Saturday, December 31, 2022

Full spalding-Hersch Album Ready for Release

As I wrote yesterday, five new albums that have seized my attention are scheduled for release this coming Friday, January 6. The second of these was actually anticipated this past June with a preview release of jazz pianist Fred Hersch performing with esperanza spalding. The performances took place at the Village Vanguard on October 19, 20, and 21 of 2018; and five tracks from those performances were released as an EP whose sales benefitted the Jazz Foundation of America in its efforts to assist members of the jazz community impacted by the pandemic. Those tracks were “But Not For Me,” “Dream of Monk,” “Girl Talk,” “Some Other Time,” and “Loro.”

As first reported earlier this month, the full album includes three additional tracks, Charlie Parker’s “Little Suede Shoes,” Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence,” and “A Wish,” composed by Hersch for lyrics by Norma Winstone. This makes for a generous profile of Hersch’s repertoire. Most, if not all, of those selections were probably performed by Hersch at the Vanguard in other settings. I have a personal fondness for “Dream of Monk,” which Hersch performed at the Vanguard in February of 2012, leading a trio whose other members were John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums.

“Dream of Monk” was originally composed for My Coma Dreams, a multimedia theater piece inspired by a medically induced coma that Hersch sustained in 2008 when he was hospitalized after losing the ability to get out of his own bathtub. The dream of Monk is part of the narrative, and it involves Monk and Hersch challenged by an unknown authority figure to see who can compose and document a new tune faster. Those familiar with the Monk canon will appreciate how that composer’s tropes float in and out of Hersch’s own composition. He would later add the words that spalding would sing during their duo performance at the Vanguard.

All spoken commentary on the 2018 recordings is provided by spalding. This includes what amounts to her talking back to Ira Gershwin about some of his puzzling turns of phrase in “But Not For Me.” This came across as a playful reflection, but it left me wondering whether Gershwin would have balked at what he felt was pure chutzpah. Personally, I took this as a somewhat poignant reminder that turns of phrase seen as clever during the twentieth century now come across as cryptically dated. I was happier when she put words aside, turning instead to the imaginative vocalizations in her interpretation of Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro.”

As has already been announced on this site, has created a Web page for pre-ordering the complete account of the Hersch-spalding tracks.

Post:ballet Releases New Video for New Year

Late yesterday afternoon Post:ballet released a new video to bid farewell to 2022, produced with support from the Inner Child Foundation. The title of the eighteen-minute work is Mine is Yours. The film was directed by Artistic Director Robin Dekkers, working with cinematographer and editor Benjamin Tarquin. The music for the soundtrack was composed by Daniel Berkman.

Eleven dancers executed the performance captured and edited by Tarquin. In alphabetical order they are: Crystaldawn Bell, Charmaine Butcher, Mia J. Chong, Cora Cliburn, Landes Dixon, Lexi Duff, Colin Frederick, Emily Hansel, Babatunji Johnson, Molly Levy, and DeMarco Sleeper. They all contributed to the choreography, working in collaboration with Dekkers. Most significantly, Dixon’s contribution involved his performing from a wheelchair.

The best way to approach the title is to think in terms of communal sharing, where what is shared is the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. Filming took place at several of the stations on either side of the San Francisco Bay, sometimes venturing briefly into the neighborhoods where those stations are situated. Performances also took place at selected platforms and inside the cars themselves. This is a work that had clearly involved considerable planning before Tarquin began working on capturing the content.

Dancers in motion on a moving train (screen shot from the video being discussed)

Most of us, of course, think of BART only as a facility that gets us from one place to another. Mine is Yours suggests that there are less mundane ways to consider the system. This becomes particularly interesting when the dancers are executing their steps on a moving train. Those of us that made it through Freshman Physics know that there are no end of complications in maintaining balance during such executions. However, all eleven of the dancers seem to have acclimated their steps and stretches to adjust to the idea of working in a moving environment.

In that context Mine is Yours is Post:ballet’s latest lyrical reflection on movement itself, expanding into a context in which the dancers and their setting are both in motion.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Omni Foundation’s Zhang-Shi Video

As was announced yesterday morning, the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts released its latest Live from St. Mark’s video at noon today. The recitalists were guitarist Tengyue (TY) Zhang performing with violinist Strauss Shi. Since the Omni Foundation focuses on the guitar repertoire, Zhang began the concert with a solo performance of “Clown Down,” the third movement from Roland Dyens’ Triaela suite. He was then joined by Shi for the remainder of the program.

For the most part the program consisted of relatively short compositions, reaching back as far as Antonio Vivaldi and coming up to the recent present with Horacio Fernandez, who was born in 1996. However, the program concluded with Astor Piazzolla’s four-movement suite Histoire du Tango, originally composed for flute and guitar but allowing a violin to substitute for the flute. The movement titles present representative years and settings in tango history:

  1. Bordel 1900
  2. Café 1930
  3. Nightclub 1960
  4. Concert d’aujourd’hui

Shi was comfortable enough with the score that he had no trouble spicing it up with additional embellishments, while Zhang’s guitar work disclosed an engaging spectrum of varied sonorities.

The other work that seems to have been composed with the violin-guitar duo in mind was Fernandez’ Suite Latin-Americana. Shi and Zhang performed the “João” movement, named for João Gilberto in his capacity as one of the pioneers of the bossa nova movement. Since it was completed in 2020, the suite was the newest work on the program; and, while Fernandez was born roughly half a century after the emergence of bossa nova, both the composer and the performers seemed to know exactly how to honor this landmark in the history of Latin American music.

Two of the selections were arranged by the performers. The earlier of these was Domenico Scarlatti’s K. 141 keyboard sonata in D minor, which, while it was composed for keyboard, seems to have been written with mandolin effects in mind. The other was “Tico-Tico no Fubá,” the popular Brazilian choro song written by Zequinha de Abreu. Equally memorable was the encore, a performance of a traditional Chinese tune entitled (in English) “Horse Racing” and conceived to represent two horses chasing each other. For this selection, Shi exchanged his violin for a traditional erhu, a two-stringed bowed instrument that is amenable to violin technique.

Strauss Shi accompanying guitarist Tengyue Zhang with his erhu (screen shot from the video being discussed)

Nicolas Stavy’s Shostakovich Discoveries

Readers have probably noticed that the second half of this month has been relatively quiet. However, where the releases of recordings are concerned, things will definitely pick up with a generous number of new releases one week from today. Five of them are waiting for attention on my queue; and, if things go according to plan, I shall have accounted for all of them prior to their shared release date of January 6. Today I have decided to begin with the least conventional of those offerings.

courtesy of Naxos of America

The title of the album, which, as usual, is available for pre-order from, is Shostakovich: Works Unveiled. The content was provided by French pianist Nicolas Stavy, who has devoted much of his time to uncovering unknown works by Dmitri Shostakovich. Some of these are fragments; and one is an arrangement of the Opus 135 (fourteenth) symphony, which was originally scored for soprano, bass, a small string orchestra, and a large percussion section requiring three players. In this arrangement Stavy alternates between piano and celesta, accompanying soprano Ekaterina Bakanova and bass Alexandros Stavrakakis. The only other performer is a single percussionist, Florent Jodelet.

Shostakovich himself had doubts about calling this piece a symphony. Here is the relevant paragraph from his Wikipedia page:

The composer himself was initially unsure what to call the work, eventually designating it a symphony rather than a song cycle to emphasise the unity of the work musically and philosophically: most of the poems deal with the subject of mortality (he rejected the title oratorio because the work lacks a chorus; it is not a choral symphony for the same reason).

