Monday, May 31, 2021

Trying to Keep Up with Mode Cage Releases

Morton Feldman and John Cage on the cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Naxos of America)

A little over a week ago, Mode Records released the 54th volume in its Complete John Cage Edition series. The album is also the eleventh devoted to Cage’s compositions for piano. mistakenly interpreted the number on the album’s cover to be Roman, thus listing it as “Works for Piano 2;” but the actual second volume in this sub-collection was a performance of the Sonatas and Interludes suite of compositions for prepared piano, which was released in 1996.

Cage liked to tell a story of his visit to a psychoanalyst. After the preliminary session, the psychiatrist told Cage not to worry and that he would be composing again very soon. Cage replied, “Doctor, you don’t understand; I’m composing too much already!” Every time Mode comes out with a new Cage release, I recall that anecdote and have long given up on that label’s prodigious productivity. When it comes to having a “complete” collection of Cage’s music for piano (including prepared piano), I have long been content with the eighteen CDs that Steffen Schleiermacher recorded for MDG.

Nevertheless, there is one offering on this new Mode CD that deserves attention. Ironically, it has nothing to do with solo piano. Rather, it involves a chamber music arrangement that Morton Feldman made of Cage’s “Cheap Imitation.” For those unfamiliar with the story of how Cage came to compose this piece, James Pritchett provides the backstory in the liner notes:

Cage was to create a two-piano transcription of Erik Satie’s Socrate for a Merce Cunningham choreography, but he was unable to get permission from the publisher. Even worse, he could not even get performance rights to use the published piano-vocal score of Socrate. Cage’s creative solution was to make a piano piece that maintained the exact metrical and phrase structure of Socrate, but with different notes to avoid copyright issues. He called this piece Cheap Imitation. Cunningham responded by calling his dance Second Hand.

I happened to be covering the January 1970 season of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, keeping a day-by-day diary for Ballet Review. (That article was subsequently anthologized by Richard Kostelanetz in his 1992 book Merce Cunningham: Dancing in Space and Time.)

I was there for the world premiere performance of “Second Hand.” That was a time when Cage was wrestling with serious arthritis. Pritchett’s account fails to mention that Cage deliberately prepared his “substitute” in such a way that he would be able to perform it himself.

In the half-century that followed, “Cheap Imitation” may well have become Cage’s most recognizable composition. For one thing it is music that actually has themes, which makes it a rather rare entry in the Cage catalog. In addition it is music that can be played by anyone with modest keyboard skills (and I have to say that I have taken a lot of personal satisfaction out of being able to play the piece with pretty much no difficulties). In that context I would say that, from the listener’s point of view, there is little to differentiate Takahashi’s performance from the one that Schleiermacher recorded.

However, the new Mode release also includes an “alternative” approach to playing “Cheap Imitation.” The Feldman chamber music version was arranged as a present that he gave to Takahashi. This was when Feldman was on the faculty at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and he had invited Takahashi to serve there as artist-in-residence. Feldman presented his alternative instrumentation as a gift to Takahashi when she departed at the conclusion of her tenure.

In other words “Cheap Imitation” has provided a context for a rather rich collection of personal stories. Indeed, there may well be more stories about this piece than there are about Cage’s 4’33” composition. That aspect of the composition may not have figured very much in the notes accompanying the new recording. For that matter, in an age in which history does not seem to signify very much for very many any more, the idea of a piece of music with a rich personal history may not leave much of an impression. Nevertheless, this is an album likely to trigger memories for at least a few of us; and, as one of those “involved parties,” I appreciate having added it to my collection.

SFP to Return to Herbst with 9 Concerts in July

San Francisco Performances (SFP) will resume live performances in Herbst Theatre this coming July. This will mark the first time that SFP has presented a summer music concert series in its 41-year history. Nine concerts will be performed over the course of 11 days from July 14 through July 24. Programming will feature fourteen artists in chamber music, piano, and guitar. [updated 6/8, 9:20 a.m.: Three vocal recitals have been added to the original list.] Program details have not yet been finalized. Here is a summary of what is currently known:

Wednesday, July 14, 7:30 p.m.: Pianist David Greilsammer will make his SFP recital debut. He has prepared a program based on selections from his latest Naïve album, Labyrinth. This will include selections from Ofer Pelz’ Repetition Blindness, written especially for that album. Selections from “the other end of music history” will include the “Chaos” movement from Jean-Féry Rebel’s 1873 ballet suite Les Élémens in a solo piano arrangement by Jonathan Keren and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s D minor fantasia (presumably taken from the W. 117 collection). He will also play selections from the first book in Leoš Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path cycle. Greilsammer will also play a selection by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that was not taken from the Labyrinth album.

Thursday, July 15, 7:30 p.m.: Pianist Garrick Ohlsson will complete his survey of the complete works that Johannes Brahms composed for solo piano. Originally scheduled for March 31, 2020, this program will finally conclude the series of four recitals that Ohlsson planned for this project. It will include the “bookends” of this corpus, the Opus 1 (first) sonata in C major and the Opus 119 collection of short pieces. The program will also present the Opus 4 scherzo in E-flat minor, the Opus 9 set of variations on a theme by Robert Schumann, and the Opus 39 collection of sixteen short waltzes.

Friday, July 16, 7:30 p.m.: The Alexander String Quartet (ASQ), with new violist David Samuel, will perform the British Invasion program originally scheduled for March 7, 2020. They will be joined by William Kanengiser, a member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, which had performed their American Guitar Masterworks concert in Herbst on November 23, 2019. The ASQ program 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 Leo 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. [added 6/8, 9:35 a.m.:

Saturday, July 17, 7:30 p.m.: Gabriel Kahane will give his first post-pandemic performance. In October of 2020 he composed one song for each day of the month as a personal account of the impact of life under lockdown conditions. His program, entitled After the Silence, will survey the results of that undertaking.

Sunday, July 18, 2 p.m.: Kahane will return to perform the world premiere of his own composition, Final Privacy Song. This work had been commissioned by SFP for performance at its 40th Anniversary Concert on April 26 of last year, which had to be cancelled due to COVID-19.) Setting a text by Matthew Zapruder, the work explores our ever-shifting relationships to nature and technology. This music will be juxtaposed by a selection of songs by Franz Schubert, which will be sung by tenor Nicholas Phan.]

Sunday, July 18, 7 p.m.: Kanengiser will remain in San Francisco to return to Herbst for a solo recital. This will feature a world-premiere performance of “Lost Land” by Golfram Khayam. Further details have not yet been announced, but the program will also include works by Dionisio Aquado, Frank Wallace, and Bryan Johanson. Kanengiser will also perform his own arrangement of music by the eighteenth-century Spanish guitarist Santiago de Murcia.

Monday, July 19, 7:30 p.m.: Pianist Natasha Paremski launched SFP’s 40th anniversary season with a solo recital set that she shared with jazz pianist Alfredo Rodríguez on September 27, 2019. This summer she will have the stage all to herself! Program specifics have not yet been announced; but the composers will be Frédéric Chopin, Thomas Adès, and Sergei Prokofiev.

