Saturday, April 30, 2022

Neave Trio to Release New Album Next Month

courtesy of Jensen Artists

I first become aware of the Neave Trio, whose members are violinist Anna Williams, cellist Mikhail Veselov, and pianist Eri Nakamura, when they released their second album, devoted entirely to the music of Astor Piazzolla in December of 2018. On the basis of repertoire alone, I made it a point to keep up to date with subsequence released. However, Neave turned out to be just as significant for me with the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Serving as Faculty Ensemble-in-Residence at the Longy School of Music of Bard College, which is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the trio presented its first live-stream concert in October of 2020, which was followed by subsequent streamed recitals; and I did my best to try to keep up with them all. According to my records, they kept at it through May of 2021, with imaginative repertoire based on both recordings and recitals. Now that we are emerging from pandemic conditions, Chandos will be releasing Neave’s latest album this coming Friday; and, as will probably be expected, Amazon.com has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

The title of the album is Musical Remembrances, and the “program” of the release offers several perspectives on memory and nostalgia. The most evident of those perspectives in the Opus 8 trio by Johannes Brahms. As the number suggests, this is one of the composer’s earliest efforts, first published in 1854 after several earlier attempts to write for this genre of chamber music. However, much later in life (1889), Brahms totally overhauled his score; and that is the version we are now most likely to encounter. (Unless I am mistaken, I have only one recording of the 1854 version.)

The Brahms trio is preceded by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 1892 piano, the first of his two “Trio élégiaque” compositions, which were completed in 1892 and 1893, respectively. The second trio was composed after the death of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; but both trios can be viewed as a “response” to the “call” of Tchaikovsky’s only piano trio, his Opus 50 in A minor. The album then concludes with Maurice Ravel’s only piano trio, composed in 1914.

Prior to World War I (which began while Ravel was completing his trio), Ravel had “responded” to the “call” of “historical” influences. This was evident in his piano compositions “Menuet antique” and the Le Tombeau de Couperin suite. In the trio itself, he structured the third movement around the repeated bass line of a passacaglia. (On the other hand, the second movement of the trio takes its title, “Pantoum,” from a Malaysian verse form, which would have been traditional in Malaysia but novel in France.)

In spite of their choice of title, Neave does not try to emphasize the nostalgic influences behind any of these three compositions. Their priority is fidelity to all of the marks on paper, after which the group seems to have sought out a set of dispositions for giving each selection its own expressive interpretation. As a result, while all three of the selections will probably be familiar to most chamber music lovers, the freshness of Neave’s approaches to interpretation make this a highly satisfying album.

Earplay to Conclude Season with Two Premieres

Earplay pianist Brenda Tom with Mary Chun, Thalia Moore, Ellen Ruth Rose, Tod Brody, Peter Josheff, and Terry Baune (from the Earplay Artists Web page)

Earplay will present the final concert of its 2022 season next month. The program will be framed by two world premiere performances. The beginning selection will be “I Am Not Prokofiev,” composed by Andrew Conklin on an Earplay commission. It will be performed by Earplay pianist Brenda Tom, for whom it was written and to whom it was dedicated. The title refers to the use of fragments from Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 16 (second) piano concerto in G minor.

The concluding selection was written for Earplay with support from a Fromm Foundation commission. “Abandoned” is a sextet by Mika Pelo composed for the full complement of Earplay instrumentalists. Tom will be joined by Tod Brody (flute), Peter Josheff (clarinet), Terrie Baune (violin), Ellen Ruth Rose (viola), and Thalia Moore (cello). They will be conducted by Mary Chun.

Between these “bookends” will be three chamber music offerings for solo, duo, and trio, respectively. Baune will give a solo performance of Stacy Garrop’s “Phoenix Rising.” The duo will be Reena Esmail’s “Nadiya,” performed by Brody and Rose. Baune and Rose will be joined by Moore to perform “A Tres Voces” by Tania León.

This program will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 9. The concert will mark Earplay’s return to Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Open seating tickets are being sold for $25. However, ticket prices for limited availability seating designated for preferred ticket holders will be $35. All tickets may be purchased in advance online from a City Box Office event page. There will also be a preconcert talk beginning at 6:45 p.m.

Ballet Season’s End Disappoints

Last night in the War Memorial Opera House San Francisco Ballet began the conclusion of its 2022 season with the first of eleven scheduled performances of Swan Lake, the last of which will take place on Sunday, May 8. Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson created his own staging but drew upon Lev Ivanov for most of the second act and retained Marius Petipa’s choreography of the “Black Swan pas de deux” in Act 3. Sadly, except for the splendor of a well-coordinated corps de ballet of 30 swans in the second act, the affair was a relatively lackluster one.

The primary problem seems to have been that Tomasson was more interested in an abundance of “pure dance filler” episodes than he was in accounting for a rather awkward narrative that heavily demands Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief.” His decision to begin with Rothbart (danced last night by Daniel Deivison-Oliveira) transforming Odette (Frances Chung) into a swan fit comfortably into the introductory music composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; but, once we enter the world of Prince Siegfried (Joseph Walsh), we have to contend with a plot that advances by fits and starts, frequently punctuated by extended dance episodes that put the narrative on hold.

Mind you, there was no shortage of high-quality dancing during the course of those episodes, whether we were in the “mortal” world of Siegfried, his mother (Anita Paciotti), and his tutor (Ricardo Bustamante) or in the “fantasy” world of all those swans. As a result, when those worlds collide during the third act, the attentive viewer has become so wrapped up in the “divertimento of nations” that the melodramatic plot line is all but forgotten. The impact of the crisis of that melodrama is so muddled that its resolution in the final act devolves into an ambiguity that allows each viewer his/her/their own opportunity to make up how the story ends.

The precision dancing of the four cygnets (Julia Rowe, Norika Matsuyama, Ellen Rose Hummel, and Isabella DeVivo; photograph by Erik Tomasson, courtesy of San Francisco Ballet)

Perhaps George Balanchine had the right idea. Extract the second act of the ballet (that “fantasy” world of the enchanted swans). This allows the audience to enjoy the splendid choreography of a divertissement with minimal intrusion of any plot elements.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Resonance Project to Host Benefit for Ukraine

In a little over a week’s time, The Resonance Project, founded by organist Jonathan Dimmock, will present a benefit concert for the people of Ukraine entitled Concert of Compassion. This will be a fundraising event, which Dimmock is producing along with Lukáš Janata. The program will present an array of international classical music talent. Participants will include renowned mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, award-winning composer and pianist Jake Heggie, musicians from the San Francisco Symphony, members of the Artists’ Vocal Ensemble, The Bay Brass, Orthodox Bells authority Victor Avdienko, Ukrainian soprano Alina Ilchuk, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, and bass Matt Boehler.

The program has not yet been finalized. However, the primary focus will be on Ukrainian composers including Vasyl Barvinsky, Dmitri Bortniansky, Lesia Dychko, Mykola Lysenko, Maxim Shalygin, Valentin Silvestrov, Myroslav Skoryk, and Vladimir Zubitsky. The program will also include works by Mark Adamo, Sam Adams, Samuel Barber, Claude Debussy, Victoria Fraser, Morten Lauridsen, Missy Mazzoli, Francis Poulenc, and Michael Tilson Thomas. There will also be remarks by the Ukrainian Consul-General to San Francisco, Mr. Dmytro Kushneruk, along with other dignitaries. There will also be a Welcome Greeting from Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman-Graf on behalf of Congregation Sherith Israel, which will host the event. For those unfamiliar with the venue, it is the synagogue located between Japantown and Pacific Heights at 2266 California Street on the northeast corner of Webster Street.

The concert is planned to last for 90 minutes. Following the performance, there will be a complementary reception and exhibition showcasing 60 contemporary Ukrainian works of art courtesy of noted art collection Alex Miretsky. Ticketing for this event is being handled through an Eventbrite Web page. Prime seating in the front of the “orchestra” level and the center of the balcony will be available for $100. Seats in the center of the orchestra and the rear of the center balcony will cost $75. $50 will provide orchestra seats on the side and the rear of the center and on the sides of the balcony. Rear orchestra side seats with a somewhat obstructed view will be available for $40. 100% of the proceeds will go to charity.

