Monday, February 24, 2020

The Bleeding Edge: 2/24/2020

This is one of those weeks in which unreported events significantly outnumber those already “on the books.” One reason is that there are only two concerts this week at the Center for New Music, on February 26 and 29. (Those who view that Web page regularly know by now that the February 28 concert was cancelled.) The only other previously reported event of this week is tonight’s Monday Make-Out at the Make Out Room. However, it will be followed by the first Monday Make-Out of March, which will be included among the other alternatives listed below:

Thursday, February 27, 8:15 p.m., Luggage Store Gallery (LSG): The Outsound Presents LSG Creative Music Series is back on schedule with a three-set evening featuring three performers. The opening set will present vocalists Katt Atchley and Ron Heglin performing selections from their latest CD release. They will be followed by a solo electronics set performed by Kenneth Atchley. Finally, all three performers will join forces to improvise the final set. LSG is located at 1007 Market Street, across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street; and admission is on a sliding scale between $8 and $15.

Friday, February 28, 8 p.m., Sherman Street Studios: Readers may recall that the opening of the gallery show The Art of Skatch at the beginning of this month included a performance by the T.D. Skatchit duo of Tom Nunn and David Michalak. The closing of this show will be celebrated with another performance. This time T.D. Skatchit will be joined by colleagues that have performed with them in the past. These will include another appearance of vocalists Atchley and Heglin, along with a third vocalist, Lorin Benedict. They will also be joined by Chris Brown on electronics and spoken word artist Dean Santomieri.

The Sherman Street Studios are located in SoMa at 16 Sherman Street, between Folsom Street and Harrison Street. Sherman Street itself is halfway between Sixth Street and Seventh Street. The performance will be preceded by a reception at 7 p.m. There will be no charge for admission.

Saturday, February 29, 7:30 p.m., Episcopal Church of the Incarnation: As was already reported, the February calendar of Sunset Music and Arts events will conclude with a Beethoven 2020 recital by the duo of violinist Patrick Galvin and pianist Jung-eun Kim. However, the program has been updated; and they will now present piano trio music, joined by cellist Chauncey Aceret. The Beethoven selection will now be the first of the Opus 70 trios in D major, often known as the “Ghost” trio. The “bleeding edge” offering, however, will be the final selection on the program, Paul Schoenfield’s hilariously raucous “Café Music.” The distance between Beethoven and Schoenfield will be negotiated by Clara Schumann’s Opus 17, her only piano trio, written in the key of G minor.

The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation is located in the Sunset at 1750 29th Avenue, about halfway between Moraga Street and Noriega Street. Ticket prices are $20 for general admission with a $15 rate for students and seniors. Because the demand tends to be high, advance purchase is highly advised. Tickets may be purchased online through Eventbrite. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-564-2324.

Saturday, February 29, 8 p.m., Adobe Books: Guitarist and vocalist Matt Robidoux will present a release show for his latest album Brief Candles. He will lead an octet, whose other members are Michelle Lee (flute), Kris Force (violin), Naomi Harrison-Clay (saxophone), Tony Gennaro (vibraphone), Dylan Burchett (electronics), and Lee Hodel (bass). The evening will open with the duo of Nathan Corder and Kevin Murray. Vocalist and pianist Melissa Weikart will take a solo set of her own compositions; and the remaining set will be taken by VOL., an art group, whose members are Marissa Magic and Max Nordie, founded in 2014 and formerly known as The Blues.

Adobe Books is located at 3130 24th Street in the Mission between South Van Ness Avenue and Folsom Street. While no further specifics have been provided, it is reasonable to assume that this gig will be 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, March 2, 8:30 p.m., Make Out Room: Finally, March will begin with the first of the two Monday Make-Out concerts of the month. The performers will be three “bleeding edge” combos. The opening set will be taken by the wind quartet of Michelle Lee, Kim Nucci, Erika Oba, and Tom Weeks performing free improvisation. They will be followed by the multi-genre Amendola Trio, led by drummer Scott Amendola, performing with Karl Evangelista on guitar and Jason Hoopes on bass. The final set will be taken by the Kasey Knudsen Sextet performing modern jazz. Knudsen leads on saxophone and will be joined by Henry Hung on trumpet, Rob Ewing on trombone, Dahveed Behroozi on piano, Miles Wick on bass, and Eric Garland 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! As always, doors will open a half hour prior to the beginning of the first set.

Violins of Hope Chamber Music at Davies

Drawing of Theresienstadt living quarters (by Bedřich Fritta, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Yesterday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) presented a chamber music recital to mark its participation in the Violins of Hope project. This involved a trio of SFS musicians, violinist Raushan Akhmedyarova, violist Adam Smyla, and cellist Barbara Bogatin, who also provided background information about both Violins of Hope and the pieces being performed. Those pieces were written by two Czech composers, both of whom were actively involved in the cultural life of the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Violins of Hope, in turn, was responsible for the restoration of the instruments performed by all three members of the trio. Each composer was represented by music performed on either side of the intermission.

Theresienstadt was not a death camp like Auschwitz. Its prisoners were held there until arrangements were made to transfer them to a more fatal destination. (Obviously, the prisoners were not aware of this deadly plan.) The Nazis even went as far as to declare Theresienstadt a “spa town,” with amenities such as concert performances given by the inmates presenting music written by other inmates. These were the circumstances under which the music played by the SFS trio was first presented.

The music performed before the intermission was a string trio composed by Gideon Klein in 1944. Klein was transferred out of Theresienstadt, first to Auschwitz and then to Fürstengrube. The circumstances of his death are unknown, but it is assumed that he died some time in 1945. His trio was recently recorded by the Black Oak Ensemble on their Silenced Voices album, which was discussed on this site this past October. The core of the trio is a Lento movement of variations on a Moravian folk song, framed by relatively short fast movements on either side. As might be expected, there is considerable darkness in both the theme and its variations; and it would be fair to say that the performance given yesterday afternoon was uncompromising in its rhetoric.

The intermission was followed by two compositions by Hans Krása, both composed also in 1944. The longer of these was a coupling of passacaglia and fugue. As Bogatin observed, this reflected all the way back to the practices of Johann Sebastian Bach; but the grimly sinuous passacaglia theme was more evocative of the sinister chromaticism of Anton Webern’s passacaglia (his Opus 1). To orient the listeners to Krása’s theme and how it then transformed into a fugue subject, Bogatin had Smyla play examples, which provided just the right amount of framework for attentive listening. As a more cheerful “post script” to their performance, the trio concluded with Krása’s “Tanec,” a short and vigorous dance movement with a few reverberations of Béla Bartók’s reflections on Hungarian sources. 1944 was the year in which Krása was transferred to Auschwitz, where he was put to death on October 17.

Fortunately, these grim reflections on dark times were framed by more upbeat selections. The program began with Malcom Arnold’s Suite Bourgeoise, a trio for flute (Robin McKee), oboe (James Button), and piano (Britton Day). This consisted of a Prelude movement followed by reflections on four styles of popular music of the time. (Arnold composed this suite in 1940.) There was more than a little satire in Arnold’s approach to each of these popular styles, and all three of the players knew exactly how to capture the composer’s humorous rhetoric. There were also many elegant duo passages for the two winds, and the harmonies emerging from McKee and Button could not have been smoother. Nevertheless, it was hard to shake off a sense of irony that Arnold composed this music during the dawning of the horrors in Germany that would lead to institutions such as Theresienstadt.