Tuesday, July 20, 7:30 p.m.: Pianist Marc-André Hamelin had also been scheduled for that 40th anniversary season with a special concert on April 26, 2020. He has prepared a new program for his return to Herbst, which will feature the world premiere of his own composition, “Nowhere Going Fast,” which he will perform with ASQ. Further specifics have not yet been announced but will include music by Emanuel Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Wednesday, July 21, 7:30 p.m.: Pianist Aaron Diehl will make his SFP recital debut with a program that reflects his experienced accounts of both the classical and jazz genres. His selections will focus on Black composers. On the classical side these will include William Grant Still and Nathaniel Dett. The jazz composers will be Duke Ellington and Roland Hanna. [added 6/8, 9:45 a.m.:

Thursday, July 22, 7:30 p.m.: Tenor Lawrence Brownlee will return to SFP, following his San Francisco recital debut on March 31, 2018. He has prepared a program to survey songs of his youth in Italian, French, and German. The composers of those songs include Alessandro Scarlatti, Giuseppe Torelli, Giulio Caccini, Giovanni Legrenzi, Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, Gabriel Fauré, and Francis Poulenc. He will also sing spirituals by Harry Burleigh and Hall Johnson.]

Friday, July 23, 7:30 p.m.: Pianist Timo Andres produced two video recordings for SFP that were uploaded to the Front Row Web site as part of the Front Row Premium Series. Like Diehl, Andres is equally at home in the classical and jazz domains. His program will also include music by Ellington, as well as his own compositions. He will also play works by Claude Debussy, Ned Rorem, and Ann Southam. My advance material also includes “Schumann;” but those that viewed his Pithy Program video know that Andres made it a point to perform compositions by both Robert and Clara!

Saturday, July 24, 7:30 p.m.: Andres will return for a recital with violinist Jennifer Koh and cellist Jay Campbell. Once again, his own music will be included on the program. These will include solo compositions for violin and cello, respectively. Similarly, Janáček will be represented by his “Pohádka” (fairy tale), a duo for cello and piano and his sonata for violin and piano. The only selection that will involve all three performers will be Andres’ piano trio.

Single tickets will go on sale to the public on Monday, June 14. Prices for all performances will be $45, $55, and $65. A Summer Music Sessions 2021 Web page has been created, and hyperlinks for online ticket purchases will be added on that date. Telephone orders will be taken on Mondays through Fridays between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at 415-677-0325. Patrons with questions should call 415-677-0325 within the same time frame. Finally, all those planning to attend any of these performances are strongly advised to consult the Summer Music Sessions Health and Safety Factsheet Web page on the SFP Web site. This provides a useful account of all of the “ground rules” associated with visiting a public space during this time when many of the constraints of pandemic conditions are gradually being lifted.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Technical Difficulties at Bird & Beckett

Beth Schenck, Lisa Mezzacappa, Jordan Glenn, and Rob Ewing deal with the crowded conditions at Bird & Beckett (screen shot from the Facebook video of the Sifter performance)

Some readers may recall that the Sifter quartet of trombonist Rob Ewing, saxophonist Beth Schenck, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, and Jordan Glenn on drums had been scheduled to live-stream a performance from Bird & Beckett Books and Records at 7:30 p.m. last night. Sadly the technical team never managed to provide audio content; and, after about a quarter of an hour of frustration, I bailed on the undertaking. Fortunately, the crew persisted; and, by this morning, there was a Facebook video of about 90 minutes duration available for viewing.

The program was organized in two sets separated by a break that was part of the video. Sadly, the audio dropped out on two occasions; but there was still enough content to do justice to the eleven pieces that were played, five before the break and the remaining six afterwards. All four of the performers contributed the compositions that were performed.

Unfortunately, one other technical difficulty marred the experience. To be fair, the performance took place in a limited space between two massive rows of bookcases. In that context one can at least sympathize with the shortcomings of microphone placement that made Mezzacappa’s bass work all but inaudible. I also have a somewhat personal bone to pick, since there was highly imaginative sonorous diversity that emerged from Glenn’s choreographic mastery of his drum kit; and I really wish that I could have enjoyed a clearer view of what he was doing in that crowded space.

The good news is that the music itself was pleasantly engaging. There were not very many provocative sharp edges, but there was no end of imagination behind the themes themselves and how they were interpreted by the different musicians. Every now and then a classical reference would sneak into the texture, usually flying off before even the most attentive ear could identify the source. (I thought I caught a passing reference to Aram Khachaturian, which tickled my own listening organs!)

This is not the first time I have encountered technical shortcomings in a Bird & Beckett stream. Given that the venue has been at it since the onset of the pandemic, I would have hoped for a better learning curve. Prior to lockdown the book store was a significant host for adventurous jazz performances, and better technical support could have gone a long way to help the venue maintain its well-earned reputation.

Dresher to Stream Concert of Improvisations

Participating improvisors (left to right): Sarah Cahill, Vân-Ánh Võ, Rinde Eckert, Paul Dresher, Joel Davel (from the Eventbrite Web page)

Improvisation has long had core significance in Paul Dresher’s practices as a composer. This has been evident in both the scores he has created for the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and the approach to performance with his colleague Joel Davel in concerts given by the Dresher Davel Invented Instrument Duo. Next month Dresher will present With Friends Like These, a concert program in which improvisation will be primary and will involve an imaginative variety of instrumental and vocal combinations.

The performers will include both Dresher and Davel playing the diverse assortment of instruments that are played by the Dresher Davel Invented Instrument Duo. They will be joined by three “guest artists.” The first of these will be pianist Sarah Cahill, for whom Dresher has dedicated music for her to play. The second will be Rinde Eckert, whom I encountered for the first time in 1983 when the George Coates Performance Works presented The Way of How during a Next Wave concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Dresher also performed in that concert.) Eckert will play accordion and provide vocal solos. The final guest artist will be Vân-Ánh Võ performing on three traditional Vietnamese instruments, dàn tranh, dàn bầu, and dàn t’rung.

The program will consist of four pre-recorded segments, which will be followed by a live Q&A/interview session. The performance will begin at 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 13. There will be no charge for admission, but registration will be required. Eventbrite has created a Web page to enable registration and to encourage support for this event through donations. Once the Eventbrite order has been confirmed, electronic mail will be sent prior to the performance providing the link necessary to attend.

“Complete” Tchaikovsky for Piano and Orchestra

courtesy of Naxos of America

This past Friday the hänssler CLASSIC label released a three-CD album of music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The full title of this album is Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra in the unabridged full versions. After a frustrating session with, compensated by greater success through a Google search, I have established that, for now at least, this album is only available for digital download, the best source being a Web page on the British Presto Classical Web site. Aside from the paucity of useful Google hits, this site is particularly advantageous in that the download includes the PDF of the accompanying booklet.

This album was originally released in 1998 by Koch-Schwann and remastered this past February. The booklet includes those texts that were written for that previous release. They were originally written in German, but the booklet includes English translations of the two background essays. The longer essay, written by Eckhardt van den Hoogen, gives an extensive account of what distinguishes the selections in this collection and why those distinctions matter. The English translation was provided by Michael and Janet Berridge. They also translated a Foreword by Andrej Hoteev, the pianist for all of the works included on the album, in which he briefly summarizes his approaches to all of the selections. The final CD also includes a “bonus” track of an Edison wax cylinder recording of the voice of Tchaikovsky and several of his colleagues.

How significant is this collection for the attentive listener? Regular readers probably know by now that I have listened to a rather extensive share of Tchaikovsky’s compositions, including recordings of the “usual” performances of the three piano concertos. In that context I was particularly interested in the unpublished Allegro movement in C minor based on the composer’s 1864 manuscript. The other manuscript source is Tchaikovsky’s 1892 embellished orchestration of the single-movement “Ungarische Zigeunerweisen” (concerto in the Hungarian style), composed by Sophie Menter, probably in partnership with her teacher Franz Liszt. Finally, there is Tchaikovsky’s Opus 56 concert fantasia in G minor for piano and orchestra, composed in 1884 and dedicated to both Menter and Anna Yesipova, whose full score was not published until March of 1893, about half a year prior to the composer’s death.

