Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Artur Schnabel: Composer

At the beginning of this month, Steinway & Sons released an album of the complete vocal music composed by Artur Schnabel. To the best of my knowledge, this is available as a physical CD; but the best source for those preferring this medium will be Barnes & Noble. On the other hand those that have grown comfortable with the digital domain will be happy to know that the Amazon Web page presents a download that includes the accompanying booklet (which includes the texts of all 23 songs in both German and English translation).

This album was produced by pianist Jenny Lin, following up on the two-CD album she had produced of Schnabel’s complete works for solo piano (whose Web page allows for both physical and digital versions). (Some readers may recall that Lin recently visited Herbst Theatre this past November 19, presenting the Philip Glass Mixtape program with fellow pianist Adam Tendler.) On her new album she performs with contralto Sara Couden. Couden is an alumna of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I had previously experienced several satisfying encounters with her performances. More recently, she was one of the vocal soloists in the performance (also in Herbst) of Handel’s HWV 63 oratorio Judas Maccabaeus by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale in December of 2019.

Pianist Artur Schnabel and his wife Therese on the cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Naxos of America)

Presumably Schnabel composed this modest collection of songs for his wife Therese, who was also a contralto. My own knowledge of her work goes back several decades to the five-CD release Schubert and Schnabel, which included five tracks of Franz Schubert’s Lieder given a husband-and-wife-duo performance. Those recordings sound more that a bit labored, but they were made in 1932 when both performers and technicians will still learning how to master recording technology.

This new Steinway & Sons release is definitely a change for the better. Each track is a crystal-clear account of a well-considered and nuanced performance. The first five tracks on the album are world premiere recordings of a collection of songs that were never given an opus number. Mind you, here in San Francisco encounters with vocal recitals are few and far between; so I would guess that most readers, like myself, had no idea that Schnabel had composed the 23 songs available on this album. They may not rise above the more familiar of works by Schubert or Hugo Wolf, but they still make for satisfying listening experiences. I would be only too happy to encounter any of them in a recital setting.

Center for New Music: December, 2022

Readers may have noticed that the Bleeding Edge has “gone dark” for the last couple of weeks. Mind you, Thanksgiving Week is one of the quietest of the year, due to the progression from preparing to eating and then to recovering. This week, in the wake of those festivities, there was a single San Francisco item on the Bay Improviser Calendar; and that turned out to be the first of the only two events taking place this month at the Center for New Music (C4NM). It thus seemed preferable to account for both of those events on the monthly summary.

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 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, including a brief account of this week’s events, with hyperlinks for the respective event pages, each of which has a “Buy Tickets Online” hyperlink to the appropriate Eventbrite event page:

Saturday, December 3, 7:45 p.m.: This will be a memorial program, given the title Recalling the Dream ~ Ghost in the House and Friends. It will present a spirited musical and visual celebration paying tribute to former Ghost in the House band members Richard Waters, Tom Nunn, and Kinji Hayashi. The contributing performers will be as follows:

  • David Michalak – lap steel guitar, percussion, phantom harp
  • Karen Stackpole – gongs, percussion, waterphone
  • Polly Moller – bass flute
  • John Ingle – saxophones
  • Bruce Ackley – soprano saxophone, clarinet
  • Gary Knowlton – chase plate, waterphone
  • Bart Hopkin – inventions
  • Dean Santomieri – spoken word, guitar
  • Cindy Sawprano – singing saw

(Michalak and Stackpole are two of the founding members.) The musical selections will include “A Dream” (setting a text by Edgar Allan Poe), “Waterphone Calling,” and “Innocence Walks a Dark Path.” There will also be films of a dance excerpt by Kinji Hayashi, taken from The Weight of the News, and Skatch Garden, which features Nunn’s Skatchart.

Friday, December 9, 7:30 p.m.: This will be the ninth installment in the Surround Sound Salon Series (SSSS). This is the series in which all presentations utilize the eight-channel surround system provided by Meyer Sound. This particular program will be a spontaneous improvisation by four composer/performers sharing the gear dynamically. Those four participants are Zachary James Watkins (electronics), Ava Koohbor (electronics), Ben Davis (cello), and Chris Brown (virtual piano and electronics).

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

SFO to Conclude Fall Season with Two Concerts

As the San Francisco Opera (SFO) concludes its fall season, next month will begin with the final performances of the two most recent productions to be presented. The first of these will be Orpheus and Eurydice, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, followed, again at 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, December 3, by the final performance of La Traviata. However, these offerings will be interleaved with two concerts, one of which involves a long-standing tradition, while the other shows signs of emerging as a new tradition.

The first of these is the annual end-of-year performance by the current Adler Fellows. As in the past, the title of this concert will be The Future is Now, since it was conceived to introduce the next generation of opera stars. The vocalists will be sopranos Anne-Marie MacIntosh, Mikayla Sager, Elisa Sunshine, and Esther Tonea, mezzo Gabrielle Beteag, tenors Victor Cardamone and Edward Graves, baritone Timothy Murray, and bass Stefan Egerstrom. They will perform with the SFO Orchestra conducted by Music Director Eun Sun Kim, who will provide the program with a suitable overture, the one composed by Johann Strauss II for his operetta Die Fledermaus.

The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 2. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices will be $69 for premium Orchestra seating, $59 for Orchestra Rear and Side Boxes, $49 for the Dress Circle, and $34 for the Balcony. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an SFO event page or by calling the SFO Box Office at 415-864-3330.

Last year’s SFO Chorus concert led by Director Ian Robertson (photograph by Matthew Washburn, courtesy of SFO)

This past December the SFO Chorus celebrated the retirement of its Director Ian Robertson with a program entitled, simply enough, San Francisco Opera Chorus In Concert: Celebrating Ian Robertson. Next month Chorus Director John Keene will conduct a similar event, this time entitled simply San Francisco Opera Chorus in Concert. This will be a program of both a cappella and accompanied works with Associate Chorus Master Fabrizio Corona at the keyboard for the latter offerings. The selections will include both opera excerpts and selections of both sacred and secular choral compositions.

This performance will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 4. The venue will again be in the Veterans Building, but it will be up on the fourth floor in the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater. Seating will be general admission, and all tickets are being sold for $42. Tickets may again be purchased in advance online through an SFO event page or by calling the SFO Box Office at 415-864-3330. Those interested in bringing a group of ten or more are advised to send electronic mail to or to call 415-621-4403.

Corbett-Jones’ “Recorded Legacy” on Cambria

courtesy of Naxos of America

At the beginning of this month, Naxos of America announced the release by Cambria Master Recordings of Realms of Gold, a two-CD “recorded legacy” of pianist William Corbett-Jones. As of this writing, I have yet to identify a distribution site for ordering those CDs. However, has created a Web page for an MP3 download; and I am happy to report that the download includes the four-page booklet that accompanies the recordings.

Corbett-Jones is based here in San Francisco, where he is Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University (SFSU). It was therefore appropriate that, in April of 2019, the SFSU presented a special Faculty Series Concert to celebrate his 90th birthday. The program was a duo recital with Professor Jassen Todorov on violin. By the time I wrote about that recital, I had covered a fair number of Corbett-Jones recitals. Indeed, unless I am mistaken, my earliest effort dates all the way back to May of 2008, when I covered a solo program performed for the Noontime Concerts™ series at Old St. Mary's Cathedral (which happened to take place on Corbett-Jones’ 79th birthday). Between that encounter and the 2019 recital, I seem to have written three articles for about his performances.

