suggestion as to how this opera will be staged, it does provide both a useful synopsis of the plot and a complete libretto. These are sufficient to suggest that this is a narrative that could lend itself to a variety of different realizations on an opera stage.

However, as long as the new release from Bridge is the only resource at our disposal, we are limited to forming impressions based only on the recording sessions that have been captured and edited. These are sufficient to convey how Ruders uses his music to capture the darkest qualities of both the narrative itself and the agents responsible for unfolding that narrative. My personal impressions, resulting from initial listening experiences, are that Ruders has a tendency to be too heavy-handed with both his instrumental resources and the overwrought angular contours of his vocal lines.

One unfortunate result is that listening tends to trigger personal memories of parodies, many of which probably no longer resonate with contemporary readers. Thus, the overall acoustic sense of the score turned out to remind me of my student days, when I read a parody movie review covering a (non-existent) film by Ingmar Bergman entitled Bleak Darkness. (These days I find myself wondering how many people recall any of Bergman’s films, let alone the man himself!) The vocal rhetoric, in turn, triggered memories of those good old days of the Hoffnung Music Festival, whose 1961 production included a duet from The Barber of Darmstadt, composed by “Bruno Heinz Jaja,” the name that Humphrey Searle synthesized out of the champions of atonality that shared their wisdom at gatherings in Darmstadt during the Fifties.

Nevertheless, I have seen enough operas in performance to know that the impact of the narrative almost always depends upon the insights of the stage director. Thus, in many respects, it will be up to Darko Tresnjak to establish the twists and turns of the narrative behind the libretto without letting the whole affair devolve into parody. Ultimately, he will be the storyteller behind both the words and the music through which those words are delivered. I sincerely wish him well.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Better Offenbach by Minkowski on Bru Zane

Nine days ago (June 20) marked the 200th birthday of Jacques Offenbach; and, as far as I can tell, the occasion went entirely unnoticed here in the Bay Area. Readers may recall that Erato Records had been preparing for this event for some time, releasing an anthology of three of the composer’s best known comic operettas this past November. The operettas in this six-CD package were Orphée aux enfers (“Orpheus in the Underworld”), La belle Hélène, and La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein. The performances on these recordings were all conducted by Marc Minkowski, founder and director of the period-instrument ensemble Les Musiciens du Louvre.

From a musical point of view, this was a delightful collection. Minkowski was clearly as comfortable in the “period” of the nineteenth-century as he has been in dealing with performances “informed” by earlier historical eras. (When he made his debut with the San Francisco Opera in June of 2017, he conducted Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 527 opera Don Giovanni. It seemed as if his primary “historical” gesture involved the use of valveless trumpets on that occasion; but the overall production could not have been more effective.) Nevertheless, where Offenbach was concerned, I felt obliged to take Erato to task for releasing a package that provided neither synopses of the plots nor libretto texts in either the original French or in English translation. Under such circumstances I would have been thankful for a URL leading me to a PDF file of all of that vital content; but even that “do it yourself” tool was lacking.

Yesterday, another recording of Minkowski conducting Offenbach was released; and I am happy to report that the “information content” is far more satisfying. The operetta is La Périchole; and I have to confess that it is a personal favorite, since I had the opportunity to experience it in performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (designated a monument historique by the French government in 1957) when I was in Paris on a business trip back in the Eighties. (There are any number of reasons for calling this venue a “historic” site, the best-known of which is probably the riot that took place there during the first performance of “The Rite of Spring.”)

This new recording was not released by Erato but by the Palazzetto Bru Zane, a center that specialized in French romantic music, even though it is based in Venice. The center has issued a series of recordings of French opera; and La Périchole is the 21st release in the series, the first by Offenbach. As a result, one can now appreciate Minkowski’s sensitivity as a conductor with more attention to the twists and turns of the libretto as it unfolds a wacky plot in which authority is undermined.

Indeed, when it comes to goring sacred cows (so to speak), Offenbach revealed himself as an “equal opportunity gadfly,” as capable of ridiculing the all-powerful divine powers of Greek mythology as the figures of power in his own day. The Erato collection takes on mythology through both Orphée and Hélène, leaving only Gérolstein to skewer contemporary life. La Périchole now rights that balance with a farce about colonial authority in Peru. This includes a generous share of delightful tunes, one of which is spiced up by some silly singing delivered by the “hapless hero” and given a first-rate account by tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac.

My only quibble if that the album itself is being treated as a “luxury item.” The form factor is that of a bound book whose title page declares it to be one of a limited run of 4000 copies. This strikes me as an ironic twist given the “proletarian delights” of the operetta itself. Nevertheless, the price on the Web page does not quite rise to the level of outrageous. Personally, I am so pleased with having a libretto at my disposal that I am not inclined to make much of a fuss!

Last Minute Announcement: Live Jazz at Noise

Guitarist Lee Dynes (from the Facebook Events Web page for this performance)

Guitarist Lee Dynes will be performing with his trio late this afternoon. His repertoire combines modern jazz with world music, as well as other improvisational approaches to performance. Rhythm will be provided by Chris Bastian on bass and Matthew Buckner on drums.

The venue will be Noise, a record store that specializes in vinyls located in the Outer Richmond District. It also supports the performance of live music, which had made it a favorite spot for many local musicians. The street address is 3427 Balboa Street, which is between 35th Avenue and 36th Avenue. It can be reached easily by the Muni 38 line. The performance will begin at 4 p.m. this afternoon, June 29, and should run for about three hours (most likely in two sets with a break between them). Donations at the door will be greatly appreciated.

Ensemble 1828’s Debut Tour Comes to Sunset

Nicole Oswald, Isaac Pastor-Chermak, and Alison Lee (from the Sunset Music and Arts event page for last night’s concert)

Ensemble 1828 is the recently-formed piano trio whose members are violinist Nicole Oswald, cellist Isaac Pastor-Chermak, and pianist Alison Lee. The group is named after the year in which Franz Schubert died (on November 19). While this may strike some as a macabre name to choose, those familiar with this site probably (all too well) know by now that Schubert was almost super-humanly productive during the last twelve months of his life. The trio has committed itself to preparing a repertoire oriented around (but not restricted to) music from the final year of Schubert’s life.

The group is currently making its debut with an eight-concert tour throughout Northern California. Last night that tour took them to the Chamber Music series presented by Sunset Music and Arts. They played as a trio for only one selection, the D. 929 piano trio in E-flat major. This was the latest work on the program, composed at the very beginning of Schubert’s final year in November of 1827. Lee gave a solo performance of the last two impromptus (in G-flat major and A-flat major, respectively) from the D. 898 collection of four, composed earlier in 1827. She accompanied Pastor-Chermak in a performance of the D. 821 sonata in A minor, originally composed in November of 1824 for arpeggione and piano. Lee also accompanied Oswald in the earliest work on the program, the D. 574 violin sonata in A major, composed in August of 1817.

D. 929 was definitely an auspicious start to Schubert’s final year. If Ensemble 1828 did not play anything later in the chronology, their account of this trio definitely promised subsequent ventures into composition that took place closer to the composer’s death. Certainly, this was the selection conceived on the longest durational scale. The group clearly appreciated the challenges of negotiating the expanse of many of the episodes in this trio, the sorts of prolongations that would subsequently prompt Robert Schumann to write about Schubert’s “heavenly length.”