Reel to Real to Release Historical Pepper Adams

courtesy of Lydia Liebman Promotions

One week from today Reel to Real Recordings will release a two-CD album of baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams performing with The Tommy Banks Trio, led by Banks on piano with Bobby Cairns on electric bass and Tom Doran on drums. This is a concert recording made in 1972 at the University of Alberta, which has not been previously released. Reel to Real specializes in such historical releases, and this will be their eighth offering. As expected, Amazon.com has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

Adams was probably busiest during the Sixties. He had been co-leading a quintet with Donald Byrd; and, after that broke up, he formed another quintet with Thad Jones. That, in turn, led to his role as a founding member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, which maintained a Monday-night residency at the Village Vanguard for five decades.

This new release is likely to appeal to those that like prolonged improvisations by all of the participating performers. With the exception of the 90-second “’Tis,” which was Adams’ “sign-off” tune, the remaining six tracks are all longer than twelve minutes, and five of them exceed seventeen minutes. The Adams originals include “Civilization and Its Discontents” and “Patrice.” Any influence of Sigmund Freud on the first of these is left as an exercise for the listener. The same can be said of whether “Patrice” refers to Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, who was assassinated on September 5, 1960! “Three and One” is a Jones composition, which is complemented by Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo.” The two standards in the collection are “Time on My Hands” and “Stella by Starlight.”

Since my own taste runs to those prolonged improvisations, I find that this entire package makes for a rich listening experience. Indeed, the experience is so rich that I shall probably spend more time listening to individual tracks, rather than taking in the whole “club experience.” (All too often, I find myself leaving a richly-endowed jazz session worrying about how I shall negotiate everything I have just experienced for the sake of writing something coherent!)

Frang Returns to Perform Berg Concerto with SFS

Violinist Vilde Frang (photograph by Marco Borggreve, courtesy of SFS)

Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang made her debut as soloist with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) about three years ago. Performing under Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbański, she took on the many challenges of Edward Elgar’s Opus 61 concerto in B minor and triumphed over all of them. Last night she returned to Davies Symphony Hall for the first of this week’s three subscription concerts. Once again she took on a major challenge, this time the violin concerto that Alban Berg completed shortly before his death in 1935. The orchestra was led this week by Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä.

The partnership could not have been better. Mäkelä was completely at home with the many thematic complexities that Berg packed into his score, while Frang glided her way smoothly through the many imposing technical challenges demanded by all those marks on paper. For those do not know the story, Berg composed this concerto on a commission from the violinist Louis Krasner. Berg know that Krasner was a prodigious virtuoso, so Berg invited him to his house to improvise the performance of particularly technically demanding passages. Berg then went into an adjoining room, leaving Krasner to explore to his heart’s content. As Berg listened to Krasner’s skills, he documented them in notation, returning to those documents when he began work on the concerto.

The result turned out to be a reflection on tragic circumstances. Berg dedicated his concerto “To the memory of an angel.” The “angel” was Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (previously married to Gustav) and Walter Gropius. Manon contracted polio in her teens and died at the age of eighteen. Her death was woven into the conclusion of the concerto with a fantasia on the chorale theme “Es ist genug” (it is enough), which Berg may have selected for the chilling stepwise tritone that begins the first phrase. Ironically, Berg died on December 24, 1935, a few months after completing his violin concerto (leaving his Lulu opera unfinished) and about five months before Krasner first performed the concerto.

Krasner became its champion. There is even a 1936 recording of his performing the concerto with Anton Webern conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The performance took place only a few weeks after its premiere in Barcelona at the Palau de la Música Catalana, where it was conducted by Hermann Scherchen as part of an International Society for Contemporary Music Festival.

Frang rose to every challenge that Berg had summoned through his experiences with Krasner. There is a fierce cadenza that depicts Manon trying to fight off death and ultimately succumbing. Frang captured every detail of that cadenza with frightening intensity. For his part, Mäkelä teased out the many details in Berg’s rich instrumental fabric, plaintively contrasting the delights of Manon’s youth with her tragic end.

Intense expressiveness was equally present in the opening selection that preceded the concerto. This was the first SFS performance of “Perú negro,” composed by Jimmy López Bellido, who was inspired by Afro-Peruvian music. This genre grew out of the importation of Africans to serve as slaves after the Spanish had conquered Peru. Bellido scored his historical reflection for a very large ensemble with a diverse abundance of percussion. The score was only about a quarter of an hour in duration; but the listening experience was like a roller coaster ride, twisting and turning around any number of highly imaginative instrumental sonorities. Mäkelä has apparently performed this work many times with many different ensembles, and San Francisco was lucky to be part of his agenda.

The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 93 (tenth) symphony in E minor. This was composed in 1953 after the death of Joseph Stalin. By all rights that occasion should have been a relief, particularly among the many Stalin had persecuted (including Shostakovich). However, it was also a time of extreme anxiety, since the governmental bureaucracy was as uncertain as the general public as to what would happen next. That uncertainty spilled over into the Opus 93 symphony, whose overall architecture is disconcertingly uneven (perhaps to reflect the composer’s own uncertainties) and whose prevailing rhetoric culminates in an obsession with repetition that is likely to leave the attentive listener thoroughly exhausted.

From a strictly musical point of view, this is a score that comes very close to the edge of tedium, possibly crossing it every now and then; but Shostakovich’s techniques may well have been developed as an expression of that prevailing uncertainty, leaving the audience in a disturbed state that reflects the composer’s personal circumstances.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Choices for May 6 and 7, 2022

The first “busy weekend” of 2022 will differ slightly from the usual conventions. However, unless I am mistaken, this will not be the first set of options for a Friday-Saturday weekend, rather than a Saturday-Sunday one. Right now I have information for alternatives for both of these dates. However, since I have already added options for May 1; I am prepared to the same for May 6 and/or May 7! The events currently scheduled for the first Friday-Saturday weekend of next month are as follows:

Friday, May 6, 7:30 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The California Bach Society (CBS) will celebrate the culmination of its 50th season with a program devoted entirely to Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 245, his setting of the Passion text taken from the New Testament Gospel of John. The CBS chorus will be joined by tenor Mark Bonney in the role of the Evangelist and bass-baritone Scott Graff singing the words of Jesus. The other vocal soloists will be soprano Victoria Fraser, tenor Corey Head, and bass-baritones Roco Córdova and Jefferson Packer. A full Baroque orchestra will be led by concertmaster Noah Strick, and continuo will be provided by organist Yoko Tanaka. The full complement of resources will be conducted by Music Director Paul Flight. St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of its intersection with Franklin Street. Tickets will be sold for $30 with a discount price of $25 for seniors. Students, and those under 30 can purchase tickets for $10. A Web page has been created to process all ticket sales, and the alternative will be to call 650-485-1097. Sales should be finalized at least 24 hours before the concert. Sales at the door will be only be available if COVID-19 restrictions allow. Doors will open at 7:00 p.m. All concert-goers must submit proof of vaccination, and masks must be worn at all times.

Friday May 6, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: San Francisco Performances (SFP) will conclude its Shenson Chamber Series with the penultimate program of its current season. The concert will see the return of the Emerson String Quartet, whose members are violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist Paul Watkins. This will be one of the last opportunities to listen to the ensemble, since it will retire from touring next year. The program will depart from at least some of the usual expectations. It will begin with Alexander Borodin’s second quartet in D major, followed by Samuel Barber’s Opus 11 quartet in B minor. The second half of the program will be devoted to Béla Bartók’s first string quartet. The entrance to Herbst is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. This venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Ticket prices are $85 (premium Orchestra and front and center Dress Circle), $70 (remainder of Orchestra, all Side Boxes, and center rear Dress Circle), and $50 (remaining Dress Circle and Balcony); and they may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page. As available, single tickets will be sold at the door with a 50% discount for students and a 20% discount for seniors. Single tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545.

Saturday, May 7, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The final SFP concert of the season will conclude the 2021–2022 Piano Series. The pianist will be Richard Goode. His program will also include music by Bartók, his collection of fifteen Hungarian peasant dances. The remainder of the program will cover familiar offerings from the nineteenth century. The first half will couple Robert Schumann’s Opus 2 “Papillons” with Franz Schubert’s D. 845 sonata in A minor. The program will conclude with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 101 sonata in A major. Ticket prices are $70 (premium Orchestra and front and center Dress Circle), $55 (remainder of Orchestra, all Side Boxes, and center rear Dress Circle), and $45 (remaining Dress Circle and Balcony); and they may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page. As available, single tickets will be sold at the door with a 50% discount for students and a 20% discount for seniors. Single tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545.

