Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Programming for SFS Chamber Music at Davies

While the War Memorial was under lockdown conditions, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) launched its SFSymphony+ streaming service, which, from a personal point of view, was one of the most satisfying offerings to keep me occupied in a positive disposition. This involved several different categories of content, including a continuation of SoundBox programming that involved many imaginative approaches to media content that would not have been possible in the physical setting of the Davies rehearsal space. However, since I spent many delightful Sunday afternoons listening to chamber music performed by SFS members in Davies Symphony Hall, I was particularly glad that SFSymphony+ included a Chamber Music Series.

In that context I am happy to report that the Chamber Music at Davies Symphony Hall series will return this coming October. There will be six concerts, all taking place on Sundays beginning at 2 p.m. While the performers on each program have not yet been announced, it appears that all of the selections to be presented have been finalized. Subscriptions to the entire series are now available with a Web page created for on-line purchases. The price of a subscription is $180 for those sections of Davies Symphony Hall that are open for Chamber Music performances. Tickets may also be purchased individually, beginning on August 31, through the hyperlinks on the dates for specific concerts as described below:

October 10: The program will begin with Zoltán Kodály’s duo for violin and cello. This will be complemented at the conclusion by Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 57 piano quintet. Between these two selections there will be a performance of Devonté Hynes’ “Perfectly Voiceless.” Some readers may recall that the Third Coast Percussion quartet played an excerpt from this 75-minute dance composition when they visited Herbst Theatre in April of 2019.

January 16: This program will conclude with a chamber music favorite, Franz Schubert’s D. 667 “Trout” quintet, with violin, viola, and cello joined by bass and piano. Far sparer resources will be required from Frank Bridge’s “Lament,” scored for two violas. The program will begin with Jennifer Higdon’s “Wissahickon poeTrees,” presumably inspired by Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Valley Park. (Having grown up in Philadelphia, I feel obliged to share that tidbit!)

February 20: This program will begin with a trio for five instruments by David Gartner, one of the Composition teachers at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. This will be followed by Bohuslav Martinů’s first piano quintet, which he composed in Paris in 1933. The remainder of the program will feature two Scandinavians, Jean Sibelius with his “Andante Festivo” and Carl Nielsen with “At the Bier of a Young Artist.”

April 3: This program will begin with another composer familiar to the Bay Area, Gabriela Lina Frank. Her contribution will be “Inca Dances,” which she scored for guitar and string quartet. To complement that opening, the program will conclude with Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, scored for string quartet by Clint Edwards. In addition, Frank’s selection will be followed by works by two other women. The first will be the Afro-American Suite by Undine Smith Moore. This will be followed by Joan Tower’s “Copperwave.”

May 29: This program will also begin with music by a woman composer, Jessie Montgomery. The selection will be “Voodoo Dolls Strum.” The program will conclude with Antonín Dvořák’s 1878 serenade for wind instruments. Between these two pieces will be the only vocal offering of the season. “Still falls the rain” is the third of a series of five canticles that Benjamin Britten composed, scored for tenor, horn, and piano.

June 26: The most familiar work on this program will be the last one: Béla Bartók’s fifth string quartet. It will begin with a duo for cello and bass that Fred Bretschger entitled simply “Fantasy Duo.” This will be followed by a piano trio in F-sharp minor by Arno Barbarjanian.

Jeremy Monteiro’s Trio Visits Kuala Lumpur

Jeremy Monteiro, Jay Anderson, and Lewis Nash in performance (courtesy of Mouthpiece Music)

Earlier this month I learned about the 45th jazz album to be released by Singaporean jazz pianist Jeremy Monteiro. As the advance material informed me, this was also “the 45th year of a career spanning concerts, education, and music administration.” That means that Monteiro was active when I was living in Singapore, between 1991 and 1995. While that was both a good time and a good place for those of us on the “cutting edge” of digital multimedia research, opportunities for listening to the performance of “serious” music were limited; and those for listening to jazz were downright slim. Indeed, the closest I ever came to jazz performance took place one evening, when my wife and I were walking along the bank of the Singapore River; and I heard the sound of a jazz pianist that made me stop and take notice, but not enough to check out the club where the music was being played!

The title of Monteiro’s new album is LIVE AT NO BLACK TIE, citing the name of a club in Kuala Lumpur (KL). Since I was in KL only once for a relatively brief business trip, I cannot comment of the jazz scene there; but I was not particularly surprised that the performance took place in Malaysia, rather than Singapore. The album was produced by Monteiro himself. It is only available for MP3 download, and the above-linked Amazon.com Web page does not include any booklet of background material in the download. The performance itself is by a trio with Jay Anderson on bass and Lewis Nash on drums.

Each of the album’s nine tracks provides ample time for improvisation. The shortest, Gerald Wilson’s “Josefina,” is about six and one-half minutes, while two tracks, Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “Monk in the Mountain” (composed by Monteiro and Eugene Pao) exceed twelve minutes in duration. Since “In Your Own Sweet Way” is given a trio performance, it is more reminiscent of the collection Turn Out The Stars: The Final Village Vanguard Recordings by pianist Bill Evans, leading a trio with Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbara on drums, than it is of the Brubeck recording. Indeed, the free rein for improvisation that Monteiro provides for both Anderson and Nash is impressive, meaning that the serious listener can appreciate the wide breadth of invention provided by the entire trio.

That said, I have no idea what thoughts, if any, Monteiro has about Evans; but listening to LIVE AT NO BLACK TIE revived my nostalgia for my Evans recordings, perhaps because my encounter with this new album took place a little more than a week after my writing about the recently-released Evans “career retrospective” album.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

SFS and Salonen Announce 2021–22 Season

This morning the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen announced plans for the 109th season. As San Francisco emerges from the lockdown conditions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this will be the first complete season since Salonen began his tenure in 2020. He has planned a season that will reflect a spirit of collaboration, experimentation, and renewed dialogue through live music, which will involve not only SFS and the SFS Chorus but also Salonen’s eight hand-picked Collaborative Partners.

The full scope of the season’s programming has now been uploaded to the Calendar Web page on the SFS Web site. This is clearly more than can be accommodated in the scope of a single article. As a result, this site will present a “topical piecemeal” account of different categories of offerings. However, it is important to begin at the beginning, which means the performances that will take place during Opening Week. In addition this article will preview several of the innovative approaches to programming that Salonen will conduct in Davies Symphony Hall. These events will be ordered by date with hyperlinks to the Web pages from which tickets may be purchased:

Friday, October 1, 7 p.m.: The season will begin with a “Re-Opening Night Gala,” which will be held in honor of Sakurako and William Fisher. Sakurako was President of the SFS Board, succeeding John D. Goldman in 2012 and holding the post through the end of 2020. Salonen will begin the program with “Slonimsky’s Earbox,” composed by John Adams, known for his ongoing close relationship with SFS. His music will be complemented by twentieth-century works by two Latin American composers. The first of these will be Argentinian Alberto Ginastera with a performance of the suite from his Opus 8 score for the ballet “Estancia.” The program will conclude with “Noche de encantamiento” (night of enchantment), one of the movements he prepared for his suite based on his score for the film La noche de los mayas (the night of the Mayans). The Alonzo King LINES Ballet will perform for at least one of these selections. In addition Collaborative Partner Esperanza Spalding will present selected songs by Wayne Shorter, probably accompanying herself on bass.

Saturday, October 2, 7:30: The first subscription concert of the season will have the same program as performed on October 1 but without any of the Gala festivities.

Thursday, October 7, Friday, October 8, and Saturday, October 9, 7:30 p.m.: This program will feature two premieres. Hannah Kendall’s “Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama” will be given its United States premiere. It will be followed by the first SFS performances of Unsuk Chin’s “Graffiti.” It will conclude with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 92 (seventh) symphony in A major.

Thursday, October 14, Friday, October 15, and Saturday, October 16, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, October 17, 2 p.m.: This may be called “Not Your Usual Program of French Music.” Collaborative Partner Claire Chase will be the flute soloists in the SFS premiere performance of Kaija Saariaho’s “Aile du songe” (wing of the dream). (Yes, Saariaho was born in Finland; but she has been living in France ever since she took her first course in computer music at IRCAM, the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music, in Paris!) Jeremy Denk will be the piano soloist in a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s “Oiseaux exotiques” (exotic birds). The entire program will be framed by two compositions by Claude Debussy, beginning with the “Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune” (prelude to the afternoon of a faun) and concluding with “La mer” (the sea).

