Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Omni Now Streaming Recital by András Csáki

The Roman Catholic church in Pestújhely (photograph by VinceB, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

At noon this past Sunday the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts released the latest video in its Omni On Location series. The subtitle of this series is Music from Historical Sites, and the site for this performance is the Keresztelő Szent János-templom, a Roman Catholic church dedicated to Saint John in the Pestújhely suburb of Budapest. The video presents András Csáki’s performance of the Opus 17 sonata in A major by Franz Werthmüller.

Werthmüller was born a year before Ludwig van Beethoven and outlived both Beethoven and Schubert. His Opus 17 sonata has the sort of intimacy that one might expect from a Schubertiad. Csáki’s performance could not do a better job of serving that intimacy. He performs with a quiet and casual disposition that invites the attentive listener to relish not only the turns of phrase but also his capacity for negotiating tricky passages that superpose harmony and counterpoint.

This performance is now available for streaming through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel. The YouTube Web page for viewing has been available since this past Sunday at noon. 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.

A New Profil Anthology of Violinist Ivry Gitlis

courtesy of Naxos of America

According to my records, the last time I wrote about a Profil anthology was in October of 2022, when I discussed the six-CD collection entitled The Young Friedrich Gulda. Those that have been following up on my work for some time probably know that I never pass up an opportunity to write about that pianist and his strikingly diverse repertoire. This Friday Profil will release its latest collection; and, once again, repertoire was the reason for drawing my attention. Ivry Gitlis: The Legend is a four-CD collection of recordings by a violinist with a command of the standard repertoire that preferred to focus his attention on works composed in the twentieth century. As usual, Amazon.com has created a Web page for pre-orders for those wishing to be “first in line” to appreciate this violinist’s legacy.

This is one of those anthologies that has autobiographical significance. As a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, most of my extracurricular time was spend in the studios of the campus radio station (whose call letters then were WTBS), where I initiated a weekly program of music of the twentieth century. While the station had a moderately good library, I found that I could also draw upon the recordings in the Library building, which included an entire area for a Music Library (which happened to be almost adjacent to the building housing WTBS). It was through that Music Library that I first encountered Alban Berg’s violin concerto. There was only one recording, and the violinist on that recording was Ivry Gitlis.

A few years later I found myself dividing most of my spare time between WTBS and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, run by Marvin Minsky. Minsky had invited mathematician Seymour Papert to join his staff; and Papert, in turn, invited Gilbert Voyat, who had earned his doctorate at the University of Geneva and was working there as a research associate and instructor at the International Center for Genetic Epistemology. Because Voyat and I frequently talked about music, the Berg violin concerto showed up in our conversations sooner rather than later. When I mentioned that I knew of only one recording, I learned that Gitlis was one of Voyat’s friends!

In spite of my new “knowledge source,” I learned almost nothing about the scope of Gitlis’ repertoire. As a result, over half a century elapsed before I knew anything more about Gitlis or could listen to recordings to account for the rest of that repertoire. The scope of that repertoire in the Profil anthology is best approached by first identifying the selections that predate the twentieth century.

The most familiar of the “usual suspects” are included: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 35 violin concerto in D major and Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 64 in E minor. There are also two short “encore” pieces by Henryk Wieniawski and the version of Ernest Chausson’s Opus 25 “Poème” for violin and piano. Finally, there is Giuseppe Tartini’s G minor violin sonata best known as the “Devil’s Trill Sonata.” However, the version that Gitlis recorded was an arrangement by Fritz Kreisler (which probably “liberated” the accompanist from dealing with figured bass) that included a cadenza of Kreisler’s own invention.

Where the twentieth century is concerned, there was a generous assortment of conductors that worked with Gitlis. The conductor for the Berg concerto was William Strickland, an American whose primary focus was on American composers. The European conductors, on the other hand, included Hans Rosbaud, Heinrich Hollreiser, Hans Swarowsky, and (of particular interest to me) Jascha Horenstein. (Some readers may recall that I discussed Horenstein’s Profil collection in June of 2020. That article referenced an additional recording of a twenty-minute conversation with Horenstein conducted by Alan Blyth.)

In the context of the entire Gitlis collection, however, the Berg concerto continues to register the lion’s share of my attention. Mind you, where “historical authority” is concerned, there will probably never be a substitute for the recording that Louis Krasner made on May 1, 1936 with Anton Webern conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. However, while Krasner clearly honored the spirit of Berg, I have been impressed over the years with the number of violinists I have encountered that have found their own approach to giving the concerto an expressive interpretation. Nevertheless, given how few of those recordings were available during the third quarter of the twentieth century, the significance of Gitlis’ recording cannot be denied.

Having listened to the entire Profil collection, I would say that such significance also applies to composers such as Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, and Jean Sibelius; this new collection is definitely “one for the books.”

Monday, February 27, 2023

Birthday Tribute to Morten Lauridsen

This morning I learned through my Inbox that today is the 80th birthday of choral composer Morten Lauridsen. As a recipient on the National Medal of Arts, Lauridsen definitely deserves the epithet of being one of the greatest living choral composers. Indeed, I am aware of his name (with a limited awareness of his works) through three of the San Francisco choral ensembles I have tried to cover, at least part. Sadly, my efforts have been few and far between. The most recent was a program that the Lacuna Arts Ensemble presented in May of 2017. The other two were organized by Sanford Dole, his eight-voice Apse Ensemble and his larger Bay Choral Guild.

Ironically, Lauridsen’s closest association in San Francisco is with Volti. This is particularly evident in the documentary film by Michael Stillwater entitled Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen. Much of the latter portion of this film provides an extended account of Lauridsen working with Volti and its Artistic Director Robert Geary. Indeed, the film includes a rehearsal session with Geary conducting both Volti and Lauridsen at the piano:

screen shot from the streamed presentation of the Shining Night documentary

To honor Lauridsen’s birthday, Shining Night is available for free screening through Wednesday, March 1. Vimeo.com has provided the Web page on which the documentary may be viewed. The closing credits begin to roll about one hour after the beginning of the film.