Realms of Gold covers a broad spectrum of music history with Johann Sebastian Bach at one end and Sergei Prokofiev at the other. While there are plenty of solo performances, there are also recordings of four-hand performances, duo performances with both violinists (Todorov and Camilla Wicks) and cellist Claude Stark. There is also an account of the first movement of Béla Bartók’s third piano concerto, performed with Laszlo Varga conducting the SFSU Orchestra. What may raise some eyebrows is that the First Viennese School is represented by Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Schubert, with no selections by Ludwig van Beethoven. The nineteenth century, on the other hand, is accounted for by Robert Schumann, Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Johannes Brahms; and Corbett-Jones’ interest in the twentieth century covers a wide swath of diversity with Richard Strauss, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel, and Frank Martin, as well as Bartók and Prokofiev.

Sadly, the recording technology for this impressive account of repertoire leaves much to be desired. The same can be said for the content of the booklet, which gives Strauss’ dates as 1685–1750! Nevertheless, it is not too difficult to “listen through the technical shortcomings” to appreciate the consistently perceptive interpretations that Corbett-Jones brings to each of the composers represented in this collection.

Monday, November 28, 2022

SFB to Present Nine World Premieres

Following next month’s 33 performances of The Nutcracker, San Francisco Ballet (SFB) will launch its 90th anniversary repertory season with a three-program festival of new works entitled next@90. Nine choreographers will contribute new works to the SFB repertoire, three of which will be performed at each of the three scheduled programs. These three programs will be presented on a rotating basis between January 20 and February 11.

The choreographers for the first program will be Robert Garland, the new Artistic Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Jamar Roberts, former Resident Choreographer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Danielle Rowe, who will be creating her second repertory work for SFB. Garland’s contribution will be “Haffner Serenade,” setting the music from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s eight-movement K. 250, after which the ballet is being named. The choreography has been conceived as setting West African movement in a classical context. Roberts is contributing his first narrative ballet, given the title “Resurrection” and setting the music from the first movement of Gustav Mahler’s second symphony (also given the title “Resurrection”). The title of Rowe’s ballet is “MADCAP,” setting carnival-inspired music by Pär Hagström orchestrated by Philip Feeney. According to the description provided, the dancers will be required to use their voices for “recitation, singing, percussive hisses and hoops and hollers throughout the ballet.”

The choreographers for the second program will be Val Caniparoli, who will be celebrating his 50th anniversary with SFB, Bridget Breiner, Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer of the Staatsballett Karlsruhe, and Yuka Oishi, who will be making her debut in the United States. The title of Caniparoli’s new ballet is “Emergence,” and it will be set to the concerto for cello and strings by Dobrinka Tabakova. “The Queen’s Daughter” will be Breiner’s first work for SFB. It is a narrative based on the story of Salome set to Benjamin Britten’s Opus 15, his only violin concerto, composed in the key of D minor. Oishi will make her debut with “BOLERO,” inspired by personal experiences of birth and death at almost the same time. The familiar music of Maurice Ravel will be supplemented with additional music composed by Shinya Kiyokawa.

The final program will present works by Nicolas Blanc, currently Rehearsal Director, Coach, and Choreographer for The Joffrey Ballet, Claudia Schreier, Choreographer in Residence at the Atlanta Ballet, and Yuri Possokhov, SFB Choreographer in Residence. The title of Blanc’s ballet is “Gateway to the Sun,” setting “DANCE,” composed by Anna Clyne in 2019. Schreier’s “Kin” will be set to a commissioned score by Tanner Porter. Possokhov’s new ballet is entitled simply “Violin Concerto.” The concerto providing the music is the one composed by Igor Stravinsky, which had previously been set by George Balanchine. Possokhov recalls Balanchine’s choreography, but he has expressed a need to approach the music with “fresh eyes.”

Performances of these three programs will interleave between January 20 and February 11. Dates and times for the Garland-Roberts-Rowe program will be as follows:

  • Friday, January 20, 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, January 22, 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday, January 31, 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, February 1, 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 4, 8 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 9, 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 11, 2 p.m.

The schedule for Caniparoli, Breiner, and Oishi will be:

  • Saturday, January 21, 8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, January 24, 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, January 26, 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, January 28, 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, January 29, 2 p.m.
  • Friday, February 3, 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday, February 8, 7:30 p.m.

Performances of the final program of Blanc, Schreier, and Possokhov will be as follows:

  • Wednesday, January 25, 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, January 27, 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, January 28, 8 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 2, 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 4, 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, February 5, 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday, February 7, 7:30 p.m.

All performances will take place in the War Memorial Opera House, which is on the northwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and Grove Street (across Grove from Davies Symphony Hall). Ticket prices start at $29. The first, second, and third programs each have a unique Web page for purchasing tickets for their respective dates and times. There is also a Festival Flex Package for those planning to attend all three programs. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office in the outer lobby of the Opera House or by calling 415-865-2000. The Box Office is open for ticket sales Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Advent Liturgy at Church of the Advent

Yesterday evening my wife and I visited the Church of the Advent of Christ the King to attend the Advent Liturgy that, for many, marks the beginning of the celebration of Christmas. Both of us are atheists. Nevertheless, the Director of Music Paul Ellison leads a chamber choir, which plays a significant role in major services; and, before the service began, organist George Anton Emblom performed about twenty minutes of organ music relevant for the occasion. As a result, we often attend services to experience the music, while showing all due respect for the congregation and keeping a low profile.

Engraving of Weimar published by Christoph Riegel showing the church of St Peter and Paul, where Bach may have played his Orgelbüchlein chorale settings during his service to the ducal court (made by Andreas Knorz in 1686, public domain, from Wikimedia Commons)

The service itself was framed by four different musical interpretations of what, in Germany at least, has become the most prominent hymn for the occasion, “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (savior of the nations, come). Two of those interpretations were by Johann Sebastian Bach. BWV 599, the very first entry in the Orgelbüchlein (little organ book), was one of the opening selections; and the service concluded with BWV 661, the arrangement Bach composed for the collection of eighteen chorale preludes, which is often known as the “Leipzig” chorale settings. The other settings were by Bach’s predecessor Dietrich Buxtehude and contemporary composer Gerald Near (born in 1942). Emblom’s opening selection also included “Desseins éternels" (eternal designs), the third of the nine movements of Olivier Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur (the Nativity of the Lord).

The service itself was one of six lessons, each followed by either a carol or a hymn. Those couplings were followed by Thomas Tallis’ setting of the “Magnificat” canticle in the Dorian mode. This made for a generous diversity of music, which could be appreciated without showing any disrespect for the solemnity of the service itself.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Sunset Music and Arts: January, 2023

As has previously been observed, Sunset Music and Arts organizes its season around the calendar year, rather than the usual convention of beginning in the fall and running through the end of the following summer. As a result, the Web page for the 2023 Season was recently announced; but, since there are several items at the very end of that page that are marked “TO BE SCHEDULED,” we can expect that this page will be updated as we advance through the new year. Meanwhile, it appears that three concerts have been finalized for the month of January. All of these will take place on a Saturday but at different times. Specifics are as follows:

January 14, 4 p.m.: Violinist Nato, born in Canada and now living in California, will partner with California-based pianist Jerry Kuderna to present a program devoted entirely to the three duo sonatas of Johannes Brahms: Opus 78 in G major, Opus 100 in A major, and Opus 108 in D minor.