Thursday, October 21, Friday, October 22, and Saturday, October 23, 7:30 p.m: The program will present the United States premiere of the violin concerto by Collaborative Partner Bryce Dessner, written on an SFS commission. The soloist will be Collaborative Partner Pekka Kuusisto, making his debut in the SFS Orchestra Series. This will be an overture-concerto-symphony program. The overture will be the second that Beethoven composed with the title “Leonore.” The symphony will be Franz Schubert’s D. 485 (fifth) in B-flat major.

Thursday and Saturday, February 24 and 26, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 27, 2 p.m.: This will be the first of two programs organized around the Greek myth of Prometheus. It will consist entirely of Beethoven’s music for the two-act ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. Animation will be provided by Hillary Leben.

Thursday, March 3, Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5, 7:30 p.m.: This program will be framed by the Prometheus selections. It will begin with Franz Liszt’s “Prometheus” symphonic poem. The program will conclude with one of Alexander Scriabin’s most ambitious undertakings, “Prometheus: The Poem of Fire,” which he scored for piano, orchestra, choir (optional), and “color organ.” The pianist will be Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The program will also include the world premiere of “Song of the Flaming Phoenix,” which Fang Man composed for sheng and orchestra. SFS shared in the commissioning of this composition. The remaining work on the program will be instrumental excerpts from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera Castor et Pollux.

Thursday, March 10, 2 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, March 11–12, 7:30 p.m.: Violinist Leila Josefowicz will be the soloist in a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s violin concerto, and the second half of the program will be devoted to Stravinsky’s score for the ballet “The Rite of Spring;” the program will begin with the SFS premiere of “Sleep & Unremembrance” by Elizabeth Ogonek.

Friday and Saturday, June 10–11, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 12, 2 p.m.: Peter Sellars will present semi-staged performances of two compositions by Stravinsky, his oratorio “Oedipus Rex” and his “Symphony of Psalms.” Both of these works will feature the SFS Chorus. The vocal soloists will be tenor Sean Panikkar in the role of Oedipus, mezzo J’Nai Bridges making her Orchestral Series debut as Jocasta, and bass-baritone Willard White in the roles of Creon, Tiresias, and the messenger.

Because the season has not yet begun, subscriptions are only being sold. There are a wide variety of options, including those concert series that do not involve the SFS performances. A single Web page has been created that enumerates all options, providing hyperlinks to the details for each of them. Single tickets will go on sale on August 31.

A New Take on Duke Ellington’s Legacy

About a week and a half ago, Capri Records released an album entitled Masters & Baron Meet Blanton & Webster. For those unfamiliar with these names, the latter two are jazz bassist Jimmie Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. Between 1940 and 1942 both of them were performing with Duke Ellington, and that period is so significant in jazz history that the group is usually referred to as the “Blanton-Webster Band.” The CD release of the RCA recordings made during this time was one of my early major jazz acquisitions; and, of course, those CDs are included in the larger Centennial Edition, which is a complete compilation of all RCA releases. “For the record,” as they say, the Centennial Edition refers to the performers as “Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra,” while the performers on most of the other CDs in the collection are listed as “Duke Ellington and His Orchestra!”

The first of the names in the title of the new album is Mark Masters, who has prepared arrangements of eleven of the best-known tunes from the Blanton-Webster years. Seven of the twelve tracks are Ellington compositions: “All Too Soon,” “Duke’s Place,” “I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” “What Am I Here For?,” “Jack the Bear,” “Ko-Ko,” and “In A Mellotone.” (This last of these has an introduction as a separate track, played by a quartet of trumpet, trombone, bass, and drums.) Three of the tracks are by Billy Strayhorn, whom Ellington once described as “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.” The Strayhorn selections are “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “Passion Flower,” and “Take the ‘A’ Train.” The remaining track, “Perdido,” was composed by Juan Tizol, a trombonist in the Blanton-Webster Band specializing in valve trombone. The remaining name is that of trombonist Art Baron, who was not a member of the Blanton-Webster Band but was the last trombonist that Ellington himself hired.

It will not take long for those listening to this new album to appreciate the prodigious inventions in Masters’ arrangements. He clearly does not view any of these tunes as belonging on a pedestal for all to bow in worship. Nevertheless, he works with resources that are very close to the Blanton-Webster ensemble without coming across as a “carbon copy.” The saxophone section consists of Kirsten Edkins and Jerry Pinter doubling on soprano and tenor, Danny House on alto and clarinet, and Adam Schroeder on baritone. On the brass side the group has four trumpeters: Scott Englebright, Les Lovitt, Ron Stout, and Tim Hagans. Baron is in the trombone section, joined by Les Benedict and Dave Woodley. (Hagans and Baron are in the quartet introduction to “In A Mellotone.”) Rhythm is provided by Bruce Lett on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. Note that Masters’ arrangements do not include a piano, perhaps in the interest of departing from both the style and substance of Ellington’s interpretations of the selections on the album.

What makes Masters’ arrangements particularly interesting is that he counts on the familiarity of a tune to the extent that he can challenge the listener to find it. He is often (but not always) given to extended introductions from which the tune takes its time in declaring its presence. Some may regard this as an overly-cerebral parlor trick. Personally, I was reminded of how Benjamin Britten would take a “reverse order” approach to a set of variations on a theme, beginning with the most embellished version and then gradually thinning things out until the theme is presented in its original version as the conclusion.

As a result, while I have no intention of being drawn away from my CDs of the Blanton-Webster Band, I am just as hooked on the many new perspectives that Masters takes on those now-classic tracks.

Monday, June 28, 2021

A Physical/Digital Albany Consort Concert

Next month the Albany Consort’s All Star Band will present the next installment in its The Roaring 1720s series. They will perform at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Menlo Park, and an audience will be admitted for the occasion. However, those in San Francisco will be able to enjoy the performance through a livestream.

Program details have not yet been released. However, the two leading musicians of the group, harpsichordist Jonathan Salzedo and Marion Rubinstein on recorder, will be celebrating their wedding anniversary. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote three wedding cantatas; but the only one with a duet (which may, or may not have represented the bride and groom) is BWV 196, Der Herr denket an uns (the Lord is mindful of us), which also begins with an instrumental Sinfonia. The soprano and bass vocalists will also sing a duet by George Frideric Handel. The instrumental selections will include “Le Chaos,” the opening movement of Les Élémens (the elements), Jean-Féry Rebel’s musical depiction of the creation of the world. The ensemble will also play the Passacaglia movement that concludes Georg Muffat’s G major string sonata, the fifth composition included in his 1682 Armonico tributo collection.

This performance will begin at 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 17. There will be no advance tickets and no charge for admission. The hyperlink for streaming through YouTube will be posted on the “upcoming” Web page on the Albany Consort Web site. However, the concert has been planned as a fundraiser for the Arts at St. Bede’s concert series. Donations for this undertaking will appreciated; and the Web page for the series provides information about the four different levels of donation, along with hyperlinks for each of them. All amounts contributed in excess of $100 are tax-deductible.

Schiff Conducts and Solos in Brahms Concertos

courtesy of Jensen Artists

On his latest recently released ECM New Series album, András Schiff serves as both conductor and piano soloist in performances of Johannes Brahms’ two piano concertos. Schiff has been a regular visitor to San Francisco, presenting several multi-program themed piano recitals, usually under the combined curation of both San Francisco Performances and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). However, over the course of my listening experiences, I also had one opportunity to listen to him conduct SFS; and, unless I am mistaken, at least one of the selections had him conducting from the keyboard.

However, for the most part, Schiff’s repertoire has not advanced beyond the early nineteenth century. Thus, his decision to shift his attention to Brahms constitutes an ambitious advance into new territory. Furthermore, the first of Brahms’ concertos, Opus 15 in D minor, is a relatively early composition, which marked a similarly ambitious advance. Indeed, Brahms was confronted with a fair amount of criticism that he might have been too ambitious for his own good. Opus 15 was first performed in January of 1859, and the early performances drew hostile reactions from the audience. It was not until 1882 that Brahms completed his second piano concerto, Opus 83 in B-flat major. The score was again ambitious in its scope, particularly with the addition of a scherzo movement. However, Brahms’ reputation had advanced considerably; and this time his audiences were far more receptive.

