Friday, September 30, 2022

One Found Sound to Launch Tenth Season

Next month One Found Sound (OFS), the orchestra that performs without a conductor, will begin its tenth anniversary season, which has been given the overall title x. The title of the first program will be dream, and the selections have been arranged in an order that presents two different symmetrical reflections. Both the first and second halves of the program will consist of “early” and “late” compositions taken from both the twentieth and current centuries.

The “early” works were composed in the late Thirties of the last century, less than a year apart. The program will begin with Igor Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” concerto, which was composed in 1938. The second half of the program will begin with Béla Bartók’s divertimento for string ensemble, which was completed in 1939. During the first half, Stravinsky will be coupled with Hanna Kendall, who composed “Vera” in 2008, scoring it for B-flat clarinet, violin, viola, and cello. The Bartók divertimento, on the other hand, will be coupled with Eleanor Alberga’s “Sun Warrior,” completed in 1990.

As usual, music is not the only offering at an OFS event. As in the past, Max Savage will create immersive visual experiences to establish an environment for each of the four compositions. Also as in the past, there will be generous intervals for socializing, enhanced by the resources of an open bar. The entire event will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 8. As always, the performance will take place on Saturday evenings at Heron Arts, which is located in SoMa at 7 Heron Street on the block between 7th Street and 8th Street. All tickets are being sold for $25, and a Web page has been created for online purchase. The current policy for health and safety is as follows:

While we welcome you to wear a mask if you wish, our audiences are not required to wear masks at this performance. OFS will continue to provide KN95 masks to patrons who wish to use them. Our venue will be equipped with multiple air purifiers and hand sanitizing stations.

Patrons will not be required to provide proof of vaccination at this performance. If you are not fully vaccinated, OFS strongly encourages you to wear a KN95 or equivalent mask that fully covers your nose and mouth.

We respectfully request that you not attend if you have been exposed to COVID-19 within 10 days prior to the performance, or are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 as defined by the CDC. In this event we thank you for keeping everyone safe and you will be offered a full ticket refund.

You may read our most up-to-date health and safety protocol online here. These policies and all One Found Sound event dates and programs are subject to change.

Hilary Hahn Gives Ginastera Deserved Attention

Cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Universal Music Group)

One week from today Deutsche Grammophon will release violinist Hilary Hahn’s latest album, entitled Eclipse. It is a concertante album on which she performs with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, the radio orchestra of Hessischer Rundfunk, which serves as the public broadcasting network of the German state of Hesse. The ensemble is led by Andrés Orozco-Estrada, who served as Principal Conductor between 2014 and 2021. As expected, is currently taking pre-orders for this new release.

One might describe the three selections as forming an arch with the keystone position held by Alberto Ginastera’s Opus 30 violin concerto. The advance release describe this piece as “rarely performed;” and this carries a bit of irony. The composer’s Wikipedia page asserts that he “is considered to be one of the most important 20th-century classical composers of the Americas;” but the violin concerto is far from the only work of his that is rarely encountered, whether in performance or on recording. Ironically, the Ginastera legacy seems to have enjoyed somewhat of a surge of attention during the pandemic, since, prior to lockdown, my last encounter with a performance of his music took place at a One Found Sound concert in December of 2017!

To go back to the advance publicity, that “rarely performed” citation is followed by a description of Opus 30 as “a strikingly original 20th-century gem.” Personally, I think that hits the nail right on the head. While Ginastera follows the usual three-movement convention, the movements themselves are far from conventional. The title of the first movement is “Cadenza e Studi.” In other words the composer handles the cadenza by having it precede everything else, rather than making it a reflection on previously-played thematic material. It is followed by six études, each dwelling on a specific performance technique. The movement then concludes with a Maestoso coda.

The second movement is an Adagio, which would probably be expected. However, it is scored for 22 soloists; and, in the spirit of “enquiring minds want to know,” I was a bit miffed that Hahn was the only soloist mentioned by name! (Yes, I know nothing about the members of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, but I still believe that all soloists deserved to be acknowledged!)

The final movement consists of two sections performed without a break. The first of these is a Scherzo, which, again, can be expected as the sequel to the Adagio movement; and it is followed by a Perpetuum mobile whose Agitato tempo wraps up the concerto in less than two minutes. All this makes for a highly engaging listening experience, and I sincerely hope that Hahn’s efforts will inspire other violinists to explore the many virtues of Ginastera’s concerto.

The other stones of the arch held in place by that concerto are Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 53 violin concerto in A minor and Pablo de Sarasate’s five movement “Carmen Fantasy.” There is no shortage of fireworks in both of these selections, and Hahn’s interpretations abound with positive energy. Taken as a whole, the album serves up a rather unique overall program; but that uniqueness deserves to influence both listeners and other performers.

Mahler Returns to SFS, This Time with Salonen

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen led the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in the first multiple-performance concert of the 2022–23 season. The program was devoted almost entirely to Gustav Mahler’s second symphony in C minor, familiarly known as the “Resurrection Symphony.” Long-time subscribers know that, when Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) was the SFS Music Director, Mahler’s music received a more-than-generous share of attention; and the Mahler second was an excellent opportunity to present the breadth of performance rhetoric not only from SFS but also from the SFS Chorus and two visiting vocal soloists.

Last night Salonen picked up the torch that had meant so much to MTT and offered the Davies audience its first taste of his approach to the Mahler canon. Salonen could not have been more attentive to the many details in Mahler’s score; and, when the full ensemble was roaring out the most intense passages, he knew how to enhance coherence through meticulous attention to blending that diversity of sonorities. Given the almost unwieldy nature of the score itself, Salonen seems to have internalized all the details to make sure that every significant gesture was given its due.

The overall architecture involves two extended-duration movements at the beginning and conclusion with three much shorter movements sandwiched between them. The last of those three introduces a mezzo solo, sung last night my Michelle DeYoung. In the final movement she was joined by soprano Golda Schultz and the full forces of the the SFS Chorus directed by Jenny Wong. It is also important to note that Mahler himself took the first movement to be treated as a composition unto itself. He explicitly specified that a pause of at least five minutes separate the first and second movements. During that “break,” Salonen descended from the podium to take a seat alongside the SFS musicians.

What mattered most was that, even with that extended pause, Salonen’s approaches to phrasing and tempo immersed the attentive listener in the symphony’s ongoing flow. Mahler could be more than generous in repeating his thematic material, and this was particularly evident in the architecture of that final movement. However, that was the only movement in which all the vocal resources were added; and they would appear only after almost all of the thematic material had been developed by the instrumental ensemble. As a result, even those familiar with this symphony probably found themselves sitting on the edges of their respective seats wondering just how Salonen’s direction would lead from each episode to its successor.

Overall, the experience could not have been more satisfying, leading at least this writer to wonder where Salonen would venture next in presenting Mahler’s compositions. If there was any shortcoming, it was the failure to acknowledge the organist contributing to the final measures of the symphony. This was probably the same unacknowledged organist that had contributed last week to Richard Strauss’s Opus 30 tone poem “Also sprach Zarathustra,”

Composer Trevor Weston (photograph by Ayano Hisa, courtesy of SFS)

Somewhat unexpectedly, the symphony was preceded by an “overture” of sorts. This was the world premiere of “Push,” a four-movement suite composed by Trevor Weston on the commission provided by the Emerging Black Composers Project. Composers are often better at making music than at talking about it, but Weston provided a terse and informative account of what the audience was about to experience.

He also provided remarks for the program book, which explained some of his inspirational resources. These included the second movement serving as a memorial for Michael Morgan, who had initiated the Emerging Black Composers Project. Those remarks also observed that the third movement, entitled “City Quiet,” was an homage to Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City.” Both outer movements, on the other hand, were engagingly raucous, clearly reveling in the use of the full SFS resources. Weston’s notes for the first movement made a passing reference to John Coltrane. However, Weston was born in 1967, which was the year in which Coltrane died, leading me to wonder how much (if at all) he had been influenced by Coltrane’s recordings.