Much of the footage of Lauridsen’s personal life shows him where he lives on Waldron Island, off the coast of the state of Washington. (Early in the film Lauridsen has the camera point north to allow the viewer to see Canada!) Performances of his music are captured on film not only in San Francisco but also in Los Angeles and Aberdeen (in Scotland). Those segments account of some of his better known works, including “Lux Aeterna” and “O Magnum Mysterium” in the sacred genre and the Madrigali collection on the secular side. Nevertheless, this is not a “concert” film; so all of the music is excerpted.

It is also worth noting that the primary voice in the film is Lauridsen’s own. Others may speak of their esteem for him. However, he is not shy about sharing is personal thoughts, particularly when they involve how many of the works in his catalog were created.

The result is a well-crafted and informative account of the making of music, while consistently allowing the music maker the last and authoritative word.

Mineva Plays Uncompromising Piano Music

Late yesterday afternoon at the Old First Presbyterian Church, Old First Concerts presented a solo recital by pianist Daniela Mineva. I had previously encountered her when she served as a pianist for the Light and Matter program that Earplay presented in February of 2020, the last Earplay program prior to the COVID lockdown. She performed a duo for violin and piano with Terrie Baune entitled “Late Show” by Gilad Cohen. I described this as music of “boldly declaimed phrasing;” and neither player was shy about being bold.

That boldness was given a far more extensive platform in the program Mineva prepared for yesterday afternoon. That platform supported two compositions by Galina Ustvolskaya (her fifth piano sonata and a set of twelve preludes) and single works by Franghiz Ali-Zadeh (“Music for Piano”) and Sofia Gubaidulina (the piano sonata she composed in 1965). The entire program was about 80 minutes in duration, performed without an intermission.

Once again there was nothing shy in Mineva’s approach to execution. She gave a spoken account about the individual pieces, which compensated to the lack of any such content in the program book. In many respects her capacity for verbal description was right up there with those bold declamations of the music itself.

She informed her audience that Ustvolskaya was known as “the lady with the hammer” and specifically called out what she identified as the “obsessive D-flat” in the piano sonata. All this was useful for anyone willing to pay attention to Mineva’s remarks, but the listening experience was still a rather demanding stretch. Of all the works on the program, the Ustvolskaya preludes were probably the easiest to negotiate, primarily due to their brevity.

The Ali-Zadeh composition, which began the program, was also relatively accommodating. This was due, in part, to the piano having been “prepared” in a manner that allowed for a back-and-forth exchange between piano sonorities and those of a cimbalom. The music itself was rich in modal qualities, which, when compared with the compositions that would follow, engaged the attentive listener with an intriguingly understated rhetoric.

Nevertheless, when one considered the program taken as as whole, there were only so many “hammer blows” the listener could sustain before giving in to fatigue. Gubaidulina was basically the “victim” of that fatigue. All of her piano works are relatively early, but they tend to express a rhetorical freshness. By all rights the sonata deserved an attention that had not sustained the hammer blows (literal and figurative) of the preceding compositions.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

SFCM Highlights: April, 2023

Since next month’s account of highlighted events at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) was relatively limited, this is as good a time as any to look forward to the events in April. This will again be a modest offering, with at least one change in plans since the Calendar was first announced. As of this writing, there will be four events, three of which are planned for live-streamed viewing through a Vimeo Web page.

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

Saturday, April 1, 7:30 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall: This program was originally planned for a guest conductor to lead the SFCM Chamber Orchestra in the North American premiere of a symphony by Turkish composer Fazil Say. However, this event has been cancelled, probably due to current conditions in the Republic of Türkiye. Instead, Edwin Outwater will lead the full ensemble. The soloist will be Emmanuel Ceysson in a performance of the concerto for harp and orchestra by Henriette Renié. The “overture” will be “Variaciones concertantes,” Alberto Ginastera’s Opus 23. The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Opus 36 (fourth) symphony in F minor.

Tuesday, April 4, 7:30 p.m., Barbro Osher Recital Hall: The April installment of Chamber Music Tuesday will feature the Telegraph Quartet, which is SFCM’s ensemble-in-residence. The quartet still consists of its founding members: violinists Eric Chin and Joseph Maile, violist Pei-Ling Lin, and cellist Jeremiah Shaw. They will perform quartets from two decidedly different centuries. The program will begin with Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken III/48, the fifth of the six Opus 50 “Prussian” quartets, written in the key of F major and given the programmatic title “The Dream.” This will be followed by Gabriela Lena Frank’s six-movement suite Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. The program will conclude with Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 20 octet in E-flat major. The additional players are students selected through a competition paneled by Telegraph members: violinists Archie Brown and Po-Yu Lee, violist Zoe Yost, and cellist Calvin Kung.

Saturday, April 8, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 9, 2 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall: This will be a concert performance of one of the lesser known operas by George Frideric Handel, his HWV 16 Flavio, re de' Longobardi (“Flavio, King of the Lombards”). This opera is somewhat unique in the ways in which tragedy is juxtaposed with comedy. (Francesco Cavalli was a master of this technique, but it is unlikely that Handel was aware of his work.) The performance will feature both vocal and instrumental students currently in the Baroque Ensemble of the Historical Performance Department.

Friday, April 28, 7:30 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall: This will be the second concert of the month and the final concert of the season by the SFCM Orchestra. Student Conductor David Baker will lead the opening selection, Tchaikovsky’s “Overture-Fantasy” Romeo and Juliet. The program will conclude with Zodiac Suite, twelve compositions by jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams accounting for the astrological signs of the zodiac. The Orchestra will be joined by a jazz trio led by pianist Aaron Diehl. The middle portion of the program will be taken by Richard Strauss’ Opus 30 tone poem “Also sprach Zarathustra.”

CMSF: Olga Kern’s Disappointing Rachmaninoff

Pianist Olga Kern at a Steinway piano (photograph by Natalia Rostova, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Russian-born pianist Olga Kern has been a favorite with audiences for Chamber Music San Francisco (CMSF) performances, at least for the many seasons I have attended. She became an American citizen in 2016, which was the year in which she launched the Olga Kern International Piano Competition, having received the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medal in the Eleventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June 2001, the first woman in over thirty years to win that competition. Ironically, I had not been able to schedule an opportunity to listen to her in recital until yesterday evening’s second program in the CMSF 2023 season.

