Thursday, September 30, 2021

CMC Announces First Concert with Conversation

Alfredo Rodríguez (photograph by Anna Webber, from the CMC Web page for this Concert with Conversation event)

Some readers may recall that Cuban pianist and composer Alfredo Rodríguez had been selected for the Concert with Conversation event at the Community Music Center (CMC) scheduled for the end of March in 2020. This series of events was made possible through a partnership with San Francisco Performances (SFP); and Rodríguez was one of two pianists to launch SFP’s 40th anniversary season in September of 2019. Sadly, much of that particular month of March was spent, on this site, by announcing event cancellations, one of which was that Concert with Conversation.

A year and a half later CMC has begun inviting audiences to events in the 2021–22 season. Next month Rodríguez’ Concert with Conversation will finally take place. There will be limited-capacity seating; so opportunities for in-person conversation will be more limited than in the past. However, the program will feature Rodríguez playing his original compositions, which have marked a stylistic shift in jazz currently coming out of Cuba. On the other hand this event will also be livestreamed, and such streaming platforms frequently provide a “real-time chat space” for viewers. Possibly, Rodríguez will be able to monitor activity if such a chat space is available.

As in the past, this will be a one-hour event. It will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 15. The venue will be the CMC Concert Hall, which is located at 544 Capp Street, between Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue and between 20th Street and 21st Street.

There will be no charge for admission. However, registration through an Eventbrite event page will be required. Due to high interest and limited-capacity seating, CMC expects this event to reach capacity quickly. Anyone that cannot attend is asked to contact the Mission District Branch at 415-647-6015 or through electronic mail to info@sfcmc.org. This will allow release of the reservation to other patrons.

Seating will be first come, first served. The link for streaming has not yet been finalized. Once it has been determined, it will probably be added to the Web page for this event.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

An Oratorio Inspired by Angel Island

Next month Bard College will launch the fourth season of its China Now Music Festival. This Festival was conceived to introduce music from contemporary China to the United States and to promote musical exchanges with China. Over the course of the second week in October, the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts will host a series of concerts and discussions, the last of which will be live-streamed.

Text on a wall of the Angel Island Immigration Station (from the City Box Office event page)

The following week the Festival will relocate to Bard Music West, here in San Francisco. Bard will host the world premiere of Angel Island - Oratorio for Voices and Strings, composed by Huang Ruo. The strings for the performance will be the members of the Del Sol string quartet: violinists Sam Weiser and Benjamin Kreith, violist Charlton Lee, and cellist Kathryn Bates. The voices will be the members of the Volti a cappella vocal ensemble. The libretto is based on poems inscribed on the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station by those interned there during the years of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The world premiere of this one-hour oratorio will take place at the Presidio Theater, beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 22. Tickets are being sold through a City Box Office Web page at prices from $35 to $100 with $20 admission for students and youth. However, this concert will be followed by two additional performances on Saturday, October 23. These will take place at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. [update 10/20, 11:08 a.m.: Due to a change in the ferry schedule, the afternoon performance will begin at 1:30 p.m.] at the Angel Island Immigration Station. General admission will be $55 with a $45 rate for students under the age of eighteen. These tickets are being sold through an Eventbrite Web page, which also allows for the purchase of a roundtrip ticket on the ferry shuttle between Ayala Cove and the immigration station. The price of the ferry ticket is $11 with a $2.30 processing fee.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Omni’s Next Video Shoot Honors SFCM

Next month the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts will present the second concert in its Live from St. Marks series. As was the case earlier this month, this will be a live video shoot of a performance taking place at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. Once again, a limited number of tickets will be available for admission to St. Mark’s while the video is being captured. Also again, seating will not be reserved, meaning that those with tickets can situate themselves in areas that are not dominated by the video crew.

SFCM Guitar Maestros David Tanenbaum, Marc Teicholz, Richard Savino, and Sergio Assad (from the Omni Foundation event page for the concert being described)

The title of next month’s concert will be Maestros of 50 Oak Street. By now most readers will probably recognize that address as the main building of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). The program will consist of four mini-concerts, each a solo performance by a guitarist that has taught at SFCM. The four participants will be Sergio Assad, David Tanenbaum, Marc Teicholz, and Richard Savino. Specific program details have not yet been announced.

The video shoot will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 22. All tickets are being sold for $55, and only 50 will be available. The best way to determine admission is still possible is to call 415-242-4500. In addition Omni has created an event page, which includes preview videos of Teicholz, Tanenbaum, and Savino.

Apollo’s Music-for-the-Future Project on CD

courtesy of Naxos of America

At the beginning of this month, Azica released the latest album of performances by the Apollo Chamber Players. This is a string quartet whose members are violinists Matthew J. Detrick and Anabel Ramirez Detrick, violist Whitney Bullock, and cellist Matthew Dudzik. The title of the album is With Malice Toward None, and the photograph of the Lincoln Memorial on the jacket cover clearly identifies the source for that title.

The title of the album is also the title of the opening track, a composition by J. Kimo Williams for electric violin and string quartet. The piece was dedicated to the late Civil Rights leader John Lewis, and the music amounts to a meditation on the legacies of both Abraham Lincoln following the end of the Civil War and Lewis’ mission throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The electric violin was played by Tracy Silverman. It was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, presumably after Apollo had recorded the quartet parts at The Clarion at Brazosport College (in Lake Jackson, Texas) on January 24 of this year. The track thus amounts to a first-rate example of how musicians can go about “getting things done,” even under the limitations of lockdown conditions. The music is definitely engaging, but I am not sure that such engagement is the result of the political inspiration for the score.

Most of the album serves to showcase the result of Apollo’s 20x2020 project. This project was launched in 2014 with the objective of commissioning twenty new multicultural works by the end of the decade. Readers based here in San Francisco will probably compare this effort with the Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire commissioning project, launched by the Kronos Quartet, which began during the 2015/2016 season in conjunction with the 125th anniversary celebration of Carnegie Hall.

The three commissioned works on the album, in order of composition, are as follows:

  1. “What is the Word?,” inspired by the last poem written by Samuel Beckett (with the same title) and composed jointly by Christopher Theofanidis and Mark Wingate in 2017
  2. “The Unraveling,” a four-movement suite by Pamela Z in 2019 with Z contributing both voice and electronics to the Apollo performance
  3. “We Will Sing One Song,” written in 2020 by Eve Beglarian with additional parts for a second viola (Joan DerHovseplan) and assorted traditional Armenian instruments, played by Arsen Petrosyan and Pejman Hadadi, along with a digital track created by the composer

This makes for an impressive amount of diversity, even if any connection to the overall album title is not particularly clear. More logic can be found in the decision to precede Beglarian’s composition with three Armenian folksongs collected through the ethnomusicological research by the Armenian priest Komitas. Ironically, Beglarian’s score has as much to do with Stephen Foster’s “Old Kentucky Home” as it does with any Armenian sources, providing a somewhat ironic reflection on the album title.

Personally, I came away from this album with the uneasy feeling that too much was being unloaded on me over the course of roughly an hour and ten minutes. However, in this “digital age” it is much easier to listen to the works one at a time than it was when they were crammed together on two sides of a vinyl disc. As a result, I would advocate listening to Beglarian’s composition in the context of the Armenian folksongs that precede it on the album, while anything involving Beckett is best examined in isolation.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Second Night at Ojai: Better with a Conductor

My second encounter with a video archive of one of this season’s concerts at the Ojai Festival turned out to be far more satisfying. Much of that satisfaction involved John Adams presiding as conductor, rather than another program of chamber music. However, there was also more substance to the music itself, which covered a span of time from 1720 to 2019.

Indeed, one of the factors that made the program interesting was the bridge that was constructed between 1720 and 2018. The former was the year in which Johann Sebastian Bach completed the composition of six sonatas and partitas for solo violin. It was represented by violinist Miranda Cuckson playing the Prelude movement of the BWV 1006 partita in E major, involving one of the most familiar themes in the Bach canon.