Personally, I would have gone with “song cycle.” Shostakovich’s biographer, Brian Morton, viewed Opus 135 as a creative response to the song cycle that Modest Mussorgsky had entitled Songs and Dances of Death, for which Shostakovich had prepared an orchestral version.

Death is clearly the theme that pervades the eleven poems that Shostakovich set. He drew upon four poets to make his selections: Federico García Lorca, Guillaume Apollinaire, Wilhelm Küchelbecker and Rainer Maria Rilke. All of those texts were translated into Russian. The booklet for Works Unveiled presents both those Russian texts and English translations. However, I have to confess that negotiating the Russian alphabet continues to be relatively difficult; and this often results in difficulties in negotiating the semantic intent behind the vocalists’ utterances. I find that this is as much a handicap in listening to the quartet arrangement as in experiencing the score as it was originally written.

Negotiating Stavy’s solo piano performances tends to be more satisfying. These account for four tracks, all less than two and one-half minutes in duration. Nevertheless, all four of these brief gestures were engaging as complete compositions, each in its own right. My only quibble is with Elizabeth Wilson, author of the booklet notes, who seems to have overlooked the possibility that theme for “Funeral March in Memory of Victims of the Revolution” amounts to a reflection of a similar theme composed by Ludwig van Beethoven for the third movement of his Opus 26 (twelfth) piano sonata in A-flat major.

The remaining tracks on the album are fragments. The first of these is an unfinished Moderato con moto movement for a sonata for violin (Sueye Park) and piano. The other is a four-hand performance of what is roughly the first eight minutes of the opening movement of Gustav Mahler’s tenth symphony. Cédric Tiberghien shares the keyboard with Stavy for that performance. I can appreciate why this latter offering is a fragment. It is hard to imagine this climax of that movement being performed by any ensemble other than a full orchestra.

Outsound Presents: January, 2023

Yesterday afternoon Outsound Presents released its plans for the first month of the New Year. As usual, this will involve two different concert series:

  1. The LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) Creative Music Series events take place on Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m.; and the venue is located at 1007 Market Street, just off the corner of Sixth Street and across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street. Admission is on a sliding scale between $10 and $20. However, no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
  2. The SIMM (Static Illusion Methodical Madness) Series of concerts is a monthly event taking place on Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. The venue is the Musicians Union Hall, located at 116 9th Street, near the corner of Mission Street. General admission will be $20 with a $15 senior rate for those age 62 or older.

Once again, the month will offer two LSG concerts and one in the SIMM Series; specific details in chronological order are as follows:

Wednesday, January 4: This will be two-set program with sets beginning at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively. The first set will be performed by KREation, a general label for performances led by saxophonist and composer Kevin Robertson. Over the years that label has applied to everything from solo work to a twelve-piece band. On this particular occasion Robertson will lead a trio whose other members are MaryClare Brzytwa on flute and Jordan Glenn on drums. The second set will also be a trio performance, this one led by Swedish bass player Georgia Wartel Collins. She will be joined by saxophonist Jonny Wartel and drummer Kjell Nordeson.

Sunday, January 15: This will also be a two-set program with sets beginning at 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The first set will bring together two highly imaginative vocalists, Sarah Grace Graves and Lorin Benedict. They will be followed by a solo performance by Kim Nucci, a media artist who combines the visual domain with performances on electronics, modular synthesizer, and saxophone.

Wednesday, January 18: This will follow the same set plan as on January 4. The first set will be taken by Philip Everett performing as Skullkrusher. He works with improvised soundscapes and noise loop sculptures. He plays instruments of his own invention, which include a xlarinet and a 36-string lap harp. The Bay Improviser Web page for this performance cites my previous reference to him as “the Lang Lang of live electronic music.” The second set will present electro-acoustic free improvisation led by the Diaspora Focii Trio, whose members are Kersti Abrams (alto saxophone, flute, and kalimba), Jaroba (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet), and Mika Pontecorvo (guitar and electronics). They will be joined by the Feral Luggage Rhythm Section, consisting of two drummers, Mike Villareal and Jon Bafus, joined by Elijah Pontecorvo on bass.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Omni to Stream Guitar-Violin Duo Recital

Guitarist TY Zhang and violinist Strauss Shi (screen shot from the video to be released)

Readers may recall that the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts approached Christmas Eve by releasing two new videos in its Omni On Location series, one of which was recorded at the Villa Falconieri in the Italian city of Frascati. Yesterday Omni announced that it would approach New Years Eve with another video offering, this one from its Live from St. Mark’s series. This will be the latest duo offering, bringing guitarist Tengyue (TY) Zhang together with violinist Strauss Shi.

While last week’s videos were limited to a single composition, this new video will account for a full recital program (including an encore). That program was performed in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church this past October 15. Two of the offerings will be joint arrangements by Strauss and TY. The first of these will be Domenico Scarlatti’s K. 141 keyboard sonata in D minor. The other will be “Tico-Tico no Fubá,” the popular Brazilian choro song written by Zequinha de Abreu.

The program will conclude with Astor Piazzolla’s suite Histoire du Tango, originally composed for flute and guitar but allowing a violin to substitute for the flute. This substitution will also be taken for the “João” movement from Horacio Fernández’ Suite Latino-Americana. The program will begin with Roland Dyens’ solo guitar composition “Triaela.” Other arrangements will include “L’inverno” (winter), the fourth of Antonio Vivaldi’s Opus 8 compositions and the last of the four grouped as The Four Seasons, two selections from stage works by Manuel de Falla, the “Danza Española” from La Vida Breve and the “Ritual Fire Dance” from El amor brujo, and the “Méditation” from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs, played between the two scenes of the second act and originally scored for violin and orchestra. The encore selection will be the traditional Chinese tune known as “Horse Racing” in English.

This performance will be streamed through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel. The premiere will be live-streamed at noon tomorrow, Friday, December 30. The YouTube Web page for viewing has already been created. There is no charge for admission, which means that these performances are made possible only by the viewers’ donations. A Web page has been created for processing contributions, and any visits made prior to the streaming itself will be most welcome.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Two and Eight Pianists on One and Four Pianos

This morning I received through a colleague the URL for a YouTube site presenting a four-hands-on-one-keyboard performance of two the sixteen pieces by Antonín Dvořák collected under the title Slavonic Dances. These had been published as two sets, Opus 46 and Opus 72, each of which collected eight dances. They were published as orchestral pieces but had originally been written for four hands on a single keyboard.

The YouTube video captured a four-hand performance of two of the dances, which took place during the Verbier Festival in July of 2018. The first of these was the second of the Opus 72 dances in the introspective Dumka style. This was followed by the fifth of the Opus 46 set, a livelier “Skočná” setting. The upper-register playing was by Yuja Wang with András Schiff to her left.

Unless I am mistaken, I worked my way through both of these collections with one of my Opera Plaza neighbors; but that was probably over a decade ago. Both sets are trickier than other four-hand compositions that I have encountered. As a result, I particularly enjoyed many of the camera angles through which the eyes could inform the ears of how to negotiate the thick textures of the score. It was easy to appreciate the intensity of focus required of both performers, combined with each being fully aware of what the other was doing.

