Monday, September 30, 2019

Neave Trio Profiles Three Women Composers

courtesy of Jensen Artists

This Friday Chandos Records will release the latest album of the Neave Trio, whose members are violinist Anna Williams, cellist Mikhail Veselov, and pianist Eri Nakamura. This site last wrote about this ensemble a little less than a year ago with the release of their Celebrating Piazzolla album by Azica Records. The title of the new album is Her Voice, and it honors three distinguished women composers. On the recording they are recognized in order of birth year: Louise Farrenc (1804), Amy Beach (1867), and Rebecca Clarke (1886). As usual, is processing pre-orders for this album.

Those who have read my dispatches for some time, not only on this site but also back in the days of, probably know that San Francisco is a good city for those interested in women composers. For a brief time this was Beach’s home; and, unless I am mistaken, at least one of her compositions was given its first performance here. Clarke has also had several champions, particularly among those presenting chamber music recitals. As a result, my own “first encounter” was with Farrenc; and it is where my attention was most closely focused.

Farrenc composed four piano trios between 1841 and 1856, all for piano and cello. The violin was the third instrument for the first two, Opus 33 in E-flat major and Opus 34 in D major, both of which were completed in 1844. The other two had wind instruments for the “high voice.” Opus 44 in E-flat major was written for clarinet, and Opus 45 in E minor was written for flute. Both of these were composed between 1854 and 1856.

The trio on this album is Opus 33. As a frame of reference, it is worth remembering that Robert Schumann composed his Opus 44 piano quintet in E-flat major in 1842. Whether or not Farrenc was aware of this piece, Schumann definitely holds the upper hand when it comes to both technical skill and invention. Stylistically, Farrenc’s Opus 33 is more in a league with Johannes Brahms’ youthful Opus 8 (the first version) in B major, which was completed in 1854. One can also detect a few tropes from the chamber music of Ludwig van Beethoven. However, if the music falls short of its contemporaries, it still offers much to engage the serious listener.

The Beach selection is her Opus 150 trio, composed in 1938; and Clarke trio was composed in 1921. My experience with both of these trios dates back to my time with, when they were both on an album recorded by the Trio des Alpes. Both of these trios confront the listener with much stronger rhetoric, which should not be surprising considering how much earlier the Farrenc trio is. Nevertheless, the Neave Trio makes a solid case that Farrenc could hold her own alongside other post-Beethoven composers; and I, for one, would be happy to encounter an album that serves up all four of her piano trios.

The Bleeding Edge: 9/30/2019

This week almost all events of interest will be taking place at the Center for New Music (C4NM). C4NM has a full week with concerts taking place on October 3, 4, 5, and 6. In addition, Sunday (October 6) will also be the date for the seven and one-half hours of music performances that will constitute SF Music Day. The full schedule was announced on this site on September 7; and those seeking “bleeding edge” offerings should have no trouble finding them.

Perhaps in the spirit of the diversity, the LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) Creative Music Series will supplement SF Music Day with a full-evening program entitled SF Noise Night @ the Luggage Store. This will be an evening of four sets by performers with names that anticipate noise in both spirit and flesh: Lucidbeaming, Dendera Bloodbath, Endometrium Cuntplow, and Ninja McTits. (Hyperlinks have been added for sound samples.) Following the usual Outsound Presents schedule, this program will begin at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday, October 3. 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.

SFS Visitor Remains for Chamber Music

Yesterday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall, last week’s visiting concerto soloist with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), cellist Oliver Herbert, joined his SFS colleagues for the first Chamber Music Series concert of the108th season. Herbert took the second cello part in the final selection, a performance of Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 48 sextet in A major. He was joined by violinists Helen Kim and Chen Zhao, violists Katie Kadarauch and Matthew Young, and cellist Peter Wyrick. Composed in 1878, this was Dvořák’s first work to be premiered outside Bohemia.

Given that Johannes Brahms served, at least informally, as a mentor for Dvořák, it would be easy to conjecture that the latter’s work on Opus 48 had been informed by the two sextets composed by the former, Opus 18 in B-flat major (1860) and Opus 36 in G major (completed in 1865). Even the freshness of a major key may have been an influence. Nevertheless, Opus 48 is very much in Dvořák’s own voice, drawing upon his “local roots” but also departing from some of those traditions.

Most interesting in that regard is the Dumka (second) movement. This was a favorite structure for Dvořák with its sharp contrasts between melancholia and manic exuberance. Ironically, in Opus 48 those contrasts are much less extreme, making the movement more a sympathetic reflection on the style, rather than an instance of the style itself. The energy of the following Furiant movement, however, brings the listener back to more familiar Dvořák tropes.

I always like to observe that, when two cellos are involved in chamber music, neither is, in any way, “secondary” to the other. The second cello is usually de facto responsible for the lowest line, meaning that the instrument carries the weight, so to speak, of harmonic progression, generally for almost the entirety of the composition. Where Dvořák is concerned, the instrument must do “double duty,” contributing to the polyphonic fabric while also serving as “latter-day continuo.”

Herbert rose to the challenges of these responsibilities with the same sure confidence and expressive rhetoric that he had brought to his performance of Joseph Haydn at his subscription concert performances. Indeed, if there were any problems with the overall texture, they tended to have more to do with the fact that both the second violin and first viola parts involved replacements of personnel, suggesting that the group, as a whole, had less time cultivating awareness of each other than preparation usually affords. Nevertheless, because of the demand on resources, Opus 48 does not get played very frequently, and its appearance on yesterday’s program was most welcome.

The second half of the program was one of sharp contrasts with a world premiere preceding the Dvořák selection. Ron Minor’s recently-completed “Tutrovio II,” was a reworking of a 1993 duo for viola and trombone. This duo expanded to a quartet with the addition of parts for cello (Amos Yang) and bass (Daniel G. Smith). Nick Platoff was the trombonist, joined by Wayne Roden on viola. The overall preference for the lower register made for no end of intriguing sonorities; but what really stole the show was the agility with which Platoff handled no end of rapid-fire passages for the trombone. Minor took a bow from his vantage point in the “Conductor’s Box.” One could see that he was more than satisfied with this account of his music, and he had good reason to be so. For my part, I just hope that this piece warrants more than a “one-shot” performance experience.

The first half of the program turned out to be an “anxiety of influence” experience. It began with a trio for oboe (Russ deLuna), bassoon (Rob Weir), and piano (Britton Day) composed in 1994 by jazz pianist (and many other things) André Previn. However, the spirit of jazz seems to have mattered less than a grateful nod to Francis Poulenc, who had composed for the same combination of instruments. The program nodes by James M. Keller explicitly called out this connection, citing “Francis Poulenc, whose ghost lurks around many corners of this piece.” Mind you, by 1994 Poulenc had fallen out of fashion in most concert circles, so Previn’s nostalgic retrospection was a reminder of an earlier period of twentieth-century music that did not deserve to be forgotten.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (work of an unknown photographer from around 1893, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Previn’s trio was followed by the Opus 10 quintet in F-sharp minor, composed in 1895 by by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. This was scored for clarinet (Steve Sánchez) and string quartet (violinists Florin Parvulescu and Diane Nicholeris, violist Gina Cooper, and cellist David Goldblatt). In this case the “ghost” was Dvořák’s, with reflections of American folk sources by a British composer with a father from Sierra Leone. Indeed, Coleridge-Taylor may well have been motivated by Dvořák’s “American inspirations” (and, where chamber music is concerned, Dvořák was primarily interested in strings and piano), The Opus 10 quintet clearly demonstrates that the composer had a solid command of the relationship between the clarinet and the string parts; and, if there were “remembrances of things past” in the music itself, there was still enough originality to make for an engaging listening experience.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Jason Vieaux to Give First Concert with Conversation

Jason Vieaux (from the event page for his SFP recital)

Next month the Community Music Center (CMC) will present the first event in this season’s series of Concert with Conversation offerings. These events are produced in partnership with San Francisco Performances (SFP); and the series will begin with guitarist Jason Vieaux. Vieaux will be the second guitarist to give a solo recital in the SFP Guitar Series, which will get under way on Sunday, October 13, with a solo recital by guitarist Manuel Barrueco. Vieaux’ recital will take place on Saturday, October 26. It is usually the case that the CMC events preview the performer’s program, while allowing a generous amount of time to address questions from the audience.

This event will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 25. The venue will be the CMC Concert Hall, which is located at 544 Capp Street, between Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue and between 20th Street and 21st Street. There is no charge for admission, and the general public is invited. However, because these events tend to be very popular, early arrival is recommended.