The program concluded with Johannes Brahms’ Opus 40, his trio in E-flat major scored for horn (Daniel Hawkins), violin (David Chernyavsky), and piano (Asya Gulua). This provided just the right doses of relief from the grim fates of Klein and Krása. Hawkins was particularly impressive with the smooth style he brought to his instrument, highlighting the vast array of lyric qualities that Brahms had envisioned. Indeed, the couplings of Chernyavsky and Hawkins were as compelling as those of McKee and Button, but with entirely different sonorities. While there were definitely moments of melancholy in Brahms’ score (one of which was shamelessly appropriated by Meredith Willson when he was writing the score for The Unsinkable Molly Brown), the overall rhetoric was one of sunny optimism, allowing the audience to leave Davies with a decidedly positive state of mind.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Isabelle Faust’s New Schoenberg Album

courtesy of PIAS

This coming Friday harmonia mundi will release its latest “Isabelle Faust and friends” album. I feel as if I have been following Faust’s work almost as long as I have been writing about music. I have encountered her playing music for violin unaccompanied, serving as a concerto soloist, and performing in chamber music groups of different sizes. That latter category includes membership in a trio with cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and pianist Alexander Melnikov, a group that I documented when they performed in Herbst Theatre at the beginning of this month. I have not followed her recording career thoroughly, but I have definitely been drawn to some of her more adventurous undertakings. The most recent of these involved the release of an album presenting a thoroughly engaging account of Franz Schubert’s D. 803 octet in F major.

Faust’s latest recording could not be more different. The entire album presents two decidedly different compositions by Arnold Schoenberg. The more familiar of these is his Opus 4 sextet given the title “Verklärte Nacht” (transfigured night), so named because it delivers what amounts to a verse-by-verse musical interpretation of a poem by Richard Dehmel that has the same title. As the opus number suggests, this is an early composition, tonal but rich in chromaticism. At the other end of Schoenberg’s career, the album begins with his Opus 36 violin concerto, based on the composer’s twelve-tone technique but taking a neoclassical approach to thematic structure. As may be expected, is currently taking pre-orders for this new album.

The structure of the violin concerto is derived from a single twelve-tone row:

When Columbia released its first recording of the concerto, it included a twelve-by-twelve array of pitch class labels that was intended to summarize all “permissible” statements of the row. The pitch classes of the row itself (A B-flat E-flat B E F-sharp C C-sharp G A-flat D F) constituted the first horizontal row. The first vertical row descended from the A and presented the inversion of the row, replacing rising intervals with those descending by the same amount and vice versa. The array could then be completed by taking each pitch class in that vertical row to specify a transposition of the entire row. The resulting grid thus presented twelve horizontal and twelve vertical rows, reach of which could be read forwards or backwards, meaning that there are 48 possible ways in which the row may be stated.

Columbia’s “mathematical” approach to Schoenberg’s technique (which may well have been due to input from Milton Babbitt) could easily be the most counterproductive measure in any attempt to encourage listeners to accept Schoenberg’s music. We know from a caustic letter that Schoenberg wrote to René Leibowitz that the composer abhorred such an approach. As Schoenberg put it in that letter:
I do not compose principles, but music.
Sadly between the misguided efforts of Babbitt as a theorist and Robert Craft as a conductor, it did not take long for even the most curious of listeners to be put off by all-things-Schoenberg.

In my own personal development, it took me quite some time to find a more constructive handle to bring to Schoenberg’s efforts to work with alternatives to traditional tonality. My own turning point took place in the Eighties when my wife and I would regularly visit Santa Fe to see the summer opera productions. There was a chamber music festival taking place at the same time, which offered free admission to rehearsals during the day. This led to my turning pages for pianist Ursula Oppens one afternoon when she was accompanying violinist György Pauk to prepare a performance of Schoenberg’s Opus 47 Phantasy.

I volunteered for this task assuming that I would need to follow the score to make sense of the music. To be fair, there were any number of times when my eyes were providing better guidance than my ears did. However, on the brink of one tempo change, I heard Pauk say, “Now we dance!” That became my bolt from the blue. There was no reason not to dance to that music and every reason to do so; and since that afternoon I have always let my ears (and occasionally muscular reactions) guide my way.

The reason for this long-winded anecdote is that the beginning of the final (third) movement of the Opus 36 violin concerto has become one of the clearest now-we-dance moments I have encountered. Performing with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Faust clearly knew consistently how to find the spirit behind all three movements of this concerto without getting bogged down in the flood of marks on paper or the mathematical matrix intended to bring clarity to all of those marks. One might say that this is a performance that keeps the listener focused on the concerto regardless of any opinions formed about the composer; but, with the benefit of that focus, one might even have a bit of fun with the listening experience!

In the Opus 4 performance Faust leads a sextet in which she is again joined by Queyras. Anne Katharina Schreiber is the other violinist, and Christian Poltéra is the other cellist. The two violists are Antoine Tamestit and Danusha Waskiewicz. (Both Schreiber and Waskiewicz performed with Faust on her Schubert octet album.)

From a semantic point of view, I rather like the fact that the booklet presents an English translation of Dehmel’s poem, clearly marking off the five sections that correspond to the five tracks (played without interruption) of the recording. In contrast to Columbia’s sterile approach to packaging the Opus 36 concerto, the booklet allows the engaged listener to appreciate just how attentive Schoenberg was to the structural and semantic foundations of Dehmel’s text. It goes without saying that Faust and her colleagues bring a sufficiently solid account of Schoenberg’s score to engage any listener willing to be engaged.

I have had the good fortune to listen to Opus 4 performed by more sextets than I am capable of enumerating. I still feel that there is no substitute to being in the presence of a performance, allowing the eyes to augment all the data being acquired through the ears. For that matter, awareness of the physical movement of the players adds yet another data stream to contribute to the sensemaking process. This makes listening to a recording a far more limited experience. Nevertheless, a new recording can bring with it new perspectives on such matters as phrasing and levels of the dynamics; and, since it is unlikely that I shall encounter all six of the musicians on this album in a performance of Opus 4, I have no trouble making the best of what I have at my disposal!

Pavel Haas Quartet to Return to SFP with Pianist

Veronika Jarůšková, Marek Zwiebel, and Peter Jarůšek standing behind Jiří Kabát and pianist Boris Giltburg (from the SFP event page for this concert)

Visits to San Francisco Performances (SFP) by the Pavel Haas Quartet (violinists Veronika Jarůšková and Marek Zwiebel, violist Jiří Kabát, and cellist Peter Jarůšek) have become consistently welcome affairs. Next month will see their sixth appearance in Herbst Theatre, the last one having taken place in April of 2011, back when I was writing for For this season’s visit, however, they will be joined by Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg.

The entire quintet will perform during the second half of the program. The single selection will be Antonín Dvořák Opus 81 (second) piano quintet in A major. The first half of the program will be devoted entirely to the twentieth century. It will begin with Bohuslav Martinů’s sixth string quartet, which he composed in New York in 1946. This will be followed by Béla Bartók’s fourth quartet, composed in Budapest in 1928. Music theorist Allen Forte developed an argument to demonstrate Bartók departing from tonality in this quartet, particularly in its third movement.

This performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10. Herbst Theatre is located on the first two floors of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, convenient to public transportation on both Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. Ticket prices will be $70 for premium seating on the Orchestra level and in the front of the Dress Circle, $55 for the Boxes, the remainder of the Orchestra, and the remainder of the center Dress Circle, and $45 for the Balcony and the remainder of the Dress Circle. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an SFP event page.

Two Quartets by Two Mendelssohn Siblings

1829 sketch of Fanny Mendelssohn by her future husband Wilhelm Hensel (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Yesterday afternoon the New Esterházy Quartet (NEQ) brought their Beyond Beethoven: Quartets from the Next Generation program to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. The program was devoted to the two best known children of Abraham Mendelssohn, Fanny and her younger brother Felix. The removal of Georges Onslow from the previously announced program meant that only two quartets were performed, separated by a brief intermission along with commentary by violist Anthony Martin. The program began with Fanny’s only quartet, composed in the key of E-flat major in 1834. This was followed by Felix’s Opus 80 quartet in F minor, an intense composition reflecting his profound grief at the death of this sister in 1847. (Felix himself would die only months after completing this quartet.)