Eight pianists and to page-turners assemble to take on Rossini’s most familiar music (from the YouTube video being discussed)

The thing about browsing YouTube is that one thing inevitably leads to another. On this particular occasion, I was browsing through the YouTube app provided by my xfinity service. By the time I had entered “yuja wang andras schiff” as a search key, my results included not only the Dvořák URL but also an arrangement of the “March of the Swiss Soldiers,” the finale section of the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell opera (which, for at least some of us, is still associated with The Lone Ranger). The arrangement, which was for eight pianists on four pianos, was probably prepared by Louis Moreau Gottschalk for one of his “monster” concerts.

This was performed at the same Verbier Festival. Wang and Schiff were joined by Evgeny Kissin, Seong-Jin Cho, Mikhail Pletnev, Denis Kozhukhin, Daniil Trifonov, and Sergei Babayan. This was clearly one of those music-for-the-fun-of-it selections; and, towards the final round of the primary theme, one of the pianists seemed to have been weaving “Happy Birthday” into the overall texture.

Ironically, this was not my first encounter with such a massive assembly of pianists. Back when my wife and I would make regular summer trips to the opera performances in Santa Fe, we would usually find time for a few of the Chamber Music Festival performances taking place at the same time. One of those performances involved eight pianists assembled to perform the “Ride of the Valkyries,” the opening music for the third act of Richard Wagner’s opera Die Walküre, the second of the four operas constituting Der Ring des Nibelungen (the ring of the Nibelung).

In both of those eight-hand performances, it was clear that entertainment was the primary objective. To the extent that the arrangement would allow, the pianists were committed to fidelity to the source. At the same time, one got the impression that each of them had to sustain a chuckle, lest it erupt into a belly-laugh. Even the best of pianists should be allowed some raucous humor from time to time!

Reflecting on the Young from an “Aged” Viewpoint

I never really thought very much about age until I hit the “three-quarters mark” of 75 in July of 2021. By that time I had invested fourteen years in writing regularly about the nature of music and the relationship between performance and marks on paper. Over the course of what is now closer to fifteen years, I have never given very much thought to the significance of age, whether it applies to composers or performers. Mind you, there are composers whose work often reflects explicitly on aging, Richard Strauss being one of the most familiar of them. However, perhaps because of my intellectual background in abstract mathematics, I find myself drawing upon biography only when discussing a relatively small number of composers and an even smaller number of performers.

Violinist María Dueñas (photograph probably taken in her teens, from an October 3, 2019 article on this site)

This morning I brought that context to bear while reading an article by Joshua Kosman entitled “Young musicians keep showing up on concert stages. It’s not clear they’re ready,” which was uploaded to the San Francisco Chronicle Web site yesterday and will probably not appear on a printed page prior to this coming Sunday’s “pink section” Datebook. That title serves as a thesis statement, which is defended through three “case studies.” The first of these is the 26-year-old Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä, followed by the Spanish violinist María Dueñas, who made her debut with the San Francisco Symphony at the age of sixteen in 2019. The final “case” was Alma Deutscher, who composed a full-length Cinderella opera at the age of ten (subsequently expanding and strengthening her work) and conducted its Bay Area premiere by Opera San José this past October.

As I worked my way through the article, I found myself consulting my own impressions of both Mäkelä and  Dueñas. (I neither experienced nor read about the Cinderella performance.) Where Dueñas was concerned, I did, indeed, mention her age in my first paragraph. However, I was less interested in her age and more focused on her partnership with her conductor, Marek Janowski; and my primary concern was the risk that the performance would invoke (as I put it) “a here-we-go-again reaction” from “listeners that could probably play back Mendelssohn’s score in their sleep.” The good news was that both conductor and soloist appreciated that risk and managed to convey what I called “a perspective of underlying tension” that brought stimulating freshness to the performance. This was clearly a joint effort, whose compelling results probably involved Janowski willing to respect and realize Dueñas’ point of view, thus spanning the separation between their respective ages.

Mäkelä, on the other hand, was about a decade younger than his concerto soloist, the violinist Vilde Frang. My guess is that he was less interested in her youth than in how the two of them could agree on how to perform Alban Berg’s violin concerto, providing a compelling account of both the narrative behind the dedication (“To the memory of an angel”) and the many technical challenges for both soloist and ensemble in the score. The result was that I came away with a more informed appreciation of the rich complexity of the score than I had managed to grasp through any previous concert performances or recordings. In other words I had invested so many cerebral cycles in negotiating the act of listening that I had none to spare for matters of age!

The same could be said of the rest of the program that Mäkelä had prepared. This began with Jimmy López Bellido’s “Perú negro,” which Mäkelä had performed with many other ensembles in the past. This was an SFS premiere offering that made for a highly imaginative listening experience. The program then concluded with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 93 (tenth) symphony in E minor.

This was a “first contact” experience for me, having previously listened to this work only through recordings. Those familiar with the Shostakovich canon probably know his disposition for repetition as a source of tension. This figured significantly in his “rhetorical toolbox;” and Mäkelä knew how to deliver that rhetoric without succumbing to tedium. As was the case with the Berg concerto, that delivery left me with little attention to devote to the conductor’s age.

The crux of Kosman’s argument seems to hinge on the danger of “mistaking skill for understanding, especially when that skill is so wildly out of proportion to age.” On the basis of how I documented the performances by both Dueñas and Mäkelä, I would not accuse either of them of lacking understanding. Indeed, where the concertos were concerned, what was most important was the ability to establish a shared understanding. I would argue that this capacity for sharing signifies far more than what any calendar tells us about the performers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

SFRV to Begin New Season with “Sequel”

This past February, San Francisco Renaissance Voices (SFRV) began its seventeenth season with a program entitled A Choral Renaissance. This was an “anniversary” program, which highlighted sixteen compositions that revisited performances that were given during the ensemble’s first sixteen years. This coming February, SFRV will launch its eighteenth season with a “follow-up” program entitled A Choral Renaissance II.

The program will again feature significant compositions from the SFRV repertoire. These will include Gregorio Allegri’s setting of Psalm 50, usually known simply as “Miserere,”  Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli setting of the Mass text, and selections from Claudio Monteverdi’s third book of madrigals. The program will also include shorter works by William Byrd, Josquin des Prez, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, and Tomás Luis de Victoria. The ensemble will be led by Music Director Don Scott Carpenter.

The sanctuary space of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church (from a Photo page on the church’s Facebook site)

This program will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 18. The venue will be the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, located in the Castro at 100 Diamond Street on the southwest corner of Eighteenth Street. Ticket prices will be $40. Tickets may be purchased online through an Eventbrite event page.

Monday, December 26, 2022

2022: My Year of Nicolas Horvath Recordings

Readers that have been visiting this site for some time probably know that I follow up on my “Month-by-Month Memories” of performances with a less-structured “Memorable Recordings” article. However, this was the year in which Fate led me to take a “deep dive” into the recordings made by pianist Nicolas Horvath. At the beginning of this year, Horvath was no stranger to me. In 2021 I had written in March about the album of his performances of music by Alvin Lucier, followed by an “‘Unknown’ Debussy” article in October;” and, in April of this year, I wrote an article entitled “Horvath Begins Project to Record Tailleferre.”

Nevertheless, I was not prepared for what would happen shortly thereafter. I received electronic mail from Horvath informing me of the albums he had released under his own Nicolas Horvath Discoveries label. Most ambitious was his project to record the complete piano works of Jean Catoire, amounting to 30 hours of music divided across a series of eight volumes. These were to be released through Bandcamp, whose Web page for the first release described Catoire as “the very first (and totally forgotten & neglected) french [sic] minimalist composer.” I wrote my first article about Catoire on July 26, and my account of the final volume appeared on August 25.