Most important, however, was the overall upbeat rhetoric of Weston’s suite, leaving me to hope that my first encounter with this new composition will not be my last.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Julia Hülsmann’s New Quartet Album on ECM

Marc Muellbauer, Heinrich Köbberling, and Uli Kempendorff standing behind Julia Hülsmann (photograph by Peter Hundert, courtesy of ECM Records)

I first encountered jazz pianist Julia Hülsmann in 2011 during my tenure with I wrote about her second ECM release, Imprint, a trio album on which she performed with bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling. By 2019 she had expanded her group to a quartet, adding tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff on the album Not Far From Here. That quartet will return tomorrow with its latest ECM offering, The Next Door. For those that want to be “first on the block,” currently has a Web page for processing pre-orders.

Hülsmann’s trio performances could venture into a prodigious variety of rhetorical dispositions while maintaining a relatively subdued foundation. To some extent that foundation evolved with the addition of Kempendorff’s saxophone. While Kempendorff is clearly at home with under-spoken rhetoric, the saxophone, by its very nature, is not as “subdued” as any of the trio instruments. Therefore, it should be no surprise that his one contribution as a composer is a track entitled “Open Up.” To some extent his saxophone work on this track recalls some of the improvised embellishments encountered in Charlie Parker solos; but the jazz performed by the entire quartet is a far cry from the more rambunctious bebop era.

Nevertheless, there are times when I am more inclined to quietude in my jazz listening. Hülsmann’s albums definitely have a calming influence on me without devolving into self-indulgent introspection. I am glad that I am now in a position to take advantage of both her trio and her quartet work, leaving me with more than a little curiosity as to where her music-making will take her next.

The Lab: October, 2022

As of this writing, only one concert has been scheduled for next month at The Lab. This will be a solo recital by Park Jiha, who approaches ancient Korean instruments from the perspective of a modern, improvisatory minimalist. She studied classical Korean music at National Gugak Center in Seoul. At that time she first encountered more innovative approaches to performance through the group P’uri led by percussionist Won II.

Composer Park Jiha with her saenghwang (courtesy of The Lab)

During her studies, Park focused on the piri, a double-reed bamboo oboe. Since leaving the Center, she has added other instruments to her repertoire, including the saenghwang, a free-reed mouth organ similar to the Chinese sheng and the Japanese shō, and the yanggeum, a type of hammered dulcimer. This collection affords a rich diversity of sonorities. When combined with the repetitive structures of minimalism, the result is a soundscape in which thematic material emerges in the form of precisely wrought melodic moments.

This performance at The Lab will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 8. As usual, doors will open half an hour before the concert is scheduled to begin. Tickets will be sold for $15; and, as usual, members of The Lab will enjoy the benefits of discounted or free admission. The event page for this concert provides hyperlinks for both tiers of ticket acquisitions.

As each of these articles reminds readers, The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street, 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. Before the pandemic, it was usually the case that a long line had accumulated prior to the opening.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Center for New Music: October, 2022

Next month the Center for New Music (C4NM) will ramp up its schedule of performances. Furthermore, the month will begin with a landmark celebration. On October 1 C4NM will celebrate ten years of new music with a Birthday Bash. There will be complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and C4NM members will be admitted at no charge. For others the suggested donation is $5. Festivities will get under way at 6 p.m.

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. Tickets for all remaining events in the month may be processed in advance through the Events page on the C4NM Web site. 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:

Saturday, October 8, 8 p.m.: Tom Nunn died earlier this year. He was a prodigious contributor to free improvisation, almost always involving playing instruments of his own invention. Christina Braun and David Samas have prepared a program to share memories and celebrate Nunn’s life. Speakers will include Sudhu Tewari, Bart Hopkin, Paul Winstanley and Priscilla Nunn. There will be a reception at 7 p.m., which will include a film by Doug Carrol and a skatch film with a recorded score by David Michalak. Both Samas and Braun will perform, along with Sudhu Tewari, Chris Brown, Ron Heglin, Rent Romus, John Ingle, Tom Djll, and Thomas Dimuzio. Short stories written by Nunn will be read by Dean Santomieri. There will be no charge for admission, but donations are encouraged.

Sunday, October 9, 7 p.m.: This will be the seventh installment in the Surround Sound Salon Series, the sixth having taken place this past June. 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 John Bischoff, David Michalak, and Chris Brown. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members and students.

Thursday, October 13, 8 p.m.: Noise by Noise West is a tour of “bleeding edge” music performed by Thomas Dimuzio and Scot Jenerik. That tour will take place during most of the month of October. However, the journey will begin at C4NM. General admission will again be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members and students.

Saturday, October 15, 8 p.m.: The Art of Bowing is a project initiated by haegeum performer and composer Jeonghyeon Joo. She will present new works for haegeum solo and haegeum with electronics by Ben Sabey. The two of them will also present a duo improvisation. There will be no charge for admission, but donations are encouraged.

Saturday, October 22, 8 p.m.: This will be an evening of performances by the trio of Nathan Clevenger, Jordan Glenn, and Cory Wright, all based in Oakland. Following their trio set, they will be joined by Kasey Knudsen on alto saxophone and cellist Crystal Pascucci. General admission will again be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members and students.

Sunday, October 30, 4:30 p.m.: The month will conclude with a solo piano recital by Thomas Schultz. As usual, the program will include music by his colleague Hyo-shin Na. Her selection will be “Rain Study.” He will also play Galina Ustvolskaya’s fifth piano sonata, two chorale preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach arranged for piano by Ferruccio Busoni, and the complete set of North American Ballads by Frederic Rzewski. General admission will again be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members and students.

From Soundtrack to Chamber Music

Albums released by ECM New Series often pose challenges to the act of listening, if not the more fundamental act of “making music,” in which the semantics of both of those words may be put to the test. This Friday will see the release of ars moriendi (the art of dying), a collection (it might be unfair to invoke the noun “suite”) of nine tracks. As usual, has created a Web page for pre-ordering this album.

The idea behind this collection is the brain child of Paul Giger. Over the course of the tracks, he plays two decidedly different bowed-string instruments, a contemporary violin and a violino d’amore, an eleven-string “relative” of the contemporary violin family, distinguished by a set of sympathetic strings which vibrate in resonance with the bowed strings. Sonority is clearly a priority to Giger.

He is joined by a percussionist, Pudi Lehmann, who specializes in both gongs and hand-drumming techniques associated with Indian Classical Music. He also performs with Marie-Louise Dähler, who specializes in non-standard keyboards, and alto vocalist Franz Vitzthum. On two tracks the instrumentalists are joined by the members of the Carmina Quartett: violinists Matthias Enderle and Susanne Frank, violist Wendy Champney, and cellist Stephan Goerner. On that same track Lehmann also blows a conch shell.

The overall structure of the album seems to be based on three movements entitled “Agony,” which Giger had originally composed for the soundtrack of a film. In their original version they had individual titles: “Atmosphere,” “Sechzigplus” (sixty-plus), and “Die bösen Mütter” (the bad mothers). These are interleaved with both sacred and secular excerpts of music by Johann Sebastian Bach and two very old Swiss folk songs, the second based on yodeling. This leaves the listener with a fair amount of content to process. Sadly, the notes that Giger provided for the accompanying booklet tend to impede such processing by overloading the reader with details.

The good news is that all of the performers provide first-rate interpretations of the music they are playing. It would not be difficult to dispense with any narrative associations with the album title. The Bach performances hold up on their own particularly well; and, if the context for those performances may be more enigmatic than one might wish for, the overall flow is not particularly difficult to follow, even in Giger’s opening solo on violino d’amore, which is almost twenty minutes in duration.

Personally, I find listening to this album to be the sort of experience that would prompt Spock to raise his left eyebrow; but a bit more familiarity with each of the tracks may overcome any skepticism.