Saturday, May 7, 9 p.m., The Lab: Lyra Pramuk will present a program of what she calls “futurist folk music that harnesses the power and giddiness of technology to present the human voice as an object of limitless possibility.” The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street. This is a short walk from the corner of Mission Street. The location is particularly good for those using public transportation, since that corner provides bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel as well as a BART station. Doors open half an hour before the concert is scheduled to begin; and, back before the pandemic, it was usually the case that a long line had accumulated prior to the opening. General admission will be $15. The price will be discounted or free for members of The Lab. A Web page has been created for others to purchase tickets online.

Schwabacher Recital Showcases Three Vocalists

Last night in the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater, the San Francisco Opera Center and the Merola Opera Program presented the third of the four concerts in this year’s Schwabacher Recital Series, named after James Schwabacher, a co-founder of Merola. The program featured three vocalists, each of whom gave a solo performance on either side of the intermission. In “order of appearance” during the first half of the program, the vocalists were soprano Anne-Marie MacIntosh, bass Stefan Egerstrom, and soprano Elisa Sunshine. They were accompanied by Andrew King, playing a Fazoli piano courtesy of Piedmont Piano.

It would be fair to observe that none of the six offerings was particularly familiar to those that favor vocal recitals. I have to say that, in such an adventurous context, I was most pleased that Egerstrom used his first set to present a selection of seven songs by Jean Sibelius, taken from several collections that he composed over the course of his life. I should confess that I have yet to follow the diversity of vowels (and occasional consonants) in printed Finnish text, since just about every expectation of phoneme sounds in English is thwarted. [updated 4/28, 1:40 p.m.: I just found out that the texts were in Swedish, rather than Finnish, which probably underscores my inability to follow the text sheets!] That said, Egerstrom harnessed those unfamiliar sonorities to capture the intensity of the semantics that could be gleaned from the English translations. This was not my first encounter with Sibelius songs; but the gaps between those opportunities have been too long for my personal preferences, making Egerstrom’s efforts particularly welcome to my own personal tastes.

Any challenges with the Finnish language were compensated at the beginning of the second half of the program. Egerstrom shifted over to English with a performance of Cyril Scott’s arrangement of the folk song “Lord Randall.” This narrative of a young man poisoned to death by his lover has been with me pretty much for as long as I have been interested in folk songs. (I even had a favorite recording of this ballad sung by, of all people, Harry Belafonte, whose rhetorical delivery was more impressive than one might have guessed.) After five relatively polite verses, the young man erupts with anger in the final verse; and Egerstrom captured just the right phrasing to deliver those words with the greatest impact.

MacIntosh began the evening with Franz Liszt’s setting of Heinrich Heine’s poem “Die Loreley.” This, too, is a dark text based on a dark legend. Liszt’s repertoire of vocal music is relatively limited compared to his music for solo piano. (What isn’t so limited?) Nevertheless, the composer was definitely sensitive to the verbal nuances of the poet; and MacIntosh made it a point to give each of them the attention they deserved. In the second half of the program, she switched her attention of to a collection of four songs by Claude Debussy that he called “Chansons de jeunesse” (songs of youth). This contrasted Liszt’s darker rhetoric with a lighter touch, convincing the attentive listener that this is music that deserves to be heard much more often.

Sunshine’s venture into the unfamiliar concluded the program with the songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff. All of Rachmaninoff’s 83 songs were composed before he left Russia in 1917. Thus, when one listens today, one can appreciate the retrospective impression of Russia before the Revolution. I first encountered this repertoire at a student recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. This was many years ago, and Sunshine’s performance reminded me of how much I missed this aspect of Rachmaninoff’s efforts as a composer.

Less satisfying was her decision to conclude the first half of the program with Libby Larsen’s Try Me, Good King. This song cycle is a chronicle of the first five wives of the English King Henry VIII, each of whom is represented by her own words. Sadly, if Try Me, Good King is representative of how Larsen sets text to music, then she would do well to focus her pursuits on other genres. None of the songs show any sensitivity to syntax, semantics, rhetoric, or narrative. The cycle is one of those projects that looks good on paper but offers little to the attentive listener.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Mingus Centennial Honored with “Deluxe” Reissue

courtesy of Play MPE

This past Friday (April 22), when I wrote about the forthcoming release of Mingus: The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott’s, I forgot to mention that I was writing about Charles Mingus on the 100th anniversary of his birth! That date also marked a release by Rhino/Parlophone of a new “deluxe edition” of Mingus Three, the 1957 recording of the trio that bassist Mingus formed with pianist Hampton Hawes and drummer Danny Richmond. The original release featured two Mingus originals, “Back Home Blues” and “Dizzy Moods,” coupled for four standards (“Yesterdays,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “Summertime,” and “Laura”), along with a four-minute jam entitled “Hamp’s New Blues.”

The “deluxe” release includes alternate takes of all of these tracks except the one for “Laura." It also includes two additional tracks, two takes identified only as “Untitled Blues,” the second about half as long as the first. That makes for about an hour and a quarter of highly imaginative jamming by all three members of the trio.

The album is being released on both vinyl and CD with a booklet with both photographs and updated liner notes. Sadly, the Amazon release of the MP3 version does not include that booklet. For attentive listeners, however, each of the fifteen tracks on this release speaks for itself with more than sufficient clarity. Those familiar with Mingus’ biography know that he could be difficult (and sometimes downright violent) during recording sessions. In this case, however, all of the tracks were recorded on July 9, 1957; and no undercurrents of hostility ever seem to emerge. When it comes to inventive interpretation and improvisations, this was a gathering of equals all sharing mutual respect; and the result is a spontaneity in performance that is consistently satisfying from beginning to end.

Jerusalem Quartet Debut with SFP Next Month

The members of the Jerusalem Quartet (courtesy of SFP)

The beginning of next month will see two concerts that will conclude the San Francisco Performances (SFP) Shenson Chamber Series. Both programs will present string quartets, the first making its SFP debut and the other a familiar visitor. The “new arrival” will be the Jerusalem Quartet, whose members are violinists Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bresler, violist Ori Kam, and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov.

The program they have prepared provides three contrasting perspectives on what may be called the “Romantic” style. The program will begin early in the nineteenth century with the second, in the key of E minor, of Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 44 quartets. It will conclude late in that same century with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 11 quartet in D major, the first of his three string quartets. Between these two major compositions, there will be a shorter work, which, in many ways, constitutes a “last gasp” of Romanticism. This is one of the earliest compositions of Anton Webern, composed in 1905 and entitled simply “Langsamer Satz” (slow piece).

This concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 5. It will take place in Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. This venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel.

Ticket prices are $70 (premium Orchestra and front and center Dress Circle), $55 (remainder of Orchestra, all Side Boxes, and center rear Dress Circle), and $45 (remaining Dress Circle and Balcony); and they may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page. As available, single tickets will be sold at the door with a 50% discount for students and a 20% discount for seniors. Single tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Center for New Music: May, 2022

As of this writing, there will be slightly fewer performances in May at the Center for New Music (C4NM) than are taking place this month. However, three of the April events only showed up on the C4NM Events page about a week ago. So this site will do its best at keeping up with the news as it unfolds! That has already included announcing this Sunday’s concert in yesterday’s Bleeding Edge article. (In the interest of consistency, that announcement will be included in this article.)

For those that do not already know, 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 that aforementioned Events page. Masks are still required for all in attendance, and those in the audience are required to be fully vaccinated. Furthermore, since those pandemic conditions still prevail, the audience capacity will be reduced; so purchasing tickets early is desirable. 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:

Sunday, May 1, 7 p.m.: The month will begin with a performance by the Departure Duo, whose members are soprano Nina Guo and Edward Kass on double bass. They will present the results of their latest round of commissions. Contributing composers will be Sarah Gibson, Mikhail Johnson, Emily Koh, and Emily Praetorius.