For the remainder of this year, I did my best to catch up on other Discoveries releases. Every now and then, I would encounter albums with familiar content. This was the case where John Cage was concerned, as was Hans Otte, whose Das Buch der Klänge (the book of sounds) had been known to me through the album he recorded of his own performance in 1982. My most recent article, which appeared a little more than two weeks ago, involved another “Long-Duration Release” (three hours and 22 minutes), this time of The Chord Catalogue by Tom Johnson.

Visiting Horvath’s Bandcamp page is a sobering reminder that I shall never be able to keep up with all of his recording activities. Since he is based in Paris, I also doubt that I shall have an opportunity to experience one of his concert performances. Nevertheless, I owe much to the Nicolas Horvath Discoveries releases for their impact on how I continue to reflect on both the experience of listening and the attempt to document that experience with text as pretty much my only resource.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Month-by-Month Memories of 2022

2021 saw a gradual shift from watching and listening to my computer monitor to visiting performance venues. For the most part, those venues were in the Civic Center. However, my wife and I made a few ventures into the Mission; and, thanks to a colleague, I had my first experience of the “music circus” (to evoke terminology introduced by John Cage) at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland. As a result, there is at least moderate diversity in my month-by-month accounts. As in the past, each of those occasions will be hyperlinked to the article I wrote about the performance. The twelve entries on my list, one for each month of the year, were selected as “journeys of discovery” as follows:

January: SFS Chamber Music. Due to pandemic conditions, what had originally been planned as a two-hour program performed by San Francisco Symphony (SFS) musicians was replaced by a one-hour offering without an intermission. Most of the time was devoted to the originally programmed D. 667 “Trout” quintet in A major by Franz Schubert. Pianist Yana Resnick was the “visiting artist,” performing with violinist David Chernyavsky, violist Yun Jie Liu, cellist Sébastien Gingras, and bassist Charles Chandler; and it embodied all the delights one could expect from sensitively-interpreted chamber music. The “overture” for this offering was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 423 duo in G major, performed by violinist Jessie Fellows and violist Katie Kadarauch; and it served as just the right “warm-up” to prepare the attentive listener to the larger-scale Schubert quintet.

February: Herbert Blomstedt Returns to Davies. This was a “full-length” program by SFS in Davies Symphony Hall. Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt began with Carl Nielsen’s Opus 29 (fourth) symphony, known as “The Inextinguishable.” The intermission was then followed with the Opus 67 (fifth) symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. Both works were equally intense, each in its own way; and, as I had expected, Blomstedt took Beethoven’s most recognizable symphony and managed to turn his interpretation into a journey of discovery.

March: Salonen’s Stimulating Stravinsky. Once again, SFS presented familiar music given another journey of discovery. This time it involved Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen leading a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s score for the ballet “The Rite of Spring.” On the other side of the intermission, Leila Josefowicz served as soloist in Stravinsky’s violin concerto. The large ensemble required for the opening selection, Elizabeth Ogonek’s “Sleep & Remembrance,” perfectly set the tone for the complementary Stravinsky offerings that would follow.

April: Catalyst Quartet Plays Florence Price. The Catalyst Quartet concluded the San Francisco Performances (SFP) Uncovered series with a program devoted entirely to works by Florence Price. All of the selections were on one of their Azica Records UNCOVERED albums. Even for those familiar with the album, their freshness of interpretation lived up to the series theme of “uncovering” what had previously escaped notice.

May: Richard Goode Concludes SFP Season. This was Goode’s fourteenth appearance as an SFP artist. Once again, he knew how to establish a listening experience as an act of discovery. His selection of composers could not have been more familiar. Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert represented the First Viennese School. They will complemented by Robert Schumann and (perhaps a bit unexpected) Béla Bartók.

June: Chapel of the Chimes. The experience is a bit more like visiting an art gallery than attending a concert. Nevertheless, pianist Sarah Cahill prepared a “sit-down-and-listen” program which kept me in her performance space for the full duration. I had a similar encounter with the duo concert prepared by Paul Dresher and Joel Davel. Both of these offerings limited my wandering time, but I managed to track down a few additional venues that allowed me to linger.

July: In Locatelli’s Labyrinth. The American Bach Soloists Summer Bach Festival featured a dynamite performance by violinist YuEun Gemma Kim. She performed The Harmonic Labyrinth from Pietro Locatelli’s Opus 3 collection. The full title is “Il Laberinto Armonico, facilus aditus, difficilis exitus” (the harmonic labyrinth, easy to enter, difficult to leave); and, as I wrote at the time, “there is no shortage of finger-busting passages.” Nevertheless, Kim knew how to present an engaging listening experience, rather than a mere circus act!

August: Palestrina at Church of the Advent. Paul Ellison, Director of Music at the Church of the Advent of Christ the King, took a sabbatical during the pandemic. He then returned to reassemble his Schola Adventus choir for the annual Procession and High Mass for The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This included a setting of the text “Assumpta est Maria” to music composed by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, reminding me that there is no such thing as too much Palestrina.

September: Randall Goosby Debuts Price Concerto for SFS. Having given a violin recital for the SFS Spotlight Series in April, Goosby made his debut as soloist with SFS by playing Price’s violin concerto. This made for a highly absorbing journey of discovery. The only down-side was that this program was given only one performance.

October: Poulenc at the War Memorial Opera House. My personal assessment of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) fall season is that the most compelling offering was Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. SFO gave the first performance of this opera in the United States in the fall of 1957. However, on that occasion the French libretto by Georges Bernanos was sung in an English translation by Joseph Machlis. This season’s new production marked the first time SFO performed the opera in French. It is also worth noting that the libretto text is entirely in prose, meaning that the plot unfolds at an intense pace that is never interrupted by “reflective” solos or duets.

November: Danny Driver’s Debut. SFP concluded its fall season with four debut recitals. The first of these was performed by British pianist Danny Driver in what was probably his first West Coast appearance. Driver allowed no time for applause between his selections. He was as interested in the intertwining relationships among those compositions as he was in the internal logic of each of the works. The result could not have been more compelling, and I would be only to happy to experience this perspective in another recital.

December: A Piano Trio of Soloists. The other memorable SFP debut was that of the Junction Trio of violinist Stefan Jackiw, cellist Jay Campbell, and pianist Conrad Tao. All three of them began their careers as solo recitalists. Nevertheless, they gave a thoroughly memorable account of Charles Ives’ raucous approach to compositing a piano trio, which was followed, after the intermission, by the equally adventurous trio by Maurice Ravel. While these selections could not have been more different, they were both composed during the second decade of the twentieth century. This could not have been a more compelling journey of discovery.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

SFCMP to Highlight Music for Flute and Harp

Readers may have noticed that, for the most part, the current San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) season has focused and solo and duo performances by individual members of the ensemble. Thus, the season began this past October with a focus on violinist Susan Freier and cellist Stephen Harrison, followed this month by solo bass compositions performed by Richard Worn. Next month will see the new year beginning with a program featuring Meredith Clark on harp and Tod Brody alternating between flute and alto flute entitled Fire and Water, Shadows and Dust.