Marko Topchii’s Recording Session at St. Mark’s

Last night St. Mark’s Lutheran Church hosted the latest video shoot for the Live from St. Mark’s concert series presented by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. The performance was a solo recital by Ukrainian classical guitarist Marko Topchii. Over the course of about an hour, he presented an engagingly diverse repertoire.

The one lengthy work on the program was the opening selection, Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 996 lute suite in E minor. One of my more memorable observations was the way in which he was able to make the Courante movement sound like a dance, a rare occasion for any of the many performances of Bach’s instrumental music. Furthermore, as one would have hoped, Topchii added embellishments (albeit limited) to any repeated passage. This was music performed as Bach would have wished, even if the instrumentation was different.

The Bach selection was complemented by George Frideric Handel, but not in the expected way. Leo Brouwer’s “La Gran Sarabanda” is basically an elaborate fantasia based on the Sarabande movement from Handel’s HWV 437 keyboard suite in D minor. Brouwer structured this relatively short piece as an introduction, followed by a theme (the Handel source) and a set of variations, concluding with a coda. Topchii’s approach to Brouwer was followed by another nod to Bach himself in the performance of Alexandre Tansman’s “Passacaille,” following the Bach structure of a set of variations on a stately theme concluding with a fugue.

The other works on the program written for guitar were by Joaquín Rodrigo (a toccata), Arnaud Dumond (an homage of sorts to Maurice Ravel), and Angelo Gilardino (one of the études collected in his five-volume Studi di virtuosità e di trascendenza). That étude was challenging unto an extreme; and the combination of both listening to and watching Topchii rise to all the challenges was a jaw-dropping experience. In addition, the opening Bach suite was followed by one of Topchii’s arrangements. This selection was a solo piano composition by Valentin Silvestrov (also Ukrainian). Topchii performed the first in a cycle of five pieces given the collective title Kitsch-Music. This turned out to be a reflection on sentimentality with very few sharp edges of irony.

Topchii did not announce his encore, but I was fortunate enough to track down the details. The offering was “Un Sueño en la Floresta (Souvenir d¹un Reve)” by Agustín Barrios. I have encountered this music in the past, and I have become familiar with Barrios’ works. However, I am still only beginning to associate titles with performances!

Taken as a whole, Topchii’s performance provided just the right balance of a secure command of challenging technique with a broad scope of expressiveness. In the course of only an hour, the attentive listener encountered no end of opportunities to occupy both mind and emotions. I shall do my best to let readers know when the resulting video will be available for viewing!

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

LIEDER ALIVE! Launches 11th Season on Sunday

Composer Tarik O’Regan, soprano Heidi Moss Erickson, and pianist John Parr (courtesy of LIEDER ALIVE!)

Those that follow this site regularly probably already know that the Grand Opening of the Eleventh Annual Liederabend Season, presented by LIEDER ALIVE!, will take place this coming Sunday. Those readers will also know that the highlight of the program will be the world premiere of a new song cycle by Tarik O’Regan entitled Seen and Unseen, which will be performed by soprano Heidi Moss Erickson, accompanied at the piano by John Parr. I had hoped that, this close to the performance, specifics for the remainder of the program would have been finalized and released; but, sadly, that is not the case. The program will still offer settings of the poetry of Emily Dickinson composed by Aaron Copland, George Walker, and Lori Laitman, along with selected songs composed by Richard Strauss, Lili Boulanger, Anton Webern, and Kurt Erickson. What those songs will be may not be revealed until the program is printed! [added 9/30, 8:50 a.m.: The titles of the songs that will precede Seen and Unseen are as follows:

The Dickinson selections will be taken from Copland’s 12 poems of Emily Dickinson (“Going to Heaven” and “Heart, we will forget him”), Walker’s Emily Dickinson Songs (“I have no life but this”), and Laitman’s Four Dickinson Songs (“Im Nobody” and “If I… can stop one Heart from breaking”). Strauss will be represented by “An die Nacht” from his Brentano Lieder and “September” from his “last songs” collection. The Webern selection will be his Opus 4 set of five settings of poems by Stefan George. The Boulanger offering will consist of three songes from her Clairières dans le ciel (clearings in the sky) settings of pomes by Francis Jammes. Finally there will be three Erickson songs, each setting a text by a different poet: Friedrich Hebbel (“Ich und Du”), Josef von Eichendorf (“Mondnacht”), and Carl Sandberg (“Young Sea”).]

The performance will begin at 5 p.m. this Sunday, October 2. The venue will be the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street, located between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. Tickets are being handled through an Eventbrite event page; and, as of this writing, only the $80 reserved seats are available. While this is the first concert in the season, subscriptions are no longer being sold.

Fred Hersch Debuts on ECM with Enrico Rava

This coming Friday will see the first release of a Fred Hersch album since this past January. That previous album, Breath by Breath was a major undertaking, devoted almost entirely to an eight-movement suite entitled The Sati Suite. This involved pianist Hersch leading a trio consisting of Drew Gress on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums; and they, in turn, were joined by the members of the Crosby Street String Quartet: violinists Joyce Hammann and Laura Seaton, violist Lois Martin, and cellist Jody Redhage Ferber.

courtesy of DL Media Music

The new album, which will be released by ECM this coming Friday, is entitled The Song is You. It swings the pendulum to the other extreme. Hersch is joined only by Italian Enrico Rava playing flugelhorn. As is often the case, has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

Rava has been recording for ECM since the Seventies; but this album marks Hersch’s first appearance on the label, which has made a reputation for adventurous tastes in both the jazz and classical genres. Both Hersch and Rava contribute an original composition to the track list, with another track devoted to a duo improvisation. As expected, there is also a track for the song composed by Jerome Kern after which the album is named. The other tune in that genre is George Bassman’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” which was first recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra. The opening track is Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Retrato em Branco e Preto” (portrait in black and white); and the album concludes with two familiar tunes associated with Thelonious Monk: “Misterioso” and “’Round Midnight.”

Taken as a whole, this album captures duet playing at its most intimate. The flugelhorn has a darker sound than either the trumpet or the cornet. This makes it more suitable for the rhetoric of quietude, a rhetorical stance that is very much in Hersch’s comfort zone. Arthur Schwartz’ tune “Alone Together” comes to mind; and I was a bit surprised that it was not included among all of the Hersch tracks currently in my collection. On the other hand the duo’s approach to “Misterioso” could almost be taken as a memorial encomium to Monk himself.

From a personal point of view, I would not classify this as an “everyday listening experience” album. I doubt that I shall encounter these tracks over the course of my radio and streamed encounters with the jazz repertoire. However, on those occasions when one is inclined to introspection, these performances offer just the right context for the disposition.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Keith Jarrett in Bordeaux in 2016

This Friday Wikipedia will have to update its Keith Jarrett discography Web page. That will be the date when ECM will release his latest album, entitled simply Bordeaux Concert. As usual, has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

This will be the third album to document a performance that took place during the European tour he made in 2016. (Google has not been very helpful in accounting for the full schedule of that tour.) The venue for the performance was the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, which hosted the performance on July 6, 2016.

That date is situated between those of the two other recordings currently available that document the tour. The earlier of these was July 3, the date of the Budapest Concert album. The successor took place on July 16 in Munich, the source for the Munich 2016 album.

All three of these concerts followed roughly the same pattern, which amounted to a sequence of free improvisations. Each improvisation was entitled simply “Part” followed by a Roman numeral. In Budapest there were twelve of them, the last of which included the addition of the qualifier “Blues.” In Munich there were also twelve. Both of the albums required two CDs and both concluded with a few brief accounts of tunes by others. The one tune performed at both venues was Charles Kisco’s “It’s A Lonesome Old Town.” In Bordeaux, on the other hand, there were thirteen Parts and no “traditional” tunes. The duration is 75 minutes, meaning that the entire content fits on a single CD.