This year mark’s the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sergei Rachmaninoff. By now many of us know that Yuja Wang marked the occasion with a marathon performance of the four piano concertos and the Opus 43 “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Kern’s program, on the other hand, was more of a tribute to Rachmaninoff’s legacy of recordings, most of which were products of Rachmaninoff’s 23-year association with the Victor Talking Machine Company, which was absorbed by RCA in 1929. For last night’s program, she singled out the 1929 recording of Robert Schumann’s Opus 9 Carnaval suite. In addition, the diverse assortment of Rachmaninoff compositions was supplemented with three of his transcriptions.

Taken as a whole, the program provided an excellent account of Rachmaninoff’s achievements. Sadly, where execution was concerned, none of the performances rose to the standards of the music itself or Rachmaninoff’s recorded accounts. While he could bring intense rhetorical turns to those recordings (even in the context of inadequate technology), Kern never seemed to rise above the level of mere heavy-handedness. As a result, most of her selections flew by in a blur, almost as if speed mattered more to her than phrasing. Furthermore, that sameness of forceful execution sadly masked the underlying thematic and structural diversity of the selections on her program.

The result amounted to one of my favorite punch lines: “This is the sort of thing that people who like that sort of think will like.” Herbst Theatre was well filled with Kern enthusiasts, and that enthusiasm erupted with bursts of applause after each of her selections. By the end of the evening, that enthusiasm could only be satisfied with three encores. To be fair, Kern certainly knew how to engage her fans with not only her selections but also her brief and informative commentary on those selections. However, she never really captured the subtleties of performance technique that remain with us today thanks to the RCA legacy.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Bezuidenhout to Return to Philharmonia Baroque

According to my records, Kristian Bezuidenhout last performed with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) in February of 2016. He was the soloist in the All Mozart program that had been prepared by Waverly Fund Music Director Nicholas McGegan. McGegan also contributed his own fortepiano for the occasion, built by Thomas and Barbara Wolf following the design of an instrument built around 1780 by Wenzel Schantz. The concerto selection was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 488 concerto (number 23) in A major.

Conductor and keyboardist Kristian Bezuidenhout with his glasses full of Mozart (courtesy of PBO)

At the end of next month, Bezuidenhout will return to PBO, this time serving as conductor as well as concerto soloist. The title of the program will be A Glassful of Mozart, and this time the concerto selection will be Mozart’s K. 466 (number 20) in the key of D minor. This will be the major work on the first half of the program. The second half will then conclude with a Mozart symphony, K. 319 (number 33) in B-flat major.

Each of these selections will be given a “prologue.” The program will begin with the overture to the opera Olympie by Joseph Martin Kraus (VB 33). The second half of the program will open with music by one of Mozart’s key influencers, Johann Christian Bach. This will be the W C12 symphony in G minor, the sixth and final symphony in Bach’s Opus 6 publication.

The San Francisco performance of this concert will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 31. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, located on the first two floors of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue. This is the southwest corner of Van Ness and McAllister Street, making it convenient for both north-south and east-west Muni bus lines. The performance will last approximately 100 minutes, with one intermission.

PBO continues to recognize pandemic conditions, but proof of vaccination will no longer be required. However, all patrons are required to wear a well-fitted mask at all performances. Gaiters, scarves, and masks with valves are not permitted. Masks must be worn at all times unless actively drinking water in the lobby area.

Ticket prices range from $32 to $130. City Box Office has created a Web page for the purchase of tickets. Further information may be obtained by calling Patron Services at 415-295-1900, which is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sasha De Sola: From Salome to Giselle

Where narrative ballet is concerned, a dancer must be able to personify a highly diverse assortment of personality types. Indeed, in a single narrative ballet, particularly one that fills a full evening’s performance, the demands of the plot require the dancer to shift from one set of dispositions to another. Last night in the War Memorial Opera House, Diane B. Wilsey Principal Dancer in the San Francisco Ballet Sasha De Sola made it clear that she could negotiate a multitude of narrative settings.

Readers may recall my having included a photograph of her at work in preparing for a performance of the role of Salome in Bridget Breiner’s “The Queen’s Daughter.” While I was not particularly impressed by the ballet itself, it was hard to avoid appreciating how De Sola inhabited her role. Last night she returned to the Opera House to take the lead as title character in the first of ten performances of the two-act ballet Giselle.

First performed on June 28, 1841, this is one of the oldest ballets to remain in repertoire. (The general consensus is that the oldest is La fille mal gardée (the wayward daughter), which was first performed on July 1, 1789. I cannot recall how many times I have listened to someone discuss this ballet by first saying, “It’s older than Giselle!) Helgi Tomasson prepared his own choreography, drawing upon the original source by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli, as well as subsequent revisions by Marius Petipa.

The narrative begins with Count Albrecht (Aaron Robison) disguising himself as the peasant “Loys” to woo Giselle. Her dancing is all fresh enthusiasm. However, she has a weak heart; and her mother Berthe (Anita Paciotti) does her best at curbing her daughter’s enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the game keeper Hilarion (Nathaniel Remez) is on to Albrecht’s deception; and the first-act narrative comes to a climax when Albrecht is revealed for who he is in the presence of not only Giselle but also his true fiancée Bathilde (Sasha Mukhamedov).

This is where De Sola’s dramatic potential first comes into play. In an instant her youthful exuberance is overcome by the shock of a harsh reality. She does not quite go through the full stages of the grief model of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross; but, in last night’s choreography, one could observe denial, frustration (rather than anger), and a depression that ultimately resolves as death.

The curtain rises in the second act on a corner in the forest where we see the tombstone for Giselle’s grave. The forest is haunted by the Wilis, all ghosts of betrayed maidens that died of a broken heart. This provides an opportunity for extensive corps de ballet choreography; and last night’s performance was engaging enough that the observer cared little that the narrative had come to a screaming halt.


