Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Chanticleer’s 45th Anniversary Season

The Chanticleer vocalists (courtesy of Chanticleer)

In less than a month’s time, Chanticleer will launch its 45th Anniversary season. There will be four offerings; and, as has been the case in the past, each of the performances in San Francisco will take place at a different venue. In addition, the first two of those programs will be presented twice in San Francisco. Both subscriptions and single tickets are currently on sale. Subscriptions are available for all four programs, and there are also reduced subscriptions for either three or two of the programs. Chanticleer has created a single Web page for ordering all levels of subscriptions, with reduced prices for students and seniors.

Program details have not yet been finalized; but all performances in San Francisco will begin at 7:30 p.m., except for the annual Christmas programs, which will begin at 8 p.m. Single ticket sales will be managed by City Box Office. The hyperlinks attached to the dates below will lead to the specific Web pages for ordering tickets. Currently available information about the programs and their San Francisco dates are as follows:

Friday, September 23, and Saturday, September 24, the Green Room of the San Francisco War Memorial (401 Van Ness Avenue): The title of the first program of the season will be Labyrinths; and the program will include music by Josquin des Prez, Trevor Weston, Steven Sametz, Tania León, and George Walker, along with a nod to Joni Mitchell.

Saturday, December 17, and Sunday, December 18, St. Ignatius Church (650 Parker Avenue): This annual Christmas program honors founder Louis Botto’s original vision of joy and transcendence through beautifully sung music of all centuries, beginning with a candlelit chant procession and culminating in a triumphant gospel conclusion.

Friday, March 17, Herbst Theatre (401 Van Ness Avenue): Neighbor Tones will present a partnership with “next door neighbors,” the San Francisco Girls Chorus, to perform a program of new works and new sounds, including the premiere of a new, extended commission by Ayanna Woods, composer-in-residence for the current Chanticleer season.

Saturday, June 10, Grace Cathedral (1100 California Street): The final program, Music for a Hidden Chapel, will mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Byrd with an evening of meditative chant and soaring polyphony.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Sunset Music and Arts: October, 2022

October will be another month during which Sunset Music and Arts will present only two programs. Both of them will feature keyboardists. However, the first will be a duo recital for violin, as well as piano. As was the case for the coming month of September, the performances will take place on a Saturday evening, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Specifics are as follows:

October 15: The duo recital will bring together Sofia Schütte on violin and Ines Guanchez on violin. They both have cultivated a repertoire based on the music of female and Latin composers. They have not yet announced program specifics; but the composers they will feature will be Dora Pejacevic, Chen Yi, Marion Bauer, and Kala Ramnath.

October 22: The piano recitalist will be Sumi Lee, who holds a Master’s degree in Piano Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Her education also includes professional training as a tango pianist through studies with La Orquesta Escuela de Tango Emilio Balcarce, where she graduated in 2018. Currently based in the Bay Area, she is on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco branch of Music Teachers’ Association of California. She has not yet released information about the program she will perform.

These performances will take place in the Sunset district at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, located at 1750 29th Avenue, about halfway between Moraga Street and Noriega Street. Ticket prices for both performances are $25 for general admission with a $20 rate for students and seniors. Because the demand tends to be high, advance purchase and registration are highly advised. Both may be arranged through Eventbrite. The hyperlink on the first of the above dates leads to the appropriate event page, and the hyperlink for the Lee recital should be appearing some time next month. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-564-2324.

Finally, because we are still under pandemic conditions, all health and safety guidelines provided by the City and County of San Francisco must be honored. That means that a face covering is required for admission to all concerts, and it must be worn at all times. Face masks must completely cover the nose and mouth and have ear loops or similar to hold in place. Gaiters and bandanas are not acceptable.

In addition, proof of vaccination will be required for admittance. This may be provided with either a paper copy or a digital image. Sunset has created a Health and Safety Web page with a self-assessment based on ten easily answered questions. Those entering the building will implicitly acknowledge that they have answered “no” to all ten questions. Anyone that has answered “yes” to a question will be asked to return for another concert or offered a refund for paid tickets.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Ohlsson and Quartet to Launch SFP Season

San Francisco Performances (SFP) will launch its 43rd season at the beginning of this coming October. The first concert will also be the opening recital of the 2022–23 Shenson Piano Series, and the featured pianist will be Garrick Ohlsson. Based in San Francisco, Ohlsson has been serving as a faculty member of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; and, now the that pandemic is subsiding, he is returning to a busy touring schedule.

Ohlsson will begin the program with three selections from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1080, The Art of Fugue. In its entirety this work consists of fourteen fugues and four canons, all based on the same principal subject in D minor. Ohlsson will play three of the fugues:

  • Contrapunctus 1: the “basic” four-voice fugue on that principal subject
  • Contrapunctus 4: a four-voice fugue on the inversion of the principal subject with added counter-subjects
  • Contrapunctus 9: a double fugue (two subjects) with inverted counterpoint at the interval of a twelfth

Garrick Ohlsson and the members of the Apollon Musagète Quartet (from the SFP Web page for their recital program)

In addition, Ohlsson will share the stage with the Apollon Musagète Quartet. The members of this ensemble are all Polish: violinists Paweł Zalejski and Bartosz Zachłod, violist Piotr Szumieł, and cellist Piotr Skweres. The quartet was one of the last to perform in San Francisco prior to the pandemic, having launched the Chamber Music San Francisco season in February of 2020. They will join Ohlsson in a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 57 piano quintet in G minor (the same selection that was performed yesterday afternoon at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music). In addition, they will play Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 51 string quartet in E-flat major (sometimes known as the “Slavonic Quartet”) following Ohlsson’s Bach performance.

This program will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 7. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel.

Ticket prices are $75 (premium Orchestra and front and center Dress Circle), $60 (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. In addition, since this is the first concert of the series, subscriptions are still available to cover all five concerts. The respective prices are $330, $265, and $215.

Single tickets can also be purchased at the door as available with a 50% discount for students and a 20% discount for seniors. Subscription orders may be placed through another SFP secure Web page or by calling the SFP subscriber hotline at 415-677-0325, which is open for receiving calls between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Single tickets may be purchased by calling 415-392-2545.

A “Post-Bach” Finale for SFIPF

Yesterday afternoon in the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music hosted the Fifth Anniversary Season Finale of the San Francisco International Piano Festival (SFIPF). The title of the program was A Well-Tempered Legacy. This amounted to a series of reflections on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach without any of that composer’s works included on the program until the final selection. Another possible title might have been Bach Reflected and Refracted, with fugues providing the basis for both reflection and refraction.

The first composer on the program was Dmitri Shostakovich, whose catalog includes a generous number of preludes and fugues. Indeed, that coupling accounts for the first two movements of his Opus 57 piano quintet in G minor. SFIPF Artistic Director Jeffrey LaDeur took the piano part, joined by the members of the Telegraph Quartet: violinists Eric Chin and Joseph Maile, violist Pei-Ling Lin, and cellist Jeremiah Shaw.

While there are no further reflections on Bach in the remaining three movements, the entire quintet presents Shostakovich’s rhetoric at its most intense. The score was completed in September on 1940, and there is a certain irony to the foreboding darkness of that rhetoric: Less than a year later, in June of 1941, Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union. Even without that historical context, yesterday’s performance provided a thoroughly engaging account of the diversity of dark shadows that Shostakovich summoned in composing this quintet.