Sunday, May 8, 4:30 p.m.: This will be the fifth installment in the Surround Sound Salon Series, the fourth having taken place this past February. This series consists of informal shows in which electronic music composers present their fixed media and/or live electronic music through the 8-channel surround system, generously provided by Meyer Sound. The composers mix their sounds from the center of the space, and members of the audience are free to choose their own listening location(s) and to move within the space to hear the music from different vantage points. The Bay Area composers contributing to this program will be Sam Genovese, Will Gluck, Kim Nucci, and Kristian Dahlbom.

[updated 5/9, 9:20 a.m.: As expected, the start time for this event has been corrected from a.m. to p.m.:

Sunday, May 15, 6:30 p.m.: (Note that the unconventional start time is the one that appears on the Web pages associated with this concert. Hopefully, we shall know whether this is an error sooner rather than later.)] Composer Sam Reider will preview the original works he has prepared for his Masters in Composition recital at San Francisco State University. Most of these will be pieces for solo piano. However, Reider is also an accordionist; and he will present a new work for accordion and string quartet, which he will perform with the members of the Del Sol Quartet, violinists Sam Weiser and Benjamin Kreith, violist Charlton Lee, and cellist Kathryn Bates.

Friday, May 20, 8 p.m.: Ensemble in Process is the duo of pianist Brian Mark and violinist Allyson Clare. They will make their Northern California debut by repeating Light of Strings, a concert they performed in New York prior to the pandemic on September 14, 2019. Three local artists will appear as guest performers: cellist James Jaffe, violist Charith Premawardhana, and harpist Jennifer Ellis. The program will include works by Ryan Brown, Meredith Monk, Anuj Bhutani, Erik Satie, Missy Mazzoli, Michael Gordon, and Ted Hearne, along with the world premiere of a live performance of Mark’s “Impenetrable.”

[updated 5/6, 7:50 a.m.: The following item has been postponed:

Saturday, May 21, 7:30 p.m.: This program will present new works for piano and live spatialized electronics composed by pianist Nick Bacchetto and Ben Sabey working with MIDI Polyphonic Expression instruments.]

Monday, April 25, 2022

Change of Vocalist at Wednesday’s Schwabacher

Due to illness, baritone Timothy Murray will not be able to perform as one of the three vocalists in this Wednesday’s Schwabacher Recital Series concert. He will be replaced by soprano Anne-Marie MacIntosh. The other two vocalists will still be soprano Elisa Sunshine and bass Stefan Egerstrom. The pianist will still be Andrew King. Egerstrom will still sing the selection of seven art songs composed by Jean Sibelius during different periods in his life, all to be sung in Finnish; and, in the second half of the program, he will sing Cyril Scott’s arrangement of the English folk song “Lord Randall.” Sunshine will still sing Try Me, Good King, a song cycle by Libby Larsen consisting of five songs, each named after a wife of the English King Henry VIII: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, and Catherine Howard. Her contribution to the second half of the program will be three songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff. MacIntosh will begin the program with Franz Liszt’s setting of the poem “Die Loreley;” and, in the second half of the program, she will sing the four songs that Claude Debussy collection as Chansons de jeunesse (songs of youth).

This program will still begin at 7:30 p.m. on the evening of Wednesday, April 27. Like the first two offerings, the performance will take place in the Taube Atrium Theater, part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which is located in the Veterans Building (on the fourth floor) at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. General admission will be $30. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an event page on the San Francisco Opera Web site. Note that it is possible to select the option of Wheelchair Accessible seats. In addition, subject to availability, student rush tickets will go on sale at 7 p.m. at the reduced rate of $15. There is a limit of two tickets per person, and valid identification must be shown.

The Bleeding Edge: 4/25/2022

After a month of relative quietude, April will wrap up and enter May with an engaging assortment of options. Two of those options have already been reported in the schedule for the Center for New Music (C4NM): the Night of Solos, Duos and a Quartet of Creative Music on Friday, followed by a performance by Non Tactus on Saturday. However, there are three events to add to the options to be considered (one of which will get the jump on May plans at C4NM). Specifics are as follows:

Tuesday, April 26, 8 p.m., Adobe Books: The next performance to be hosted by Adobe Books will bring together three particularly adventurous musicians, violinist gabby fluke-mogul, guitarist Fred Frith, and percussionist Nava Dunkelman. No further information has been provided as of this writing. Most likely they will explore improvisations in different combinations over the course of the evening. 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, donations are encouraged and will all go directly to the performing artists.

Friday, April 29, 7:30 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares: MFN is the venue that used to be Alley Cat Books. That bookstore had been committed to presenting live performances in the Mission, and MFN will continue to carry that torch. The performance will present two solo sets by tenor saxophonists david boyce and Phillip Greenlief (who call themselves MYSTERY SCHOOL when they join forces). MFN is located at 3036 24th Street. Admission will be pay-what-you-can donations to support the performers.

Sunday, May 1, 2022, 7 p.m. C4NM: The venue will launch the new month with a performance by the Departure Duo, whose members are soprano Nina Guo and Edward Kass on double bass. They will present the results of their latest round of commissions. Contributing composers will be Sarah Gibson, Mikhail Johnson, Emily Koh, and Emily Praetorius. For those that do not already know, 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 an Events page.

Dawn Derow’s Disappointing WWII Nostalgia

Dawn Derow on the cover of her debut album (courtesy of Kate Smith Promotions)

At the end of last year, Zoho Music released the debut album of vocalist Dawn Derow. The title of the recent album is My Ship: Songs from 1941, which is also the title of a cabaret show that Derow has been performing. For those unfamiliar with our country’s history, December 7, 1941 was the day on which the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the Naval fleet of the United States at Pearl Harbor, marking our country’s entry into World War II.

Some of the selections clearly reflect that entry, such as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” (which is coupled with “Boogie Woogie” in a medley), and “(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover.” Others reflect on what was popular, such as two Kurt Weill tunes from Lady in the Dark, “The Saga of Jenny” and “My Ship.” Unfortunately, the style of Derow’s delivery seldom reflects the spirit of any of these numbers when they were sung in 1941. Her sense of pitch tends to be a sometime thing (to appropriate the words of a song that was about half a decade old in 1941). Similarly, her approach to stylizing never quite does the trick, either in the spirit of the Forties or in terms of current listening expectations.

Those curious about jazz stylizations some 80 years ago will probably do better to consult some of the archival albums of the recordings that were made at that time.

Kanneh-Mason Duo Surveys Twentieth Century

Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason (photograph by Robin Clewley, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony)

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall the San Francisco Symphony Great Performers Series presented the San Francisco debut of the Kanneh-Mason duo of cellist Sheku and his sister Isata at the piano. Readers may recall that, at the beginning of last month, Isata made her solo debut under the auspices of San Francisco Performances. The program was so ingeniously conceived that the description by Benjamin Pesetsky. in the program book is worth quoting:

The four cello sonatas on today’s program are all interconnected. Frank Bridge was Benjamin Britten’s teacher, Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich were friends across the Iron Curtain, and Shostakovich taught Karen Khachaturian. They are also linked by the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (1927–2007), who recorded the Bridge and Shostakovich sonatas with Britten on piano, and to whom the Britten and Khachaturian sonatas are dedicated. [The Britten sonata was also recorded with Britten on piano.] Altogether, these pieces represent a sort of English-Russian extended family spanning the First World War through the 1960s—music that carried forward the expressive intensity and melodic sensibility of Romanticism, but sharply cut, angularly shaped, and harmonically unleashed.

Regardless of any metaphor of “extended family,” it should be noted that the English and Russian selections were separated by the intermission.

Another key observation is that, while the Britten and Shostakovich sonatas are probably familiar to those that make it a point to attend cello recitals, the Bridge and Khachaturian offerings are more likely to be encountered on recording than in recital programs. Each of these proved to be a highly engaging journey of discovery. In my own listening history, I first came to know Bridge through his art songs; and my awareness of the sonata was due entirely to the Decca recording made by Rostropovich and Britten.

Bridge’s sonata was composed during World War I, beginning that “span” cited in the program book. There is considerable darkness in the overall rhetoric, as well as nostalgia for the rich expressiveness found in late nineteenth-century music. While Pesetsky described it as a two-movement composition, the second of those movements provides a smooth transition from Adagio ma non troppo to a Molto allegro agitato finale. In other words Bridge followed the usual three-movement plan with a seamless transition from the second movement to the third. Certainly the phrasing of last night’s performance provided a clear and satisfying account of this three-movement plan.