Sasha De Sola and Aaron Robison in the second act of Giselle (photograph by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy of San Francisco Ballet)

Indeed, the most important part of the narrative involves Giselle joining the band of Wilis. We also see them drive Hilarion to death when all he wanted to do was leave flowers on Giselle’s grave. The Wilis then go after Albrecht; but, even in death, Giselle has enough love for him to plead for his life. As the sun rises, the Wilis must disband, leaving Albrecht alone in the woods. Deciding whether he has learned anything from his experiences is left as an exercise for the observer.

This is clearly a narrative that requires more than a little suspension of disbelief on the part of the observer. Nevertheless, the choreography for both corps and individual characters was consistently engaging. Tomasson clearly knew how to tell a very old (if not dated) story in a manner that would be convincing to a present-day audience. Back in the Seventies I went through a period when I felt I was seeing Giselle too many times. Half a century later, Tomasson’s staging allowed me to revisit the ballet with unexpected freshness.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Outsound Presents: March, 2023

Yesterday afternoon Outsound Presents released its plans for next month. This month will see a departure from the usual programming. As usual, two LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) Creative Music Series events will take place on Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m.; and the venue remains located at 1007 Market Street, just off the corner of Sixth Street and across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street. Admission is on a sliding scale between $10 and $20. However, no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Concert specifics will be presented in chronological order as follows:

Wednesday, March 1: This will follow the usual format of a two-set program with sets beginning at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively. The first set will be a duo performance by Eric Ellestad on tenor saxophone and Lenny Gonzalez playing electric guitar supplemented by electronic effects. The second set is entitled “A Synesthete’s Atlas.” It consists of real-time “cartographic improvisations,” using projected and/or manipulated digital maps. The work was conceived by Eric Theise; and, for his visit to LSG, he will be joined by Derek Gedalecia’s Headboggle project, which will provide keyboard-based soundscapes.

Wednesday, March 15: This will follow the same set plan as the previous performance. The first set will be taken by System Blower, which is the duo of Stephen Pilolla, playing synthesizers, keyboards, and other electronics, and Patrick Lema, playing drums, turntable, sampler, and other electronics. The second set will see the return of Tom Djll with his trumpet and electronic gear. He will give a duo performance with bass player Branden Abushanab. The result will be cross-play between free jazz and abstract electronic soundscapes.

What will make March different will be the absence of a concert in the SIMM (Static Illusion Methodical Madness) Series, which usually takes place on a Sunday evening in the Musicians Union Hall. Instead, Outsound Presents will move to Berkeley for a special event at the Finnish Hall. The occasion will be a celebration of the 77th birthday of woodwind player Vinny Golia. The evening will be a large ensemble performance, which will involve 77 (as might have been guessed) musicans and is called Vinny Golia's Heptacontakaiheptagon Ensemble. This performance will begin at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 5.

[Note: While this site does not venture beyond the city limits of San Francisco, readers deserve to know why there will not be a SIMM Series concert in March.]

Salonen Couples Samuel Adams with Bruckner

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the third of four programs highlighting the piano. He scheduled these to precede his first European residencies tour with SFS, which will begin on March 9. This particular program was the only one in which the pianist, Conor Hanick, was making his SFS debut.

Samuel Adams (photograph by Lenny Gonzalez, courtesy of SFS)

That debut accounted for the entire first half of the program, in which “first contact” involved more than the soloist. Hanick performed the solo piano part for the world premiere of “No Such Spring,” composed by Samuel Adams on an SFS commission. This was very much music emerging from the pandemic; but the title was chosen to suggest an implicit narrative, which reflects the composer’s having listened to Igor Stravinsky’s music for the ballet “The Rite of Spring” around the time that Russia began to invade Ukraine.

Like Stravinsky’s ballet score, “No Such Spring” requires a very large ensemble, which includes extensive percussion resources. In the nine lines describing the instrumentation in the program book, a little over six of them were required to account for percussion instruments. One would think that the pianist would have a major job in contending with the orchestra, but Adams had just the right sense of balance to “level the playing field” between soloist and ensemble.

In his pre-concert discussion with Chief Artistic Officer Phillippa Cole, Adams deftly escorted his audience through the ideas behind the three movements of his composition: “Colorfugue,” “Double Variations,” and “Garden of Wire and Wood.” The last of those titles reflected his own description of the piano; and it was interesting to note that both of the other two titles served to reflect centuries of past traditions of musical practices. That said, the music as it was then performed was very much a product of the immediate present.

Over the course of about half an hour, Adams wasted no time in cracking the “energy coefficient” up to “eleven” and sustaining it all the way through to the final measures. Salonen had clearly internalized the many details of instrumental interplay, consistently doing justice to the distribution of energy for the sake of rhetorical intensity. Any attentive listener could easily relish all of those details, particularly when the auditory experiences were coupled with the visual impressions of both conductor and ensemble determined to do justice to the composer’s score. This is music that encourages attentive listening; and, hopefully, it will be able to sustain a place in contemporary repertoire that will extend beyond its premiere performance.

The second half of the program was also devoted to a single composition, reaching back about a century and a half to Anton Bruckner’s sixth symphony in A major. This was last performed when Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt visited SFS in February of 2010. At that time I was still trying to hone my listening skills where Bruckner was concerned, and Blomstedt’s performance could not have been a better source of guidance. Over the course of that thirteen-year interval, I have become much better attuned to the uniqueness of Bruckner’s approach to expressiveness. Last night I was delighted to find that Salonen’s account of this symphony was as absorbing as my previous experience with Blomstedt.

The impact of that listening experience had much to do with the extent to which a Bruckner symphony movement amounts to a journey through the unfolding of a series of sonorities. One might almost liken any of those movements to a narrative accounting for unfamiliar events in an unfamiliar language. It is up to the conductor to extract an underlying sense of “meaning” from that unfamiliarity, and Salonen know how to “mine” that meaning for all it was worth.

For about half a decade, I have cultivated my Bruckner listening skills primarily through experiences of listening to Blomstedt on recordings as well as in performances in Davies; last night I came to appreciate that my skills can be further honed by Salonen.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

SF Girls Chorus and Chanticleer Join Forces

Those that have been following the season plans for the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) and/or Chanticleer probably know by now that these two ensembles will be joining forces next month. They have agreed on a program structured into three segments, one for each of the groups and one for joint performance. The title of the program will be Neighbor Tones, which is not merely metaphorical, because both of the organizations are based in the Kanbar Performing Arts Center at 44 Page Street.