Uri Caine’s “Passion” of Racial Prejudice

courtesy of DL Media

At the end of last month, 816 Music, which appears to distribute only through download, released The Passion of Octavius Catto, the latest project of jazz pianist and composer Uri Caine. The title character was a freedom fighter in 19th century Philadelphia, a time and place that were not ready to deal with issues such as civil rights for people of all races and backgrounds. Caine performs at the piano in a trio whose other members are Mike Boone on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. However, they are only a small fraction of the performing resources, which include a full orchestral ensemble (called The Catto Freedom Orchestra), two vocal groups (The Nedra Neal Singers and The Philadelphia Choral Ensemble), and solo vocalist Barbara Walker. Clearly, a conductor is required; and that post has been taken by André Raphel.

My “first contact” with Caine must have been about 15 years ago in Herbst Theatre. That was when his trio was working on approaches to the music of Gustav Mahler. The results recalled a joke that must have been old when my father learned it:
Uri Caine played Mahler in Herbst last night … Mahler lost.
Caine’s approach involved extracting “the best tunes” from Mahler scores and then trying to improvise around them. San Francisco is a town that takes its Mahler very seriously, whether in Herbst or in Davies Symphony Hall; and, those who really dig their Mahler know that the themes themselves are a mere fraction of what makes his music so compelling. Caine clearly had no sense of the fundamental essence of Mahler; and, to this day, I still remember the agonies of sitting through two hours of utter cluelessness.

The same can be said of his understanding of the Passion as a musical genre most often associated with Johann Sebastian Bach but considerably older in the full scope of music history. While the genre began simply as an account of New Testament scripture, Bach extended it to interleave Holy Writ with commentary. The closest that Caine’s version comes to “Holy Writ” is a delivery by Walker of the texts of the thirteen, fourteenth, and fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution against a choral background with Caine at the piano. The rest of the libretto amounts to a collection of episodes that never really congeal into a narrative emerging through an inchoate muddle of different musical styles.

If I read Caine’s biography correctly, it seems that he studied composition with both George Rochberg and George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvanian somewhere around the mid-Seventies. There is a good chance that, at that time, I was on the other side of the parking lot in my office in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences. From time to time I would cross that lot, usually to use the Music Library; but I also attended a seminar at which I acquired some basic skills in paleography under the tutelage of Norman Smith, my first real encounter with the distinction between marks on paper and the practices of making music.

Bearing that time frame in mind, I have to wonder whether Caine ever encountered The Gospel at Colonus, a musical interpretation of Sophocles’ “Oedipus at Colonus” conceived as a gospel service staged by Mabou Mines veteran Lee Breuer. Music was provided by Bob Telson, whose understanding of gospel music was, to say the least, prodigious. I was fortunate enough to attend one of the first performances of this piece in 1983, when it was presented by the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. When placed beside Colonus, The Passion of Octavius Catto is weak in narrative and tedious in execution.

I hate it when I find myself saying, “Things were much better 35 years ago!”

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Gerhaher to Launch SFP Art of Song Series

Baritone Christian Gerhaher (from his SFP event page)

Next month The Art of Song Series presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP) will begin with a recital by German baritone Christian Gerhaher. Gerhaher will be accompanied by pianist Gerold Huber. The two of them made their San Francisco debut with SFP in September of 2014, presenting a program described in the program book as one of “poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe set to music by Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Rihm.” They returned in December of 2016 with a program consisting entirely of music by Gustav Mahler.

Their third SFP recital will again be an all-Mahler program. It will include the entire Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (songs of a wayfarer), which was originally composed for medium voice and piano. That version seems to have been completed in 1885 but then considerably revised the following year. Mahler would not begin to orchestrate the piano part until the early 1890s. The program will also include settings of poems from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn (the youth’s magic horn) collection of German folk poetry, again composed originally for piano accompaniment, as well as selections from the Kindertotenlieder (songs on the death of children) collection of settings of poems by Friedrich Rückert. This last composition was originally composed for voice and orchestra, completed in 1904; but a vocal score (with piano accompaniment) was first published in 1905.

This recital will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, located on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. Ticket prices are $70, $55, and $45. Tickets may be purchased in advance online from a City Box Office event page, which includes a seating plan with information about availability in the different sections of Herbst.

Because this is the first program in The Art of Song series, subscriptions are still on sale for $235 for premium seating, $190, and $160. Subscriptions may be purchased online in advance through a separate City Box Office event page, which also includes information about the locations associated with each of the price levels. Orders may also be placed by calling the SFP subscriber hotline at 415-677-0325, which is open for receiving calls between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

SFP Launches Season with Two Sets of Solo Piano

Pianists Natasha Paremski and Alfredo Rodríguez (from the SF Performances Blog)

Last night in Herbst Theatre, San Francisco Performances (SFP) launched its 40th anniversary season with the first concert in the 2019–2020 Shenson Piano Series. My guess is that this was the first time that the Series divided a program into two distinctive sets, each presenting a different approach to piano virtuosity. The first set was taken by Natasha Paremski, making her second SFP appearance. This could be called the “recital” set. The intermission was then followed by a set featuring jazz pianist Alfredo Rodríguez, currently SFP Jazz Artist-in-Residence. This was also Rodríguez’ second SFP appearance.

Paremski almost packed enough into the first half of the evening to account for an entire program. She gave a concentrated account of three of the most technically challenging compositions in the solo piano repertoire. The most familiar of these was Maurice Ravel’s three-movement suite Gaspard de la nuit, which took its title from a collection of prose-poems by Aloysius Bertrand. Ravel was preceded by Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 22, a collection of twenty brief pieces entitled Visions fugitives. This title was also based on literature, in this case a couplet from a poem by Konstantin Balmont:
In every fugitive vision I see worlds,
Full of the changing play of rainbow hues.
The program concluded with Mily Balakirev’s “Islamey,” which he called an “Oriental Fantasy.” Any one of these pieces would have demanded enough to exhaust a lesser pianist, but Paremski clearly had the chops to rise to the challenges of all of them.

She prevailed over those challenges impressively. I must confess to a certain lack of patience with the Ravel selection. Over the course of my listening experience, I feel that too many pianists have tried to master it; and most of them leave a bitter fools-rush-in taste in their wake. Thus, many dismiss the piece as being so difficult that only Ravel himself could master it, while those that manage to get all the notes in the right place at the right time do so by losing touch with the literary context.

The path from Bertrand to Ravel probably ran through Charles Baudelaire and his involvement with symbolism as a reaction against naturalism and realism. Thus “Ondine” reveals a menacing sprite in the highly agitated flow of river water, while “Le Gibet” (the gallows) equates the physical object with the sinister shadow of a personified death. “Scarbo” is an equally dark character, flitting about so rapidly that one is never quite sure where he is.

Each of these three pieces puts technical proficiency to the limits, and the late Charles Rosen declared “Scarbo” to be the most difficult piece in the standard repertoire. Nevertheless, Paremski rose to all of the technical challenges with bold confidence, confident enough that she could deliver not only on the marks on the score pages but also in depicting all the spooky characters that haunt the three movements. If one buys into the anti-realist motives behind symbolism, one could appreciate how Paremski’s account was just as powerful on narrative grounds as it was for her keyboard technique.

Her decision to follow Ravel with Balakirev was equally well-informed. Indeed, Ravel himself composed “Scarbo” with the deliberate intention of creating solo piano music even more challenging that “Islamey.” Thus, through her ordering of her program, Paremski presented “Islamey” almost as if it were a relief from the somewhat opaque symbolist account of narrative behind “Scarbo.” The themes are simple, and they recur frequently. However, the embellishments are so thick and so demanding that one had to admire Ravel rising to the challenge of trying to outdo Balakirev.

It was a bit of a pity that the house lights were turned down low during the opening Prokofiev performance. Each of the twenty Opus 22 pieces has a unique tempo marking, which often has more to do with emotional disposition than with pace. They are almost like the titles of miniature paintings. By the time one captures the mood of any individual piece, it has almost completed. There is no overall plan, and many were written in isolation for the composer’s specific friends.

Nevertheless, even without being able to follow the verbal descriptions, the attentive listener could readily capture the distinctive mood of each piece through Paremski’s attention to rhetoric, which was just as strong has her technical account of the marks on paper. There is also the possibility that, for Prokofiev, this was an opportunity to capture certain fleeting thoughts that could subsequently be developed at greater length. Thus, the author of the Wikipedia page for this composition caught a glimpse of the composer’s Opus 16 (second) piano concerto in G minor, while I could have sworn that I caught a “fugitive vision” of Romeo and Juliet over the course of Paremski’s interpretation.