As might be expected, many of those negotiations involved making sure that repeated passages did not sound repetitious. Thus, what seemed to make last night’s performance work was a sense of overall energy contours, first for each of the four movements and then over the full scope of the trio’s score. It was through that sense of contour that the attentive listener could appreciate when finality was on the way without every sensing here-we-go-again irritation at the return of a familiar theme. D. 929 filled the second half of the program, but it also left one with the satisfaction of a thoroughly engaging journey.

Lee’s solo work was equally engaging. Her two impromptu selections could easily be taken as technical exercises, but each has its own characteristic rhetorical voice. Lee clearly had nailed all the challenges of nuts-and-bolts execution, allowing her the liberty to establish her own sense of expressiveness in every phrase that she played. Most concert-goers would find both of those impromptus familiar; but there was an unmistakable freshness in Lee’s approach to execution.

D. 821 has become a popular item on the cello recital circuit. Nevertheless, here, too, Pastor-Chermak knew how to seek out rhetorical uniqueness in the many corners of the score, making his own approach to the familiar as fresh as Lee’s. D. 574, on the other hand, gets comparatively less attention. This may be because violin recitalists prefer to strut their stuff with more flamboyant selections, but Oswald brought a throbbing energy to this relatively early venture into chamber music by Schubert. As a listener, I am no stranger to D. 574; but Oswald left me feeling that I could do with listening to the piece more often.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Tenney’s Five-Year Struggle with a Theory of Harmony

If it seems as if it has been a while since I have continued my writing about From Scratch: Writings in Music Theory, the University of Illinois Press collection of articles by music theorist and composer James Tenney, it is because I have been deeply occupied with four consecutive chapters (and one appendix), which collectively account for a five-year period during which Tenney tried to develop a theory of harmony that would apply to contemporary music as effectively as it did to the traditions of the nineteenth and preceding centuries. The texts that occupied my attention for so long are the following:
  • Chapter 10: Introduction to “Contributions toward a Quantitative Theory of Harmony” (1979)
  • Chapter 11: The Structure of Harmonic Series Aggregates (1979)
  • Chapter 12: John Cage and the Theory of Harmony (1983)
  • Chapter 13: Reflections after Bridge (1984)
  • Appendix 3: Excerpt from A History of ‘Consonance’ and ‘Dissonance’ (1988)
As can be seen from the first of these titles, Tenney’s orientation throughout these chapters is primarily quantitative. His methods are grounded in mathematics, but it is a mathematical orientation that reflects his experiences in using computers to manipulate properties that are fundamentally numerical in nature. It is from that foundation that he believed that there can be “a quantitative theory of harmony.” So it is that we encounter this sentence in Chapter 10:
Unless the propositions, deductions, and predictions of the theory are formulated quantitatively, there is no way to verify the theory and thus no basis for comparison with other theoretical propositions.
This is a rather unfortunate attempt to apply the methods of formal logic to quantitative properties. Sadly, it leads to a misunderstanding of what formal logic can and cannot do. While those who work in formal logic will use terms such as “truth value” casually, Tenney seems to have overlooked that such logicians are not constrained by dictionary definitions of the noun “truth.” The “mission” of formal logic is never anything more than a means to establish whether a collection of propositions is consistent; and deductions involving the determination of truth values is the tool for seeking out an inconsistency. (It takes only one inconsistency for the whole collection to dissolve into uselessness.)

In pursuing that mission, whether or not a proposition is “formulated quantitatively” is not relevant. Identifying an inconsistency is a matter of symbol manipulation, the manipulations being the workings of deduction. As I have previously observed, had Tenney enjoyed the benefit of an intellectual community in which “computing” was more concerned with manipulating symbolic structures, rather than evaluating complex numerical forms, he would have realized that the role of numbers in a “theory of harmony” is only part of the story, a story that is more concerned with finding useful symbolic constructs to represent the nature of signals that must be processed when either making or listening to music.

As a result, even after Cage had radically broadened Tenney’s view to accept that a “harmonic structure” may involve any simultaneity of sounds, Tenney continues to be obsessed with the integers that represent the overtone series. This is understandable, but it also distracts from where the real questions reside. Consider, for example, some of the ways that Cage worked with a piano (both with and without “preparation”). Clearly, he understood that composition and performance needed to deal with simultaneities of sounds. However, Cage was willing to deal with a sequence of such simultaneities as if it were a progression no different from the progression of chords in a four-voice hymn setting. In Cage’s case, however, one could not reduce that progression to a sequence of Roman numerals or figured bass integers.

Tenney clearly appreciated this quality of Cage’s music; but, by the end of Chapter 12, one gets the impression that he had not quite figured out what, in his capacity of theorist, he should be doing about it. The good news is that he was aware that there are actually (at least) two different kinds of simultaneity. In one case, such as in those hymn settings, one is aware of both the individual notes and the chords that they form. In another case, such as one of Henry Cowell’s tone clusters, the individual notes “fuse” into a single “sonorous object,” whose “signal” is an integrated whole, rather than a superposition of recognizable parts.

The good news is that, by the time Tenney wraps up Chapter 12, he is beginning to appreciate that time-consciousness is more relevant to perception than “score reading,” associating correlations between auditory constructs and symbols on staff paper. Once again, however, I need to be fair to Tenney. He was writing at a time when few were focusing on issues of time-consciousness raised by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, and even fewer were trying to relate their focus to the cognitive foundations behind listening to music. Those who read From Scratch today are better equipped to consider going down roads not taken by Tenney; and, if Tenney’s efforts did not lead very far, they may yet provoke a new generation of readers to seek out new paths.

SF International Piano Festival in San Francisco

San Francisco International Piano Festival founder and artistic director Jeffrey LaDeur (from the Meet the Artists Web page on the Festival Web site)

Once again the month of August will see the latest installment in the San Francisco International Piano Festival, presented by the New Piano Collective. This year, however, there will be only one concert performed within the San Francisco city limits. [updated 7/6, 9 a.m.: Several more performances in San Francisco have now been announced. a more systematic account of all of them will be given as follows:

Saturday, August 17, 10 p.m., Old First Presbyterian Church: This will be the previously announced Old First Concerts (O1C) performance of David Gordon's hypnotic “Mysteria Incarnationis.” Pianist Paul Sánchez will perform with vocalist Kayleen Sánchez and violinist Eka Gogichashvili. The Old First Presbyterian Church is located at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southeast corner of Van Ness Avenue. If purchased in advance online from the O1C event page, general admission will be $23 with a discounted rate of $18 for seniors aged 65 or older. Tickets for full-time students showing valid identification will be $5; and children aged twelve and under will be admitted for free. There is also a discount available for those parking at the Old First Parking Garage at 1725 Sacramento Street, just up the street from the church.

Sunday, August 18, 2 p.m., San Francisco Mint: This will be the monthly concert at the SF Mint presented by Noontime Concerts. It will be a solo recital by Albert Kim, which will feature a performance of Robert Schumann's WoO 24 set of variations in E-flat major known as the “Geistervariationen” (ghost variations). The program will also include selections by Philippe Manoury, Charles Koechlin, and others. As always, there will be no charge for admission, but this concert series relies heavily on donations to continue offering its weekly programs. The Mint building is located at 88 5th Street.