This pairing plays an interesting role in the history of twentieth-century music. Between 1958 and 2002 (the year before his death) Luciano Berio composed fourteen compositions for solo instruments or voice under the collective title “Sequenza.” (sequence). The very first two of these pieces were written for flute (1958, revised in 1992) and harp (1963), respectively. Both of those works will be included in the SFCMP program, which will consist almost entirely of twentieth-century music. These will include “rapid fire,” composed by Jennifer Higdon for solo flute in 1992 and duo compositions by Salvatore Sciarrino, Toru Takemitsu, and Roberto Sierra. The solo harp compositions are more recent. The earlier of these is “Polvere et Ombra” (dust and shadow), composed by Suzanne Farrin in 2008. The other will be the world premiere performance of Marcus Norris’ “Three Lil Pretties,” winner of the SFCMP Search for Scores Commissioning Prize.

This will be the next program to be presented at The Lab. The performance will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, January 15. Doors will open early for viewing the art exhibition, beginning at 3:15 p.m. General admission will be $35 with a $15 rate for students. Tickets may be purchased through a City Box Office Web page. The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street, a short walk from the corner of Mission Street, where there is a BART station and bus lines running along both Mission and 16th Streets. Masks are required, and all attendees must be fully vaccinated to attend this event. Full vaccination is defined as completion of the two-dose regimen of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered two weeks or more in advance of the event, along with a vaccine booster.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Omni Video: Villa-Lobos’ “Guitars++” Concerto

Today at noon the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts released the second premiere streaming of a recently recorded video in its Omni On Location series. The program consisted entirely of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ guitar concerto, but the performance involved a decidedly unique approach to instrumentation. Marcin Dylla was the concerto soloist; but the accompanying “ensemble” consisted of the Kupiński Guitar Duo, whose members are Dariusz Kupiński and Ewa Jabłczyńska. Kupiński was responsible for scoring this arrangement.

The result was a performance that benefited decidedly from the visual element. In the original score the guitar is one of seven solo voices, the other six being taken by flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and trombone, all performing with a string section with chamber-orchestra size. Clearly, this rich approach to instrumentation easily facilitated the relationship between soloist and ensemble. However, when all of those accompanying sonorities are distilled down to only two guitars, that relationship is decidedly less transparent. The result is the risk that the ear may come away with the impression of a single guitar with a generous number of additional strings.

Concerto soloist Marcin Dylla seated between Kupiński Guitar Duo members Dariusz Kupiński and Ewa Jabłczyńska (screenshot from the video being discussed)

This is where that visual element contributed to the performance. As can be seen in the above screenshot, each performer is in a position to maintain eye contact with the other two. Just as important, however, it that the video work allows the viewer to follow the finger work of all three of them. Thus, while listening may not be able to sort out the individual voices, that task becomes more manageable simply by observing fingering practices, along with a rudimentary understanding of the physical-fingering difference between high and low pitches. In other words, while listening on its own may obscure the roles played by each of the guitarists, the video created for this performance clears away most, if not all, of that obscurity, making it easier for the listener to appreciate that this really is music for a soloist joined by a highly reduced ensemble!

Stone Records Completes Wolf Project

1885 photograph of Hugo Wolf (from a 1910 postcard, photographer unknown, public domain, from Wikimedia Commons)

Working my way through Stone Records’ project to record all of the songs of Hugo Wolf has been a lengthy process. The penultimate (tenth) volume in the series was released early in 2020, not too long before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This accounted for the first nineteen of the 51 songs in the Goethe-Lieder collection. The final volume in the series will offer the remaining 32 songs, and it is currently due for release this coming January 6. As of this writing, the only source that is processing pre-orders is Presto Music, which has created a Web page for the release.

Bringing order to the entire collection is not particularly easy. This is a case in which working in the digital domain has advantages. Indexing has been facilitated by the Music app which is included in the software for my Mac hardware. I also have access to a powerful search tool that can be applied to the PDF versions of the booklets for the individual releases. This has not been entirely advantageous, since no booklet was included in the download for the seventh volume, which accounts for the “Weltliche Lieder” portion of the Spanisches Liederbuch collection; and, to add insult to injury (as the cliché goes), the downloaded JPEG image of the back cover was illegible! Fortunately, the back cover image provided by the Web page for this volume was susceptible to text extraction!

The result is that I now have a reference source for the Wolf catalog that is both more complete and more amenable to search than was the Wolf Edition: 150th Anniversary EMI Classics collection, which was released in 2010. EMI could, of course, evoke “star power” for the vocalists that contributed to that album. However, I have to say that I have been consistently satisfied with not only the many vocalists that contributed to the Stone albums but also the piano accompaniment provided through the entire collection by Sholto Kynoch.

Mind you, I have no idea how many readers will be willing to take that deep dive into the Stone albums, no matter how much I relished the entire experience. My initial thoughts on the matter involved having at my disposal a reference that could be consulted in conjunction with recital performances of the Wolf canon. Sadly, the last time I had such a performance experience was in April of 2019, when soprano Sarah Shafer was the vocalist featured in that year’s annual Gift Concert for subscribers and donors, presented by San Francisco Performances. Nevertheless, the Stone program has definitely left me on the lookout for future recital offerings.

John Williams to Bring Premiere to SFS

As might be guessed, the Wikipedia page for the List of compositions by John Williams is a long one, dominated heavily by film scores, the earliest of which was composed for a film promoting Newfoundland tourism in 1954. The most recent will be for the latest Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which is currently in post-production for release next year. Nevertheless, the list also includes a generous number of concert works, many of which were written for celebratory occasions; and Williams has been composing concertos since 1969, the earliest being a flute concerto given its first performance in 1981 by Peter Lloyd performing with Leonard Slatkin conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Williams’ most recent concerto is his second violin concerto, which was given its world premiere on July 24, 2021 at Tanglewood with Williams conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The soloist was Anne-Sophie Mutter. Next year Williams will offer this concerto as a Valentine’s Day present to San Francisco. He will again lead Mutter in a performance with the San Francisco Symphony. The remainder of the program will then be devoted to selections from his film scores.

Anne-Sophie Mutter and John Williams with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood at the performance of Williams’ second violin concerto (from the Deutsche Grammophon album cover)

Because this concert will be given only one performance in Davies Symphony Hall, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 14, it should come as no surprise that this is a sold-out event. Nevertheless, it is likely that the Box Office will account for any tickets that are returned prior to the performance, making them available for purchase. As a result, those interested in such tickets should consider calling the Box Office at 415-864-6000 to find out how this situation is being handled. Alternatively, they may wish to consult the Web page for the Deutsche Grammophon recording made at the same time as the Tanglewood debut.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Omni Video: Ponce at the Villa Falconieri

I managed to take care of all my morning chores in time to watch the premiere streaming of the latest video presented by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. The video was recorded at the Villa Falconieri in the Italian city of Frascati, which is known for its frescos that date from the sixteenth century. One of those frescos served as the “backdrop” for the performers, the duo of guitarist Andrea De Vitis and lutenist Simone Vallerotonda.

The performance was only about six minutes in duration, consisting of two relatively short movements by Manuel Ponce that were inspired by the music of the eighteenth-century German lutenist Sylvius Leopold Weiss. (To provide a frame of reference, Weiss was two years younger than Johann Sebastian Bach; and both of those composers died in the same year, 1750.) Honoring the tradition of that period, the first of Ponce’s movements is a prelude. This is then followed by a “Balletto” movement, basically a “generic” ABA dance form, which would have been familiar to Bach. The two performers prepared their own performing arrangement of Ponce’s score.