Where the concertos are concerned, primarily I was happy enough just to have a recording of an alternative approaches to performance. The only surprise came with the first movement of the third concerto. Like many, I know this music best because George Balanchine used it create the choreography for his “Allegro Brillante” ballet, whose title was taken from the movement’s tempo marking. Hoteev’s performance of this movement with Vladimir Fedoseyev conducting the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra chose a tempo that Balanchine would have dismissed as lame. However, according to Hoteev’s booklet notes, that brisker tempo came from a performance edition published by Alexander Siloti after Tchaikovsky’s death, in which the tempo is specified as Allegro brillante e molto vivace.

Taken as a whole, the accounts of the Hoteev-Fedoseyev partnership provide a perfectly satisfying account of the act of bringing musicological studies to light in the form of performance; and such partnerships are almost always worthy of highly attentive listening.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Merola Opera Program Offers Summer Festival

After having sustained pandemic conditions with a Virtual Recital Series of performances, the Merola Opera Program has announced plans to return to its usual Summer Festival. The will be the first season to be led by Artistic Director Carrie-Ann Matheson and General Manager Markus Bean. The performances will feature 27 Merola artists selected from more than 800 international participants. Most of them are currently studying in the United States, but some of them originally come from China, Colombia, Germany, and Russia, as well as North America.

Traditionally the Festival has offered two full-length opera performances, preceded by a program of semi-staged arias. This summer’s offerings will be more limited with consideration for both indoor and outdoor locations, as well as the possibility of live streaming. In the context of these constraints, only three programs have been announced. While the dates and times have been set for all of them, venues have not yet been finalized; and viewing options have yet to be announced. The program offerings, along with their respective dates, are as follows:

Saturday, July 3, 2 p.m.: Tenor Nicholas Phan and mezzo Ronnita Miller will co-curate a program entitled What the Heart Desires. Miller was a Merolina in the summer of 2005. The program will feature compositions by women and people of color. The current Merola artists will perform selections about romantic desire, physical desire, and the longing for home, for rest, for peace, and for a better world.

Audrey Chait, Stage Director for the Merola Grand Finale (courtesy of the Merola Opera Program)

Saturday, July 31, 2 p.m.: The annual Merola Grand Finale features all of the current Merolini in a dazzling array of opera’s most exciting arias and ensembles. The entire production will be staged by Audrey Chait, the 2021 Merola Stage Director. Accompaniment will be provided by the Merola pianists and coaches.

Friday, August 27: The film Back Home: Through the Stage Door will be released for public streaming. This documentary was conceived and directed by David Paul to showcase this summer’s Merolini. Viewing options will be announced closer to the film’s release date.

As more specifics about these performance are provided, they will be made available through the Calendar Web page on the Merola Web site.

SFP Guitar Travelogue Concludes in China

Guitarist Xuefei Yang (from the Front Row Travels home page)

Last week San Francisco Performances and the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts concluded its Front Row Travels series. This survey of three great classical guitarists began in Spain with David Russell, progressed to the Ukraine with Marko Topchii, and wrapped up with Xuefei Yang playing in the fifteenth-century Zhizhu Temple in Beijing, China. Her program provided a balance of her own arrangements of Chinese selections with Hispanic offerings.

The program began with Yang’s arrangement of a traditional Chinese tune entitled “A Moonlit Night on the Spring River.” Those familiar with Chinese instruments can probably imagine how this music would have sounded in its original setting. Yang was clearly aware of that setting, but she performed with a clear sense of the affordances of her own instrument. As a result the thematic content was given a faithful treatment that was enhanced with new dimensions of sonorities arising from techniques unique to the classical Western guitar. Awareness of those affordances also enhanced her account of Xu Changjun’s “Sword Dance” and the musical visualization “Lake Baikal.” Yang arranged the latter in conjunction with Benjamin Lim Yi, who was in the audience for her performance.

The other “arranged” composition on the program was Astor Piazzolla’s “Milonga del Angel,” which he originally composed for his tango band. Through the Piazzolla album recorded by guitarist David Tanenbaum, I came to know this music in its arrangement by Leo Brouwer. Yang played an arrangement by Baltazar Benitez, which was just as effective in capturing the melancholy rhetoric of the music. This had been preceded by a much more elaborate multi-movement suite by José Luis Merlin entitled Suite del Recuerdo (memory suite).

Equally impressive was “Un Sueño en la Floresta” (a dream in the forest) by Agustín Barrios, a thoroughly engaging account of how the tone poem genre could be rendered through solo guitar music. The program concluded with characteristically Brazilian music by Dilermando Reis, “Eterna Saudade.” (Reis’ music is also in Russell’s repertoire.) The program also included a tango written by a French composer, Roland Dyens. His “Tango en Skaï” was composed in 1985 and remains one of his best-known pieces.

All of this diversity was given a consistently engaging account by Yang with an intricate attention to technique that disclosed the rich expressiveness of each composition.

Friday, May 28, 2021

SFCMP to Present Vocal Program Next Month

SFCMP’s “poster” for its on STAGE program showing the contributing composers (from its Web page for ticket purchases)

Next month the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) will present the on STAGE  event planned for the streamed offerings of its 50th season. The title of the program will be Voices in Reverberation; and Pamela Z, who has figured significantly in both the creation and the performance of adventurous vocal music, will join SFCMP as guest artist. She will present the “Breathing” movement from her Carbon Song Cycle, completed in 2013. She will also give the world premiere of a new composition written for her by Caroline Shaw. The title has not yet been announced, but the piece is being scored for clarinet, piano, viola, cello, and voice.

On the instrumental side, Amadeus Regucera, whose “IMY/ILY” was performed by Andy Meyerson to conclude this month’s in the COMMUNITY concert, will again be featured, this time in a performance of “Inexpressible v.2,” scored for flute violin, and cello. In addition violinist Hrabba Atladottir will play Andrew Norman’s solo composition “Sabina.” The program will conclude with a full-ensemble performance of John Adams’ “Son of Chamber Symphony.”

As with all other streamed offerings (including the free ones), tickets will be required. Acknowledgement of the ticket will include information for connecting to the streamed content. Streaming will be available on the date and time for each event as specified below, and content will be accessible for one month. General admission will be $15. However, there is a Pay What You Can rate, which has a minimum of $5, intended for the benefit of students, teachers, and those with limited financial resources. There will be a processing fee of $1.85 for all tickets. All ticket purchases will be processed through a single Web page. The one-month availability will begin when the program is premiered next month on Friday, June 18, at 8 p.m.

Kremer’s Latest Weinberg Album on Accentus

courtesy of Naxos of America

I first became aware of the music of Mieczysław Weinberg when ECM New Series released its first two-CD set of performances by Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica colleagues. The first of those albums was released in January of 2014, prior to Kremer taking the Kremerata Baltica on a tour of six cities in the United States, one of which, fortunately, happened to be San Francisco. Since that time I have not been as thorough as I might have wished to keep up with recordings of Weinberg’s music, but I have tried to follow Kremer’s pursuit of the Weinberg catalog.

At the beginning of this year Accentus Music released Kremer’s latest Weinberg album. It includes the Opus 69 sonata for two violins, which Kremer performs with Madara Petersone, the Kremerata Baltica Concertmaster. The album couples this sonata with the Opus 67 violin concerto; and, unless I am mistaken, this was my first encounter with symphonic music for a full orchestra. The ensemble is the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Daniele Gatti. Both of these works were composed in 1959.