Most of Fanny’s music was not published in her lifetime. As Martin explained, publication would have established her as a professional musician, which her father would not allow. Her Wikipedia page includes the following sentence from a latter that Abraham wrote to Fanny in 1820:
Music will perhaps become his [i.e. Felix's] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament.
In 1829 Fanny married the painter Wilhelm Hensel, who was far more supportive of Fanny’s creative endeavors. However, her marital duties left her little time for composition.

We should be fortunate that she had enough time to compose her only string quartet. It is imaginative in any number of ways, beginning with the overall layout of the tempi of its four movements. The Adagio ma non troppo suggests an introduction to a sonata-allegro structure, which never actually emerges; and Fanny definitely takes her own sweet time in establishing E-flat major as the key. The Allegretto scherzo in the second movement abounds with irresistibly engaging eccentricities. The following Romanze provides the slow tempo with its proper place, leading up to an elegantly conceived Allegro molto vivace conclusion.

Given the context in which Felix composed Opus 80, I found myself wondering if he chose F minor because it was the key of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 95 quartet, given the name “Serioso.” Clearly, Felix was going for serious rhetorical stances, even if that adjective is the only suggestion of a connection to Beethoven. NEQ followed the dark shades of that rhetoric through all four of the quartet’s movements, consistently reflecting the “seriousness” of tone without succumbing to excessive emoting.

As always, the NEQ violinists alternated in the first chair position. Kati Kyme led Fanny’s quartet, and Lisa Weiss led Felix’s. Fanny provided cellist William Skeen with several intriguing passages that suggested novel approaches to technique beyond those demanded by Beethoven. Similarly, the viola was anything but a secondary instrument in both of these quartets; and Fanny’s score provided Martin with any number of opportunities to take the lead.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Swedish Women Composers of the Nineteenth Century

Paula Gudmundson on the cover of her debut album (from the album’s Web page on

This past November MSR Classics released the debut album of Minnesota-based flutist Paula Gudmundson. The full title of the album is Breaking Waves: Music by Swedish Women Composers. Anticipating that just about anyone encountering this title will associate it with Lars von Trier, Gudmundson’s notes for the accompanying booklet make it clear that “Breaking Waves” was the title of an orchestral composition by Swedish composer Helena Munktell (1852–1919).

Munktell’s music is not included on this album. However, the three composers whose works Gudmundson performs are her contemporaries: Laura Netzel (1839–1927), Elfrida Andrée (1841–1929), and Amanda Röntgen-Maier (1853–1894). The major works on the album are three-movement sonatas by Andrée and Röntgen-Maier. Netzel is represented by several short pieces, three of which are collected in her Opus 33 suite.

Gudmundson is accompanied at the piano by Tracy Lipke-Perry. However, the Netzel suite is the only piece composed for flute and piano. All of the other selections are based on transcriptions prepared by Carol Wincenc and Gudmundson herself.

The compositions themselves date from different periods of the nineteenth century, a period that saw prodigious changes between the early career of Ludwig van Beethoven and the established tone poems of Richard Strauss. It is therefore more than a little disappointing that there is an almost innocuous uniformity that pervades Gudmundson’s album. In the broader scope of music history, we know that there were several adventurous composers. (One of them probably had some of her works published under her brother’s name.) However, Breaking Waves leaves one with the impression that such adventurism never ventured as far north as Sweden.

The result is an album that offers some valuable data points for a more thorough account of musical practices in the nineteenth century without necessarily providing engaging or satisfying listening experiences.

LCCE to Present Musical Storytelling

Storyteller Susan Strauss, composer Chris Castro, and violist Phyllis Kamrin (from the LCCE event page for the concert being previewed)

The title of the fourth program to be presented in the 2019–2020 season of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (LCCE) is Fairytale Pieces. Of the three pieces on the program, one will be a world premiere and another was composed on an LCCE commission. The world premiere composition was written by Carl Schimmel, entitled “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.”

This piece was inspired by Howard L. Chace’s book Anguish Languish, now out of print but available from at collector’s-item prices. The book is a hysterically funny study in phonemics. Except for the Introduction, it consists entirely of strings of words that make sense only when read aloud. With that as background, readers should be able to mine the semantics from the title of Schimmel’s piece, described by Chase as a “ladle furry starry toiling udder warts—warts welcher altar girdle deferent firmer once inner regional virgin.” The narration of this text will be delivered by Nikki Einfeld.

The LCCE commission was for a pair of short pieces by Chris Castro, “Coyote Goes to the Sky” and “Birds of Fortune.” They were premiered about a year ago, when LCCE was ensemble-in-residence at the Doug Adams Gallery of the Graduate Theological Union’s Center for Arts and Religion. For these pieces, based on Native American tales, guest performer Susan Strauss will serve as storyteller. The program will begin with Robert Schumann’s Opus 113, a collection of four short pieces scored for viola (Phyllis Kamrin) and piano (Allegra Chapman, appearing as guest performer).

The San Francisco performance of this program will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 9. The venue will be the Recital Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, located at 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street and a short walk from the Van Ness Muni Station. Single tickets will be sold at the door for $35 for general admission and $18 for those under the age of 35. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a Tix Web page.

ABS Announces 2020 Jeffrey Thomas Award

Yesterday the American Bach Soloists (ABS) announced the recipient of the 2020 Jeffrey Thomas Award. The award was created by ABS in celebration of the group’s first 25 years of presenting performances in Northern California, across the United States, and around the world. The award was named to honor the inspired leadership of Artistic & Music Director Thomas.

The 2020 recipient is mezzo Sarah Coit:

Mezzo Sarah Coit (courtesy of American Bach Soloists)

Coit was one of the soloists featured at the end of last December, which she sang in the ABS concert A Baroque New Year’s Eve at the Opera at Herbst Theatre. She performed arias from three operas by George Frideric Handel, Riccardo Primo (HWV 23), Giulio Cesare (HWV 17), and Ariodante (HWV 33). This coming December she will be one of the soloists in the annual ABS performances of Handel’s Messiah (HWV 56) held, as usual, in Grace Cathedral.

Gordon Grdina’s Nomadic Guitar Polyphony

Courtesy of Braithwaite & Katz Communications

Last month Skirl Records released the debut album of Gordon Grdina’s Nomad Trio. Grdina is a prodigiously virtuosic guitarist whose imaginative approaches to jazz are balanced by an equal interest in Arabic music, which he explores on the oud. The other members of his trio are pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Jim Black. As is so often the case, is only distributing this recording through download, but there is a Bandcamp Web page that supports both physical and digital purchase of the content.

The first impression one gets from this album is that Grdina has a prodigious command of polyphony. He has no trouble maintaining multiple voices on his guitar; and, for that matter, his knack for teasing counterpoint out of a single melodic line follows admirably in the footsteps of Johann Sebastian Bach. As a result, Mitchell’s role in the Nomad Trio often involves weaving his own lines into Grdina’s polyphony; and those results can be mind-boggling. (To be fair, Michell’s command of rhythmic patterns is just as prodigious, meaning that he can engage with Black’s percussion work as adeptly as he does with Grdina.)