Tuesday, August 20, 12:30 p.m., Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral: The next concert will be part of the weekly Tuesday Noontime Concerts series (which actually does take place at noontime). Kayleen Sánchez will again be accompanied by Paul Sánchez, this time in a performance of Yiorgos Vassilandonakis’ dramatic setting of poems from Pablo Neruda's collection Residence on Earth (Residencia en la Tierra). They will be followed by Igor Lipinski playing a set of songs by Franz Schubert transcribed for solo piano by Franz Liszt. Old St. Mary’s is located at 660 California Street, on the northeast corner of Grant Street. There is again no charge for admission, but all donations will be welcome.

Tuesday, August 20, 7:30 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: Owen Zhou will begin the program with Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 811 “English” suite in D minor. Johnandrew Slominski will then play Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's K. 511 rondo in A minor, Liszt's “Un Sospiro” concert étude, and a selection of pieces by Philip Glass. The remainder of the program will be taken by the Fervida Trio (pianist Karina Tseng, violinist Sean Mori, and cellist Angeline Kiang), winners of the 2019 Junior Fischoff Competition, whose coaches included Festival founder and artistic director Jeffrey LaDeur. They will play music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, and Pierre Jalbert.

The Noe Valley Ministry is located at 3021 Sanchez Street, a short walk from the 24th Street stop on the Muni J trolley line. General admission will be $25. Students, seniors, and those new to classical music will be admitted to for $20. There will be no charge for those under eighteen. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a New Piano Collective event page.

Friday, August 23, 2 p.m., Legion of Honor: LaDeur will give a recital that will include the “Sposalizio” from the Italian “year” of Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage (years of pilgrimage) collection and Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 46 “Allegro de Concert.” In addition, he will accompany mezzo Kindra Scharich in Gabriel Fauré’s Opus 61 song cycle La Bonne Chanson. Finally, Kim will join him for a performance of Franz Schubert’s D. 813 set of variations on an original theme.

The performance will take place in the Gunn Theater. 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). Ticket prices are the same as those for the evening August 20. Tickets may be again purchased in advance online through a New Piano Collective event page.

Saturday, August 24, 7:30 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM): This concert will present a much more ambitious Liszt transcription. Bobby Mitchell will play his solo piano version of Beethoven's Opus 125, his ninth symphony in D minor. Daria Rabotkina will open the program with selections yet to be announced.

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. The recital will take place in the Concert Hall. Ticket prices are the same as those for the evening August 20. Tickets may be again purchased in advance online through a New Piano Collective event page.

Sunday, August 25, 2 p.m., Herbst Theatre: This will be the previously announced Grand Finale, planned as a memorial concert to honor the life of Thomas C. LaDeur, father of the Festival founder and artistic director Jeffrey LaDeur.] LaDeur will perform two concertos with instrumental accompaniment provided by the members of the Alexander String Quartet (violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarbrough, and cellist Sandy Wilson) joined by Scott Pingel, Principal Bass with the San Francisco Symphony. The concertos will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 415 piano concerto in C major and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 58 (fourth) piano concerto in G major. This ensemble will also accompany mezzo Kindra Scharich in a performance of Mozart’s K. 505 concert aria “Ch'io mi scordi di te.” The remaining work on the program will be the original four-hand version of Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose suite, performed by special guests Daria Rabotkina and Albert Kim.

[updated 7/6, 9:05 a.m.:

The entrance to Herbst Theatre is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street.] All tickets are being sold for $40. They may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

Technology Undermines Ravel’s Subtleties

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, British conductor Martyn Brabbins made his United States debut leading the first performance of the final program of the 107th season of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). The program was organized around a semi-staged production of Maurice Ravel’s one-act opera “L’enfant et les sortilèges” (the child and the magic spells), which featured the advanced projection techniques of animator Grégoire Pont, working with director James Bonas. Brabbins was recruited to replace the convalescing Michael Tilson Thomas; and he could not have been a better choice, since he had conducted the premiere performance of this production at the Opéra National de Lyon in 2012.

In a nutshell the opera is a moral tale about a very bad boy who is taken to task by the home in which he lives. This includes not only furniture and wallpaper but also, in the second part, the wildlife outside his house. The turning point comes when he heals an injured squirrel, resulting in a happy ending in which the child once again appreciates the value of his mother as a role model. The text was written by Colette, whose keen eye for the human condition was as skillful as her capacity for consistently finding just the right words for both description and character establishment.

The result was one of Ravel’s wittier compositions in which the music engagingly follows every turn in Colette’s plot with uncanny perception. Just as importantly, Ravel captured the intimacy of the situations Colette contrived and the delicacy with which she handled them. Nevertheless, my first contact with that delicacy took place in the vast space of the Metropolitan Opera House back in the Eighties, from which I learned that intimacy, more often than not, is in the eye of the beholder.

That said, I suspect it would be quite a challenge for even the most sympathetic viewer to find much intimacy in Pont’s concepts for this production. Not only were his projections larger than life but also they occasionally spilled off the confines of the “big screen” to take over the ceiling of the audience area. A little domestic tale with a variety of supernatural phenomena summoned to teach the virtues of good behavior exploded grotesquely into a setting more at home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The result was a perfect example of what a 1997 television film called “weapons of mass distraction.” Indeed, the distraction was so intense that one was only barely aware of the SFS musicians; and, had it not been for the projection of the text, one could easily have been unaware of the vocal and choral singers. This was more than unfortunate, since so many of those on the vocal side had much to offer in bringing life to Colette’s words, beginning with the solid account that mezzo Isabel Leonard gave in her realization of the little boy’s character.

All the other roles were handled with multiple casting. Among the most memorable were tenor Ben Jones in the personification of arithmetic and the syllabic personification of the two cats by mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson and bass-baritone Kelly Markgraf. The choral realization of animal sounds during the transition to the second part was also delightfully memorable.

The first half of the program was described as an “aperitif” to prepare for Ravel’s score. These were all chamber music selections; but, because the screen interfered with setting up an effective shell, none of them fared very well. Nevertheless, given the current nature of social life here in San Francisco (as well as many other parts of the world) Costa-Jackson definitely needs to be credited for her delivery of the last song that Debussy ever wrote, “Noël des enfants qui n'ont plus de maison” (Christmas carol for homeless children). This was an occasion when the projected titles of the English translation definitely added to the impact of the listening experience.

Ravel was represented by the final movement from his Ma mère l’Oye piano duet suite, played by John Wilson and Peter Grunberg. (Grunberg also accompanied Costa-Jackson’s Debussy performance.) Wilson gave relatively dull accounts of movements from Debussy’s Children’s Corner suite and the instrumental version of “La Plus que lente” (the slower than slow), and Douglas Rioth’s harp work was an inadequate substitute for the cimbalom sonorities originally intended. The other selection was the final movement of Gabriel Fauré’s Opus 15 (first) piano quartet in C minor, played by the same musicians that had performed the piece in its entirety during the Chamber Music Series concert given at the end of April. That included pianist Sayaka Tanikawa, who was as brilliant as she had been in April and definitely deserved to be playing under better circumstances.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Center for New Music: August, 2019

As is the case for next month, events scheduled for August at the Center for New Music (C4NM) have been, at least thus far, relatively sparse. Nevertheless, taking into account activities presented by American Bach Soloists, the Merola Opera Program, and West Edge Opera, August is going to be a busy month, particularly during the first half. It thus seems judicious to put out the word about those C4NM concerts that have been announced to date. As usual, any updates, will appear on this Web page; and, as usual, I shall my Facebook shadow site to put out the word when any such update appears.