There is a tendency to associate Weinberg with Dmitri Shostakovich, who became a strong supporter of Weinberg. Born to a Jewish family in Warsaw, Weinberg had been fortunate enough to flee to the Soviet Union at the outbreak of World War II, well aware of what the Nazis might do to him and his relatives. Shostakovich became a major influence; and, as their friendship matured, Weinberg was not shy about weaving his colleague’s themes into his own music. That said, I do not think I can account for Shostakovich’s “thematic presence” in either of the two selections on this album. On the other hand this was definitely the first time that I encountered full-throated instrumentation in a Weinberg composition; and I would say that the attentive listener will be as satisfied with the orchestral work as with the solo violin passages in the performance of Opus 67.

Opus 69, on the other hand, is a thoroughly engaging account of the textures of two violinists often bowing multiple strings. In the context of conditions under Joseph Stalin, life was far more tolerable with Nikita Khrushchev in charge. It was easier for Soviet musicians to perform in the West; and, in June of 1958, Shostakovich had been invited to receive an honorary Doctor of Music degree at Oxford. To the best of my knowledge, however, Weinberg never traveled outside Russia. Nevertheless, both Opus 67 and Opus 69 offer a freshness of rhetoric that may well have reflected the composer’s relief at not having to worry about Stalin any more.

Danny Clay Scales Up his “Calming Exercises”

Last night the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) live-streamed a new video of Danny Clay’s Music for Hard Times. Readers may recall that this site has been following the progress of this project since its world premiere almost exactly eleven months ago. It would be fair to say that this composition was never intended for any of the usual approaches to concert performance. It is better described as the result of a joint project in which Clay partnered with The Living Earth Show (TLES), the duo of percussionist Andy Meyerson and guitarist Travis Andrews. Ironically, that partnership began right around the time that “Shelter in Place” was imposed in response to the first reports of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resulting score for Music for Hard Times is described as “a series of composed ‘calming exercises’ used to create every sound in the piece.” The first TLES performance of that score was recorded and released as an album on Bandcamp. The download of that recording also included the PDF of the score, which describes eight “calming exercises” through text, diagrams, illustrations, and even the use of music notation. The first “performance” of that score included the projection of an ambient film created by Jon Fischer; and it was streamed through the Living Music with Nadia Sirota Facebook site.

Since that time Clay has had opportunities to enable subsequent realizations of Music for Hard Times performed by other organizations in different settings. The most recent of those realizations was last night’s live stream. This probably involved the largest range of contributing performers, since it included both SFCM instrumentalists working with SFCM Orchestra Music Director Edwin Outwater and vocalists of the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC), led by Valérie Sainte-Agathe. (TLES also participated in the performance.) In addition Fischer provided a new film, introducing new footage while keeping some of the content of the original version.

I am a bit hesitant to describe the result as a “performance.” Clay’s introduction seemed to suggest that considerable material had been recorded for each of the “calming exercises.” As a result Clay himself undertook an editing process to provide a “final recording” to account for the realization of those exercises; and that “final version” was then combined with Fischer’s film. The result was that the live stream provided a 30-minute viewing-and-listening experience, at least some of which will probably be projected at the FORT MASON FLIX screenings of the end-of-season SFGC performance taking place tomorrow and the following Thursday.

If this means that the result is an “artifact,” rather than a “live performance,” then so be it; the richness of that artifact still makes for a satisfying and fulfilling “concert experience.”

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Will Liverman’s Survey of Black Composers

This past February American operatic baritone Will Liverman made his Cedille Records solo debut with an album whose full title is Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers. The album features three living composers, Damien Sneed, Leslie Adams, and Shawn E. Okpebholo. The twentieth-century composers are Harry Burleigh, Margaret Bonds, Thomas Kerr, and Robert Owens. There is also an “encore selection” in the form of Liverman’s own arrangement of Richard Fariña’s song “Birmingham Sunday.” His accompanist for all of these selections is pianist Paul Sánchez.

Opera News praised Liverman for his “unique combination of eloquence and unpretentiousness.” Given what we frequently encounter on the opera stage, that is praise indeed! One encounters that same combination on this debut album. Nevertheless, with the exception of that “encore” and Okpebholo’s “Ballad of Birmingham,” both reflecting on the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, by members of the Ku Klux Klan on September 15, 1963, a major turning-point in the Civil Rights movement, Liverman’s eloquence tends to be on the bland side.

This emerges through a sameness in delivery, which may not be entirely Liverman’s fault. Rather, the texts themselves have a tendency to be more than a little too prosaic. As a result, Liverman’s approach to interpretation tends to avoid sharp edges, probably because the edges of his texts were not that sharp in the first place. Mind you, in September of 1963 I was (in the words of Shel Silverstein) “young and white and Jewish” and was just beginning my freshman year; so I was paying more attention to my homework assignments than to the Civil Rights movement. This would make me a poor judge of both the denotations and the connotations of the texts that Liverman had chosen to sing, meaning that I am in a poor position to assess the rhetorical stances he brings to each of the tracks on this recording.

More significantly, now that COVID restrictions are beginning to loosen, I would welcome any opportunity to listen to Liverman’s performance as a recitalist (or, for that matter, on the opera stage).

Kutik to Debut as Soloist with Boston Civic

Violinist Yevgeny Kutik (photograph by Corey Hayes, courtesy of Jensen Artists)

Next month the Boston Civic Symphony, led by Music Director Francisco Noya, will host Russian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik for his first appearance with the ensemble as concerto soloist. This will amount to a “bread-and-butter” debut, since the concerto selection will be Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 61 in D major. The program will also include the “Lyric for Strings” by George Walker, the first African American to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Music, awarded in 1996 for his “Lilacs.” The program will begin with Ottorino Respighi’s “retrospective suite,” The Birds, providing twentieth-century reflections on music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

This program will be live-streamed through a YouTube Web page. There will be no charge for viewing, but donations will be appreciated. The orchestra has created a Web page for processing all donations. This site also includes hyperlinks for both the program book and background information about the artists. The performance will take place at noon (Pacific time) on Sunday, June 13.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Philip Glass’ “Circus” Opera to Premiere Saturday

Philip Glass and Tilde Björfors (photograph by Mats Bäcker, courtesy of Sacks & Co.)

This Saturday will see the world premiere of the latest opera composed by Philip Glass. The title of the opera is Circus Days and Nights, and the libretto was created by the partnership of David Henry Hwang and Tilde Björfors, Artistic Director of the Swedish contemporary circus company Cirkus Cirkör. The text is based on poems by Robert Lax, written at a time when he was inspired by his fascination with the traveling circuses one might encounter during the Forties. Björfors has also prepared the staging, which will involve another partship, this time bringing Cirkus Cirkör together with the Malmö Opera. Glass scored his music for a “circus band,” consisting of trumpet, bass trombone, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, and accordion.

The premiere performance will take place in Malmö at 6 p.m. (local time, equivalent to 9 a.m. local time) on Saturday, May 29. The opera will be given ten performances, all of which will be live-streamed. Tickets will be required for receiving the stream on a specific date,  but they will not be available for the premiere. The remaining performances, for which tickets are still available as of this writing, are (in Pacific Daylight Time) as follows:

  • Tuesday, June 1, 10 a.m.
  • Thursday, June 3, 10 a.m.
  • Friday, June 4, 10 a.m.
  • Saturday, June 5, 9 a.m.
  • Tuesday, June 8, 10 a.m.
  • Wednesday, June 9, 10 a.m.
  • Friday, June 11, 10 a.m.
  • Saturday, June 12, 9 a.m.
  • Sunday, June 13, 7 a.m.