The SFGC portion of the program will begin with another preview of excerpts from Tomorrow’s Memories: A Little Manila Diary, which SFGC commissioned Matthew Welch to compose in 2020. This will be followed by “Baba Afzal Kashan,” one of the movements in Richard Danielpour’s Three Parables, which SFGC commissioned in 2019. The other two compositions in this segment will be “Wanting Memories” by Ysaye M. Barnwell and “Father Death Blues” by Philip Glass.

Composer Ayanna Woods (provided by the composer, courtesy of SFGC)

The Chanticleer segment will also begin with a recent commission. The ensemble commissioned Ayanna Woods in 2021, and the result was her composition of “close[r], now.” The remainder of the segment will be more traditional. The first selection will be “Civitas sancti tui,” a five-voice motet in William Byrd’s collection entitled Liber primus sacrarum cantionum (the first book of sacred canticles). This will be followed by Jonathan Woody’s arrangement of the spiritual “God’s Gonna Trouble,” better known as “Wade in the Water.”

The program will begin with combined forces, so to speak. The opening selection will be a world premiere excerpt commissioned for both ensembles. The commission was awarded to composer Ayanna Woods, whose composition is entitled “Years of Light.” This will be followed by Erin Bentlage’s arrangement of “Desert Song, composed by säje. The remaining selections will be “O Daedalus, Fly Away Home” by Trevor Weston and Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” setting.

This program will be given its San Francisco performance beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 17. Ticket prices range from $21 to $63. Tickets may be purchased online through a City Box Office Web page or by calling 415-392-4400. The venue will be Herbst Theater, whose entrance is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street and Van Ness Avenue.

Mivos Quartet Records Reich’s 3 String Quartets

Mivos Quartet members Olivia De Prato, Maya Bennardo, Victor Lowrie Tafoya, and Tyler J. Borden (from the booklet for the recording being discussed)

Almost two weeks ago, Deutsche Grammophon released an album of the Mivos Quartet performing Steve Reich’s three string quartets. The recordings took place at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center on the campus of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. The members of the quartet are Olivia De Prato and Maya Bennardo, violist Victor Lowrie Tafoya, and cellist Tyler J. Borden.

Two of the quartets, “WTC 9/11” and “Triple Quartet” were recorded prior to the pandemic in sessions on February 10–14 and March 2–6 in 2020. Things then came to a halt until January of 2022, when “Different Trains” was recorded. The album presented these pieces in reverse chronological order, beginning with “WTC 9/11,” which was Reich’s response to the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2010. This is followed by “Triple Quartet,” which Reich composed in 1998. “Different Trains” was composed about ten years earlier.

Strictly speaking, none of these works are “conventional” string quartets. In all three of them, Mivos performs in conjunction with recorded material; and, in the case of “Triple Quartet,” they are performing with recordings of themselves. In addition, the decision to release the recording in reverse chronological order may well have been a decision to undermine any suggestions that Reich had composed a “cycle.” Rather, in the spirit of Hokusai, these are three “views” of a string quartet performance.

Given that Reich deploys his resources to achieve an impressively “thick” polyphony, I feel it is important to call out the production team lead by Mike Tierney. While there is no substitute for being present at a performance to appreciate the interleaving qualities of that polyphony, Tierney has created an album in which many, if not all, of those qualities can be apprehended. The corollary to that proposition is that this is an album that can stand up to multiple listening experiences, each of which is likely to forge its own path in following the threads of the overall texture.

Deutsche Grammophon should also be credited with providing the attentive listener with a first-rate booklet of notes written by John Schaefer. I have been following Schaefer’s work since my days of living in Stamford, Connecticut, from where I could receive an excellent radio signal of his New Sounds program. After I left the East Coast (never to live there again), I could still make do with his anthology New Sounds: A Listener’s Guide to New Music. Mind you, I do not think it would be derogatory to say that Reich’s approaches to composition are no longer “new;” but I have to say that I have been impressed by the staying power of his works. Those impressions have now been reinforced by the Mivos Quartet.

PIVOT Festival Continues with Catalyst Quartet

Last night in Herbst Theatre, the Catalyst Quartet of violinists Karla Donehew Perez and Abi Fayette (alternating in leading from first chair), violist Paul Laraia, and cellist Karlos Rodriguez offered the second of their three PIVOT Festival concerts, presented by San Francisco Performances. Like the first program, this one again began with a quartet by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the third in his set of six quartetto concertans. The major works on the program were composed in the late nineteenth century: a string quartet in B minor by Teresa Carreño and Ethel Smyth’s Opus 1, a quintet in E major. The second cello part for that quintet was performed by guest artist Marcy Rosen. The remaining offering was a movement for string trio by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, which was his last composition, serving to complement Smyth’s earliest published work.

It is likely that all four of these selections amounted to “first contact” listening experiences for much of the audience. (In my own case only the Saint-Georges quartet was familiar.) The Smyth quintet was probably the major challenge, the only work on the second half of the program lasting for about half an hour. Personally, I was struck by the symmetry of her five-movement structure, a structure that would emerge a few decades later in the work of Gustav Maher. The outer Allegro movements are coupled to slow movements with a Scherzo in the very center. From a strictly listening point of view, however, what mattered most was an overall sense of flow across the entire composition. The five players consistently moderated the progress of that flow (although, during the post-performance discussion, they were not shy in disclosing the difficulty of execution).

Carreño’s quartet followed the more familiar four-movement structure and lasted about ten minutes shorter than Smyth’s quintet. This was her only piece of chamber music; and, to this day, she is best known for her rather large catalog of solo piano music. What struck me was that both of these compositions clearly had much to offer and deserved more than a single listening experience. I realized that, during last season, my capacity for listening to Catalyst had been informed by previous encounters with their UNCOVERED albums, while there was little to prepare me for both Carreño and Smyth.