Indeed, that familiarity is due, at least in part, to other composers appropriating it, going back at least as far as Eugène Ysaÿe. On this particular program the appropriating composer was Esa-Pekka Salonen, whose “Fog,” composed for chamber orchestra, was inspired by architect Frank Gehry and his design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Salonen took the pitches based on the letters of Gehry’s two names to create a countersubject to complement the Bach theme he had appropriated.

The result amounted to a roller-coaster ride with abrupt twists and turns each time one of the two themes was introduced by one of more members of the orchestra. Adams negotiated all of those references and cross-references with the agility of a traffic cop managing a busy intersection in Times Square. One could thus relish the diverse techniques that Salonen summoned in developing his thematic material while enjoying the overall listening experience as a wild ride. (Given the context, the Mr. Toad ride at Disneyland would seem appropriate.)

This also turned out to be “Father and Son Night” at Ojai. Adams conducted the West Coast premiere of the five-movement chamber concerto composed by his son Samuel. This was also Cuckson’s other appearance on the program, serving as concerto soloist. One has to wonder whether the younger Adams decided to compose a chamber concerto because his father had composed two chamber symphonies. Indeed, the title of the second movement, “Lines (after J),” suggests a connection from son to father. However, as the thematic material unfolds, one encounters traces of at least two other “J’s,” Bach and John Coltrane. (As an aside, I have to scowl at bit at Thomas May, whose program notes refers to “Coltrane’s bebop revolution,” suggesting considerable unfamiliarity with both bebop and Coltrane!)

This program also left me with better feelings about Timo Andres, first as the piano soloist in Ingram Marshall’s “Flow” and then (immediately following) as the composer of “Running Theme,” the final work on the program. Both of these compositions abounded with upbeat rhetoric, and Adams clearly knew how to bring life to the many marks on the score pages. One even got the impression that Adams’ satisfaction with performing this music was reflected in the faces of all the performers.

The one piece that felt a bit out of place was the opening selection, Claude Debussy’s L. 113 consisting of two movements entitled “Danse sacrée” and “Danse profane.” Debussy had composed this piece for the cross-strung harp (with “black keys” and “white keys” on separate but intersecting planes); but Emily Levin played the more familiar pedal harp. However, Adams never seemed to home in on balancing his resources to reflect the subtle sonorities that the composer had scored.

To be fair, however, that problem may not have resided with Adams. Instead it raises the one issue that threatened to spoil the experience of viewing the entire performance on video. Over the course of the program, the musicians performed on stage in a diverse variety of different configurations. Unfortunately, it did not seem as if much thought had gone into how to place the microphones for recording, let alone how to relocate them from one selection to the text. On the other hand, any of the work at the mixing panel was so unaware of what was going on in the score for each of the selections that microphone placement was merely the tip of a more menacing iceberg.

Back in the days when Jordan Whitelaw used to direct telecasts of live performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, his motto was that people will only hear what they see. That meant that, as a video director, he was as familiar with the score as the conductor was. I fear that, where video production of the Ojai concerts were concerned, it is unlikely that anyone on the technical team took the time to consult the scores, let alone use them to facilitate calling the cues for the individual cameras and balancing the microphones appropriately.

If a musical ensemble wishes to use video to increase interest in the works they are performing, they should begin by asking what will make that video interesting and use the answer to develop effective video direction.

Center for New Music: November, 2021

No sooner did I review the October calendar for performances at the Center of New Music (C4NM) than the Web site was updated to include November events. Currently, there are only two of these events; but the Web pages are more explicit about the fact that the performances may be attended either physically, through the purchase of tickets, or virtually, through live-streams of the events. C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, which is where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. All tickets may be processed in advance through the C4NM Events page. Both of the concerts will take place on successive Saturday evenings, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Specifics are as follows with hyperlinks for the respective event pages, each of which has a “Buy Tickets Online” hyperlink to the appropriate Eventbrite event page: [added 10/22, 12:55 p.m.:

November 5, 7 p.m.: This program will present two sets of adventurous improvisations. One will be by the Bjll Dingalls trio, whose name is a synthesis of the names of the three performers: Tom Djll, Bill Hsu, and Matt Ingalls. The other set with be a duo improvisation by percussionist Jacob Felix Heule and sound artist Danishta Rivero. This performance will not be live-streamed. Only those attending C4NM will be able to experience the results of the improvisations. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members. Note the departure from the usual start time of 7:30 p.m.]

November 6: Last year the Del Sol Quartet initiated the Del Sol Composer Incubator. The objective was to offer early career composers the chance to work in-depth with the members of the quartet over the course of 6 months on unique musical projects. This program will present the results of these engagements with three composers: Adeliia Faizullina, Marguerite Brown, and deVon Russell Gray. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members. The event page provides separate hyperlinks for attending the concert or viewing the live-stream. [added 10/22, 1:05 p.m.:

November 7, 4 p.m.: Full Circle is a free improvisation project between Anita Chandavarkar on bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) and Gabby Wen on guqin (Chinese seven-string zither). The title of their program is New Sonorities on Ancient Instruments. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members.

November 12, 8 p.m.: The next concert presented by NACUSAsf will feature the wind quintet known as The Avenue Winds, which will perform seven new works composed under NACUSAsf auspices. As usual, there will be no charge for admission. Donations will be applied to support NACUSAsf activities.]

November 13: This will be the first of two programs prepared by the Ensemble for These Times to be hosted by C4NM. It will be a solo recital by pianist Tin Yi Chelsea Wong, who is one of the guest performers for the E4TT 2021/22 season. The program will contrast three renowned composers from the twentieth century with four currently active composers. The program will begin with a selection of études composed by György Ligeti and Grażyna Bacewicz. These will be followed by the “Choral Variations” movement from Henri Dutilleux’ second piano sonata. Three of the 21st-century compositions were written in 2013: “Intimacy of Harmony” by Johnathan Bailey Holland, the first of the “Karnavalito” compositions by Gabriela Lena Frank, and Viet Cuong’s “Veil.” The fourth offering will be Zosha di Castri’s “Thinking Eye,” which she composed in 2006. It is probably worth noting that, while Frank is Andean, she herself has acknowledged “stylistic nods to the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, a music hero of mine” in her own description of her creation of “Karnavalito.” Admission will be the same prices for those attending the concert, but there will be no charge for online viewing. [added 10/22, 1:10 p.m.:

November 20, 7 p.m.: This will be the other performance of the month that will not be live-streamed. It will be a duo of jamming by multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith and percussionist++ Moe Staiano.  General admission will be $14 with a $9 rate for C4NM members and students.]

Another Positive-Thinking-for-Lockdown Album

Once again I have an opportunity to remind readers of my aversion to albums created during lockdown conditions that try to smooth over adverse conditions to a point that the resulting music is little more than insipid. About two weeks ago, I wrote an article citing Together, a “classic jazz trio” album produced by drummer Karl Latham, performing with pianist Alex Collins and Ryan Berg on bass. This struck me as the ideal escape from the slough of insipidity.

courtesy of Lydia Liebman Promotions

This album was released at roughly the same time as another “antidote” album produced by pianist and vocalist Champian Fulton. Like many, Fulton turned to live streaming to compensate for the loss of her many bookings of concerts and tours, self-producing webcasts on Sunday evening as an alternative. Her only partner for these offerings was her father, Stephen Fulton, alternating between flugelhorn and trumpet.

The Fulton’s were so satisfied with the reception of their webcasts that they decided to capture some of their most popular sessions on a recording. The result, Live from Lockdown, was released this past September 10. According to the Amazon.com Web page, a limited number of CDs are available; but the album is also available for unlimited streaming or MP3 download. The only downside is that specifics about the tracks and production, which were prepared for the back cover of the physical release, are not available as part of the download.

As a vocalist, Champian commands a solid sense of pitch and a clarity in her delivery. She can bop her way casually through Ray Noble’s “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You;” but she can be introspectively affectionate in her approach to John Kellette’s “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” There is also an opportunity to listen to one of the less familiar compositions of Leonard Feather, “Blow Top Blues.” Throughout all the tracks on the album, Stephen’s brass playing is always there with just the right disposition for commentary; and his extended solos are consistently engaging.