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

[added 7/6, 7:25 a.m.:

Thursday, August 1, 7:30 p.m.: The Founders’ Series will present what might be called a “Bleeding Edge All-Star” concert. The highly adventurous pianist Thollam McDonas will share the stage with the Rova Saxophone Quartet with Bruce Ackley on soprano, Steve Adams on alto, Larry Ochs on tenor, and Jon Raskin on baritone. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members.]

Wednesday, August 7, 7:30 p.m.: Woodwind innovator Cornelius Boots will present his Birthday Bash concert, celebrating 45 years on earth (sixteen of which have been in the Bay Area). Much of the program will involve solo performances on shakuhachi (a bamboo flute), including the bass version of the instrument, known as the taimu. Boots is also promising the premiere of a composition for what he calls a “proto-Taimu ensemble” with the participation of guest artists, including Kevin Chen, Chris Adkins, Stikman, and Nils Frykdahl. There are likely to be other performers, who will be subsequently announced. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.

[added 7/6, 7:30 a.m.:

Thursday, August 8, 7:30 p.m.: This will be an evening of free improvisation shared by Ted Moore on electronics and Tom Weeks on saxophone; the charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.]

[added 7/19, 3:35 p.m.:

Saturday, August 10, 8 p.m.: Jennifer Ellis will curate a visit from Mumbai by renowned tabla player Mukta Raste. She will present a program entitled Horizons of Tabla. Part of her performance will be accompanied by Bay Area harpist Jennifer Ellis. There will be no charge for admission to this concert.]

Sunday, August 11, 6 p.m.: The Bay Area Composer Group will present a solo guitar recital by Roberto Granados. The program will consist entirely of new pieces all written by composers based in the Bay Area. The charge will be $12 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members.

[added 7/18, 2:45 p.m.:

Friday, August 16, 7:30 p.m.: The August installment of Blaine Todd's Latitudes series will consist of two duo performances. The first brings the guitar of Marcia Bassett together with the violin of Samara Lubelski. They have been improvising as a duo since 2009. In the second set Kaori Suzuki and John Krausbauer will present music for voices, amplified strings, electronics, and bell percussion. General admission will be $15 with a $10 charge for C4NM members and $5 for students.]

Saturday, August 17, 8 p.m.: Charles Xavier, who works with experimental electronica, will present the latest results in “XBOOM,” his creative music project architected for improvisation based on both jazz and his electronic gear. Structure involves sound cycles that involve repetition or improvisation derived from live looping and digital effects. One of the sources he has explored has been Brad Mehldau’s album Taming of the Dragon.  For this performance, Xavier will supplement his electronic work with performances on drums. He will be joined by jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown III and Matt Montgomery on electric guitar and violin. General admission will be $15 with a $10 charge for C4NM members and $5 for students.

[added 7/11, 9:35 a.m.:

Sunday, August 18, 2 p.m.: Jeffrey Mosier & Friends will be a program of new chamber works by Jeffrey Mosier, Liam Herb, Bryan Lin and Matthew Slayton performed by local musicians. There will be no charge for admission. However, a donation of $5 is suggested.

Wednesday, August 28, 7 p.m.: The program Futures & Faults will be shared by composer-performers Matthew B. Creer and Adam Fong. Creer will present selections from his songbook of sound narratives entitled Legends of the Future. The narration of the texts is accompanied by contrapuntal video, which draws upon found footage and animations created by the composer. Cree will also give the premiere performance of “Tiffany,” which is part of his Pink Mirror series. Fong’s “Automated Fault Extraction” is part of an ongoing performance project exploring Chinese-American mining and migration. Inspired by seismic analysis, the piece requires two performers, one on electric bass and electronics, and the other on electronics only, to explore the nature of low-frequency harmonic interaction. Fong will also perform a solo work for bass and electronics entitled “Specific Gravity.” The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students. However, those purchasing tickets at the door will be free to pay what they can.]

[added 7/19, 3:45 p.m.:

Thursday, August 29, 7:30 p.m.: C4NM will launch the Compton’s Cafeteria Series with a program entitled Trans Audibility. The location of C4NM is just down the block from the historic Compton’s Cafeteria where the first riot for gay and trans rights occurred in August of 1966. Through this series C4NM will be creating space for, and amplifying the voices of, trans, gender non-binary, gender fluid, and gender queer musicians. The first program will present two sets. Amanda Chaudhary’s set will consist of her live electronic improvisations. The other set will be taken by Cara Esten performing as multi-instrumentalist Rusty Sunsets. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members. There will be no charge for admission of members of the trans community.]

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Tickets Available for Lamplighters 2019–20 Season

Plans for the Lamplighters Music Theatre 2019–2020 Season have now been finalized. All four of the events will have performances in San Francisco, and there will be subscription rates available for the two full-length productions that will be presented in the Blue Shield of California Theater at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The first of those productions will be one of the most familiar, while the second is less frequently encountered. Specifics are as follows:

The partnership of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan began in 1875 when it was enabled by Richard D’Oyly Carte; and its first result was the one-act “Trial by Jury.” That success led to the full-length The Sorcerer, which was just as successful, if not more so. This was followed by the operetta that now counts as one of the “Big Three” productions, H.M.S. Pinafore; and next month this will be the production that will launch (connotation intended) the 2019–2020 season. Always on the lookout for taking a fresh approach to the familiar, the staging will include new men’s costumes to establish a historically accurate vision of the operetta’s setting. The staging will be by Ellen Brooks, and the conductor will be Music Director Baker Peeples.

This production will be given two matinee performances at 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 17, and Sunday, August 18, and one evening performance at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 17. The theater is located at 700 Howard Street on the northwest corner of Third Street. Premium Orchestra tickets are $72, those in Center Terrace and the remainder of the Orchestra are $62, and those in the Side Terrace and Boxes are $57. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through City Box Office event pages. Each performance has a separate Web page, which may be reached through the hyperlinks attached to the above dates. The subscription rates for the two productions will be $112, $96, and $88. Here, again, there will be separate City Box Office event pages for matinees on Saturday and Sunday and the evening performances on Saturday.

One of William Russell Flint’s illustrations for Princess Ida, created for the 1909 book Savoy Operas (public domain, from Wikipedia)

The other production available through subscription will be Princess Ida. The text was written as a satire on feminism, women’s education, and Darwinian evolution in 1883, a time when all of those topics were controversial. The staging will be by Barbara Heroux, and the conductor will again be Music Director Baker Peeples. The two matinee performances will again be at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 1, and Sunday, February 2; and the one evening performance at 8 p.m. will be on Saturday, February 1. Hyperlinks have again been attached for online purchase through City Box Office.

The season will also include two special additional events, both taking place in the Veterans Building but each at the different venue. The fall event will be the annual Champagne Gala, which is the primary fundraiser for the season. Traditionally, this includes the performance of a complete, original comedy set to Sullivan’s music in a setting that includes auctions (silent and live) and raffle prizes. This year’s performance will follow up on the success of “Trial by Jury Duty” with a script that will serve up a new look on Downton Abbey.

