Saturday, April 17, 2021

Pocket Opera’s Mini Concert Series Continues

Poster for the event being announced (courtesy of Pocket Opera)

Tomorrow will be the date for the second of the three recitals in the current 3-Song Mini Concert Series presented by Pocket Opera, which has now been given the name PocketWatch. The vocalist will be soprano Marcelle Dronkers, whose contributions to Pocket Opera have involved a variety of roles in the operas of George Frideric Handel. It is thus appropriate that the “three songs” she has selected will be arias from three of Handel’s operas, Agrippina (HWV 6), Alcina (HWV 34), and Rinaldo (HWV 7). Dronkers will be accompanied at the piano by Jefferson Packer. Appropriately enough, the program is entitled Handel, with Care.

Like past recitals, this performance will be available for streaming tomorrow, Sunday, April 18, at 3 p.m. It can be viewed through both YouTube and Facebook. The concert will be followed by a Live talkback hosted by Artistic Director Nicolas A. Garcia.

Impressive Emerging Talent at Piano Break

Yesterday evening the Piano Break series presented by the Ross McKee Foundation streamed a solo recital by Zak Mustille. Born in 2003, he is currently a scholarship student in the Pre-College Division at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) and last year was the winner of the 2020 Ross McKee Young Artist Competition. The video was not “live,” with the second half recorded at the SFCM Recital Hall. The first half may well have been recorded at Mustille’s home. The entire video is now available for viewing on YouTube.

The program Mustille prepared was a seriously challenging one, taking on grand designs from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The twentieth-century selection was the second movement of Charles Ives’ first piano sonata. This is an ambitious undertaking for even the most accomplished pianists. The sonata is in five movements, but both the second and fourth of those movements are divided into “A” and “B” sections.

When I was living in Santa Barbara, I had a piano teacher that was determined to have me work through the “A” section of the fourth movement, which amounts to a little more than three pages. On the first two pages I marked out “1 & 2 &” for every measure, not that it helped very much when I had the negotiate the seven-against-ten in one of those measures! This is the shortest section of the entire sonata, and to this day I cannot recall how I managed to negotiate it all.

Nevertheless, those few pages of the fourth movement are a walk in the park compared with the second movement that Mustille performed. The second (“Concord”) sonata gets far more attention than the first; and I have been fortunate enough to listen to several recital performances of it. On the other hand, prior to yesterday evening, I knew the first sonata only through a few recordings. From a thematic point of view, there are several tropes that will be recognized by those familiar with the general Ives canon. Never the less, this is one of those pieces for which attentive listening can be as challenging as the act of performing.

The advantage of having this performance on video is that one can revisit individual selections. Last night’s “first encounter” tended to dwell on Mustille’s intense focus during his performance. I suspect that focus was abetted by his decision to play the movement from memory. That may have been a challenging goal to meet, but it gets beyond the hazard that all those notes on the printed pages can distract as easily as they can inform. Since it has been some time since the last time I even listened to a recording of this sonata, I have no baseline against which I can assess Mustille’s interpretative skills; but giving a clear account of all the marks on paper is well over 90% of getting the job done. However, on the basis of how he has handled this one movement, Mustille has left me curious about what he can do with the other four.

The ambitious selection from the nineteenth century was the second movement of Charles-Valentin Alkan’s Opus 33 sonata, given the title “Grande sonate: Les quatre âges” (grand sonata: the four ages). The four movements portray a man at the ages of twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty. As a result, the tempo markings tend to get slower as the sonata progresses, a significant departure from what one tends to expect of sonata architecture. Mustille played the second movement (the age of thirty), which is given the subtitle “Quasi-Faust.” Raymond Lewenthal described this movement as “actually a tone poem within a tone poem ... it forms the apex of the sonata and it is the longest and most difficult movement. It stands very well by itself and no one performing it without the other movements need fear being criticised for serving up a bleeding chunk.”

Mustille rose to Alkan’s challenges as impressively has he had to those of Ives. Once again, his focus was facilitated by having memorized the score. I must confess that few thoughts of Faust came to me while listening to this selection. On the other hand I was quickly hooked by the fugal episode in the movement, which I later learned involved eight independent voices.

I was also impressed that Mustille chose to follow this Alkan movement with a bagatelle by Nicholas Pavkovic. It would not surprise me if he played this selection as part of his Competition performances, since Pavkovic is Executive Director of the Ross McKee Foundation. Indeed, I was first aware of Pavkovic as a composer when one of his compositions was performed at the very first Hot Air Festival presented by SFCM students.

In many respective Pavkovic’s technical challenges were right up there with both Alkan and Ives. There may also have been a bit of playfulness in the way he labeled his composition. The bagatelles of Ludwig van Beethoven were some of the shortest pieces he ever wrote. Pavkovic’s bagatelle, on the other hand, ventures into a relatively broad space of technical challenges in rhythmic contexts that sometimes reflect on the wild imaginations of Ives. Thus, in some respects, the overall Piano Break recital emerged as a “trinity” of ambitious undertakings by Alkan, Pavkovic, and Ives.

The program opened on much more familiar turf, the BWV 868 prelude-fugue coupling in B major, taken from the first book of Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. This was an excellent selection to prepare the attentive listener for Mustille’s clarity of “diction,” particularly in his accounting for the independent fugal lines. In addition, the Pavkovic and Ives selections were separated by Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 52 ballade in F minor, the last of the four ballades that he composed. This performance was recorded at SFCM, and it was hard to avoid the feeling that Mustille was playing it because someone told him he had to do so! While the execution was technically capable, he never seemed to tap into the undercurrents of spirit, which had made his approaches to Alkan, Pavkovic, and Ives so compelling.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Violinist Kristin Lee to Stream American Music

Kristen Lee (photograph by Sophie Zhai) and Jeremy Jordan (photograph by Trisha Keeler)

At the end of this month, violinist Kristin Lee will be accompanied by pianist Jeremy Jordan in a virtual recital entitled Americana. This will be a live-stream from the Adelphi University Performing Arts Center on Long Island. Lee was born in Seoul, Korea and emigrated to the United States at the age of seven. When she arrived she could not speak any English; and that shortcoming, combined with bullying and racism, made her transition to American life difficult. Her one refuge was her violin; and, now that she has established herself more confidently in this country, she has prepared a program to survey the rich history of American music, which is entitled simply Americana.

Not all of the compositions on her program were written for violin. Jordan has prepared arrangements for her of George Gershwin’s song “But Not for Me,” “Lament,” by the jazz trombonist J. J. Johnson, and Scott Joplin’s piano rag “The Entertainer.” Jordan has also contributed his own original composition for Lee entitled “Fish Me a Dream.” The other composers to be represented on the program will include Jonathan Ragonese, Harry Burleigh, Patrick Castillo, Amy Beach, Florence Price, and John Novacek.

This performance will begin at 4:30 p.m. (Pacific time) on Thursday, April 29. The price of admission will be $10. Tickets are available through the “Register” hyperlink on the Adelphi University event page for this recital. Once registration has been processed with the purchase of a ticket, a confirmation will be sent by email, which will include instructions for how to access the live-stream. This performance will not remain online for later viewing.

Rodziński and the New York Philharmonic

courtesy of Jensen Artists

The latest anthology of a conductor that I encountered is a Sony Classical release of sixteen CDs covering the complete recordings of Artur Rodziński leading the New York Philharmonic for Columbia Masterworks. This box set currently has an Web page that describes it as an import item, but my understanding is that it will go into domestic circulation one week from today on April 23. Whether or not Amazon will create a new Web page on that date remains to be seen.