Rodríguez’ set, on the other hand, was devoted primarily to improvisation. He began with some remarks reflecting on Keith Jarrett’s talent for unfolding solo piano improvisations of prodigious duration. Rodríguez’ efforts never came close to Jarrett’s scale, but he certainly knew how to mine original reflections out of popular songs or familiar tunes from his Cuban background. All of this contrasted sharply with Paremski’s set; but, even with the separation of an intermission, the attentive listener needed a break from the intensity of the first half. Rodríguez provided that break; but he did so while providing music worthy of attention, rather than just serving up a soothing background.

Friday, September 27, 2019

SFO Announces Casting Change for Mozart Opera

Soprano Nicole Heaston (photograph by Fadil Berisha, courtesy of San Francisco Opera)

This afternoon San Francisco Opera (SFO) announced a cast change for its production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 492 opera The Marriage of Figaro, whose first performance will take place on Friday evening, October 11. As was announced on this site this past Wednesday, the role of the Countess Almaviva was to be performed by Irish soprano Jennifer Davis, who was due to make her American opera debut with this role. Sadly, a lingering virus and persistent cough have prevented her from participating fully in rehearsals, leading her to withdraw from the production and recuperate at home. She will be replaced by American soprano Nicole Heaston, who will be making her SFO debut and has built up an impressive résumé of opera and concert performances in both the United States and Europe.

To review the schedule specifics, there will be eight performances that will take place at 7:30 p.m. on October 11, 16, 19, 22, and 25, and November 1, and at 2 p.m. on October 13 and 27. As has already been reported, this will mark the beginning of a three-opera cycle, which will unfold over the course of three seasons, presenting the operas that Mozart created with libretto texts by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Michael Cavanagh will prepare new stagings, all organized around a common setting, whose appearance somewhat suggests Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

All performances will take place at the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue, on the northwest corner of Grove Street. Single tickets are priced from $26 to $398. There is also a facility fee added to the price of the tickets: $2 for all Balcony sections and $3 for all other tickets. Tickets may be purchased online through an event page on the SFO Web site that provides hyperlinks for each performance. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office in the outer lobby of the Opera House. Standing room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance. They are sold for $10, cash only.

SFS Visiting Conductors: October, 2019

Next month will see the first round of guest conductors visiting the podium of Davies Symphony Hall to lead San Francisco Symphony (SFS) subscription concerts. Those who have been following this site at least since this past summer probably already know that one of those conductors is Karina Canellakis, who made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the BBC Proms this past July. Now it will be time for her to make her SFS conducting debut; and she will be preceded by two conductors, both of whom have made regular visits to Davies, Marek Janowski and Cristian Măcelaru. As usual, there will be an impressive diversity of repertoire over the course of the three programs to be presented. Specifics are as follows:

October 3–5: Janowski’s last visit took place this past May, when he prepared a program consisting entirely of music from the nineteenth century. This time he will present an overture-concerto-symphony program that will span three centuries. His overture will be taken from the twentieth, Paul Hindemith’s Opus 50, which he called “Konzertmusik for Brass and String Orchestra.” This will be followed by the nineteenth-century offering, Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 64 violin concerto in E minor. The soloist will be sixteen-year-old María Dueñas, making her SFS debut, currently studying at both the Music and Arts University of the City of Vienna and the University of Graz. The program will then conclude by reaching back to the eighteenth century with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 551 (“Jupiter”) symphony in C major (his final symphony).

This concert will be given three performances, at 2 p.m. on Thursday, October 3, and at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 4, and Saturday, October 5. The Inside Music talk will be given by Peter Grunberg one hour prior to each concert. Ticket prices range from $35 to $160, and an event page has been created for online purchase. They may also be purchased by calling 415-864-6000 or by visiting the Davies Box Office, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. In addition, KDFC’s Rik Malone’s podcast about the Mozart symphony will be posted to the Program Note Podcasts Web page prior to the first performance of this program. Flash must be enabled for both streamed content and online ticket purchases. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and two hours prior to Sunday performances.

October 17–19: Măcelaru’s program will bring two significant firsts to Davies. Most important will be the world premiere of the concerto selection. “Losing Earth” is a percussion concerto commissioned SFS and written for SFS Principal Percussion Jacob Nissly. The title is taken from an article that Nathaniel Rich wrote for The New York Times Magazine entitled “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.” In addition the program will begin with the first SFS performances of “D’un matin de printemps” (of a morning in spring), composed by Lili Boulanger, the younger sister of the better-known Nadia Boulanger and the first female to win the Prix de Rome composition prize. Sadly, the younger Boulanger sister died at the age of 24. The program will conclude with Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s suite (originally written for solo piano) Pictures at an Exhibition.

This concert will be given three performances, all at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 17, Friday, October 18, and Saturday, October 19. The Inside Music talk will again be given by Peter Grunberg, including conversation with Adam Schoenberg, one hour prior to each concert. Ticket prices range from $20 to $160, and an event page has been created for online purchase. Malone’s podcast about Pictures will be posted to the Program Note Podcasts Web page prior to the first performance of this program. The event page has an embedded sound file of clips from past performances of that composition.

In addition, these performances will be preceded by the first Katherine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal of the new season. This special behind-the-scenes experience begins at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 17, with coffee and complimentary doughnuts, followed by a half-hour introductory talk by Grunberg at 9 a.m. The rehearsal itself begins at 10 a.m.; and, of course, the pieces rehearsed are at the conductor’s discretion. General admission is $30 with $45 for reserved seats in the Premier Orchestra section, Rear Boxes and Side Boxes, and the Loge. Tickets may be purchased online through a separate event page.

October 24–26: As was previously announced, Canellakis’ program will be shared by the two major Russian composers of the first half of the twentieth century, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich. The program will begin with Prokofiev’s first (Opus 10) piano concerto in D-flat major. This piece is only about a quarter of an hour in duration, so the intermission will come early. It will be followed by one of Shostakovich’s longer-scale symphonies, the Opus 60 (seventh) symphony. This symphony is known as the “Leningrad;” and it was completed shortly after the beginning of the 900-day Siege of Leningrad. What these two compositions have in common are episodes of repetitions that almost seem calculated to test the limits of listener tolerance. (Think of Ravel’s “Bolero” but without the any of the sensual qualities and seductive changes in instrumentation.)

This concert will be given three performances, all at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 24, Friday, October 25, and Saturday, October 26. The Inside Music talk will again be given by Peter Grunberg, one hour prior to each concert. Ticket prices range from $20 to $125, and an event page has been created for online purchase. Malone’s podcast about the Shostakovich symphony will be posted to the Program Note Podcasts Web page prior to the first performance of this program. The event page has an embedded sound file of clips from past performances of that composition.

These performances will be preceded by the second Katherine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal of the new season, beginning, again at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 24; ticket prices are the same and may again be purchased online through a separate event page.

Newport Provides James Carter’s Blue Note Debut

from the Web page for this recording

At the end of last month, saxophonist James Carter (now 50 years old) made his debut on Blue Note Records with an album entitled, James Carter Organ Trio: Live From Newport Jazz. The tracks, whose durations run between six minutes and twelve minutes, were recorded at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival. They all follow up on Carter’s interest in the music of gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, which dates back to the release of Chasin’ the Gypsy (which involved a much larger group that included two guitarists and Carter’s cousin Regina Carter) in 2000. At Newport, on the other hand, Carter was joined only by Gerard Gibbs on a Hammond B-3 organ and Alexander White on drums.

I know I am showing my age when I declare that I can remember when Blue Note was the way to get an education in listening to jazz. This involved not only the artists recording for Blue Note and the tracks they recorded but also what we now call the “metadata,” text about recording details and the content of the tunes themselves. I came by the tracks for Live From Newport Jazz through a download that was absolutely void of metadata; and, when I checked the Amazon MP3 page for downloading this album, I was not surprised to see that this was a tracks-only release. As a result, the only background information I was able to gather (including the members of the trio) came from a Web page on the Blue Note Web site created on August 2 and announcing the release of the album.

As might be guessed, that Web page has its shortcomings. For example:
The program includes six tour de force takes on compositions written by or associated with Django Reinhardt.
I have yet to find an indexed summary of the entire Reinhardt corpus; so I have no idea how to sort “written by” and “associated with,” let alone identify the associates.

The good news is that “tour de force” is not an exaggeration. Carter’s takes on Reinhardt are indisputably dynamite, so much so that they blow any sense of Reinhardt himself out of the receptive field of auditory perception. In other words, it is sufficient to accept that Reinhardt inspired Carter without digging into any details about the sources of inspiration.