Indeed, the impact of this quintet is so strong that it is usually programmed as a final selection. Performing it at the beginning of a program is likely to leave the attentive listener wondering what could possibly follow it. LaDeur seems to have based his plan on the principle that one good fugue deserves another. As a result, the program concluded with Parker Van Ostrand, currently an SFCM student, playing the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 106 (“Hammerklavier”) piano sonata in B-flat major. That movement couples an extended introduction (prelude) with a ferociously aggressive fugue which is about as remote from any fugue Bach composed than one could hope to get. Yesterday’s performance did not overlook a single trick as Beethoven turned the fugue theme into those pieces of colored glass that you see reflected in a kaleidoscope. That coupling of Shostakovich and Beethoven probably left the audience thankful for then being allowed an intermission.

Fortunately, the remainder of the program was less intense. LaDeur returned to play four fugues based on Beatles tunes that had been composed by Tom Sivak. The movements he selected were “All My Lovin’,” “Penny Lane,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Hey Jude,” all of which were being given West Coast premiere performances. After the intensity of the first half of the program these offerings came across a bit like parlor tricks, but they were more than moderately engaging.

The remainder of the program was taken by Tammy Lynn Hall, preceded by a film of Nina Simone. The film was made at the 1987 Montreux Jazz Festival; and Simone was playing one of her favorite tunes, Walter Donaldson’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me.” However, this particular account was clearly introduced in the context of the gigue that was one of Bach’s favorite musical dance forms. Hall then took the keyboard to explore similar approaches to four familiar tunes, all of which had been in Simone’s “book,” “Little Girl Blue,” “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” “Good Bait,” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” She then closed out her set (and the entire program) with the C major prelude (BWV 846) that begins Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.

This made for a rather casual wrapping-up of this summer’s SFIPF; but, given the intensity of the first half of the program, that calmer disposition was decidedly welcome.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Nicolas Horvath Launches Susman Project

Having completed my journey through the seven volumes of CD volumes accounting for the complete piano works of French composer Jean Catoire, I have discovered that pianist Nicolas Horvath pursued this project under a label that he initiated entitled Nicolas Horvath Discoveries. Releases under this label are currently being distributed digitally by Collection 1001 Notes; and beginning next month physical albums will be released under the ACEL label. Meanwhile, I have undertaken a discovery of my own, which is that Bandcamp provides a far more amenable site for Horvath’s releases than I have encountered on

So it is that this morning I found the Bandcamp Web page for Quiet Rhythms Book I, solo piano music composed by William Susman and performed by Horvath. While I knew absolutely nothing about Catoire when I began to write about Horvath’s recordings of his piano music, Susman’s name was already familiar to me. Indeed, in January of 2021 I wrote about A Quiet Madness, an anthology (available through Bandcamp) of Susman’s music, which included three tracks of solo piano music.

Those tracks were the first, fifth, and seventh compositions in the first of four volumes entitled Quiet Rhythms. Each of those compositions followed a two-section plan. A section entitled “Action” would be preceded by a “Prologue” section. This structural plan was described by Rebecca Lentjes for the booklet that accompanied the Quiet Madness album. Each volume consisted of eleven of these couplings, meaning that the total number of pairings was 44.

That Bandcamp Web page was created this past March. The site offered the usual Digital Album option, allowing both streaming and download; and the download included a PDF file of the accompanying booklet. That booklet offered an informative essay by David Sanson and three paragraphs of “remarks” by Susman himself. However, there was also a second option that added an autographed, 89-page, spiral bound edition of the sheet music added to the download package. Presumably, the composer felt that seeing the music itself would enhance the listening experience, if not encourage some of the listeners to try playing the music for themselves.

Personally, I was delighted that Bandcamp included this option (and find it hard to imagine Amazon going down a similar path)! I still treasure my copy of Waltzes by 25 Contemporary Composers, which C.F. Peters Corporation released in 1978. I had recently heard Philip Glass’ “Modern Love Waltz” performed in Carnegie Hall for a piano competition, and I was delighted to discover that I could play this music for myself. (I then went on to explore the other waltzes in the collection!)

Mind you, there remains the question of how one reacts to eleven of these prologue-action couplings unfold “back-to-back” on a single recording. Sanson addresses this issue as follows:

At around the age of 23, Susman encountered the music of Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and was influenced by their processes involving the repetition and transformation of tonal harmonic material, as well as their reliance on a regular rhythmic pulse. In the case of Susman’s Quiet Rhythms, the pulse is not absent, but its irregularity, along with its metric instability, is at the heart of the music. Susman’s music is also extremely condensed. His cellular evolutions occur in movements of less than five minutes, in contrast to the expansive unfolding of the early minimalists.

It is that sense of “metric instability” that established each “Action” movement with its own individuality. The fact that such individuality can be identified in a movement that may not be much longer than two minutes testifies to the breadth of Susman’s capacity for invention. This makes for a significant departure from the more familiar strategies deployed by the “Holy Trinity” of Riley, Reich, and Glass. Given the opportunity to explore the phenomenology of listening to the eleven prologue-action couplings in Susman’s first book, one is likely to wonder what lies in wait in the remaining three books.

ODC to Host New Kathak Dance Program

Charlotte Moraga, Director and Choreographer of the Chitresh Das Institute (from her home page)

This coming October the Chitresh Das Institute and ODC Theater will co-present the world premiere of a new work exploring the confluence of history, religion, and the environmental degradation of some of India’s most sacred waterways. Invoking the River is a full-length new work in Kathak dance choreographed by Charlotte Moraga. The music is composed by pianist Utsav Lal, who will perform with Nilan Chaudhuri on tabla and Indian classical vocalist Saneyee Purandare Bhattacharjee. The performance will also incorporate multimedia designed by Alka Raghuram, who is both a filmmaker and a visual artist.

Moraga released the following statement about her project:

Invoking the River is our way of telling our inter-related stories. Water flows. Water moves through every living thing and connects us all. It is powerful. It both creates and destroys. It holds memories. The same water that flows today through our rivers and our veins was probably in the blood of dinosaurs. Invoking the River is about this journey through life and time told through movement, music, and our common bonds in the face of urgently needed change to preserve the sacredness of life that is embodied in water.

Invoking the River will be given three performances at the ODC Theater on Friday, October 14, at 8 p.m., Saturday, October 15, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, October 16, at 4 p.m. The theatre is located in the Mission at 3153 17th Street on the southwest corner of Shotwell Street. Tickets will be priced between $20 and $45. As of this writing, tickets are not yet available. When they are ready for purchase, a hyperlink will be created on the Web page of the ODC Theater’s 2022 season.

Bobby Mitchell’s Robert Schumann Program

Last night in the Old First Presbyterian Church, the 2022 San Francisco International Piano Festival presented the last of the three Old First Concerts recitals to be performed at that venue. The recitalist was Bobby Mitchell; and, unless I am mistaken, he was one of the “founding fathers” of the Festival when it was launched in 2017, having formerly been a founder of the preceding New Piano Collective. Mitchell has had a long standing affinity for the music of Robert Schumann, and last night’s program was structured around early and late Schumann compositions.

The most familiar work on the program was probably the final one, the Opus 82 collection of short piano pieces entitled Waldszenen. These pieces are too short to be viewed as episodes; but Schumann provided each with a title, suggesting that the sequence involved venturing into a forest for an encounter with nature and people (hunters and an innkeeper), concluding with a “farewell” movement. Mitchell announced the title of each episode before playing it, thus serving as the “guide” for this exploration of the woods. Schumann completed this set in 1849, around the time that he was beginning to cope with the onset of both physical and mental illness; but Mitchell’s account abounded with healthy optimism, serving as an excellent conclusion to his all-Schumann program. (He did not announce the title of his brief encore, probably taken from another collection of short pieces.)