While Rodziński’s name may no longer be familiar to most readers, he was a major figure during the twentieth century. In the United States his discography includes the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as the Philharmonic. Those recordings were also released by Columbia; and, hopefully, Sony will put them into circulation in the near future. However, where the Philharmonic is concerned, his Columbia albums follow up on those made by his predecessor, John Barbirolli, whose recordings were discussed on this site this past October.

There is also a more personal side to my interest in Rodziński. When I was very young, my parents bought their first turntable for long-playing (LP) records. Their purchase came with a “bonus start-up kit” of LPs, all of which were Columbia releases. One of them was of Rodziński conducing the Philharmonic in a performance of Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s suite Pictures at an Exhibition. The very idea behind the music riveted me, particularly since the album jacket provided descriptions of each of the pictures associated with each of the movements. That recording is one of the CDs in the new Sony anthology; and, even if the recording technology shows its age, my memories are as vivid as ever.

What is interesting about the collection taken as a whole, however, is the way in which Rodziński balanced less familiar offerings with selections that could be called “audience favorites.” Readers may recall that Barbirolli’s Philharmonic tenure did not go down well with his audiences, even though the musicians liked him. As a result, many of the recordings that Barbirolli made with the Philharmonic tended to be on the adventurous side. Rodziński turned out to be just as adventurous but was much better received than Barbirolli, perhaps by virtue of his past engagement with the Cleveland and the Los Angeles Philharmonic before that.

One thing that sticks out particularly prominently when one makes a side-by-side comparison of the Sony collections of Barbirolli and Rodziński is that neither box has any music by Ludwig van Beethoven. The most “iconic” of the composers represented in the Rodziński collection is Johannes Brahms with recordings of his first two symphonies. The Barbirolli collection, on the other hand, has one CD devoted entirely to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart’s only appearance in the Rodziński recordings involves the four short compositions that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky orchestrated and arranged for his Opus 61 (fourth) suite in G major, given the title “Mozartiana.”

Ironically, the two Brahms CD are completed by two CDs devoted entirely to Richard Wagner. One accounts for the third act of Die Walküre (the Valkyrie), while the other features soprano Helen Traubel in the roles of Sieglinde (Walküre again), Isolde (Tristan und Isolde), and Elsa (Lohengrin). The only other composer to be allotted two entire CDs is Sergei Rachmaninoff for his Opus 27 (second) symphony in E minor and his Opus 18 (second) piano concerto in C minor with piano soloist György Sándor.

More interesting is the number of selections that were adventurous in their time. Indeed, Jean Sibelius’ Opus 63 (fourth) symphony in A minor still delivers an intense dose of shock value. On the other hand it was nice to encounter the witty spirit behind Morton Gould’s “Spirituals for Orchestra” under the baton of a conductor other than Gould himself. Similarly, Rodziński was a first-rate champion for the tone-poem qualities of Jacques Ibert’s Escales (ports of call) suite, with movements portraying Rome, Tunis, and Valencia. There are also two “pops” albums entitled Twilight Concert, which may well have been recordings of selections performed during the Philharmonic’s summer concerts at Lewisohn Stadium on the campus of City College of New York.

Overall, the amount of diversity that one encounters across these sixteen CDs is impressive, as is Rodziński’s ability to find just the right foundations of expressiveness for every selection he performs.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

New SoundBox Program Explores Patterns

This morning the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen launched the third SoundBox concert in the current season of performances streamed through the SFSymphony+ on-demand service. The title of the program is Patterns. While the preview article I wrote for this program frequently cited minimalist techniques, Salonen never once referred to “minimalism” (unless I am mistaken) or, for that matter, Philip Glass’ preferred phrase, “repetitive structures.” Instead, the program explored how four different composers (one of whom happened to be Salonen himself) chose to work with patterns as the building blocks of a composition.

This was most evident in the “grand finale” of the program, Terry Riley’s “In C.” This is based on a score that simply enumerates 53 short phrases, ordered by assigning each a number from 1 to 53. The shortest of these phrases consists of a single note (which is, of course, C). One of them is significantly longer than the other 52. The piece is scored for any number of performers playing any variety of instruments. The only “leadership” of the performance involves one musician playing “The Pulse,” the note C hammered out consistently in repeated eighth notes. This tends to be played on the high register of a piano; but Salonen himself provided “The Pulse” by playing it on a toy piano.

The 53 phrases, in turn, were played by 27 SFS musicians. Their instruments were violins, violas, cellos, flute, piccolo, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bassoons, contrabassoon, horn, trumpet, trombones, tuba, percussion, and ukulele. The “ground rules” are that each performer must play all 53 phrases in numerical order. However, each phrase may be repeated as many times as the performer wishes; and each performer can pause for as long as (s)he wishes before advancing to the next phrase.

This performance was captured on video by Frank Zamacona, working with multiple cameras. By way of “subtitles,” he superimposed the individual notated fragments at the bottom of the screen. Obviously, he could not account for all the fragments being played at any given time; but, for those who could read music notation, those projected fragments allowed the attentive ear to home in on which instruments were playing a particular fragment at a particular moment in time.

If that were not enough by way of visual stimuli, Zamacona then surrounded the musicians with animated projections designed by Adam Larsen, most of which seemed to involve silhouettes of people walking forwards or backwards with occasional intrusions of both domestic and wild animals. In other words he embellished a musical structure based on repetitions of a catalog of musical phrases with projections of repetitions of familiar shapes in motion. Thus, not only were there “patterns” in Riley’s 53 repeated phrases; there were also patterns in Larsen’s repeated shapes. As a result, the entire video amounted to a grand design of patterns reflecting patterns.

Reflection figured just as significantly in the selection that preceded “In C,” Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” (mirror in the mirror). This music was far more austere in its resources, since the piece was composed for violin (Chen Zhao) and piano (Elizabeth Dorman). However, the performance was augmented by complementing the two musicians with two members of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Adji Cissoko and Shuaib Elhassan, performing choreography by King. In this case the music had less to do with patterning and more do to with exploring different ways to permute and combine a limited number of pitches. However, for this performance, the projected video again drew on approaches to reflection, often suggesting that the dancers was taking place in a space defined by a highly elaborate multi-mirror kaleidoscope:

screen shot from the video being discussed

The program began with “Clapping Music,” composed by Steve Reich, one of Riley’s colleagues at the San Francisco Tape Music Center, who was one of the participants in the first performance of “In C.” Indeed, Riley got the idea of composing around a rhythmic pulse from Reich! However, “Clapping Music” is all rhythm without any role for pitch. As the title suggests, rhythmic patterns are defined simply by clapping hands; and Reich composed the piece for only two performers. However, Salonen presented the piece as “chamber music” on a slightly larger scale in which he performed along with Steven Dibner, Bryce Leafman, Stan Muncy, Catherine Payne, Nick Platoff, and Jessica Valeri. This “clapping ensemble” performed with such precision that one could still appreciate the interplay of rhythms across the two notated parts; but the increase in the number of performers added to the impact of the rhythmic patterns from which the score was composed.

Salonen also used this concert as an opportunity to premiere his own music. “Saltat sobrius” (dancing sober) was composed as a fantasy on one of the earliest documented compositions of polyphony, the four-part organum “Sederunt principes” (the princes sat), composed by Pérotin to be sung in Notre-Dame de Paris. Prior to the emergence of polyphony, sung texts were chanted in unison in rhythms that tended to reflect the rhythms of speech. Pérotin’s predecessor at Notre-Dame, Léonin, is often seen as the “father of polyphony,” although his earliest efforts tended to involve one voice singing elaborate patterns while another sang sustained pitches of a familiar chant. Pérotin extended Léonin’s technique by providing additional voices singing against the intoned chant pitches. These eventually involved elaborate rhythmic patterns, which marked the beginning of music notation as we now know it. “Sederunt principes” is important in music history because it involves three independent melodic lines sung above the cantus firmus, the tones of the chant which is being accompanied.