January 21, 7:30 p.m.: Christopher Richardson, currently on the faculty of the Golden Key Piano School in Berkeley, has prepared a program of seven diverse and challenging works by six composers. The one composer represented by two works will be Frédéric Chopin with the Opus 61 “Polonaise-fantaisie” in A-flat major and the last (Opus 52) of the four ballades in the key of F minor. The other composers on the program will be Franz Liszt (“Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata” from the second “year” of the Années de pèlerinage collection), Igor Stravinsky (the solo piano arrangement of three of the movements from the ballet score for “Petrushka”), Sergei Lyapunov (the tenth, “Lesghinka” in B minor, of the collection of twelve Transcendental Études, dedicated to Franz Liszt), Alexander Scriabin (the Opus 28 “Fantasie” in B minor), and William Hirtz (“Wizard of Oz Fantasy”).

January 28, 4 p.m.: The final concert of the month will be a performance by the Rosetta Trio, which brings clarinetist Clayton Luckadoo together with violinist Annemarie Schubert and pianist Connor Buckley. They have prepared a program entitled Tales of Love and Betrayal. The only work they will play as a trio will be Stravinsky’s arrangement of excerpts from the one-act theatrical work “L'Histoire du soldat.” The program will begin with duo performances of Buckley accompanying each of the other two musicians. Schubert will join him for Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 47 sonata for piano and violin in A major. Buckley will then accompany Luckadoo in “Rigoletto Fantasia Da Concerto,” composed by Luigi Bassi. Finally, before the Stravinsky selection, Buckley will give a solo performance of two of the eight compositions that Robert Schumann collected as his Opus 21 Novelletten: the first in F major and the last in F-sharp minor.

All 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 are $25 for general admission with a $20 rate for students and seniors. Because the demand tends to be high, advance purchase is highly advised. Tickets may be purchased online through Eventbrite. Each of the hyperlinks on the above dates leads to the event page for single ticket purchases. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-564-2324.

Multimedia Bel Canto at the Metropolitan Opera

Nadine Sierra in one of the films that Simon Stone created for his production of Lucia di Lammermoor (from the Metropolitan Opera Web page for the production being discussed)

Yesterday afternoon I finally got around to watching my saved recording of the Great Performances at the Met broadcast of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. The performance, which was broadcast at the beginning of last month, presented a new staging by Simon Stone. In his native Australia he has been productive directing both theater and film, and the first thing one realizes is that both of these talents were on display at the Metropolitan Opera. Indeed, the two were so closely intertwined that this may well have been the most challenging undertaking by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) production team. The good news is that the team rose to the challenge, providing a thoroughly engrossing account of Stone’s staging.

Mind you, that staging had a ring of familiarity. However, that did not involve familiarity with either past opera performances or the Walter Scott novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, on which Salvadore Cammarano provided a libretto for Donizetti. Rather, the setting was one of a dirt-poor American town whose industrial past was little more than a faint memory. One could easily believe that Stone was familiar with the Justified television series, which was based in the rural South rather than a midwest state like Ohio but captured the same state of economic depression. Indeed, Stone’s setting was so on the mark that one could almost expect to see Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) lurking in some dark corner. It is also worth noting, as an aside, that the town has a pharmacy with a sign declaring that it is open 24 hours a day. No bonus points are necessary for anyone guessing what the town citizens are buying 24 hours a day (but the name of the product begins with an “f”).

Stone then populated his dark sense of place with a first-rate cast, beginning with soprano Nadine Sierra in the title role. The role of her lover Edgardo was sung by tenor Javier Camarena, while baritone Artur Ruciński portrayed her brother Enrico, who is driven by the bad blood that separates his family from Edgardo’s. Bass Christian Van Horn sang the role of Raimondo, listed in the score as Lucia’s tutor but presented in this production as the town priest.

Between the familial bitterness and the bleak setting, there is more than enough to draw the audience into every dark corner of the narrative. However, because this is bel canto, Donizetti’s focus was on the title role, which he endowed with any number of stunning moments. Sierra rose to the challenges of each of them as if she had known every note since childhood. Her chemistry with conductor Riccardo Frizza was consistently right on the money. Furthermore, over the course of the opera, she engaged impeccably with two different solo instruments in the orchestra pit, a harp (Mariko Anraku) in the first act and, in the “mad scene” at the opera’s climax, a glass harmonica (Friedrich Heinrich Kern). (During the bows, I was delighted to see Sierra walk to the edge of the pit to acknowledge Kern.)

The biggest potential problem with bel canto is that the performance is all about the “pretty voice” with little attention to the narrative. Stone found just the right sweet spot to provide a “level playing field” for both vocal talent and compelling narrative. Opera companies deserve more stage directors with such a skill set.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Yuja Wang Plays Chamber Music for DG

At the beginning of this past September, Deutsche Grammophon (DG) released its latest album of pianist Yuja Wang playing chamber music. My encounters with this aspect of her repertoire are so few that I needed a search engine to remind me of my last encounter. That took place back when I was writing for On June 1, 2014 I wrote about her project with Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos to record all ten of the sonatas for piano and violin by Ludwig van Beethoven (whose publications cited the piano before the violin).

Her latest release confines its attention to only two duo sonatas. The first of these is Johannes Brahms’ Opus 38 (first) cello sonata in E minor; and this is coupled with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s only cello sonata, his Opus 19 in G minor. The cellist for these performances is Gautier Capuçon. For the remainder of the album, the two of them are joined by clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer, who has partnered with Wang on a series of Blue Hour DG albums. On this new album the three musicians perform Brahms’ Opus 114 trio in A minor.

Most of those that have seen Wang’s solo performances, either in piano recitals or concertos with the San Francisco Symphony, probably know her for her abilities to take on both complexity and rhetorical intensity (along with her eyebrow-raising wardrobe decisions). Where chamber music is concerned, however, it is clear that she is just as capable as a “team player.” Even in the context of Rachmaninoff’s tendency to play up keyboard virtuosity, her chemistry with Capuçon registers as an intimate conversation between equals; and that level of partnership is just as evident in the Brahms sonata. When the “program” of the album then advances to Opus 114, the attentive listener can further appreciate the intimacy of conversation among three, rather than just two.

Cover of the album being discussed, showing Ottensamer, Wang, and Capuçon taking a bow after one of their recital programs (courtesy of Crossover Media)

It is also worth noting how these three musicians prepared themselves for making this recording. The album is basically a document of a chamber music program that the three of them had prepared. They gave recitals of that program at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden, La Grange au Lac, the Konzerthaus in Dortmund, and the Tonhalle in Düsseldorf. As might be guessed, the press treated each of these performances with delight; and, thanks to DG, the rest of us can now share that delight.

Music in the Mishkan Announces 23rd Season

To the best of my knowledge through available documented records, one consequence of lockdown conditions imposed in response to the need to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus was that the 22nd season of Music in the Mishkan, presented by The Bridge Players led by Music Director Randall Weiss, had to be truncated to a single recital, which took place this past spring on May 1. Fortunately, conditions are now such that the 23rd season can return to its usual format of three performances.