The program began with the last piano composition assigned an opus number, the Opus 133 five-movement “Gesänge der Frühe” (songs of the morning). It was composed five months prior to Schumann’s attempted suicide and confinement to a mental institution. All of the movements are organized around the pitches of a D major triad; and only one of them is in a minor key (F-sharp minor). Nevertheless, the major mode prevails, almost as if a rhetoric of optimism could turn back the dark clouds forming in Schumann’s troubled mind.

These two compositions served to frame two much earlier compositions: the Opus 4 collection of six intermezzi and the Opus 5 set of nine impromptus all based on a theme by (then) Clara Wieck. These were both composed during Schumann’s earliest encounters with Clara, and his compositions at that time allowed him to express his enthusiasm. This was also the period in his life when he composed his finger-busting toccata in C major (Opus 8). That composition tends to receive much more attention; and I suspect that, even for those that claim to know the Schumann catalog well, Mitchell’s program may have provided “first contact” experiences.

Taken as a whole, the framing of early compositions with later ones constituted an engaging listening experience, made all the more engaging by the learned attention that Mitchell brings to his interpretations of the Schumann catalog.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Flower Piano 2022 Schedule Announced

A typical Flower Piano performance (from the Flower Piano Web site)

Sunset Piano and the San Francisco Botanical Garden (SFBG) have announced the schedule for this year’s annual Flower Piano event. There will be a special one-hour Opening Event, which will take place in the Great Meadow on Wednesday, September 14, beginning at 5 p.m. After that all remaining events will take place between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. beginning on Friday, September 16, and concluding on Tuesday, September 20.

Once again, a dozen grand pianos will be installed on the 55 acres that SFBG occupies in Golden Gate Park. That means that there will be times when twelve different performances will be taking place simultaneously; and, yes, the Garden is large enough that sounds from the different venues rarely interfere with each other! Furthermore, when those pianos are not committed for scheduled performances, they are available for anyone interested in playing them. As in the past, a Web page has been created with the full schedule of events; and anyone interested in one of those events needs only to show up at the right place at the right time. (Yes, SFBC will provide maps showing the twelve different performance venues.)

While that Web page does not provide a thorough account of the music that will be performed, I wanted to call out one specific event involving a concert discussed yesterday. Readers may recall that pianists Sarah Cahill and Regina Myers will perform in the first Faculty Artist Series recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), presenting music for both four hands on one keyboard and two pianos. Furthermore, they will be joined by two other pianists, Allegra Chapman and Monica Chew, to perform music for four pianists at two pianos. [added 8/28, 8:45 a.m.: The only selection from the SFCM recital that will not be performed at Flower Piano will be Elenor Alberga’s “3-Day Mix,” scored for four hands on one keyboard.] That program will be revisited at 1 p.m. on Saturday, September 17. That afternoon there will be two pianos in the Celebration Garden, and they will be put to work by different pairings of pianists between noon and 4 p.m.

Cahill [added 8/28, 8:40 a.m.: and Myers] will also participate in the Opening Event. They will be two of twelve pianists to perform Benjamin Gribble’s “Fall and Fly,” which the composer scored for a twelve-piano choir. The ensemble will be conducted by Stanford Symphony Director Paul Phillips. This will be the only performance in the entire program that will require tickets. All tickets are being sold for $35, and a secure Web page has been created for online purchase.

Clay’s “Turntable Music” Gets Its First Recording

Readers with long memories (or good search engines) are probably already aware of Turntable Drawings, an ongoing partnership of printmaker Jon Fischer and composer Danny Clay. My “first contact” with this project took place at the Center for New Music (C4NM) on the evening of June 3, 2017, which was a “live” performance of three of Clay’s compositions: “Turntable Drawing No. 25,” “Turntable Drawing No. 8,” and “Turntable Drawing No. 16.” All of these involved multiple phonographs with different approaches to how the turntable could be “played.”

“Turntable Drawing No. 16,” composed for electric guitar and three turntables, was the first piece to be performed on the program for the 2017 concert. My article about this concert described this particular performance as “an interplay of structured sonorities coming from opposite sides of the C4NM space with Giacomo Fiore exploiting a wide diversity of effects electronics with his instrument at one end of the space, while the three turntables were at the other.” Fischer’s contribution involved what the turntables would be “playing.”

Working in the medium of old vinyl records, both twelve inches and seven inches in diameter,” he has been creating designs that are imprinted on the surface using handmade silicone molds. Usually the groove structure is preserved; but the printed surface has new subtle three-dimensional qualities. The “records” for “Turntable Drawing No. 16” have deliberately-created locked grooves, providing an innovative approach to the “repetitive structures” that, more often than not, serve as a more accurate description of “minimalist” compositions.

Yesterday a “Turntable Drawing No. 16” album was released through a new Bandcamp Web page. Appropriately enough, the “physical” release will be on a limited edition twelve-inch vinyl, whose two surfaces present Fischer’s artwork. One side is the result of studio sessions that were recorded and mixed on September 2018 and April 2020. This is basically a collage that Clay created from the content of the two studio sessions. The other side presents a “live” performance, which took place in January of 2021. The album is also available for streaming and downloads of both MP3 and FLAC content. For the “live” performance, Fiore used a modular synthesizer patch that loops and processes both the guitar work and the albums played on the three turntables in real time.

C4NM poster for tonight’s release party (from the C4NM event page)

Those that have encountered Turntable Drawings content in performance may believe that “you had to be there” to appreciate the experience. Such listeners will be happy to know that C4NM will host a live performance of “Turntable Drawing No. 16” as part of a release party. There will also be an exhibit of Fischer’s homemade records and a turntable petting zoo.

As has already been reported on this site, that party will take place tonight (Saturday, August 27), beginning at 8 p.m. General admission will be $10, and those paying $25 will receive a copy of the album being released. Members and students will be admitted for $5 and can receive the album for $20. 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 Eventbrite Web page. Masks are still required for all in attendance, and those in the audience are required to be fully vaccinated.

Personally, I have listened to both versions on the album several times; and, while I appreciate the affordances of physical presence, I have to say that there is more than enough auditory content in both the studio and “live” versions to provide the attentive listener with many engaging experiences.

A Disappointing Survey of Czech Piano Music

Czech pianist Jan Bartoš (from the Old First Concerts event page for last night’s recital)

Last night in the Old First Presbyterian Church, the 2022 San Francisco International Piano Festival presented the second of the three Old First Concerts recitals to be performed at that venue. The recitalist was Czech pianist Jan Bartoš, making his West Coast debut. The program consisted entirely of music by Czech composers.

Each half of the program began with a composition by Leoš Janáček. Bartoš opened with the piano sonata given the title “1.X.1905;” and the second half of the program began with the four-movement cycle entitled “In the Mists.” The sonata was followed by a collection of eight preludes composed by Miloslav Kabeláč, and the program concluded with the cycle of six character pieces by Bedřich Smetana entitled Sny (dreams).

There was no shortage of intensity in Bartoš’ approach to any of his selections. Sadly, those (like myself) that chose to view the live stream of the performance were deprived of the usual PDF download of the program book. (I know there was a program book because the Festival’s Artistic Director, Jeffrey LaDeur, was holding it in his hand while introducing Bartoš to the audience!)

Those unfamiliar with the opening sonata were at a particular disadvantage, because this sonata presented Janáček at his most political. On the date that serves as the sonata’s title a worker named František Pavlík was bayoneted during a rally in support for a Czech university in Brno. Similarly, each of the Kabeláč preludes had its own characteristic title. The video stream provided a list of those titles, but its appearance was too short to be meaningful to any viewers. Sadly, a movement-by-movement display of those titles seemed to be beyond the skill set of the video crew.