Indeed, Carter has such a brash, unabashed, in-your face delivery that any association with the Hot Club de France or the quintet that Reinhardt formed there in partnership with Stéphane Grappelli is immediately dispatched from primary consciousness. If it’s Reinhardt you want, there are plenty of ways to find him on Amazon. Carter’s approach is an entirely different aperitif; and, when I listen to his improvisations at their wildest, I think more of his past affiliations with inventive musicians like Lester Bowie than I think of club life in Paris during the swing era.

In other words, this is an album that definitely merits serious listening attention. Those who commit will definitely be well rewarded. However, when it comes to looking under the hood to learn more about why these tracks have so much to offer, expect to be disappointed.

MTT Delivers a Stunning Variety of Styles

There may be only two composers on the program for this week’s series of subscription concerts by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). However, one of the composers was Igor Stravinsky; and, over the course of his life, Stravinsky would settle into working within different stylistic frameworks with the same facility that Paul Hindemith could exercise when writing solo compositions for just about every instrument of the orchestra. The program thus amounted to three distinctive styles of Stravinsky complemented by a concerto by Joseph Haydn.

Haydn may not have been as prolific as Hindemith when it came to writing solo work for a diversity of instruments. However, his position Kapellmeister for the Esterházy family required enough understanding of the capabilities of every instrument (and instrumentalist) to serve as an effective and expressive leader. Thus, category VII of Anthony van Hoboken’s catalog accounts for eight different instruments: violin, cello, bass, horn, trumpet, flute, oboe, and hurdy-gurdy (lira organizzata). (The barytone and keyboard instruments have their own separate Hoboken categories.)

Compared to many of the other categories, this is a modest collection; and, much to my regret, these entries in the catalog receive far less attention than they deserve. Haydn may be remembered as the “inventor” of the string quartet (and, perhaps, the “reworking” of the trio sonata into the piano trio). Nevertheless, any performance of one of his concertos never fails to remind the attentive listener of the depth of that aforementioned understanding required to write effective and moving solo passages.

The Hoboken VIIb/2 concerto for cello in D major is one of the more frequently played entries in category VII. Last night it was given a splendid account by Oliver Herbert, whose appearance was supported by the Shenson Young Artist Debut Fund. To be fair, however, this was not, strictly speaking, a “debut” event. Herbert made his SFS debut in a SoundBox concert at the end of 2017; and last year he was the All San Francisco Concert soloist, performing Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 33, entitled “Variations on a Rococo Theme.”

Hoboken VIIb/2 serves up a wide diversity of technical challenges, demanding as much command of lyrical expressiveness as of nuts-and-bolts dexterity. Herbert sailed through all of those challenges, consistently homing on just the right phrasing to allow each passage to register with the attentive listener, while also endowing consistent precision to the trickiest of passages. Furthermore, unless I am mistaken, he reflected the spirit of Haydn’s time by providing his own cadenza passages.

On the accompaniment side, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) reduced his string resources to match the two oboes and two horns in the ensemble. The string numbers were a bit larger than one might expect, but only half of them were playing during the cello solo passages. This resulted in an effective account of the relationship between soloist and ensemble that allowed every detail in Herbert’s performance to register clearly with the attentive listener.

That relationship between soloist and ensemble was also critical in all three of the Stravinsky selections on the program. The first half of the program featured the SFS Chorus in two compositions played in reverse chronological order. The opening selection was “Canticum Sacrum,” whose full name is actually “Canticum Sacrum ad honorem Sancti Marci Nominis” (canticle to honor the name of Saint Mark). That title is then reinforced by a dedication: “To the City of Venice, in praise of its Patron Saint, the Blessed Mark, Apostle.” Strictly speaking, however, Stravinsky seems to have been less interested in the legacy of the New Testament and more interested in the basilica erected in Venice in Saint Mark’s name, which is where “Canticum Sacrum” was first performed, conducted by Stravinsky himself on September 13, 1956.

The domes of Saint Mark’s basilica in Venice (photograph by Andreas Tille, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

The piece is in five parts, played without interruption, preceded by the dedication, which is set to music. The third part, in turn, consists of three sections corresponding to the virtues of Charity, Hope, and Faith. There have been attempts to relate this structure to the structure of the basilica itself, particularly its complex of multiple domes. More interesting, however, is that Part II serves as Stravinsky’s first attempt to work with the twelve-tone techniques that had been explored and developed by Arnold Schoenberg. It is also the only piece that Stravinsky composed that requires an organ.

As the Wikipedia page for this piece observes, Stravinsky had no experience with the acoustics of the space in which “Canticum Sacrum” would be performed. His instrumental ensemble was rich in winds and brass (including a contrabass trombone); but strings were limited to violas and basses, along with a harp. The choral work encompasses both monodic chant and pre-Baroque polyphony, all with its own unique decisions of how pitches should sound simultaneously. Finally, there are solo vocal parts for tenor (Nicholas Phan) and baritone (Tyler Duncan).

Stravinsky’s ventures into new territories and trying them out in a resonant space beyond his wildest dreams provoked a certain amount of hostile response. The review in Time (back when reviewers’ names were not given bylines) was entitled “Murder in the Cathedral.” Ironically, SFS has performed this piece only once in the past, when MTT conducted it in May of 1999. While it may be that Stravinsky was experimenting with techniques he had not yet really mastered, last night MTT provided an account that was far more than credible. He seems to have believed that this was music best taken on its own terms, and he managed to give a convincing account of just what those terms were.

“Canticum Sacrum” was followed by the “Symphony of Psalms,” composed in 1930 and revised in 1948. This is much more familiar music, particularly among Stravinsky fans. However, there are ways in which it can be viewed as the planting of seeds that would subsequently bear the fruit of “Canticum Sacrum.” I would even be bold enough to suggest that an encounter with “Symphony of Psalms” provides the listener unfamiliar with Stravinsky’s choral writing with excellent preparation for “Canticum Sacrum.” On the other hand, “Symphony of Psalms” has so much energy that it sends everyone in the audience out to intermission with a bounce in their steps.

In this case the string section is limited to cellos and basses (again with a harp). Winds and brass are abundant and diverse, reinforced this time with timpani and bass drum. Choral work again reflects both chant and the polyphony of a double fugue. MTT’s interpretation captured all of the energy of the outer movements and the intricate ingenuity of the fugue in the middle movement. This particular composition is an “old favorite” of mine; and I could not have been more satisfied with revisiting it after many years.

The program concluded with the “Symphony in Three Movements,” composed in 1945. This was the only full-orchestra piece on the program (and, for that matter, it was Stravinsky’s last major work for full ensemble). Given when it was composed, it is difficult to avoid connotations of wartime; but the music itself is anything but “politicized.” I used to think that the uneven rhythms of the first movement might have been based on Morse code, but last night that speculation was displaced by thoughts of a teletype machine. (Those who think of text only as lights on a display screen are advised to check out the Wikipedia page for background.)

By virtue of the instrumentation, the expressiveness of “Symphony in Three Movements” is more easily apprehended than the vocal offerings in the first half of the program. In this case the assets of MTT’s interpretation lay in the clarity he brought to every contributing instrument and the many ways in which those instruments are combined. The variations between stable and unstable rhythms evoked by Stravinsky are positively mind-boggling. The impeccable command of those rhythms by SFS under MTT’s leadership made this radical rethinking of the concept of symphony a truly memorable occasion.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Bracing Myself for an Excess of Beethoven

from the Web page for the article being discussed

Next year will mark the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven. The anniversary date will not be until December, but I am already bracing myself for an onslaught of performances and recordings on all fronts. Those who have followed my writing for some time know that I do not harbor any negative feelings about Beethoven, but my negative feelings about excess are vigorously strong.

For the record I was in graduate school working on my doctoral dissertation when it seemed as if the entire world had gone crazy over the “Beethoven bicentennial.” There was a string quartet making regular visits to the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to give a series of concerts covering all of the string quartets. They happened to be one of the few quartets at the time whose repertoire included microtonal music. I had the temerity to ask the faculty member who had arranged this concert series if it would be possible to tack an extra performance on at the end of the Beethoven cycle to provide an opportunity to listen to microtonal compositions that were seldom performed, let alone recorded. He replied, “You don’t understand. Beethoven is the man of the hour! He’s the man of the future!”