All three of the programs will be presented by the “core” members of The Bridge Players, Weiss on violin joined by pianist Marilyn Thompson and cellist Victoria Ehrlich. However, in the first of those programs the cellist will be Michael Graham. Program details are as follows:

January 8: According to my records, this is the program that was originally intended to launch the 22nd season. The plan had been to present the premiere performance of “Alchunun ben Mordechai,” which Brian S. Wilson had composed while working under pandemic conditions. This was intended to be framed by two nineteenth-century “standards.” The program will begin with Robert Schumann’s Opus 63 (first) piano trio in D minor and conclude with Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 49 piano trio, also in D minor.

April 2: This program will also be framed by two “standard” piano trios, this time separated by a greater chronological distance. The program will begin with the first, in the key of E-flat major, of Ludwig van Beethoven’s three Opus 1 trios, which were published shortly after they were first performed in 1795. The concluding selection will be Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 67 (second) piano trio in E minor, begun in 1943 as a dark reflection on conditions during World War II. Between these two selections the trio will perform the set of three nocturnes that Ernest Bloch composed in 1924 during his tenure as Musical Director at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

May 21: This program will offer only two compositions. The second of these will be Franz Schubert’s D. 898 (first) piano trio in B-flat major, completed during the last year of his life and representative of what Robert Schumann called the composer’s “heavenly length.” The first half will present a single-movement half-hour composition by Richard Danielpour entitled “A Child’s Reliquary,” composed in recognition of the death of the eighteen-month-old son of Carl and Susan St. Clair. It was written for the trio of violinist Jaime Laredo, cellist Sharon Robinson, and pianist Joseph Kalichstein.

All three of these concerts will take place on a Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. As in the past, the venue will be Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, located at 290 Dolores Street at the northwest corner of 16th Street. Tickets for the general public are $25, but members of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav will be admitted for $20. There is also a discounted rate for the three-concert series of $65 for general admission and $50 for members of the congregation. Tickets may be purchased in advance with a credit card by calling Congregation Sha’ar Zahav at 415-861-6932. They may also be acquired online through a Web page, which supports online purchase of both single tickets and subscriptions. This Web page also allows for additional donations to Sha'ar Zahav.

All attendees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Those planning to attend can send a digital image of their vaccination record to They can also show either a printed copy or an image on a cell phone at the door. There will be no physical tickets, only a record of the names of those attending the performance. All attendees must be masked while in the building. Those who do not wish to visit Sha’ar Zahav will also have the option of viewing the performance on Zoom. As part of the process of purchasing tickets, they may request that a Zoom link will be provided prior to the event.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Chineke! Orchestra’s New Coleridge-Taylor Album

The Chineke! Orchestra acknowledging its audience at the conclusion of a performance (photograph by Zen Grisdale, courtesy of Crossover Media)

One week from today the Chineke! Orchestra will release an album of the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor on their own Chineke! Records “house label.” Based in Great Britain, the ensemble is the first professional orchestra in Europe to be made up of majority Black and ethnically diverse musicians. All of the tracks were recorded in a variety of different venues in London.

Regular readers of this site probably know by now that Coleridge-Taylor has enjoyed a well-earned revival of interest from the recording industry. His music has been released on albums produced on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Given that Coleridge-Taylor was inspired by American literature and made three tours of the United States, it is not surprising that his legacy is now enjoying attention on both sides of the pond. However, the new Chineke! album offers a previously-overlooked account of this composer’s achievements. This involves the fact that his daughter Avril also made a career as both composer and conductor. As a result, one of her own compositions, “Sussex Landscape,” has been included on the new Chineke! release.

I did not feel particularly surprised that roughly half of the album consisted of compositions I had previously encountered on earlier recordings. Of much greater interest is the “social dimension” of Chineke!. There are seven compositions on this album. Among the first six, each is led by a different conductor. The final work is the Opus 2 nonet, which does not require a conductor! In other words the very treatment of leadership reflects a major departure from our expectations of how an orchestra performs. Mind you, because there is so much diversity across those seven compositions, I am not sure to what extent this album presents the listener with a diversity of conducting styles.

For my own part, I listen to that diversity in the hope that I shall eventually encounter this music in a concert setting. In other words I approach this album to cultivate familiarity. Whether selections differ by virtue of Coleridge-Taylor’s techniques as a composer or the stylistic differences of the conductors is, for better or worse, beyond my grasp as an attentive listener. On the other hand, regular readers probably know by now that my grasp is already firm when I encounter an ensemble that performs without a conductor!

Hopefully, as our concert scene works its way steadily back to business-as-usual, I shall have an opportunity to listen to Chineke! in one of San Francisco’s concert halls, after which I shall have a better grasp of that aforementioned “social dimension.”

More Diversity in Next SFS Chamber Program

Some readers may recall that, almost exactly a month ago, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) presented the first Sunday afternoon program in the 2022–23 Chamber Music Series in Davies Symphony Hall. That turned out to be a thoroughly engaging (not to mention raucously amusing) “three centuries” program of music by (in reverse chronological order) Lera Auerbach, Claude Debussy, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (whose K. 522 “Musical Joke” provided the raucous side of the content). The next program in this series will be presented in a little over three weeks’ time, and all three of the compositions to be performed will fit in an interval of 100 years.

The earliest of those works will occupy the second half of the program. It will be Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 87 (second) string quintet in B-flat major, scored for two violins (Nadya Tichman and Jessie Fellows), two violas (Katarzyna Bryla-Weiss and Katie Kadarauch), and cello Sébastien Gingras. This is a relatively mature work, composed in 1845 when the composer was in his mid-thirties; but it was not published until 1851, about four years after his death. The program will begin at the other end of the century span with the one “seasonal” selection. That will be André Jolivet’s “Pastorales de Noël” (Christmas Pastoral), composed in 1943 for the trio of flute (Catherine Payne), bassoon (Steven Dibner), and harp (Meredith Clark). Between these two “bookends” there will be a performance of the “Phantasy Quartet,” which Benjamin Britten composed in 1932 for oboe (James Button), violin (Fellows), viola (Kadarauch), and cello (Amos Yang).

The performance will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 18. Tickets are available only for the Orchestra, Boxes, Terraces, and Loge. All tickets are being sold for $40 and may be purchased through the Web page for this concert. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-864-6000. The Box Office will be taking telephone orders from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. In addition the Box Office will open at noon on the date of the performance. Davies is located on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Omni to Stream Guitarists and Baritone

Baritone Jonas Müller singing between the members of the Tomasi-Musso guitar duo (courtesy of the Omni Foundation)

Yesterday morning the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts announced the next streamed video premiere managed by Omni On Location. This series offers “Music from Historic Sites;” but, as of this writing, the site for this new offering has not yet been announced. However, the performance to be streamed will present the latest example of Schubert’s vocal music accompanied by guitar.

More specifically, the accompaniment will be provided by the guitar duo of Davide Giovanni Tomasi and Marco Musso. They will perform with baritone Jonas Müller, who will sing two of the movements from Franz Schubert’s D. 911 Winterreise (winter’s journey) cycle. His selections will be the opening movement, “Gute Nacht” (good night), and the fourth, “Erstarrung” (freezing).

The performance will be streamed through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel. The premiere will be live-streamed at noon. this coming Sunday, November 27. 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.