However, any technical difficulties were quickly forgotten during the second half of the program. For both of the selections Bartoš took a disturbingly aggressive approach to the keyboard. It goes without saying that any connotations of mist in the Janáček did not stand a chance. Granted, there are always undercurrents of intensity in Janáček’s solo piano compositions. However, Bartoš simply thundered away through the cycle’s four movements, undermining any subtleties in the composer’s rhetorical stances.

The same could be said for his approach to Smetana. There is a generous scope of diversity across those six character pieces. From a thematic point of view, the attentive listener could distinguish one from another. However, Bartoš seemed more interested in hammering away at each of the themes, rather than evoking the connotations of each selection’s title. Any sense of dreamlike qualities in his interpretation came across as merely coincidental.

That plan for last night’s program suggested that the evening would be an engaging visit to different Czech approaches to expressiveness, but Bartoš’ performance did little to account for such suggestions.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Cahill to Launch SFCM Faculty Artist Series

Pianist Sarah Cahill (photograph by Miranda Sanborn, courtesy of Jensen Artists)

Next month pianist Sarah Cahill will present the first Faculty Artist Series recital for the academic year at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). She will be joined by pianist Regina Myers in a program that will include music for both four hands on one keyboard and two pianos. The program will begin with the world premiere performance of “Up,” a four-movement 35-minute composition with thematic material alternating between two pianos. The work was composed by SFCM alumnus Riley Nicholson, and it was jointly commissioned by Cahill and Myers.

The program will also include Elenor Alberga’s “3-Day Mix,” scored for four hands on one keyboard, Meredith Monk’s two-piano composition “Ellis Island,” and Elena Kats-Chernin’s four-hand “Dance of the Paper Umbrellas.” The program will then conclude with the original version of Errollyn Wallen’s “The Girl in My Alphabet.” That version requires four pianists at two pianos, and Cahill and Myers will be joined by Allegra Chapman and Monica Chew for this performance.

The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, September 12. The venue will be the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, which is located on the ground floor of the Ann Getty Center for Education. The building is located at 50 Oak Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station. Reserved tickets are available through a hyperlink on the event page. Full vaccination will be required, and those planning to attend are advised to review the HEALTH & SAFETY hyperlink on that same event page.

Other Minds to Release Braxton-Fei Recording

One week from today Other Minds will release its latest new album. Duet (Other Minds) 2021 is a recording of a duo performance by saxophonists Anthony Braxton and James Fei. This was the final offering in the Other Minds Festival 25 programs, which took place in October of 2021. As of this writing, it appears that there is only one Web site processing preorders; and that is Soundohm.

This is a European site, meaning that the price is given in Euros. Soundohm itself is a membership organization, meaning that members get the benefit of not only discounted prices but also free shipping worldwide. It is also worth noting that the Web page for this new Other Minds release includes three lists of albums likely to appeal to those visiting the site. One of those lists offers an impressive account of past Other Minds releases, and another gives similar treatment to past recordings by both Braxton and Fei.

My interest in Braxton reaches back far earlier than my commitment to writing about the creation and performance of music. Most of my work with computers was concerned with the manipulation of symbols and symbolic structures, rather than either numbers or databases. It was therefore inevitable that Braxton would seize my attention by using diagrams or symbols of numbers and letters as titles for his compositions. The Duet album presents a performance of Braxton’s “Composition 429;” and the album cover shows that he is still identifying his works with diagrams:

courtesy of Other Minds

Braxton himself refers to his scores as products of different “writing methods.” “Composition 429” was the product of a new such writing method, which Braxton called “Lorraine.” This is a name he has also assigned to some of his combos. The album includes an essay by Fei, who describes the method as using a combination of traditional notation and color-coded symbols (of Braxton’s own design) to indicate “specific sound types or performance techniques.” The performance itself emerges first from the efforts of the performers to interpret the symbols and then by “an extrapolative section where players improvise with the material following an additional layer of more abstract notation.”

During the Festival performance, Braxton and Fei were accompanied by “Diamond Curtain Wall Music,” a system of electronic devices that continuously derived pitch information from the sounds of the two saxophones. The “Wall Music” then applied the result of this ongoing audio analysis to add a multitude of sonic layers to the mix, creating an ever-changing kaleidoscope of sound. The entire performance lasted for about 40 minutes.

This makes for a generous amount of content. Fortunately, the mastering of all the content acquired during the performance itself has been mixed in such a way that the attentive listener will consistently be able to distinguish the two saxophone lines, even if (s)he/they cannot associate which line with which performer! The mixing then balances the “Wall Music” to establish the environment which provides not only a setting for the instrumentalists but also cues for their respective performances. Thus, while there may be no substitute for having been present at the performance itself, recording technology has provided an account that is just as likely to seize and maintain listener attention.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Jean Catoire’s Opus 520

The final volume in Nicolas Horvath’s project to record the complete piano works of French composer Jean Catoire is the only volume that compromises that adjective “complete.” The volume is devoted entirely to Opus 520, and its duration accounts for a little less than four and a quarter hours. Perhaps because of the duration, this volume does not appear to have a presence on However, it is available for both streaming and download from a Bandcamp Web page.

The good news is that, as is the case for all of their releases, Bandcamp allows the recording artist to provide commentary on the Web page for the album. This is where Horvath explains why this particular album is not complete. It accounts for eight individual tracks, the shortest of which are less than thirteen minutes in duration, while the last exceeds 50 minutes. However, each track serves as a basic form that contributes to a longer composition, whose overall duration is 25 hours. Horvath then explains that music of that duration is impossible to post on Bandcamp, and he is preparing to create a YouTube account of the work in its entirety.

At this point it is likely that many readers will think about “Vexations,” a composition that Erik Satie wrote on a single sheet of paper and then added an inscription whose English translation is “In order to play the motif 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.” This music was not printed until 1949 (almost a quarter century after Satie’s death); and it was not performed until 1963, which John Cage organized the Pocket Theatre Piano Relay Team of twelve pianists (including Cage himself), who would realize Satie’s score by smoothly “passing the baton” from one pianist to another. The performance itself exceeded eighteen hours in duration.

There is no date on Satie’s manuscript. However, it is worth noting that Catoire was born a little less that two years before Satie’s death. Since Catoire died in November of 2005, it is likely he knew about “Vexations,” if not as Cage had arranged its performance then by some other approach, probably involving multiple pianists. Deciding whether Opus 520 is a “response” to the “call” of “Vexations” will be left as an exercise for the reader.

What is probably most important is that Opus 520 does not reflect the strict repetition that one encounters in “Vexations.” Rather, the score consists of a relatively small number of “building blocks.” These are then deployed in sequences that involve different approaches to permutation and repetition.

To some extent, those sequences serve as reflections on Opus 420, which I had previously suggested could be entitled “Variations on a Tolling Bell.” More importantly, while Satie may have intended to be deliberately vexing, compositions like Opus 420 remind me of how Gita Sarabhai had said that “the purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences.” Nevertheless, one has to wonder whether a mind enduring eighteen hours of uninterrupted music will emerge either sober or quiet!

Marcus Shelby Coming to Yerba Buena Festival

As I have previously observed, keeping up with the free performances scheduled for the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (YBGF) is no easy matter! Indeed, I must confess that my only visit to Yerba Buena Gardens this summer took place earlier this month, when I attended the performance of Iolanthe by the Lamplighters Music Theatre. Where free events are concerned, my primary source for learning about them has been the Community Music Center (CMC).

Marcus Shelby with his bass (courtesy of CMC)

The next of these events will be a world premiere performance by the Marcus Shelby New Orchestra. Shelby is the Director of the CMC Teen Jazz Orchestra, but his contribution to YBGF will involve his own ensemble. The premiere performance will present a composition somewhat less than 90 minutes in duration entitled Blues in the City. The participating performers will be Aaron Smith on trumpet, Dillon Vado on vibraphone, Destiny Muhammad on harp, Rebecca Rodriguez on percussion, Luis Peralta on piano, and Shelby himself on bass. The ensemble will collaborate with vocalists including Tiffany Austin and Kennedy Shelby.