Those familiar with the music of Notre-Dame from this early period of music history would have no trouble recognizing the phrases of “Sederunt principes.” Salonen basically dispenses with the cantus firmus and focuses on the patterns that unfold in the upper three voices. He then subjects those patters to different processes of recombination through which new patterns emerge. This is realized by an imaginative “three-by-three” approach to instrumentation. The instruments involved are viola, cellos, and bass, each of which has three parts for three individual performers. There is then a “continuo” of sorts provided by a harp. As a result, the perception of how those new patterns evolve out of older ones is enhanced through the composer’s approach to instrumentation. As in the performance of “In C,” this is very much music of patterns reflecting patterns; and those reflections are clearly evident in the transparency of Salonen’s score.

The duration of this Patterns concert was slightly less than 50 minutes, but the overall content was so rich that one could hardly wish that there had been any more of it.

Days and Nights Update: April 15

According to the initial announcement of this year’s Days and Nights Festival, based on video streams of performances at past Festivals, today is when the final offerings of the season will become available. As of March 18, six of those films were available for viewing. The list will be updated with three additional offerings, meaning that nine films may be streamed as follows:

  1. Whistleblower was conceived by Jerry Quickley as an exploration of the leak of classified information by Edward Snowden, which took place in 2013. Quickley provided the text, and  Philip Glass composed the music. Quickley also served as narrator; and Glass performed with Tara Hugo, Alex Weston, Alex Weil, Miranda Cuckson, David Harding, Matt Haimovitz, and Lavina Meijer. The film documents the performance that took place at the 2017 Festival.
  2. The Pattern of the Surface was created by Molissa Fenley for her dance company. Her choreography was set to music by Linda Bouchard, Tigran Mansurian, Andrew Toovey, and Frank Cassara, who, like Fenley, was one of the performers. The other performers were Harding and Christiana Axelsen. This film was also made during the 2017 Festival.
  3. Heart Strings was a musical presentation of the story of the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet. The work was created as a joint project by Glass and Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal, both of whom performed at the 2018 Festival. The other performers were Weston, Meijer, Tsering D. Bawa, Will Calhoun, and Jaron Lanier.
  4. Two Pianos: Glass was a recital by the husband-and-wife couple of Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa, each at his/her own piano keyboard, presenting a program consisting entirely of compositions by Glass during the 2018 Festival.
  5. This was a retrospective account of Glass compositions originally performed by both the composer and the members of the Philip Glass Ensemble. The performers for this concert included Glass himself, joined by Lisa Bielawa, Dan Bora, Jon Gibson, Peter Hess, Ryan Kelly, Mick Rossi, Eleonor Sandresky, and Andrew Sterman. This film was made during the 2017 Festival.
  6. Rehearsing Wichita is a “making of” documentary. In 1988 Glass composed solo music to accompany a reading of Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” The documentary provides a behind-the-scenes look at Glass rehearsing for a performance of this poem, providing piano accompaniment for a reading by his first cousin once removed Ira Glass. This film was also made during the 2017 Festival.
  7. María Irene Fornés’ play Drowning was reconceived as an opera with libretto and staging by JoAnne Akalaitis and music by Glass. The performers were Gregory Purnhagen, Peter Stewart, Tomas Cruz, Weston, and Meijer. The film documents the performance that took place at the 2017 Festival.
  8. Opera Parallèle, the adventurous opera company based here in San Francisco, performed a one-act chamber opera based on Franz Kafka’s short story “In the Penal Colony.” Glass created a score based on a libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer. The original staging was conceived by Akalaitis. The film documents a performance during the 2018 Festival.
  9. The 2019 Festival featured a recital by the Third Coast Percussion quartet of Chicago-based percussionists Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and David Skidmore. Their program featured “Perpetulum,” which was written for them by Glass under a commission that was supported, in part, by San Francisco Performances (SFP). As a result of that commission, SFP presented the West Coast premiere of the composition in April of 2019. That performance also included an excerpt from Devonté Hynes’ “Perfect Voiceless,” originally composed for a 75-minute dance piece. That excerpt was also included in the Festival recital. The Festival performance also presented the premiere of “Percussion Quartet,” which Danny Elfman wrote for Third Coast.

Third Coast Percussion players David Skidmore, Peter Martin, Robert Dillon, and Sean Connors (from the Third Coast press kit)

As was previously announced, the Festival has created a Web page from which all of these performances may be viewed. Each video is available for either rental or purchase with $5 as entry-level admission. Most of the money collected will go directly to the artists, and the rest will support the creation of future programs.

Oyarzabal Surveys Thirteen Female Composers

courtesy of Naxos of America

Tomorrow IBS Classical will release the latest solo piano album recorded by the Spanish pianist Antonio Oyarzabal, born in the Basque city of Bilbao and currently based in London. The title of the album is La Muse Oubliée (the forgotten muse). It consists of 34 short tracks through which Oyarzabal surveys the work of thirteen different female composers. For those too impatient to wait a day, is currently processing pre-orders of this new release.

Readers that have been following this site for some time probably know that bringing female composers into the limelight has been going on in the United States for some time. Closest to home is pianist Sarah Cahill, whose The Future is Female project has been going strong for several years, with its most recent installment taking place last month in a program entitled Celebration of the Centennial of the 19th Amendment. Further from San Francisco is the Neave Trio of violinist Anna Williams, cellist Mikhail Veselov, and pianist Eri Nakamura, currently the Faculty Ensemble-in-Residence at the Longy School of Music of Bard College. In the fall of 2019, Chandos Records released their Her Voice album of performances of piano trios by Louise Farrenc, Amy Beach, and Rebecca Clarke; and last month they live-streamed a recital at which they added Cécile Chaminade’s Opus 11 trio in G minor to their repertoire.

This is not to accuse Oyarzabal of “playing catch-up.” However, it is hard to resist wondering whether or not Europe has been a bit behind the curve when it comes to bringing female composers into repertoire. In that context after listening to this new recording, I feel happy to welcome this pianist into a fold that seems to be growing here in the United States. As might be guessed, many of the composers on Oyarzabal’s album, if not the specific compositions, can also be found in Cahill’s repertoire. However, that just means that we now have the opportunity to listen to multiple interpretations of music that was probably unknown to most of us at the end of the last century.

On the other hand there are definitely selections that provided “first-encounter” experiences in my own listening history. I suppose I was most taken with Oyarzabal’s acknowledgement of his own roots by including Esquisses d’une après midi Basque (sketches of a Basque afternoon), a six-movement suite by Emiliana de Zubeldia. While, as has already been mentioned, all of the tracks on this album are brief, each of these “sketches” is a miniaturist gem that left me curious about other compositions in Zubeldia’s catalog. That said, I have to credit the booklet notes by Eva Sandoval (translated into English by Oyarzabal) with informing me about Zubeldia, as well as providing valuable informative accounts of all of the other selections on this album.

The only issue I would raise with this album concerns its title. There is no reason to assume that the “muse” that informed the composers on this album was not the same muse that informed the more familiar male composers throughout music history! If anyone has been “forgotten,” it is the composers themselves, which is why it is important that the 21st century is emerging as a time in which female composers from all periods of music history are being “recalled.” Oyarzabal has now established himself as one of the agents contributing to that process of recollection.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

PBO Announces April Amsterdam Concert

At the beginning of this week, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) & Chorale announced this month’s installment in its Live from Amsterdam series. As was the case last month, this will be a four-hands-on-one-keyboard piano recital performed by Music Director Richard Egarr and his wife, Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya. The piano will be an 1860 Bechstein from the Chris Maene Collection, delivered to De Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam.