ECM Compiles 13-CD Meredith Monk Anthology

My first encounter with Meredith Monk took place in the summer of 1969 during the American Dance Festival. This was Charles Reinhart’s first year as Administrative Director, and it followed a winter season during which Reinhart had brought four “post-modern” dance programs to Broadway. Since I was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at that time, I was not able to experience all four of those programs, one of which presented Monk. (For the record the program I did attend provided my first encounter with Twyla Tharp.)

Monk’s performance in Connecticut was not on the “official” program, nor was it a dance performance. Only by word of mouth were we aware that she would appear on an extended lawn space. In that setting she gave a vocal recital that lasted (I think) about an hour, during which she accompanied herself with a very modest electronic keyboard. It did not take me long to appreciate that Monk’s vocalizations had more to do with how she delivered her syllables than with either words or semantics. On the other hand, by that time I was no stranger to the post-modern scene (known among many trying to be more specific as the “post-Cunningham” repertoire, identifying Merce Cunningham as the primary inspirational source).

Once I had secured my doctoral degree, I lost touch with the adventurous side of New York performances by taking a teaching position at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, for two years, after which I entered the tenure track at the University of Pennsylvania. The university campus was a short walk from a train station that made it easy for me to get to Manhattan, but most of my time there was spent following American Ballet Theatre. I then spent three years at a “think jar” (smaller than a think tank) in Santa Barbara, California, before moving to Connecticut to work for Schlumberger-Doll Research. While the laboratory was in Ridgefield, I chose to live in Stamford, a short walk away from the train station that would take me quickly to midtown Manhattan.

Thanks to that convenience, I began to catch up on what Monk had been doing since 1969. This included attending several theatrical events that could probably best be described as “abstract opera.” Thanks to making a generous donation, I also received copies of all the vinyl albums she had released. Ironically, however, my arrival in Connecticut took place in the same year in which ECM New Series released Monk’s first CD, Dolmen Music. Over the following years, I had to give up my vinyls due to lack of both space and equipment; and I added only two Monk CD’s to my collection, Do You Be and Songs of Ascension.

courtesy of Jensen Artists

All this takes us up to the immediate present and the release this past November 11 of the thirteen-CD ECM New Series box set Meredith Monk: The Recordings. This accounts for twelve albums, one of which, ATLAS, requires two CDs. The single-CD albums are Dolmen Music, Turtle Dreams, Do You Be, Book of Days, Facing North, Volcano Songs, mercy, impermanence, Songs of Ascension, Piano Songs, and On Behalf of Nature. Monk performs on all of these recordings except for Piano Songs, which consists of solo and duo performances by pianists Ursula Oppens and Bruce Brubaker.

This past Sunday I told the joke about a single-sentence book report:

This book told me more about penguins than I would ever want to know.

Many are likely to react to the prodigious breadth of scope in this ECM collection in a similar manner. Most important is that Monk’s approach to composition has not changed very much since the solo recital she gave in 1969. Ironically, the Piano Songs album is the only one that does not involve vocalization. Over the course of all the other albums, on the other hand, one comes to appreciate just how inventive Monk has been in adapting phonemes as her primary material for creation. Mind you, as one progresses through them, one will come to appreciate not only that inventiveness but also the considerable diversity in her selection of accompanying instruments. As a result, those willing to approach this entire collection as a journey may well appreciate how Monk’s approaches to sonority gradually grow in breadth along with her growth in vocal invention.

That said, many readers should probably be advised that listening to Monk is very much an acquired taste. However, the same can be said of viewing the choreography of Cunningham (not to mention the early choreography of Tharp). Personally, I doubt that I shall be taking many “deep dives” into the Monk repertoire. Nevertheless, there will definitely be times when I would like to “get my feet wet;” and I appreciate that, on those occasions, I shall be in a good position to select the right listening experience for the occasion.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

2022: Chanticleer’s Two Christmas Performances

The members of Chanticleer preparing for their annual Christmas program (from the Web page for A Chanticleer Christmas)

For much longer than I have been writing about them, the Chanticleer vocalists have been giving two performances in San Francisco of their traditional seasonal program entitled A Chanticleer Christmas. This program will be performed throughout many different venues in California between December 11 and December 23. San Francisco is one of two cities that enjoys the luxury of choosing between two dates. (The other is Carmel.)

This year’s program will be full of new arrangements of well-known tunes. However, it will begin in candlelight with selections by two leading Renaissance composers, Tomás Luis de Victoria and Orlande de Lassus. By the time the program has concluded, listeners will have journeyed through time all the way up to a new arrangement of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” provided by GRAMMY-nominated jazz arranger Amanda Taylor. The evening will be brought to a raucous conclusion with a set of spirituals arranged by former Music Director Joseph Jennings.

The two performances of this program will both take place at 8 p.m. The dates will be Saturday, December 17, and Sunday, December 18. As in the past, the venue will be Saint Ignatius Church, located on the campus of the University of San Francisco at 650 Parker Avenue on the northeast corner of Fulton Street. Ticket prices will be $80 for Premiere seating, $68 for Preferred seating, $54 for Reserved seating in the Balcony, and $36 for general admission seating in the side sections of the sanctuary. All tickets are being sold online by City Box Office with separate event pages for Saturday and Sunday. Tickets can also be purchased by calling City Box Office at 415-392-4400.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

American Bach Soloists in December, 2022

Last year saw the return of “business as usual” for performances presented by American Bach Soloists (ABS) during the month of December. This included two complete performances of George Frideric Handel’s HWV 56 oratorio Messiah at Grace Cathedral, preceded by a Baroque Christmas program, also at Grace, and followed by a Baroque New Year’s Eve concert at Herbst Theatre. This will again be the plan for next month; and, as in the past, all performances will be conducted by Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas.

For this year’s performance of HWV 56, the ABS instrumentalists and the American Bach Choir will again be joined by four vocal soloists: soprano Maya Kherani, countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, tenor James Reese, and bass-baritone Christian Purcell. These performances will both begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 15, and Friday, December 16. Grace Cathedral is located at the top of Nob Hill at 1100 California Street, between Taylor Street and Jones Street. Ticket prices for both concerts range between $25 and $125. All tickets may be purchased through a single ABS Web page powered by Tix.

As was the case last year, the Baroque Christmas program will include an abridged performance of HWV 56, beginning with Part I (the Christmas portion) and will conclude with the “Hallelujah” chorus at the end of Part II. Between these two selections there will be three instrumental offerings. The first of these will be the last of the 12 sinfonie collected in Giuseppe Valentini’s Opus 1. This particular composition was given the title “Sinfonia a tre per il santissimo Natale.” This will be followed by the “Concerto Pastorale” by Johann Christoph Pez. The final selection will be a movement from a vocal motet by Marc-Antoine Charpentier entitled In nativitatem Domini Nostri Jesu Christi canticum (catalog number H. 414). The movement to be performed is the second, which is entitled “Suite de la Nuit.” This performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 14. Ticket prices again range between $25 and $125 and may be purchased through the same ABS Web page.

Soprano Liv Redpath and Bass Alex Rosen (from the ABS event page)

The Baroque New Year’s Eve concert will again be a program of arias, duets, and instrumental music from the Baroque opera repertoire. As was the case last year, the vocalists will be soprano Liv Redpath and bass Alex Rosen. Handel will again be the featured composer with selections from Giulio Cesare (HWV 17), Radamisto (HWV 12), Semele (HWV 58), and Ezio (HWV 29). The other composers on the program will be Jean-Philippe Rameau (Hippolyte et Aricie) and Antonio Vivaldi (La fida ninfa).