This project was inspired by Nina Simone. More specifically, Simone believed that “An artist’s duty … is to reflect the time.” The music for Blues in the City was conceived to examine how San Francisco’s most vulnerable citizens have been drastically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those citizens include the homeless, the poor, and the BIPOC (“Black and Indigenous people of color”).

As is the case with all Festival events, there will be no charge for admission to this performance. It will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, September 3. Yerba Buena Gardens is located between Mission Street and Howard Street and between Third Street and Fourth Street. A limited amount of seating is usually available, but many visitors bring a blanket to put on the ground, often synthesizing the experiences of a concert and a picnic. Those attending should also bear in mind that financing the Festival is greatly facilitated by voluntary donations from the audience. Further information will be provided for those calling 415-543-1718.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

SF Opera to Return to Golden Gate Park

The opening weekend of the Centennial Season of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) will conclude with the return of Opera in the Park. Music Director Eun Sun Kim will lead the SFO Orchestra in a program of arias, duets, and more, featuring stars that will be appearing during the Fall Season offerings. That program has not yet been finalized. However, in the past it has previewed vocal selections from upcoming productions along with a mix of operatic favorites and pop classics. There will be a limited number of physical program books that will be available at the San Francisco Chronicle tent, and the hyperlink for a digital program book will be activated on the day of the performance.

Map of the area around Robin Williams Meadow (from the Opera in the Park Web site, click to enlarge)

The performance will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Robin Williams Meadow in Golden Gate Park. However, those interested in attending will be free to bring a picnic lunch and arrive early to stake out a place on the grass. The Web page for this event includes a Transportation Plan section with a map (reproduced above) that shows the areas of the Park that will be allocated for this event. These will include a designated ADA parking area and drop-off location near a path that leads to a special ADA seating area. There will also be a bicycle valet parking area; and the Park will also be accessible by the usual Muni lines (5, 7, 21, 33, N). The usual attendance tends to be between 10,000 and 15,000, meaning that public parking will be very limited. The aforementioned alternatives will be much more preferable.

From Homer to Stravinsky with Chris Potter

Jim McNeely surrounded by the members of his Frankfurt Radio Big Band (courtesy of Jazz Promo Services)

Back during my tenure with the now-defunct, I had the opportunity, in January of 2013, to write about The Sirens, which marked tenor saxophonist Chris Potter’s debut as leader of a jazz combo. At that time I described the album as “a jazz refraction of Homer’s Odyssey,” in which, through his improvisations, Potter would serve as “a singer of tales,” Albert Lord’s description of Homer as an oral poet. This past February Double Moon Records released a new “refraction” album entitled Rituals, this time bringing Potter in as a guest soloist with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (also know as “hr-BigBand”) led by Jim McNeely. This is the latest instance in which is not the best of sources, but Presto Music has created a Web page for both the physical CD and downloads in both MP3 and FLAC formats.

On this new album McNeely is the “agent of refraction,” while Potter is his featured soloist. The “object of refraction” is the score that Igor Stravinsky composed for Vaslav Nijinsky’s two-part ballet “The Rite of Spring” (le sacre du printemps) This time the “source” of the refraction is music, rather than epic poetry; and, for what it is worth, those familiar with the Stravinsky catalog know that he made a few ventures into jazz and ragtime in his own efforts as a composer. However, as the advance material for this new album makes clear, the title composition on this album, which accounts for six tracks, is “not merely a jazz version of ‘Le Sacre du Printemps.’” Rather, Stravinsky’s score inspired the synthesis of a new “tonal and rhythmic language.”

That said, anyone familiar with the source will recognize its influence. The first three movements of Rituals are entitled “Adoration;” and the next two bear the title “Sacrifice.” These parallel the two parts of Stravinsky’s score. Only in the final movement does the music depart from Stravinsky’s influences. (However, the movement concludes with an explicit reminder of Stravinsky’s opening measures.) Nevertheless, I have to say that I was readily drawn into the many reflections on that original score to the extent that my knowledge of Stravinsky’s music served as a valuable guide through McNeely’s structures, almost as if Stravinsky were serving as Virgil to McNeely’s Dante. (This may actually be the other way around: I am still wrestling with that proposition!)

Taken in its entirety, the duration of Rituals is a little less that 35 minutes. Since that is more than a little skimpy for a CD, McNeely decided to fill out the album with four Potter compositions. Two of them, “Dawn” and “Wine Dark Sea,” were originally tracks on Potter’s The Sirens album, which was released by ECM. The other two are taken from earlier recordings, each on a different label. “The Wheel” was taken from The Underground, released by Sunnyside in 2006; and “Okinawa” was included on the live album This Will Be, released by Storyville in 2001. That said, I have to say that I came away particularly impressed by Potter, not only for his virtuoso technique but also for his skills  as a “team player,” interaction with the rich and diverse resources of the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. This new album is as much a rethinking of the big band style as it is one of what is probably Stravinsky’s best-known composition.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

LIEDER ALIVE!’s 2022/23 Liederabend Series

This morning I realized that, while I had announced the program that would serve as the Grand Opening of the Eleventh Annual Liederabend Season, I had not yet run my annual summary of the schedule for the entire 2022/23 season. I received my first account of that summary from LIEDER ALIVE! Founder and Director Maxine Bernstein this morning, and I can now pass that information on to readers. Beginning with the Grand Opening, there will be five recitals scheduled for the coming season. As in the past the recitals will take place at 5 p.m. on a Sunday evening. While not all of the specifics have been finalized, here is an account of what has been planned thus far:

Soprano Heidi Moss Erickson, who will be featured in two of this season’s programs (courtesy of LIEDER ALIVE!)

October 2: As already announced, the Grand Opening will present the world premiere of a new song cycle by Tarik O’Regan entitled Seen and Unseen. This will be performed by soprano Heidi Moss Erickson, accompanied at the piano by John Parr. Erickson will also sing settings of the poetry of Emily Dickinson composed by Aaron Copland, George Walker, and Lori Laitman. Other composers to be featured on the program will be Richard Strauss, Lili Boulanger, Anton Webern, and Kurt Erickson.

November 6: Soprano Alina Ilchuk has prepared a program entitled Songs for Lviv. This will present Ukrainian and Polish settings of poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine. The contributing composers will be Mykola Lysenko, Valentyn Silvestrov, and Karol Mikuli. Ilchuk will be accompanied at the piano by Peter Grünberg.

February 12: Two days before Valentine’s Day, soprano Sarah Cambidge and tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven will celebrate their marriage with a program of love songs and duets; Grünberg will again serve as accompanist.

April 2: Erickson will return to perform Ned Rorem’s song cycle Aftermath. She will be accompanied at the piano by Paul Schrage. She will also present the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss in the version for voice and piano.

May 28: Soprano Esther Rayo will present a program of South American songs, including the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos, who is probably the best known of the South American composers. She will be joined by cellist Oliver Herbert and pianist Carlos Ágreda. Ágreda will also prepare instrumental arrangements for cello and piano.

All performances will be held at the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. Subscriptions for the full series will be $300 for reserved seating at all concerts and $150 for general admission. There will also be a special $80 subscription rate for students, seniors, and working artists. All of these options may be purchased online from a single Eventbrite event page. Single tickets for all concerts are $80 for reserved seating, $40 for general admission and a $25 discounted rate for students, seniors, and working artists. These may also be purchased in advance through Eventbrite using the hyperlinks attached to the dates for each of the concerts. Those interested in the VIP subscription service may also call LIEDER ALIVE! at 415-561-0100. This season is made possible in part with support from the Ross McKee Foundation.