Indeed, this is an album that offers far more than can be absorbed by the simple sit-down-and-listen technique. Each of the six tracks has an elaborate life of its own. This is one of those “bleeding edge” jazz albums that demands so much attentive listening that each track is a cognitive adventure unto itself.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Choices for March 6–8, 2020

The first full weekend in March is going to be another busy one. As was the case with the account of March 1 earlier this week, the weekend will mark the beginning of several monthly schedules, which will also be summarized in this report. In other words, this will be another “fasten your seatbelts” article, hopefully with enough diversity that no particular interest will be slighted. Specifics are as follows:

Friday, March 6, 7 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): The March calendar at C4NM will begin with the third annual Songfest, held as part of San Francisco State University’s annual RGB Arts Festival. The program will present the results of student composers working with poets from the Creative Writing Department. The resulting works will be performed by student vocalists and accompanists. There will be no charge for admission, and tickets will be available only at the door.

As of this writing, this concert will be the first event of the month at C4NM. In necessary, I shall use my Facebook shadow site to put out the word about updates as more information becomes available. For those who do not yet know, the venue is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, which is where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. Most of the remaining events of the month will required tickets, which 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:
  • Sunday, March 8, 7 p.m.: Bay Area pianist Ric Louchard will give a solo recital. The program will be divided between his own compositions and those of Michael Rothkopf, currently Professor of Composition a the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.
  • Friday, March 13, 7:30 p.m.: C4NM curator Glenda Bates will perform in a concert of solo works for oboe and electronics. She will play electroacoustic works for both oboe and cor anglais by Diana Syrse, Daria Semegen, and Thea Musgrave. This performances will be interwoven with projections of artwork by Julia Marquis, which will tell the story of humanity's descent into darkness and our will to create a brighter future. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.
  • Saturday, March 14, 7:30 p.m.: This will be a two-set program. Desert Magic is a music collective founded in 2015 by Alex Wand, Steven Van Betten, and Logan Hone. For their visit to C4NM, they will be joined by multi-instrumentalist Mustafa Walker. Their offering will be the premiere performance of a song cycle entitled The Valley Spirit, whose text consists primarily of Ursula Le Guin’s version of the Tao Te Ching. The other set will be taken by Bay Area folk musician Meg Baird. The charge will be $20 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.
  • Sunday, March 15, 4 p.m.: The Surround Sound Salon Series, curated by Chris Brown, will continue with its third concert. The program will feature five local electronic music composers who present their fixed media and/or live electronic music through the 8-channel surround system, generously provided by Meyer Sound. Those composers, Maggi Payne, Michelle Moeller, Léa Boudreau, David Michalak, and Tom Nunn, will mix their sounds from the center of the space, and the audience is free to choose their own listening location, and to move within the space to hear the music from different vantage points. The charge will be $10 for general admission and $5 for C4NM members and students.
  • Monday, March 16, 8 p.m.: Cornettist and composer Taylor Ho Bynum will make a rare visit to the Bay Area. He will lead a quartet whose other members will be Hafez Modirzadeh (tenor saxophone), Tomeka Reid (cello), and Keshav Batish (drums and tabla). The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.
  • Tuesday, March 17, 8 p.m.: Luciano Chessa will return to C4NM to present a three-set program. The first set will be performed with Joshua Howes; and the performance by the two of them will involve piano, voice, and a diversity of signal processing technology. The second set will be performed by Tenderloin Noise, which is Chessa’s duo with Williams. Williams will provide sound through turntables to accompany Chessa’s performance on amplified piano. Chess will then conclude with a solo set involving feedback technology applied to both voice and piano. The charge will be $25 for general admission and $20 for C4NM members and students.
  • Thursday, March 19, 7:30 p.m.: Violinist Pauline Kim Harris will play “Ambient Chaconne,” which she composed in partnership with Spencer Tope. They describe the composition, which takes a little less than three-quarters of an hour, as “an immersive exploration” of the chaconne movement that concludes Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1004 solo violin partita in D minor. The work blends live and pre-recorded violin with electronically synthesized sounds. The performance will also incorporate a film by Eric Leiser. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.
  • Friday, March 20, 7:30 p.m.: Harris will return the following night as half of the String Noise violin duo, joined by Conrad Harris. They will play their own arrangement of the score for The Decline of Western Civilization, Penelope Spheeris’ documentary about the Los Angeles punk rock scene, based on footage that she captured between 1979 and 1980. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.
  • Saturday, March 21, 7:30 p.m.: Eric Dahlman, E. Doc Smith, Edo Castro Woodhouse and Peter McKibben will present a program entitled Cloud About Mercury Revisited. In the spirit of the String Noise program, this quartet will present new arrangements of music from guitarist David Torn’s album Cloud About Mercury. They will also take the same approach to tracks from the Upper Extremities album recorded by Bill Bruford and Tony Levin. All four members of the group will also contribute original compositions of their own. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.
  • Friday, March 27, 7:30 p.m.: Andrew Watts, Constantin Basica, Ryan Maguire, Julie Herndon, Andrew Blanton, and Caroline Louise Miller will all present original compositions that will reflect on the emergence of a “post human” culture during the Internet Age.The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students. For this particular program, advance ticket sales will end at 5 p.m. on the day of the event; and tickets will be available at the door 30 minutes before the show begins.
  • Saturday, March 28, 8 p.m.: Pianist Rory Cowal will give a solo recital. His program will feature contemporary composers who draw from avant-garde jazz traditions. Those composers will include George Lewis, Kris Davis, and Anthony Davis. The charge will be $15 for general admission and $10 for C4NM members and students.
  • Sunday, March 29, 8 p.m.: Rova 2020: The Music Revealed Take 1 will be the next performance by the Rova Saxophone Quartet to be hosted by C4NM. As they are putting it, they will perform “works devised or brought to a place of revelations in this 2019 -20 season, including at least one world premiere.” (The Take 2 incarnation of this program will take place in April.) The charge will be $15 for general admission, $10 for C4NM members, and $6 for students.
Friday, March 6, 7:30 p.m., Episcopal Church of the Incarnation: The March calendar for Sunset Music and Arts will offer six concerts, only one of which will be part of The Beethoven 2020 Project. Instead, the month will open with the Alon Nechushtan Jazz Quartet, which will present their Klezmer-Jazz Project. Program details have not yet been announced. Nechushtan will lead his group from the piano. The other five concerts will also take place at 7:30 p.m. Specifics are as follows:
  • Saturday, March 7: Duo SF consists of guitarists Christopher Mallet and Robert Miller. They have prepared a program of impressive breadth. It will include arrangements of music from Manuel de Falla’s opera La vida breve (the brief life), tangos by Astor Piazzolla, and arrangements of four Beatles songs composed by Leo Brouwer.
  • Friday, March 13: This month’s Beethoven 2020 Project concert will feature organ scholar Oliver Brett. Ludwig van Beethoven wrote very little for the organ, but several of his teachers were organists. There seem to have been occasions when he assisted them in performance. For this concert, however, Brett will accompany hornist Dan Hivley in a performance of Beethoven’s Opus 17 horn sonata in F major. The remainder of the program will then be devoted to the organ repertoire.
  • Friday, March 20: Baritone John Smalley will present a program entitled Schoenberg and his Students. Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern all composed adventurous vocal music. However, Smalley’s program will also include less familiar Schoenberg students, such as Hans Eisler and Viktor Ullmann. He will be accompanied by pianist Janis Mercer.
  • Saturday, March 21: The next jazz offering will be a program entitled Women Compose Jazz!, performed by the Laura Klein Trio. Klein will lead from the piano with rhythm provided by Carla Kaufman on bass and Kelly Fasman on drums. The trio will play Klein’s own music, as well as the works of jazz icons such as Marian McPartland, Mary Lou Williams, Renee Rosnes, Alice Coltrane, and Joanne Brackeen.
  • Saturday, March 28: Ensemble LudeCanta is an ever-changing consortium of musicians committed to presenting new and rarely-performed chamber works. The Artistic Director is soprano C.A. Jordan. Nicholas Chase is the resident composer, performing on electronics when necessary. The other instrumentalists are Amy Likar, playing all sizes of flutes, cellist Lori Hennessy, and pianist Linli Wang. The group will present a program of music by American composers including Samuel Barber, Henry Cowell, and Ernest Bloch.
All performances will take place in the Sunset district at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, located at 1750 29th Avenue, about halfway between Moraga Street and Noriega Street. Ticket prices are $20 for general admission with a $15 rate for students and seniors. Because the demand tends to be high, advance purchase is highly advised. Tickets may be purchased online through Eventbrite. Each of the hyperlinks on the above dates leads to the event page for single ticket purchases. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-564-2324.