This performance will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday, December 31, and last for about two hours (leaving plenty of time to ring in the New Year). The performance will be held in Herbst Theatre, which is located on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. Ticket prices again range between $25 and $125. However, these are being sold through a City Box Office Web page.

Monday, November 21, 2022

SF Girls Chorus to Resume Davies Tradition

Next month will mark the first time in three years that the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) will be able to return to Davies Symphony Hall for its annual December appearance, led by its Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe. As usual the traditional seasonal selections will be only a part of a richly diverse program with performances by all six levels of the Chorus School, along with the Premiere Ensemble and selected SFGC alumnae. However, even the more familiar offerings will have arrangements of particular interest. More specifically, “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” will be sung in the arrangement by Florence Price; and the arrangement for “Come Down Angels” was composed by Undine Smith Moore. Othello Jefferson will provide piano accompaniment for this portion of the program.

Featured composer Susie Ibarra (photograph by Ibarra, courtesy of SFGC)

However, much of the evening will be focused on contemporary compositions. Most important will be the world premiere of Susie Ibarra’s “Dreaming Horizons,” composed with support from an SFGC commission. She created this piece during her tenure as SFGC Composer-in-Residence during the 2020–2021 season, and excerpts were first performed in May of 2021 during a concert given at the Fort Mason FLIX drive-in theater. Ibarra is also a percussionist and has been recognized as a Yamaha, Vic Firth, and Zildjian drum artist. She will contribute to the performance, joined by two other percussionists, Andy Meyerson (best known for his work with The Living Earth Show) and Eric Whitmer.

The program will also include excerpts from the five-movement “The Journey of Harriet Tubman,” composed by Ron Kean. The composer’s original works were be interleaved with traditional spirituals. This piece was originally premiered in March of 2017, performed by the Bakesfield College Chamber Singers. Another contemporary offering will be the “Fire” movement from Katerina Gimon’s suite The Elements.

This program will be given one performance beginning at 7 p.m. on Monday, December 12. Ticket prices range from $30 to $65. Tickets may be purchased online through a City Box Office Web page or by calling 415-392-4400. The entrance to Davies is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Gluck’s Opera Best Served by Conductor

This afternoon I returned to the War Memorial Opera House for a second viewing of the current San Francisco Opera (SFO) production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice. The first thing I need to do is correct an error in my first account of this production. The “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” is a ballet episode in ABA form, the middle section being the “Melody” that is popular with recorder lessons. That was the music performed during the current production. The music that is performed both before and after the “Melody” is the “Air,” which features  an elaborate flute solo is in the A section. In this production only the “Melody” is performed.

As far as the staging is concerned, I still feel that Director Matthew Ozawa was so preoccupied with his “Stages of Grief” and the projection of neural networks onto the platform on which most of the action takes place that any resemblance to the Orpheus myth was purely coincidental. In my own humble opinion, I found that my primary source of satisfaction was the conductor Peter Whelan. My seating this afternoon provided an excellent account of almost everything taking place in the orchestra pit. When the score called for an “echo” effect in the first act, Whelan realized it with a separate seating for a quintet consisting two violins, a clarinet, a viola, and a cello, which served the needs perfectly without overplaying the effect itself.

Nicole Heaston singing from a great height (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SFO)

In addition, where the music was concerned, I was definitely impressed by the vocal talents of the only soloists in the production, countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński as Orpheus, soprano Meigui Zhang as Eurydice, and particularly soprano Nicole Heaston, whose exquisite poise allowed her to portray Cupid suspended at a great height above the stage floor. To those vocal soloists one may add the full membership of the SFO Chorus directed by John Keene, whose scoring often established the dramatic tension of a scene.

In other words one had a full complement of vocal talent to account for everything required by Gluck’s score. Those forces could not have been supported better by the SFO Orchestra and the insights of Whelan’s conducting. Personally, I would have been perfectly delighted to experience all of those resources deployed in a concert performance.

Profiling Leon Kirchner with an Anthology

Cover of the book being discussed (from its Web page)

Verdant World Productions is an institution managed by Lisa Kirchner to serve as a venue for documenting the legacy of composer Leon Kirchner. It was first encountered on this site when Verdant World Records released an album of live performances of concertante music featuring Kirchner as a conductor performing with pianist Peter Serkin. More recently it provided the platform for a book that Lisa edited about her father entitled Leon Kirchner and his Verdant World. That book was released as a paperback, which became available on an Web page at the beginning of this past August.

The rich breadth of content in this book recalls an old joke about an elementary school pupil having to write a review of a book about penguins, who submits a review consisting of a single sentence:

This book told me more about penguins than I would ever want to know.

I have to confess that, simply by reading the table of contents of this Kirchner book, I was already beginning to feel overwhelmed.

Nevertheless, I jumped in feet-first, beginning with the editor’s preference and working my way, slowly but surely, through to the conclusion of the text on page 363. It did not take me long to get hooked on making the journey. Having completed it I can say that many of my thoughts about music making, particularly during the second half of the twentieth century, have been productively refined and at least a few prior misconceptions have been set straight.

My personal acquaintance with Leon was more than a little modest. I met him during my senior year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Elliott Carter was a Visiting Professor for one of the terms. As a result of his presence, I came to know Luciano Berio, who was a Visiting Professor at Harvard University at the same time, and Kirchner, who, the previous year, had succeeded Walter Piston as Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music at Harvard. My acquaintance with Lisa was somewhat closer, since I was ramping up my writing skills by spending my spare time as a ballet critic at the same time that Lisa was performing in a modern dance group that had attracted my attention. (I also remember being persuaded to give my second press ticket to Lisa, so she could have a chance to see Margot Fonteyn in performance.)

At this point, in the interest of “full disclosure,” I should observe that, to supplement my research in computer music (which would follow me into graduate school), I was learning much from the composer Ezra Sims, particularly about microtonality. It turned out that the chemistry between Sims and Leon left much to be desired. It seems to have dated back to when Sims was studying with Milhaud at Mills College and then had to deal with Milhaud moving elsewhere, leaving Kirchner to serve as Sims advisor.

Nevertheless, my advisor at MIT, Marvin Minsky, and I got to know Kirchner better when he was working on his third string quartet. He arranged for us to visit New York University, where Morton Subotnick had developed an electronic music studio around a synthesizer designed and built by Don Buchla. Subotnick was “coaching” Kirchner in using this gear. My guess is that the jury will always be out when it comes to how much of the tape created for Kirchner’s quartet was due to Kirchner himself and how much was due to Subotnick.

I suppose that the most important thing about Leon Kirchner and his Verdant World is that my knowledge of Kirchner expanded generously further than anything I had retained from my student days. For the most part I felt that the expansion was for the better. Nevertheless, there were a few articles that left me wondering why I had bothered to read them in the first place. Let me elaborate on the most extreme situations at both ends of the spectrum.

On the positive side I would say that some of my strongest impressions came from the documentation of correspondence between Kirchner and Roger Sessions between 1948 and 1950. Sessions was the older of the two; so there were definitely intimations of student-teacher interactions, even if Kirchner had not been a student for many years. A topic of particular interest to me involved the composer Milton Babbitt.