The Malmö Opera has created a single event page for the purchase of all available ticket. The running time for the performance is approximately two and one-half hours.

Brilliant Releases Complete Tosti Anthology

Paolo Tosti on the cover of the anthology of his vocal music (from the Web page for the recording being discussed)

Those still interested in maintaining physical collections of recordings probably know that Brilliant Classics has established itself as a major source of anthologies. For the most part these involve either the complete works or representative selections of the achievements of major composers, and these frequently serve as useful reference resources. The most recent of these was released almost exactly a month ago, a comprehensive survey of the complete vocal chamber music of Paolo Tosti under the title The Song of a Life. This collection consists of eighteen CDs; and the final track of the final CD consists of the song after which the album is named. Its catalog number of CS 250 suggests that it may have been Tosti’s final completed composition.

The release is the product of a celebration of the first centenary of the composer’s death on December 2, 1916. The recordings themselves were made between July of 2014 and August of 2018, and they involved the participation of a generous number of vocalists and accompanying pianists. Almost all of the selections are accompanied solo voice, but there are also several performances of accompanied duets. That said, I have to confess that, while I was aware of Tosti’s name appearing from time to time on the program of a vocal recital I attended, I cannot claim memory of any of those listening experience.

The fact is that Tosti’s reputation is, for the most part, a thing of the past. His music was championed by the likes of Enrico Caruso and Beniamino Gigli. Within my own lifetime his strongest advocate was probably Carlo Bergonzi. However, none of the contributors to this collection registered any familiarity.

Nevertheless, I confess to being impressed by the diversity of text sources for Tosti’s songs. Obviously, a generous share of those sources are Italian; and Tosti’s Wikipedia page explicitly cites his collection of fifteen Italian folk songs under the title Canti popolari abruzzesi. (One of those songs registered familiarity, probably because I recalled its appearance in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 45 “Capriccio Italien.”) However, in 1875, shortly before he turned 30, Tosti visited London, where he cultivated enough powerful friends that, in 1880, he was appointed as Singing Master for the Royal Family. As a result there is a more than generous share of settings of English texts, and “For Ever and For Ever” led to his becoming the most popular composer of songs in England in 1885.

If the songs in this collection are not as engaging as they used to be, they still reflect a well-disciplined craft, capable of working with text in French, as well as Italian and English; and, in the current context of art song, I would say that vocalists might benefit from bringing the fruits of that craft back into the light again.

PBO Strings Survey Music of Georg Muffat

Last night the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) YouTube channel released the Grand Finale video for the 2020/2021 season. The program was organized around the last three of the five string sonatas that Georg Muffat collected under the title Armonico Tributo (harmonic tribute). The fourth and fifth sonatas were separated by the most familiar offering on the program, Johann Pachelbel’s coupling of canon and gigue movements in D major.

Earlier in the day, YouTube had released a pre-concert talk by Richard Egarr, for the benefit of those of us (present company included) unfamiliar with Muffat. Ever one to find the perfect groaner, Egarr titled his talk “Little Missed Muffat…and a Loose Canon,” managing to hit both composers with the same stone. However, most of the talk was devoted to Muffat.

Most memorable was Egarr’s noting of Muffat’s approach to scoring, composing two separate parts for the violas as well as two such parts for the violin. This made for some of the richest string instrumentation one is likely to find in the seventeenth century, particularly when the score also includes lines for solo instruments. While only the third, fourth, and fifth sonatas were performed, Egarr also summarized the keys of the complete set of five: D major, G minor, A major, E minor, and G major. He suggested that the final sonata established a “tonic,” while the opening sonata served as the “dominant,” meaning that the collection, taken as a whole, amounted to an embellished dominant-tonic progression.

For the most part these sonatas were collections of short movements, more in the spirit of a seventeenth-century suite than what we would now call a sonata. However, the final movement of the fifth sonata is a passacaglia; and, like the passacaglias composed by Johann Sebastian Bach and François Couperin, it involves variations on a theme unfolding in a much more prodigious duration. (Apparently, writing variations on a passacaglia theme is a bit like eating potato chips.) All of Muffat’s variations allowed impressive material for the entire ensemble, reinforced by the attentive camera work at the Bing Concert Hall on the campus of Stanford University.

There is a tendency to associate the Pachelbel music with an equally lush ensemble of strings. PBO, on the other hand, provided solo instruments for each of the three voices of the canon, with continuo restricted to harpsichord and theorbo. This provided sufficient transparency for the listener to appreciate that the music really was a canon, weaving its sinuous line across the three solo instruments.

The entire program lasted about three-quarters of an hour; and, while the duration of the concluding passacaglia may not have been expected, it added a bit of suspense to the overall program.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Same Lightning; Different Place

The Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz (from its Facebook Home page)

Those who missed the live-streamed performance from the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland this past Thursday will have a second-chance opportunity. This coming Thursday jazz pianist Omar Sosa will be performing at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz. Once again he will lead his B-Bay Quartet, whose other members are Josh Jones on drums, Sheldon Brown on saxophones, bass clarinet, and flute, and Ernesto Mazar Kindelán on bass.

As far as I have been able to tell, the Santa Cruz program will be pretty much the same as the one performed in Oakland. That means that listeners can expect to hear a number of Sosa’s signature compositions, including “L3zero,” “My Three Notes,” “Light in the Sky,” and “Remember Monk.” He will also use the occasion to play some of his newer pieces that had been on the Oakland program. The overall style is Latin with Cuban influences coming from Kindelán.

This time the performance will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 27. Further information can be found on the Kuumbwa event page. This time, however, the performance will not be free. Registration will be required for $30. Those whose registration has been finalized will then receive information about how to attend the live-streamed performance.

Hadelich’s Recording of Bach for Solo Violin

Violinist Augustin Hadelich (from the booklet for his new Bach album)

I must confess that, by now, I have probably lost count of the number of recordings I have of performances of the complete set of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin (BWV 1001–1006). Nevertheless, having listened to violinist Augustin Hadelich perform the BWV 1004 partita in D minor (the one whose concluding chaconne is only slightly shorter than the combined duration of the four preceding movements) in the video stream of his Atterbury House Sessions recital, I could not resist the opportunity to listen to his take on the entire collection.

Fortunately, the opportunity was easy to seize, since Warner Classics had released Hadelich’s recording of that collection at the beginning of this past April. Apparently, I am not the only one to be drawn to this new collection, since, as I write this, the Web page informs me that the album will be back in stock on May 30. In the context of this popularity, it is worth noting that this music was not published during Bach’s lifetime. Indeed, it was not published until 1802, over half a century after Bach’s death, when Nikolaus Simrock released it for purchase in Bonn.

To be fair, however, publication was probably not on Bach’s mind when he wrote these six compositions. The surviving autograph manuscript dates from 1720, which Bach was Kapellmeister at Köthen. Since Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen, was a Calvinist, the music that Bach composed for him was primarily instrumental; and, unfortunately, the Prince had to devote much of his budget to the Prussian military. Thus, while Bach had a good personal relationship with him, that relationship was not reinforced by very much remuneration.