This is one of those albums on which every track has something to appeal to the attentive listener, a reminder that we shall get through this pandemic by keeping attention fixed on more positive matters.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Reflections on Opening Night at Ojai

Unless I am mistaken, I have not attended an Ojai Festival concert since I was living in Santa Barbara in the early Eighties. By the time I had settled in San Francisco to begin my retirement years, I decided that I could do without a car. Thus, while I had been approached to cover Ojai during my tenure with Examiner.com, I quickly realized that getting there involved complications beyond my capacity for patience.

In that context I was delighted to learn that there were video archives of this season’s concerts, with the qualifier that some were more available than others. Fortunately, the concert that interested me the most was readily available; and, according to the Web page on which the video stream is embedded, it does not (yet) have a termination date. This was the very first Festival performance, entitled Ojai Mix – Prelude to a Festival.

The source of my interest was violinist Miranda Cuckson, whose name I had not encountered in over eight years. Even though that encounter was through a recording, it was a memorable one. That memory probably had more to do with the music Cuckson was playing than with Cuckson herself. She had recorded an album of the penultimate work of Italian composer Luigi Nono, given an almost outrageously long title: “La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura” (the distant nostalgic utopian future).

Thanks to the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (with assistance from the Istituto Italiano di Cultura), I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of this piece a little over three years before Cuckson’s album was released. It was a highly physical performance, which required the violinist to peregrinate among an array of music stands distanced across all three dimensions, working in an environment provided by a “sound projectionist.” Clearly, this was impossible to capture on a recording; but I will always be indebted to Cuckson for reviving my memories of that experience before they had entirely faded.

Cuckson’s Ojai offering was about as far from Nono’s music as one could get. “Between Worlds” was a solo violin composition by Carlos Simon. The title refers to Bill Traylor, who had been born into slavery less than a decade before the beginning of the Civil War. As a freed salve, Traylor spent most of his life as a sharecropper; but, at the age 85, he took up creating drawings based on his personal memories, most of which were created on the sidewalks of Montgomery, Alabama. His work was first shown to the public in February of 1940 with an exhibit entitled Bill Traylor: People’s Artist. That was the only exhibit that Traylor lived to see, but his work would eventually find its way to New York.

To rehash an old quip, making music about such a biography would be like dancing about architecture. Simon decided to reflect on the contrasts in Traylor’s life by drawing upon contrasts of his own. Thus, Cuckson had to contend with the sorts of rich embellishments encountered in the solo violin music of Johann Sebastian Bach; but those embellishments would then transform in and out of blues riffs rooted in the Mississippi Delta. Over the course of only eight minutes, Simon knew how to contrast the pull of two radically different influences; and Cuckson captured that contrast with just the right rhetorical gestures in her performance.

Sadly, most of the rest of the program consisted of pieces that went on much longer than was necessary to make any points. For example, the program notes for Gabriella Smith’s “Maré” explained that the title was the Portuguese word for “tide.” The notes then developed a rich paragraph about the extreme variation between the coming and the going of the tide. Once that text was read, the listener could readily “get” what Smith’s score was doing; but the duration went on far longer than it took to appreciate what the music had to say. Similarly, Timo Andres’ reflection on the late years in Robert Schumann’s life (just before he was committed to an asylum) had a durational scale that was close to Simon’s; but the music itself sounded as if it would last forever. Even Samuel Adams’ “Violin Diptych” seemed to flounder in its duration, which surprised me in a context of the appeal that some of his earlier works had registered with me.

The only other real satisfaction came with the prelude to the prelude, so to speak. Attacca Quartet violist Nathan Schram began the program by playing Igor Stravinsky’s “Élégie,” which had been composed in 1944. Stravinsky wrote the piece for Alphonse Onnou, who had founded the Pro Arte Quartet. George Balanchine would later create choreography for it. Buckminster Fuller could not give a public lecture without talking about making more and more with less and less. He never seems to have had much to say about music; but perhaps he would have recognized how, in this music, Stravinsky shared his mission.

Center for New Music: October, 2021

As this article is being written, the Center for New Music (C4NM) has announced three concerts for next month. The first two of these will be streamed via the C4NM YouTube channel. The third is a dance recital. Since there is no link for arranging for a streamed connection, I assume that, at least for now, the program will be performed in the presence of an audience. There is at least some possibility that this will also be true of the first two events. C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, which is where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. All tickets and donations may be processed in advance through the C4NM Events page. Specifics are as follows with hyperlinks for the respective event pages, each of which has a “Buy Tickets Online” hyperlink to the appropriate Eventbrite event page:

Saturday, October 2, 7:30 p.m.: Just before the pandemic nine Bay Area composers joined forces to present new string quartets for the Friction String Quartet (violinists Otis Harriel and Kevin Rogers, violist Lucia Kobza, and cellist Doug Machiz) in a cycle of two concerts originally planned for the summer of 2020. Instead, at the end of last November, the C4NM YouTube channel streamed a pre-recorded performance of the first of the two planned concerts. The composers were Allan Crossman, Monica Chew, Davide Verotta, and Shawne Workman, all of whom had created works written for remotely located players. This concert will conclude that cycle with new compositions by Mark Alfenito, Allan Crossman, Jacob E. Goodman, Kyle Hovatter, Steve Mobia, Martha Stoddard, and Davide Verotta. There will be no charge for admission, but donations are encouraged. Registration will be handled by Eventbrite, which will then arrange to send the URL for the streamed performance.

Monday, October 4, 7 p.m.: Following up on this past Thursday, saxophonist Larry Ochs will return to C4NM, this time for a duo performance with drummer Don Robinson. They will present tracks from their second duo recording, A Civil Right. Admission will be by a contribution of an amount between $8 and $15. Again, that donation will be handled by Eventbrite, along with arrangements for streamed viewing.

Sunday, October 17, 7 p.m.: Finding a Way is the title of a set of five dances choreographed and performed by Christina Braun. Created under pandemic conditions, the title refers to the dancer’s efforts to find a way through different life struggles. That “way” will lead to solution, resolution, reconciliation, and self-actualization. The music for this performance will be played by Tom Nunn. His performance will draw upon four types of instruments that he has invented: the Giant Skatchwheel, the Skatchplate, the Crustacean, and the Chaseplate. Nunn’s work with Braun was last seen at C4NM this past November, when they performed What are the Chances; and that performance was captured for streaming on YouTube. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members, purchased through the hyperlink on the event page.

The Remaining Early Juilliard Columbia Albums

Only two CDs remain in this site’s traversal of the Sony Classical anthology, Juilliard String Quartet: The Early Columbia Recordings 1949–56; and only one of them consists entirely of Juilliard performances. That is an album of two string quartets by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, K. 499 (“Hoffmeister”) in D major and K. 575 (the first of the three “Prussian” quartets) in the key of D major. The other is an album of the music by Darius Milhaud, which includes his Opus 185 Cantate de l’enfant et de la mère (cantata of the child and the mother). This is a setting of poems by Maurice Carême scored for string quartet, piano (Leonid Hambro) and narrator (Madeleine Milhaud, the composer’s wife). This is coupled with the original piano version of the suite La muse ménagère (the household muse), played by Milhaud himself.

The Mozart performances were recorded in the spring of 1953. The release of the album postdated the releases of all the albums of music by the Second Viennese School composers. It also postdated the release of a recording of Maurice Ravel’s only string quartet, which, in the Sony Classical anthology, is coupled with Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. (Personally, I think that Ravel’s spirit would have found Milhaud to be better company; but that would have deprived us of the opportunity to listen to Milhaud playing his own music!)

This modest representation has led me to wonder whether this was a time when interest in Mozart was limited to his operas with libretti by Lorenzo Da Ponte and his late symphonies. At the very least, this may have been a bias in New York, if not the East Coast. When I consulted my copy of Dorothy Lamb Crawford’s Evenings On and Off the Roof: Pioneering Concerts in Los Angeles, 1939–1971, I discovered that that the 1950–1951 season of the Evenings on the Roof chamber music series included six concerts in which the Mozart string quartets and quintets were juxtaposed with contemporary quartets composed in both Europe and the United States.