Friday, March 6, 8 p.m., and Saturday, March 7, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., ODC Theater: The Living Earth Show (TLES) and ODC will co-present T.L.E.S.tival a two-day festival. Those that have followed this site regularly probably know that TLES is the highly imaginative and creative duo of guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson. This two day event will celebrate the duo’s tenth anniversary with two separate programs (and two performances of the Saturday program).

The Friday program will present Lordship and Bondage: The Birth of the Negro Superman, a ten-movement song cycle composed by M. Lamar working with TLES. The texts are drawn from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s The Phenomenology Spirit, which includes a section entitled “Lordship and Bondage” dealing with the master-slave dialectic, and the “Prophecy” of the Übermensch (superman) from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The libretto also includes texts by Sun Ra taken from both interviews and his own writings on discipline and freedom.

The Saturday program will also present a single composition, the one-hour spoken-word chamber opera “Echoes,” composed by Danny Clay. This piece was created for San Francisco Performance, which presented the premiere performance on October 7, 2017. The libretto for this performance was curated by Tassiana Willis, one of the inaugural Emerging Arts Fellows at Youth Speaks, whose texts were combined with those of four other poet-performers, Gabriel Cortez, A. M. Smiley, Aimee Suzara, and Michael Wayne Turner III. The libretto also included texts by Tongo Eisen-Martin and Enrique Garcia Naranjo; and one of the poems was delivered by Sean San José, who directed the entire performance. Clay’s score was performed by both TLES and the Kronos Quartet of violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, and cellist Sunny Yang, along with field recordings that Clay collected.

Tickets for the two performances are being sold separately. However, ticket sales are being managed by ODC, meaning that all tickets can be collected into a Shopping Cart and given a single payment. Tickets may be purchased through the event pages for the two programs on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Ticket prices for Friday will be $19, $29, and $39; and those for Saturday will be $19, $29, $39, and $49.

Friday, March 6, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: On March 17 the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) will embark on its final tour of New York and Europe with Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT). As in the past, there will be two “preview programs” of the music to be performed on that tour. The first of these will be given only one performance and will consist only of the performance of Gustav Mahler’s sixth symphony. Peter Grunberg will be giving the Inside Music talk beginning at 7 p.m.

Tickets for this concert are almost sold out. As of this writing, tickets are only available in the Terraces and 2nd Tier for $185. Tickets may be purchased online through an event page on the SFS Web site. Tickets 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. 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.

The second program will feature cellist Gautier Capuçon. He will tour with SFS to perform Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 126 (second) cello concerto. The “overture” for the program will be MTT’s “Street Song,” composed for the brass section. The program will conclude with Igor Stravinsky’s score for the ballet “The Firebird.”

This program will be given three performances, all at 8 p.m. on March 12, March 13, and March 14. As can be seen from the hyperlinks, each performance now has its own event page; but they all point to the same Web page for choosing tickets to purchase. Tickets are available at all prices (from $35 to $175); and tickets can also be purchased at the Box Office. The Inside Music talk will be given by Elizabeth Seitz, again beginning at 7 p.m.

Friday, March 6, 8 p.m., War Memorial Opera House: Across the street from Davies, the San Francisco Ballet will be presenting the first of its two full-evening programs of major works by choreographer George Balanchine. The first of these is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set to music by Felix Mendelssohn. Over a 35 years after his death, Balanchine remains one of the most musically-informed of choreographers. His biographer Bernard Taper even noted that Balanchine will prepare to teach a new ballet by first writing his own solo piano version of the music he would be setting.

In addition to the opening, there will be nine additional performances. These will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 7, Sunday, March 8, Saturday, March 14, and Sunday, March 15, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 7, and Saturday, March 14, and at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10, Wednesday, March 11, and Thursday, March 12. The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, on the northwest corner of Grove Street. The home page for this production has hyperlinks for online purchase of tickets. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Box Office can also be reached by calling 415-865-2000.

Saturday, March 7, 7:30 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The next Dynamite Guitars program presented by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts will present the duo of guitarist Giampaolo Bandini performing with Cesare Chiacchiaretta on bandoneon. Program details have not been released, but it is easy to assume that they will focus on Argentinian music, probably with a preference for tangos. St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. Ticket prices will be $55 for Orchestra level seating, and $45 for the Balcony. Seating will be general admission in both sections. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

Saturday, March 7, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: At the same time as Omni, San Francisco Performances (SFP) will present the next concert in its Guitar Series. This will feature the return of Bill Kanengiser, who performed in Herbst with the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet this past November. On this occasion he will perform with the Alexander String Quartet. The title of the program will be British Invasion; and it will feature the United States premiere of Prism, arrangements of six songs by Sting prepared by Dušan Bogdanović. The “pop” spirit of the program will continue with Brouwer’s arrangements of seven Beatles songs, after which the group will play “Labyrinth,” composed by Ian Krouse and based on a theme by Led Zeppelin. Earlier British music will be represented by Krouse’s “Music in Four Sharps,” based on John Dowland’s “Frog” galliard. Kanengiser will also give solo performances of several of Dowland’s songs.

Herbst Theatre is located on the first two floors of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, convenient to public transportation on both Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. Ticket prices will be $60 for premium seating on the Orchestra level and in the front of the Dress Circle, $50 for the Boxes, the remainder of the Orchestra, and the remainder of the center Dress Circle, and $45 for the Balcony and the remainder of the Dress Circle. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a SFP event page.

Saturday, March 7, 7:30 p.m., Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church: Readers may recall my report on the Prism Percussion duo of Divesh Karamchandani and Elizabeth Hall when they performed at the McRoskey Mattress Company this past November. Their first recital of the new year will be given in the Seventh Avenue Performances recital series. The program will feature “Transit,” composed by Nicholas Pavkovic for vibraphone, marimba, and keyboard. They will also revisit Kyle Hovatter’s settings of four poems by Terry Severhill, given a memorable account at their McRoskey recital.

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 are available in advance online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page.

Sunday, March 8, 2 p.m., Legion of Honor: Pocket Opera will begin its 43rd year of presenting grand opera on an intimate scale to Bay Area audiences. The first performance in San Francisco will present Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni, directed by Jane Erwin. The case will feature Anders Froehlich in the leading role and Sara LeMesh as Zerlina. Adler Fellow César Cañón will conduct.

This performance will take place in the Gunn Theater. The Legion of Honor is located in Lincoln Park at 100 34th Avenue. Single tickets are being sold in advance for $55 and for $60 at the door. Senior rates are $48 in advance and $54 at the door. There is also a special $25 rate for those aged 30 and under, but these are most easily purchased by called 415-972-8934. Because this is the beginning of the season, subscriptions are still being sold. A Web page has been created for online purchase of both subscriptions and single tickets, providing all relevant information.

Sunday, March 8, 2 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: The next visiting program to be hosted by SFS will be the Fest-Eastern Divan Ensemble. This group brings together Israeli and Palestinian musicians playing side-by-side. They are currently led by violinist Michael Barenboim. The program will feature the octet “Jawb” by Benjamin Attahir, composed on commission by the Ensemble. The program will also feature Felix Mendelssohn’s octet, as well as compositions by Franz Schubert and Giuseppe Tartini. Tickets are being sold for prices between $29 and $89. They may be purchased online through the event page for this concert or directly through the Box Office.