Nevertheless, I am almost certain that this recording marked the first time that I had listened to either of these concertos conducted by the soloist. The orchestral writing is on the scale of a symphony, while the technical demands on the pianist summon up all the skills expected of a virtuoso pianist during the second half of the nineteenth century. There is thus some risk that a performance in which the soloist is the conductor might be dismissed as more of a circus act than a concert experience.

In contemporary terminology one might say that the soloist has a “bandwidth” problem, having to communicate too many different things to too many different people. However, it is often overlooked that a symphony orchestra amounts to a hierarchical organization. More often than not, “leadership” is shared between conductor and concertmaster, with the former communicating the “big picture” while the latter keeps the critical details under control. Indeed, the hierarchy goes deeper, since the concertmaster, in turn, communicates with the other section leaders.

It would thus be sufficient to observe that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment runs very well as a hierarchical organization. ECM was kind enough to provide a booklet that listed the entire personnel of this ensemble. This allows the listener to appreciate the role that Concertmaster Kati Debretzeni played in keeping the group in order when Schiff had to focus on the details of his piano performance. Both clarity and expressiveness distinguish the accounts of both of these concertos, making this recent album a most satisfying listening experience.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

SFP to Launch 2021–2022 Season with New Series

A little less that two weeks ago San Francisco Performances (SFP) announced the programs it has planned to present during the 2021–2022 season. As in the past, the season will be partitioned into series, each of which will consist of between three and five concerts. The series that will present the very first concert of the season will be a new one, entitled Uncovered.

This new series will be curated by the Catalyst Quartet, a string quartet whose members are violinists Karla Donehew and Abi Fayette, violist Paul Laraia, and cellist Karlos Rodriguez. The series was conceived to bring to a broader audience works from the African American tradition of chamber music, presenting the work of composers whom history has overlooked due to their race or gender. Each of the four programs in the series will feature a guest artist, and commentary prior to each performance will be presented by bass-baritone Dashon Burton.

Subscriptions to the entire series will go on sale tomorrow, Monday, June 28. Single tickets will not be available until Monday, September 13. The Uncovered Series will consist of four concerts, all taking place at 7:30 p.m. in Herbst Theatre. The entrance to Herbst is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. The specific dates and their related performers are as follows:

Thursday, October 2: The guest artist will be pianist Stewart Goodyear, who will join Catalyst for a performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Opus 1 piano quintet in G minor. Regular readers may recall that Catalyst has also launched an UNCOVERED recording project with Azica Records. This past February this site discussed the first volume of that series, devoted entirely to Coleridge-Taylor and including a performance of the Opus 1 quintet with Goodyear. Catalyst will also perform Coleridge-Taylor’s Opus 5, five pieces for string quartet identified as Fantasiestücke (fantasy pieces), another selection included on the Azica album. The program will begin with the first (“Lyric”) string quartet composed by George Walker.

Thursday, November 11: The guest artist will be clarinetist Anthony McGill. He, too, will collaborate with Catalyst to perform the third and final selection on the Coleridge-Taylor Azica album, the Opus 10 quintet in F-sharp minor. The program will begin with Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s first (“Calvary”) string quartet, followed by Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint.

Friday, February 11: In addition to providing an introduction, Burton will serve not only guest artist but also contributing composer. He will perform a collection of Price’s art songs, and he has arranged the accompaniment to be provided by Catalyst. That vocal offering will be followed by a performance of Price’s second quartet in A minor. The program will begin with two of the string quartets collected by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges for his Opus 1 publication, the fourth in C minor and the sixth in D major. The remaining work on the program will be William Grant Still’s “Lyric Quartette,” which he composed in 1960.

Thursday, April 7: The final guest artist will be pianist Michele Cann. The program will be devoted entirely to music by Price. Cann will join Catalyst for two quintets, the first in E minor and the second in A minor. The program will begin with Price’s first quartet in G major and include another “contrapuntal collection,” this one entitled Four Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint.

Subscriptions will go on sale tomorrow for $240 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $200 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $160 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. Orders may be placed by calling the SFP subscriber hotline at 415-677-0325, which is open for receiving calls between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The SFP home page will be updated with a hyperlink for purchasing subscriptions online. When single tickets go on sale, the Web site will be further updated.

SFCMP’s Anniversary Concert of Soloists

Last night the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) streamed its 50th Anniversary Concert. As might be expected, the event included a generous share of testimonials. However, these were delivered with both brevity and clarity, allowing most of the one-hour event to be dedicated to the performance of contemporary music. While SFCMP has often presented “historical” offerings of music that was “advanced” for its time, last night’s program was very much in the “immediate present,” serving up works by living composers that are still active in their musical pursuits.

However, this was a program in which the identify of the “Players” themselves signified as much as the “Contemporary” nature of what they were playing. Of the six compositions performed, the first five were scored for a single instrument; and the last was a duet performed by two of the players that had given solo performances. The solo offerings and their performers were, in “order of appearance,” as follows:

  1. Cellist Hannah Addario-Berry: the “knock” movement from Esa-Pekka Salonen’s knock, breathe, shine triptych
  2. Clarinetist Jeff Anderle: David Lang’s “Press Release,” scored for bass clarinet
  3. Guitarist David Tanenbaum: Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Soliloquy”
  4. Oboist Kyle Bruckmann: Liza Lim’s “Gyfu”
  5. Trombonist Brendan Lai-Tong: Christian Lindberg’s “Joe Jack Binglebandit”

Kyle Bruckmann evoking multiphonic sonorities from his oboe (screen shot from the video being discussed)

As a former clarinetist, I confess to being particularly drawn to the wind selections. “Press Release” was the perfect example of how one can create two-voice polyphony for an instrument designed to play only one note at a time. Through his dexterous fingering and meticulous breath control, Anderle delivered a crystal-clear delineation of those two voices, allowing the attentive listener not only to distinguish them but also to relish the many different approaches to interplay. Note that phrase “designed to play only one note at a time.” “Gyfu” was one of best studies in multiphonic technique (in which the wind player is required to sound multiple tones simultaneously) that I have encountered ever since I first learned about multiphonics in my graduate student days. Experiencing Bruckmann’s “real-time” breath control (required to induce sounding multiple tones) was absolutely riveting, making for an adventurous journey through the deep woods of unconventional sonorities.

It goes without saying that one seldom encounters performances of music written explicitly for solo trombone. The instrument’s medieval predecessors tended to present listeners with solemn chorales, relying on the lower registers to capture the profundity of that solemnity. However, from the earliest days of jazz, the trombone has developed a more raucous reputation. The very title of Lindberg’s piece seemed to carry its own connotations of raucousness; and Lai-Tong’s command of the techniques behind that raucousness wrapped up the series of solo compositions on an exhilarating note (so to speak).

Both the Salonen and Kernis offerings tended to reflect the more conventional techniques of their respective instruments. “Soliloquy” was presented by Tanenbaum as a study in stillness, providing just the right complement to Lang’s over-the-top polyphony. The Salonen offering, on the other hand, almost served as an “overture,” preparing the listener for the adventurous diversity of sonorities and thematic content that would follow. That introduction was complemented by the concluding performance of the duo “Disco Toccata” by Guillaume Connesson. This provided just the right complement to “Joe Jack Binglebandit,” extending lively rhetoric with a keen sense of humor to the interplay of Anderle’s clarinet work with Addario-Berry’s cello technique.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

ARCANA Reissues Badura-Skoda’s Schubert

courtesy of A440 Arts Group

A little over two weeks ago ARCANA reissued its nine-CD album of Paul Badura-Skoda playing the twenty piano sonatas of Franz Schubert. The original release was based on recordings made in Vienna between 1991 and 1996. All of the recording sessions involved Badura-Skoda playing on five fortepianos, all in his own personal collection and all made in Vienna between 1810 and 1846. Two of those pianos (at least) include “percussion stops,” which Badura-Skoda uses very sparingly but always with delightful results. (The only other pianist I know that has no trouble taking that liberty with Schubert is Andreas Staier.)