The performance will begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, October 20, taking place in Herbst Theatre whose entrance is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building. Admission will be through a ticket to the performance; and the ticket prices will be $97 (front Orchestra), $80 (rear Orchestra and front Dress Circle), $70 (boxes and side Dress Circle), and $50 (Balcony). Once again, City Box Office has created an event page for online purchase. The silent auction will take beginning at 2 p.m.; and the remaining events will take place following the performance. The Veterans Building is located at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. There will also be a second fundraising event in the spring entitled Too Music Happiness. It will take place on May 17, and details have not yet been finalized.

The second additional event will be a sing-along performance of Pirates of Penzance. 2020 is a leap year, meaning that this will be an occasion to celebrate Frederic’s birthday. All who attend are invited to come in costume and sing along with Lamplighters vocalists, the orchestra, and special guests from the educational outreach programs. The festivities will get under way at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 29. The venue will be the Taube Atrium Theatre, which is on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building. General admission will be $45 with a $20 rate for students and children. Tickets may again be purchased through a City Box Office event page.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Black Cedar’s Recent Commissioned Works

The Black Cedar trio of Kris Palmer, Steve Lin, and Isaac Pastor-Chermak (from a Black Cedar Web page)

This afternoon Black Cedar returned to the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library to give what has become its annual free public concert. The group began as the duo of flutist Kris Palmer and guitarist Steve Lin in 2011. The name of the ensemble had to do with Palmer playing a flute made of black wood and Lin playing a guitar made of cedar. The duo is now a trio, joined by cellist Isaac Pastor-Chermak (whose instrument is neither black nor cedar).

The heading on the program sheet stated Local Composers in Public Libraries, and the program served as a showcase for three pieces completed in 2017 and 2018, all commissioned by Black Cedar. Two of those composers have strong ties to the Bay Area. Last year Andre Gueziec was awarded has Bachelor of Music degree with Magna Cum Laude honors by San Jose State University; and, at around the same time, Ursula Kwong-Brown received her Ph.D. in Music Composition & New Media from the University of California at Berkeley. On the other hand, Javier Contreras, who won Black Cedar’s 2018 Commission Competition, is based in Chile.

What is most important about all three compositions is that each found its own distinctive way to work with what is decidedly a non-standard combination of instruments. Indeed, the title of Contreras’ piece, “Tres Colores,” entailed an examination of not only the unique sonorities of each of the three instruments but also a rich study of how those sonorities could be blended in different combinations. The entire “package” was delivered with the sort of expressive rhetoric one frequently finds in the music of Astor Piazzolla, clearly stated themes that lend themselves to different aspects of expression and traverse a landscape of differing shades of moody qualities. “Tres Colores” was clearly a major undertaking; but those willing to listen to it attentively were richly rewarded.

The pieces by local composers were both programmatic, but each in its own unique way. Kwong-Brown’s “In Transit” was inspired by the sounds encountered while commuting on BART. This was not so much a matter of trying to imitate those sounds as it was one of capturing familiar rhythms and, every now and then, pitch contours. Given the extent to which BART has recently been besieged by negative connotations, “In Transit” served as a playful suggestion of how one might occupy the mind when the daily commute feels too much like tedium.

Gueziec’s “In the Spring,” on the other hand, took a more naturalistic approach to a setting with far more positive connotations. The score successfully avoiding falling back on any “stock” denotations of familiar attributes of the spring. Nevertheless, the overall impression was one of spirits refreshed after the long nights of winter.

The program also included two older compositions, both written for instrumental resources other than those of Black Cedar. The earlier of these was the first two movements of the trio sonata from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1079, The Musical Offering. The entire collection was dedicated to Frederick the Great; and the trio sonata featured an upper voice for flute, which was the instrument that Frederick himself played. As Bach wrote the sonata, the other upper voice was to be played by violin; but that part was taken by Lin, while cellist Pastor-Chermak provided the continuo. Palmer and Lin have played together for so long that their blend of those two upper voices could not have been more engaging.

The opening selection was a terzetto that Niccolò Paganini scored for violin, cello, and guitar. In this case Palmer took on the violin part with her flute. Considering Paganini’s tendency to push violin virtuosity for all it was worth, she did an excellent job in giving an effective account of the marks on the score pages without ever suggesting that she was trying to imitate violin virtuosity. Thus the attentive listener could take full satisfaction in this trio as it was played, rather than as the composer had intended it to be played.

Adventurous Cabaret Coming to Heron Arts

Cabaret singer/songwriter Star Amerasu (photograph by Ryan Molnar, from her Facebook Events Web page)

In a little over a month’s time, Heron Arts will host an adventurous approach to cabaret conceived and realized by singer/songwriter Star Amerasu. “Incandescent Body” is a 40-minute one-act performance that has been organized around socially intense themes that include being a victim of sexual assault, turning to drugs to cope with a loved one’s death, and dealing with men who are secretive about their attraction to trans women. Amerasu’s presentation of the songs she has developed around those themes will be supplemented with the instrumental work of The Living Earth Show duo of guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson, joined by Calvin Arsenia Scott. In addition Vanessa Thiessen and Robert Dekkers will provide choreography that will be danced by Babatunji, James Bowen, Lani Dickinson, Landes Dixon, and Moscelyne ParkeHarrison.

Amerasu has scheduled four performances that will take place over the course of two days. The days will be Friday, July 26, and Saturday, July 27; and the performances will begin at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively. Heron Arts is located in SoMa at 7 Heron Street on the block between 7th Street and 8th Street. General admission tickets are being sold for $35; and VIP tickets will be available for $50.  Doors will open twenty to thirty minutes before each performance begins, and a specialty cocktail will be served at a hosted bar. Tickets may be purchased online in advance through a single Eventbrite Web page with a pull-down menu for selecting date and time.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Bleeding Edge: 6/24/2019

Where adventurous listening is concerned, it appears that June is the month that will be going out like a lion. Another perspective may be that it will provide an opportunity to rev up listening skills in preparation for the Outsound Presents New Music Summit, whose concerts will get under way on July 23, as was announced at the beginning of this month. Of course, there are several of the “usual suspects,” whose events have already been reported:
Nevertheless, in and among all of these offerings there are another seven events (two of which will take place this evening) as follows:

Monday, June 24, 7:30 p.m., Adobe Books: Ben Tinker’s Monthly Music Series will feature an evening with Shelley Hirsch, who will be visiting San Francisco. She will be joined by Thea Farhadian, Gino Robair, and Thomas Dimuzio. She will begin with a solo set. She will then perform duo and trio improvisations, concluding with an all-hands jam with the entire quartet.

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.

Monday, June 24, 8:30 p.m., Make Out Room: Once again my sources seem to have dropped the ball of the Monday Make-Out held on the first Monday of this month. Fortunately, as will be seen below, this problem will be remedied for the month of July. Furthermore, it will also be the case that there will again be a Monday Make-Out II concert held at the end of the month. This will follow the usual three-set format of cutting-edge Bay Area jazz and improvisation. The opening set will be a modern jazz trio led by saxophonist Jon Raskin. They will be followed by the art rock and progressive jazz combo that calls itself Education Reform. Appropriately enough, Education Reform will be followed by the Beauty School free improvisation trio led by Djll on both trumpet and modular synthesizer. The other members of the trio will be Matt Chandler on bass and Jacob Heule on drums.