It is unclear why Bach wrote this collection of sonatas and partitas. It is easy to conjecture that they were written for pedagogical purposes, intended for members of Bach’s own family, if no one else. Another possibility is that one of the Köthen violinists was Christian Ferdinand Abel, who was equally talented in playing both violin and gamba. Thus, Bach may have written these pieces to provide Abel with opportunities to impress the Prince and members of his court; and the richness of polyphonic writing (both explicit and implicit) found in Bach’s compositions would have given Abel an abundance of opportunities to display his talents.

That is basically how violinists have subsequently approached this music, at least over the period of the many recordings made by those violinists. For the most part those recordings serve as platforms to display the technical skills of the performers, possibly to the extent of overshadowing any sense of a personal approach to expressiveness. Fortunately, Hadelich is one of those violinists that has consistently displayed the ability to give performances in which technical skill and expressive rhetoric are presented with equal balance. Indeed, the “bandwidth” of Hadelich’s interpretations is so wide that it would almost be an injustice to listen to this recording in a single sitting from beginning to end. (For that matter, readers may recall that, in his Atterbury video, which concluded with BWV 1004, I suggested that even a moderately short intermission break prior to performing the partita would have been advisable to allow the viewer to savor the many details of both technique and expressiveness.)

Audio playback technology now facilitates listening to these sonatas and partitas individually, and that is the best way to appreciate how much Bach put into the score and how much Hadelich has drawn out of that score.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Opera San José Extends Run of One-Acts

Today Opera San José announced that it would extend the run of the three one-act operas in its Love & Secrets: A Domestic Trilogy program. Tickets are again available on a pay-what-you-can basis through a Web page that is set up for $15, $25, and $40 admission rates. Ticket-holders will then have 30 days of on-demand viewing access. Tickets will be sold until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, June 13. Further information will be available by calling 408-437-4450, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Dittersdorf on SFSymphony+ Chamber Music

Heinrich Eduard Winter’s portrait of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, made in 1816 after the composer’s death in 1799 (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

This past Thursday saw the latest video uploaded to the Chamber Music Series streamed by SFSymphony+. Like its predecessor, the music was scored for two instruments from the string family. This time the performers were San Francisco Symphony (SFS) musicians Gina Cooper on viola and Scott Pingel on double bass. Their selection was an E-flat duet by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Kr. 219 in the Dittersdorfiana catalog compiled by Carl Krebs. The lower part was originally scored for violone but may also be played by both bass and cello.

On this site Dittersdorf is probably best known as the violinist in Vienna that led a string quartet whose other members were Joseph Haydn (second violin), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (viola), and Johann Baptist Wanhal (cello). There is no shortage of wit in Kr. 219, which may suggest that Dittersdorf was well aware of the witty turns that both Haydn and Mozart exercised in their own compositions. In this duet Dittersdorf seems to enjoy poking fun at the formalities of the minuet; and the set of variations in the final movement prompts no end of virtuosic turns, many of which are given an exclamation mark when executed by the bass.

Dittersdorf himself subsequently became an object of wit about 30 years ago, when the film version of Fredric Brown’s science fiction comic novel Martians, Go Home was released. While Brown’s protagonist, Luke Devereaux, was a rather pathetic character having to endure being divorced, in the film (where he is portrayed by Randy Quaid) he writes commercial jingles, one of which plagiarizes Dittersdorf’s music (which he happened to hear on his car radio). As might be guessed, no one detects the theft, except for the Martians that invade Earth because they have nothing better to do.

Fortunately, both Cooper and Pingel concentrated on Dittersdorf’s own capacity for wit; and no Martians were offended as a result of their performance.

The Bleeding Edge: 5/24/2021

According to my records, I have not announced a Bleeding Edge performance at Bird & Beckett Books and Records since this past August. However, there will be a live-streamed performance this coming Saturday evening; and it appears to be the only Bleeding Edge event for this week. The performers will be trombonist Rob Ewing, saxophonist Beth Schenck, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, and Jordan Glenn on drums, a quartet performing under the name Sifter.

The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 29. It is expected to run for about 90 minutes, meaning that it will probably be a two-set offering. The live stream will be available for viewing through both the YouTube channel and the Facebook page maintained by Bird & Beckett. These performances are subsidized through audience donations, which may be given through a Bird & Beckett Web page.

Duo Improvisation On and Around Bass Drum

from the Bandcamp Web page for the recording of the composition being discussed

One week from today Notice Recordings will release the first duo album to bring together percussionists Kevin Corcoran and Jacob Felix Heule. The title of the album is Erosion, described as “a sprawling yet focused love affair with the bass drum, allowing myriad objects to playfully interact with its grand form.” The recording is being released through Bandcamp through either a limited edition cassette, which will be available for shipping on or around May 30, or digital download. For those pre-ordering the digital album, one track will be made available immediately after purchase, followed by the complete album after release on May 31.

The digital option is not a bad deal, considering that Erosion consists of only two tracks, both about 40 minutes in duration. The titles of those tracks are “eskers” and “intertidal;” and the performers describe how they came to be in the following statement:

A day a month for a year we met in an east bay studio to improvise for hours. Mirror image of horizontal bass drums. A selection of cymbals and objects. Textural sound at a glacial pace. Collaboration stemming from shared percussive interests. This duo, which isn't quite a band yet isn't unknown improvisation yet isn't only a skill share workshop, emerged. Grateful to Notice Recordings for taking these sounds beyond the boundaries of our own four ears.

I think it would be fair to say that the last sentence of that statement owes as much to the two performers as it does to Notice Recordings. The two tracks were recorded in Berkeley on different dates. “intertidal” was captured on December 18, 2019, followed by “eskers,” committed to recording on February 12, 2020, less than a month before the lockdown due to COVID-19 was imposed. Thus, the album itself can be taken as a reminder of the state of affairs to which we are just beginning to return.

The Bandcamp Web page for this album includes the following statement of how that aforementioned description of how the performers worked resulted in these two 40-minute tracks:

Erosion finds the two merging their techniques in a very palpable, sensuous way. As if rendering an amorphous sculpture in minuscule gestures: gathering, releasing, reapplying material in a structured improvisation; new patterns emerge yet resist completion, as if working with weighted feathers which are impossible to manage.

One can easily appreciate both these techniques and that “glacial pace” while listening to both of the tracks. However, I feel it is important to note that both of the quotations refer more to physical activities than to the sounds that emerge through those activities. As a result, I must confess personally that I would have preferred a video document to one limited to audio. To the extent that this is music that arises through precisely-considered activities, there would probably be much to be gained from observing what those activities were, rather than just listening to the resulting by-products.

Some readers may recall that, at the beginning of the month, I wrote about the performance by the Nathan Clevenger Trio for Karl Evangelista’s Unsolitary II streamed video of improvised music. The video account of drummer Jordan Glenn’s contributions to this set definitely enhanced the experience of listening to the trio as a whole. One might say that one listens with more than just the ears. What one sees often refines the process of listening, particularly when the sounds are as exploratory as those elicited by Corcoran and Heule. Now that we are emerging from lockdown, perhaps this duo can provide another performance through video, rather than working within the limitations of audio.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

“Sound Encounters” Between SFCMP and CNMAT

This afternoon the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) launched its latest video performance. This one was the in the COMMUNITY event for the current season, and the program was entitled Sound Encounters. The title referred to how each of the four works on the program involved its own unique approach to dealing with the potentially wide diversity of sonorities afforded by both musical instruments and electronic gear. This video will be available for viewing through June 23, but it requires a ticket for admission. SFCMP has a ticketing Web page, and there is no charge for the ticket.