Those that are really serious about listening to the music of Franz Schubert tend to keep a copy of Otto Erich Deutsch’s thematic catalog close at hand, particularly when being presented with “complete” offerings. I therefore need to arrange a “preemptive strike” against those quick to point out that the index of instrumental music lists 22 entries for solo piano sonatas. However, the two entries that do not show up on Badura-Skoda’s recordings are incomplete sketches. On the other hand, the booklet for this release has its own index, which lists four of the sonatas as “composites” of two different Deutsch entries and one that amalgamates three of them! The booklet also includes an extensive essay by Badura-Skoda, translated from German into English by Frank Dobbins, which discusses his approach to each of the sonatas.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to listen to Badura-Skoda performances when I was living in Connecticut. (As I recall, I made one trip to New York to attend a performance at Alice Tully Hall in New York’s Lincoln Center and another to listen to a four-hand recital at Yale University. Living in Stamford had definite advantages!) I had cultivated my own interest in “historically appropriate” keyboard instruments through both Badura-Skoda and Malcolm Bilson, and that interest has never waned.

Similarly, when my fingers were more dexterous, I spent more time with the music of Schubert than I did with either Ludwig van Beethoven or Frédéric Chopin. Indeed, when I visited Seattle for my first encounter with a full performance of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (the ring of the Nibelung), I stayed at a Hilton Hotel next to a multi-level shopping mall with an atrium structure. Down at “ground level” was a grand piano; and I quickly learned that it was there for anyone that wanted to sit down and play. Every morning around 8 a.m. I would wrestle my way through D. 960 in B-flat major (Schubert’s final sonata), often receiving sympathetic nods for my struggles!

Listening to Badura-Skoda has prompted me to return to Schubert, this time trying to learn the earlier works. Too many pianists seem to be obsessed with the last three sonatas, all composed in September of 1828 (possible concurrently) about two months before the composer’s death. Badura-Skoda clearly believes that all of the sonatas are worthy of attentive listening; and, through these recordings, he makes his case admirably. Indeed, I rather regret that this collection has not been released for digital download, because every sonata deserves its own focused listening, which is more conducive to digital platforms. [updated, 6/27, 10:55 a.m.: There is, in fact, an Amazon.com Web page for downloading MP3 tracks of the entire collection. Furthermore, the PDF of the booklet is included when the entire collection is downloaded. That Web page appears to have been created during the period between the first release of the CD collection and the reissue released this month. This turned out to be one of several Web pages easier to find with Google than with the Amazon search engine!]

Nevertheless, that one observation is really my only negative impression of this reissue; and I could not be more delighted that this collection is once again in circulation.

OSJ to Launch Season with Streamed Video

At the beginning of this month, Opera San José (OSJ) announced its planned 2021–22 season. This would involve the return to live performances of three operas at the California Theatre in San José beginning on November 13 of this year. The operas to be performed will be Henry Purcell’s three-act Dido and Aeneas, Georges Bizet’s four-act Carmen, and Leonard Bernstein’s two-act West Side Story, which originated as a Broadway musical.

These productions will be preceded by an online streamed video created at OSJ’s Heiman Digital Media Studio. The opera to be performed will be Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Mozart and Salieri,” composed as a single act with two scenes. Rimsky-Korsakov prepared his own libretto, which was taken almost verbatim from Alexander Pushkin’s verse drama with the same title. Pushkin wrote his text in 1830; and the opera was composed in 1897, over 80 years before the first performance of Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus.

The only two characters in this opera are the two named in the title, and the first is a monologue of jealousy delivered by Salieri. The second scene sees the two characters discussing Mozart’s K. 626 setting of the Latin Requiem text over dinner. As I wrote in an article about a recording of this opera, Rimsky-Korsakov kept his Mozart musical quotes to a minimum. Full details about the production have not yet been announced, but the role of Salieri will be sung by baritone Sidney Outlaw. Donato Cabrera will conduct the production staged by Fenlon Lamb.

As of this writing, Opera San José is only selling subscriptions. Those not planning to travel to San Jose for the live performances will have to wait until Monday, August 2, when single tickets will go on sale. Streaming will begin on Thursday, September 30, and the video will be available through Sunday, October 31. As is usually the case, instructions for viewing the streamed performance will be provided once the ticket purchase has been finalized. Pricing will probably be the same as that for this past April’s streaming of Love & Secrets: A Domestic Trilogy. Those seeking further information are invited to call 408-437-4450, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Friday, June 25, 2021

LIEDER ALIVE!’s 2021/22 Liederabend Series

Having announced yesterday that LIEDER ALIVE! would host a concert in the fifth annual San Francisco International Piano Festival devoted to the first twelve of the 24 songs in Franz Schubert’s D. 911 Winterreise, it seems appropriate to review the “state of play” for the return of that organization’s Liederabend (evening of songs) Series. Almost exactly two years ago, LIEDER ALIVE! Founder and Director Maxine Bernstein announced the eight recitals scheduled for the 2019/20 season. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of this Series. As a result, in addition to the recitals, there will be two anniversary celebrations. As in the past the recitals will take place at 5 p.m. on a Sunday evening. While not all of the specifics have been finalized, here is an account of what has been planned thus far:

September 26: The expanded schedule will include three Songs Without Words programs, showcasing two pianists, who have worked extensively with LIEDER ALIVE! The first of these will be Jeffrey LaDeur. His program will begin with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 53 (“Waldstein”) sonata in C major. He will then perform all four of Frédéric Chopin’s ballades: Opus 23 in G minor, Opus 38 in F major, Opus 47 in A-flat major, and Opus 52 in F minor.

December 5: As has already been planned for the fifth annual San Francisco International Piano Festival, LaDeur will accompany mezzo Kindra Scharich for his second LIEDER ALIVE! appearance. Program details have not yet been finalized. However, the program, entitled On Wings of Song, will, appropriately enough, include music by Felix Mendelssohn. It will also include Johannes Brahms’ final vocal composition, his Opus 121 song cycle entitled Vier ernste Gesänge (four serious songs).

January 16: Bass Kirk Eichelberger will sing Franz Schubert’s final song cycle, his D. 957 Schwanengesang (swan song). Strictly speaking, this was not conceived as a song cycle, but that was the title given by Tobias Haslinger, who published the collection on Easter of 1829, about half a year after the composer’s death. Eichelberger will be accompanied at the piano by Ronny Michael Greenberg.

February 27: LaDeur will return for the second Songs Without Words recital. This time he will be joined by violist Paul Yarbrough. Scharich will also return as a guest artist to join Yarbrough and LaDeur.

May 15: The pianist for the final Songs Without Words program will be Peter Grünberg. The program has not been finalized. However, since Grünberg will be joined by cellist Oliver Herbert, one can expect at least one of the several highly imaginative compositions for cello and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven.

May 22: Grünberg will return to accompany soprano Esther Rayo. She will sing Manuel de Falla’s 1914 collection entitled Siete canciones populares españolas (seven Spanish folksongs). She will also include Mendelssohn on her program, along with Robert Schumann.

June 26: This program will feature Brahms’ Opus 52 Liebeslieder Walzer collection. This work is scored for four voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) accompanied by two pianos. The pianists will be Amy Glenn and John Parr. Scharich and Eichelberger will return, joined by soprano Heidi Moss Erikson and tenor Thomas Glenn. Glenn will also sing Brahms’ Opus 103 Zigeunerlieder (gypsy songs).

July 10: Erickson will return with a recital devoted entirely to the songs of Richard Strauss, accompanied at the piano by Parr.

November 6: Soprano Alina Ilchuk will sing a program of songs based on texts by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine, set to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The title of the first anniversary celebration will be Korngold Kornucopia, and it will be presented in collaboration with the San Francisco International Piano Festival. Scharich and LaDeur will be joined by the members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet: violinists Geoff Nutall and Owen Dalby, violist Lesley Robertson, and cellist Christopher Costanza. Date and time have been finalized to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 3. The anniversary will also be celebrated by a special soirée, which was to have taken place during the current season. Greenberg was scheduled to accompany tenor Pene Pati in a program of vocal music by Richard Strauss and Giacomo Puccini, as well as a selection of Samoan songs. Plans for the rescheduling of this event have not yet been finalized.