The Make Out Room is located at 3225 22nd Street in the Mission, near the southwest corner of Mission Street. The Make Out Room is a bar. That means that tickets are not sold, nor is there a cover charge. Nevertheless, a metaphorical hat is passed between sets; and all donations are accepted, not to mention welcome! Doors will open at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, June 26, 6:30 p.m., Honey Hive Gallery: The Honey Hive Gallery appears to be a new venue for adventurous listening. I first became aware of them last week, but the information they provided was sufficiently minimal to leave me skeptical. This week they are offering several performers that definitely deserve attention. The program will include solo sets by both violinist gabby fluke-mogul and guitarist Ty Mayer (performing as Floral), who also sings. There will also be two trio sets. One brings alto saxophonist Tom Weeks together with rhythm provided by Kazuto Sato on bass and Kevin Murray on drums. The other is called Recycling Club; and it consists of tenor saxophonist Josh Allen, bassist Ray Schaeffer, and drummer Phillip Everett.

The Honey Hive Gallery is located in the Sunset at 4117 Judah Street. That makes it accessible to the Muni N trolley line. It is located between 46th Avenue and 47th Avenue. Admission is by a donation of $10, and the show will conclude by 10 p.m. All ages are admitted, and there is a strict rule of no drinking or drugs in and around the venue.

Friday, June 28, 7:30 p.m., Adobe Books: Ben Tinker’s Monthly Music Series will actually be bimonthly this month. fluke-mogul will also be performing for this program, this time in a quartet with Heule on drums along with Kim Nucci and Clarke Robinson. There will also be combo performances by the KREation Ensemble and Prizm. Specifics are the same as listed for June 24.

Sunday, June 30, 7 p.m., Artists’ Television Access: I cannot remember the last time I put out information about Artists’ Television Access, because, as the name implies, the primary focus of the offerings there is video. This particular program, however, will be audiovisual, involving composers of music extending into the visual domain. The most familiar of these composers in my own experience is Bill Hsu, whose work with electronics and real-time video I have seen at the Center for New Music. I also know of Christopher Burns through his partnership with violinist Miranda Cuckson to realize a performance of Luigi Nono’s “La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura.” The program will also include saxophonist John Ingle, whom I know from his work with sfSound. There will also be a multimedia multi-genre solo set by Peter J Woods.

Artists’ Television Access is located in the Mission at 992 Valencia Street. Admission will be between $7 and $10. Apparently, payment for admission will be only at the door.

Monday, July 1, 8 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Saxophonist David Murray will return to Bird & Beckett for a duo gig with Chicago-based percussionist Kahil El’Zabar. This will be the first duo performance they have given at Bird & Beckett since April of 2017. The program will consist of two 50-minute sets and should conclude at 10 p.m. Advance tickets went on sale on June 1 but only for 24 tickets. Capacity will be 35 seated and another fourteen standing. Tickets for remaining seats will go on sale at 7 p.m. at the price of $30. Available standing room tickets will be sold for $25. All purchases will be cash-only. Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station for both Muni and BART.

Monday, July 1, 8:30 p.m., Make Out Room: The usual beginning-of-the-month Monday Make-Out will also be a three-set offering. The duo of Dave Mihaly and Dusty Feathers will lead with their own take on folk singing. They will be followed by a duo improvisation performed by Bruce Ackley and Bill Orcutt. The final set will be taken by the space rock group called Crow Crash Radio. Specifics are the same as they were for the June 24 performance described above.

Zambello’s Rich Context behind Carmen and José

Yesterday afternoon I returned to the War Memorial Opera House for a second encounter with Francesca Zambello’s staging of Georges Bizet’s Carmen for the San Francisco Opera (SFO). Having been there for opening night, which was also the launch of the three-opera Summer Season, I returned to experience the alternative point of view afforded by my subscription tickets. As almost always seems to be the case, a change of perspective, enhanced by a few week’s of experience on the part of the performers, almost always makes for a fresh experience; but in this case the freshness came from an unexpected source.

That source turned out to be the cast listing in the program book. According to the footnotes, five of the members of the cast were Adler Fellows, four of whom were making SFO debut performances. Mind you, these were all what tend to be called “bit parts;” but, given the extent of my discontent with the interpretations of the “lead” characters (Carmen, Don José, Escamillo, and, to a lesser extent, Micaëla), I found myself marveling at how, under Zambello’s staging concepts, it was the angels, rather than the devils, that resided in the details.

Micaëla (Anita Hartig) encounters Moralès (SeokJong Baek) at the beginning of Carmen (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera)

Consider the simple fact that the very first voice we heard came from an Adler, baritone SeokJong Baek in the role of Moralès. The libretto has Morales introduce us to the mundanity of the street scene that will unfold before us, along with the similar mundanity of military routine, including a changing of the guard, which is about to unfold. He is Micaëla’s first encounter with the military presence in Seville, and it is not a particularly pleasant one. Indeed, the fact that she survives it at all signals her capacity for persistence that will sustain her through the entire opera.

The other four Adlers all took the roles of gypsies first encountered in the second act. Indeed they constituted four-fifths of the vocal quintet that displays Bizet’s polyphonic skills at their finest. The fifth voice, of course, was that of Carmen (mezzo J’Nai Bridges). However, the essence of the quintet involves the “cunning plan” hatched by Le Dancaïre (tenor Christopher Oglesby) and Le Remendado (tenor Zhengyi Bai) requiring assistance from Frasquita (soprano Natalie Image), Mercédès (mezzo Ashley Dixon), and Carmen herself. (Dixon was the only Adler not making an SFO debut appearance, having made her debut as Angel First Class in Jake Heggie’s It’s a Wonderful Life during the Fall Season.)

Both Oglesby and Bai approached this intricately composed score with a solid command of both musical detail and underlying character. Furthermore, all the qualities of the latter sustained them through the remainder of the second act and the entirety of the third. Image and Dixon, on the other hand, took another stunning polyphonic turn during the third act during the episode in which Frasquita, Mercédès and Carmen all discover their fates in a deck of fortune-telling cards. Taken as a whole, then, these five Adlers played key roles in disclosing meaningful details about both military and gypsy life.

Through those details I found my reaction fo Zambello’s interpretation changing. Perhaps her point, that the “angels” were in the details, was the motivating force behind the opera. Perhaps she was saying, “You all know this story; but how much to you really know about the day-to-day context in which it unfolded?” After all, it is the context that influences how we react to the content; and Zambello’s attention to the secondary enabled a keener perception of the primary. Mind you, my general discontent with the execution of those primary roles (the one solid exception being soprano Anita Hartig’s account of Micaëla) has not changed; but the overall experience of the production allowed my mind to follow paths not previously considered.