Both of the instrumental selections involved the percussion family, and these were solo performances by Andy Meyerson. The program concluded with a composition that Amadeus Regucera had composed for Meyerson, who gave the premiere performance, playing only a bass drum, as part of a solo recital at Z Below in September of 2019. Having written about that recital on this site, that composition, entitled “IMY/ILY” (I miss you/I love you), afforded the one luxury of encountering recently written music for a second time. At that first Meyerson performance, “IMY/ILY” left the deepest impression of the entire program; and that impression was just as strong during this “return visit.”

Indeed, after having been seated in the audience not too far from the performer, it would be fair to say that the premiere made for one of the scariest encounters I had experienced with a new piece of music. The composition was as much theater as it was music, involving what I had previously called a confrontational stance between the percussionist and a single instrument. I further observed that the confrontation was “uncompromisingly brutal;” and, towards the end of the performance, Meyerson appeared to have assumed the role of a self-flagellating penitent. The video made for SFCMP captured this intensity, but it would be fair to say that it fell short of the gut-wrenching experience of being in the presence of the performance itself.

At the other end of the program, Meyerson began with James Tenney’s “having never written a note for percussion,” scored for solo tam-tam (the gong from the Chinese family of percussion instruments). The performance consisted simply of an extended roll on the instrument, beginning at a barely audible level, gradually ascending to an intense fortissimo, and then receding back to the barely audible. In other words Tenney had justified his title with a composition consisting of a single note!

Of course, that one note was far from a single sonority. At each dynamic level, the gong responded with the spectral qualities of different collections of overtones. As a result, the attentive listener could appreciate how changes in dynamics evoked noticeable changes in the sound of the instrument itself. Thus, to dismiss this as a one-note composition would be to miss the point. Rather, Meyerson’s performance led the attentive listener on a feature-rich journey of the many different acoustic affordances elicited from this one instrument.

Meyerson’s two performances framed two compositions by sound artists from the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) at the University of California at Berkeley. The first of these was “it is always today,” composed with Maija Hynninen and including video by Olivia Ting. The video amounted to an ongoing panorama of abstract and concrete landscapes, complemented by audio that included stereophonic synthesized sounds mixed with texts in Finnish and French.

The ten-minute duration provided sufficient time for the attentive listener/viewer to “get the point” and appreciate the efforts of the two creators, which is more than can be said of the second offering, “QuFoam” by Jon Kulpa. This piece involved a coordination between electronics and visuals that was so rigid that it did not take long for the viewer to “get the point.” Unfortunately, once that “point” was established, the performance continued for an overly generous amount of time without adding much embellishment to the underlying idea behind the creation. Thus, while Tenney, Hynninen, and Regucera all brought to the listener a clear sense of beginning, middle, and end, “QuFoam” rambled on with little sense of structure to orient that listener.

Center for New Music: June, 2021

Things seem to be picking up at the Center for New Music (C4NM). Over the last two days the venue hosted two concerts, the most to be presented in a single month since this past February. It is therefore with some pleasure that I can announce that twice as many performances will be hosted next month. It remains to be seen whether June will mark the beginning of C4NM admitting audiences; but, as of this writing, all four of these concerts will be live-streamed over the C4NM YouTube channel. Specifics are as follows with hyperlinks for the respective event pages:

  • Saturday, June 12, 7:30 p.m.: The Ensemble for These Times will conclude its 2020/21 season with a program entitled Émigrés & Exiles in Hollywood. The performers will be soprano Nanette McGuinness, cellist Anne Lerner-Wright, and pianist Margaret Halbig. Full specifics have not yet been announced, but the composers to be represented on the program will be Erich Zeisl, Hanns Eisler, Miklós Rózsa, Alexandre Tansman, Franz Waxman, Grażyna Bacewicz, André Tchaikowsky, Mieczysław Weinberg, and Simon Laks. There will be no charge for admission; but, as always, donations will be appreciated. All proceeds will benefit C4NM. [added 6/4, 1:30 p.m.
  • Friday, June 18, 7 p.m.: This will be the first of two live performances by the Rova Saxophone Quartet (Jon Raskin, baritone and alto sax; Bruce Ackley, soprano and tenor sax; Steve Adams alto, and sopranino; Larry Ochs tenor and sopranino) since lockdown was imposed. The program has not yet been finalized, but it will include a unique set of pieces, including premieres composed by quartet members and other pieces that will release on ESP-Disk this coming September. The performance was  recorded in advance at Paul Dresher Studio in Oakland, California; but the only edits are between pieces. Donations of $15 or more to benefit C4NM are recommended.]
  • Saturday, June 19, 8 p.m.: This will be the next program consisting 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). The title of the program will be Solo but Not Alone; and five outstanding Bay Area musicians will perform solo works for piano, clarinet, viola, harp, or percussion. Again, there will be no charge for admission; but, in this case, it would be preferable to direct donations to NACUSAsf. The full program can be found on the event page hyperlinked to the above date and time. [added 6/4, 1:35 p.m.:
  • Sunday, June 20, 6 p.m.: This will be the second Rova performance, whose description is the same as that for June 18.]
  • Friday, June 25, 7 p.m.: Saxophonist Larry Ochs and drummer Don Robinson will perform pieces from their second, recently released, CD, A Civil Right. Their selections will constitute a present-day reflection on the free jazz movement, represented by composers such as Albert Ayler, which is now about half a century old. Admission will be through a hyperlink to an Eventbrite event page that will process contributions of $8 or $15. Once the payment has been processed, the URL for YouTube viewing will be sent by electronic mail.
  • Saturday, June 26, 7:30 p.m.: This will be the second program of new works by Bay Area composers. The title of this program will be Creation & Change. This will be the underlying theme of a one-hour program of new vocal and chamber music composed by Davide Verotta, Kristofer Twadell, Lukáš Janata, Monica Chew and Shawne Workman. There will be no charge for admission; but, as always, donations will be appreciated. All proceeds will benefit C4NM. The YouTube URL will be added to the event page prior to the performance, once it is available.

Extreme Multimedia from C4NM

Late yesterday afternoon the Center for New Music (C4NM) live-streamed the world premiere of a 22-minute acousmatic video entitled Women in Parallel Empires. For those unfamiliar with that adjective, the second definition on its Lexico Web page is:

Of, designating, or characterized by sound produced without a visible source, or a visual component or association; audible but unseen.

This certainly describes the result of the joint effort of Jane Rigler and Tessa Brinckman, since any relationship between the rich imagery of the video and its soundtrack never seemed to be anything more than accidental.

Women in Parallel Empires now has its own Web page on the C4NM YouTube channel. The video itself is accompanied by a prodigiously long program note, which, among other things, describes the composition as a “space opera,” created “in posthumous collaboration with Cécile Chaminade’s Sérénade aux étoiles (Serenade to the stars, 1911),” scored for flute and piano. Given that almost the entirety of the soundtrack involves rich electronic synthesis, the few sonorities of acoustic instruments clearly define Chaminade’s presence in the overall score.

The work is one of those pieces that I sometimes like to call “agenda composition.” As the program note puts it, that agenda “explores how we might reclaim flute compositions by women composers dismissed from the Western canon, by re-assembling them within contemporary contexts, and addressing (and/or subverting) the concept of Empire, genius, and extraction in Western ‘art’ music.” Personally, I found little by way of connection between this mini-manifesto and what I was viewing on the screen.