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

Ohlsson’s Latest All-Brahms Hyperion Album

courtesy of [Integral]

One week from today Hyperion will release what I believe is the third album of Garrick Ohlsson playing the solo piano music by Johannes Brahms. The series began in January of 2019 with an album devoted almost entirely to the late piano works. This was followed in October of 2010 with a two-CD album of all of the variations compositions. The new release presents the first two piano sonatas, Opus 1 in C major and Opus 2 in F-sharp minor, concluding with the two Opus 79 rhapsodies in B minor and G minor, respectively. As usual, Amazon.com is currently processing pre-orders for this new offering.

The release of the first album also marked the launch of a series of four recitals that Ohlsson would take on tour. Here in San Francisco those recitals were presented by San Francisco Performances, taking place in Herbst Theatre. This site covered the first three of those recitals, which took place on February 21, 2019, March 28, 2019, and February 5, 2020. The final recital was planned for March 31, 2020 but had to be postponed due to COVID-19. Fortunately, at the end of last month, SFP announced that Ohlsson would complete his Brahms cycle in Herbst next month on July 15.

That program will include the Opus 1 sonata, which made for a seriously large-scale “debut” effort by the composer. The technical demands are so imposing that one can easily guess that Brahms was concerned as much with showing off his virtuosity as a pianist he was in launching his career as a composer with a prodigious undertaking. Listening to this sonata is just as much a major effort, making the timing for the release of Ohlsson’s latest album particularly apposite.

Since the new album couples Opus 1 with Opus 2, the listening experience is even more intense. Both sonatas were begun in 1852, when Brahms was in his late teens. Opus 2 seems to have been completed first, and Opus 1 was not finished until the following year. Brahms had made his first contact with Robert Schumann in 1850; but, at that time, he made little impression. Things changed in 1853, however, when Brahms plays some of his solo piano compositions for the violinist Joseph Joachim. That led to Joachim writing to Schumann as an advocate for Brahms. The second encounter of Brahms which Schumann was much more beneficial for both on them; and Schumann’s endorsement led to Brahms’ first publications, which included the two piano sonatas.

Ohlsson’s approach to both sonatas involves establishing just the right balance between technical dexterity and a capacity for expressiveness whose enthusiasm needs to be kept in check. When he performed the Opus 2 sonata at the second recital in his series, I wrote that “through Ohlsson’s perceptive interpretation, the attentive listener could appreciate the architecture that the composer envisaged, even if the building blocks did always not fit together with the best precision.” That assessment is probably just as valid for Opus 1, but I shall have to wait until next month to put that speculation to the test!

The Opus 79 rhapsodies that conclude the album amount to a refreshing light dessert in the wake of two massive courses of fish and meat, respectively. (Deciding which sonata is associated with which course will be left as an exercise for the reader!) This was the selection that began Ohlsson’s third program, which concluded with the Opus 5 piano sonata in F minor, another 1853 composition. In other words, as a recitalist, Ohlsson selected Opus 79 to “warm up” the audience, while the album ordering suggests that the rhapsodies “cool things down” after all the flamboyant virtuosity in the sonatas. Mind you, there is no shortage of expressiveness in Opus 79, but by 1879 Brahms had begun to appreciate the virtues of holding at least some of his emotional dispositions in check!

Richard Strauss’ Opacity of Metamorphosis

The return of the full brass section of the San Francisco Symphony may have been the highlight of last night’s program in Davies Symphony Hall; but the “keystone” of the program was the seldom performed “Metamorphosen” by Richard Strauss. This work is distinguished for having been composed for 23 solo strings (ten violins, five violas, five cellos, and three basses). It was composed during the final months of World War II and commissioned by Paul Sacher, the founder and Director of the Collegium Musicum Zürich, which gave the first performance on January 25, 1946. Strauss was present for the occasion and had conducted the final rehearsal.

As may be suspected from the instrumentation, this music is significantly thick in its textures. Arrangements were made last night to prepare a video account of the performance; and, if ever there was a composition in which the eye needed as much guidance as the ear, this is it. Whether or not Strauss bore in mind that the biological process of metamorphosis is frequently opaque will be left for the reader to decide. The larva caterpillar spins itself into it pupal enclosure before its transformation into an adult butterfly; and one can probably make a case that the transformations that unfold in “Metamorphoses” take place at a “deep structure,” which is “hidden from view.”

The author of the Wikipedia page for “Metamorphosen” leads the reader through the abundance of thematic references in Strauss’ score; but that description does little to sort out the “surface structure” from any “deeper” foundations. Personally, I prefer to take the caterpillar-butterfly approach to the overall “journey” through the score. The “larva” is the stepwise descent from G to C in the minor mode, a motif that should be easily associated with the second (funeral march) movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 55 (“Eroica”) symphony in E-flat major. The butterfly that emerges at the conclusion explicitly quotes the first four measures of that funeral march in what amounts to the clearest thematic statement of the entire composition. While there is an abundance of material between beginning and end, the textures are so thick that the music could just as easily been locked into its own pupal enclosure.

The reader should be able to appreciate that I have yet to encounter an audio recording that does justice to this music. Salonen’s account last night in Davies provided my first experience in which things just began to make sense. Given that the duration is roughly half an hour, the journey through this music is far from a walk in the park. While I continue to feel more than a little frustrated with this music, I have to confess that, in the midst of last night’s video gear, I am most curious to see whether the addition of video can enlighten the listening experience.

Cologne Cathedral as seen from the Rhine (photograph by AtmikaPaul, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

Far more accessible was the instrumental richness of the final work on the program, Robert Schumann’s Opus 97 (third) symphony in E-flat major. Schumann was inspired by a trip to the Rhineland; and the symphony is often known as the “Rhenish.” There are no end of musical references to the churning flow on the Rhine, along with an evocation of the Cologne Cathedral, situated near the banks of the Rhine.

Whatever the composer may have had in mind, however, last night’s performance was, for all intents and purposes, a celebratory declaration that the full complement of brass players had returned to Davies. Cologne Cathedral made its appearance in the fourth movement with the luscious chorale rhetoric of the trombone section, and the horn section never missed an opportunity to seize the metaphorical spotlight. All of that enthusiasm made for a scrappier account of the score than one might usually expect; but there was no doubt that the audience, as a whole, loved every minute of it.

On the other hand those of us interested in “the music itself” got to enjoy three selections for two brass choirs composed by Giovanni Gabrieli and arranged for contemporary instruments by SFS Principal Trombone Timothy Higgins. The two groups of players were situated behind the opposing Side Terrace seats, making for a viable approximation to the polyphonic exchanges one would have encountered in St Mark’s Basilica during Gabrieli’s tenure there. Equally impressive were the polished homophonic passages through which one could appreciate the “heavenly” blending of brass sonorities in different pitch registers.

The brass players are back, and their return was most welcome.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

LIEDER ALIVE! to Curate Streamed Schubert

LIEDER ALIVE! performers Kindra Scharich, Jeffrey LaDeur, and the Alexander String Quartet (courtesy of LIEDER ALIVE!)

Readers may recall that, at the beginning of this month, Old First Concerts announced that it would host two of the concerts to be presented by the fifth annual San Francisco International Piano Festival. At the beginning of this month, it was further announced that another concert series, LIEDER ALIVE! will also host one of the Festival concerts. Artist-in-Residence mezzo Kindra Scharich will be accompanied by pianist Jeffrey LaDeur in a performance of the first twelve of the 24 songs in Franz Schubert’s D. 911 Winterreise (winter journey) song cycle. LaDeur will also join Alexander String Quartet violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarbrough, and cellist Sandy Wilson to present Johannes Brahms’ Opus 34 quintet for piano and string in F minor.

This will be a streamed offering of archival video recordings. Streaming will be hosted on YouTube through the LIEDERALIVE! channel. By way of a preview, the Festival has uploaded the video of “Der Lindenbaum” (the linden tree), the fifth song in the Schubert cycle. There will be no charge for viewing the entire program. However, donations will always be welcome; and InterMusicSF has created a Web page specifically for contributions to LIEDER ALIVE! The full program will be available for streaming at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 26.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

SFO 2021–22 Subscriptions Now on Sale

Yesterday afternoon the San Francisco Opera (SFO) announced that performances in the War Memorial Opera House will resume, after eighteen months, on August 21. This will (finally) mark the first full season with Eun Sim Kim as the new Music Director. Performances will include the completion of the SFO “trilogy” treatment of the three operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart based on libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte, conceived and directed by Michael Cavanagh. Così fan tutte (K. 588) will conclude the fall portion of the season; and Don Giovanni (K. 527) will launch next year’s summer portion. This season will also provide the first chance for audience members to enjoy the completed final phase of the seat replacement project.