A frame from the video being discussed allowing the viewer to appreciate Vallerotonda’s finger-work on this lute

That arrangement allowed for a generous serving of thematic give-and-take, allowing the attentive listener to appreciate the distinctive qualities of the two instruments. That appreciation was enhanced by video work that established which instrument was in the foreground at any particular time. Indeed, the visual account of how these two musicians engaged with each other was so compelling that the “historically significant fresco” never received much attention from the video crew. As readers might guess, my own listening habits were more involved with the performers than with the scenery!

This video now has its own URL in the Omni video library, making it available for viewing at any time; and there is much to appreciate in how a pair of Italian performers can evoke the spirit of a twentieth-century Mexican composer, who, in turn, was evoking the spirit of that eighteenth-century lutenist.

Another New Omni Video This Morning

Andrea De Vitis and Simone Vallerotonda performing in front of one of the frescos at the Villa Falconieri (courtesy of the Omni Foundation)

Word was announced late last night that the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts would release another streamed video premiere managed by Omni On Location. This will be a duo performance by guitarist Andrea De Vitis and lutenist Simone Vallerotonda. They will play their own arrangement of two movements from a suite composed by Manuel Ponce inspired by the music of the German lutenist Sylvius Leopold Weiss. As might be expected, the opening movement is a prelude, which is followed by a “Balletto” movement. The video was recorded at the Villa Falconieri in the Italian city of Frascati. The building dates from the sixteenth century, and its original frescos and decorations are still intact.

The performance will be streamed through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel. The premiere will be live-streamed at 10 a.m. this morning, December 22. The YouTube Web page for viewing has already been created. There is no charge for admission, which means that these performances are made possible only by the viewers’ donations. A Web page has been created for processing contributions, and any visits made prior to the streaming itself will be most welcome.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Omni Announces New Video Premiere

Concerto soloist Marcin Dylla seated between Kupiński Guitar Duo members Dariusz Kupiński and Ewa Jabłczyńska (courtesy of the Omni Foundation)

In the spirit of the season, the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts is offering a holiday gift in the form of its next streamed video premiere managed by Omni On Location. The program will be devoted to a somewhat innovative approach to the performance of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ guitar concerto. The soloist will be Marcin Dylla, but what will make that performance innovative will be the arrangement of the accompaniment by Dariusz Kupiński. Dylla will be accompanied only by the Kupiński Guitar Duo, whose members are Kupiński and Ewa Jabłczyńska.

The performance will be streamed through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel. The premiere will be live-streamed at noon this coming Friday, December 23, just before Christmas Eve. The YouTube Web page for viewing has already been created. There is no charge for admission, which means that these performances are made possible only by the viewers’ donations. A Web page has been created for processing contributions, and any visits made prior to the streaming itself will be most welcome.

The SFS Holiday Brass Concert at Davies

Following up on this past Sunday’s Chamber Music Series program, last night’s program in Davies Symphony Hall was entitled Holiday Brass; and, as should be intuitively obvious, the program featured the brass musicians of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). They were joined by a few “guest artists,” also SFS players: Edward Stephan on timpani, percussionists Jacob Nissly, James Lee Wyatt III, Bryce Leafman, and Stan Muncie, and Principal Bass Scott Pingel. The conductor for this occasion was Edwin Outwater. The program featured one original composition and arrangements for different forms of brass ensembles, following up a basically “classical” repertoire with a jazz offering.

That offering was a brass-based arrangement by Principal Trombone Timothy Higgins of a “seasonal offering” from Duke Ellington’s book. In 1960 Ellington decided he would devote an entire program to the music of another composer for one of his Las Vegas gigs. That composer turned out to be Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Ellington worked with Billy Strayhorn to prepare arrangements of movements from Tchaikovsky’s score for The Nutcracker. The result amounted to a new Nutcracker Suite, complete with alternative movement titles. Higgins extended his brass arrangement of Ellington’s full-band instrumentation to include a rhythm section of bass (Pingel) and drum kit (Nissly).

Only four of Ellington’s nine movements were performed last night. The overture was followed by the “Dance of the Floreadores” (based on the “Waltz of the Flowers”), “Sugar Rum Cherry” (a new name for the Sugar Plum Fairy), and the “Peanut Brittle Brigade” march (mistyped in the program book as “Peanut Butter Brigade”). The original Ellington-Strayhorn version, of course, involved more than brass and rhythm; but Higgins had selected those particular movements for holding up to a brass-only version. This served as the final offering on the program, and it certainly involved performance at its liveliest.

Mind you, this conclusion complemented the program getting off to a lively start. As might be expected, this involved an overture performance; and the selection was Peter J. Lawrence’s arrangement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 96, entitled “Festive Overture.” This allowed listeners to adjust to the sonorities of brass and percussion in the absence of strings and winds, but there were no shortcomings in last night’s raucous account of this overture. The same could be said for Higgins’ arrangement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé suite (which gave trumpeter Mark Inouye a generous opportunity for exercise, performing offstage solos from the rear of the Terrace section).

Higgins’ arrangements of three movements from Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sacrae Symphoniae were not credited in the program. These selections were taken from Sacrae Symphoniae tracks recorded by the National Brass Ensemble, consisting of “26 busy musicians from the top nine orchestras in seven stages.” All three of the movements involved antiphonal exchanges between two brass choirs, each with its own unique complement of instruments.

The only one selection on the program that was not an arrangement a three-movement suite by Anthony DiLorenzo, who composed the music for the documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway. The title of last night’s suite was The Toy Maker, and one could easily associate each of the movement titles with the toy being depicted. As might be guessed, the enthusiastic audience demanded an encore after the “nutcracker sweets.” They got Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” complete with the final horse-neigh delivered by trumpeter Inouye while wearing a horse’s head. Those hi-jinks were followed by a more traditional conclusion with an arrangement of “Auld Lang Syne.” We then all filed out into the “cold winter’s night” warmed by the high spirits of the evening.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

SFCM Highlights: February, 2023

The final highlighted event in the fall season presented by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) took place this past December 10 with an end-of-year performance by the SFCM Orchestra led by special guest conductor, Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser. The hiatus between fall and spring performances will fill the holiday period for the rest of this month, followed by students getting “back up to speed” in January. In other words highlighted events will not resume until the beginning of February.

As during the fall semester, the Performance Calendar Web page will provide the most up-to-date information about the many concerts and recitals that will be presented to the general public. Each of the dates below will include a hyperlink to the appropriate event page, which, in turn, will include a hyperlink for purchasing tickets. If the performance will be live-streamed, there will also be a hyperlink for viewing through a Vimeo Web page. As was the case in the fall, this site will focus on key highlights; and those seeking more thorough information can consult the Performance Calendar.

Sunday, February 5, 7:30 p.m., SFJAZZ Joe Henderson Lab, 201 Franklin Street: This will be the next “side-by-side” concert in which the students in the Roots, Jazz, and American Music Department (RJAM) will perform with the members of the SFJAZZ Collective. The participating Collective members will be Warren Wolf, David Sanchez, Edward Simon, and Matt Brewer. Additional participants in this particular performance will include Joshua Redman, Julian Lage, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, and Matt Wilson.