To the extent that there are more performers out there with the skills to do justice to microtonal compositions, I would say that the future turned out better than I had feared. By the same count, I can probably say the same about my attitude towards Beethoven. Over that 50-year interval, I learned a lot about the critical role of rhetoric in playing any composition; and I have enjoyed the diversity of rhetorical perspectives that different performers bring to their Beethoven interpretations.

By that same count I appreciate the current Beethoven interpreters willing to admit that the man had a sense of humor. Indeed, there are times when it seems as if he is determined to one-up Joseph Haydn (the teacher he seems to have disliked more than any of the others) when it came to seasoning the thematic material with an abundance of witty gestures. (Indeed, he was still at it even after Haydn had died.) Nevertheless, Beethoven offerings are a bit like servings of pasta. The best of them should be treasured in memory, but too many of them are not particularly good for either body or spirit.

It was in that frame of mind that I found that MSR Classics had sent me (without any request on my part) the sixth volume of a series of recordings called A Beethoven Odyssey. These are recordings of English pianist James Brawn, who made his concert debut at the age of twelve playing a Mozart piano concerto in Australia. The “Homeric journey” is a path of Brawn’s own invention through the 32 published piano sonatas with the three Opus 2 sonatas (published in 1796 and dedicated to Haydn) at one end and Opus 111 in C minor (published in 1823) at the other.

This is far from my first encounter with this “Beethoven cycle.” I have made the trip both by attending a series of recital performances and by serious listening to a variety of different recordings of more pianists than I would care to enumerate. Whenever I have to take on this “cycle” in my writing, I like to point out that Opus 111 is far from “the end of the line” in the Beethoven canon. Opus 111 was completed in 1822, the same year in which the Opus 119 set of eleven bagatelles was completed, followed by the Opus 126 bagatelles in 1824. Between them, of course, is the Opus 120 set of 33 variations on Anton Diabelli’s waltz theme. Furthermore, where the broader catalog is concerned, the last five string quartets have yet to be composed.

The Brawn disc I received consists of three four-movement sonatas. In order of appearance, these are Opus 7 in E-flat major, Opus 26 in A-flat major, and Opus 22 in B-flat major. I have good feelings about all three of these sonatas; but, when it comes to Brawn referring to these as “Grand” sonatas in the very first sentence of his notes for the accompanying booklet, my hackles waste no time in rising. Each of these three sonatas rises or falls in the ability of the performer to identify a rhetorical stance and then convince the listener that it is a convincingly valid one. Brawn never really makes a case for any sense of grandeur. For that matter, I am not sure how much value he attached to taking any rhetorical stance and prefers, instead, to have no priority other than doing justice to the marks on paper.

My response to different approaches to these 32 sonatas covers the full gamut from jaw-dropping amazement at the performer’s insights to a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot reaction at its most dismissive. The best I can say about Brawn’s interpretations is that, with a capable set of technical chops, he sits comfortably between these two extremes. Over the course of listening to this recently-released CD, my blood never came to a boil; but neither was my attention particularly piqued.

Choices for October 18–20, 2019

Having written an article yesterday about a busy Sunday, rather than a busy weekend, I have discovered that choices for the following weekend will, in fact, involve all three days. This is due, in part, to this being the weekend of the third Bard Music West festival, which will occupy Friday evening and both the afternoon and evening of Saturday. However, there will be a diverse assortment of alternatives spanning the entire weekend to add to the concerts taking place on Friday and Saturday included in the monthly summaries listed this past Tuesday. Here are the additional alternatives, ordered by start time:

Friday, October 18, 7:30 p.m.–Saturday, October 19, 10 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: The title of the third Bard Music West festival will be The World of Grażyna Bacewicz. Once again the event will be organized around the work and context of a single composer, as was the case in the first two festivals, which were devoted to György Ligeti and Henry Cowell, respectively. This year Poland is celebrating the 110th anniversary of Bacewicz’ birth and the 50th anniversary of her death, yet there are few opportunities to listen to her music performed in the United States.

Here in San Francisco, we have been a bit more fortunate. When Krzysztof Urbański returned to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) as guest conductor this past May, he began his program with a Bacewicz composition titled simply “Overture.” This was the first time that SFS had performed the composition, it was the first time I had encountered her orchestral writing, and, in the absence of any useful online archival site for SFS, I would hazard the guess that this was the first time the ensemble played anything she had composed. Things have been somewhat better on the chamber music side. Sarah Cahill played one of her solo piano compositions during her slot at the Flower Piano music festival this past July as part of her ongoing The Future is Female project; and, in October of last year, when she gave a duo recital with violinist Kate Stenberg for Old First Concerts, the two of them played two Bacewicz duo compositions, “Stained Glass Window” and “Melodia.” (I should also add that, back in my days with, I wrote about the Naxos recordings of all of Bacewicz’ string quartets performed by the Lutosławski Quartet.)

As in the past, the heart of the festival will consist of the performance of three full-length concerts, each of which will establish the context for a different period of Bacewicz’ life and works. Briefly summarized, program content will be as follows:
  1. Friday, 7:30 p.m., A Rising Star: This program will survey some of Bacewicz’ key influences, framed by performances of her first string quartet and her first piano quintet. Those influences include her Polish predecessors, Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Karol Szymanowski, Nadia Boulanger, with whom she studied in Paris, and two of her contemporaries at that time, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky. There will also be a selection of nine madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi.
  2. Saturday, 4 p.m., From War to Warsaw Autumn: This program will follow Bacewicz back to Warsaw, through the horrors of World War II and the repressive Polish communist regime that isolated Poland’s artists from the Western world until the Thaw of 1956. Once again, the program will be framed by her own compositions, opening with “Polish Capriccio.” The second half of the program will survey a selection of her songs for soprano and piano, her second piano sonata, and her fourth string quartet. The other Polish composers on the program will be her friend Tadeusz Baird and Andrzej Panufnik, known both as a composer and as the four-hand piano partner of Witold Lutosławski. The program will also include the world premiere of a string trio composed by Mélanie Clapiès on a commission from Bard Music West.
  3. Saturday 8 p.m., Evolution and Persistence – Bacewicz and Her Legacy: This program will investigate Bacewicz’ musical evolution in her later years, her exploration of but ultimate dislike of serialism, and her insistence on finding her own path. It will include her last (seventh) string quartet, a quartet for four cellos, and the viola version of a set of four caprices, which will be played by Luosha Fang, recent winner of the Tokyo International Viola Competition. The program will account for the influence of serialism with a performance of Alban Berg’s Opus 5, a set of four short pieces for clarinet and piano. Bacewicz’ legacy will then be experienced through subsequent Polish women composers: Agata Zubel, Marta Ptaszynska, Hanna Kulenty, and Lidia Zielińska.

The program will also include the screening of a film about Bacewicz, The World Only Sees My Cheerful Face. This film provides a profile of Bacewicz’ life and works over the course of about 50 minutes. It includes rare footage of Bacewicz herself, clips for performances of her music, and interviews with her family and friends. This film will be screened at 3 p.m. of Saturday, October 19, just prior to the Saturday afternoon concert.

Further information about both the concert programs and the film will be found through hyperlinks on the Festival home page. All events will take place at the Noe Valley Ministry, located in Noe Valley at 1021 Sanchez Street, near the corner of 23rd Street. There are several options for ticket prices. General admission for the entire festival will be $135 for premium seating, $80 for general admission, and $20 for students. There will also be a “marathon option,” covering the two concerts on Saturday and the film. The prices will be $90 for premium seating, $55 for general admission, and $30 for students. For individual concerts the price will be $35 for general admission, $50 for premium seating, and $20 for students. Admission to the film will be free with the purchase of tickets to any program. A single Web page has been created with hyperlinks to account for all the alternatives for purchasing tickets.

Friday, October 18, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: San Francisco Performances (SFP) will present the first concert in its Chamber Series with a recital by the Z.E.N. Trio. This group takes its name from the first initials of the first names of the players: Zhang Zuo on piano, Esther Yoo on violin, and Narek Hakhnazaryan on cello. Hakhnazaryan made his San Francisco debut when he performed in the SFP 2017–2018 Young Masters Series in February of 2018. The program will begin with Franz Schubert’s D. 897 poignant “Notturno” in E-flat major. This will be followed by Johannes Brahms Opus 8 (first) piano trio in B major. The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 67 (second) piano trio in E minor, composed during the darkest days of World War II.