That said, SFO decided that this new season will be “transitional,” temporarily offering a reduction in the number of operas and performances to ensure a safe return to “business as usual.” Instead of five partially overlapping programs, there will be only three productions in the fall, which will be scheduled in succession. The current plan is that summer will mark the return of repertory (interleaved) presentation. The first full repertory season will take place in 2022–23, the season that will mark SFO’s centennial. Here is the basic summary of the schedule for the coming season:

August 21–September 5, 2021: Appropriately enough, the season will begin with Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, included in SFO’s first season in 1923 and selected to open the Opera House in 1932. The traditional staging will be directed by Shawna Lucey, and Kim will conduct. The lead vocalists will be soprano Ailyn Pérez making her role debut as Floria Tosca, tenor Michael Fabiano as Tosca’s lover Mario Cavaradossi, and bass-baritone Alfred Walker making his role debut as the authoritarian Baron Scarpia.

September 10, 2021: Live and In Concert: The Homecoming will be a single performance simulcast live from the Opera House to the videoboard at Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. For those in the Civic Center, there will be a pre-performance reception in the Green Room of the Veterans Building, a post-performance toast in the main lobby of the Opera House, and a post-performance celebratory dinner, also in the Green Room. The vocalists will be soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen and mezzo Jamie Barton, and Kim will be the conductor.

October 14–30, 2021: The second full opera will be a new production of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 72 Fidelio. Staging will be by Matthew Ozawa, and Kim will again conduct. The title role of Leonore (disguised as a man under the alias “Fidelio”) will be sung by soprano Elza van den Heever. Tenor Russell Thomas will portray her husband, Florestan, a political prisoner being held in the jail where “Fidelio” works as an assistant to the jailer Rocco (bass James Creswell). The prison is governed by Don Pizarro, the “nemesis character” of this opera, sung by baritone Greer Grimsley.

November 21–December 3, 2021: As mentioned above, the fall season will conclude with Mozart’s Così fan tutte. This is definitely the most complex libretto of the three da Ponte operas, if not of all of the operas that Mozart composed. Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto will sing the role of Don Alfonso, an aging cynic determined to convince his young friends Ferrando (tenor Ben Bliss, making his SFO debut) and Guglielmo (baritone John Brancy) that fidelity is a sometime thing. The young men are betrothed to a pair of sisters, Fiordiligi (soprano Nicole Cabell) and Dorabella (mezzo Irene Roberts); and Alfonso snares all of them in a tangled web of “girlfriend-swapping.” He is assisted in his plot by the sisters’ maid Despina, sung by soprano Nicole Heaston. The conductor will be Henrik Nánási, who had previously conducted the first opera in the trilogy, The Marriage of Figaro (K. 492) in October of 2019.

December 10: The SFO Adler Fellows will present their annual The Future is Now program of arias and opera scenes with Kim conducting the SFO Orchestra.

June 4–July 2, 2022: The trilogy will then conclude with Don Giovanni. Bertrand de Billy will make his SFO debut as conductor. The title role will be sung by baritone Etienne Dupuis, also making his SFO debut. Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni will sing the role of Giovanni’s servant Leporello. Over the course of the opera, Giovanni’s attempts at seduction will be thwarted by three different women: Donna Anna (soprano Adela Zaharia, also making her SFO debut), Donna Elvira (soprano Carmen Giannattasio), and the peasant girl Zerlina (soprano Christina Gansch). As was the case in Così, da Ponte’s libretto allows for ambiguity, rather than a straightforward conclusion to the narrative.

June 14–July 3, 2022: The final opera of the season will be a revival of Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, composed for SFO and first performed in September of 2016. The opera is based on one of the Four Great Classical Novels of China. Author Cao Xueqin wrote 80 chapters and died before completing the novel. Sheng prepared his own libretto in partnership with David Henry Hwang. Stan Lai’s original staging will be performed; and the conductor will be Darrell Ang, making his SFO debut. The opera will be sung in English, but supertitles will be projected in both English and Chinese.

June 30: The final single-performance offering will be an evening of Verdi conducted by Kim. The vocalists will be soprano Nicole Car, tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, and bass Soloman Howard. The SFO Chorus will also be featured. The program has not yet been finalized; but selections from Lucia Miller, Don Carlo, Aida, and Il Trovatore will be included.

Web pages have been created for both subscriptions and single ticket purchases. (The latter is a collection of hyperlinks, one for each event of the season.) Safety protocols have been developed in partnership with a team of physicians from the University of California, San Francisco, led by epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford. SFO has created a Safety First Web page, which will provide all necessary information about those protocols. At the present time tickets are not available for in-person purchase. All tickets must be purchased prior the the day of the performance, either by telephone or by the above hyperlinks.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Jupiter String Quartet to Stream Bowdoin Recitals

Jupiter String Quartet players Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel, Daniel McDonough, and Liz Freivogel (photograph by Elle Logan, courtesy of Jensen Artists)

Those that have been following this site regularly probably know that the Jupiter String Quartet has been particularly productive in preparing performances for Internet streaming. This summer the group, consisting of violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel (Meg’s older sister), and cellist Daniel McDonough (Meg’s husband, making him Liz’s brother-in-law), will serve as a Faculty Ensemble at the Bowdoin International Music Festival held on the campus of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. They will supplement their faculty work with two performances in the Studzinski Recital Hall on that campus.

The first performance will take place at 4:30 p.m. (Pacific time) on Monday, July 19. Jupiter will join forces with the Ying Quartet, which will also be performing at the Festival. By adding Ying violist Philip Ying to their ensemble, they will be able to perform the rarely-heard D minor string quintet by Alexander Zemlinsky. This will be followed by the much more familiar D. 956 string quintet in C major composed by Franz Schubert. For this performance Jupiter will be joined by cellist David Ying.

Jupiter will perform as a quartet at 4:30 p.m. (again Pacific time) on Monday, August 2. Those that missed the streaming of their world premiere performance of Stephen Andrew Taylor’s “Chaconne/Labyrinth” will have another opportunity to listen to this music, which was commissioned by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. They will also perform selections from Florence Price’s Five Folksongs in Counterpoint. Readers may recall that members of the San Francisco Symphony string section performed this collection in its entirety as a contribution to the streamed Chamber Music Series presented by SFSymphony+ earlier this year. Jupiter will conclude its program with Felix Mendelssohn’s final string quartet, his Opus 80 in F minor.

These are only two of the many streamed performances that will be presented by the Bowdoin Festival. All future events may be viewed through the Concert Series Web page. Each of these events is hyperlinked to a Web page from which one can RSVP for attending that concert. There will be no charge for admission; but, since the “subscription RSVP” is no longer enabled, it will be necessary to RSVP for each performance one wishes to attend. Once the RSVP has been processed, instructions for viewing the streamed performance will be sent through electronic mail.

Monday, June 21, 2021

A Concert Performance for an Evangelista Album

Poster for the streamed performance of Apura (courtesy of Karl Evangelista)

On May 22 of last year, Karl Evangelista released his Apura! album to Bandcamp, whose site made it available as a two-CD set or a digital download. The title of the album was a word in the Filipino language Tagalog which translates to “very urgent.” Evangelista led a quartet, whose other members were Alexander Hawkins on piano, Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums, and Trevor Watts on both alto and soprano saxophones. The recording sessions took place on October 14 and 15 of 2018 in London (England) at the Fish Factory Studios in the Willesden district. The motivation behind the composition was a drive to explore the relationship between jazz-based musical improvisation and social transformation in an era of worldwide political upheaval.

At the end of next month, the United States will have its first opportunity to experience Apura in concert. A performance for a limited audience will take place earlier in July, arranged by the Oaktown Jazz Workshops in Oakland; and the video recording of that performance will be available for streaming beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 31. The video will remain available for streaming for 48 hours. Hawkins will again join Evangelista for the recording session. However, the saxophones will be played by Francis Wong; and the drummer will be special guest artist Andrew Cyrille, a major figure during the emergence of free jazz, who continues to be very active.