What particularly interested me about Perkinson was his tenure with the Max Roach Jazz Quartet. Both Perkinson and Roach could take their own efforts at composition beyond the jazz repertoire. (I remember seeing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for which Roach composed the music … which made me forget all about Felix Mendelssohn!) Perkinson’s single-movement work clearly provided much to engage the listener, but I came away wishing that I could take the time to listen to it a few more times.

Indeed, I would be only too happy to encounter another UNCOVERED album that would allow me to become better acquainted with not only Perkinson’s movement but also the multi-movement compositions by Carreño and Smyth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

SFCA to Celebrate Both Sound and Silence

In about a month’s time San Francisco Choral Artists (SFCA) will present the next program in its 2022–2023 season. The title of the program is Sound and (not much) Silence. As can be seen below, its poster design presents a whole rest in the middle of a very active audio waveform:

Once again, the program will include world premiere performances of works by Composer-in-Residence Clark Evans and Composer-Not-in-Residence Caroline Mallonee. The more familiar composers will be (in alphabetical order) Johannes Brahms, William Byrd, Elliott Carter, David Conte, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. The repertoire will be equally diverse, including Hebrew psalms, German part songs, Renaissance motets, Ladino lullabies, thoughtful meditations, and a vigorous Zulu song of encouragement.

This program will be performed in San Francisco at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 19. The venue will St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. General admission at the door will be $35 with a $30 rate for seniors and $15 for those under the age of 30. However, SFCA has created a Web page that will enable advance reservation on a pay-what-you-will basis. Online ticket sales will close at 11 p.m. on Saturday, March 18.

The COVID policy for this event (which is, of course, subject to change) is as follows: “Proof of vaccination is not required to attend our concerts. We focus on spacing and masking to keep our audience and singers safe. Patrons are required to wear a well-fitted mask at performances. N95 masks will be available for those who need a mask or a mask upgrade. If you do not feel well, or feel that you are a transmission risk because of an exposure before a performance, please guard your health and the health of others by staying home. Refunds are gladly given in this circumstance.”

PIVOT Festival Gets Under Way with Catalyst

Portrait of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1781 painting by Alexandre-Auguste Robineau, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Last night in Herbst Theater the PIVOT Festival, presented by San Francisco Performances and curated by the Catalyst Quartet, got under way. The theme of the festival is a continuation of the Uncovered series, which Catalyst curated last season. The members of the quartet are violinists Karla Donehew Perez and Abi Fayette (alternating in leading from first chair), violist Paul Laraia, and cellist Karlos Rodriguez. As was the case in last season’s Uncovered series, the Festival will also feature guest artists.

The first of those guest artists, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, appeared in last night’s opening Festival offering. The program concluded with a performance of Amy Beach’s Opus 67 piano quintet in F-sharp minor, a composition I first got to know through performances at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). Beach completed her quintet in 1908, and it was given its first performance in Boston on February 20 of that year. However, I seem to recall an exhibit at the San Francisco Public Library, which documented her performance of the quintet here in San Francisco at a time when she was living off Alamo Square. Perez took first chair for last night’s performance; and I was pleasantly reminded of the quintet’s vast spectrum of dispositions, which I had first encountered at SFCM.

McDermott also appeared at the end of the first half of the program. She joined with Fayette and Rodriguez in a performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s piano trio in E minor. Coleridge-Taylor was featured in the first volume of Catalyst’s UNCOVERED series on Azica Records, released almost exactly two years ago. That album included his Opus 1, a piano quintet in G minor (with Steward Goodyear joining the Catalyst musicians). The trio predates that quintet and is one of Coleridge-Taylor’s earliest compositions. It consists of three short movements, resulting in less than ten minutes of music. One may say that the composer’s juices were just beginning to flow; but last night’s performance made it clear that this was no mere beginner’s effort.

The “spinal cord” for the entire Festival will be the six quartetto concertans composed by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. These were given the title “Au gout du jour” (in contemporary taste). The first two began last night’s program.

Rodriguez suggested that Saint-George was the second composer of string quartets (after Joseph Haydn). Saint-George was definitely inspired by Haydn, but it would probably be fairer to say that he was the first composer whose quartets were first published in France. However, Saint-George’s quartets are all structured as two contrasting movements, rather than following Haydn’s four-movement architecture. Last night’s quartets were in the keys of B-flat major and G minor, respectively; and, while the selections were brief, they were thoroughly engaging to the attentive listener.

The second half of the program included a second trio offering, composed by Rebecca Clarke. Since Clarke was a violist, the instrumentation was for violin, viola, and piano, rather than that of the Coleridge-Taylor trio. Perez was the violinist for Clarke’s relatively short (but highly expressive) “Dumka.” This is a form of contrasting episodes that is usually associated with Antonín Dvořák, and Clarke was clearly inspired by that Czech composer.

Clarke’s selection was preceded by “Quarteto virreinal” (colonial quartet) by the Mexican composer Miguel Bernal Jimenez, who died of a heart attack at the age of 46 in 1956. Perez introduced this piece, observing that she associated some of the thematic material with her childhood. Where my own listening experiences are concerned, this was definitely the major “journey of discovery” over the course of the entire program. Hopefully, Jimenez will find his way into the UNCOVERED recording series. I could certainly do with further listening experiences!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

SFP to Host Another Piano Trio Next Month

Nicola Benedetti, Leonard Elschenbroich, and Alexei Grynyuk (courtesy of SFP)

Readers may recall that San Francisco Performances (SFP) presented the debut of the Junction Trio through its Great Artists and Ensembles Series this past December. Next month this series will present another piano trio, this time with a strictly nineteenth-century repertoire. The members of the trio are violinist Nicola Benedetti, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, and pianist Alexei Grynyuk.

Their program will present two extended-length piano trios, one at either end of the nineteenth century. The program will begin with Franz Schubert’s D. 929 trio in E-flat major. The intermission will then be followed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 50 trio in A minor.

The performance will take place in Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Ticket prices are $70 (premium Orchestra and front and center Dress Circle), $60 (remainder of Orchestra, all Side Boxes, and center rear Dress Circle), and $50 (remaining Dress Circle and Balcony); and they may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page. Single tickets can also be purchased at the door as available with a 50% discount for students and a 20% discount for seniors.