The entrance to Herbst is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices will be $70 for premium seating, $55, and $45. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

In addition, because this is the first concert in the Chamber Series, subscriptions are still on sale for $260 for premium seating, $200, and $160. Subscriptions may be purchased online in advance through a City Box Office event page, which includes information about the locations associated with each of the price levels. Orders may also be placed by calling the SFP subscriber hotline at 415-677-0325, which is open for receiving calls between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Saturday, October 19, 4 p.m., Sutro Baths: Readers may recall that this will be the date and venue for “Tremble Staves,” a synthesis of mixed media installation, manipulation of natural and artificial lights and sound, wordless opera, and theatrical performance created by Raven Chacon. The performance will be by The Living Earth Show, the duo of percussionist Andy Meyerson and guitarist Travis Andrews; and it is expected to last for about an hour. The Sutro Baths ruins are located at 680 Point Lobos Avenue. They are best approached by taking the 38R bus down Geary Boulevard to the end of the line and then walking the remaining distance. There will be no admission charge. Nevertheless, the event page created by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy includes a DONATE hyperlink. This performance will be enabled through a partnership with the Conservancy, and all financial assistance for the Conservancy’s activities will be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, October 19, 7:30 p.m., Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church: The Seventh Avenue Performances recital series will host a performance by the Curium Trio. This will be the latest result of a collaboration between the Helia Music Collective and a performing ensemble. Readers may recall a report of Helia’s partnership with the members of the Liaison Ensemble early music group, mezzo Melinda Becker, harpsichordist Susie Fong, cellist Hallie Marshall-Pridham, and Tatiana Senderowicz on theorbo, whose results were performed at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation this past January.

The title of this new collaborative effort is Color Through Music, which was inspired by Jennifer Higdon’s piano trio, entitled “Color Through.” The Helia composers whose works will be included on the program will be Emily Shisko, Julie Barwick, and Emma Logan. Curium will also play Higdon’s 2003 piano trio and selections from “Color Through,” as well as the piano trio by Germaine Tailleferre, the only female member of the group of French composes known as “Les Six.”

The Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church is located at 1329 Seventh Avenue, about half a block south of the stop for the Muni N trolley line. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for students and seniors. Tickets will be available in advance online through Brown Paper Tickets, but the event page has not yet been created.

Saturday, October 19, 7:30 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) will launch is 2019–2020 concert season with a program entitled Daring Sisters / Atrevidas Hermanas. Curated by soprano Nell Snaidas, the program has been structured as an homage to the seventeenth-century Hieronymite nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. SFGC alumna and soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani will also perform as soloist, along with Richard Savino’s El Mundo chamber ensemble. The program will be sung in Spanish, Nahuatl, and Quechua and will include works by Andres Flores, Juan Garcia de Zéspedes, Juan de Lienas and Sor Juana herself.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. Tickets will be sold for $28 for general admission and $38 for preferred reserved seating. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

Sunday, October 20, 3 p.m., Congregation Sherith Israel: Readers may recall the first production to be presented by the Claude Heater Foundation, launched a little over a year ago. That offering was a concert performance of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which was warmly received by all those in attendance. (Sadly, I was not one of them.) Earlier this month the Foundation announced plans for its next concert performance in San Francisco. This time the opera will be Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco. Jonathan Khuner will return to conduct a full orchestra, chorus, and soloists including baritone Kenny Stavert (Nabucco), soprano Juyeon Song (Abigaille), bass-baritone Philip Skinner (Zaccaria), mezzo-soprano Tamara Gallo (Fenena), and tenor Alex Boyer (Ismaele).

Congregation Sherith Israel is located at 2266 California Street, on the northwest corner of Webster Street. Ticket prices range from $100 for the best seating to $18. Tickets may be purchased online through an Eventbrite event page.

Sunday, October 20, 3 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: The annual series of solo organ recitals will begin with the return of Paul Jacobs. He has prepared an impressively diverse program that will highlight the capabilities of his instrument in a wide variety of contexts. He will begin with two compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, the BWV 582 passacaglia in C minor, which concludes with an elaborate fugue, and the BWV 530 trio sonata (for two keyboards and pedal) in G major. This will be followed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 608, a fantasia in F minor originally composed for a clockwork organ. The twentieth century will be represented by the set of variations that Charles Ives composed for the anthem “America.” The second half of the program will be devoted to Louis Vierne’s Opus 59, the sixth (and last) of the symphonies he composed for solo organ.

Tickets are being sold for $40 and $30. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Davies Box Office, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. Flash must be enabled for purchasing tickets online.

[added 9/27, 4:20 p.m.:

Sunday, October 20, 4 p.m., Church of the Advent of Christ the King: Resident choir Schola Adventus, led by Music Director Paul Ellison, will provide the music for a Solemn Evensong & Benediction service to begin the second season of Third Sunday programs. The composers to be included among the musical offerings will be as follows:
  • Percy W. Whitlock: folk tune
  • William Smith: Preces & Responses
  • Charles V. Stanford: Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis
  • Herbert Howells: A Hymn for St. Cecilia
  • Walter Vale: O salutaris & Tantum ergo
The remaining Third Sunday events and their respective services will be as follows:
  • November 17: Pentecost XXIII
  • December 15: Advent III (Rose)
  • January 19: Epiphany II
  • February 16: Epiphany VI
  • March 15: Lent III
  • May 17: Easter VI]

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Choices for October 13, 2019

Usually, I tend to write about choices that need to be made over the course of a busy weekend. However, as I write this, Sunday will be the only day in the second weekend of October during which a choice may need to be made. That is because, while there are only three options as of this writing, two of them will overlap. (Ironically, October 13 does not appear in any of the three extensive summaries for the month enumerated in yesterday’s article. To be fair, however, the Red Poppy often announces last-minute updates.) Here are the alternatives, ordered by start time:

2 p.m., War Memorial Opera House: San Francisco Opera (SFO) will present the first of two Sunday afternoon performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 492 opera The Marriage of Figaro. This opera will be given a total of eight performances, and there will be a second Sunday afternoon presentation on October 27. All other performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. on October 11, 16, 19, 22, and 25. As has already been reported, this will mark the beginning of a three-opera cycle, which will unfold over the course of three seasons, presenting the operas that Mozart created with libretto texts by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Michael Cavanagh will prepare new stagings, all organized around a common setting, whose appearance somewhat suggests Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Featured vocalists will be Michael Sumuel in the title role, baritone Levente Molnár as the Count Almaviva, soprano Jennifer Davis as his Countess wife, and soprano Jeanine De Bique as Susanna, the Countess’ servant betrothed to Figaro.

Prices for single tickets run from $26 to $398. Tickets may be purchased through the event page for this opera. Tickets may also be purchased at the SFO Box Office in the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue, on the northwest corner of Grove Street, or by calling 415-864-3330. Box Office hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Saturday hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 pm. but only for telephone orders.

4 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: The Noe Valley Chamber Music (NVCM) program will kick off its 27th season with a recital by the brass quartet called the Westerlies. The group consists of two trumpeters, Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands, and two trombonists, Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch. The quartet will have a residency of sorts with NVCM, presenting more “audience-based” events on Friday evening and Saturday morning; but the concert itself will take place at the usual time on Sunday afternoon. The title of the program will be Wherein Lies the Good - American Mavericks of the 20th Century. The program will feature not only twentieth-century composers, such as Charles Ives, but also sources from folk, gospel, and jazz repertoires.

Tickets are $40 at the door with a $35 rate for seniors and a $10 rate for students aged thirteen or older. NVCM has created a Web page for online purchase. Tickets may also be purchased in advance by calling NVCM at 415-648-5236.

7 p.m., Herbst Theatre: Another “kick-off” event will be the first concert in the Guitar Series hosted by San Francisco Performances (SFP), presented in association with the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. This will be a solo recital by guitarist Manuel Barrueco, whose long and close relationship with SFP has included formerly serving as Artist-in-Residence. SFP President Melanie Smith has described the program that Barrueco has prepared as “a journey from Cuba to Spain,” giving “equal time” to composers from both of those countries. The Spanish side will feature such “usual suspects” as Enrique Granados, Isaac Albéniz, and Francisco Tárrega but will also reach back to Renaissance composer Luis de Narváez. The Cuban composers will include Ignacio Cervantes (who studied with Louis Moreau Gottschalk) and Héctor (Manuel) Angulo (Rodríguez), who is probably best known for having taught the music of the Guajira Guantanamera to Pete Seeger.