I first came to know the Khachaturian sonata through the EMI box set of Rostropovich recordings. I must confess that “first contact” did not make much of an impression. However, this is an engaging account of traditional forms each given its own contemporary twist. I was particularly drawn to the concluding Toccata, whose Allegro con fuoco drives an intense tarantella with all the intensity of a dancer afflicted by a Lycosa tarantula spider bite.

I have been fortunate to have encountered the Britten and Shostakovich sonatas in recital settings, meaning that I did not have to depend solely on recordings, even those featuring Rostropovich and Britten. I was particularly taken with the abundance of wit that Sheku brought to the Britten sonata. One could easily take the opening Dialogo movement as an argument between brother and sister (leaving it to the listener to decide who got the better of the argument). His pizzicato work in the second movement was positively jaw-dropping, as was the dynamo driving the concluding Moto perpetuo movement.

The Shostakovich sonata was composed in 1934, not long before the hammer of Soviet authority came crashing down on him for the “decadent” qualities of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. There is a playful rhetoric in the sonata that is shared equally by the cello and piano parts. Fortunately, Rostropovich was able to record this sonata with Shostakovich at the piano in the Fifties when conditions were at least somewhat more favorable following the death of Joseph Stalin. My guess is that the Kanneh-Masons were familiar with that recording, but they were still able to provide their own rhetorical perspective on the music.

The encore selection was the spiritual “Deep River,” probably in the arrangement by Stephen DeCesare. This clearly did not fit into the “English-Russian extended family.” Nevertheless, it provided a welcoming calm after the intensity of Shostakovich’s sonata, concluding an imaginatively conceived program with abundant opportunities for journeys of discovery.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

SFS: Five Weeks of Guest Conductors

The month of May and the first week of June will feature five guest conductors leading the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). As was the case this month, there will be a mixture of familiar faces and debut performances by both conductors and soloists. Specifics are as follows in the usual chronological order with the Web page for purchasing tickets hyperlinked to each of the dates:

May 5, 7, and 8: Xian Zhang will make her debut as a conductor of subscription series concerts. Her soloist, pianist Aaron Diehl, will be making that same debut. He will be featured in the SFS premiere performance of of Florence Price’s single-movement piano concerto. This will be preceded by Nokuthula Ngwenyama’s “Primal Message,” which will also be receiving its SFS premiere. The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 95 (ninth) symphony in E minor, best known as “From the New World.” The performances on May 5 and 8 will take place at 2 p.m., and the May 7 performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $20 to $165 and may also be purchased by calling the SFS Box Office at 415-864-6000. The free pre-concert talk will be given by Sarah Cahill one hour prior to the beginning of the performance. Doors open fifteen minutes before the talk begins.

May 13–15: This week will see the welcome return of two familiar faces. Karina Canellakis will take the podium, and the soloist will be cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Weilerstein will be featured at the beginning of the program with a performance of Richard Strauss’ “Don Quixote” tone poem. This will be followed by the SFS premiere of “D’un soir triste” (of a sad evening), composed by Lili Boulanger near the end of her life. The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to Witold Lutosławski’s concerto for orchestra. The performances on May 13 and 14 will take place at 7:30 p.m., and the May 15 performance will begin at 2 p.m. Ticket prices range from $20 to $165 and may also be purchased by calling the SFS Box Office at 415-864-6000. The free pre-concert talk will be given by Scott Foglesong one hour prior to the beginning of the performance. Doors open fifteen minutes before the talk begins.

May 20–22: [updated 5/10, 10:25 a.m.: Conductor Ton Koopman has withdrawn from this program due to difficulties with his visa for entry into the United States. Bernard Labadie will] lead an all-ensemble program of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn. He will begin with Mozart’s K. 239 serenade in D major, composed for two small orchestras. This will be followed by his K. 425 (“Linz”) symphony in D major. The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to one Haydn symphony, [updated 5/10, 10:30 a.m.: Hoboken I/103 in E-flat major, instead of Hoboken I/80 in D minor.] The performances on May 20 and 21 will take place at 7:30 p.m., and the May 22 performance will begin at 2 p.m. Ticket prices range from $20 to $165 and may also be purchased by calling the SFS Box Office at 415-864-6000. The free pre-concert talk will be given by Alexandra Amati one hour prior to the beginning of the performance. Doors open fifteen minutes before the talk begins.

May 26–28: Nathalie Stutzmann will make her debut as a conductor of subscription series concerts. While Koopman’s program paired two leading composers from the Classical period, Stutzmann will present a “pairing” of nineteenth-century composers, Johannes Brahms and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The first half of the program will include the SFS Chorus performing three Brahms compositions: “Nänie,” (Opus 82) “Gesang der Parzen” (song of the Fates, Opus 89), and “Schicksalslied” (song of destiny, Opus 54). The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to Tchaikovsky’s Opus 74 (sixth) symphony, also known as the (“Pathétique”). All three performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $35 to $165 and may also be purchased by calling the SFS Box Office at 415-864-6000. The free pre-concert talk will be given by James Keller one hour prior to the beginning of the performance. Doors open fifteen minutes before the talk begins.

These performances will be preceded by the next Katherine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal. This special behind-the-scenes experience begins at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 26, with coffee and complimentary doughnuts, followed by a half-hour introductory talk by Keller at 9 a.m. The rehearsal itself begins at 10 a.m.; and, of course, the pieces rehearsed are at the conductor’s discretion. General admission is $30 with $40 for reserved seats in the Premier Orchestra section, Rear Boxes and Side Boxes, and the Loge. Tickets may be purchased online through a separate event page.

June 2–5: This program will feature the West Coast premiere of a piano concerto composed by Mason Bates on an SFS commission. The pianist will be Daniil Trifonov, and the conductor will be Ruth Reinhardt, making her debut. The program will begin with the SFS premiere performance of Lotta Wennäkoski’s “Helsinki Variations.” The second half of the program will see a return to Dvořák, this time his Opus 76 (fifth) symphony in F major. The performances on June 2 and 5 will take place at 2 p.m., and those on June 3 and 4 will begin at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $20 to $165 and may also be purchased by calling the SFS Box Office at 415-864-6000. The free pre-concert talk will be given by Sarah Cahill one hour prior to the beginning of the performance. Doors open fifteen minutes before the talk begins.

Mezzo Hope Nelson’s SFCM Master’s Recital

Last night marked my first “physical” attendance at a student recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) since the onset of the pandemic. On the recommendation of a “reliable source,” I went to listen to the Second Year Master’s Recital given by mezzo Hope Nelson, accompanied at the piano by Kevin Korth. Her program encompassed selections in French, Italian, German, and English, focusing primarily on the art song repertoire. The diversity of that repertoire made for a thoroughly engaging listening experience.

Nelson began the program with four of the five songs that Maurice Ravel collected under the title Histoires naturelles (natural histories). The texts were poems by Jules Renard, each portraying a different animal. With the exception of “Le grillon” (the cricket), all of the animals are birds. The poems endow each of the animals with human qualities, and Nelson managed to capture the essences of those qualities in her deliveries. If I had any quibbles, they were with the first of the songs, depicting the peacock. This is the one “auditory” text that tries to capture the “cri diabolique” (devilish cry) of a peacock waiting for his mate; and Nelson’s delivery of that cry was not as “diabolical” as I have encountered in other performances.

The Ravel selection was followed by a cantata for solo voice and piano by Gioachino Rossini entitled “Giovanna d’Arco” (Joan of Arc). Rossini wrote this piece in 1832, which would have been about three years after his final composition for the stage. The text is basically an interior monologue of “the Maiden,” which is endowed with little narrative context. None of my sources provide any information about the author of the text, leading me to wonder if it had been written by Rossini himself. While the music itself is a bit on the overblown side, Nelson clearly knew how to capture the different emotional dispositions associated with each of the cantata’s movements.