Sunday, March 8, 4 p.m., Congregation Sha’ar Zahav: Once again San Francisco Choral Artists (SFCA), led by Artistic Director Magen Solomon, will collaborate with the klezmer trio Veretski Pass. The title of the program will be Stomping Feet: Song and Dance in the Jewish Tradition. The selections will combine the classical repertoire with the folk roots of Jewish music.

Congregation Sha’ar Zahav is located at 290 Dolores Street, on the southeast corner of 16th Street. Ticket prices will be $30 for general admission, $25 for seniors, and $12.50 for those under 30. Prices at the door will be $35 for general admission, $29 for seniors, and $15 for those under 30. All tickets are being sold online through a Web page on the SFCA Web site.

Sunday, March 8, 7 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: Ensemble for These Times (E4TT) will present is 2020 Commissions Concert. The title of the program will be Mothers & Daughters. It will present world premiere performances of music by Elinor Armer, David Garner, and Brennan Stokes. The program will also include compositions by Anna Clyne, William Grant Still, and Chen Yi. The E4TT trio of soprano Nanette McGuinness, cellist Anne Lerner, and pianist Dale Tsang will be joined by guest artists Laura Reynolds on cor anglais and Ilana Blumberg on violin.

The Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street. Tickets will be $30 for general admission, $15 for seniors, and $5 for students. Tickets at all price levels are currently available for sale online through an Eventbrite event page.

Salonen Serves a Feast of Diverse Sonorities

Esa-Pekka Salonen at the SFS podium (from the event page of the concert being discussed)

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Music Director Designate Esa-Pekka Salonen presented the first of three performances of the first of the two programs he prepared for his visit to the SFS podium this month. Taken as a whole, the concert abounded with a prolific diversity of sonorities in imaginatively different combinations. The second half of the program was devoted entirely to the music of Maurice Ravel, represented by both chamber music intimacy and the full breadth of SFS resources. The first half, in turn, was divided into one selection from the string section and another for winds, brass, and percussion.

The program began with the first SFS performance of music that Steven Stucky had composed for Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1992, “Funeral Music for Queen Mary (after Purcell).” This took, as its point of departure, music composed by Henry Purcell for the funeral of Queen Mary II of England scored originally for four trumpets, along with a choral setting of the funereal sentence “Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts.” Those of my generation probably know this music best for “filling out” a Seraphim album of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 243 setting of the Magnificat canticle performed by the Geraint Jones Singers. (Seraphim was the “bargain label” division of Angel Records.) A few years after this album had been released, Wendy (then Walter) Carlos appropriated the opening march giving it the same bizarre Moog synthesizer treatment that had been applied to the Switched-On Bach album in preparing the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange.

Stucky’s approach had less to do with Carlos’ fondness for “special effects.” Instead he deconstructed Purcell’s material, engaging a broader spectrum of resources resulting in a diversity of perspectives on relatively straightforward music for a somber ceremony. Part of that reconstruction involved music that had not been in Purcell’s score but that Jones had added for his album, an additional part for the timpani that punctuated each phrase of the funeral march. As might be guessed, Carlos went haywire over that amendment, while Stucky allowed it to grow on the attentive listener over the course of his composition’s ten-minute duration.

All this made for thoroughly engaging listening, particularly for those more familiar with Jones’ scholarly recording than with Carlos’ ear candy. Personally, I could never quite grasp where the funeral sentence emerged in Stucky’s score; but the outline of sections in the program book said it was there. Purcell’s brass canzona was given the most imaginative treatment. On Jones’ recording it evoked the echoing brass choirs one would encounter in the music of Giovanni Gabrieli. Stucky, on the other hand, had the brass lines dissolve into dissonant clouds in the wind section, as if the winds were mirroring the acoustics of the St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Most importantly, however, was the diversity of sonorous details evoked by Stucky’s score and Salonen’s meticulous focus on guiding the attentive listener through each of those details.

The diversity of Stucky’s sonorities were perfectly complemented by Benjamin Britten’s ingenious devices for a full string section in his Opus 18 song cycle Les Illuminations. The variety of instrumental designs for winds and brass may be more diverse than the basic shape of the instruments in the string family; but each of the instruments (violin, viola, cello, and bass) has its own distinctive palette of sonorities. When all those instruments are assembled together, the variety can be just as rich as anything mustered by winds and brass. Furthermore, drawing upon the usual orchestral layout, Britten clearly added a spatial element to that diversity. This was most evident in the “call and response” of the opening fanfare; but, throughout the entirety of Opus 18, Britten was clearly conscious of which sounds were coming from where.

Soprano Julia Bullock sang Britten’s settings of poems by Arthur Rimbaud (which had been published under the title Les Illuminations). (While this music is probably best known by the recording that Britten made with tenor Peter Pears, the song cycle was originally conceived for soprano and strings.) The texts themselves run the gamut from the cryptic to the outrageous. This was a case in which the projections of the English translations contributed to the value of the performance. It is worth noting that the translations were prepared by Bullock herself. However, while Bullock knew how to blend her own sonorities in with Britten’s diversity of string colors, her command of French diction left much to be desired, particularly when it came to making sure that the consonants received just as much attention as the vowels. (Were these texts to be read aloud without the music, neglecting the consonants would constitute a mortal sin.)

Similar problems arose after the intermission, when Bullock returned to sing Ravel’s settings of three poems by Stéphane Mallarmé. This amounted to an “extended chamber music” performance. The instrumentation consisted of two flutes (Tim Day and Catherine Payne, the latter switching to piccolo in the third song), two clarinets (Carey Bell and Jerome Simas, switching to bass clarinet in the same song), a string quartet of violinists Alexander Barantschik and Dan Carlson, violist Jonathan Vinocour, and cellist Peter Wyrick, and pianist John Wilson. Salonen maintained just the right levels of balance and tempo in his conducting; and, once again, Bullock’s translations enhanced the impact of the relationship between music and words. Nevertheless, her diction problems with Britten returned in her interpretation of Ravel.

The program concluded with Ravel’s score for the ballet “Ma mère l’Oye” (Mother Goose). This music began as a five-movement piano duet composed in 1910. However, it subsequently grew to a one-act ballet, lasting about half an hour, with an orchestral score that added four interludes and two movements. This was the part of the program in which Salonen displayed his command of a large ensemble executing the full extent of the score’s rich sonorities. This expanded version receives much less attention than the original piano duet, and it is certainly true that the intimacy of the former gets lost in the rich textures of the latter. Nevertheless, the instrumental score allowed the attentive listener to appreciate the full extent of Salonen’s attention to detail; and this particular listener was definitely not disappointed.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Change of Lineup for Next Schwabacher Recital

Next month will begin with the second concert in the 37th Schwabacher Recital Series, presented jointly by the San Francisco Opera Center and the Merola Opera Program. However, there will be a change in personnel and programming from the originally announced schedule. First-year Adler Fellow Timothy Murray has withdrawn to participate in the semifinals of the Glyndebourne Opera Cup. He remains slated to participate in the last of the four Schwabacher recitals, which will take place on April 22.

Mezzo Simone McIntosh will still begin next month’s program with a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Harawi in its entirety. The title refers to a style of Andean music in which the opposing dispositions of romance and tragedy are juxtaposed. Messiaen drew upon this style to compose a song cycle in memory of the death of his first wife, Claire Delbos. Usually lasting about 50 minutes the entire cycle consists of twelve movements and amounts to an ambitious vocal undertaking.