The entrance to Herbst is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices will be $60 for premium seating, $50, and $45. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

In addition, because this is the first concert in the Guitar Series, subscriptions are still on sale for $335 for premium seating, $280, and $245. Subscriptions may be purchased online in advance through a City Box Office event page, which includes information about the locations associated with each of the price levels. Orders may also be placed by calling the SFP subscriber hotline at 415-677-0325, which is open for receiving calls between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“The other coast” Debuts on BIS Records

This month began with an account of the sixth album of the vocal quartet that calls itself New York Polyphony by BIS Records. The fact that BIS is based in Sweden should give some awareness of its global reach where the catalog artists it presents is concerned. I thus took a fair amount of interest when I learned that the previous month had seen the debut of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) on the BIS label.

My wife and I had lived in Los Angeles during the final years when Iona Brown was the LACO Music Director, and she was replaced by Christof Perick not long before I made arrangements for our move to Singapore. Jeffrey Kahane succeeded Perick in 1997 and remained as Music Director until September of 2017. Jaime Martín appeared as guest conductor at the beginning of the new season and was appointed Music Director the following February.

Kahane is the conductor on LACO’s debut album with BIS. The album consists of four compositions for violin and chamber orchestra; and the violinist, Margaret Batjer, is also making her BIS debut. The recording sessions all took place in 2018 (March and September). The opening selection is the world premiere recording of a two-movement violin concerto by American composer Pierre Jalbert, which he composed in 2017. He wrote the concerto on a co-commission for the concertmasters of LACO, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. At that time Batjer had been LACO concertmaster since 1998.

The final selection on the recording, “Lonely Angel” by Pēteris Vasks, was also composed in this century (in 2006); but it was based on the final movement of a string quartet he had composed in 1999. The twentieth century is also represented by the version for violin, string orchestra, and percussion of “Fratres” by Arvo Pärt. The remaining selection on the album is Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1041 violin concerto in A minor.

This makes for impressive diversity. In the face of that diversity, there is no questioning the technical skills of either the concertmaster or the conductor. Nevertheless, my wife and I used to attend LACO concerts regularly because there was a freshness to their interpretations that we found we were less likely to encounter on our visits to listen to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We had enjoyed Brown’s leadership and the beginning of Perick’s tenure; and, while there was much to relish in Singapore, I regretted missing the opportunities to experience more of his work.

However, while there is no questioning the high level of technique on this debut album, any sense of that freshness does not come across particularly convincingly. Batjer’s approach to the Jalbert concerto is definitely impressive; and she could not do better justice to the tempo marking for the second movement, “With great energy.” Nevertheless, the overall impact suggests that, for all of the attention to giving a precise account of all the technical details, neither the soloist nor the conductor had much to say about any rhetorical undercurrents for those details. The same can be said of the technique behind the Bach concerto.

Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks (photograph by Hokit, from Wikimedia Commons,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

At the end of the day, I would say that the Vasks selection provides the primary motivation for listening to this album. During my early years of writing about music, I encountered from both students and faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music considerable enthusiasm for Vasks and his music. I tried to seize any opportunity to listen to his chamber music in recitals there; and, when I made the move to extend my writing to records, an all-Vasks album was one of my earliest targets. Given the extent to which Pärt has become pretty much a “household name,” I still feel that Vasks deserves just as much attention; and I hope that this recording of “Lonely Angel” will give that attention a bit of a boost.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Three Adventurous Summaries for October, 2019

The last time I wrote an article presenting “parallel” monthly schedules was for this past July. At that time I mused over the fact that these events were taking place when the season was winding down at many venues. Now October is only a week away, and three plans for the month have already been released by three of the more adventurous venues in San Francisco. So get out your calendar apps, because you will probably need to trade off choices as the month progresses.

The first of the venues is The Lab, which has prepared a major project for the first half of the month, capped off with one additional concert at the end. Director Dena Beard is joining forces with Constance Lewallen to curate a multi-site exhibition, which will also involve performances, entitled Terry Fox: Resonance. Fox, who died in 2008, was part of the first generation of “Conceptual” artists, whose work tended to be organized around installations, often with performance taking place within those installations. Between October 11 and November 12, The Lab will host such an installation called A Resonating Chamber. However, there will also be five performances, only one of which will take place at The Lab, that will explore different aspects of Fox’ work. The schedule for all the events is as follows:
  1. Friday, October 4, 6 p.m., Grace Cathedral: Visitors will be able to experience Fox’ The Labyrinth Scored for the Purrs of 11 Different Cats over the course of two hours. The title itself refers to a sound composition that will sustain over the course of those two hours. During that time, visitors are invited to walk the replica of the labyrinth at Chartres on the floor at the rear of the Grace sanctuary. Grace Cathedral is located at the top of Nob Hill at 1100 California Street, between Taylor Street and Jones Street. There will be no charge for admission.
  2. Thursday, October 10, 7 p.m., Cushion Works: Marita Loosen-Fox will give a presentation entitled Living Archive. She will be assisted by Ron Meyers. The host for this event is a factory that manufactures cushion and pillow foams for the upholstery and design trades. It is located in the Mission at 3320 18th Street. As of this writing, it appears that there will be no charge for admission.
  3. Friday, October 11, 6 p.m., The Lab: The opening of the installation at The Lab itself will include musical performance. Arnold Dreyblatt has interpreted Fox’ Berlin Wall Scored for Sound and realized it as a string quartet. His results will be played by the Del Sol Quartet. In addition, Meyers will activate Circulation: Site Pendulum from the Labyrinth Series created by Loosen-Fox. The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street, which is a short walk to the east from the corner of Mission Street. This is particularly good for those using public transportation, since that corner provides bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel as well as a BART station. As of this writing, it appears that there will be no charge for admission.
  4. Saturday, October 12, 5 p.m., CCA (California College of the Arts) Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts: This venue will host a second installation, entitled The Labyrinth Series and Other Works. This will present works in a variety of different media, all of which involve Fox’ interpretation of the Chartres labyrinth. Lewallen will host a walkthrough of the installation and will activate a second installation of Circulation: Site Pendulum from the Labyrinth Series. The Institute is located at 360 Kansas Street, between 16th Street and 17th Street, just east of the 101 overpass. As of this writing, it appears that there will be no charge for admission.
  5. Thursday, October 17, 7 p.m., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA): A video of Fox’ performance of his Timbre composition will be screened. It will be followed by a discussion led by artist Tom Marioni. SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, between Mission Street and Howard Street, just opposite Yerba Buena Gardens. This event is not yet listed on the SFMOMA Events calendar; so, as of this writing, it is not yet clear whether the screening will be held in conjunction with admission to the Museum itself. Those interested in attending this screening are advised to send an RSVP by electronic mail using the address hyperlinked to the “RSVP” letters early on the day of the screening.
The Lab will host one additional event, which will be part-concert, part-cabaret, and part-lecture. This will be a one-man show by Martin Creed entitled Getting Changed. The performance is a work-in-progress conceived to follow up on Words & Music, which Creed presented at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival.

This performance will begin at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 24. The admission charge for this program will be $10 for members of The Lab; general admission will be $15 for all others. Doors will open at 8 p.m., and it is usually the case that a long line has accumulated before then. As a result, online registration is highly recommended using the above hyperlinks for the two categories of tickets.

The first concert in October at the Red Poppy Art House will overlap with the first Terry Fox: Resonance event. As might be guessed, however, the content will be quite different, much more in the spirit of diverse approaches to the performance of music that one expects from the Poppy. As usual, this summary of events may be incomplete. As always, I shall do my best to monitor the Upcoming Events Web page on the Poppy’s Web site. This Web page will be updated to reflect additions; and, as always, I shall use my “shadow” Facebook site to put out the word each time new information has been added.

The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street on the southwest corner of 23rd Street. Tickets are now being sold in advance online through Eventbrite. As a result, the dates provided below are hyperlinked to the Eventbrite event pages for purchasing tickets.