The “wolf” and “bear” of tomorrow’s Live from Amsterdam program (courtesy of PBO)

The title of this program is playfully cryptic: A Wolf in Bear’s Clothing. As expected, the “wolf” will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The program will begin with the Andante movement from his K. 497 four-hand sonata in F major. The “bear” will be the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Egarr and Nepomnyashchaya will play a four-hand arrangement of his Opus 36 (fourth) symphony in F minor prepared by his friend and colleague Sergei Taneyev. Tchaikovsky composed this symphony in 1878, meaning that the piano will be older than the music!

This program will be “live” streamed at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, March 18. YouTube has already created the Web page for viewing, and the performance will be free of charge. A separate Web page has been created to provide program details.

Cellist Oliver Mascarenhas’ Debut Album

courtesy of Naxos of America

The very first time that cellist Oliver Mascarenhas auditioned for an orchestral position was in 1997. The position was with the NDR Radiophilharmonie, the public broadcasting German radio orchestra, affiliated with the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) in Hanover. The audition was a successful one, as was his subsequent participation in international competitions.

Almost exactly a month ago Dreyer Gaido Musikproduktionen released his debut album, whose “main attraction” is his performance of a cello concerto that Friedrich Gulda composed for cello and wind band. This five-movement concerto is coupled with three short pieces for cello and piano by Nicolai Kapustin. The album then concludes with four “bonus tracks” of Gulda leading his own trio in jazz selections by Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, and Frank Foster.

Readers may recall that, this past February, I reviewed five Gulda albums based on remastered tapes recorded by Südwestrundfunk (SWR, southwest broadcasting), the public radio service for the southwest of Germany. One of those albums was entitled Jazz and included a solo piano set that Gulda performed at the 1971 Heidelberger Jazztage. To some extent the four standards tracks at the end of the new Dreyer Gaido album, which were recorded in 1958, complement the solo Heidelberg tracks.

More interesting, however, is the concerto, which almost seems to thumb its nose at any effort at genre classification. All five movements are playful, each in its own characteristic way; and the interplay between the solo cello and the wind band is always engaging. Nevertheless, Gulda seems to enjoy playing at the threshold of outrageousness; and this is most evident in the cadenza, which constitutes the middle movement of the concerto.

This is the longest movement of the entire composition, a little over ten minutes in duration. While it provides an excellent platform to display the cellist’s technical skills, Gulda cannot resist going over the top towards the end of the movement by allowing the diversity of riffs that the cellist has already explored to erupt into a no-holds-barred account of “Purple Haze.” (Gulda composed this concerto in 1980, so it may well be the case that he had “staked out” this tune before it entered the repertoire of the Kronos Quartet.)

I last wrote about Kapustin when Alison Lee played his Opus 41 set of variations for her Piano Break recital. My “first contact” with Kapustin came from a Yuja Wang encore; and his understanding of jazz is comparable with Gulda’s. However, the three short selections played by Mascarenhas are not as outrageous as Kapustin’s approach to piano music, which manages to fold Cecil Taylor into a context that also includes Count Basie and Erroll Garner. Nevertheless, there is a playfulness to those three pieces, whose opus numbers happen to be 96, 97, and 98. In many ways Kapustin’s “jazz voice” provides just the right bridge between Gulda’s over-the-top approach to concerto composition and his more traditional approaches to the four standards that conclude the album.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Salonen to Curate Minimalist SoundBox Program

This Thursday at 10 a.m., the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen will launch the third SoundBox program in the current season of performances streamed through the SFSymphony+ on-demand service. Salonen will curate and conduct a program entitled Patterns. The program will feature works by three of the composers associated with minimalist techniques, which became a major focus of attention after they emerged during the Sixties and the decades that followed. Two of those composers will frame the entire program, which will begin with Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music” and conclude with Terry Riley’s “In C.”

For those unfamiliar with these selections, “Clapping Music” was a composition based entirely on rhythm, requiring only two performers doing nothing more that establishing those rhythms through clapping their hands. As can be seen from this photograph, Salonen will join other SFS musicians (six of them) for a “group performance” in which two “clapping choruses” will account for the two parts of the score:

photograph by Kristen Loken, courtesy of SFS

“In C,” on the other hand, was composed for any number of musicians playing any number of instruments and all reading from the same score.

According to the Wikipedia page for this composition, Riley himself suggested that “a group of about 35 is desired;” but he then qualified this recommendation by saying “smaller or larger groups will work.” The score itself consists of a collection of short phrases, all oriented around the note C, numbered from 1 to 53. The tempo for these phrases is established by “The Pulse,” which is nothing more than the note C played in repeated eighth notes, usually on the high register of a piano. Each musician (other than any of them providing “The Pulse”) is required to play all 53 of the phrases in their numerical order. However, each phrase may be repeated as many times as the performer wishes, and the performer can pause as long as (s)he wishes before advancing to the next phrase.

The music was first performed in 1964 by members of the San Francisco Tape Music Center; and, since I have been writing, I have had occasion to listen to performances in both Herbst Theatre and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. For the Soundbox performance Salonen will provide the pulse playing on a toy piano. There will be 27 SFS musicians playing the 53 fragments. Instrumentation will include violins, violas, cellos, flute, piccolo, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bassoons, contrabassoon, horn, trumpet, trombones, tuba, percussion, and ukulele.

The other “pioneering minimalist” in the program will be the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. He developed his own compositional style in the Seventies, giving it the name “tintinnabuli.” This basically involves a return to the major triad, thus swinging the pendulum away from the explorations in atonality that emerged during the first half of the twentieth century. Pärt himself justified the name because he felt that the three pitches of a major triad “are like bells” (presumably because they can reverberate against each other). On the Soundbox program his music will be represented by “Spiegel im Spiegel” (mirror in the mirror), which was composed as a duo for violin (Chen Zhao) and piano (Elizabeth Dorman). They will be joined by Adji Cissoko and Shuaib Elhassan, members of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet performing choreography by King.

In addition to providing these three reflections on music from about half a century ago, the program will also present the world premiere of “Saltat sobrius” (dancing sober) composed by Salonen. The music is a fantasy on one of the earliest documented compositions of polyphony, the four-part organum “Sederunt principes” (the princes sat), composed by Pérotin to be sung in Notre-Dame de Paris. Salonen’s score is instrumental, written for a chamber ensemble of violas, cellos, basses, and harp.

This program will be made available for viewing at 10 a.m. this coming Thursday, April 15. As with previous SoundBox events, the admission fee for viewing this SoundBox episode will be $15. Donors that have contributed $250 or more will be entitled to receive complimentary subscriptions to both the SoundBox and CURRENTS series of concerts. Payment for a single admission will be processed through the Patterns Web page, while subscriptions may be purchased through the home page for the entire Digital Season.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Old First Concerts: May, 2021

Old First Concerts (O1C) now has two performances scheduled for next month. Since that is the same as the number of concerts scheduled for the current month, this seems as good a time as any to document these plans “on the record.” Clearly, if there are any updates to these plans, readers will be informed through updates to this article and notification of those updates through the Facebook shadow site. The event pages for both of these concerts include hyperlinks to YouTube, meaning that both performances will be live-streamed. Presumably, program notes will be available for both concerts; but the hyperlinks tend to appear shortly before the performances. The best way to keep track of additional information will be through the O1C event pages. Hyperlinks to those pages will be attached to the date and time of performances as follows:

Hwayoung Shon playing her gayageum (courtesy of Old First Concerts)

Sunday, May 16, 4 p.m.: Korean musician Hwayoung Shon will give a solo performance on the gayageum, the Korean version of a plucked zither with twelve strings, closely related to the Japanese koto. The entire program will be devoted to a performance of “Scattered Melodies” by Kim Juk Pa. The title refers to a form of music in which an organized rhythmic progression of movements is performed on a solo instrument. That progression is relatively strictly defined: the sections begin with the slowest rhythm, taking up to half of the total performance time and followed by increasingly faster movements.