I have now listened to enough Jarrett tracks to know that the last thing I want to do is try to analyze any of them to death. Put another way, the best approach to Jarrett’s approaches to spontaneous invention is with “spontaneous listening.” Think of it as riding in a car with a driver that has given you no indication of where (s)he is going. There is no shortage of features that mind can easily grasp and then follow through an unfolding of transformations; and there is no need to worry about whether or not there is any “grand design.” As I have previously observed, my capacity for listening in this matter began to emerge through solo piano performances by Cecil Taylor and were subsequently cultivated through encounters with Ahmad Jamal. (I have also applied my listening strategy to the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, but I suspect that the very idea of listening that way would make him turn over in his grave!)

Nobody seems to show much interest in T. S. Eliot these days; but the listening style that I have tried to cultivate can be captured in the once-familiar couplet from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as follows:

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

The Bleeding Edge: 9/26/2022

This will be a relatively quiet week out on the “bleeding edge.” There will be a “usual suspects” offering at the end of the week. However, the week will also see the return of the adventurous side of jazz improvisation hosted by the SFJAZZ Center. Specifics are as follows:

Drummer Scott Amendola with his SticklerPhonics colleagues Danny Lubin-Laden (left) and Raffi Garabedian (from the event page for the performance being described)

Thursday, September 29, and Friday, September 30, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., SFJAZZ Center: The Joe Henderson Lab will host four performances by The SticklerPhonics. This is the latest trio to be formed by Berkeley drummer Scott Amendola. He will be joined by Raffi Garabedian on tenor saxophone and Danny Lubin-Laden on trombone, both Class of 2006 graduates of Berkeley High School that played in the school’s jazz band. That makes this a combo of two generations in which “veteran” leader Amendola can explore new sonorities and high-energy grooves.

The SFJAZZ Center is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street. Admission for all concerts will be $30. Tickets for all four performances may be purchased online at single Web page.

Saturday, October 1, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Following his gig for SFJAZZ, Amendola will join his contemporaries in the Trio Paz combo. The other members are Phillip Greenlief, playing alto and tenor saxophones, as well as B-flat clarinet, and bassist Adriana Camacho Torres, who also provides vocals and electronic accompaniment. As in the past, this is a performance that will take place in the shop but will also be live-streamed to the Bird & Beckett sites on both YouTube and Facebook. The shop is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station that serves both BART and Muni. For those planning to visit, doors will open at 7:20 p.m.

The event page for this concert says nothing about price. Admission is usually $20 in cash for the cover charge. There is also a donations Web page for those watching the live-stream. Given that only a limited number of people will be admitted, reservations are necessary and can be made by calling 415-586-3733. The phone will be answered during regular store hours, which are between noon and 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday. Proof of vaccination will be required for entry, and masks will be necessary in the shop. Those holding reservations must claim them by 7:30 p.m. After that anyone waiting for a seat will be allowed to take what is available.

Tchaikovsky (Still) Suffers under Carsen Direction

Yesterday afternoon in the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco Opera (SFO) presented the West Coast premiere of Robert Carsen’s staging of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin. Carsen created his production for the Metropolitan Opera, and the result was selected for worldwide coverage through Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. Here in the United States it was later broadcast as part of the Great Performances at the Met Public Television series.

I still remember my encounter with that telecast. The idea cramming the ballroom scene of the second act into a rectangle that occupied, at most, half of the entire stage area drove me up the wall. Why did Carsen conceive a claustrophobic nightmare to portend the dark episodes that would follow? If so, then the narrative’s approach to contrasting the light and the dark was sadly undermined.

The “crammed” ballroom space in the second act of Eugene Onegin in a close-up that does not reveal the extent of empty space (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera)

The SFO production was staged by Revival Director Peter McClintock, and I have every reason to believe that McClintock was dutifully thorough. Ironically, experiencing this production in an opera house turned out to be even more disconcerting than encountering it on a television screen. Most importantly, the enormity of empty space sustains an impact far greater than any television screen could produce.

Just as important, however, is the extent to which the space itself undermines every solo vocalist on the stage. One quickly appreciates the ways in which many more conventional sets not only establish a sense of place put also provide reflective acoustic surfaces that reinforce the very act of singing. As a result, every one of yesterday afternoon’s vocalists, from the leading roles of the title character (bass-baritone Gordon Bintner) and protagonist Tatyana (soprano Evgenia Muraveva) down to Monsieur Triquet (tenor Brenton Ryan) in that same ballroom scene, had to struggle to be heard, let alone clearly articulated. Conductor Vassilis Christopoulos (making his American debut) seemed to be aware of this problem and did his best to moderate the orchestral resources to keep from overwhelming the vocalists.

For those that do not already know, Eugene Onegin began as a novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin. I have only been able to examine that text in English translation; but, even in that limited account, it was easy to appreciate how the rhythm of the poetry drives both the narrative and all of the characters forward at a passionate pace. Tchaikovsky himself prepared the libretto for the opera, working with Konstantin Shilovsky; and there are any number of ways in which one can appreciate that same forward-moving account of the narrative. Carsen’s staging seems to have given little attention to narrative flow, relegating it to second place behind little more than theatrical stunts.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Music for the Fight for Women’s Rights

Cover design for the album being discussed

This coming Thursday, violinist Lara St. John will release her latest album on Ancalagon Records. The title is she/her/hers, and it presents seventeen original compositions for solo violin written by twelve leading women composers. As of this writing, it appears that the album is only being released for digital download; and, as expected, has created a Web page to process pre-orders.

Regular readers probably know by now that I am no stranger to recordings that focus on music composed by women, both past and present. However, St. John’s release was motivated by a larger mission to fight for women’s rights and historically marginalized groups. More specifically, she has a personal stake in this mission, stemming from her experience as a fourteen-year-old victim of sexual abuse that took place when she was a student and the Curtis Institute of Music.

With such a context she makes it clear that this is not “sit back and listen” music. Sadly, the Web page does not include a booklet as part of the download (and, for that matter, it does not identify the composers for the individual tracks). Fortunately, St. John has compensated by creating her own Web site for the album. This includes hyperlinks for information about the contributing composers and descriptive information for each track on the recording.

This is an album that demands that every listener find his/her/their own path of interpretative listening, and I feel it would be put of place for me to inject my own biases into the mix.

SFS: Remainder of October, 2022

At the beginning of this month, this site reported on the first four programs of the 2022–23 Season of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), all conducted by Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. That covered performances take place up to and including Saturday, October 15. The remainder of the month will be more diverse. Salonen will conduct two more programs. In addition, the remainder of October will see the first concert in the Great Performers Series and the first program in the SFS Chamber Music Series will be performed. Specifics are as follows:

Sunday, October 16, 7:30 p.m.: As was recently announced, the Great Performers Series will begin with a visit by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason will appear as guest soloist, performing Edward Elgar’s cello concerto. The program will be framed by music inspired by the sea, beginning with the four “Sea Interludes” that Benjamin Britten composed for his Peter Grimes opera and concluding with Claude Debussy’s “La Mer.” The Debussy selection will be preceded by a symphony composed by Thomas Adès based on thematic material from his opera The Exterminating Angel.

Thursday, October 20, and Saturday, October 22, 7:30 p.m.: Salonen has prepared a “pre-Halloween” program of “spooky spirits.” The visiting soloist will be pianist Bertrand Chamayou, performing Franz Liszt’s “Totentanz” (dance of the dead). The “overture” to precede this “concerto” will be Modest Mussorgsky’s depiction of a Witches’ Sabbath, “Night on Bald Mountain.” The symphony to conclude the program will be, appropriately enough, Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonie fantastique.”

These performances will be preceded by the first Katherine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal. As usual, this special behind-the-scenes experience will precede the first performance. It will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 20, with coffee and complimentary doughnuts, followed by a half-hour introductory talk. The rehearsal itself begins at 10 a.m.; and, of course, the pieces rehearsed are at the conductor’s discretion.