Zhengyi Bai (courtesy of the San Francisco Opera)

Tenor Zhengyi Bai, currently in the second year of his Adler Fellowship, will replace Murray in the second half of the program. He will sing all four of the songs collected in Richard Strauss’ Opus 27. This set concludes with one of Strauss’ most frequently performed songs, “Morgen!” (morning), setting a German love poem by John Henry Mackay. (The author’s name may be Scottish, but he was raised in Germany.) Those of my generation probably know that the Croatian singer and songwriter appropriated the opening piano motif of this song for his own hit song “Morgen,” written in partnership with the better-known Bert Kaempfert. Sung in German, this tune managed to make it up to #13 on the Billboard “Hot 100!” It subsequently was sung in English under the title “One More Sunrise.” Bai will then conclude the program with six of the ariettas from Vincenzo Bellini’s Composizioni da Camera (chamber compositions) collection (none of which were turned into candidates for the hit parade).

The pianist for this recital will be Robert Mollicone, who served as an Adler Fellow in both 2012 and 2013.

This concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4. Like all of this season’s Schwabacher Recitals, the performance will take place in the Taube Atrium Theater, which is part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, located in the Veterans Building (on the fourth floor) at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. General admission will be $30. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an event page on the San Francisco Opera Web site. Note that, because much of the seating is raked, it is possible to select the option of Wheelchair Accessible seats. In addition, subject to availability, student rush tickets will go on sale at 7 p.m. at the reduced rate of $15. There is a limit of two tickets per person, and valid identification must be shown.

From Radio Entertainment to Columbia Records

As I wrote at the beginning of this week, soprano Eileen Farrell began her career as a radio entertainer in 1940 on the CBS Radio network. She established a presence successful enough to keep her listeners satisfied with classical selections as well as popular songs. That success led to her first recording session for the Columbia label, which resulted in her accounts of four familiar Irish songs. She was backed by a “house orchestra” conducted by Charles Lichter, delivering clear vocal accounts against a string ensemble that never seemed to get beyond the syrupy.

Cover for the first vinyl release of I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues! (from the Web page for this album)

With that background it should be no surprise that, as a recording artist for Columbia, Farrell would not confine herself to the classical repertoire. Indeed, her first album, initially released on 78s on January 13, 1947, was entitled I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues! (exclamation mark included). The album title is a “polished” version of a song that Harold Arlen wrote for the 1932 Broadway show Earl Carroll’s Vanities entitled “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.” 1932 was also the year of its first recording, which was also the first solo recording by Ethel Merman.

Sadly, I have not had the opportunity to listen to that original recording. However, I doubt that anyone would challenge the proposition that Farrell was no Merman, which is just as true as the fact that Merman was no Farrell. The point is that, while Farrell could bring expressive clarity to just about anything she sang, vocalists like Merman, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald each knew how to apply an indelible stamp of personality to any song they delivered, regardless of how it was arranged. Farrell, on the other hand, seems to have been motivated primarily by “fidelity to the text,” even when that “text” is an arrangement that gives little attention to the origins of the song or how it was first sung.

I am doing my best to avoid lapsing into those venomous attacks on “middle-brow” taste that could be found in the jazz articles written by Amiri Baraka (appearing in Down Beat under the name LeRoi Jones). One of Baraka’s targets was Columbia Records; and the accounts of how that business treated Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus borders on the heartbreaking. The fact is that, through her radio work, Farrell developed a talent for pleasing those middle-brow listeners; and, to be fair, that talent served her just as well on her “popular” Columbia albums as her more serious training served her on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House.

That “popular” side can be found on five of the CDs in the sixteen-CD box set of all of Farrell’s American Columbia recording sessions. When I began my writing project for this collection at the beginning of this month, I promised that I would not ignore the pop side of Farrell’s recording legacy. Having tried to do so as fairly as possible, I can only fall back on a quotation that has more sources than I could possible enumerate:
People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The 20/20 Salon: March, 2020

Apparently there will be only one more event in the 20/20 Salon recital series, presented by pianist Peter Grunberg in his house. The title of the program will be A Brief History of A Minor, and it will take place at the beginning of next month. It offers an imaginative profile of how four decidedly different composers took on writing in that particular key.

Front page of the first publication of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

The program will be presented in chronological order, beginning with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 511 solo piano rondo. As might be guessed, Mozart will be followed by Ludwig van Beethoven. However, the particular selection will be the Opus 47 (“Kreutzer”) sonata for piano and violin (the ordering that Beethoven preferred). (In the interest of full disclosure, it is worth noting that Beethoven published this duo sonata without providing a key designation!) The scale of the chamber music will then increase with a performance of one of Gustav Mahler’s earliest instrumental compositions, his A minor piano quartet. The program will then conclude with the A minor concertino that Dmitri Shostakovich composed for two pianos.

Like the previous Salons, this event will take place on a Monday, March 2. Drinks and canapés (prepared by Grunberg’s husband Wyatt Nelson) will be offered after the performance, providing an opportunity for further discussion. The event will start at 6:30 p.m. with the music beginning at 7 p.m.

The Grünberg-Nelson residence is located in the Forest Hill Extension at 16 Edgehill Way. All tickets are being sold for $45. The same Eventbrite event page used for past recitals is still active.

Digestible Tunes from Barbara Harbach

from the Web page for the recording being discussed

This Friday MSR Classics will release the thirteenth album in its Music of Barbara Harbach series. MSR clearly has a lot riding on her. This is the fifth album of her orchestra music, presenting four compositions all written in 2017. To date there have also be five albums of chamber music, along with single albums of music for string ensemble, organ music, and vocal music. There are also seven albums of her performing on harpsichord or organ, included a fourteen-CD box of the keyboard sonatas of Antonio Soler. As might be expected, is currently processing pre-orders for this new album.

There is no shortage of vigorous energy in Harbach’s compositions. She clearly knows how to seek out inventions based on previously-composed music, which is essentially the strategy behind the five-movement Suite Luther, written to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg in 1517. However, over the course of the entire album there is a sense that Harbach always gets off to a good start but has little to add as she goes along her way.

Her catalog includes choral anthems and scores for both musicals and films, where texts and narrative themes can orient the journey behind the music. However, in the absence of such a framework (as is the case in Suite Luther), there is a prevailing problem of repeating too few motifs too many times. Instrumental coloration can distract from such repetitions, but it can only go so far.

I would have thought that a keyboardist that had committed herself to the almost intimidating number of innovative sonatas by Soler might have provided herself with a knapsack for invention in her own compositions, but this new album offers few signs of this being the case.

First Thoughts about Salonen’s First SFS Season

Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen (photograph by Andrew Eccles, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony)

Yesterday morning the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) released the announcement of its 2020–21 season, the inaugural season of the new Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. I am not sure how much this signifies; but, according to my metrics, this year’s press release is about half as long as last year’s. Nevertheless, my educated guess is that this one is more compact. It has been clear since Salonen’s appointment was first announced that he would be coming to his “new job” with a rather generous number of plans, some of which, like Salonen’s new artistic leadership model through Collaborative Partners, will probably be in motion long before his “first day at the office.” For now, however, I would like to focus on two “festivals” embedded in the overall concert schedule.