Streaming access will be provided by Brown Paper Tickets. Tickets are being sold for $15, and students may purchase tickets for $10. There will also be a service fee for all tickets, which will be purchased through a single Web page. Once the purchase has been completed, ticket-holders will be provided with instructions for accessing the video stream

Gavin Bryars’ New Composition for The Crossing

from the Amazon.com Web page for the recording being discussed

This Friday Navona Records will release the latest (24th) commercial album by the choir The Crossing. The album is devoted entirely to Gavin Bryars’ twelve-movement cycle of texts by Wendell Berry entitled A Native Hill. As usual Amazon.com is currently taking pre-orders for this new release. This was The Crossing’s second album of music by Bryars, the first having been The Fifth Century, which won a Best Choral Performance GRAMMY in January of 2018.

Bryars took his title from an essay that Berry wrote in 1968, a major shift from the metaphysical writings of the seventeenth-century English mystic Thomas Traherne that provided the libretto for The Fifth Century. In his program note for the album, Bryars observed that “Berry’s descriptions of the minutiae of his rural existence have a profound metaphysical and even political force.” He could also have observed that Berry wrote the essay at a time when only a handful of writers were committed to raising environmental consciousness. It is thus more than a little disappointing that Berry’s work is as neglected in these more “politically conscious” times than it was when he wrote it.

It is hard to tell from Bryars’ program note whether he appreciated the irony of the circumstances in which he was setting Berry’s words to music. He did, however, note that his score was the product of “a close reading of the text,” an effort that one does not encounter frequently in the composition of vocal music. It should therefore go without saying that Bryars’ essay is followed by a libretto of all twelve of the Berry texts that were set. This is definitely one of those cases in which the “metadata” are as important as the recorded music. Listeners deserve the opportunity to read those texts with the same level of attention that Bryars afforded, and the more curious will probably wish to examine the essay in its entirety.

Since The Fifth Century included a saxophone quartet, this was Bryars’ first a cappella undertaking for The Crossing. His sensitivity to sonorities is as acute as it was when he was working with the interplay between voices and instruments. Nevertheless, as his notes explain, he was still interested in exploring a wider scope of sonorities. Thus the “Animals and Birds” movement, appropriately enough, incorporates a “background” (Bryars’ word choice) of humming and whistling, while in the final movement, “At Peace,” he explores taking a vocal approach to tone clustering.

I fear that there may be those that will criticize A Native Hill for being too “cerebral;” but, things being what they are, the need for more cerebration seems to grow more urgent every day!

The Bleeding Edge: 6/21/2021

Things continue to ramp up this week. Once again, there will be two performances at the Center for New Music, a release concert for A Civil Right, the duo album of saxophonist Larry Ochs and drummer Don Robinson at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 25, and the Creation & Change program of new works by Bay Area composers at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 26. However, there are an additional four events involving live and/or streamed performance, suggesting that action on the bleeding edge is beginning to get sharper. Specifics are as follows:

Thursday, June 24, 9 p.m.: John the Baptist Day will be celebrated by a streamed performance of experimental music. The performers will be vocalist Winston Tong, drummer Andre Custodio, and Lx Rudis, who works with both analog and digital gear. Tong will give a reading of his interpretation of poems that Charles Baudelaire collected under the title Les Fleurs du mal (the flowers of evil). Custodio and Rudis will give a duo performance, most likely improvised. The streaming connection will be uploaded by Rudis to his YouTube channel.

Friday, June 25, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Drummer Tony Johnson will lead his quartet in a program of bop, hard bop, and post-bop. The other performers will be Bob Kenmotsu on tenor saxophone, Keith Saunders on piano, and Eric Markowitz on bass. Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station for both Muni and BART. Admission will be $20 in cash at the door, which will open at 7:20 p.m. A live stream will be available for $10. Bird & Beckett has not yet released the specifics for making this connection, but readers will probably benefit their YouTube channel.

Saturday, June 26, 7 p.m., Canessa Gallery: Located at 708 Montgomery Street on the “border” between the Financial District and North Beach, this venue is apparently returning to hosting performances. There will be three sets, two of which will be solos. Erin Demastes works with “hacked and intentionally non-user-friendly electronics” in her performances. S. Glass is described as “abuser of instruments, ignorer of proper technique, [and] found sound gourmand.” There will also be a performance by the Pay Dirt duo of Bryan Day and Victoria Shen. Shen’s experimental performances involve analog modular synthesizers, amplified objects, and invented instruments, while Day works with “scavenged electronics, repurposed mechanical components and amplified materials that you might find in your garage or your great uncle's office,” from which he creates sound sculptures. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $5 and $20.

Saturday, June 26, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: The title of the second program at this venue for the week will be Lost Shapes. It will present “avant garde explorations” by the trio of Safa Shokrai on bass, Mark Clifford on vibraphone, and Kjell Nordeson on drums. As was the case on Friday, admission will be $20 in cash at the door, which will open at 7:20 p.m. A live stream will be available for $10. Again the specifics for making this connection have not yet been released, and checking the YouTube channel will probably be the best way to learn about streaming.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

PocketWatch: Songs of the Night

This afternoon Pocket Opera wrapped up this season’s 3-Song Mini Concert Series with the last of its three recitals. The title of the program was Songs of the Night, and things were a bit different. There were two featured soloists, soprano Lindsay Roush and tenor Alex Taite, each of whom sang two arias, meaning that there were four offerings, rather than the usual three. Both vocalists were accompanied at the piano by Pocket Opera Music Director David Drummond.

Roush provided the “bookends” for the program, beginning with Susannah’s aria “Ain’t it a pretty night” from Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah and wrapping things up with the “Song to the Moon,” sung by the title character of Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 114 opera Rusalka. Between these selections, Taite’s first selection was “When the Stars Lit the Heavens,” an English translation of Mario Cavaradossi’s aria “E lucevan le stelle,” sung at the beginning of the third act of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca. This was followed by “Total eclipse” from George Frideric Handel’s HWV 57 oratorio Samson.

All of these selections were intended for relatively large performing spaces. Even Handel’s oratorio was first performed in the massive space of Covent Garden. Thus, the intimate settings for a single vocalist accompanied by a pianist left the impression that these more operatic offerings were more than a little bit forced. Furthermore, the setting tended to thwart any effort made by either of the vocalists to get into character; and there is certainly no shortage of character in any of those arias. One might conclude that this particular Mini Concert would have benefitted from a set of more “pocket sized” selections.

San Francisco Opera Streams for July

After a two-month break July will see the return of the Opera is ON streaming service, presented free of charge by San Francisco Opera (SFO). These video streams will take place on every weekend of the month beginning on Saturday, July 10. As in the past, the selection for each weekend will become available on Saturday at 10 a.m.; and free access will expire at the end of the following day. Each video will then be added to the archive available to subscribers and those that have donated $75 or more. Specifics for the four July offerings are as follows:

July 10–11: The series will begin with the video recording of Leoš Janáček’s three-act opera Jenůfa, staged by Oliver Tambosi. He created this version for the Hamburg State Opera, but it is similar in some respects to the staging he created for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The SFO performances took place in 2016 between June 14 and July 1. The title role was sung by Swedish soprano Malin Byström, making her SFO debut; and the crucial role of Jenůfa’s stepmother, Kostelnička Buryjovka, was sung by Finnish soprano Karita Mattila, the first time she took this role in a staged performance. Jenůfa has sustained an accidental pregnancy and is now the apex of a love triangle with Kostelnička cousins Laca Klemeň (tenor William Burden) and Števa Buryja (tenor Scott Quinn, also making his SFO debut). The performance was conducted by Jiří Bĕlohlávek. Running time is approximately two hours and ten minutes.

July 17–18: Much longer in duration will be Hector Berlioz’ opera interpretation of the first half of Virgil’s Aeneid, covering the sack of Troy by the Greeks, the Trojans’ journey to Carthage, and the ill-fated romance between the Trojan leader Aeneas and Dido, Queen of Carthage. Berlioz gave his opera the title Les Troyens. The fall of Troy was presented in the first two acts, followed by three acts set in Carthage. David McVicar prepared a staging rich with spectacle, which was revived for SFO by Leah Hausman. Donald Runnicles commanded the 95 performers in the orchestra pit. At the head of the cast, tenor Bryan Hymel sang the role of Aeneas, and mezzo Susan Graham performed Dido. Running time will be decidedly longer than that of Jenůfa, clocking in at around four hours.