Three string quartets contributed to the performances: The Compinsky Quartet, the Coriolan Quartet, and the American Art Quartet. That last ensemble can be found on several of the CDs in the Sony Classical collection that were part of the Modern American Music Series. Of particular interest is that the American Art Quartet’s performance of Leon Kirchner’s first string quartet is coupled with the Juilliard playing Irving Fine’s string quartet. In fact their recording of the Kirchner quartet took place after they had given the first Los Angeles performance of that quartet as part of the Roof series.

All this seems to suggest that interest in Mozart’s chamber music was far stronger in Los Angeles than it was in New York! The fact is that the recordings made by the Juilliard tend to reinforce that conjecture. The intense attention that is given to Béla Bartók and Arnold Schoenberg never really surfaces on the Mozart CD. It almost feels as if the ensemble is giving “readings” of that quartet out of some sense of duty that Mozart quartets are good for you, somewhat in the spirit of what they would say about canned spinach in the early Fifties. My guess is that, if the recordings are available, an anthology of the Roof performances of Mozart would be a more stimulating listening experience.

The Milhaud cantata is a much lighter offering. Both texts and music are miniatures in scale, meaning that the composition is over before you know it. The same can be said of Milhaud playing his own piano suite. Both of the compositions are appealing; but, having just written about this year’s Darius Milhaud Concert on the campus of Mills College, it is hard for me to avoid feeling that these pieces are better appreciated in performance than on recordings.

Two Sets from Lockdown Festival VI

In reviewing my writing exercises that have emerged from pandemic conditions, I see that, when I wrote about Karl Evangelista’s Lockdown Festival IV at the beginning of January, I covered all nine sets in the program lasting four and one-half hours. Because these were all video recordings, I was able to divide the project into the opening four sets and the remaining five sets. However, when Lockdown Festival V was announced, my schedule had filled to an extent that I could not squeeze in the time for any of the nine sets.

Yesterday saw the streaming of Lockdown Festival VI. This time I was able to ration my schedule in such a way that I could take in two consecutive sets during the early evening. The first of these presented Grex, Evangelista’s duo with his wife Rei Scampavia; and the other was a solo set by saxophonist Francis Wong. The fact that all three of these performers were involved in the video recording session of Apura was no coincidence; but all of the Lockdown music was very much “something completely different.”

Indeed, while I encountered streams of Grex several times over the course of my “COVID coverage” writing, this was the first time I heard vocal performances by both Evangelista and Scampavia. The style tended more to experimental approaches to rock and blues, rather than the jazz styles I had previously encountered; and, to be fair, I was unable consistently to grasp the words delivered by either of the vocalists. On the other hand, Evangelista’s evocations of shredding styles from past decades definite piqued my attention by prodding old memories.

Francis Wong playing his saxophone’s mouthpiece (from the YouTube video of the performance)

Wong, on the other hand, served up a provocative set of alternative techniques for playing his saxophone. Probably the most radical of these involved his playing the mouthpiece detached from the rest of the instrument. Drawing upon imaginative approaches to controlling his breath, moving the mouthpiece to elicit different reed vibrations, and cupping his free hand to add reverberation to the mix, Wong managed to present one of the richest monophonic lines I have ever encountered. I also suspect that any resemblance to the spine-tingling sounds of the shofar (ram’s horn) on solemn Jewish occasions was purely coincidental.

Working only with the mouthpiece was only one of Wong’s experimental pursuits. Over the course of his set, he explored different approaches to eliciting sounds from the full instrument. Many of these were percussive, as was the use of his own body. There was even a “march” episode with vigorous foot-stamping. Indeed, Wong’s activities occupied such a broad region of space at the Temescal Arts Center that it was necessary to include additional camera work to track all of those activities. (A static camera would have missed too much of what made this set so compelling.)

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Meredith Monk to Live-Stream from Mills

Image from the “Rotation” video to be shown during Indra’s Net (created by Meredith Monk, courtesy of Sacks & Co.)

Indra’s Net is the latest interdisciplinary evening-length work created by composer, director, and performer Meredith Monk. It completes a trilogy dedicated to our relationship with the natural world. That trilogy was launched in 2013 with the performance of On Behalf of Nature, conceived as a plea for ecological awareness. This was followed in 2018 by Cellular Songs, which focused on the fabric of life itself. Indra’s Net had been scheduled to premiere in November of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed that premiere; but it also informed the making of the work, prompting new perspectives of the world in which we now find ourselves and the expression of those perspectives through music and performance.

The title is taken from a legend of both Buddhist and Hindu origins. Indra is an enlightened king, who stretches a large net across the entire universe. Each intersection of the threads of the net is marked by an infinitely faceted jewel. Each jewel, in turn, is wholly unique; but it reflects all the others, illuminating the interdependence of all living things. This serves as an appropriate metaphor for the overall theme of Monk’s trilogy. Initial work on Indra’s Net took place at Mills College, beginning in the fall of 2018 and running through 2019 with the participation of Bay Area musicians. Work then shifted to the ArtLab at Harvard University during the spring of 2020.

The premiere concert performance of Indra’s Net will be presented by Mills Music Now. It will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 12, and at 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 13. These performances will be held for limited-capacity audiences in the Jeannik Méquet Littlefield Concert Hall on the campus of Mills College. Admission will be free for all those with Mills ID; all others will be charged $25. Masks will be required for all attending, regarding of vaccination status.

Tickets will go on sale this coming October 12. In addition, the entire program will be live-streamed at no charge. Information about acquiring tickets will be added on October 12 to the Web page for this event on the Mills Performing Arts Web site. Closer to the time of the performance, that Web page will also provide the necessary information for live-streaming.

Juilliard’s Second Viennese School Recordings

During my undergraduate years in the early Sixties, I discovered that, while there were any number of brilliant academics skilled at talking about the Second Viennese School composers (Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern), there were almost no opportunities to listen to the music being performed; and recordings tended to be in short supply. Such a situation reminds me of what I have long felt was the ultimate joke behind Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. The narrative is primarily about a monastic order formed not around religious conviction but the playing of a highly complex game. (I liked to think that Hesse had been inspired by the Japanese game of Go.) As the novel evolves, the reader discovers that this order is so devoted to analyzing the strategies of games played in the past that no one has time to play the game any more.

So it was that time spent poring over the scores of the Second Viennese School composers occupied far more attention than listening to the music or preparing a performance of that music. Schoenberg himself recognized that a preoccupation with “systems” had, for all intents and purposes, nothing to do with the music itself. In a caustic letter to René Leibowitz concerning his obsessions with such “systems,” Schoenberg wrote:

I do not compose principles, but music.

Like those monks obsessed with analyzing the games in Hesse’s narratives, Leibowitz had detached himself from anything having to do with composing or performing music.

In that context I approached the four CDs of Second Viennese School music in the new Sony Classical anthology, Juilliard String Quartet: The Early Columbia Recordings 1949–56 with some trepidation. The recordings account for the four numbered string quartets by Schoenberg, the two quartets by Berg (the Opus 3 quartet and the Lyric Suite), and Webern’s Opus 5 collection of five short “movements.” These were, without a doubt, performances of music. If the making of that music had been guided by “principles,” then that was strictly a matter of how the performers chose to interpret the complexities encountered on the score pages. Nevertheless, listening to that music was not without its challenges.

The succession of the four Schoenberg quartets provides the attentive listener with a path that basically traverses his departure from nineteenth century traditions to a world of “luft von anderem planeten” (air from another planet). That phrase comes from a poem entitled “Entrückung” (rapture) by Stefan George, which is sung by a soprano in the last movement of the Opus 10 (second) quartet in F-sharp minor. Indeed, the very structure of that quartet’s four movements is so remote from the structural foundations encountered in the quartets of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that Schoenberg had camped out on that “other planet” long before George’s words are sung.