The first of these is the Myths and Mortals Festival, inspired by the Greek myths of gods, demigods, and mortals. This Festival will occupy three weeks of subscription concerts in March of 2021:
  1. Salonen will use the first of these to give the SFS premiere of his newest composition, “Gemini.” This will be complemented by eighteenth-century music devoted to the same topic, a suite of music from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s one-act opera “Castor et Pollux.” The second half of the program will be devoted to another mythical “pairing,” the complete score for Michel Fokine’s one-act “Daphnis et Chloé” ballet composed by Maurice Ravel.
  2. The second week will see the return of pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet as guest artist. He will contribute to a performance of Alexander Scriabin’s Opus 60, “Prometheus: The Poem of Fire.” The resources for this composition include not only piano, full orchestra, and an optional choir but also a “clavier à lumières” (keyboard with lights), invented by Scriabin to provide projections of colored lights in response to the changes of tonality that unfold in the score. According to Wikipedia, the only time this instrument was used was when “Prometheus” was performed in New York in 1915. Presumably, Salonen will be able to take advantage of more advanced technology! The program will begin with selections from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 43 score of music for Salvatore Viganò’s two-act play The Creatures of Prometheus. The program will also present the world premiere of a composition by Fang Man that blends Chinese and Greek mythology.
  3. The final program will be devoted entirely to a full concert performance of Richard Strauss’ one-act opera “Elektra.” The title role will be sung by soprano Christine Goerke. The other leading vocalists will be soprano Emily Magee (Chrysothemis), contralto Anna Larsson (Klytaemnestra), tenor Alan Oke (Aegisth), and bass-baritone Peixin Chen (Orest). Ragnar Bohlin will prepare the SFS Chorus.
The second festival, On the Precipice: Music of the Weimar Republic, will take place during the last two weeks of the season. This was a time of adventurous innovations in all of the fine arts. However, it was also the time when the first seeds of “national socialism” would take root in Germany.
  1. The title of the first program will be Make Art Not War. The German composer to be featured will be Paul Hindemith with a performance of his “Mathis der Maler” (Matthias the painter) symphony, based on music that he had composed for an opera of the same name. The program will also include the United States premiere of a new violin concerto by Collaborative Partner Bryce Dessner with violinist (and Collaborative Partner) Pekka Kuusisto as soloist. The program will begin with Beethoven’s Opus 21 (first) symphony in C major.
  2. The second program, Weimar Nightfall, will be a semi-staged evening of expressionist and satiric musical theater, all directed by Simon McBurney. The program will begin with Hindemith’s earliest opera, the one-act “Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen” (murder, the hope of women). This is based on a play by Oskar Kokoschka, who provide the libretto for Hindemith. It will be followed by two of Kurt Weill’s partnerships with the poet Bertolt Brecht. The first of these, “The Berlin Requiem,” is a cantata based on six of Brecht’s poems. The second half of the program will be devoted to the seven-scene ballet with songs, “The Seven Deadly Sins,” for which Brecht provided the libretto. The vocal soloist will be soprano Nora Fischer, and Bohlin will again prepare the SFS Chorus.

Music from the Dawn of Notation at St. Dominic’s

Last night St. Dominic’s Catholic Church hosted a performance of the Tasto Solo duo, whose members are soprano Anne-Kathryn Olsen, accompanied on organetto by Guillermo Pérez. As basic linguistics suggests, the organetto is a portable instrument, easily held on the lap or, as Pérez observed in providing an informative introductory talk, carried during a procession. The left hand pumps a basic form of bellows, leaving only the right hand free to play the keyboard.

The title of last night’s program was La Flor en Paradis [the flower in paradise]: the roots of song in medieval Europe. However, as might be guessed by there being two performers, the choice of selections was as much about the origins of polyphony as it was about those “roots of song.” The program began with settings of three sections of the Mass text. These established the polyphonic foundations that would subsequently serve more secular music.

Actually, there was only one foundation, the emerging practice of organum. The most elementary form of organum involves the superposition of two distinct voices. One, known as the cantus firmus, involves singing a plainchant melody but sustaining each note in such a way that the second voice can embellish it with a sequence of notes (often going on at considerable length). As this practice began to flourish, organum singing advanced to a point at which two independent voices would sing above the chant line simultaneously; and the first principles of “polyphonic theory” began to emerge to address which simultaneities of different tones were permissible and which were not.

As this practice evolved, vocalists began to realize that the upper voice(s) did not have to sing the same syllable as the chant line. This led to assigning the words of secular poetry to those upper lines. In other words those “roots” of song as we now know it involved secular texts springing forth from the “roots” of sacred chant.

Most of last night’s selections involved the performance of three-part organum. Pérez could play both the sustained chant tones and one of the upper voices with a single hand. Olsen then accounted for the other upper voice and its associated text. Originally, all three parts would have been sung. Furthermore, it was often the case that, in a three-part organum, the two lines above the chant syllables would set the words of two different poems. This superposition of words as well as notes led to the first use of the term “motet” (from mot, the French word for “word”). Last night’s program presented four of these motets.

Pérez also gave a solo performance of a selection of estampies. As the author of its Wikipedia page observes, “The estampie is the first known genre of medieval era dance music which continues to exist today.” That means that it was also one of the early forces bringing about the introduction of a steady rhythm in a musical performance.

Because he was playing solo, Pérez could take a freer approach than could have served to accompany listeners dancing to the music. Indeed, the origins of rhythm as we now know it only began to emerge about a century after the first ventures into polyphony. Only in the last of his selections did Pérez give a performance with a recognizable rhythm that would have served to accompany dancers.

Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble with an otherwise highly satisfying performance. Olsen’s voice was consistently clear (without having to worry about another vocalist singing different words). Pérez’ steady hand on the bellows elicited consistent intonation from his instrument, against which Olsen could orient her own pitches, most likely drawing upon Pythagorean intonation, based on natural harmonics, rather than an equal-tempered scale. (Pérez’ bellows work similarly showed a preference for Pythagorean intervals.) The reduced space of the Lady Chapel provided just the right acoustics to appreciate the intimacy of the performers by both Tasto Solo musicians.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Stone Records’ Hugo Wolf Project Nears Completion

courtesy of Naxos of America

According to my archival records, the last time I wrote about Stone Records’ project to record all of the songs of Hugo Wolf was in December of 2014. I was still writing for at the time; and my most recent article about this project discussed the eighth volume, a single CD release that included Wolf’s 1889 Eichendorff-Lieder collection. states that the ninth volume was released at the very beginning of 2017; but apparently notification of that release seems to have slipped through the cracks. (Since I remember consulting Amazon is see if I had fallen behind on my project, information may previously have slipped through the cracks at Amazon, too!)

Fortunately, I was notified about the tenth volume at the beginning of this year; and, even more fortunately, I was able to find the ninth volume in the Naxos B2B database that people like me use for reviewing many of the newly released recordings. Ironically, Amazon appears to be unaware of this recording (suggesting that I was not the one in error when I last failed to find the ninth volume). On the other hand, those willing to bear the slings and arrows of currency conversion will be able to find the tenth volume at The title of this tenth volume is Goethe Lieder: Part 1; and, according to a source I have found to be reliable, the final release in the series will be the Part 2 album.

Whether or not one finds this entire eleven-CD collection to be a journey worth taking will depend on what thinks of Wolf. I have no trouble admitting that he fascinates me. I seem him as the most significant composer of art song to stand between Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler. (Yes, that interval of time is narrow enough that any competition would be limited!) Wolf’s biography is turbulent and depressing, and his ferocious intensity probably contributed to the intriguing sharp edges one encounters when listening to so much of his repertoire.

In terms of my most recent listening experiences, I have to say that the ninth volume was particularly satisfying. This is because it combines an assortment of Wolf’s earliest efforts with his last collection, the 1897 Michelangelo Lieder, which consists of only three songs. These songs have German texts, translated from the Italian by Walter Heinrich Robert-Tornow. On the other hand many of the settings of poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe are more familiar, due to both recitals and other recordings. However, I have to confess that, thanks to the resources available to Stone, the final track on this album, “Epiphanias,” has four singers, alternating across the different verses; and, for me at least, this resulted in greater rhetorical appeal than I had encountered in past solo performances.