Craig Davis’ Tribute to Dodo Marmarosa

courtesy of Jazz Promo Services

Towards the end of last month, MCG Jazz, the label for the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh, released an album by pianist Craig Davis entitled Tone Paintings: The Music of Dodo Marmarosa. I have to confess that my knowledge of Marmarosa has been, for the most part, limited to his name. My primary source has been the Charlie Parker box set entitled The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings 1944-1948. Marmarosa appears on only eight tunes, four each from sessions in 1946 and 1947.

Those tracks could have established Marmarosa as one of the leading bebop pianists, putting him in the same league as Bud Powell. However, like Powell, Marmarosa led a troubled life. Unfortunately, while Powell maintained a working reputation that extended into the Sixties, Marmarosa had become a recluse by the early Fifties. Like Marmarosa, Davis is a native of Pittsburgh; and MCG provided him with a platform to cultivate a new awareness of Marmarosa’s work. Davis’ new recording is a trio album on which he performs with John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums.

The resulting album has eleven tracks, ten of which are Marmarosa compositions. The remaining track, “A Ditty for Dodo,” is a Davis original. All of the tracks were “first contact” experiences for me, since the Savoy tracks were compositions by Parker, Slim Gaillard, and Howard McGhee. Furthermore, all ten of the Marmarosa tracks were the products of Davis’ efforts to transcribe the music from the original recordings of those selections.

The album is thus a significant journey of discovery that could not have existed without Davis’ efforts at reconstruction. As a result, my awareness of Marmarosa’s works is just beginning to work its way into my “listening mind.” The good news is that there is both clarity and a refreshing rhetoric to the performances by Davis and his trio. My hope is to set aside enough time to cultivate as much familiarity with this album as I had previously cultivated with those Parker sessions from 1946 and 1947.

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Bleeding Edge: 8/22/2022

There will be four events of interest this week. Two of them have already been accounted for in the article for this month’s activities at the Center for New Music. For those that have not visited that article recently, the second of those two offerings was just added this morning! Those offerings are as follows:

  1. Saturday, August 27, 8 p.m.: Danny Clay’s latest Turntable Drawings installation
  2. Sunday, August 28, 7 p.m.: Charles Celeste Hutchins jamming on serpent with James Fei and John Bischoff on computer and analog circuitry

The other events scheduled for this week are as follows:

Thursday, August 25, 7:30 p.m., Audium Theater: This is a case of making up for a dropped ball. This past Thursday, Audium launched a series of weekly performances called The World According to Sound. Each will involve listening to recordings from around the world, all projected through 176 loudspeakers in total darkness. These events are being presented by Sam Harnett and Chris Hoff. What started as a podcast has now evolved into an in-person, multichannel audio event. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission will be $30, and City Box Office has created a Web page for online purchase of tickets for not only this Thursday’s performance but also the two remaining performances on September 1 and September 8. Audium is located at 1616 Bush Street.

Saturday, August 27, 2 p.m., Mission Synths: SONGscape will be an interactive music-making workshop led by Matt Robidoux. Those attending will be invited to map their gestures and movements to sounds and musical phrases using Deep Listening Institute's Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI). This accessible technology, originally created by composer Pauline Oliveros, is a software interface that allows anyone to create music with movement: for example, by moving one’s hands or blinking an eye. The event will run for three hours. There will be no charge for admission. However, registration is required through an Eventbrite event page, which encourages that a donation be included as part of the process. Mission Synths is located in the Mission (of course) at 3026 24th Street.

The Path to Beethoven’s Opus 111

Pianist Rachel Breen (from her Old First Concerts event page)

Yesterday afternoon in the Old First Presbyterian Church, the 2022 San Francisco International Piano Festival presented the first of the three Old First Concerts recitals to be performed at that venue. The recitalist was Rachel Breen, making her Festival debut. Breen prefaced both halves of her program with well-informed verbal introductions, making the case for a well-considered plan behind the overall performance.

The conclusion of that path was Ludwig van Beethoven’s final piano sonata, Opus 111 in C minor. Beethoven departed from structural conventions of the past in many of his late compositions. By the time he completed Opus 111, he had distilled structure down to only two movements. This consisted of a hyper-charged sonata form with a Maestoso introduction followed by an extended set of variations on an Arietta theme. Both of these movements lead the attentive listener down a series of highly convoluted paths involving elaborate embellishments of thematic elements based on almost naive simplicity. Breen clearly appreciated the full scope of those embellishments and knew how to communicate them to the attentive listener, providing a clear account of music that many members of the audience have probably encountered any number of times in the past.

Breen also decided that the second half of her program needed an introduction to this massive icon in the Beethoven catalog. Since the two movements are in C minor and C major, respectively, she chose to introduce the sonata with Robert Schumann’s Opus 18 “Arabeske,” which he composed in the key of C major. As the title suggests, this is also highly-embellished music. While the music itself post-dates Beethoven, that attention to embellishment served to prepare the audience for the extreme thematic elaborations that would be encountered in the Beethoven sonata.

The first half of the program concluded with music that had also been selected to prepare the listener for Beethoven. Breen’s selection was Nikolai Medtner’s Opus 22 sonata in G minor. She explained that this sonata reflected the same prioritization of counterpoint over harmony that one encounters in Opus 111, particularly where the second-movement variations are concerned. She also suggested that Medtner’s attention to rhetoric would guide the attentive listener to recognizing rhetorical devices in Opus 111, this time in both of the sonata’s movements.

At the same time, the Medtner sonata reflected the approaches to composition that preceded it in Breen’s program. It would be fair to say that the first half of the program involved the exploration of multiple tonalities and the processes of modulation that connect them. Conventional modulation generally involves shifts in tonality across the interval of a perfect fifth. Medtner’s sonata, on the other hand, deploys modulations across the interval of a third (major or minor). Furthermore, the opening selection, a fantasia by John Bull, amounts to an exercise in stepwise modulation. He made this clear to performers and listeners by giving this composition the title “Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La.” Breen used dynamics to clarify how Bull deployed his modulations, a clarification that would probably have been more difficult to perceive when his music was performed on keyboard instruments of his own time, such as the virginal.

The “bridge” between Bull and Medtner was Alexander Scriabin. Breen selected seven of the preludes from his Opus 11. This is the set of 24 preludes that account for all of the major and minor keys. The last of Breen’s selections was the prelude in E-flat minor, and she preceded it by another Scriabin prelude in the same key, the fourth of his five Opus 16 preludes. Breen clearly had her own strategies for guiding the listener through Scriabin’s preludes. Her techniques left me hoping that, at some time in the future, she would return to Old First to present an all-Scriabin program.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

SFCM Highlights: October, 2022

Having already accounted for the October schedule for Old First Concerts, this site can now turn its attention to the highlighted events for that month at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). As in the past, 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 Web page will also include a hyperlink for purchasing tickets. All offerings will be in-person events without a live-streamed option. As was the case last season, this site will focus on key highlights; and those seeking more thorough information can consult the Performance Calendar.

Thursday, October 6, 7 p.m., SFJAZZ Miner Auditorium, 201 Franklin Street: This will be the first “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. This particular event will be part of the SFJAZZ Thelonious Monk Festival, which will run from October 5 to October 7. Additional participants in this particular performance will include Joshua Redman, Carmen Bradford, Julian Lage, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, and Matt Wilson.