In many respects the very idea of a four-movement structure seems to have provided Schoenberg with a framework that looks back on the eighteenth century while forging a new path through the immediate present. The Opus 7 (first) quartet in D minor consists of a single movement about 45 minutes in duration. However, there are a variety of ways to “parse” it into a sequence of four episodes, which amount to movements, even if there are no breaks separating them. The third (Opus 30) and fourth (Opus 37) quartets, on the other hand, are built on four-movement foundations; but both of them show Schoenberg advancing confidently on that “other planet,” having rejected the need for a tonal center.

The fact is that, whatever insights Heinrich Schenker may have brought to the analysis of tonal music, attentive listening has more to do with links between the recent past and the future-about-to-happen than with some grand design for the passing of 30 or more minutes of active listening. This past March I cited an observation by Virgil Thomson to the effect that “for all of Schoenberg’s efforts to transcend tonality, the rhythms of his music always seemed to revert to the late nineteenth-century traditions of Vienna.” Put another way, the phenomenology of listening to music is more likely to guided by rhythmic patterns than by progressions of pitch classes.

The “first generation” Juilliard Quartet musicians seemed to understand how to approach all four of the Schoenberg quartets through such rhythmic patterns. I would also conjecture that such an approach also guided them through their recording of Berg’s Opus 3 quartet. The Lyric Suite, on the other hand, poses a rather unique challenge in its approach to tempo. It has a six-movement structure consisting of three fast-slow pairings. However, in the overall architecture, the fast movements get progressively faster; and the slow movements get progressively slower. As a result, from a rhetorical point of view, the entire journey seems to expire with a “last gasp.”

Even if the listener is not explicitly aware of that interleaved structure, the desolation of the final movement (the tempo marking is Largo desolato) tends to be felt as an intense rhetoric of loss. That rhetoric can also be found in Berg’s preferences for opera narratives. As a result one can approach the overall architecture of the Lyric Suite in the context of the multilayered structural architecture for the unfolding of the narrative behind Berg’s Opus 7 Wozzeck opera. At the same time the Lyric Suite may have initiated similar multilayered techniques for the unfolding (and symmetries) of the Lulu narrative.

Webern is represented only by his Opus 5. In the context of Schoenberg and Berg, his scope of expression is uncannily microscopic. Indeed, his very approach to structure is in a class by itself. If Schoenberg could evoke rhythm to guide the ear through the absence of tonal progression, Webern’s abstractions of rhythm are as opaque as those of “harmonic progression.” Nevertheless, like Berg he has his own thoughts about overall design. These involve duration: The outer movements are the longest, and the movements get short as they converge on a center that is less than in minute in length.

In many respects the listener is left to contend with “it’s over before you know it” episodes. Nevertheless, since the entire composition is so short, one can benefit from multiple listening experiences. (There have been recital performances in which the entire piece is played a second time, right after listening to the first iteration has “sunk in.”) Personally, I spent a lot of time as a student listening to the Juilliard recording I had purchased; and the impact of that experience remains with me. Indeed, not too long ago I was delighted to encounter this music again in the repertoire of the Telegraph Quartet, first listening to them in recital and then through the recorded performance on their Into the Light album. I could not think of a better source of light to cast on those Juilliard recordings made back in the early Fifties.

The Audience Returns at Mills College

Last year, due to pandemic conditions, the annual Darius Milhaud Concert was live-streamed from the Jeannik Méquet Littlefield Concert Hall on the campus of Mills College. Last night this year’s Milhaud Concert again took place in Littlefield. Again the entire program was live-streamed; but this time there was a difference: there was also an audience in the Hall. Indeed, this was the first time an audience was allowed to attend a performance since lockdown restrictions were imposed.

All eight of the selections were solo performances, thus obviating any concerns about distancing on stage. (The live-stream gave no sign of where members of the audience were sitting.) The music alternated between compositions by Milhaud and those of other former Mills faculty composers. Each of the Milhaud selections was written for a different instrument. In “order of appearance,” the selections were as follows:

  1. Ségoviana, Opus 366, performed by guitarist David Tanenbaum
  2. Sonatina pastorale, Opus 383, performed by violinist Kate Stenberg
  3. The four Romances sans paroles, Opus 129, performed by pianist Belle Bulwinkle
  4. The Opus 437 sonata performed by harpist Jennifer Ellis

The concluding harp sonata was one of Milhaud’s last compositions, and his opus count ended at 443.

All of the works by other faculty composers were written for percussion and performed by William Winant. As might be guessed, one of those composers was Lou Harrison. “Solo to Anthony Cirone” was composed in 1972 and involved one of the first of the “American Gamelan” instruments invented and constructed by Harrison, working with his partner William Colvig. Winant also observed that he played on one of the last of the instruments developed by Harrison and Colvig, the Ptolemy Duple:

William Winant playing the Ptolemy Duple (screen shot from video of last night’s performance)

Chris Brown recently completed “Epimorphic Quiverings” for this instrument, encouraged to do so by Winant.

The other single-instrument percussion composition was Roscoe Mitchell’s “Bells for New Orleans.” This was written in 2005 for a book of music entitled SUMMIT: Compositions for Unaccompanied Orchestra Bells, compiled by Sylvia Smith. Mitchell’s contribution was written for the people who suffered (and continue to suffer) the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina. “Bells for New Orleans” was first performed at a San Francisco Contemporary Music Players concert in February of 2009.

The first of Winant’s offerings was the only one to involve multiple instruments. This was Alvin Curran’s “Theme Park – Part IV,” composed in 1995. The composition was dominated by a single pitch class played at different octave levels. While this could have been imaginatively playful, the extent of the composer’s imagination was more limited than one might have wished, making this the only work in the program likely to leave the listener restless and wondering when it would conclude.

This was a particularly sharp contrast, since Milhaud was a master of brevity. Only Opus 437 approached the more extended durations of a three-movement sonata. However, that length seems to have emerged from Milhaud’s desire to explore the many ways in which harp sonorities and phrases differ so distinctively from those of other instruments. There was very much a sense that Opus 437 was conceived as a journey of discovery in which Milhaud intended to share each of his discoveries with the attentive listener.

Friday, September 24, 2021

SFCM Highlights: November, 2021

There will be four highlighted concerts at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) during the month of November, one of which will be given two performances. Each event has its own unique genre, including the continuation of the Tuesday evening chamber music series. With one exception, which is the annual gala, each item will be identified by date, time, and venue, all of which will be hyperlinked to the appropriate Web page in the online Performance Calendar. All of the events, other than the gala, will be live-streamed through a link provided on that Web page; and it will also indicate whether or not ticketed attendance will also take place. Specifics are as follows:

Tuesday, November 9, 7:30 p.m., Barbro Osher Recital Hall, 200 Van Ness Avenue: The second installment of the new chamber music series in the new Conservatory building will be curated by SFCM alumna and violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti. The program will feature a version of Jessie Montgomery’s “Strum” scored for string quartet and bass. Montgomery held an online SFCM residency this past spring. The program will begin with Claude Debussy’s earliest chamber music composition, the L. 5 piano trio in G major. Debussy composed this piece in 1880, but it was not discovered until 1982 and had to wait another four years before publication. It is one of the reasons why the L numbers (named for musicologist François Lesure) had to be updated in 2001. The program will conclude with Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 18 string quintet in A major. In-person attendance will be limited to those with SFCM ID and invited guests.

Friday, November 12: The events of the annual gala will take place at both 50 Oak Street and the Bowes Center (which includes the Osher Recital Hall) at 200 Van Ness Avenue. The highlight will be a specially curated performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Tickets went on sale this past Monday. Those interested in further details and wishing to attend can call 415-503-6210 or sent electronic mail to jpasek@sfcm.edu.

Monday, November 15, 7:30 p.m. Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, 50 Oak Street: The New Music Ensemble will give its first performance of the season, led by its Director Nicole Paiement. However, the opening composition, Nico Muhly’s “Doublespeak” will be conducted by David Baker (class of ’23), who is currently studying with Edwin Outwater. Like Muhly, all of the other composers represented on the program were born during the second half of the twentieth century: Kate Whitley, Carla Lucero, Tyshawn Sorey, and Bryce Dessner. In-person attendance will be limited to those with SFCM ID and invited guests.