Fortunately, down in the orchestra pit conductor James Gaffigan was as much of a powerhouse as he had been on opening night. I particularly appreciated how he repositioned percussionist Patricia Niemi to the center of the pit, standing beside the harp, to allow her tambourine work to cover convincingly what the gypsies were doing during the beginning of the second act. (She returned to the percussion section to cover Carmen’s castanets, filling in all the embellishments to the basic beat provided by Bridges.) On a broader scale Bizet’s scoring never reduces the orchestra to “secondary status;” and Gaffigan was consistently on top of all of the many instrumental details, making sure that each one meshed properly with the wealth of elaborate vocal (including choral) writing up on stage.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Plans for SFCMP’s 49th (2019–20) Season

Group portrait of the SFCMP performers (courtesy of SFCMP)

The 49th season of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) will contain eighteen works, thirteen composers, seven premieres, and two commissions. The repertoire will spotlight both large-ensemble pieces and California artists. As in the past, concerts have been classified according to different series. The coming season will be organized around four of those series: on STAGE, in the COMMUNITY, in the LABORATORY, and at the CROSSROADS. Each of those series will provide the framework for a single concert; and each concert will be given one performance in San Francisco. Specifics of programming are as follows:

Saturday, September 14, 8 p.m., Fort Mason: The on STAGE series will launch the season with a program called Oceanic Migrations. It will consist entirely of an evening-length, site-responsive piece by Michael Gordon, one of the three American composers that founded Bang on a Can, all of whom still share artistic directorship. As of this writing, the composition has not yet been given a title; but it was motivated by a desire to serve as a remembrance and reflection on the experiences of those detained and processed at San Francisco’s Angel Island Immigration Station. (Those who know their history, if any are left, may recall that Sergei Rachmaninoff entered the United States by way of Angel Island; but he did not enter as an immigrant.)

Gordon has scored his composition for 21 players. These will include eight members of SFCMP, the local reed quintet Splinter Reeds, and the vocal octet Roomful of Teeth, one of whose members is SFCMP Artistic Director Eric Dudley. The performance will be preceded at 7 p.m. with a pre-concert discussion in the Cowell Theater that will bring Gordon together with historians, archivists, musicians, and Bay Area residents having personal experiences connected to the history of Angel Island. Doors will open at 6 p.m., and complementary beverages will be served in the atrium.

Sunday, December 8, 3 p.m., The Women’s Building: Once again, The Women’s Building will host the in the COMMUNITY event of the season, which will be entitled Celebration of the Elements. As was the case last season, this will be a free event at which only two compositions will be performed. The first of these will be Vivian Fung’s “The Ice is Talking,” which she scored for solo percussion and electronics. She created the piece as a celebration of the elements, taking in the beauty of gliding through ice as taps and swishes shape into virtuosic rhythmic patterns and ending with dramatic flair, in the hope of raising awareness to the world around us. It will be followed by a “community-made” composition designed by Jason Treuting, a member of the So Percussion Quartet. The title of his piece is “How to (Blank);” and audience participation will involve filling in blanks provided by Treuting’s score.

Friday, January 17, 8 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM): The in the LABORATORY series concert will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of choreographer Merce Cunningham, much of whose repertoire grew out of his long and prolific partnership with California composer John Cage. The major work on the program will be the piece that Cage called “Concert for Piano and Orchestra;” and, unless I am mistaken, Cunningham served as the conductor for the first performance of this piece. He subsequently used it as the score for his own choreographic creation “Antic Meet.” On the musical side, the only instrument required for performance is the piano, which will be played by Kate Campbell. The remainder of the instrumentation (the “orchestra”) involves any solo or combination of flute, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, tuba, piano, 3 violins, 2 violas, cello, bass. All players are performing from graphic scores. This particular performance will also include solo choreography by Antoine Hunter, founder and director of the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival.

The program will also present the West Coast premiere of David Coll’s “Caldera,” scored for prepared bass clarinet and marimba. Cellist Hannah Addario-Berry will give a solo performance of Gloria Justen’s “Sonaquifer.” The program will also include the third string quartet by Cage’s colleague Henry Cowell and Anna Clyne’s “Steelworks,” scored for flute doubling on piccolo, bass clarinet, percussion, and tape (with optional video).

Friday, March 27, 8 p.m., SFCM: This program will honor the 80th birthday of Dutch composer Louis Andriessen with the performance of two of his pieces, “Zilver,” composed in 1994, and the more recent “Life,” composed in 2009. There will also be the world premiere performance of David Chisholm’s “From the Power of Ten,” scored for bass flute, bass clarinet alternating with contrabass clarinet, contrabassoon, piano, cello, bass, and four-part electronics. The program will begin with Angelica Negrón’s “Technicolor,” scored for solo harp and electronics. Finally, the program will feature two works from a collaboration with the SFCM Technology and Applied Composition Department, each of which will involve electronic accompaniment of an instrumental solo.

There will also be two free non-concert events:
  1. Thursday, November 7, 7:30 p.m., SFCM: SFCMP pianist Kate Campbell will lead a master class in particular piano techniques required for performances of recent compositions.
  2. Saturday, April 25, 2:30 p.m., Bluxome Street Winery: This will be a special in the COMMUNITY event to celebrate the launch of the 50th season. Sound & Wine will be a special party dedicated to the biggest fans of SFCMP: donors, subscribers, and members. Only those fans will be able to request tickets, which will be free; but they are invited to bring music-loving friends. The event will include live music and the first official announcement of plans for the 50th season.

SFCMP has created a single Web page with hyperlinks for each of the events being presented. Each event page provides the specifics regarding venue and purchase of individual tickets. Season Subscribers will receive tickets for all events in the season, waiver of all ticket fees, a 20% discount on the purchase of additional single tickets, and two music downloads per season. The price of a full subscription is $175 with a special rate of $99 for arts employees, teachers, and students. A special Web page has been created for purchasing subscriptions. Finally, there is a Web page about the benefits of membership, including hyperlinks for paying for membership either annually or monthly.

Wayne Wallace’s Inventions Reach beyond Latin

from the Web page for the recording being discussed

The beginning of this month saw the release of The Rhythm of Invention by the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet. Trombonist Wallace leads a rhythm section consisting of Murray Low on piano, David Belove on bass, and Colin Douglas and Michael Spiro on percussion. As on Wallace’s previous release, Canto América, resources have been extended to the scale of a chamber orchestra of winds, brass, and strings, along Akida Thomas narrating his own text in the title track, which also includes the recorded voice of Wallace’s colleague and mentor, David Baker.

While Latin is not my favorite genre, I continue to be impressed by the imaginative ways in which those skilled in the style can take innovative approaches to tunes appropriated from other genres, particularly those of past jazz traditions. I therefore have to confess that what drew me to this album was the track of Bix Beiderbecke’s “In a Mist.” Before the “digital age,” this used to be the Great White Whale of record collectors, since about the only version available was the original ten-inch 78 RPM single. The most-told story about this item was that anyone who possessed it dared not play it for fear of wearing down the content in the groove.

All of that iconic status dissolved once the Beiderbecke discography was digitized. My own source was The Complete Bix Beiderbecke in Chronological Order, a nine-CD collection released by I.R.D. Records based in Italy. Since I now had an artifact that I could play (rather than merely show off to others), I was particularly struck to discover that, while he was best known as a trumpeter, “In a Mist” was a solo piano performance by Beiderbecke. Furthermore, considering that the recording was made in October of 1927, it was far from any ordinary piano solo of the time. Indeed, it would not be out of the question to assert that some of the earliest rumblings of bebop can be found in “In a Mist.” As a result, I was not surprised to read Wallace’s claim that it took him eight years to figure out how to arrange the piece for his group.