Given the demand for these concerts, it is likely that only a limited number of tickets will be available at the door. Remember, the Poppy is a small space. Even those who have purchased their tickets in advance should probably make it a point to be there when the doors open one half-hour before the performance is scheduled to begin. Here are the specifics for the events that have been posted thus far:
  • Friday, October 4, 7:30 p.m.: Lee Dynes and Amanda Addleman present a single night of varied perspectives on the American improvisational art form of jazz. Dynes’ takes a world jazz approach, while Addleman works with a more traditional swinging trio. Dynes alternates between guitar and oud when leading his trio, and he is joined by Lee Hodel on bass and Matthew Bruckner on drums. Addleman is a vocalist. She will also be joined by Hodel, and Dynes will fill out the trio with his guitar work. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25 for tickets purchased in advance. General admission at the door will be $25 with a $20 charge for students and seniors with valid identification.
  • Friday, October 11, 7:30 p.m.: RagaMenco is a collaboration of Spanish and Indian musicians from the Bay Area. Their repertoire explores exciting new territories by combining haunting Indian melodies with exciting gypsy, flamenco, and jazz traditions from Spain. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25 for tickets purchased in advance. General admission at the door will be $25 with a $20 charge for students and seniors with valid identification.
  • Saturday, October 12, 7:30 p.m.: The Ultra World X-Tet is the quartet of Doug Ebert on bass, Nick Sager on drums, Gary Schwantes on saxophone and bamboo flutes, and Winnie Wong on guzheng. They describe their repertoire as a “distinct San Francisco sound with a global music sensibility.” Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25 for tickets purchased in advance. General admission at the door will be $25 with a $20 charge for students and seniors with valid identification.
  • Thursday, October 17, 7:30 p.m.: This will be a two-set program bringing a local group together with a jazz quartet visiting from Scandinavia. Örjan Hultén Orion is a combo named after its leader Örjan Hultén, one of Sweden’s foremost saxophonists and improvisers. The other players are Torbjörn Gulz on piano, Anders Langörgen on bass, and Peter Danemo on drums. The local group is called Garuda Blue. Matt Gafney plays different sizes of saxophone with rhythm provided by Abraham Imansjah on piano, Danny Castro on bass, and Evan Williams on drums. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25 for tickets purchased in advance. General admission at the door will be $25 with a $20 charge for students and seniors with valid identification.
  • Friday, October 18, 7:30 p.m.: Lars and in Charge was formed in the past year by violinist Lars Tergis. He specializes in playing traditional Turkish Roman, Balkan, and Middle Eastern music, as well as original compositions using regional scales and rhythms. However, his backup suggests other influences. Chris Reed plays steel string guitar, and both he and Tergis provide the vocals. Gopal Slavonic, on the other hand, plays flamenco guitar. Finally, Faisal Zedan and Sean Tergis play a wide diversity of percussion instruments. Performances often include contributions by some of the Bay Area’s top dancers. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25 for tickets purchased in advance. General admission at the door will be $25 with a $20 charge for students and seniors with valid identification.
  • Friday, October 25, 8 p.m.: Karavan Sarai features dancer Nathalie Tedrick performing with a single musician. Naratyan Sijan plays both oud and saz, but he also adds electronics to the mix and serves as vocalist. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25 for tickets purchased in advance. General admission at the door will be $25 with a $20 charge for students and seniors with valid identification.
  • Saturday, October 26, 7:30 p.m.: Lily and Khatch is the duo of Lily Storm and Khatchadour Khatchadourian. Both of them are vocalists who accompany their singing with a frame drum. Khatchadourian also plays duduk. Each has released separate lullaby albums, Louloudhia: A Collection of Lullabies from Europe from Storm and Oror ou Nani: Armenian Lullabies from Khatchadourian. The program will sample both of these recordings. They will be joined by harpist Diana Rowan and Dan Cantrell on accordion. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25 for tickets purchased in advance. General admission at the door will be $25 with a $20 charge for students and seniors with valid identification.
  • Sunday, October 27, 2 p.m.: This will be the next installment of the free Monthly Community Rumba, with music provided by Rumberos de Radio Habana. While this is a free event, donations are warmly accepted. All donated money goes to the performing musicians, and a recommended amount is between $5 and $10.
Finally, there are the adventurous offerings that will take place at the Joe Henderson Lab in the SFJAZZ Center. This month there will also be concerts of major historical significance that will take place in Herbst Theatre. Ticket prices tend to vary, and there will probably be different prices for different sections of Herbst. So information about cost will be provided on an event-by-event basis. Tickets may be purchased online through the Web pages for the specific events. However, seating is always open in Henderson; and the acoustics always seem to be excellent no matter where one is sitting. The SFJAZZ Center is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street. Performance dates and times are as follows, including hyperlinks to their respective event pages:
  • Sunday, October 6, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Pianist Kris Davis will lead her trio Diatom Ribbons, whose other members are Terri Lyne Carrington on drums and sound sculptor DJ Val Jeanty on other percussion. Selections will probably be taken from her newest album Duopoly. Tickets are being sold for $35.
  • Thursday, October 10, 8 p.m, Herbst Theatre: This is the first special event taking place in Herbst. Thelonious Monk was born on October 10, 1917. The concert will be a celebration of this jazz master’s 102nd birthday entitled Kenny Barron & Friends Celebrate Monk. Barron previously performed with Sphere, the quartet that included Monk alumni Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone and drummer Ben Riley. For this concert Barron will be joined by pianist Benny Green and Miles Okazaki on guitar. Ticket prices for the different sections of Herbst will be $35, $45, $65, and $85.
  • Monday, October 14, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre: Herbst will also host an evening with electro-acoustic composer Max Richter. He will be joined by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble and soprano Grace Davidson. Program details have not yet been announced. Ticket prices for the different sections of Herbst will be $30, $50, and $70.
  • Thursday, October 17–Saturday, October 19, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, October 20, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Pianist and composer Christian Sands will perform eight sets over the course of four evenings. He will highlight selections from his latest album Facing Dragons. He will lead a trio, whose other members will be Yasushi Nakamura on bass and drummer Jonathan Barber. Tickets will be $30 for all performances except for those on Saturday, when the price of admission will be $35.
  • Wednesday, October 23, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The Paco de Lucía Project was conceived to honor the legendary flamenco guitarist for whom the group is named. It is basically a reconstruction of the band that toured with the guitarist for the last ten years of his career before his death in 2014. The ensemble was organized by Javier Limón. The program will celebrate  the guitarist’s repertoire and will include flamenco dance by Antonio Fernández “Farru” Montoya. Ticket prices for the different sections of Herbst will be $40, $60, and $80.
  • Thursday, October 24, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Between October 24 and October 27, SFJAZZ will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ECM recording label. ECM has been an undisputed champion of innovative approaches to both compositions and performance. The recordings offer some of the most adventurous approaches to be found in both concert music and jazz gigs. Concerts will be held in Miner Auditorium, as well as the Henderson Lab. This site will focus on Henderson, because its listening conditions are particularly suited to the imaginative subtleties one encounters among ECM artists. The first artist to perform in Henderson will be Israeli piano virtuoso Shai Maestro. While on scholarship at the Summer Performance Program at Berklee College of Music in Boston, bassist Avishai Cohen recruited him to play in a new trio along with drummer Mark Guiliana. Their collaboration resulted in the 2008 album Gently Disturbed. This year ECM released its first album, The Dream Thief, with Maestro as trio leader, joined by Israeli dummer Ofri Nehemya and Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder. The trio will play selections from this album as part of its SFJAZZ debut. Tickets are being sold for $25.
  • Friday, October 25, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: This will be a solo performance by bassist Larry Grenadier. Grenadier may be known best for having played in Brad Mehldau’s trio for 25 years. However, my own first contact with him was from his ECM album led by wind player Chris Potter. The Sirens was an ambitious undertaking to account for the Homeric epic Odyssey through a suite of nine jazz tracks. Grenadier’s solo gig will be based on his ECM solo album The Gleaners. Tickets are being sold for $30.
  • Saturday, October 26, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Peter Erskine may best be known for his contributions to Joe Zawinul’s Weather Report, including the live album 8:30, which won a 1979 GRAMMY award. Now he is leading a quartet, whose other members are George Garzone on tenor saxophone, Alan Pasqua on piano, and Darek Oles on bass. Tickets are being sold for $30.
  • Sunday, October 27, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: The final ECM artist to perform in the Henderson Lab will be trumpeter and composer Ralph Alessi. He will perform material from his new ECM release Imaginary Friends. He will lead a quintet called This Against That, which is the title of an album released in 2007 that made the annual Top 10 list compiled by JazzTimes. The other members of the quintet are Jon Irabagon on saxophone, Andy Milne on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and Mark Ferber on drums. Tickets are being sold for $25.
  • Thursday, October 31–Saturday, November 2, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 3, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: The title of the final program of the month will be Deep Grooves. The musicians are listed as Amendola vs. Blades vs. Skerik vs. Baptista vs. Parker. This is less of a street fight than that description might suggest. The leader will be Berkeley-based drummer and composer Scott Amendola. He will be joined by his longtime partner Wil Blades at the keyboard of a Hammond B-3 organ. The other performers will be Skerik on saxophone, Jeff Parker on Tortoise guitar, and Cyro Baptista on percussion. This quintet will perform selections from their studio album Everybody Wins, scheduled for release on October 11. Tickets will be $25 for all performances except for those on Saturday, when the price of admission will be $30.