Friday, October 7, 7:30 p.m., Barbro Osher Recital Hall, 200 Van Ness Avenue: This will be the first New Music Ensemble concert of the season, led by Nicole Paiement. The program will present four selections. In order of performance, these will be: “X Morceaux Mystérieux” by Rongrong Chen, David Conte’s sinfonietta, “Tsunami” by Kenji Oh, and “Songes d'une nuit d'hiver” by Jacques Desjardins. There will be no charge for admission, but there is a hyperlink for reserving tickets.

Saturday, October 22, 7:30 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, 50 Oak Street: Edwin Outwater will return to conduct the second SFCM Orchestra program of the season. The program will begin with the world premiere of the winning composition from the 2020 Highsmith Competition. The title of that composition is “Catch,” composed by Lukas Janata. David Baker (class of ’18) will then take the podium to conduct Gabriel Fauré’s Opus 80, the suite derived from the incidental music he had composed for Maurice Maeterlinck's play of the same name. Outwater will then return to the podium to lead a performance of Johannes Brahms’ Opus 98 (fourth) symphony in E minor. There will be no charge for admission, but there is a hyperlink for reserving tickets.

Sunday, October 30, 2 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, 50 Oak Street: This will be the first SFCM Baroque Ensemble concert of the season, led by co-directors Corey Jamason and Elisabeth Reed. This program will also feature a competition winner. Pauline Kempf (class of ’22) was the winner of the 2021–2022 Baroque Concerto Competition. She will be the featured soloist in the opening selection of the program, Giuseppe Tartini’s D. 115 violin concerto in A minor. The program will also include one of the 486 orchestral suites composed by Christoph Graupner, as well as a set of Charles Avison’s orchestral arrangements of solo keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. There will be no charge for admission, but there is a hyperlink for reserving tickets.

Mitropoulos and American Composers

My journey through Sony Classical’s Dimitri Mitropoulos: The Complete RCA and Columbia Album Collection concludes with an account of his performances of music composed in the United States. Note that I did not write “music by American composers.” Thanks to Adolf Hitler, the United States saw a significant influx of European composers trying to escape the Nazi juggernaut. Many of them were particularly forward-looking, and I am one that believes that our country was very fortunate enough to have Arnold Schoenberg as one of them.

I might even go as far as to say that Schoenberg was as prolific after arriving in the United States as he was before leaving Europe. Indeed, one the best examples of how he applied his twelve-tone technique is his Opus 36 violin concerto. He dedicated this concerto to his former student Anton Webern (who did not make the “transatlantic move” and suffered the consequences).

The concerto was given its world premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. The soloist was Louis Krasner, who had worked closely with Alban Berg on the composition of his violin concerto. Mitropoulos recorded this concerto with the New York Philharmonic, and Columbia released it on an album that also included the Berg concerto. Krasner was the soloist for both concertos, but the Berg concerto was performed by the Cleveland Orchestra led by Artur Rodziński. This is definitely a must-listen album for those interested in the work of Schoenberg and his students (even if Mitropoulos occupies only half of the CD).

A related composer from Schoenberg’s time in Vienna, who also made the move to the United States, is Ernst Krenek. While Krenek was never part of the “Schoenberg school,” he had his own approaches to innovation. Mitropoulos recorded his “Symphonic Elegy,” which was composed in memory of Webern’s tragic death and was scored for string orchestra. Columbia coupled this with Schoenberg’s Opus 17 “Erwartung,” which had been previously performed in Europe. Mitropoulos recorded the performance with soprano soloist Dorothy Dow, making this CD another “must listen” album.

There is also an opportunity to listen to the work of one of Schoenberg’s finest American pupils. Leon Kirchner studied with Schoenberg at the University of California in Los Angeles. After his graduate studies at the Berkeley campus, he pursued both composing and an academic career. He composed his piano concerto on a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation, and he completed it in 1953. The recording was made with support from the Naumburg Foundation. Kirchner himself performed the solo piano part with Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic.

Curiously, there is only one other American-born composer that seems to have attracted much of Mitropoulos’ attention. That is Morton Gould, who composed the music for Agnes de Mille’s ballet about Lizzie Borden, which was entitled “Fall River Legend” and was first performed by American Ballet Theatre in April of 1948. Gould extracted a suite from his score, which Mitropoulos recorded with the New York Philharmonic. Mitropoulos also recorded two “singles” of Gould’s music. “Philharmonic Waltzes,” which (obviously) was performed by the New York Philharmonic, was also composed in 1948. (The CD couples this with Roger Sessions’ second symphony and Elie Siegmeister’s suite Ozark Set.) However, there is also an earlier (1946) Gould composition entitled “Minstrel Show,” which Mitropoulos recorded during his tenure in Minneapolis.

The other American-born composer of significance is Samuel Barber. Mitropoulos conducted the premiere of Barber’s Opus 32 four-act opera Vanessa, which was performed by the Metropolitan Opera. This opera has enjoyed several revivals, one of which I remember seeing on television. Still, this “original cast” recording remains refreshing with Eleanor Steber in the title role and Nicolai Gedda as Anatol.

Finally, it is worth noting that Mitropoulos shared an album with Gunther Schuller entitled Music for Brass. The selections on this album were performed by The Brass Ensemble of the Jazz and Classical Music Society, reflecting Schuller’s interest in a synthesis of the two genres. Mitropoulos contributed to the album by conducted Schuller’s “Symphony for Brass and Percussion.” The result was not particularly jazzy, but the production of the album provided a platform for forward-looking jazz players such as Miles Davis and J. J. Johnson.

Merola Grand Finale’s Adventurous Breadth

Last night in the War Memorial Opera House, the Merola Opera Program wrapped up its annual Summer Festival with its Merola Grand Finale concert. Each of the 25 vocalists that served as Merola Artists over the last few months was given at least one opportunity to perform, and the entire production was staged by another Merola Artist, Matthew J. Schulz. As in the past, the set was kept to a minimum; and all the vocalists wore formal evening attire. The orchestra was conducted by Patrick Furrer, who launched the evening with the overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 492 opera The Marriage of Figaro. The entire performance (including one intermission) ran for about three hours.

As usual, most of the content involved familiar composers and, for the most part, familiar operas. Indeed, Schulz chose to follow the overture with the opening scene of K. 492, the pair of duets sung by the title character (bass-baritone William Socolof) and his bride-to-be Susanna (soprano Ashley Marie Robillard), which lays down the foundation for the many complications that will follow over the course of the opera’s four acts. The selection was followed by most of the “usual suspects” of nineteenth-century opera. In “order of appearance” these were Charles Gounod, Georges Bizet, Hector Berlioz, Gaetano Donizetti, Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Pietro Mascagni. Following past tradition, the program concluded with “Tutto nel mondo è burla” (everything in the world is a jest), which concludes Verdi’s Falstaff.

However, what made this Finale different from all other Finales (if the reader will pardon that appropriated turn of phrase) was the inclusion of two African-American composers from two successive centuries. The first of these was William Grant Still, represented by the performance of a selection from his one-act opera “Highway 1, USA,” first performed in 1963. The score was originally composed in the Forties with a libretto by Verna Arvey that would anticipate the tribulations-of-being-Black narrative that would come to public attention when Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway in 1959.  Like Hansberry’s Younger family, Arvey’s characters are a husband (Bob) with dreams beyond his grasp (baritone Scott Lee) and his frustrated wife Mary (soprano Aida Evans). Still composed nine operas over the course of his prolific career, and even a slight taste of his approach to opera was welcome indeed.

The other composer was Jeanine Tesori, who is probably better known for her five Tony Award nominations than for her ventures into opera. Composed in 2019, Blue is a two-act opera that marks a significant departure from the world of Broadway and off-Broadway. She worked with Tazewell Thompson as her librettist, who, in turn, drew upon accounts of “the black experience” by writers such as Claude Brown (Manchild in the Promised Land), James Baldwin (The Fire Next Time), and Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me). The lead character is a Mother (mezzo Veena Akama-Makia) living in a Harlem apartment with her husband and her son.