Sunday, May 23, 4 p.m.: The Ives Collective, led by Artistic Co-Directors Susan Freier and Stephen Harrison, will return to O1C, following up on their last recital on March 21. For that previous program they were joined by pianist Gwendolyn Mok. This time the pianist will be Keisuke Nakagoshi, and violinist Roy Malan will also perform. These four musicians will present two piano quartets, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 478 in G minor and Gabriel Fauré’s Opus 15 in C minor. Freier will play viola for both of these selections, and Harrison will be the cellist.

A Disappointing Pythagorean Festival at O1C

The Second Annual Pacific Pythagorean Music Festival had originally been scheduled to take place on March 21, 2020. Organized by the Del Sol Quartet of Samuel Weiser (violin), Benjamin Kreith (violin), Charlton Lee (viola), and Kathryn Bates (cello) and hosted by Old First Concerts (O1C), the event was planned to highlight the work of experimental innovators and traditional masters of integer-ratio harmonies. The Festival finally took place over the course of four hours as yesterday afternoon’s O1C offering. Almost all of the content involved streaming pre-recorded video, although it may well have been the case that all the appearances of Del Sol players were “live.”

The good news is that there was an impressive diversity of approaches to both composition and performance that unfolded during the eleven sets of the afternoon. The bad news is that much of the overall approach to presentation left much to be desired, beginning with the fact that all four Del Sol players were totally unprepared to provide useful introductions for all of the sets that following their own opening offering. However, just as problematic was a program book that devoted five pages to an “About the artists” section with absolutely nothing to say about the music being performed, beginning with the motivation behind the Festival itself.

The basic idea behind the Festival involved a departure from the conventional approach to tuning a piano. That technique is known as equal temperament, meaning that the size of the interval between any two adjacent keys is the same as that between any other two adjacent keys. The uniform size of that interval is the twelfth root of two. What is important is that, in mathematics, that amount is an irrational number, which simply means that it cannot be represented by an integer numerator divided by an integer denominator.

Pythagorean tuning is a system in which all intervals are represented by rational numbers with both numerator and denominator being multiples of the integers two and three. The 3:2 ratio is known as the perfect fifth; and, from an engineering point of view, it is very close to the ratio that defines any fifth on an equal temperament piano keyboard. Other intervals on that piano keyboard are harder to match with the limitations of Pythagorean numerators and denominators. The name of the system refers to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who was active in the sixth century BC and is credited with many mathematical insights (as well as influencing Plato).

The idea of ratios of integers that involve more than two and three probably emerged in the second century (AD), which seems to have the earliest document (by Claudius Ptolemy) that adds five to the mix. This extension marked the beginning of what is now known as just intonation, whose systems are all based on the integers that define the overtones. These systems are defined in terms of a “limit,” which designates the highest overtone number included among the integers. Thus, in the language of just intonation, Pythagorean tuning is called “3-limit tuning.”

Unless I am mistaken, there were no instances of Pythagorean tuning in yesterday’s Festival. For the most part, the compositions were based on just intonation, with only one exception documented on the program sheet. To be fair, however, there was a generous amount of glissando work in many of the compositions, which basically dispenses entirely with integers in favor of the real-number line.

The problem, however, is that the curious listener unfamiliar with all of this background was given little (if any) orientation to guide any attempts at following the music perceptively. One problem seems to have been that the four Del Sol players provided ad hoc introductions that rambled when they should have been informing. Given that almost all (if not the entirety) of the content was pre-recorded, there was no excuse for such a casual (if not sloppy) approach to introducing the selections begin performed. (At least one of the performers, Ellen Fullman, provided her own introduction that served as a useful, if not fully adequate, remedy.)

In addition, the paucity of background accompanied an overabundance of foreground. Considering that each of the offerings had its own distinctive novelty in dealing with intonation, the entire four-hour package was just too much for all but the most obsessive listeners. Citing, again, the fact that most of the content had been previously recorded, O1C could just as easily presented this as two two-hour programs (nothing had be scheduled for the preceding Friday slot), which would have made for a more “digestible” approach.

The good news is that yesterday’s live-stream has now been uploaded in its entirety to a YouTube Web page. The bad news is that the program details of composers and compositions has not been included on this Web page. As of this writing, there is a Web page on the O1C Web site giving all the program content information that is available. For those that prefer flipping pages to scrolling, there is also a hyperlink for downloading a PDF file with the same content.

I apologize to readers for not going into the specifics of any of the works that were performed. Unfortunately, memory was overwhelmed by the TMI (Too Much Information) phenomenon. Were I more curious, I would probably take the time to revisit at least some of the selections through YouTube. However, I can at least refer readers to the account on this site of the penultimate selection on the program, Catherine Lamb’s “point/wave,” which guitarist Giacomo Fiore released as a self-produced album. For that matter, I have had so many positive experiences in listening to alternatives to a well-tempered piano keyboard, particularly through MicroFest Records, that I feel I already have a wealth of resources available to appreciate music based on just intonation.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Eleonor Sandresky to Celebrate Pink Moon

A little over a month ago this site introduced readers to Eleonor Sandresky’s Lunar Landscapes concert series. Each performance takes place on the night of a full moon and is named after the name of that particular full moon as designated in the Farmer’s Almanac. This month will celebrate the Pink Moon, which signifies rebirth and renewal (as in the beginning of the spring season).

Guest performer and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain (photograph by Via Sozo Artists, courtesy of Eleonor Sandresky)

The concert itself will be live-streamed from a planetarium. More specifically, it will take place in Kaleideum North, an interactive, hands-on science museum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The special guest will be composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (who is usually known only by his initials, DBR). The program will include compositions by both Sandresky and Roumain, as well as music by Philip Glass. Readers may recall that Sandresky also provides instructions for preparing a cocktail (or mocktail) and snack for the occasion. It should be no surprise that this month’s libation will be a Pink Martini.

The performance will begin at 6 p.m. (Pacific Time) on Tuesday, April 27. Admission is $10, and payment can be processed through an Eventbrite event page. Once the processing is complete, electronic mail will be sent providing the URL for connection to the video stream of this performance. Subscriptions are also available as part of membership, with membership fees of $5, $10, and $15 per month.

SFCMP Reflects on Olly Wilson

Last night the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) presented the first of its two concerts entitled PostScript to the Future, the at the CROSSROADS offerings for the current season. The series provides retrospective and prospective views based on the life and legacy of composer Olly Wilson, one of the preeminent composers of African American descent, who died in Berkeley on March 12, 2018. (He had retired from teaching at the University of California in 2002.)

When Wilson was teaching at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music between 1965 and 1970, he established the first-ever conservatory program in electronic music. Last night’s program began with a reflection on that achievement. Clarinetist Jeff Anderle played Wilson’s “Echoes,” written for clarinet and pre-recorded electronics in 1975.

In many respects “Echoes” is a reflection (echo?) on the Synchronisms compositions of Mario Davidovsky, working with tape music created at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. The first piece in that set, composed in 1963, was scored for solo flute and tape. Davidovsky did not get around to a solo clarinet interacting with tape until 2006, which was the last of his twelve Synchronisms pieces.

Wilson’s approach to this technique definitely sets him apart from Davidovsky’s work. To a great extent the overall logic behind the Synchronisms pieces is one of symmetries that emerge through the reflections between instrument and recording. Wilson, on the other hand, seemed to be more inspired by jamming, establishing a give-and-take rhetoric between those two sources. Given that the recording cannot “respond” to the instrumentalist, the one-sidedness of the situation makes for a delicate high-wire act. However, over the course of many of his performances, Anderle has developed a keen sense of reflection; and that sense brings Wilson’s score to life, capturing the spirit of jamming, if not the “flesh.”