Babbitt was fascinated with how Schoenberg presented his approach to twelve-tone music in terms of rules and constraints. Babbitt, who seems to have studied abstract mathematics as well as music, became obsessed with Schoenberg’s technique, demonstrating that those rules and constraints could be represented in terms of group theory. However, when he tried to elaborate on why this was a useful insight (for composers or mathematicians or both), his articles would quickly devolve into gobbledegook. Kirchner seemed to be obsessed with trying to puzzle out what Babbitt was doing, while Sessions had his own rhetorical devices for suggesting that a sanity check was in order!

The negative side shows up in the final chapter of the book, entitled Notes and Analysis. It consists of six essays, all of which had been published in scholarly journals concerned with music theory. For the most part these articles focus on teasing out details on the score pages and then trying to endow those details with significance.

Now I have to confess that, in my freshman year, when I was presented a program about twentieth-century music on the campus radio station, I ran a series of programs to account for the six string quartets of Béla Bartók; and I felt the need to provide each quartet a verbal introduction. As a result, I prepared for the broadcasts by taking each of the scores for one of the quartets and writing out a generous text description of what those scores revealed. It took many decades of my life to realize that any account of “marks on paper” was secondary to an account that involved what the performer(s) chose do to with those marks. For the most part, the Notes and Analysis essays are written by learned scholars that had not yet learned how to get their heads out of the marks on paper!

OFS to Present its First “Seasonal” Concert

Those who have already seen the full summary of One Found Sound (OFS) performances for its tenth season already know that, for the first time, the ensemble has added a holiday-themed event to the schedule. Consistent with the OFS spirit, this will be an out-of-the-ordinary holiday spectacular entitled holiday pop rox! The hope is that this will start a new holiday tradition, which will involve favorite standards for the occasion mixed in with departures from the ordinary.

How much of a departure? Start with a special guest appearance by drag queen JAX. Add to that the usual seasonal traditions reworked in the styles of more recent vocalists, such as Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Those that prefer the seventeenth century will be assuaged by Michael Praetorius’ harmonization of one of the oldest Christmas hymns, “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (a rose has sprung up). As many will expect, the overall atmosphere of the event will include immersive visual experiences created by Max Savage.

Festivities will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 10. The venue has changed from the original plan of Heron Arts hosting the occasion. The party will take place at the Swedish American Hall at 2174 Market Street. This is located between the Church Street and Castro Street Muni stations. Doors will open at 7:30 p.m. Admission will be $25 for all ages. It is important to note that alcoholic beverages will not be included with the ticket. All ticket holders aged 21 and over will be welcome to make their purchases at the full bar managed by the Swedish American Hall. Tickets may be purchased online through a Web page with hyperlinks both for processing the purchase and for seeing further information.

SFP Celebrates Philip Glass’ 85th Birthday

Some readers may recall that, early in 2018, San Francisco Performances (SFP) presented a pair of concerts to honor Philip Glass’ 80th birthday. The first of these was a joint recital in Herbst Theatre by the Kronos Quartet and pianist Timo Andres. This was followed by an evening-length (about 90 minutes) performance of “Music with Changing Parts,” which took place in Davies Symphony Hall, bringing the Philip Glass Ensemble together with the San Francisco Girls Chorus along with brass and woodwind students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Adam Tendler and Jenny Lin (from the SFP event page for last night’s concert)

Last night in Herbst, SFP celebrated Glass’ 85th birthday with a somewhat more modest, but still highly engaging, offering. Pianists Adam Tendler and Jenny Lin joined forces to present a program entitled Philip Glass Mixtape. Reflecting on earlier days when we would listen to music on a record player, the program was structured into “Side A” and “Side B,” separated by an intermission.

Both “Sides” had the same structure: Tendler and Lin (in that order) would each perform a solo selection, after which they would play a two-piano composition. The first of those two-piano selections was a world premiere performance: an arrangement by both pianists of four of the movements from Glass’ one-act chamber opera “Les Enfants terribles,” based on the novel of the same title by Jean Cocteau. There was also one encore selection, an arrangement of “Closing” from Glass’ score for the film Mishima.

The “Enfants terribles” selection on “Side A” was complemented on “Side B” by a composition entitled simply “Four Movements for Two Pianos.” Putting aside any tired remarks about Glass’ “music with repetitive structures,” both of the two-piano offerings made for highly absorbing listening experiences. Once one accepts the primacy of repetition, one can appreciate how informed performances can bring out subtle approaches to interpretation that take the listener far beyond any sense of cookie-cutter uniformity.

Indeed, that interplay between repetition and interpretation was ingeniously introduced at the beginning of “Side B” with two of the etudes that Glass composed to maintain his own dexterity. Tendler began the “Side” with the sixteenth of those etudes, followed by Lin playing the second. While these etudes were conceived with technical skill in mind, both of last night’s performances mined no end of rhetorical sweet spots from their respective interpretations.

“Side A” began with “Mad Rush.” It is possible that Tendler made this selection because he felt that it would be useful to establish audience attention from the very beginning; and “Mad Rush” provides the listener with a landscape defined in terms of both repetition and distinguishing features. Lin complemented the impact of “Mad Rush” by performing a work that Glass explicitly labeled a passacaglia (thus preparing the listener for repetition), entitled “Distant Figure.”

This single recital may have seemed modest in the context of how Glass’ 80th birthday had been celebrated, but it still provided excellent orientation for those that appreciate the “repetitive structures” rhetoric. Tendler and Lin presented an engaging survey that highlighted both similarities and differences. Could there be a better way to honor Glass’ advance to his 85th year?

Saturday, November 19, 2022

New York Philharmonic Opening on PBS

Unless I am mistaken, my first encounter with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts took place in the summer of 1963. This would have been the interval between my graduation from high school and my freshman entry to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At that time the only building that had opened was Philharmonic Hall, and I visited it only a couple of times. Since those times were in the summer, I never attended a performance by the New York Philharmonic.

The New York Philharmonic rehearsing on the stage of the Wu Tsai Theater (photograph by Chris Lee, courtesy of the New York Philharmonic, from a New York YIMBY article)

Given the nature of my classmates, it did not take long to word to spread across the MIT community that Philharmonic Hall was an acoustic nightmare. In the decades that followed, it seemed as if the space would never achieve satisfactory acoustics. This past October introduced the public to the latest effort in a space now called the Wu Tsai Theater in a building named David Geffen Hall.

It should come as no surprise that Public Television would create a video document of opening night at the Wu Tsai Theater. About a week ago I watched the video I had saved when that video was broadcast here in San Francisco. Ironically, every panoramic shot of the New York Philharmonic playing in their renovated home showed a bevy of microphones hanging from the ceiling. I naturally assumed that these were for the telecast, but they also served to remind me that broadcast television was definitely not the medium to address the question of whether or not acoustics had been improved.

As a result, the best I could do was to try to account for performance technique and the chemistry between the ensemble and the conductor, Music Director Jaap van Zweden. Most of the program consisted of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 125 (“Choral”) symphony in D minor. However, this was preceded by “You Are the Prelude,” a setting of a text by Ricardo Alberto Maldonado composed by Angélica Negrón on a New York Philharmonic commission.

One of the outstanding virtues of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) is its commitment to bringing new compositions into the repertoire. Sometimes it feels as if every concert I tend in Davies Symphony Hall provides an opportunity to listen to a new work. That feeling may not be quite accurate (particularly in light of this week’s all-Brahms program); but it is still very satisfying.