Sunday, October 23, 2 p.m.: As was the case last year, October will also see the launch of the Chamber Music Series through which SFS musicians and their colleagues have an opportunity to explore the diverse aspects of the chamber music repertoire. The program will begin with two piano trios, both by composers born in Russia. The first of them will be Anton Arensky, represented by his first trio in D minor. He will be followed by contemporary composer Lera Auerbach, whose second piano trio was given the title “Triptych: This Mirror Has Three Faces.” The program will conclude with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 522 divertimento given the title “A Musical Joke.” Mozart scored this composition for two horns and string quartet.

Thursday, October 27, Friday, October 28, and Saturday, October 29, 7:30 p.m.: Halloween itself will be preceded by the final program of the month. The most “traditional” work to be performed will be the suite that Béla Bartók extracted from the music he composed for the brutal and erotic ballet “The Miraculous Mandarin.” The program will begin with “Frankenstein!!,” composed by Heinz Karl Gruber (who prefers to be known as “HK Gruber”). The composer described this piece as “a pan-demonium for chansonnier and orchestra,” setting a parody text by H. C. Artmann (or “HC Artmann,” if you prefer). Gruber’s take on the Hollywood Frankenstein will be followed by the suite that Bernard Herrmann composed based on the music he composed for Psycho.

All of the hyperlinked dates will provide the Web pages for ticket purchases.

SFS Debuts for Randall Goosby and Florence Price

This past April violinist Randall Goosby made his recital debut in Davies Symphony Hall in the second of the four Spotlight Series concerts presented by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). Last night he returned to Davies, this time to make his debut as a soloist with SFS. His concerto selection also involved a debut.

Florence Price’s D minor (second) violin concerto was composed in 1952 but was presumed lost until the 2009 discovery of previously unknown manuscripts and personal papers. Since then there has be a sort of “cottage industry” involved with preparing those manuscripts for performance. Last night SFS benefitted from those efforts, presenting its first performance of the concerto.

Price had a gift for expressing bold rhetorical strokes without trivializing them. Much of her impact can be attributed to imaginative approaches to instrumentation. Those approaches were immediately evident last night in the opening measures of the concerto. Most startling was her requirement of fortissimo playing on the celesta, an instrument whose dynamic range is relatively narrow. Nevertheless, when the full ensemble roared out its first thematic material, the celesta was there roaring with them.

The concerto itself is a single-movement composition, whose sections tend to reflect the nineteenth-century conventions of multiple-movement concertos. However, the “strong suit” in Price’s creativity involved instrumentation; and novel gestures of unconventional coloration pervaded the entire concerto. Goosby’s violin solo work then blended perfectly into those instrumental textures; and, every now and then, there seemed to be hints of past violinists that Price may had admired earlier in her life. One example was an opening violin gesture that seemed to channel memories of Fritz Kreisler.

If there was any downside to the listening experience, it was the risk of feeling overwhelmed by the scope of Price’s inventiveness. Nevertheless, Goosby brought a sure hand to managing that scope in his solo performances, while Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen brought the same command to managing the ensemble accompaniment. The result was a stimulating “first contact” experience that could not have been more satisfying.

As expected, Goosby returned to the stage to give a solo encore performance. He decided to revisit one of the encores that he had played in Davies during his previous appearance. This was“Louisiana Blues Strut: A Cakewalk,” composed by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson in 2002. From a personal point of view, I was delighted to have my memory jogged by that selection, particularly since I have also heard it performed by Augustin Hadelich.

Price’s broad strokes were followed, after the intermission, by the even broader strokes of Richard Strauss. The “symphony” portion of the program was devoted to his Opus 30 tone poem “Also sprach Zarathustra,” inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s “philosophical fiction,” Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The notes in the program book by James M. Keller provided a useful enumeration of the episodes in this tone poem, all of which were taken from section titles in Nietzsche’s text.

It is unclear how much of the text itself influenced Strauss. Nevertheless, in the context my overall familiarity with Strauss tone poems, Opus 30 has one of the clearer structural foundations, which leads the attentive listener from one episode to another. How much Strauss actually grasped in the Nietzsche source is left as an exercise for the listener!

More important was the attentive skill that Salonen brought to leading the full forces of the SFS ensemble. He knew how to establish the full force of intensity without letting his rhetorical devices go over the top. I also realized that only in the physical presence of an ensemble in the proper setting can one appreciate the low-frequency organ tones that evoke an almost visceral sense of listening.

Salonen began the program with the overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 486 one-act comic singspiel entitled “Der Schauspieldirektor” (the impresario). Mozart composed it for a competition that Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II arranged with Antonio Salieri as the competitor. Both of them reflected on the “social world” of vocal performers in which vanity tends to triumph over technique. The K. 486 overture was given a brisk account by Salonen, serving to “warm up” the audience for the concerto that would follow. The good news is that Goosby was so wrapped up in his solo work that any shades of vanity associated with K. 486 were quickly forgotten.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Lamplighters 70th Season Continues with Gala

A little over a month ago, Lamplighters Music Theatre got their 70th Anniversary Season off to a roaring start with a thoroughly delightful staging of Iolanthe, which is probably the most “political” operetta in the canon of creations with music by Arthur Sullivan setting words by W. S. Gilbert. The next offering will be the annual Champagne Gala. While this is primarily a social occasion, it has become a tradition for the Gala to include a performance that amounts to a contemporary take on the “Topsy-Turvy” sprit of Gilbert and Sullivan partnerships.

Poster design for the performance to be presented at this year’s Champagne Gala offered by Lamplighters Music Theatre (from the Web page for the Gala)

The fun inevitably begins with the title. Past offerings have reveled in extended title lengths, so it is a bit welcome that this season’s title can be uttered in a single breath: Choirstarter! or, Some Like It Haunted. As usual, the title involves a chromosomal crossover, in which the genes of Stephen King undergo mutation with those of Billy Wilder. King prevails, however. The story takes place in Derry-Down-Derry, Maine; and the plot revolves around the disappearance of novelist Steve KaChing.

The Gala will take place next month on Sunday, October 16. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building. Festivities begin at 2 p.m. with a silent auction, and the performance of Choirstarter! will begin at 3 p.m. City Box Office has created an event page for online purchase of tickets for $75 or $100. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-392-4400. The entire Gala will also be given a live simulcast on YouTube. A URL has not been provided, but it will probably be uploaded to the LamplightersMT YouTube channel. The best way to receive notification of the livestream will be to click the SUBSCRIBE button on this Web page. The charge for online viewing will be $50.

The City Box Office event page includes a statement to the effect that COVID-19 Safety Guidelines remain in effect as follows:

Proof of vaccination with a complete initial series is required for entry. This means completion of the two-dose regimen of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine must be administered two weeks or more in advance of the event. While not a requirement, a vaccine booster is strongly recommended to be administered at least one week prior to the event. Masks are also required.

Mendelssohn and Shakespeare Launch SFS Gala

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) launched its 2022–23 season with its annual Opening Night Gala. The entire program was organized around William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This involved a streamlined version of the play prepared by L. Peter Callender, Artistic Director of the African-American Shakespeare Company, enhanced with music by Felix Mendelssohn.

As expected, the evening began with Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen leading SFS in Mendelssohn’s Opus 21 overture inspired by Shakespeare’s play. The incidental music that Mendelssohn subsequently published as his Opus 61 was then interleaved with Callendar’s double-casting (and triple- in one case) of the major episodes in the narrative, given continuity with narration by Raj Mathai and Tony Bravo. Costumes were not part of the production; and, because of the limited space on the Davies stage, any “sense of place” was established through imaginatively inventive lighting designed by Luke Kritzeck. The sense of “midsummer” was established by paper spheres, each enclosing a single light bulb. The prevailing color was blue for the night sky with a single white sphere depicting the moon (which wandered about the sky from one episode to the next).