“Echoes” was followed by the winning composition in the annual SF Search for Scores competition managed by SFCMP. The 2020 search encouraged submissions that would reflect on Wilson’s spirit. The winning composition was created by Josiah Tayaq Catalan, who gave it the title “unravel.” The piece was composed for solo piano, played at last night’s performance by Allegra Chapman.

“First contact” with a brand-new composition is always a dicey undertaking. Nevertheless, Chapman’s performance served up a highly engaging account of the intense energy expressed in Catalan’s score. Whether or not that energy “unravels” as the piece progresses will be left as an exercise for the listener. However, as Chapman observed prior to her performance, Catalan clearly wanted to incorporate the full scope of the piano keyboard; and his energetic rhetoric was probably quite a demand on Chapman’s approach to execution. However, that energy was clearly contagious; and it captured Chapman in such a way that she could convey the impact to the attentive listener.

Tickets for viewing this program will be available through this coming May 10.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Volti to Conclude Virtual Season with Pamela Z

Composer Pamela Z (courtesy of Volti)

The last of the four mini-concerts that the a cappella vocal ensemble Volti planned for its 42nd season will take place exactly two weeks from today. Like the three preceding events, the program will present a world-premiere performance. The composer for this final offering will be Pamela Z, and the title of her composition is “Ink.”

Z conceived this piece as the unfolding of five sonically distinct movements. Each movement has its own “ground rules,” involving, respectively, standard notation, graphic elements, instructions, and rote transmission of sung and spoken vocal material. In preparing for the performance, Z interviewed the Volti singers and extracted speech fragments from her recordings of those interviews. The speech structures also determined some of the work’s melodic and rhythmic passages.

The performance will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 24. There will be no charge for admission, and the performance will be less than an hour in duration. All that is necessary is that one register prior to 5 p.m. on that day through the Tix Web page that creates a free ticket.

For those unfamiliar with Z’s work, Volti’s Artistic Director Bob Geary has arranged a preview event later today. Geary and Cole Thomason-Redus will live-stream a conversation with Z to give her the opportunity to share thoughts about not only her composition but also her experiences in working with the Volti singers. Those familiar with her past performances probably know that most of them have been solo offerings, so “Ink” is probably providing her with an opportunity to explore a new domain of creativity.

This conversation is part of a series that Volti calls Composers+Cocktails. Clearly, those watching the video stream will have to supply their own cocktails! Like the concert, the conversation will begin at 5:30 p.m. this evening, Saturday, April 10. Advance registration will again be required. Fortunately, the Tix Web page for the concert also has the hyperlink for this evening’s offering.

Celebrating Dave Brubeck’s Centennial

courtesy of Play MPE

Dave Brubeck was born on December 6, 1920. His Wikipedia page describes him as “one of the foremost exponents of cool jazz;” but this may distract from his unique approach to jazz, which was decidedly cerebral without being threatening. He is probably best known for his Time Out album, on which he led from the piano a quartet whose other members were Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums. This was the first jazz album to sell one million copies, and the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009.

Brubeck’s family celebrated his centennial by launching a new label entitled Brubeck Editions. The full title of the first release is Time OutTakes: Previously Unreleased Takes from the Original 1959 Sessions (those sessions being, of course, the ones leading to the release of Time Out). Time Out consisted of seven tracks, each of which involved unconventional metric patterns, with the following titles:

  1. Blue Rondo A La Turk
  2. Strange Meadow Lark
  3. Take Five
  4. Three to Get Ready
  5. Kathy’s Waltz
  6. Everybody’s Jumpin’
  7. Pick Up Sticks

All of these pieces were composed by Brubeck except for “Take Five,” which was composed by Desmond.

Time OutTakes consists of an alternate take for each of the first five of these tracks (in the same “order of appearance”). These are followed by “I’m in a Dancing Mood,” composed jointly by Al Goodhart, Al Hoffman, and Maurice Sigler and recorded by the quartet on Dave Brubeck and Jay & Kai at Newport. The final selection is the “discovery” of “Watusi Jam,” which involves a major drum solo and thematic material appropriated from “Watusi Drums,” which had been recorded in 1958 in Copenhagen for the album The Dave Brubeck Quartet in Europe. The final track consists of about four and one-half minutes of banter among the quartet members during the Time Out recording sessions.

Those that have played their copies of Time Out to death (or have worn out an old vinyl and replaced it with a CD) are likely to appreciate how improvisation leads the quartet players in different directions on the alternate takes on this new release. They are also likely to be impressed with how the two-beat regularity of “I’m in a Dancing Mood” gets twisted around with a pulse that defines its own odyssey over the course of a little more than three minutes. My own reaction was a bit more melancholy, regretting that my knowledge of Brubeck had been limited to recordings. MInd you, his popularity would have made it difficult for me to attend one of his concerts; but opportunity never seemed to situate me in the right place at the right time. At least Time OutTakes provides me with a point of reference for how the spontaneity of performance took Brubeck’s quartet to territories beyond what was ever released as a recording.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Kate Campbell’s Ross McKee Video

Kate Campbell (screen shot from the video being discussed)

This evening’s installment in the live-streamed Piano Break series presented by the Ross McKee Foundation was a solo recital by Kate Campbell. Campbell is probably best known to most readers as the pianist for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, whose next program will be presented tomorrow evening. The one-sentence description of Campbell’s program on the event page for her performance describes it as “a recital of fun, quirky, and deeply personal works in a program that celebrates Bay Area Composers and the diversity in contemporary classical music.”

Those enumerated attributes failed to capture the role of brevity that permeated much of Campbell’s program. Indeed, the very opening selection by Ryan Brown was entitled “Four Short Pieces for Solo Piano;” and brevity was definitely the soul of wit behind each of those pieces. The wit itself tended to be subtle, such as writing the opening piece, “Cellar Door,” in the highest register of the piano keyboard. I also suspect that Brown was giving a sly nod or two to the Baroque tradition by casting the last of these pieces, “Shoestring,” as a gigue, as if to say to both soloist and audience, “You see, this is just another traditional suite after all!”

If Brown’s pieces were short, each of the eight movements of Leila Adu’s Colour Wheel were downright microscopic. Each movement had the brevity of a haiku and the haiku spirit of capturing a single moment as an intense expression. I must confess that I never found a connection between the titles assigned to the movements and the experience of listening to each of them over such a short duration. Perhaps Adu simply wanted a better point of reference for each of the pieces that was more than just a number.

Most fascinating was the somewhat lengthier world premiere performance of the first etude for solo piano composed by Matthew Welch. Welch gave this etude the title “Gupekan,” which is a noun that denotes Balinese hand-drumming. Indonesian music is more often associated with pitched percussion, such as metallic xylophones and pitched gongs; and there are suggestions of pentatonic pitch classes in Welch’s composition. However, there is clearly a focus on rhythm, which Campbell captured and presented in a compelling performance.

The final composition was David Lang’s “Wed.” I do not normally think of him as a “Bay Area Composer,” since he was one of the founders of the New York-based Bang on a Can. However, he did his undergraduate work at Stanford, which has to count for something! Nevertheless, I have to confess that I have never really warmed up to Lang’s composition; and, given the meticulous approaches to brevity that preceded his “final word” on the program, I have to say that he music felt more than a tad on the long-winded side.