Tuesday, February 7, 7:30 p.m., Barbro Osher Recital Hall, 200 Van Ness Avenue: The first Chamber Music Tuesday of the spring term will feature a guest artist, violinist Wonhee Bae, first violinist of the Esmé Quartet. She will lead both faculty and students in a performance of the last of Ludwig van Beethoven’s six Opus 18 string quartets, composed in the key of B-flat major. She will be accompanied by Piano Faculty member Julio Elizalde for Franz Schubert’s D. 934 fantasy in C minor. The program will conclude with Bedřich Smetana’s Opus 15 (first) piano trio, with Bae performing with students William Laney (cello) and Helen Yuchen Wu (piano). D. 934 includes a set of variations on Franz Schubert’s D. 741 song, “Sei mir gegrüßt,” which will be sung by baritone Faculty member Matthew Worth, who will also be accompanied by Elizalde.

Saturday, February 11, 7:30 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, 50 Oak Street: Edwin Outwater will lead the SFCM Orchestra, whose program will begin with the world premiere performance of the Emerging Black Composers Project winner Sumi Tonooka. (The title of the composition has not yet been finalized.) Soprano Taylor See will be the soloist in a performance of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” Following the intermission, the program will conclude with Béla Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra.”

Sunday, February 12, 2 p.m., Barbro Osher Recital Hall, 200 Van Ness Avenue: Corey Jamason and Elisabeth Reed, Co-Directors of the SFCM Baroque Ensemble, will present the winners of the 2022–2023 Baroque Ensemble Concerto Competition. Three of the performers of cellists: Kyle Stachnik playing the first of John Garth’s Opus 1 collection of cello concertos, Octavio Mujica playing the sixth of Joseph Bodin de Boismortier’s Opus 26 set of cello concertos, and Hasan Abualhaj playing Antonio Vivaldi’s RV 407 concerto in D minor. The program will also include Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1052 harpsichord in D minor, performed by Yunji Ji, and Antonio Vivaldi’s RV 523 concerto for two violins in A minor, performed by Annemarie Schubert and Eliana Estrada.

Wednesday, February 15, 7:30 p.m., Sol Joseph Recital Hall, 50 Oak Street: Nicole Paiement will lead the New Music Ensemble in an eclectic program of works by living composers. The program will begin with “Gardens,” the opening movement of Cool Grey City, a suite by SFCM alumnus Nick Benavides. This will be followed by an adagio movement by Sarah Wald, “Shangui” by Yangfan Xu, and “Rages, Wages” by Jason Hainsworth.

Thursday, February 16, and Friday, February 17, 7:30 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, 50 Oak Street: SFCM Opera and Musical Theatre will present two performances of the Broadway musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Thursday, February 23, 7:30 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, 50 Oak Street: SFCM brass students will present a side-by-side performance with Canadian Brass. Most of the selections on the program will be arrangements for brass resources. However, there will also be original compositions by Samuel Scheidt and Caleb Hudson.

spalding and Hersch at the Village Vanguard

esperanza spalding and Fred Hersch on the cover of their new duo album

Some readers may be aware that I have done my best to keep up with the work of jazz pianist Fred Hersch, knowing full well that I shall never arrive as a “complete works” account. Indeed, that interest predates much of what I have written on this site and was probably triggered by a concert he presented for San Francisco Performances in February of 2016, back when I was writing for The fact is that Hersch’s efforts have done much to keep me busy, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, it was only about a month after after lockdown conditions were imposed that I experienced my first streaming experience of Hersch. That was The Ballad of Fred Hersch, a documentary made by Charlotte Largarde and Carrie Lozano in 2016. This was followed by the release of a benefit EP of recordings made at the Village Vanguard on October 19, 20, and 21 of 2018, when Hersch, a Vanguard “regular,” gave a duo performance with vocalist esperanza spalding. Proceeds from the sales of that EP benefitted the Jazz Foundation of America in its efforts to assist members of the jazz community impacted by the pandemic.

The five tracks on that EP now contribute to a full album entitled Alive at the Village Vanguard. The EP tracks were “But Not For Me,” “Dream of Monk,” “Girl Talk,” “Some Other Time,” and “Loro.” The added tracks are Charlie Parker’s “Little Suede Shoes,” Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence,” and “A Wish,” composed by Hersch for lyrics by Norma Winstone. The album will be released this coming January 6; and, as expected, has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

Those that follow the activities of the San Francisco Symphony probably know that Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen selected spalding as one of his Collaborative Partners. However, according to my records, her last appearance in Davies took place at the beginning of October of 2021 in its first post-pandemic program, which was given the title “Re-Opening Night.” Personally, I miss the agility of her vocal work, which could hold its own in Davies as well as it could at the Vanguard. On the other hand Davies is too cavernous for the intimate interleaving of voice and piano that makes Alive at the Village Vanguard a listening experience that is both compelling and refreshing.

I have given the tracks on this new release a generous number of listening experiences, and I encounter something new on each of those occasions. Both Hersch and spalding clearly put a lot of thought into preparing and then capturing the tracks on this album. I suspect that I shall be catching up with all of that thought for some time to come.

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Bleeding Edge: 12/19/2022

Given that this is the week that will lead up to Christmas, the presence of any “bleeding edge” events at all might be understandable. However, several of the “usual suspects” are active this week; and only one of them has already been announced on this site. That one is the final Outsound Presents offering of the month, the celebration of the winter solstice on Wednesday, December 21, with the last LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) Creative Music Series event of the month. The other events, which have not been previously announced, are as follows:

Tuesday, December 20, 7 p.m., Make-Out Room: This will be the next Jazz at the Make-Out Room concert, since the date is the third Tuesday of the month. As usual, there will be three sets, each a little over half an hour in duration. The first set will be the latest duo performance to be presented by guitarist Karl Evangelista and clarinetist Ben Goldberg. They will be followed by a solo set taken by drummer Kevin Murray, who is based in New York. The final set will be taken by the Ben Davis Quartet. Cellist Davis leads the group, whose other members are trumpeter Erik Jekabson, saxophonist Tom Weeks, and drummer Jordan Glenn. The Make-Out Room is located in the Mission at 3225 22nd Street. Doors will open at 6 p.m. There is no cover charge, so donations will be accepted and appreciated.

Thursday, December 22, 7:30 p.m., Adobe Books: This will be a two-set evening of “creative music.” The first set will provide a second opportunity to listen to Murray, who will perform with Tom Weeks on saxophone, Kazuto Sato on bass, and two performers working with electronics, Gerald Cleaver and Jean Carla Rodea, the latter also adding vocal work. For the second set woodwind player Kevin Robinson will lead an ensemble whose other members have not yet been announced.

Adobe Books is located at 3130 24th Street in the Mission between South Van Ness Avenue and Folsom Street. This is one of those venues where no one will be turned away for lack of funds. However, payment of $10 is desirable; and all the money collected will go directly to the performing artists.

Friday, December 23, 6:30 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore & Gallery: This is the latest bookstore to host adventurous music performances. However, unlike Adobe Books or Bird & Beckett Books and Records, the venue has a gallery space, which can host those performances. David Boyce, who follows the tradition of performers such as Rahsaan Roland Kirk by playing multiple reed instruments at the same time, has a semi-regular Friday residency. For each performance, he invites other musicians to join him; but, at least for this gig, they are not being announced in advance. The venue is located in the Mission at 3036 24th Street, between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street. There is no charge for admission, presumably to encourage visitors to consider buying a book.