To be fair, I think that it is just as well that this was my experience. The imagery was highly imaginative and even a bit witty from time to time. The soundtrack consistently provided an audio context that encouraged the viewer to look for details among those images, rather than distracting that viewer with media overload. As a result, my patience flagged only once: I checked my watch about two-thirds of the way through what I knew would be a duration of 22 minutes. Most importantly, I made it a point to watch this piece in full-screen mode, because I really did not want to be distracted by trying make sense of all the verbiage in the program note!

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Solo Piano Music by Peter Garland on Cold Blue

from the Web page for the recording being discussed

Yesterday this site announced that the latest album of music by John Luther Adams would be released by Cold Blue Music this coming Friday. On that same date Cold Blue will also release a new album of two piano compositions by Peter Garland, “Three Dawns” and “Bush Radio Calling.” Once again, has created a Web page to process pre-orders for this new release.

Both of the selections on this album have a literary infrastructure. Each of the three movements of “Three Dawns” is based on a poem by Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo. Indeed Rabéarivelo was the one to collect those poems under the title Three Dawns. The poems were originally written in French; but Garland first encountered them in English translation, included in an anthology entitled The Negritude Poets. His three movements were composed between 1981 and 1982. Sadly, limitations of “space in packaging” did not allow for the poems’ texts, or a summary of those texts, to be included with the recording. Thus, at best the attentive listener is likely to be drawn to the moody quietude of Garland’s “responses” to the “call” of Rabéarivelo’s texts.

A bit more background is provided for “Bush Radio Calling.” This was composed in 1992 in New Zealand. It was written for an experimental music-theater work entitled Just Them Walking, which was presented by the avant-garde theater company Red Mole. Garland’s album is dedicated to the memory of the two founders of this company, Alan Brunton and Sally Rodwell. The title “Bush Radio Calling” refers to a network of Aboriginal radio stations operating in the Australian outback.

In this case there is room on the CD sleeve to include a synopsis of Just Them Walking, and the track listing gives titles for each of the nine movements in “Bush Radio Calling.” That said, I have to confess that I had more than a little difficulty aligning the movements with the narrative of the synopsis. My guess is that this is one of those you-had-to-be-there experiences.

In reviewing my past experiences with listening to recordings of Garland’s music, I found that I was drawn primarily to his capacity for imaginative approaches to sonority, particularly when working with percussion instruments. On this new album the solo piano music is performed by Ron Squibbs; and, to some extent, he appreciates the diversity of piano sonorities that arise from the marks that Garland committed to paper. Nevertheless, I have to confess that, more often than not, I felt as if each of these tracks would withdraw into a rhetoric of blandness that never really established a firm grip on my attention.

This, of course, is a matter of personal taste; and others may have different opinions!

Old First Concerts: June, 2021

Once again, Old First Concerts (O1C) has scheduled two performances for the following month (again with the possibility that further concerts will be added at a later date). As usual, if there are any changes in 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. However, these will also be hybrid concerts with seating limited to 100 tickets, all being sold for $25 (no reduced rate for seniors or students). 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 and ticketing will be through the O1C event pages. Hyperlinks to those pages will be attached to the date and time of performances as follows:

Friday, June 11, 8 p.m.: The title of this program will be close & personal | chamber music among friends and generations. The performers will include three of the sfSoundGroup musicians, clarinetist Matt Ingalls, pianist Hadley McCarroll, and cellist Monica Scott. However, they will be joined by a “next generation” piano trio called the Nautilus Trio, whose members are violinist Magali Pelletey, cellist Raquel Matthews, and pianist Estella Zhou. The program will include new and recent works by both Ingalls and Scott, as well as Paul Dresher. The program will also present rarely-heard gems by George Antheil and Bohuslav Martinů, a new transcription of Igor Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto” for clarinet/bass clarinet and piano, and “Rigmarole” for bass clarinet and cello, one of Elliott Carter’s late works, performed at his 103rd birthday. The program will conclude with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 67 (second) piano trio in E minor.

Sunday, June 20, 4 p.m.: Soprano Breanna Sinclairé has prepared a recital program that will include opera arias, art song, and selections from musical theater. For a least one of her selections, she will be joined by tenor Christopher Craig. The accompanying pianist has not yet been announced. Sinclairé made her debut with San Francisco Symphony on December 31, 2018 as the first transgender singer to perform with the orchestra.

One Found Sound Concludes Eighth Season

Yesterday evening One Found Sound (OFS) concluded its eighth season with the final program in its Water Music series entitled RIVER. The title referred to the performance of two movements from the music that Duke Ellington composed for Alvin Ailey’s dance, The River; and new choreography was featured through much of the program, including an overture that the Chevalier de Saint-Georges composed for his comic opera L’Amant anonyme (the anonymous lover). All of the program selections were provided with video interpretations by Max Savage of Noisy Savage.

Indeed, video was very much the center of attention for most of the program. Thus, Lynn Huang’s choreography for the overture was clearly designed with the many multi-image techniques that Savage added to the mix. As a result, the repeated structures associated with eighteenth-century overtures provided Savage with an opportunity to explore mirror images, which, in turn, would expand Huang’s choreography from being a work for solo dancer. Furthermore, both Huang and Savage kept up with the dynamic pace of the score and the energetic interpretation by the OFS musicians. If the purpose of an overture was originally to seize attention and prepare it for what would come, Huang and Savage offered a thoroughly engaging take on that tradition.

Ailey created The River for American Ballet Theater (ABT), rather than his own Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in 1970. It was set to an original suite with the same title composed by Duke Ellington. Ellington’s primary colleague, Billy Strayhorn, had died on May 31, 1967; and, for those with keen ears for the Ellington style, his absence of influence on The River is evident. Having seen the ABT performance, I have to say that the choreography was also disappointing.

That said, the OFS musicians gave a solid account of Ellington’s score, and any shortcomings were more than compensated by Savage’s visuals. The “Lake” movement again involved choreography, this time created jointly by Julia Jerome and Benjamin Reynolds. After a seductive prologue, they introduced fire into their choreography, escalating the old fire-eating carnival act to a highly engaging art form.

Symmetry on steroids in Max Savage’s film for “Giggling Rapids” (screen shot from the video being discussed)

This was followed by the “Giggling Rapids” movement, which inspired rapid-fire close-cutting in Savage’s editing. He also returned to many of the mirror effects he had evoked for the overture selection. This time, however, it seemed as if he wanted to explore every possible kind of symmetry that Hermann Weyl had enumerated in his Symmetry monograph for Princeton University Press. However, the dazzling results were far more evocative of the film choreography of Busby Berkeley than of higher mathematics!

Friday, May 21, 2021

PBO Announces Final Virtual Concert of Season

This coming Tuesday the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) will present its final virtual concert for the 2020/2021 season. The program will present three of the five string sonatas composed by Georg Muffat and collected under the title Armonico Tributo (harmonic tribute). These will be the third in the key of A major, the fourth in the key of E minor, and the fifth in the key of G major. The fourth and fifth sonatas will be separated by the most familiar offering on the program, Johann Pachelbel’s coupling of canon and gigue movements in D major.

The filming session for next week’s PBO virtual concert (from the event page for this performance)

These will be performed by the largest gathering of PBO musicians since the onset of COVID-19. Sixteen string musicians gathered for filming this past March 29 and 30, performing on the stage of the Bing Concert Hall on the campus of Stanford University. The ensemble was led by violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock, PBO co-concertmaster.

The film will be streamed through YouTube at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 25. There will be no charge for viewing. The YouTube hyperlink will be installed on the Web page for this program, most likely at an earlier time on the date of the performance.