More in the German tradition of vocal recitals, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Opus 14 Lieder des Abschieds (farewell songs) consisted of four text settings, each by a different poet, on the topic of departure. These were composed between 1920 and 1921. Those familiar with Korngold’s Opus 12 opera Die tote Stadt (the dead city) would probably have recognized a few of the thematic tropes from that opera, along with an occasional nod to Gustav Mahler’s own “farewell” composition, the final movement of the orchestral song cycle Das Lied von der Erde (the song of the earth). The Opus 14 cycle provides an engaging examination of Korngold’s rhetorical techniques before those techniques were repurposed to serve the needs of Hollywood producers.

The Korngold set was preceded by “I Want to Die While You Love Me,” Undine Smith Moore’s setting of poetry by Georgia Douglas Johnson. Moore, who died on February 6, 1969, was known as the “Dean of Black Women Composers.” Given all the attention given to female composers recently, I was a bit embarrassed to realize that this was my first encounter with her music. One might describe the rhetoric of Johnson’s poem as one of delicate intensity, and Nelson’s delivery engagingly captured the balancing of those opposites.

The program then concluded with two songs composed in the service of narrative. The first of these was the “Barbarasong” from the first act of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, sung in the original German of Bertolt Brecht’s libretto. I have always preferred the coarseness of Brecht’s rhetoric to any attempts to translate this libretto into English. The text sheet included with the program provided both the German and the English, but Nelson’s delivery of the the German had me fixated from beginning to end. She knew just the right amount of dramatic embellishment to keep audience heads from being buried in that text sheet.

The program then shifted over to English for “The Madame’s Song,” which Stephen Sondheim wrote for the film version of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. (This later resurfaced in the Side By Side By Sondheim revue as “I Never Do Anything Twice.”) Sondheim’s edges were as sharp as Brecht’s in this song. In this case, however, there was no text sheet. It was not necessary. Between the clarity of her delivery and her judicious sense of dramatics, there was no need to be looking at anything other than Nelson herself.

The same could be said for her presentation of an encore. This was Liza Lehmann’s setting of Rose Fyleman’s poem “There are Fairies at the Bottom of Our Garden.” The text is a somewhat loopy account of a child’s imagination, and Lehmann knew just the right way to capture that eccentricity. Nelson clearly had fun with her delivery, which was readily shared by just about everyone in the audience.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Chamber Music Tuesday Concludes Next Month

As the spring season at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) begins to wind down, next month will mark the conclusion of the inaugural season of Chamber Music Tuesday. The final performance will feature a guest appearance by Israeli violinist Itamar Zorman. He will perform in all four of the selections on the program. However, his solo skills will be highlighted in a performance of the Opus 34 “Slavonic” sonata for violin and piano in B-flat minor by Dora Pejačević. Zorman will be accompanied at the piano by faculty member Weicong Zhang.

This sonata will be preceded by Franz Schubert’s D. 703 (“Quartettsatz”) string quartet in C minor. The remaining two works on the program will be William Grant Still’s “Lyric Quartette” and Johannes Brahms’ Opus 18 (first) string sextet in B-flat major. That concluding performance will include two faculty members, violist Dimitri Murrath and cellist Jennifer Culp.

Like the past recitals in this series, the performance will take place in the Barbro Osher Recital Hall of the new Ute and William K. Bowes Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, located at 200 Van Ness Avenue. It will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 3. According to the SFCM event page, there will be no charge for admission. However, tickets must be reserved for those wishing to attend the event in the Recital Hall; but there is also a hyperlink for a Vimeo live-stream feed of the performance.

Three Piano Trios in the Span of a Decade

Kate Stenberg, Miles Graber, and Mary Artmann (from the Old First Concerts event page for last night)

Last night Old First Concerts presented and live-streamed a recital by the trio of pianist Miles Graber, cellist Mary Artmann, and violinist Kate Stenberg. The program consisted of three compositions, all written within a span of ten years, which also happened to include the entirety of World War I. The selections were played in reverse chronological order, beginning with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 8 (first) trio in C minor, completed in 1923, followed by Rebecca Clarke’s 1921 piano trio. The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Maurice Ravel’s 1914 piano trio.

World War I “officially” began on July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Ravel had begun work on his trio the previous March. As hostilities began to spread during the month of August, Ravel rushed to complete the trio, after which he planned to enlist in the army. In October he served as a nurse’s aide, and in March of 1916 he would go on to become a volunteer truck driver for the 13th Artillery Regiment. The trio itself was first performed in Paris in January of 1915.

Last night’s performance was consistently attentive over the course of the trio’s four movements. The first movement is particularly notable for its spooky use of upper-level natural harmonics in the final measures, and the effect was well served by Artmann’s cello work. Equally compelling was the account of the third-movement Passacaille, followed by further explorations of upper harmonics in the concluding movement.

Taken as a whole, there are a wide span of dispositions over the course of the trio, none of which necessarily suggest Ravel’s intention to enter military service after the composition had been completed.

After the Armistice there were signs of a “new world order” in formation. Shostakovich’s trio is a relatively youthful work confined to a single movement. The young composer was clearly enjoying the benefits of “freedom of speech” with an almost rampant optimism, even if the key of the trio was C minor. The composer had no idea what the future would hold for him, but his early exploitations of high spirits all make for engaging listening.

Clarke was born in England and began her studies at the Royal Academy of Music in 1903. She would eventually move to the United States in 1916. The major anecdote of her life involves a viola sonata she composed in 1919 for a competition sponsored by her neighbor, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The judges could not believe that one of the best of the entries was written by a woman, and there was even speculation that Ernest Bloch had submitted a second entry under the name “Rebecca Clarke.” By 1921 there was finally some acceptance that a woman could compose music on a par with Bloch’s efforts. The trio was submitted to another Coolidge competition but again failed to take the first prize.

Fortunately, Clarke’s work has begun to receive more attention with increased interest in female composers throughout the entire span of music history. In September of 2019, this site wrote an article about the album Her Voice released by the Neave Trio on the Chandos label. Clarke’s trio was performed on this recording along with piano trios by Amy Beach on Louise Farrenc. Clarke was born in 1886, and Beach preceded her by about twenty years. However, Farrenc was born in 1804! Last night’s account of Clarke’s trio made a clear case that the music deserved a major place in twentieth-century history.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Resonance Records Releases Lost Mingus Album

Once again George Klabin and his Resonance Records label have produced a major archival offering for those particularly interested in provocative jazz inventions from the second half of the twentieth century. Readers may recall that Klabin produced the two-CD album Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott’s. One week from today Resonance will release another album from that same venue, Mingus: The Lost Album from Ronnie Scott’s.

This is based on two nights of sessions at Ronnie Scott’s at which Charles Mingus on bass led a sextet, whose other members were Jon Faddis on trumpet, Charles McPherson on alto saxophone, Bobby Jones on tenor saxophone and clarinet, John Foster on piano (and occasional vocals), and Roy Brooks on drums (with a few riffs on musical saw). Two CDs account for a session on August 14, 1972, and a third CD accounts for the following night’s set. As many will expect, Amazon.com is currently taking pre-orders for this new release.

Both evenings favored those in the audience that liked their music to spin out over lengthy durations. On the first program the group invests almost 31 minutes in Mingus’ “Orange was the Color of Her Dress, then Blue Silk,” almost twenty minutes on “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues,” and almost 30 minutes on a Mingus original I had not previously encountered, “Mind-Readers Convention in Milano (aka Number 29).” Mingus then wrapped up that set with 45 seconds of Charlie Parker’s “Ko Ko.”

The second evening began with a 35-minute treatment of “Fables of Faubus.” This is where the vocal work shows up, although it is not as provocative as the recording session for Candid made on October 20, 1960. Orval Faubus was governor of Arkansas between 1955 and 1967. In 1957 he ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent black students from entering the Little Rock Central High School to attend classes there. Since Brown v. Board of Education had been decided (unanimously) by the Supreme Court in 1954, this was an egregious flaunting of Federal authority, which probably inspired Mingus to enact his own egregious flaunting of Faubus. How much Londoners knew about this background in 1972 will probably never be established, but I suspect that at least some of them had that Candid album in their possession.

The other major offering on the second night was “Man Who Never Sleeps,” which, like “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues,” ran a bit shy of twenty minutes. These two extended takes were separated by an homage to Louis Armstrong by playing fast and loose with “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The set concluded with “Air Mail Special,” a standard for Benny Goodman’s band, which he composed jointly with James Mundy and Charlie Christian. It is also worth noting that, during the prolonged performances, there are occasional intrusions of tunes appropriated from elsewhere. I have to confess personal delight in the way Faddis summons up memories of Dizzy Gillespie with a few fragments of “Salt Peanuts.”