In such a setting Mendelssohn was clearly “incidental” to Shakespeare, even when the text was highly abbreviated. Nevertheless, Salonen brought a freshness to the SFS performance with the intricacy of his account of the Opus 21 overture, after which he seemed to content to play “second banana” to Callender’s staging. Midsummer gets performed so often that it runs the risk of viewers growing tired of the return of the usual jokes and plot twists. Still, there was a casual freshness to last night’s performance. The players knew that, even on a limited space, they were there to entertain; and, for the most part, the old jokes returned with fresh and inventive deliveries.

The result was a never-a-dull-moment account of familiar Shakespeare distilled into a heady 90-minute brew. Shakespeare’s language was enhanced by the choral selections, performed by the women of the SFS Chorus directed by David J. Xiques. What was most important, however, was how the partnership of Salonen and Callender resulted in a production in which neither music nor text was short-changed.

Friday, September 23, 2022

CalBach to Begin Season with French Baroque

California Bach Society (CalBach) will launch its 2022–2023 with a rich account of choral music from the French Baroque. The 30-voice chamber chorus will be joined by vocal soloists and the instrumental resources of a full string ensemble joined by flutes, oboes, bassoon, trumpet, and drums. The title of the program will be Plaisirs Baroques: Grand Motets of Charpentier, Mondonville, and Telemann.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier will be represented by a setting of the “Te Deum” hymn. This will be followed by a grand motet setting of Psalm 97, Dominus regnavit (the Lord reigneth), composed by Jean-Joseph de Mondonville. The program will conclude with a second grand motet setting, this time of Psalm 71, Deus, judicium tuum (give your judgment, O God), composed by Georg Philipp Telemann. Born in Magdeburg, Telemann was a leading German Baroque composer; but he composed this motet in 1737, when he spent eight months in Paris.

The visiting vocal soloists will include sopranos Victoria Fraser and Caroline Jou Armitage and baritones Adam Cole and Roco Córdova. Additional solo parts will be taken by three members of the CalBach choir: John Gale, Melinda de Jesus, and David Seigel. Noah Strick will serve as Concertmaster, and organist Yuko Tanaka will provide continuo. The conductor will be Artistic Director Paul Flight.

The San Francisco performance of this program will take place at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 14. The venue will be St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, which is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of its intersection with Franklin Street. Tickets will be sold at the door for $40 with a discount price of $35 for seniors. Students, and those under 30 can purchase tickets for $10. If purchased in advance, general admission will be $35; and the senior rate will be $30. A Web page has been created to process all online ticket sales, and the alternative will be to call 650-485-1097. That Web page also has a hyperlink for processing subscriptions to all four concerts. Another Web page summarizes dates and program content for the entire season. All concert-goers must submit proof of vaccination, including booster shots; and masks must be worn at all times.

Other Minds Presents Early Harrison Composition

A 1940 photograph of Lou Harrison on the cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Other Minds)

Today Other Minds released its latest album available through its home page on Bandcamp. The entire album is devoted to one of Lou Harrison’s earliest compositions, his Opus 7 sonata for unaccompanied violin, composed in 1936. Performed by Kate Stenberg, the duration is only about seven minutes; but, given the rich program notes provided by Harrison biographer Bill Alves, this is a “must have” offering, not only for Harrison enthusiasts but for the perspective of what was happening in the United States during the second quartet of the twentieth century.

Harrison graduated from high school in 1934. As Alves’ notes put it, “he immediately immersed himself in the Bay Area’s vibrant, though provincial, world of innovative musicians, choreographers, artists, and bohemians.” That immersion would lead to his discovery of Henry Cowell, who provided Harrison with composition lessons even when Cowell was serving time for a morals charge in San Quentin State Prison. Those lessons led to an awareness of Arnold Schoenberg’s approach to giving equal treatment to all twelve tones of the chromatic scale. Alves describes Harrison’s interest in that approach as follows:

Although he would write several important works using Schoenberg’s method in the first half of his career, the young Harrison sometimes struggled with the necessity to write a C-sharp at a certain point when his melodic intuition demanded a C natural.

As a result Harrison developed his own technique based on intervals, rather than pitch classes. He applied that technique to the first and last of the three movements of his Opus 7 sonata, both in Largo tempo. While the middle movement of the sonata, Allegro Vigoroso, does not follow that technique, it is also based on interval content, focusing on major seconds and minor sixths. Alves’ examination of Harrison’s methods makes for absorbing and engaging reading; but one might still come away asking “Where’s the music?”

That question is answered by Stenberg’s performance. Through her interpretation, all of Harrison’s “marks on paper” emerge as a thoroughly engaging discourse. As the score progresses from one movement to the next, Stenberg’s expressive interpretation leads the listener through a rich series of dispositions. Thus, while Harrison’s approach to the management of intervals provides provide the “skeleton” of his sonata, Stenberg endows that skeleton with flesh and blood, reminding serious music students that one of Heinrich Schenker’s favorite adjectives was “organic.” Those who lack such “serious foundations” will still appreciate Stenberg’s ability to lead them through a refreshingly energetic journey.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Koussevitzky 5: Mostly Twentieth Century

The last of the five two-CD albums in the Maestro Risoluto box set of recordings made by Serge Koussevitzky is somewhat of a mixed bag. Following up on the fourth album, most of the selections were composed in the twentieth century; but the first CD begins with Richard Strauss Opus 30 tone poem “Also sprach Zarathustra.” If that composition has any twentieth-century qualities, they are grounded in the use of that music in the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that did not appear until over fifteen years after Koussevitzky’s death!

The album also includes the only selection that is not performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This was the first recording made of Jean Sibelius’ Opus 105 (seventh) symphony in C major. The recording was made in Boston’s Symphony Hall, but the ensemble was the visiting BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The second CD presents three significant recordings of orchestral music composed by Koussevitzky’s American contemporaries. The first of these is Roy Harris’ third symphony. Koussevitzky conducted the world premiere of this tightly-knit composition with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on February 24, 1939. However, the recording was not made until November 8 of the same year. While it has been a long time since I listened to a recording of this symphony, during the middle of the twentieth century it was regarded by many as the quintessential American symphony.

The second symphony is Howard Hanson’s Opus 63 (third) in A minor. Back when I was writing for, my contact at Naxos provided me with recordings of Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony performing all of Hanson’s symphonies. Schwarz was very good at presenting the “grand sound” of each of those symphonies. I suspect the Koussevitzky took the same approach, but this is music that holds up better under “higher fidelity” technology.

The final selection on the Koussevitzky CD is the suite that Aaron Copland extracted from the score he had composed for Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring.” In spite of the reputation of the Harris third, this is probably the one selection that will resonate with familiarity to just about all listeners. Much as I like the suite, I like the choreography more. That was one of the reasons that, during pandemic conditions, I went out of my way to watch the “original cast” film of “Appalachian Spring” on YouTube and to use that viewing experience to explain all the factors that make both Copland’s score and Graham’s choreography significant. Koussevitzky’s interests, on the other hand, never seemed to venture beyond Copland’s suite. Nevertheless, his performance of that suite in 1945 was a premiere; and the recording on this album seems to have been made around the same time as that performance.

Ian Scarfe to Present Groupmuse of Four Pianists

Poster design showing Monica Chew, Britton Day, Ian Scarfe, and Elektra Schmidt (clockwise from upper left), the four pianists to perform at The Century Club of California this coming Sunday (from the groupmuse event page)

Ian Scarfe, founder and Director of the Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival, is currently in San Francisco; and he has made arrangements for a groupmuse concert, which will take place this Sunday afternoon. He has recruited three other pianists to join him for this event: Elektra Schmidt, Monica Chew, and Britton Day. The program will present both solo and four-hand performances, all utilizing the Steinway D Concert Grand at The Century Club of California.