As a result, when I learned about Negrón’s commission, my immediate question was: “How many of her works have I encountered here?” It turns out that my most recent encounter was this past August, when SFS performed the West Coast premiere of “Fractal Isles.” Yes, the title appealed to the mathematician in me; but that was almost insignificant thanks to a rich abundance of instrumental sonorities supplemented with field recordings of sounds of a tropical rainforest.

In that context the experience of listening to “You Are the Prelude” was more that a little bit on the weak side. This may have been a result of working with New Yorkers, it may have been that van Zweden never quite “got” the score, or it may be a combination of many factors. Whatever the case, it was hard to overlook the feeling that we had gotten the better deal in San Francisco!

Mind you, the factor that dare not speak its name is the one that chose to load most of the attention on the Beethoven selection. Nevertheless, based on the camera views of the conductor, it was hard to shake the impression that he was giving a business-as-usual account. Mind you, the listening experience was seriously blunted by a video director who never seemed to have the right camera pointing in the right direction. As a result, everything cruised along with a relatively dull delivery until the score had progressed to the point at which a seriously enormous chorus had the opportunity to sign their lungs out. That was enough to wind up the entire program with a valid sense of exhilaration, even if t

SFCM Highlight: December, 2022

December at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) tends to be occupied almost entirely with end-of-term recitals. As a result there is only one highlighted event for the month. Nevertheless, that offering is definitely worthy of attention.

Conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser (courtesy of SFCM)

The program will follow the usual overture-concerto-symphony format. However, the concerto offering will feature the 2022 winner of the Piano Concerto Competition, Alex Fang of the Class of ’22. He won the competition with his performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 1 (first) piano concerto in F-sharp minor. The program will also feature a special guest conductor, Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser. He currently serves as Resident Conductor of Engagement and Education for the San Francisco Symphony, and at SFCM he is Chair of the Emerging Black Composers Project. In that capacity he has chosen to begin the program with an orchestral composition simply titled “Short Piece,” composed by Julia Perry in 1952. By that time she had already been exploring the influences of African American music in her compositions. However, 1952 happened to be the year in which she began her studies with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, during which time she was awarded the Boulanger Grand Prix for her viola sonata. The program will conclude with Hector Berlioz’ Opus 14, given the title “Symphonie fantastique.”

The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 10. The performance will take place in the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, but it will also be available for live stream viewing. For those wishing to attend the performance, there will be no charge for admission. However, tickets should be reserved in advance; and a Web page has been created for that purpose.

Nicholas McGegan Returns to PBO Podium

Back cover design for last night’s program book

Last night in Herbst Theatre, Nicholas McGegan, now Music Director Laureate, returned to the podium of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO). This occasion marked his 1000th performance with the ensemble. He celebrated the occasion with a program devoted to one of his favorite genres, dance music from the French baroque period.

The program, entitled The Surprises of Love, was framed by dance suites excerpted from two operas, André Campra’s La Carnaval de Venise, composed in 1699, and  Les surprises de l’Amour, composed by Jean-Philippe Rameau in 1748. Between these two offerings, McGegan presented a suite of five movements selected from the collection Symphonies pour le Festin Royal du Comte d’Artois, composed by François Francoeur. Taken as a whole, this amounted to an evening of 34 movements of a generous variety of lengths performed by an ensemble of strings, flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, and percussion. (Yes, that last word was not a misprint. The performance of several of the movements involved different types of drum, including a tambourine; and, for one selection, percussionist Allen Biggs had to imitate the chirping of birds.)

McGegan was clearly delighted with this effort to revel in music explicitly composed for the entertainment of the listeners. He was dynamically energetic from the moment he first entered the stage to take the podium to the conclusion of the “Contredanse” movement that closed out the Rameau selections. (Presumably, he needed the intermission to catch his breath.)

The flute, oboe, and horn pairs added a wide breadth of coloration over the course of the evening; and I was delighted to see that each of the two flautists (Stephen Schultz and Mindy Rosenfeld) also drew upon the affordances of a piccolo. The bass line, in turn, was reinforced by a pair of bassoonists, Kate Van Orden and Nate Helgeson. There was also a comforting sense of order established by the chronological presentation of the three selections.

Taken as a whole, however, this was basically a delightful opportunity to sit back and enjoy the breadth of diversity in those 34 selections that McGegan had assembled; and, while all of the members of the string section were masked, the music itself served as a refreshing acknowledgement of our having made it through the most severe trials of the pandemic experience.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Voices of Music Announces 2022–2023 Season

After having presented only three of the four concerts scheduled for the 2019–20 season, Voices of Music (VoM) is ready to launch its next concert series. The current plan is that the new season will present only three programs, one next month and two next year in February and March, respectively. VoM will return to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street, for all three of the performances taking place in San Francisco. All of those performances will begin at 8 p.m. Things will not quite return to “business as usual” because, until further notice, COVID-19 protocols will be in place for all three programs.

Subscriptions for the entire season will be $155 with a reduced rate of $140 for seniors and members of SFEMS, EMA, or ARS. A Web page has been set up for processing subscription orders. General admission for individual concerts will be $58, and the reduced rate will be $53. Full-time students with valid identification will be admitted for $5. A single Arts People event page has been created with hyperlinks for tickets to each of the three concerts in the season. Dates and program plans for the three concerts are as follows:

Friday, December 9: This will be the annual holiday concert. This year the title will be Holiday Concertos: Bach, Telemann & Vivaldi. The Johann Sebastian Bach offering will be the familiar BWV 1042 concerto in E minor with Elizabeth Blumenstock as soloist on a period instrument. YuEun Kim will play a solo violin concerto by Antonio Vivaldi, RV 317 in G minor, the first of the Opus 12 concertos. The other Vivaldi concerto will be RV 444 in C major with soloist Hanneke van Proosdij playing a sopranino recorder. Telemann will also be represented by two compositions after the intermission. The first of these will be the TWV 51:e1 oboe concerto with Marc Schachman as soloist on a period instrument. The program will conclude with TWV 44:1, a quintet to be performed by natural trumpet (Dominic Favia), along with two violins, one viola, and one cello. Between these two selections, Kati Kyme and Chloe Kim will be baroque violin soloists in a performance of the sixth of the twelve concerti grossi in Giuseppe Torelli’s Opus 8, each of which is described as “una pastorale per il Santissimo Natale” (a pastorale for the Holy Nativity).

Program details have not yet been finalized for the remaining two concerts; but the themes for those events will be as follows:

Sunday, February 19: The title of the program will be Musica Transalpina: Chamber music from Italy and England. The selections will represent how the Italian invention of the violin crossed the Alps and travelled everywhere throughout Europe (including crossing the English Channel). The composers to be represented on the program will be Marco Uccellini, Biagio Marini, Arcangelo Corelli, Nicola Matteis, Henry Purcell, and George Frideric Handel. Participating violinists will include Blumenstock, Cynthia Freivogel, and Augusta McKay Lodge.

Saturday, April 1: Choreographer Carlos Fittante will return to join Voices of Music in a program entitled Metamorphosis. The program will account for different metamorphosis narratives expressed through music and/or dance. Hanneke van Proosdij will present a new composition, and the instrumentalists will be joined by pipa virtuoso Yihan Chen.