Asheville Chamber Music to Stream Neave Recital

Neave Trio members Anna Williams, Eri Nakamura, and Mikhail Veselov (photograph by Arthur Moeller, from the ACMS event page for this concert)

A little over a week ago this site announced that this month would begin with the Longy School of Music of Bard College presenting a recital by its Faculty Ensemble-in-Residence, the Neave Trio of violinist Anna Williams, cellist Mikhail Veselov, and pianist Eri Nakamura. That program included Louise Farrenc’s Opus 33 (first) piano trio in E-flat major, one of the selections on Neave’s Her Story Chandos Records album of piano trios by women composers. Towards the end of this month, Neave will revisit that trio in a program prepared for video streaming by the Asheville Chamber Music Series (ACMS) in North Carolina.

For this next performance, Neave will couple the Farrenc trio with another selection from Her Story, Rebecca Clarke’s only piano trio. The program will conclude with a more recent addition to their repertoire by yet another woman composer. Neave will revisit Cécile Chaminade’s Opus 11 trio in G minor, reported on this site about a month ago when the ensemble presented it in a live-streamed recital for the Western New Mexico University’s Virtual President’s Chamber Music Series.

Neave’s Asheville performance will be this year’s annual Joe Vandewart Concert, named after the founder of the chamber music series, which was launched in 1952. The program will be streamed through both the ACMS Web site and YouTube. It will be given three performances, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 23, and Saturday, April 24, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 25. There will be no charge for making a reservation to view the stream, but those who do so are encouraged to consider making a donation. Hyperlinks for “tickets” to view this recital can be found on the event page for this offering on the ACMS Web site.

Downes’ EP Series Surveys Black Composers

This past June I wrote about how pianist Lara Downes recorded a series of four EP releases entitled Florence Price: Piano Discoveries. Two months ago she launched a new EP series. This one is entitled Rising Sun Music; and the plan is that, through a collection of recordings, each released on the first Friday of every month, beginning on February 5, Downes would shed a bright light on the music and stories of Black composers over the past 200 years.

As of today, three of those albums have been released, each with its own title associated with four composers as follows:

  1. February, Remember Me To Harlem: Benny Golson, Eubie Blake, William Grant Still, Margaret Bonds
  2. March, Phenomenal Women: Hazel Scott, Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Nora Holt
  3. April, Spring Fever: Nkeiru Okoye, Alvin Singleton, H. Leslie Adams, Betty Jackson King

Most of the tracks are solo piano performances. However, there are also duo offerings. For example, “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed” is a song by Bonds on Phenomenal Women with soprano Nicole Cabell accompanied by Downes. There are also instrumental duos, such as Adams’ “Ecstasy of Love” on the April album, featuring Jordan Bak performing with Downes. Each of these albums is currently being released only for MP3 download by, and the above hyperlinks lead to the album download Web pages. These Web pages also identify those performers that Downs accompanies on their respective tracks.

Each of the three albums released since this project began consists of four relatively brief offerings, one for each of the composers enumerated above. Phenomenal Women also includes five tracks of commentary by Downes, but that is the only one of the three albums released thus far to provide background material. Similarly, none of the downloads include downloadable PDF files of “program notes.” This is somewhat unfortunate, since each of the composers led a life worth knowing, as this site recently demonstrated when writing about a new biography of Florence Price (whose birthday was yesterday). However, Shuman Associates has created a Web page that currently provides a one-paragraph overview for each of the albums, along with a video window of Downes playing Bonds’ “Tangamerican,” a composition that is not included on any of the three albums released to date.

PBO Explores Handel’s “Private Passions”

The performers of the recital being discussed (clockwise from upper-left): Carla Moore, Anthony Martin, Paul Hale, Maria Caswell, Kristin Zoernig, and Jory Vinikour (courtesy of PBO)

Last night the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) & Chorale presented the first program in the new year in its PBO/VIRTUAL Salon Series (formerly known as the 2020/VIRTUAL Salon Series). The title of the recital was HANDEL: Private Passions. It involved only six musicians: violinists Carla Moore and Anthony Martin, violist Maria Caswell, cellist Paul Hale, bassist Kristin Zoernig, and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour. The harpsichord was made by John Phillips in Berkeley in 2010, based on a 1722 instrument by Johann Heinrich Gräbner as a model. Phillips’ instrument was generously lent by Peter and Cynthia Hibbard.

The program was organized around three of George Frideric Handel’s trio sonatas, HWV 391 in G minor, HWV 397 in D major, and HWV 399 in F major. These were performed by Moore, Martin, Hale, and Vinikour. PBO Music Director Richard Egarr added a viola part to HWV 399, allowing the full ensemble to present the work as a “grand finale.” Egarr also provided string quartet transcriptions of two fugues from the 1735 publication Six Fugues or Voluntarys for the Organ or Harpsichord, played by Moore, Martin, Caswell, and Hale.

HWV 391 was composed during Handel’s time in Rome in his early twenties, and one can appreciate his debt to the repertoire of earlier trio sonatas. HWV 397, on the other hand, is a later work in which Handel departs from the conventional four sections (slow-fast-slow-fast) that established trio sonata structure. HWV 397 is more of an extended suite than a conventional trio sonata, including da capo content, as well as both a march and a gavotte. HWV 399, which, like HWV 397, is from Handel’s Opus 5 publication, is equally adventurous, featuring a passacaglia as its central movement. HWV 399 also repurposes music from both the HWV 52 oratorio Athalia and the HWV 73 celebratory serenata Parnasso in Festa, composed for the marriage of Anne, Princess Royal and Prince William of Orange.

The performance itself took place on the stage of Herbst Theatre in the Veterans Building of the San Francisco War Memorial. The entire recording was made on March 9, 2021 in accordance with the Order of the Health Officer of the City and County of San Francisco. The video was produced by Tal Skloot of Tritone Media, using just the right camera angles to facilitate appreciation of the polyphonic fabrics of both the trio sonatas and the fugues. The audio was produced by Michael Demeyer. The entire performance lasted about 45 minutes and has now been uploaded to a YouTube Web page for further viewing.

This is the sort of offering that deserves multiple viewings. As Scholar-in-Residence Bruce Lamott observed in his program notes, Handel is best known for his operas and oratorios. His chamber music offerings are relatively modest. Nevertheless, there is much to be gained from listening to the selections on this video, and Skloot’s video direction guides the attentive listener through those features of Handel’s technique that make the music such a satisfying experience.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

OFS Announces Second Spring Program

Logo for the next One Found Sound concert (from the Eventbrite event page)

This past February, when One Found Sound (OFS) announced their plans for the spring portion of their eighth season, few details about the second program were available other than the program’s name, SPRING, and the overall theme of the season, Water Music. It has now been announced that two composers will be featured, along with a collaborative event. The program will celebrate the centenary of the birth of Astor Piazzolla, who was born on March 11, 1921, with a performance of his “Libertango,” presented with creative music videos by Max Savage of Noisy Savage. The other composer to be featured will be Guyanese-American Omar Thomas with a performance of “A Mother of a Revolution!” This will be a collaborative performance in which OFS musicians will be joined by students from the Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland.

The remainder of the program will involve an innovative approach to collaboration. Violinist Abigail Shiman, cellist Helen Newby, oboist Ryan Zwahlen, and hornist Patrick Jankowski will each be paired, respectively, with poets Kar Johnson, Thea Matthews, Christine No, and Preeti Vangani. Each of the musicians will select a solo composition to perform. The poet will recite a poem written as a response to the music through a rhetorical technique known as ekphrasis.

Like the preceding program, OCEAN, the SPRING concert will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 22. Admission will again be donation-based. Registration will be required through an Eventbrite event page; and, after registration has been processed, electronic mail will be sent with a link for viewing the performance. Donors with Onesie status will receive the benefits of a Virtual All Access Pass.