Indeed, what impresses me most about Wallace is how much effort he puts into seeking out and then realizing so many diverse approaches to invention. Shaping a Latin feel for rhythm around the quintuple time signature for Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” would not have been an easy matter; but, as had been the case with “In a Mist,” Wallace figured out how to chart just the right path to frame Desmond’s off-beat tune in a setting of Latin rhythms. Even more impressive, however, was the track “So Softly.”

This is one of those ingenious exercises through which the listener is allowed to discover one tune lurking in another. Through her scat singing, Ella Fitzgerald disclosed how the harmonies of Morgan Lewis’ “How High the Moon” formed the backbone of Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.” Charles Mingus let another genie out of the bottle when he revealed that the favorite bebop introduction to Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” was actually the opening four notes of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s famous C-sharp minor prelude, the second in his Opus 3 Morceaux de fantaisie collection. In a similar manner Wallace takes the introductory passage that Gil Evans wrote for Miles Davis’ tune “So What” on his Kind of Blue album and lets that introduction lead into Sigmund Romberg’s “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” calling the resulting track “So Softly.”

Where Wallace’s own Latin tunes are concerned, what is most interesting is how he keeps taking different approaches to extending his quintet with additional instruments. Wallace is a San Francisco native; and it is more than a little disappointing that, where pedagogy is concerned, we have lost him to the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. Considering the wealth of innovative music-makers here in San Francisco, it is a pity that they cannot be guided by the “pole star” of Wallace’s combination of disciplined technique with a prodigious capacity for invention.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

New Esterházy Quartet’s Thirteenth Season

New Esterházy Quartet members Lisa Weiss, Anthony Martin, William Skeen, and Kati Kyme (photograph by R. Beach, from the NEQ Web site)

Once again the New Esterházy Quartet (NEQ) will open their thirteenth season in September with the first in a series of four concerts. Full details for the first two of those concerts are now available, as well as the thematic titles and composers for the remaining two. The ensemble consists of violinists Lisa Weiss and Kati Kyme (who share leadership responsibilities), violist Anthony Martin, and cellist William Skeen. As in previous seasons, all San Francisco performances will take place in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on Saturday afternoons, beginning at 4 p.m. Here is a summary of the information currently available about the plans for the four programs:

September 14: The full title for this program will be A Haydn Bouquet — Four Quartets from Two Decades of Genius. Those two decades are basically the first and last of the ten-year periods that Jospeh Haydn spent as Kapellmeister for the Esterházy family. The program will be organized in such a way that each half presents a string quartet from each of those decades. All of the quartets were published as parts of collections of six quartets. The opening selection will be Hoboken III/25 in E major, the first quartet in the Opus 17 publication of 1771. This will be followed by Hoboken III/65 in C major, the first in the 1790 Opus 64 series of quartets composed for Johann Tost. After the intermission, the chronology will revert back to 1769 with Hoboken III/23 in B-flat major, the fifth of the quartets published in Opus 9. The program will then conclude with the only minor-key quartet in the offering: Hoboken III/47 in F-sharp minor, the fourth of the 1787 Opus 50 collection known as the “Prussian” quartets.

November 23: Bass-baritone Paul Max Tipton will return as guest artist for the performance of another song cycle by Franz Schubert. Last season Tipton sang the D. 911 Winterreise (winter’s journey), which Schubert composed between February and October of 1827 and is his lengthiest cycle. For the thirteenth season Tipton will sing the D. 795 Die schöne Müllerin (the lovely maid of the mill). Like D. 911, D. 795 sets poems by Wilhelm Müller. However, while D. 911 is generally regarded as seriously dark, many have argued that there are sharper ironic edges to the poems selected for D. 795. As was the case last season, bassist Kristin Zoernig will supplement the NEQ resources.

February 22: The title of this program will be After Beethoven. The program will include quartets by both the the Mendelssohn siblings, Felix and his older sister Fanny. The other composer to be represented on the program will be George Onslow.

April 4: The title of the final program of the season will be Quartet Debuts. Presumably, it will consist of the earliest string quartets written by the composers being represented. They will include all three of the “First Viennese School” composers, Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven, as well as Luigi Boccherini.

St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. General admission is $30. Seniors, the disabled, and members of the San Francisco Early Music Society will be admitted for $25; and there is a $10 rate for students with valid identification. A Web page on the NEQ Web site has been set up for all ticket purchases. However, as of this writing, the Web page has not yet been updated for any of the concerts that will be offered during the new season, nor is there information about special rates for subscribers.

Friday, June 21, 2019

LIEDER ALIVE’s 2019/20 Liederabend Series

Once again the new season of vocal recitals presented by LIEDER ALIVE! as the Liederabend (evening of songs) Series will begin in September. This will be the ninth annual season since the Series was inaugurated in 2011 by LIEDER ALIVE! Founder and Director Maxine Bernstein. The new season will raise the number of concerts from six recitals to eight. Once again, all performances will take place at 5 p.m. on a Sunday evening. The specifics are as follows:

September 1: Readers may recall that the current season will close out at the end of this month with a program consisting entirely of songs by Richard Strauss, including the posthumously published Four Last Songs. The new season will open with a program shared between Strauss and Franz Schubert, and the vocalist will be Adler alumna Sarah Cambidge. Her accompanist will be pianist Peter Grünberg.

September 29: Baritone Eugene Villanueva will make another return appearance. His accompanist at the piano will again be Grünberg. His program, however, will be organized around the text, rather than the music. His program will consist of a survey of setting of poems by Heinrich Heine.

October 6: This program will present two Adler alumni, tenor Pene Pati and pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg. Greenberg is now an active member of the San Francisco Opera Music Staff. This will be another program featuring Richard Strauss, coupled this time with Paolo Tosti.

November 10:  This will be a Spanish program. Four Spanish composers will be represented. The program will also include settings by Robert Schumann and Hugo Wolf of German translations of Spanish texts compile as the Spanisches Liederbuch by Emanuel Geibel and Paul Heyse. Grünberg will accompany soprano Esther Rayo.

January 19: Mezzo and LIEDER ALIVE! regular Kindra Scharich will return to present her latest recital program. Her accompanist will again be pianist Jeffrey LaDeur. The featured composition will be Schumann’s Opus 39 Liederkreis. The program will also feature a solo performance by LaDeur of Schumann’s Opus 82 collection Waldszenen.

March 29: Bass Kirk Eichelberger will return, accompanied again by pianist Simona Snitkovskaya. He will also perform a Schumann cycle, the Opus 48 Dichterliebe. The program will conclude with a selection of songs by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

May 24: Heidi Moss Erickson will make her return appearance. Her accompanist will again be Grünberg. The program will focus on Schubert and Strauss.

June 28: This will be the regular annual visit of pianist John Parr. The vocalist that will join him will be announced at a later date. The program will again be devoted to Schumann.

All performances will be held at the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. Subscriptions for the full series will be $300 for reserved seating at all concerts and $200 for general admission. There will also be a discounted rate of $125 for students, seniors, and working artists. These may be purchased online from an Eventbrite event page. Single tickets for all concerts are $75 for reserved seating and $35 for general admission. These may also be purchased in advance through Eventbrite using the hyperlinks attached to the dates for each of the concerts. Tickets at the door will be $40 with a $20 discount for students, seniors, and working artists. If purchased in advance, the prices will be $75 for reserved seating, $35 for general admission, and $20 for students, seniors, and working artists. Those interested in both subscriptions and single tickets may also call LIEDER ALIVE! at 415-561-0100.