I have to say that I have more than a little regret that I was never able to attend a Mingus performance. On the other hand his temper was really volatile, so those that did go to his gigs were never quite sure what might happen. Mingus was 50 when he played at Scott’s, but I doubt that age ever mellowed him. (He was only a few months shy of 57 when he died.) Recordings may be the only way to get a sense of what Mingus did and how he did it, but my knowledge of his biography reminds me that I probably would not have felt particularly comfortable in his presence!

Choices for May 1, 2022

Last year ended with a pair of “busy weekend” articles, after which the flow of activity tended to abate somewhat. However, next month will begin with more choices than usual, none of which involve a maypole or memories of “the Revolution.” Because it is the beginning of a new month, the first entry will include plans for the remainder of the month. Also, if necessary, this page will be updated with notifications of changes on the “mirror” Facebook site. The events currently scheduled for Sunday, May 1, are as follows:

3 p.m., Old First Presbyterian Church: Old First Concerts (O1C) will host Music of the Americas. This will be the eighteenth year of the Juliet McComas Keyboard Marathon presented by the Community Music Center (CMC). Fourteen CMC keyboard faculty artists will present a program of the works of eighteen American, Latin, and African American composers representing wide-ranging periods and styles. Three of the composers are currently active in the Bay Area: Jon Jang, Bruce Nalezny, and Betty Wong. O1C events will continue to be “hybrid,” allowing both live streaming and seating in the Old First Presbyterian Church at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue. Seating will remain limited to 100 tickets, all being sold for $25 (no reduced rate for seniors or students). Tickets may be purchased through this concert’s event page. The remaining events of the month will be as follows with hyperlinks attached to the date and time of each the performances:

  • Friday, May 6, 8 p.m.: Violinist Patrick Galvin will return to O1C. He will be accompanied at the piano by Jennifer Hou. His program will include the duo versions of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” and Ernest Chausson’s Opus 25 “Poème.” The program will begin with “Souvenir,” the first in a collection of six pieces by Jean Sibelius published as his Opus 79. This will be followed by Nathan Milstein’s arrangement of Frédéric Chopin’s posthumously published solo piano nocturne in C-sharp minor.
  • Friday, May 13, 8 p.m.: Twin sisters Clara and Marie Becker will present a program of music composed for piano four-hands. They will begin with two selections by Robert Schumann, his D. 813 set of variations in A-flat major and the D. 940 fantasy in F minor, which is one of the most iconic compositions in the four-hand literature. This will be followed by Felix Mendelssohn’s Op. Posth. 92, an Allegro brillant in A major. Antonín Dvořák’s orchestral Slavonic dances were also published in versions for four-hand performance, and the Becker twins will perform three selections from the Opus 72 collection. The program will conclude with a four-hand rendering of “Vltava” (the Moldau) the second of the six pieces that Bedřich Smetana collected under the title Má vlast (my fatherland).
  • Saturday, May 14, 7:30 p.m.: Harpist Amelia Romano will present a program of music, most (if not all) of which has been arranged for her instrument. The repertoire will range from one of the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti (K. 368 in A major) to Leo Brouwer’s arrangements of two Beatles songs, “She’s Leaving Home” and “Penny Lane.” Romano will be joined by two guest artists, trumpeter Matthew Ebisuzaki and guitarist Zach Donaldson.
  • Sunday, May 15, 4 p.m.: The Ives Collective, led by Susan Freier on both violin and viola and cellist Stephen Harrison, will present a program consisting of a trio, a quartet, and a quintet. The trio will be Rebecca Clarke’s piano trio in E-flat minor. The quartet will be Benjamin Britten “Phantasy Quartet,” featuring oboist Kyle Bruckmann. The quintet will be Edward Elgar’s Opus 84 piano quintet in A minor.
  • Friday, May 20, 8 p.m.: The Friction Quartet of violinists Otis Harriel and Kevin Rogers, violist Rachyl Martinez, and cellist Doug Machiz will present the world premiere of “La terre est bleue comme une orange” by Geoffrey Gordon. This will be followed by two other recently-composed works. “El Correcaminos” by Nicolas Benavides will be followed by Mario Godoy’s “Attention Economy.”
  • Sunday, May 22, 4 p.m.: The May calendar will conclude with a solo piano recital by Daniel Schreiner. He will present West Coast premiere performances of two compositions, “bluedream” by Brittany J. Green and “Three Short Dreams” by Ramin Roshandel. Featured composers from the twentieth century will include Erik Satie, John Cage, and György Ligeti.

4 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: Prior to their Old First performance, the Friction Quartet will give a performance with pianist  Sarah Cahill. The program will consist of three quintets and one string quartet. The latter will be Dvořák’s Opus 96 “American” quartet. The quintets will be a three-movement composition by Tania León entitled “Ethos,” written in 2013, a 2012 piece by Timo Andres inspired by the works of Robert Schumann, and Max Stoffregen’s tone poem entitled “The Gila: River, Mesa and Mountain.” The Noe Valley Ministry is located at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street, a short walk from the Muni stops at the corner of 24th Street and Church Street. Tickets for this concert are being sold through the Noe Music event page. General admission is $40. Those that login with an electronic mail address may be eligible for discounts, but others may prefer to process the order through a guest login.

4 p.m., Congregation Sha’ar Zahav: At exactly the same time, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav will host the final program in the 22nd season of Music in the Mishkan. The regular performers for the season have been Music Director Randall Weiss on violin and pianist Marilyn Thomson. They will be joined by violist Natalia Vershilova and cellist Matthew Linamen in a performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Opus 15 (first) quartet in C minor. The program will begin with Alexander Krein’s “Elegy,” which will be followed by the first of Ludwig van Beethoven’s two Opus 70 piano trios, this one composed in the key of D minor. Congregation Sha’ar Zahav is located at 290 Dolores Street at the northwest corner of 16th Street. Tickets for the general public are $25, but members of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav will be admitted for $20. Tickets may be purchased in advance with a credit card by calling Congregation Sha’ar Zahav at 415-861-6932. They may also be acquired online through a Web page, which also allows for additional donations to Sha'ar Zahav.

[added 4/24, 9:35 a.m.:

4 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: A third concert to take place at the same time with be the Pious & Profane program prepared by American Bach Soloists. This will consist of both secular and sacred music from the Early Baroque period in Italy, with both genres represented by compositions by Claudio Monteverdi. The secular selections will be taken from his eighth book of madrigals. This is the longest of the nine books and the only one to be given a title: Madrigali guerrieri e amorosi (madrigals of war and love). There will be two “war” madrigals: “Or ch’l ciel e la terra” (now that heaven and earth) based on a sonnet by Petrarch, and “Combattimento de Tancredi e Clorinda” (the battle between Tancred and Clorinda), taken from Book XII of Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem liberated). The “love” madrigal will be “Altri canti de Marte” (let others sing of Mars). The sacred selections will be the six-voice Magnificat setting taken from the 1610 Vespers music and the setting of Psalm 112, “Beatus vir” (blessed is the man). The other composers to be included in the program will be Giovanni Gabrieli, Biagio Marini, Giovanni Legrenzi, and Isabella Leonarda. St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of Franklin Street. The eastbound Geary Bus (number 38) stops within a block of the church after it leaves Geary Boulevard to proceed along O’Farrell. There are also nearby stops for buses on Van Ness Avenue. Ticket prices are $101, $77, $56, and $39, with seating for the disabled priced at both $101 and $39. All tickets may be purchased through an ABS Web page. That Web page includes an interactive display for checking where seats are available in each of the four sections. The checkout process will include a display of safety policies, and an agreement must be affirmed before the transaction is completed.]

Dudamel’s Motto: “Nothing Succeeds like Excess”

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel (photograph by Danny Clinch, courtesy of SFS)

Gustavo Dudamel made his debut conducting the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in March of 2008. The program was an ambitious undertaking. The first half consisted entirely of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 1, his first piano concerto in the key of F-sharp minor, performed with piano soloist Kirill Gerstein. This was followed in the second half by the complete score that Igor Stravinsky composed for Michel Fokine’s ballet “The Firebird.” This coupling of very early works by two of the leading Russian composers of the twentieth century was a bold move in programming, but the realization of that program left the attentive listener filled with admiration for Dudamel’s skilled approaches to interpretation.