SOMM to Release 4th Vaughan Williams Volume

Cover of the latest Vaughan Williams Live album (courtesy of Naxos of America)

This morning I discovered that there will be yet another new Vaughan Williams Live release coming out this Friday. I also discovered that my assertion this past November that the third volume in the series, released by SOMM Records, was premature. The new release this Friday will be the fourth volume. As is usually the case, Amazon.com has created a Web page for processing pre-orders of for this CD.

This new volume should probably be considered in the context of its predecessors. Each of the first three albums presented a single conductor leading all of the tracks. Those conductors were, in “order of appearance,” Malcolm Sargent (Volume 1), Adrian Boult (Volume 2), and Ralph Vaughan Williams himself (Volume 3).

The fourth volume presents two different performances by conductors of two different ensembles. The first two selections are the “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” and the C major concerto for two pianos. They are performed by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Dmitri Mitropoulos in Carnegie Hall, the first on August 29, 1943, and the second on February 17, 1952. The members of the string quartet that perform the fantasia along with a full string ensemble are not identified by name. Presumably, they are the section leaders for First Violin, Second Violin, Viola, and Cello. (This was the way I heard the work performed by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). Sadly, that event predated my personal archives; and SFS has yet to set up its own archives on a par with the archives maintained by the San Francisco Opera!) The concerto soloists for Mitropoulos were the duo of Arthur Austin Whittemore and Jack Lowe.

The remainder of the album, the eighth symphony in D minor, was performed at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on May 15, 1964. The conductor was John Barbirolli. He would subsequently perform the symphony for a stereo recording on June 19, 1956 at the same venue. Mitropoulos would later record the Tallis fantasia for stereo release at the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn on March 3, 1958.

Sadly, the Vaughan William canon does not enjoy the attention it received (and justly deserved) during the twentieth century. Of the three selections on the album, the fantasia is the only one to have surfaced in the Bay Area in recent times. Neither the concerto nor the symphony follow the usual “classical” forms; but, in both cases, I take that to be an asset, rather than a liability. Mind you, having two pianos share the stage with the orchestra seldom occurs. On the more positive side, Wikipedia maintains a “List of classical piano duos” Web page; but that list does not include any dates. So it would take more than a little digging to determine which of those duos are currently active.

To the best of my knowledge, I know the eighth symphony only through recordings. Unless I am mistaken, my only encounter with any symphony performance took place in April of 2011, when Osmo Vänskä prepared a program for SFS that included his second symphony, given the title “A London Symphony.” Mind you, thanks to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I have encountered two performances of the Vaughan William tuba concerto; but the accompaniment for both of them was a piano, rather than the orchestra resources specified in the score.

On the other hand an Amazon.com search for “Vaughan Williams symphony” will turn up a rather impressive number of conductors. Most (if not all) of these recordings were made in the United Kingdom. Could it be that American conductors are reluctant to program Vaughan Williams symphonies due to “creeping jingoism?” Enquiring minds want to know!

Sibelius and Salonen Shine with SFS at Davies

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the only performance of the second of four programs highlighting the piano. However, the high point of the evening was the instrumental selection that followed the intermission, Jean Sibelius’ Opus 82 (fifth) symphony in E-flat major. This composition task did not come easy. The original version was completed in 1915, but Sibelius radically revised the score the following year. Even then, he was dissatisfied; and the symphony did not see its final version until 1919.

That final version now stands as one of the composer’s most provocative ventures into ambiguity. The attentive listener will have no trouble recognizing the thematic building blocks, but they come and go almost as if they had been conceived through stream of consciousness. While the original version provided at least some recognition of the conventional four-movement symphony, the final version amounts to a flow of episodes that have been grouped into three movements, possibly only for the sake of allowing the ensemble two brief pauses.

One of the reasons Sibelius kept reworking his score may have been because he was trying to get beyond the usual conventions of structuring a modest collection of themes. By the time he had completed the final version, he seemed to have found a rhetoric that amounted to a flow of episodic gestures. Any resemblances to traditional symphonic structures and rhetoric were little more than coincidental. Those departures from tradition come to a mind-bending head in the “cadence” (scare quotes intentional) of the entire symphony:

from the Wikipedia page for the Sibelius fifth symphony

Note that the spaces between the chords are deliberately never the same. The listener has no idea where Sibelius is going until the simple B-flat/E-flat cadence in octaves in the last two measures. This is a mind-bending experience, and last night Salonen knew just how to deliver it.

Considering the disappointment of the first half of the program, attentive listeners definitely deserved the provocative imagination behind Sibelius’ symphony. That first half accounted for “highlighting the piano.” The selection was Edvard Grieg’s familiar Opus 16 concerto in A minor. However, because the soloist was Lang Lang, the experience had less to do with highlighting the piano, preferring instead to highlight the pianist.

Mind you, there is no questioning the skill behind Lang’s command of the piano repertoire. However, he has a well-earned reputation for seeking out unexpected approaches to phrasing that tend to take any score by any composer and warp it beyond recognition. The result was that, with Salonen on the podium, the orchestral ensemble gave an engaging account of the full breadth of Grieg’s thematic vocabulary; and Lang Lang devoted his attention to delivering the most unconventional interpretations of each of the themes themselves. Ultimately, however, his performance was all about the cadenzas, which at least allowed him the liberty to be even more unconventional. Given the rousing applause from the audience, it would be fair to say that Lang Lang knew how to work that liberty to his advantage.

As expected, he took an encore. As was the case during his last Davies appearance, his diction and projection gave a poor account of his announcement of the selection. My own mind may have been wandering into weird places; but I came away thinking that he had played his own interpretation of the song “Feed the Bird (Tuppence a Bag),” composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman for the film Mary Poppins. I suppose that was the “Spoonful of Sugar” I needed to consume Lang Lang’s “medicine.”