Tuesday, November 18, and Friday, November 19, 7:30 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, 50 Oak Street: The Fall Opera will be Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Staging will be by Heather Mathews, Chair of Opera and Musical Theatre. The conductor will be Curt Pajer, Musical and Managing Director of Opera. Casting has not yet been announced. In-person tickets may be reserved through the hyperlink on the Web page for the date of attendance. [added 10/31, 11:50 a.m.

Friday, November 19, 7:30 p.m., Barbro Osher Recital Hall, 200 Van Ness Avenue: Composer David Garner will present his Faculty Artist Series concert. The program will feature guest performances by pianist Dale Tsiang and the members of the Del Sol Quartet: Benjamin Kreith (violin), Samuel Weiser (violin), Charlton Lee (viola), and Kathryn Bates (cello). Tsang will begin the program with a performance of the three solo piano études that Garner composed in 1992: “Labyrinth,” “Traveling Light,” and “Dodecahedron.” The remainder of the program will be devoted to three world premieres. Tsang will play a set of four bagatelles, all based on themes from Garner's opera Mary Pleasant at Land’s End. She will then play Three Caprices in Memory of KP, composed as a memorial to pianist Kristin Pankonin. Finally, all of the performers will perform the four-movement piano quintet composed last year as a reflection on lockdown conditions.]

Discovering Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet

Cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Naxos of America)

About a month ago my attention was drawn to the debut album of the Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet. This is not a new album. The twelve tracks were recorded between October 24 and October 26 in 2013, and the album was copyrighted by Yarlung Records the following year. Yarling is based in Los Angeles, and the recordings were made in Cammilleri Hall, the auditorium of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. As a sidebar I should note that, beyond my ongoing interest in the relationship between brain and mind, I have already written about a Yarlung album recorded in Cammilleri Hall, a concert recording by Yuko Mabuchi released as the album Yuko Mabuchi Plays Miles Davis.

The jazz quartet itself consists of JJ Kirkpatrick on both trumpet and flugelhorn, Misha Adair Bigos on piano, Gary Wicks on bass, and Andrew Boyle on drums. Three of the tracks are composed by Bigos, two by Wicks, and two by Boyle. Duke Ellington also occupies two tracks, both the title track and “Isfahan,” which he composed jointly with Billy Strayhorn. The other composers are Jerome Kern (“I’m Old Fashioned,” the opening track) and Abel Meeropol (“Strange Fruit”). Finally, there is “For Andrew,” which takes a “melody kernel” by contemporary composer Andrew Norman as a point of departure.

Taken as a whole, the album amounts to an engaging encounter between the traditional and the “immediate present.” Stylistically, all four performers have a solid command of straight-ahead jazz playing. Equally important is that all four of them have more than ample opportunities to develop solo takes on the music being presented. This album may not be the “latest new thing;” but it is likely to satisfy any serious listener interested in inventive techniques that link past traditions with present music-making practices.

The C4NM Jam Session that Wasn’t

Tim Perkis, Darren Johnston, Larry Ochs, and Madalyn Merkey at C4NM (from the YouTube video of their performance)

Last night the Center for New Music (C4NM) streamed a program of quartet improvisations involving a relatively unique combination of performers. Trumpeter Darren Johnston and ROVA saxophonist Larry Ochs were joined by two performers working solely with electronic gear: Madalyn Merkey and Tim Perkis. Both of them sat before tables of equipment, each with a laptop as part of the array. One could tell from the breaks in the video signal that the individual pieces had been recorded separately. The streaming of the resulting video had originally been scheduled for about a month ago, suggesting that there were delays in the recording schedule.

Calling the performances “quartet improvisations” turned out to be a bit of a stretch. Both Merkey and Perkis appeared to be intently glued to the gear on their respective tables, making eye contact only with the equipment itself. Johnson and Ochs seemed aware of each other. Nevertheless, it appeared as if each was totally focused on his respective instrument. More often than not, that focus amounted to minimal gestures. There was also some sense that either Merkey or Perkis (or both) had samples of the sounds of both Johnson’s trumpet and one of Ochs’ saxophones (if not both of the two that he played), leading to the illusion that one of the instrumentalists was playing without bringing his instrument to his mouth.

The entire performance lasted for about an hour, and the video has been archived on the C4NM YouTube channel. However, the overall sense of four musicians playing as individuals in the same place at the same time could not sustain interest over that long a duration. Listeners may find more satisfaction in sampling the archived video, rather than trying to reproduce the entire experience.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Old First Concerts: November, 2021

As of this writing, Old First Concerts (O1C) has planned for four concerts this coming November, all of which will be live-streamed. As is currently the case, the concerts themselves will continue to be “hybrid,” allowing seating in Old First Presbyterian Church limited to 100 tickets, all being sold for $25 (no reduced rate for seniors or students). Two of these concerts will take place on a Sunday afternoon with the other two on Friday evenings. Hyperlinks to the event pages (which include hyperlinks for streaming) will be attached to the date and time of the performances as follows:

Sunday, November 7, 4 p.m.: This will be the second New Arts Collaboration program, the first of which will be taking place one week from tonight at the Center for New Music (C4NM). The title of the second program is Poetic Move, presented by pianist Ting Luo. It will consist entirely of premiere performances of works for solo piano and immersive visuals provided by artists including Charles Woodman, Jo Ho, and Nicki Davis. The contributing composers will be (in order of appearance) Christopher Cerrone, Julie Barwick, Danny Clay, Brett Austin Eastman, Belinda Reynolds, Valerio Sannicandro, Chatori Shimizu, Luo herself, and Jean Ahn.

Friday, November 12, 8 p.m.: Like Luo, soprano Winnie Nieh has a “C4NM connection.” In my records my last account of her was as the only vocalist in Stranded: A Solo Space Opera by Colin Martin, which was given its premiere at C4NM in September of 2019. My records also show that Nieh last gave an O1C recital a year earlier (September of 2018), accompanied at the piano by Paul Dab and giving premiere performances of music by Richard Festinger and Richard Aldag. Her next O1C recital will be entitled Yearning and Innocence, and she will again be accompanied by Dab. She will begin with three songs by Franz Schubert: the first version of “Willkommen und Abschied” (D. 767) and the two settings of “Suleika,” D. 720 and D. 717. This will be followed by the world premiere performance of “Peter Quince at the Clavier” by Michael Robert Smith. The other composers on her program will be, in chronological order, Johannes Brahms, Nadia Boulanger, and Aaron Copland.

Sunday, November 14, 4 p.m.: This recital will mark the return of Cornelius Boots to O1C, having last having streamed a performance in June of 2020. That program was streamed from his own studio, so this concert will also mark his return to Old First Presbyterian Church. He will perform with Kevin Chen, and both of them will alternate between shakuhachi and taimu (bass) shakuhachi. There will be premiere performances of works composed last year and earlier this year. The program will also feature Boots’ own transcription of the “Psalm” movement from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.

Friday, November 19, 8 p.m.: The final recital of the month will also be a return performance. Pianist Utsav Lal last gave an O1C concert in November of 2019. He prepared his own material, which involves synthesizing influences from the Western classical tradition, jazz, and North Indian music. While his last appearance was a solo recital, on this occasion he will be joined by instrumentalists on sarod and tabla. As was the case with his last O1C offering, the performance will be improvised.

A Sampling of Josquin’s Music to Honor his Death

courtesy of PIAS

Tomorrow harmonia mundi will release a three-CD compilation of music by Josquin des Prez. Drawing upon previously issued albums, harmonia mundi created this collection to mark the 500th anniversary of Josquin’s death, which took place almost exactly a month ago on August 27. As usual Amazon.com is taking pre-orders of the set, which, apparently, will only be released in physical form.

Josquin’s Wikipedia page describes him as “the most famous European composer between Guillaume Dufay and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.” I would probably argue that, once one departs from those academic institutions with curricula specializing in early music, both Josquin and Palestrina are better known than Dufay. However, what I have found interesting for several years is that Josquin’s popularity was not necessarily due to the quality of his compositions; and the opening decades of the sixteenth century carry more significance than the “lay reader” might imagine.