Sadly, by November of 2016, when Dudamel returned to Davies Symphony Hall, this time leading his “own” ensemble, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, any previous sources of admiration had been dispersed. There was no sign of any of the nuances that had breathed life into his accounts of both Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky until the encore selection, the first-act waltz from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score for the ballet Swan Lake. All that preceded was little more than an abundance of sound and fury true to the empty signification that had inspired that phrase from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Last night Dudamel returned to Davies, once again taking the SFS podium. The primary offering on the program was Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony in C-sharp minor. This is, without a doubt, the most intricately structured symphony in the Mahler canon. At the center is a Scherzo movement long enough to be a composition unto itself. On either side of the Scherzo are “matched pairs” of movements. The two opening movements reflect on the genre of the funeral march. The Scherzo is then followed by the shortest (and most serene) movement of the symphony, and Adagietto scored for only strings and harp. This is the calm before a viciously furious Rondo movement, in which each return of the rondo theme is more ominous than its predecessors.

Many regular SFS followers probably know that Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) gave this symphony considerable attention during his tenure as Music Director. What I remember most about those many performances was that, each time MTT returned to the score, he found new perspectives in interpreting all those marks on paper. Sadly, last night I would be hard pressed to say that Dudamel approached this symphony with any perspective at all. It almost seemed that the only signification that mattered was his decision to conduct without a score. Once again the result was all sound and fury, leaving Shakespeare to remind the listener of the teller of that particular tale.

If anything saved the performance, it was the collective memory of those musicians that had internalized much of what they had learned under MTT’s baton. They could then guide the “newcomers” through the many twists and turns in Mahler’s score. Meanwhile, Dudamel was up there on the podium; and it seemed as if his only concern was that the ensemble was not playing loud enough.

The audience was prepped for their Mahler experience with a Mozart symphony in the first half of the program. Dudamel selected K. 504 in D major, often known as the “Prague” symphony. If the audience was prepared for anything by this performance, it was Dudamel’s ability to seek out excess even where it did not belong. He led an ensemble with reduced string sections, but the numbers themselves never quite found the sweet spot between too thick and too thin. K. 504 is one of Mozart’s most engaging symphonies, but anyone encountering it for the first time through Dudamel’s interpretation would be hard-pressed to believe that claim.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Unlocking the Lockdown Festivals

Regular readers probably know by now of my efforts to follow Karl Evangelista’s Lockdown Festivals, whose streamed offerings provided a valuable platform for performing through prevailing pandemic conditions. The most recent of these was Lockdown Festival VI, which was streamed at the end of this past September. Now that many of the performing arts organizations seem to be resuming their usual schedules, Evangelista has announced an Unlocked Festival, which will serve as an opportunity for the more adventurous members of the Bay Area music community to convene, gather strength, and forge ahead.

As the “fine print” on the poster shows:

the Unlocked Festival is basically the transformation of what would have been Lockdown Festival VII. As was the case for Lockdown Festival VI, the program will present eight sets, most of which will be half an hour in duration. However, this will be a “live” performance at the Temescal Art Center in Oakland, and an audience will be admitted. Those attending will be required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks at all times. For those of us preferring to remain in San Francisco, the entire concert will be live-streamed; and the YouTube URL has already been created.

Like the sixth 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, April 30, and run until 8:30 p.m. The schedule for the eight performances will be as follows:

  1. 4 p.m.: Positive Knowledge (Oluyemi and Ijeoma Thomas)
  2. 4:30 p.m.: duo B. (Jason Levis and Lisa Mezzacappa)
  3. 5 p.m.: Tongo Eisen-Martin
  4. 5:30 p.m.: Lenora Lee and Francis Wong
  5. 6 p.m.: Evicshen
  6. 6:30 p.m.: Grex (duo of Evangelista and Rei Scampavia)
  7. 7 p.m.: Tom Weeks, Kazuto Sato, and Gerald Cleaver
  8. 7:45 p.m.: Rova Saxophone Quartet

As was the case with the Lockdown Festivals, there will be no charge for admission to the Temescal Art Center. 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, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Milford Graves Memorial Fund.

Noa Wildschut’s Spotlight Debut at Davies

Violinist Noa Wildschut (photograph by Simon van Boxtel, courtesy of SFS)

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall the San Francisco Symphony presented the third in its series of four Spotlight concerts, all of which involved debut appearances under SFS auspices. The offering was a recital by Dutch violinist Noa Wildschut accompanied by German pianist Elizabeth Brauss, both appearing in Davies for the first time. The major work on the program was Maurice Ravel’s second violin sonata in G major.

This sonata was composed in 1927, meaning that it predates both of Ravel’s piano concertos. On the other hand, it postdates George Gershwin’s two major concertante compositions for piano and orchestra, “Rhapsody in Blue” and the three-movement “Concerto in F.” Gershwin had approached Ravel for lessons earlier in the Twenties. Ravel declined the request on the grounds that he “would probably cause him to write bad Ravel and lose his great gift of melody and spontaneity.” (Hollywood distorted history by writing that line as “If you study with me you'll only write second-rate Ravel instead of first-rate Gershwin.”)

Ravel labeled the second movement of his sonata “Blues;” and, to some extent, that movements serves as his sincere reflection on “first-rate Gershwin.” It begins with a strumming, which may have been inspired by the banjo required in the original “Rhapsody in Blue” score. However, it also reflects on Ravel’s earlier venture into jazziness of the duo between the teapot and the broken china cup (which is sung in English in pidgin Chinese) in Ravel’s one-act opera “L’enfant et lest sortilèges.” Indeed, those familiar with this opera can probably hear the teapot singing “I punch your nose” while listening to this sonata movement.

Neither Wildschut nor Brauss was shy in their account of this movement. Indeed, their dedication to evoking Ravel’s spirit spilled over in the wild “Perpetuum mobile “ of the final movement. This made the opening movement almost a calm before a storm to follow, although there are few jazzy riffs in seconds coming from the piano that foreshadow the adventures to follow.

Ravel’s sonata followed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 304 sonata in E minor. This consists of only two movements, an Allegro followed by a Tempo di menuetto. There is a tendency to associate Mozart’s minor key music with his darker side. However, Wildschut’s deliberately heavy-handed bowing on the G string (the lowest of the four violin strings) suggested that she was approaching the music with a more prankish rhetoric. This would have been perfectly consistent with the brash side of Mozart’s personality in his early twenties. Indeed, he composed the sonata while visiting Paris and may have deliberately thumbed his nose at French music-making practices. One seldom encounters such raw rhetoric in a Mozart sonata; but there was much to admire (and raise eyebrows) in Wildschut’s rhetorical approach to the score.

The second half of the program involved more recent music. “Sarasvati” was composed for the duo in 2018 by Joey Roukens. The title refers to a river in the north of India, but it is also the name of a goddess mentioned about 50 times in the hymns of the Rig Veda. Roukens limits his “orientalism” to a few pentatonic gestures evocative of Balinese gamelan music. However, as the score develops, the thematic material becomes more “Westernized;” and any sense of that river as a major force of nature emerges through Roukens’ own lexicon, rather than appropriation of Eastern resources.

The jazzy rhetoric of Ravel’s sonata movement returned with much gaudier attire in the final selection, Paul Schoenfield’s Four Souvenirs. This was composed in 1990, about five years after his more familiar “Café Music” piano trio. Both pieces probably reflect on an earlier stage in Schoenfield’s career, when he was house pianist at Murphy’s steakhouse in Minneapolis. Each of the Souvenirs movements explores a different dance form, but the rhetoric is more nostalgic than the raucous spirits of “Café Music.” Both Wildschut and Brauss knew how to capture that underlying sense of nostalgia without allowing the rhetoric devolve into mush.

The encore selection was presented with a dedication to the people of the Ukraine. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 107 was entitled Ten National Airs with Variations for Flute and Piano. The seventh set of variations involved the Ukrainian tune “Ikhav Kozak za Dunaj.” The music may not have been familiar, but the spirit could not have been more genuine.