Chew will give a solo performance of her recently completed composition “Ice Calf.” The other solo performances will present Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 52, the last of his four “Ballade” compositions, Maurice Ravel’s sonatine, and Amy Beach’s  Opus 92, “Hermit Thrush at Eve, at Morn.” The program will conclude with two four-hand selections, the suite of six pieces by Claude Debussy entitled Épigraphes antiques and Maurice Ravel’s four-movement “Rapsodie espagnole.” Some readers may recall that Scarfe and Schmidt performed the Ravel selection at Flower Piano this past Saturday.

The Century Club is located at 1355 Franklin Street, between Post Street and Sutter Street. The performance will begin at 2 p.m. this Sunday, September 25. Admission will be by the suggested contribution of $25, but those with limited funds can reserve a place for $5. The RSVP must be processed through the Groupmuse event page for this recital. Further details, including COVID-19 protocols, have been posted on that Web page.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

SFBC Announces 2022–2023 Concerts in SF

Next month the San Francisco Bach Choir, led by Artistic Director Magen Solomon, will resume “business as usual” with the launch of its 2022–2023 season of concerts. The new season will return to the past scheduling of three programs, all of which will be performed at Calvary Presbyterian Church and one of which will be given two performances. In addition The Whole Noyse Renaissance wind band will return for those two performances scheduled for the holiday season in December.

Calvary Presbyterian Church is located at 2515 Fillmore Street on the northwest corner of Jackson Street. There are no subscriptions; but a single Web page has been created for all ticket purchases. The prices will be $40 for general admission and $35 for seniors (age 62 and older). In addition there is a $15 rate for students with valid identification. All those under eighteen will be admitted without charge through will-call or tickets printed at home. There will also be a $5 discount for general admission and seniors for the first program of the season. Finally, there will be a “Video Option” for all three programs with a charge of $25 for each individual program. Those holding tickets to the “physical” performances (except for students) will also be provided with video access for subsequent viewing. Dates and descriptions for the three programs are as follows:

Sunday, October 16. 4 p.m., Tesoros Dorados: Treasures of the Spanish New World: The program will consist of little-known sacred works by Peruvian, Mexican, and Argentinian composers. Those composers will include Hernando Franco, the nun Juana Inés de la Cruz, Sebastián Durón, and Domenico Zipoli. The selections will include a Mass setting and a cappella motets.

Saturday, December 3, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 4, 4 p.m., Songs of Spirit and Joy:  The Christmas concert will return to its previous annual tradition of a trip around the world and through the centuries.

Sunday, May 21, 4 p.m., Mass in B Minor: The season will conclude with a program devoted entirely to Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 232 setting of the Latin Mass text.

200 Years of Brazilian Independence on Naxos

courtesy of Naxos of America

Last month Naxos celebrated the 200th anniversary of Brazilian independence with two releases in its Music of Brazil series, the first devoted entirely to music composed by Dom Pedro I, the first Emperor of Brazil, and the second a survey of Brazilian music for chamber orchestra (performed, ironically, by the English Chamber Orchestra). I must confess, however, that prior to this announcement, my interest in Brazilian concert music had been focused primarily on the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos; and my most recent encounter with that music was the Music of Brazil release of that composer’s three violin sonatas, performed by violinist Emmanuele Baldini accompanied at the piano by Pablo Rossi.

By that time I was beginning to build up a healthy anthology of Villa-Lobos compositions. A major portion of that anthology was the Naxos project (not part of Music of Brazil) to record the complete symphonies, which concluded in November of 2017. The other substantial undertaking involved the composer’s seventeen string quartets in a six-CD collection recorded by Sono Luminus and reissued by Naxos in November of 2015.

Where the 200th anniversary is concerned, my interest in Villa-Lobos turned to a Music of Brazil release from September of 2019 given the title Concertos and Chamber Works. Both of the concertos were composed late in Villa-Lobos’ life, the 1951 guitar concerto and the 1955 harmonica concerto. The chamber selections, on the other hand, span a period from early (“Sexteto mistico,” composed in 1917 and “reconstructed” in 1955) to late (“Quinteto instrumental,” the latest work on the entire album, completed in 1957). Among these selections, the only one familiar to me was the guitar concerto, which had been added to “fill out” the EMI recordings of the nine “Bachianas Brasileiras” compositions on three CDs.

Both concertos are performed by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (the ensemble that recorded the symphonies) conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero. The guitar concerto is particularly appealing through the solo account given by Manuel Barrueco. On the other hand the harmonica concerto was a “first contact” experience, not just of the music but also of soloist José Staneck.

It is worth noting that neither of these concertos was composed for a Brazilian. The guitar concerto was written for Andrés Segovia, who gave the premiere performance in February of 1956, performing with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. The harmonica concerto was also commissioned by a virtuoso performer, John Sebastian. (Note that this is the father of the John Sebastian that founded the Lovin’ Spoonful!) The premiere performance was given by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by George Singer. Villa-Lobos clearly understood and appreciated Sebastian’s virtuoso skills, providing an opportunity to exercise a diverse spectrum of them; and Staneck’s performance certainly rises to the heights that Villa-Lobos had presented to Sebastian.

The chamber music is best appreciated for its imaginative instrumentation. The “Mistico” sextet is scored for flute, oboe, alto saxophone, guitar, celesta, and harp. The quintet, on the other hand, brings a string trio (violin, viola, and cello) together with flute and harp. The sextet reflects the ambitious designs of a young composer with a fascination for contrasting timbres. The quintet is not quite as unconventional in instrumentation. While it is a “late” composition, one might think that the music reflects on the composer’s encounters with the music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel during the time he spent in Paris.

Concertos and Chamber Works may not be a new release; but its approach to less-familiar compositions by Villa-Lobos provides an enjoyable perspective for the recent bicentennial celebration.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Next Omni Video Shoot to Present Marko Topchii

Ukrainian classical guitarist Marko Topchii (courtesy of the Omni Foundation)

Those following this site recently and regularly probably know by now about Live from St. Marks, a concert series presented by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. These are recording sessions for videos of guitar recitals that will then be made available for viewing through the Omni Web site. The recitalist performs before a limited audience of ticket holders. Seating is not reserved, meaning that those with tickets can situate themselves in areas that are not dominated by the video crew.

The first video shoot of the current season took place this past Friday. The next will take place one week from today. On that occasion the recitalist will be Ukrainian classical guitarist Marko Topchii. His last “appearance” took place in May of last year, when Omni streamed a video recording of a solo recital performance given in St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv.

For his visit to St. Mark’s Topchii has prepared a diverse program. He will begin with Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 996 lute suite in E minor. He will include selections from several familiar composers that have contributed to the guitar repertoire, such as Leo Brouwer, Alexandre Tansman, and Joaquín Rodrigo. Less familiar composers will be Angelo Gilardino and Arnaud Dumond. He will also perform his own arrangement for guitar of music by the Ukrainian composer Valentyn Silvestrov, the first of five pieces originally composed for piano that Silvestrov collected under the title Kitsch-Music.

This recording session will take place in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. The performance will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 27. Tickets are being sold in advance but only over the phone. The number to call is 415-242-4500, and all tickets are being sold for $30. There will also be tickets sold at the door between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the evening of the performance. Primary and secondary school students will be admitted for free. The church is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the intersection with Franklin Street.

Naxos to Survey Vassiliev Guitar Works

courtesy of Yuri Liberzon

Towards the end of last month, Naxos released the first album in a projected series presenting compositions for guitar by Konstantin Vassiliev. The composer was born in Siberian Russia in 1970; and the series is being curated by guitarist Yuri Liberzon, who was also born in the same region. Several of the tracks on the album were written for Liberzon.

This is another one of those cases in which has not done justice to the distribution of the recording. Fortunately, one can turn to the usual alternative of Presto Music for better treatment. The Web page for this album accommodates both the CD and download options for MP3, FLAC, and Hi-Res FLAC, all of which include the digital version of the accompanying booklet. (The Amazon download page does not include that booklet, and there is no Web page for physical distribution.)