The fact is that Josquin’s legacy owes much to Ottaviano Petrucci, who printed the first book of polyphony using movable type. (This is why the “subtitle” of the International Music Score Library Project is the “Petrucci Music Library.”) One of Petrucci’s first publications is the earliest surviving printing of music by a single composer. The book was a collection of Josquin’s Mass settings, and it was printed in Venice in 1502. This turned out to be a “cash cow;” and Petrucci published two further volumes of Josquin’s Mass settings in 1504 and 1514, respectively. While I would not wish to diminish the inventive qualities of Josquin’s music, I still think it would be fair to hypothesize that, were it not for Petrucci, we probably would not be attaching quite so much significance to that 500th anniversary!

That said, the seven ensembles and six previous harmonia mundi releases from which the selections in this anthology have been drawn provide a thoroughly engaging account of Josquin’s music, secular as well as sacred. Given that Josquin’s Wikipedia page lists eighteen known Mass settings, the selection of two of them for this new release, Missa de Beata Virgine and Missa Pange lingua, the latter based on the melody of the “Pange Lingua” hymn, should provide a sufficient account of that genre. These are the opening selections on the first two discs, each followed by a generous selection from the 61 motets listed on Josquin’s Wikipedia page.

The remaining disc is devoted to secular music. There are six instrumental selections for lute or viols, which serve as “spacers” among a collection of twenty chansons, one of which, “El Grillo” (the cricket), is a frottola, even though it was not named as such in Josquin’s time. As one might guess from the title, this is the most playful of the vocal offerings. The chansons themselves tend to share what might be called a “lovelorn” rhetoric, reminding me of when Peter Cook introduced one of Dudley Moore’s art song parodies as having a text in which “the poet and his lover bemoan, bemoan, and … bemoan.” (For the record I used to know plenty of music graduate students who felt the same way about transcribing the notation in Petrucci’s publications.)

The overall duration of that final disc is 54 minutes. Some may find that to be a bit too much. However, technology now allows for “sampled listening;” and this CD provides just the right balance for the abundance of sacred music on the first two discs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Two Additional SFSymphony+ Events

Readers may recall that yesterday morning the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) released the final video-streamed SoundBox event before the beginning of the 2021–22 season. It was only after I had filed my report that I learned that SFSymphony+ had also released two additional videos. One of these is an additional program in the CURRENTS series that had not been previously announced. The other is a video recording of a performance by SFS led by Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The CURRENTS program is curated by Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, a master performer of the Japanese koto. The title of the program is ‘Niji’ (Rainbow), providing the Japanese in both the original text and English transliteration. The 26-minute program explores the intersection between Western classical music and Japanese classical music. The title composition, which concludes the program, was composed jointly by Muramoto and Ben Paderna and subsequently arranged for what might be called “SFS++” resources.

The participating SFS musicians for this performance will be clarinetist Jerome Simas, bassoonist Steven Braunstein, trumpeter Aaron Schuman, tenor trombonist Paul Welcomer, violinists Sarn Oliver and Suzanne Leon, violist David Gaudry, cellist Amos Yang, and Charles Chandler on bass. They will be joined by Muramoto on koto and Brian Mitsuhiro Wong playing shakuhachi, the end-blown bamboo flute that has both Japanese and ancient Chinese origins. There will also be a harp played by Destiny Muhammad, who curated the Resilience SoundBox concert, and Vince Delgado playing Egyptian tabla.

Muramoto will begin the performance with her own arrangement of the familiar traditional Japanese tune “Sakura” (cherry blossom). She will then be joined by Wong, this time playing bass koto, and Linda Lukas on flute. They will play the second of two “pastorals” composed by Nagasawa Katsutoshi. Muramoto and Wong will then play Chikushi Katsuko’s “Nagare” (flow) in an arrangement by Kaoru Watanabe for kotos and Western instruments. The participating SFS musicians will be oboist James Button, clarinetist Carey Bell, bassoonist Steven Dibner, Robert Ward on horn, violinists In Sun Jang and Raushan Akhmedyarova, violist David Kim, cellist Peter Wyrick, and Chandler again on bass.

The SFS performance for the second video took place this past June 24. The selection that was recorded was Robert Schumann’s Opus 97 (third) symphony in E-flat major. This piece is often known as the “Rhenish” symphony, because the composer had been inspired by a trip to the Rhineland. Some readers may recall that this concert marked the return of the full complement of brass players to Davies Symphony Hall since pandemic conditions had been imposed. When I wrote about this concert, I could not resist invoking the adjective “luscious” when the entire trombone section played the chorale of the fourth movement of this symphony!

Both of these performances, as well as the SoundBox program discussed yesterday, are being offered free of charge, as is also the case for all the other videos on the SFSymphony+ Web site.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

LIEDER ALIVE! Liederabend Program Finalized

Pianist Jeffrey LaDeur (courtesy of LIEDER ALIVE!)

Readers may recall that, at the beginning of this month, LIEDER ALIVE! announced that there would be a change in the program to be performed by pianist Jeffrey LaDeur for the first of three Songs Without Words solo piano recitals. That recital will take place this coming Sunday, and this morning program details were announced. The program will begin with Ludwig van Beethoven’s WoO 57, given the title “Andante favori.” This will be followed by Robert Schumann’s Opus 26 “Faschingsschwank aus Wien” (Carnival jest from Vienna). The remainder of the program will consist of shorter pieces selected from two major collections. The first of these will be Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words and the second will be the ten volumes of Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Pieces.

The performance will begin at 5 p.m. this coming Sunday, September 26. Like past Liederabend offerings, the venue will be the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. An Eventbrite event page has been created for processing tickets priced at $75 for reserved seating, $35 for general admission, and a $20 discounted rate for students, seniors, and working artists. In addition, because this is the beginning of the season, the event page for full subscriptions is still operative with prices of $350 for reserved seating, $250 for general admission, and a $150 discounted rate for students, seniors, and working artists. Finally, there is the option of a three-concert mini-subscription with prices of $150 for reserved seating and $150 for general admission. These can be purchased through a separate Eventbrite event page; and, after the purchase has been finalized, the choice of concerts can be sent by electronic mail to jjordan@liederalve.org. Those interested in both subscriptions and single tickets may also call LIEDER ALIVE! at 415-561-0100.

Another SoundBox with Disappointing Video

This morning the San Francisco Symphony launched the final video-streamed SoundBox before the beginning of the 2021–22 Season. Once again, the program title consisted of a single word, Delirium. The curator was pianist Jeremy Denk, whose introductory remarks suggested that the program would consist of musical reflections on illness. The program was divided into three parts, entitled “The Mind,” “The Heart,” and “The Soul;” but it was very unclear just how these titles related to much (most?) of the music that was performed.

Most disconcerting was that one of the selections that was specifically composed as a reflection on a serious illness was never acknowledged as such. Violinist Leor Maltinski, violist Katie Kadarauch, and cellist David Goldblatt performed the opening Part of Arnold Schoenberg’s Opus 45 string quartet. Schoenberg had suffered a violent heart attack on August 2, 1946; and, were it not for injecting a stimulus directly to the heart, he probably would not have survived. Less than three weeks after his recovery, he began work on Opus 45 as his own reflective documentation of the experience. If ever there were music that reflected explicitly on “The Heart,” this would be it; but in Denk’s overall organization, the performance took place, instead, in the final part of the overall program.