Greg Abate’s Tribute Album for Kenny Barron

courtesy of Naxos of America

This past Friday Whaling City Sound released a two-CD album entitled Magic Dance: The Music of Kenny Barron. Saxophonist Greg Abate compiled a collection of fourteen of Barron’s original compositions, performing them with a rhythm section led by Barron himself at the piano, joined by Dezron Douglas on bass and Jonathan Blake on drums. However, as will be seen shortly, it would be somewhat incorrect to call this a quartet album.

I have been fortunate enough to see Barron twice in Herbst Theatre. The first time was a two-piano gig with Mulgrew Miller presented by SFJAZZ in May of 2012 (back when I was writing for More recently, however, Barron returned to Herbst in October of 2019, this time for a celebration of Monk’s 102nd birthday. Barron’s attention to Monk was entirely appropriate, given that he had been the pianist for the Monk tribute band Sphere, a quartet formed by Monk alumni Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone and drummer Ben Riley, along with Buster Williams on bass.

This is my long-winded excuse for the fact that, prior to the release of Magic Dance, I knew next to nothing about Barron as a composer. While none of the fourteen tracks evoke any of the sharper edges of Monk’s approaches to composition, there is considerable diversity across the fourteen tracks that Abate selected, providing more than ample opportunity for Barron to exercise his own inventive improvisations from the keyboard. That said, Abate had his own approaches to inventiveness that were more than a little eyebrow-raising.

Abate is primarily a saxophonist equally comfortable with all four of the usual sizes of the instrument: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone. He is equally skilled at the flute, and all five of these instruments come into play over the course of Magic Dance. However, the eyebrow-raising come from those winds frequently performing in groups, thanks to the overdubbing and mixing skills of John Mailloux, owner of Bongo Beach Productions, which was responsible for mastering the album tracks. (Recording took place at the Van Gelder Studio under the supervision of Maureen and Don Sickler.)

The fact is that, in preparing the tracks for this album, Abate had his own keen sense of harmony; and he wanted to “give voice” to homophonic support to the melody line with techniques that would go beyond the usual approaches to piano accompaniment (even by the composer of the tunes). Indeed, on two of those tracks, “Innocence” and “Voyage,” that homophony extends over five voices, both of which involve two separate lines for tenor sax. The result is an “ensemble sound” that one is unlikely to have encountered in Barron’s own piano work.

I suspect there will be many purists that will dismiss Abate’s approach as “creating an artifact,” rather than “making music;” but the chemistry among Abate, Barron, and the technical team was strong enough to warrant attentive listening for every track in this collection.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Richter Recitals of Grieg and Debussy

courtesy of Naxos of America

This past Friday Stradivarius Records, an independent Italian record label based in Milan, released a two-CD album of remixed and “denoised” recordings of recital performances by pianist Sviatoslav Richter. Of the 31 tracks in this collection, 25 are devoted to music from the ten volumes of Lyric Pieces composed by Edvard Grieg. The remaining six tracks are from Claude Debussy’s second book of piano preludes. The Debussy performances were recorded in Cosenza in Italy in January of 1993. The Grieg performances were recorded at two different concerts in Greece, in Athens and Kozani, respectively, in October of the same year.

From my own point of view, the Debussy selections made for a useful complement. The first BBC Legends collection included Richter playing ten of the preludes from the first book during a recital in 1961. The respective compositions of the two books of Debussy preludes were separated by about three years, while the Richter performances were separated by about 32 years! On the other hand I would not dare to even try to estimate the number of concert performances Richter gave of Grieg’s Opus 18 concerto in A minor, let alone then number of different recordings. That said, this new Stradivarius release provided me with the first opportunity to listen to his approaches to any of the Lyric Pieces.

Those familiar with those ten volumes (or even excerpts from them) are probably aware of the breadth of different and contrasting dispositions that unfold from one piece to another. Any of them would make for a perfectly satisfying encore following the performance of the concerto. Whether or not Richter came to know the Grieg selections on this new album for encore purposes is left as an exercise for the reader!

What is important is that Richter clearly appreciated that breadth of rhetorical dispositions. One could probably hypothesize a logic for the “journey” that Richter planned with his own sequence of these short pieces. Indeed, there are probably two such journeys with the  applause at the end of Track 14 on the first CD marking the division between the Athens performance and the one a little over a week later in Kozani.

I have now listened to enough Richter recordings to appreciate how he can play precision and expressiveness against each other, not so much as a conflict as a mathematical summation of two vectors pointing in different directions. Each of the two Grieg performances has its own way of unfolding as a well-defined journey. Richter’s approach to Debussy’s second book of preludes, on the other hand, seems to seek out the logic of playing the first five preludes successively and then jumping ahead to the tenth to provide an encore.

My reaction to this new release is that each encounter with a previously unfamiliar Richter album always seems to result in an absorbing journey of discovery.

Alexander String Quartet Recital Rescheduled

Violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz, violists Paul Yarbrough and David Samuel, and cellist Sandy Wilson (courtesy of the Morrison Chamber Music Center)

Towards the end of this past January, the Morrison Chamber Music Center of the College of Liberal & Creative Arts at San Francisco State University announced that the February concert to be given by the Alexander String Quartet (ASQ) would be postponed due to COVID considerations. At that time the event was tentatively rescheduled for April 11. Yesterday that concert date was affirmed.

The program had been planned to be a video stream of the second of two ASQ recitals presented by the Morrison Artists Series, now known as the Jane H. Galante Concert Series, the first having been streamed on December 1. The major work on the program will be Maurice Ravel’s 1903 quartet in F major. Violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz and cellist Sandy Wilson will be playing with the new ASQ violist, David Samuel. The program will begin with George Walker’s first string quartet, a single-movement work composed in 1947. This music was selected as ASQ’s acknowledgement of the Black Lives Matter movement. This video was made with previous ASQ violist Paul Yarbrough.

The online streaming of this program will begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 11. There will be no charge for viewing the video. Most likely the hyperlink for the video source will be installed on the event page for this concert.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Bleeding Edge: 4/6/2021

The good news is that this week’s Bleeding Edge article has four events to report. The bad news is that they will all take place on the same day, this Saturday, April 10! One of them, the fifth installment in Karl Evangelista’s Lockdown Festival series, will begin at 4 p.m. and run through 8 p.m., streaming eight pre-recorded videos, each half an hour in duration. The remaining three events are supported by familiar organizations as follows:

7 p.m.: The Mills College Music Department and the Center for Contemporary Music will present a solo tabla performance by Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. This is the latest free program in the Mills Music Now series. Registration is required through the hyperlink embedded in the event page. Registration is managed through an Eventbrite Web page. This page enables the user to receive a hyperlink to the source of the video stream.

8 p.m.: The Center for New Music (C4NM) will be presenting two free concerts for the month of April. The second of these, The Cassandra Project: Women’s Prophetic Voices, will be presented by the Ensemble for These Times on April 17. This Saturday’s program is entitled Moments in Spring. The program will consist entirely of new works written by members of the Bay Area Chapter of the NACUSA (National Association of Composers of the United States of America). There will be no charge for admission, but donations to C4NM are encouraged. The event page includes a hyperlink to the YouTube Web page through which the performance will be live-streamed.

8 p.m.: The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) will present the first of two concerts entitled PostScript to the Future, an at the CROSSROADS offering. The program will feature the world premiere performance of “unravel” by Josiah Tayaq Catalan, the winning composition in the annual SF Search for Scores competition managed by SFCMP. The program will also present Olly Wilson’s “Echoes,” scored for clarinet and electronics. The clarinetist will be Jeff Anderle. Tickets are currently on sale for both this program and for the two PostScript concerts. All sales are managed through a single event page.