Natsuki Tamura’s Trumpet-Drums Duo Album

Cover of Natsuki Tamura’s latest album

At the beginning of this month, jazz trumpeter and composer Natsuki Tamura released his latest album, produced with his wife, jazz pianist Satoko Fujii. Less than 40 minutes in duration, the performance consists entirely of two duo performances by Tamura with drummer Ittetsu Takemura. While everything involved in making this album took place in Japan, it has an English title, Lightning. It is available only for digital release (streaming and download) through a Bandcamp Web page.

Most of the album is devoted to a half-hour track of composed and improvised performance entitled “Ikazuchi” (the Japanese word for “lightning”). This is followed by a nine-minute track entitled “Kaminari” (the Japanese work for what one might guess, “thunder”). As I have previously written, Tamura has a richly inventive capacity for drawing out a wide variety of sonorities from his instrument, many of which one might not associate with the brass family. That diversity can also be found on the Lightning album, particularly when he is developing solo work.

Takemura, on the other hand, is not shy about deploying more traditional techniques. The album begins with Tamura playing a very brief fanfare to introduce an extended solo by Takemura. My guess is that those of my generation will quickly be drawn into that solo work, particular the extended riffs that suggest that the spirit of Gene Krupa has occupied Takemura’s body. There are also extended vocal passages, which I assume are performed by Tamura. If Takemura evoked Krupa, then Tamura’s vocalizations reminded me of Dizzy Gillespie’s incantation at the beginning of “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac.” It would not surprise me if this was not a demonstration of how one trumpeter’s technique inspired another’s.

I have always believed that “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac” allowed Gillespie to have a bit of fun with his approaches to stylization; so it would not surprise me to learn that Tamura had similar motives in recording his latest album.

SFS Chamber Music: Instrumental Diversity

Yesterday in Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) presented the second Sunday afternoon program in the 2022–23 Chamber Music Series. Like the first of these performances, the program consisted of three selections. Yesterday’s program also presented three compositions, this time covering only two centuries in reverse chronological order. Thus, the program began with the “seasonal” performance of André Jolivet’s “Pastorales de Noël” (1943), followed by one of Benjamin Britten’s earliest compositions, his Opus 2 “Phantasy Quartet” (1932), scored for oboe, violin, viola, and cello. The second half of the program “retreated” to the middle of the nineteenth century with a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 87 (second) string quintet in B-flat major (1845).

This made for an engaging approach to presentation. The first half of the program could have been given an overall title: Early Twentieth-Century Modernism on Either Side of the English Channel. The young Britten is already exploring techniques to serve up innovative sonorities, bringing intimations of dramatics to what might otherwise be viewed as abstract chamber music. Jolivet, on the other hand, was a member of La Jeune France (young France), the modernist group that followed in the wake of the better known Les Six. The Jeune France composer Olivier Messiaen is more familiar to most listeners than is Jolivet. Both of them composed music for the ondes Martenot; but, while Jolivet’s effort was a concerto, Messiaen was interested in more dramatic qualities.

While “Pastorales de Noël” did not require an ondes Martenot, its scoring for flute (Catherine Payne), bassoon (Steven Dibner), and harp (Meredith Clark) clearly reflected a sensitivity for innovative sonorities. This may have reflected Debussy’s trio, which situated the harp between the higher register of the flute and the lower register of the viola. The movement titles provide the music with a narrative perspective, which Dibner explained to the audience in his opening remarks. However, the music came across more as an exploration of diverse sonorities, probably motivated by the “plan” of those movement titles.

Britten’s quartet, on the other hand, comes across as an adventurous exploration of sonorities. The oboe (James Button) is clearly distinguished from the string instruments; but it is not a domineering soloist. Indeed, Britten’s innovative approaches to sonorities are deployed by the very first measures composed for the cello (Amos Yang). As the music unfolds, one quickly appreciates that no instrument in this ensemble is “first among equals;” and it is through the diverse breadth of sonorities that Britten made one of his first marks in commanding imaginative timbres.

The Mendelssohn quintet on the other hand was more “bread-and-butter” in nature. All five of the musicians are given richly energetic passages that weave among each other expressively. Sadly, only three of the names in the program book accounted for the performers on stage. These were the violinists Jessie Fellows and Nadya Tichman and violist Katarzyna Bryla-Weiss. The program book lacked any insert to account for the changes in the performances of first viola and cello. Nevertheless, the second half of the program made for an engaging listening experience, balancing the adventurous modernism of the first half with good old-fashioned nineteenth-century expressiveness.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Old First Concerts: February, 2023

As of this writing, it appears that Old First Concerts has planned out its programming for the first quarter of the new year. Plans for January were announced on this site a little over a week ago. As a result, I am willing to assume that those that like to plan ahead will be just as interested in the four events planned for February. Given that we are still dealing with COVID recovery conditions, O1C will continue to allow both live streaming and seating in the Old First Presbyterian Church at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue. General admission tickets will be sold for $25 with reduced rates for seniors ($20) and students ($5). The suggested donation for those viewing the live stream is $20. Hyperlinks to the event pages (which include hyperlinks for streaming) will be attached to the date and time of the performances as follows:

Friday, February 3, 8 p.m.: The month will begin with a program entitled Uproot: Music from Asia Minor performed by the musicians of the Greek Chamber Music Project. Some readers may recall that, a little over a year ago, this site documented a performance by this ensemble, which was live-streamed from the Technology Hall of the new Bowes Center building of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The new program will again be a quartet performance featuring two of the musicians that performed last year: flutist Ellie Falaris Ganelin and cellist Lewis Patzner. For this offering they will be joined by vocalist Katerina Clambaneva and pianist Elektra Schmidt. Program specifics have not yet been announced; but the selections will be modern arrangements of Greek music from the region of Asia Minor, celebrating a vibrant musical heritage and capturing the refugee experience through song.

Sunday, February 5, 4 p.m.: Costa Rican pianist Gabriela Calderón Cornejo will present a solo recital based on her Musas album. The full title of her program is Musas: Uncovering Lost Piano Works by Latin American Women Composers. On the basis of the Web page, it appears that her recital will provide a full account of all the selections on this recording, all by composers unlike to be familiar to most readers: Carmen Barradas, Nelly Mele Mara, Maruja Hinestrosa, Aurora Román Casares, and María Mendoza de Baratta.

Friday, February 24, 8 p.m.: The duo of cellist An-Lin Bardin and pianist Naomi Niskala will present a program entitled Songs Reimagined. The program will be yet another “journey of discovery,” presenting West Coast premiers of works by ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) composers, each inspired by a childhood song or folk song from the composer’s heritage. Works commissioned for this program were composed by Yiheng Yvonne Wu (Taiwanese American), Juantio Becenti (Navajo), Miguel del Aguila (Uruguayan), Michael-Thomas Foumai (Chinese-Samoan), and Jean “Rudy” Perrault (Haitian). The program will also include compositions by Chihchun Chi-sun Lee (Taiwanese-American), William Grant Still (African American) and Reena Esmail, (Indian American).

Pianist Daniela Mineva (from her O1C Web page)

Sunday, February 26, 4 p.m.: Pianist Daniela Mineva will present a solo recital entitled Transfigured Voices. She is currently Director of Keyboard Studies in the Music Department of the Humboldt campus of the California State Polytechnic University. She has organized her program around three Eastern European women composers. The “core” of her recital will present two compositions by Galina Ustvolskaya, her fifth piano sonata and her set of twelve preludes. The sonata will be preceded by “Music for Piano” by Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, and the program will conclude with Sofia Gubaidulina’s piano sonata.