Nevertheless, there was much to appreciate in Denk’s performances and his engagement with others when he was not playing solo. Most interesting was his accompaniment of tenor Nicholas Phan singing Orfeo’s lament over the death of Euridice, “Tu se’ morta” (Are you dead?) from the second act of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo opera. Denk played the bass line on a single-keyboard organ with his right hand while filling out the continuo on harpsichord with his left:

courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony

The good news is that the musical performances were consistently satisfying over the course of the hour’s duration of the video. Indeed, listening to the performance of Schoenberg’s Opus 45 made me wish I could listen to those musicians given an account of the entire trio. However, the underlying concept of SoundBox involves what one sees in conjunction with the listening experience. Sadly, the video direction for Delirium was again by Clyde Scott. Readers may recall that, in discussing his direction of Nico Muhly’s SoundBox program, the article about that program, Focus, concluded that Scott’s efforts had undermined the listening experience. This time around the distractions came from the large portion of projections that were irrelevant and/or confusing and camera angles that almost never presented the musicians in ways that would guide the listening.

Video can be an informative medium when conceived in conjunction with an understanding of the music. Scott did not seem to understand either the music or the overall theme of Denk’s Delirium programming. Attentive listeners (and, for that matter, attentive performers) need to be shown more respect.

Juilliard Quartet’s First “Bartók Encounter”

My writing about the new Sony Classical anthology, Juilliard String Quartet: The Early Columbia Recordings 1949–56, got off to a rocky start because so many of the sixteen CDs in the collection involve the ensemble “sharing space” with other unrelated performers. Most of those recordings were part of Columbia’s Modern American Music Series, which accounted for seven of the CDs in the set. Fortunately, among the eight remaining CDs, only one (which happens to be the very first in the box) involves similar sharing. I shall postpone it until my final article, which involves an “everything else” category.  First, however, I wish to devote two articles to two “all-Juilliard” categories.

This article will be devoted to the very first set of recordings the quartet made of the six string quartets composed by Béla Bartók. This will be followed by a discussion of the Columbia recordings devoted to the Second Viennese School. According to a Gramophone article that I read online, the Juilliard Quartet recorded the Bartók cycle three times.

The Sony anthology accounts for the three long-playing (LP) albums that were released in 1950, recorded by the founding members of the quartet: violinists Robert Mann and Robert Koff, violist Raphael Hillyer, and cellist Arthur Winograd. By the time of the second release in 1963, Winograd had been replaced by Claus Adam. More importantly, at least from Columbia’s point of view, these LPs were stereophonic. The third collection was released in 1981; and this time the “technical advance” was the shift from analog to digital recording technology. The only founding member still in the quartet was its leader, Mann. The other performers were violinist Isidore Cohen, violist Samuel Rhodes, and cellist Joel Krosnick.

At this point I would like to lapse into a bit of autobiography. As a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, my “spare time” was spent at the campus radio station (then WTBS), where I produced and hosted a program entitled Music of the Twentieth Century. One day one of the upper class-men in my dormitory came to tell me that we were going to a free concert by the Juilliard at Sanders Theatre in Harvard University’s Memorial Hall. This was my first encounter with a chamber music recital, and the quartet membership was that of the 1963 Bartók recording. (My freshman year began in September of 1963.) The program included the fifth Bartók quartet, and I was hooked over the course of all five of its movements. When the finale was “invaded” by the most insipid melody one could imagine, it was all I could do to contain myself.

Then and there I knew that I wanted to do radio programs about the full cycle of the quartets. Since the WTBS record collection did not include them, I was able to borrow them from the campus library. These were the three LPs that had been released in 1950. While in the Music Library, I also checked out the six scores. Over the course of three broadcasts, I played all six of the quartets, preceded by my own oral program notes based on my score-reading. Not long after that, I invested in the 1963 box set.

I offer this digression because listening the three Sony CDs in the new release was very much a trip down Memory Lane. If I may be allowed a Yiddishism (Oxford calls it “informal North American,” but what do they know?), I realized that each of those quartets had at least one passage that made me kvell. To be fair, I have not yet heard any of the performances from the 1981 album; but, by that time, listening to the Juilliard was not as exciting as it had been when I was younger. (On the other hand, Mann was a regular visitor to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; and I relished every opportunity I had to observe his master classes and listen to recitals at which he performed with the students.)

These days, however, is seems as if quartets are more interested in “owning” the full scope of the string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven. Mind you, as a listener, I am always curious about how that “ownership” is realized in performance. However, for all of the different ways in which listening to Beethoven engages the mind, those six Bartók quartets also have no end of capacity for engagement; and I wish I had more opportunities to revisit those quartets in recital performances.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Karl Evangelista Announces Lockdown Festival VI

Readers may recall that the fifth installment in Karl Evangelista’s Lockdown Festival series took place this past April. Mind you, Evangelista has been prodigiously productive since then with a variety of streamed offerings, the most significant of which was probably the performance of Apura that took place this past July and featured percussionist Andrew Cyrille as a special guest artist. However, this morning I learned from BayImproviser that Lockdown Festival VI will be streamed at the end of this week.

Like the fifth offering, the new Festival program will present eight sets, most of which will be half an hour in duration, with 45 minutes allocated for the last two. It will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 25, and run until 8:30 p.m. All but two of the sets will be streamed from the Temescal Arts Center. Evangelista has created a Web page with hyperlinks for all of these streams on YouTube as well as a general hyperlink to a Facebook site. The schedule for the eight performances is as follows:

  1. 4 p.m.: Phillip Greenlief and David Boyce
  2. 4:30 p.m.: Surplus 1980
  3. 5 p.m.: Amy Reed
  4. 5:30 p.m.: SO AR (duo of Robert Lopez and Shanna Sordahl)
  5. 6 p.m.: Mike Gamble (performing as PDX)
  6. 6:30 p.m.: Grex (duo of Evangelista and Rei Scampavia)
  7. 7 p.m.: Francis Wong
  8. 7:45 p.m.: The Jordan Glenn Party (other members: Jose F. Solares, David James, Roger Kim, and Safa Shokrai)

As in the past, there will be no charge for admission to the Festival. Support for the program comes from donations. Contributions may be made through electronic mail to LockdownIII2020@gmail.com. The alternative is to purchase one of the albums on the Bandcamp Web page for Grex. All items are purchased on a name-your-price basis, and the proceeds will serve as a donation to the Festival.

Bluegrass with Too Much Agenda at O1C

Yesterday afternoon Old First Concerts (O1C) presented the world premiere of “Embracing Roots,” composed by Alisa Rose for string quartet and solo violin. Rose was also the soloist, joined by the members of the Americana Quartet, violinists Matthew Szemela and Nigel Armstrong, violist Alexandra Simpson, and cellist Matt Park. Sadly, this was one of those “agenda” compositions, written to celebrate the work of Bluegrass Pride. Each of the three movements was preceded by recordings of six diverse members of Bluegrass Pride discussing (according to the program note) “their experiences in and hopes for the bluegrass community.” The result was the latest disconcerting instance of agenda distracting from musicianship, leading those more interested in the latter to wonder whether this was little more than “fiddling around.”

That epithet could be applied in a more positive way to the music provided prior to the performance of “Embracing Roots.” The performers were a bluegrass trio called Fog Holler, consisting of Casey Holmberg on banjo, Tommy Schulz on resonator guitar, and Noa on bass. Most of the singing was by Holmberg and Schultz. All seven of the selections were written by members of the trio. After the first five, Rose joined the trio. The Americana Quartet then showed up for the final selection, making it an “all hands” affair.

Back when I was doing computer research for an oil services company at a laboratory in Ridgefield, Connecticut, I was invited by a few of my colleagues to play washtub bass for an impromptu bluegrass group they had formed. At the time I knew next to nothing about bluegrass, but my learning curve was a joyous one. In retrospect, I find myself amused that bluegrass could provide turf for a group all of whose members held doctoral degrees in science, mathematics, or engineering. (These were days when capitalized “Pride” had not become a proper noun. All that mattered was the breadth of the musical skill set of the group.)

The experience added to my repertoire an appreciation for both traditional tunes and those composed or promoted by professionals, such as The Country Gentlemen. In that context I have to confess that the Fox Holler originals did not do much for me. To be fair, O1C could have done a better job with microphone placement to allow the words to register with greater clarity; but it could just as easily have been that the vocalists were not articulating as clearly as one would have wished.

As I write this, “Fox on the Run” is churning away in my memory, displacing all recollection of both Fog Holler and “Embracing Roots.”