Kitty Oppenheimer (Nikola Adele Printz) expressing her strained relationship with her husband Robert (William Socolof), who is absorbed only in the Manhattan Project (photograph by Kristen Loken, courtesy of Carla Befera & Co.)

From a personal point of view, the most welcome offering on the program was a reencounter with “Am I in your light?” sung by Kitty Oppenheimer (mezzo Nikola Adele Printz) in John Adams’ Doctor Atomic. This opera was premiered by the San Francisco Opera on October 1, 2005. Since Adams’ Antony & Cleopatra will be receiving its world premiere in the Opera House this coming September 10, this brief selection from an earlier opera served to whet the taste for Adams’ latest undertaking.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Jean Catoire’s Piano Works: Volume 7

The last two volumes in Nicolas Horvath’s project to record the complete piano works of French composer Jean Catoire show the first break in chronological ordering. That is because the eighth (and final) volume is the last of the three volumes consisting only of a single composition, Opus 520. The seventh volume “flanks” that composition, since it accounts for three pieces, Opus 427, Opus 504ter, and Opus 546.

This volume shows another interesting departure from its predecessors. Each of the first six volumes tended to explore a single approach to composition, exercised through one or more different pieces. Each of the three pieces on the seventh volume, on the other hand, explores its own unique strategy; and each involves a different durational span.

The strategy for Opus 427 begins with an exploration of the unfolding of monody, and that unfolding eventually gives way to two voices in counterpoint. The composition is structured in three separate movements, each of which follows that strategy of progression from one to two voices. The first and third movements are of about the same duration of half an hour, while the second movement lasts for a little more than 40 minutes. In other words the entire composition fills about 100 minutes. The piece has a dedication, which appears to be to Catoire’s second wife, Catherine.

Opus 504ter is the shortest of the three pieces. It consists of two separate movements with an overall duration of about 45 minutes. This is more polyphonic than Opus 427. There is a sense of repeated chimes against which are woven two “melodic” voices. This is a memorial composition, dedicated to the composer Vladimir Byutsov. Thus, it may (or may not) be that the composer interpreted those “repeated chimes” as providing a funereal context.

The final composition, Opus 546, is the longest, filling three CDs with about two and a half hours of music. The work is structured in four movements, the first two on the first of the CDs. Each of the four movements amounts to a study in chord progressions.

To the extent that one is inclined to approach each individual composition as some form of journey, it is worth considering quoting one of Catoire’s sentences that appears (in Horvath’s English translation) in the booklet for the entire collection of piano compositions:

Each note possesses its own absolute value, inscribed in the absoluteness of the other notes; each note must be played by itself, there is therefore no phrasing in the musical sense of the term.

One might think that an adjective like “absolute” negates the possibility of variation. However, it is clear from the collection taken as a whole that Catoire explores a diversity of contexts, each of which carries is own semantics, so to speak, of “absolute.”

Over the course of those first six volumes, the attentive listener becomes aware of the very idea of diversity of context. Having thus been conditioned by the long forms on those earlier albums, that listener is now prepared for greater diversity in the varying the scale of duration. How will the long form of Opus 520 define and/or explore diversity of scale will be left to the listener to describe, and this listener is looking forward to exploring how the one remaining performance in this collection with fit in with all the others!

Omni’s Next Streamed Concert: Zoran Dukić

Croatian guitarist Zoran Dukić (courtesy of the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts)

This is “last minute news;” but it only showed up in my Inbox a little over two and one-half hours ago! The Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts announced its latest video premiere, which will take place this evening. The video will present the Croatian classical guitarist Zoran Dukić, who is scheduled to give a solo recital at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church this coming January as part of the Dynamite Guitars concert series.

The program will be hosted by Stephan Kane. It will be relatively brief, consisting of “Oblivion,” which Astor Piazzolla composed for Marco Bellocchio’s film Enrico IV and was included in an album of the same title released in 1982. The performance will take place at the Prica Art Gallery in Samobor, a city that is part of the Zagreb metropolitan area in Croatia. The video will be produced by Marko Pletikosa, working with sound engineering by Guitarcoop.

The performance will be streamed through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel. The premiere will be live-streamed at 7:30 p.m. this evening (Saturday, August 20). 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.

Verdi’s Sacred Music in Unabashed Excess

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Choral Society (SFCS) continued its first post-COVID season with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s setting of the Catholic funeral mass (Requiem). The music was scored for a large orchestra, double choir, and four soloists: soprano (Clarissa Lyons), mezzo (Buffy Baggott), tenor (Christopher Bengochea), and bass (Philip Skinner, replacing Eugene Brancoveanu at the last minute). It is worth revisiting the photograph included in last month’s preview article to get some sense of the magnitude of the choral resources and the orchestra:

SFCS performing with a full orchestra in Davies Symphony Hall (photograph by Kristen Loken)

The reader can see that the choral resources occupied both the stage and the Terrace area behind the stage. The only differences from last night are that, in the photograph, there are no soloists at the center of the stage and  there were no risers for the orchestra. That last “feature” was a significant one. Elevation is not only for the benefit of sight; it also facilitates audibility. More often than not, Verdi’s score makes a mighty noise; yet, because they were “blocked” by musicians sitting in front of them, there were any number of fortissimo moments when the brass players were barely audible. Bryan Baker, last night’s conductor, had major difficulties in establishing instrumental balance; but, to be fair, his primary focus of attention was on the chorus.

There was, however, one instrument that consistently made its presence known. Because of the “fatal” role it plays in the setting of the “Dies irae” (day of wrath) text, bass drummer Tim Dent was situated near the front of the stage off to the right. He gave Verdi all of the thunderous impact that his part specified, but I have to confess that I had a very hard time holding back the giggles. This may have been the high point of Verdi’s operatic approach to the drama behind the sacred text, but his gesture risked coming across as a joke told too many times. A similar situation arises during the “Libera me,” when a pair of playful bassoons seemed to have wandered into the wrong libretto prior to the “Tremens factus sum ego” (I am made to tremble) text.

Fortunately, the performance by the choral resources saved the day. They brought clarity of diction to every text setting, and Baker commanded a meticulous sense of balancing all the different vocal ranges. Sadly, that command did not always extend to the soloists. Skinner rose above the other three with rich vocal qualities and physical comportment that consistently highlighted the semantics behind the Latin words he was singing. Lyons and Baggott, on the other hand, were most engaging when their voices intertwined in duo work. Bengochea was true to the marks on the pages of his score, but his delivery tended to be a bit detached from the underlying semantics.

Mind you, between religious services and sacred music compositions, one does not have to worry very much about the semantics of the Requiem text. More critical is the question of whether this was a religious ritual disguised as opera or the other way around. When this music was first performed, three of the soloists had contributed to the European premiere of Verdi’s Aida: soprano Teresa Stolz (Aida), mezzo Maria Waldmann (Amneris), and bass Ormondo Maini (Ramfis). In that context it is worth noting that all four of last night’s vocal soloists did their best to establish a sense of religious ritual, even when the composer’s music ventured into operatic rhetoric.

Nevertheless, there are any number of passages that sound as if Verdi was hanging his notes on Latin syllables with little regard to words, phrases, and the other building blocks of semantics. One might almost say that he never seriously realized that a funeral mass was not an occasion for narrative. All that mattered was that he had words; and, through his operatic experience, he had a knapsack chock-full of techniques for setting those words. Does this make for a satisfying concert experience? The answer to that question resides entirely in the dispositions of the listener!