July 24–25: The intensity of brevity will return the following week with a performance of Richard Strauss’ one-act opera “Elektra.” Librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal took the play of the same name by Sophocles as his point of departure, focusing on the title character’s drive to kill her mother Klytaemnestra to avenge her mother’s killing of her father Agamemnon. Director Keith Warner chose to set the unfolding of this plot in a modern museum exhibiting Greek antiquities, thus linking an ancient legend with the immediate present. This was the second opera to be performed during the opening weekend of the fall 2017 season. Soprano Christine Goerke sang the title role in opposition to mezzo Michaela Martens’ performance of Klytaemnestra. The production marked the SFO debut of Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási, and the duration was somewhat less than two hours.

July 31–August 1: The series will conclude by returning to Giuseppe Verdi. Performed in September 2015, this staging of Luisa Miller was produced by Francesca Zambello and revived by Laurie Feldman. The casting featured soprano (and former Adler Fellow) Leah Crocetto in the title role with tenor Michael Fabiano in the role of Rodolfo, her romantic interest. Former SFO Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducted, and the duration of this three-act opera is about two and one-half hours.

A Bill Evans “Career Retrospective” from Craft

Jazz pianist Bill Evans on the cover of the new On a Friday Evening album (from the Amazon.com Web page for that album)

This coming Friday Craft Records will release a major anthology of performances by jazz pianist Bill Evans. The full title of the new five-CD collection is Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans: A Career Retrospective (1956–1980). As expected Amazon.com has already created a Web page for this offering and is currently processing pre-orders. The first four CDs amount to a survey of past recordings, but the fifth amounts to a “premiere” release of a concert date in Vancouver. The nine tracks were recorded on June 20, 1975 by Reice Hamel at Oil Can Harry’s with Evans leading a trio, whose other members were Eddie Gomez on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums. This CD will also be released as a single entitled On a Friday Evening, which has its own Amazon.com Web page for processing pre-orders.

As a collector, I have to confess that my thirst for Evans albums has been unquenchable. As a result, my collection has no “single” CDs; but I have no idea how comprehensive the multi-CD releases are. As a result, I was not surprised that Concord turned up a new concert recording; nor was I surprised that there were a few tracks on the first four CDs that could not be traced back to my current holdings. That said, when it comes to getting one’s head around Evans’ inventiveness, quantity is practically a prerequisite for quality. One may quickly grow attached to more familiar tunes, such as “Waltz for Debby” or Miles Davis’ “Nardis;” but much of the joy of listening to Evans involves how he keeps coming up with new ways to approach even his most familiar subjects.

The first four CDs of Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans are divided into three categories. The first two CDs have the subtitle Trialogues. Over the course of their 27 tracks, one is reminded of just how many different trio partners Evans had over the course of his career. The title of the third CD is Monologues, which is just a tad misleading, since in includes overdubbed tracks from Conversations With Myself, Further Conversations With Myself, and New Conversations. The fourth CD is entitled Dialogues & Confluences, and it provides a rich account of the many other partnerships in which Evans engaged over the course of his recording sessions. The names that show up on these thirteen tracks are, as they say, too numerous to mention.

All of this amounts to a generous sampler of currently available Evans recordings. My guess is that, for those that are not already rabidly hooked on Evans, this content will be sufficient, particularly when it involves first becoming acquainted with Evans’ style and inventiveness. The accompanying booklet accounts for the albums on which all of the tracks first appeared. This should be sufficient for those ready to “dig deeper” after getting to know this anthology.

Here in San Francisco it is not that easy to find a good source for jazz on the radio. As a result, I have turned to the Jazz channel in the Music Choice offerings provided by my cable source. Sadly, Evans has not gotten very much representation on that channel, where there seems to be a strong preference for the recent over the “classic.” I am hoping that Music Choice will add the entire new release to its library, rather than just On a Friday Evening. Their serves will then be able to provide a new generation of listeners with Evans tracks that are as engaging as they are mind-bending.

NACUSA SF Showcase at C4NM

Last night the Center for New Music (C4NM) streamed the latest showcase of new works written by members of the Bay Area Chapter of the NACUSA (National Association of the Composers of the United States of America), usually referred to as NACUSA SF. The title of the program was Solo but Not Alone, since all of the works were written for a single performer. In order of appearance, those performers were percussionist Haruka Fujii, harpist Jennifer R. Ellis, pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi, violist Lucia Kobza, and clarinetist Rachel Condry. The program itself consisted of eleven works, each by a different composer.

I have to say that I tend to shy away from lengthy “showcase” presentations, since they tend to come across as “just one damn thing after another.” When a particular offering appeals to the attention, one has no time to reflect on it as the next offering begins. When one is displeased by an offering, regardless of its length, it feels like it is going on forever. Taking all factors into account, the experience offers little to the listener, with perhaps a bit more for the performer. The composer is likely to be frustrated by having to compete (and, yes, that is what it feels like on the audience side) with so many other offerings.

Looking back over the program listing, I realize that my strongest memory was a negative one. The harp solo “Tomorrow on Yesterday” by Greg A Steinke was at the top of the list in the “feels like it is going on forever” category. There was only so much attention I could devote to Ellis’ prodigious technical work required to do justice to the score, but one ought to expect more than technical display.

Composer Corliss Kimmel with Zeppelin, the first of the four cats portrayed in her Carnival of the Cats suite (screen shot from the video being discussed)

I suppose my most positive impression was of Corliss Kimmel’s four-movement suite for solo clarinet, Carnival of the Cats. However, I think that the cat photographs drew my attention more than the “sound effects” coming from Condry’s clarinet performance. Unless I am mistaken, our own cat, Daphne Arabella, slept through it all, leaving me to wonder if Richard Strauss would have done the same.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Violinist Goosby Reviews “Roots” on Debut Album

courtesy of Universal Music Group

This coming Friday Decca will release the debut album of violinist Randall Goosby, born in Memphis, Tennessee, to an African-American father and a Korean mother. The title of the album is Roots, and the overall program is a celebration of the works of Black classical composers. The two exceptions to that legacy involve composers that cultivated their own awareness of such musicians: Antonín Dvořák in the late nineteenth century, and George Gershwin in the first half of the twentieth. As usually, Amazon.com has already created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

For most of the album, Goosby is accompanied at the piano by Zhu Wang. However, the album begins with the world premiere recording of “Shelter Island,” a duo for violin and bass composed by Xavier Dubois Foley, who is the bassist for this performance. This is then followed by a solo violin composition by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, a three-movement suite entitled Blue/s Forms. Those that follow this site regularly will probably realize that the timing of that last sentence could not be more apposite. Augustin Hadelich’s visit to the San Francisco Symphony(SFS) in Davies Symphony Hall was capped by the selection of Perkinson’s “Louisiana Blues Strut: A Cakewalk” as an encore selection, a piece he had previously streamed for his Atterbury House Sessions recital a little over a month ago. Furthermore, during that earlier recital, “Louisiana Blues Strut” was preceded by a performance of Blue/s Forms!

Readers probably also know that I have been doing my best to track both performances and recordings of music by Florence Price. Last week’s SFS program included a string orchestra performance of the second (Andante moderato) movement from her string quartet in G major, based on a manuscript that had not been discovered until 2009. Roots includes three world premiere tracks of further fruits of that discovery. These are all relatively short pieces, the first entitled “Adoration” and the remaining two given the title “Fantasie” in the keys of G minor and F-sharp minor, respectively.

The other works by Black composers represented on this album are a three-movement suite by William Grant Still and Maud Powell’s arrangement of Samuel Taylor-Coleridge’s setting of the “Deep River” spiritual. The Gershwin selections are four of the songs from Porgy and Bess, transcribed for violin and piano by Jascha Heifetz. Less familiar to most listeners will probably be the Dvořák sonatina in G major, which accounts for the final four tracks on the album.

Goosby is consistently satisfying in his interpretations of this broad and diverse scope of selections. As we emerge from pandemic conditions, many of us have thoughts of performing artists once again coming to San Francisco as part of recital tours. Given the experiences that this city’s audiences have with Goosby’s repertoire, I suspect that he would be a most welcome visitor.