Listening to this album in its entirety will give one an impressive sense of the breadth of Vassiliev’s approaches to composition. The first three tracks constitute a suite entitled Hommage à Tom Jobim. Antônio Carlos Jobim is best known for his bossa nova tunes, but each of the three movements of Vassiliev’s suite accounts for a different aspect of Jobim’s creativity. Similarly, a Latin perspective on jazz can be found in “The Jazz Story,” one of the tracks dedicated to Liberzon.

Less expected and decidedly more ambitious is an extended (seven and a half minutes) fantasy entitled “Synestha,” which explores thematic material from Alexander Scriabin’s Opus 20 piano concerto in F-sharp minor. The two-movement “Canto e Danza,” on the other hand, seems to reflect the fifteen Cançons i danses pieces composed by Federico Mompou (one of which was explicitly written for guitar). Then there is the “Dance of the Skomorokhs,” the final track on the album and the second of the two 2005 Russian Pieces. This will probably be familiar to most listeners, since it is the theme that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky appropriated for his “1812” overture.

Both of those Russian Pieces were scored for two guitars. Liberzon is joined by Patrick O’Connell for their performance. Similarly, “Obrío,” which reflects both Russian and Latin influences, is a duo composition. However, more interesting is the aforementioned diversity across the thirteen solo tracks. By the end of this album, I found myself curious about whether that scope of diversity will widen further when the second album in this series is released.

Monday, September 19, 2022

A Question About John Adams New Opera

What was the Prelude that begins Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold doing at the start of the Battle of Actium? 

The Bleeding Edge: 9/19/2022

Busy weeks on the “bleeding edge” seem to be returning. This week there are five separate events of note, compared with last week’s four events, one of which consisted of three distinct concerts. Two of this week’s events have already been taken into account. The first of them is the solo piano performance by Lubomyr Melnyk at The Lab this coming Wednesday. The other is the final concert of the month at the Center for New Music, the Opus 95 installment in the Opus Project, which will take place on Saturday evening. Specifics for the remaining three events are as follows:

Tuesday, September 20, 7 p.m., Make-Out Room: Since this is the third Tuesday of the month, it must be time for Jazz at the Make-Out Room. Once again, there will be three sets, each a little over half an hour in duration. The program will begin with a duo performance by Beth Custer and Ben Goldberg, both of whom play a wide diversity of reed instruments. They will be followed by the sextet called Matt Robidoux’s cobwork. Robidoux leads the group playing the “corn” synthesizer, a modular architecture that interprets physical input from two "ears of corn" sculptures cast in aluminum through a process called “kinetically operated randomness system” (k.o.r.n.). The other instrumentalists will be three saxophonists (Jose Solares, Zekarias Thompson, and Cole Pulice) and flutist Michelle Lee. The remaining member of the group is vocalist Roco Córdova. Goldberg will then return for a trio set with Raffi Garabedian on saxophone and Danny Luybin-Ladin on trombone. The Make-Out Room is located in the Mission at 3225 22nd Street. Doors will open at 6 p.m. There is no cover charge, so donations will be accepted and appreciated.

Wednesday, September 21, 8 p.m., Luggage Store Gallery (LSG): This will be another two-set program for the latest installment in the Outsound Presents LSG Creative Music Series. Each set will be somewhat less than an hour in duration. The first set will be taken by a combo called Eurostache. As they put it, the name refers to “a project centering around electro-acoustic real-time collaborative experiments in sound.” More specifically: “Vocalists employ extended techniques to humanize the highly transient and diverse cacophony. Musical constructs such as composition and melody are set aside as we travel toward the fringes of sound. Instruments: modular synth, circuit bent devices, bass, guitar, kangling, fujara, misc acoustic instruments.” The second set will be the TriUnity Saxophone Trio, whose members are Rent Romus, Zae Tinaza, and Tom Weeks. The performance will explore “the sonic landscape of composition and free improvisation.” LSG is located at 1007 Market Street, across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street; and admission is on a sliding scale between $10 and $20. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Sunday, September 25, 5 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Bird & Beckett gigs tend to take place on Fridays and Saturdays. However, this particular Sunday will offer a “double header.” The evening will begin with a solo set performed by pianist Rudi Mwongozi. This will be followed at 7 p.m. by Vince Lateano’s Doggone Jazz Jam Session, led by drummer Lateano. He will be joined by Ben Stolorow on piano and Ollie Dudek on bass. Readers may recall that, recently, Bird & Beckett has live-streamed the performances it hosts. As of this writing, there is no indication of live-streaming this evening’s events. The shop is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station that serves both BART and Muni. For those planning to visit, doors will probably open at 4:50 p.m. Admission is usually $20 in cash for the cover charge. Given that only a limited number of people will be admitted, reservations are necessary and can be made by calling 415-586-3733. The phone will be answered during regular store hours, which are between noon and 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday. Those holding reservations must claim them by 5 p.m. After that anyone waiting for a seat will be allowed to take what is available.

A Second Look at John Adams’ “Grand Opera”

Yesterday afternoon my wife and I returned to the War Memorial Opera House for a second encounter with John Adams’ latest opera, Antony and Cleopatra, this time from the Box seats we have held for over fifteen years of San Francisco Opera (SFO) subscriptions. Readers may recall that, after my first encounter, I questioned whether Adams’ music had done justice to William Shakespeare’s command of iambic pentameter. In discussing our first encounter with my wife, I wondered whether any music could do justice to iambic pentameter without devolving into banal singsong.

Yesterday I recalled that not only iambic pentameter but also Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter could be given a fair shake in at least one musical genre. When I was in high school, I knew a fellow student that would sing a tune called “Shakespeare Blues.” The idea was that he would fit familiar Shakespeare couplets into a twelve-bar blues pattern, and the result worked like a charm. Needless to say, twelve-bar blues never finds its way into Adams Antony and Cleopatra score!

More importantly, however, yesterday’s seating gave me a much better perspective on Adams’ approach to instrumentation. I realized that the ensemble was far larger than I could take in from my angle of viewing. However, as had been the case a little less than a year ago in the SFO production of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 72 Fidelio, Music Director Eun Sun Kim clearly put a good deal of thought into how all of those instrumental resources should be configured.

From the audience point of view, almost the entire string section was grouped on the left. The right was then divided into parallel ranks with the winds closest to the podium and the brass behind the winds. Behind the brass one encountered a generous panoply of percussion instruments. Finally, the center-rear area was shared by Chester Englander on cimbalom and Laura Poe on celeste. From the listener’s point of view, Kim’s configuration afforded greater clarity for the winds and brass, which tended to develop the thematic lines with textured accompaniment from the string passages. Needless to say, Kim knew exactly how to balance these resources against the many different vocal dispositions on stage, including those of the SFO Regular Chorus, directed by John Keene.

While my experience of the orchestra was enhanced from by vantage point, my impressions of both the libretto and the staging tended to decline with my second encounter. Most important is that the sense of “experienced time” tended to drag out as the narrative plodded its way to the deaths of the two protagonists. To some extent, these deaths are overshadowed by what is probably the most chilling episode in the entire opera. This is a rousing speech that Octavian (tenor Paul Appleby) delivers to an audience that hangs on his every word. As I had previously observed, this marked the beginning of Octavian’s rise above the other members of the triumvirate, Antony (bass-baritone Gerald Finley) and Lepidus (bass-baritone Philip Skinner); and Director Elkhanah Pulitzer staged this as an object lesson in how fascism is born.

Bitten by the asp, Cleopatra (Amina Edris) faces death in her most regal attire (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SFO)

The problem is that this episode was so intense that the subsequent deaths of the two title characters almost seemed inconsequential. Mind you, there is all that confusion about who dies when that turns the narrative into a rather frustrating muddle. However, once Cleopatra (soprano Amina Edris) knows that Antony is really dead, even the most attentive viewer would be forgiven for wishing that she would “get on with it” and let the asp do its thing!