Monday, February 20, 2023

The Bleeding Edge: 2/20/2023

Today may be a national holiday, but that is no reason to delay accounting for this week’s Bleeding Edge activities. Things are definitely getting busier. This may be due, in part, to the Bay Improviser Calendar broadening its scope. Whatever the case may, there are ten events within the San Francisco city limits this week. One of them will take place on the two consecutive days of the weekend. Only three events have already been reported on this site, summarized with hyperlinks to the original announcements as follows:

  1. Thursday, February 23, 7:30 p.m.: The next installment of New Voices at Audium.
  2. Friday, February 24, 8 p.m.: Liz Ruvalcaba’s electronically-augmented voice performance at the Center for New Music.
  3. Saturday, February 25, 8 p.m.: The two-set performance of works by Raven Chacon and  Marshall Trammell’s Music Research Strategies held at The Lab to supplement the Drum Listens to Heart exhibition at the Wattis Institute.

The seven remaining events are as follows:

Wednesday, February 22, 5:30 p.m., The Knockout: This will be the next “happy hour show” to be hosted by the venue. The program will consist of four sets; but, as of this writing, only three of them have been finalized. Thomas Dimuzio will present a solo set with his synthesis gear. Singer and sound artist Danishta Rivero will perform “Caribay,” named after a mountain spirit, whose laments cause avalanches. The remaining set currently finalized will be by Koohbor, who presents Farsi poetry in a setting of electronic music and invented instruments. The Knockout is located in the Mission at 3223 Mission Street (across from Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack). Doors will open at 5 p.m. Admission will be $10.

Thursday, February 23, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., SFJAZZ Center: In collaboration with Noise Pop, SFJAZZ will present a performance by guitarist Nate Mercereau in the Joe Henderson Lab. His two sets on a single evening will perform music from SUNDAYS, his latest album on How So Records. He will be joined by cutting-edge beatmaker and percussion guru Carlos Niño, along with keyboardist Surya Botofasina. There will also be a special guest appearance by saxophonist Idris Ackamoor.

The SFJAZZ Center is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street. Admission for both concerts will be $25 for general admission standing room at the rear of the Joe Henderson Lab and $30 for general admission seating. Tickets for both performances may be purchased online at single Web page.

Thursday, February 23, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble is based in Chicago. The group is a trio led by percussionist Kahil El’Zabar, performing with Corey Wilkes on trumpet and Alex Harding on baritone saxophone. The group first visited Bird & Beckett in February of 2016 and returned annually until the pandemic put a stop to their travels for two years. This week’s appearance will mark their first post-pandemic tour. 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.

Friday, February 24, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares (MFN) Bookstore & Gallery: Readers may recall that multi-reed player David Boyce curates a semi-regular Friday night residency. This particular performance will be by the Bristle avant chamber jazz quartet. The group has two reed players, Randy McKean and Cory Wright, performing with Murray Campbell (oboe and violin) and Lisa Mezzacappa on bass. The venue is located in the Mission at 3036 24th Street, between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street. There is no charge for admission, presumably to encourage visitors to consider buying a book.

Saturday, February 25, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., SFJAZZ Center: The next installment in the collaboration with Noise Pop in the Joe Henderson Lab will present saxophonist and flutist Zoh Amba, who is an alumna of both the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory. Her music blends avant-garde rhetoric into arrangements of devotional hymns. She will give a duo performance with drummer Chris Corsano. Once again, admission for both concerts will be $25 for general admission standing room at the rear of the Joe Henderson Lab and $30 for general admission seating. Tickets for both performances may be purchased online at single Web page.

Saturday, February 25, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 26, 7 p.m., SFJAZZ Center: Miner Auditorium will host a large-scale multimedia suite entitled See/Unseen: Explorations, Interrogations and Resilience. This was composed by Terri Lyne Carrington, who is SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director. Edmar Colon will conduct a fifteen-piece ensemble, based on his own orchestration of Carrington’s manuscript. The performance will be supplemented by live improvised visuals created and executed by Mickalene Thomas. Admission for both concerts will be $45 for the floor beside the stage and the front of the terraces, $35 for the middle of the terraces, and $25 for the rear of the terrances and the balcony. Tickets for both performances may be purchased online at single Web page.

Saturday, February 25, 7:30 p.m.,  Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Following up on his visit to the SFJAZZ Center earlier in the week, Ackamoor will host a listening party to celebrate his half century in the performing arts, which began with his founding of The Pyramids in 1972. This event will serve as a prequel to the release of Afro Futuristic Dreams, his 50th anniversary commemorative double vinyl album on Strut Records. The music from that album will be given its San Francisco premiere performance next month at the Presidio Theater on March 14–19. The tracks pay homage to the present Afrofuturism movement that has embraced the science fiction writers Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany and musician Sun Ra. Because this is a Saturday evening, it may be the case that the event will live-streamed to the Bird & Beckett sites on both YouTube and Facebook.

Voices of Music Showcases Three Violinists

Since the announcement this past Wednesday of Musica Transalpina, the second Voices of Music (VoM) concert in its 2022–2023 season, there was a minor change in the program’s subtitle. What had been Chamber music from Italy and England had become Seventeenth century music for three violins. Mind you, the violinists, Elizabeth Blumenstock, Cynthia Freivogel, and Augusta McKay Lodge, all of whom can be counted as “VoM veterans,” were cited in Wednesday’s article; but last night they were also acknowledged by the new subtitle. In addition, the number of composers included on the program had significantly expanded.

For most of us in the audience, the program was a generous journey of discovery, even where familiar names such as John Dowland (not mentioned in Wednesday’s article) were concerned. Indeed, in the context of my own listening experiences, familiarity only began to emerge towards the end of the evening with selections from Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s “Rosary” sonatas and the all-too familiar canon and gigue movements by Johann Pachelbel. Mind you, it is worth noting that, with only three violinists, the attentive listener was in a better position to appreciate the “echo” effects that made the canon sound like a canon. For that matter, in addition to contributing to a trio, each violinist had solo opportunities along with the different combinations of duo pairings.

Taken as a whole, most of the program selections may have been unfamiliar; but the skilled virtuoso turns delivered by all three of the violinists made the entire evening a thoroughly engaging offering.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Spanish String Quartet Music from Quatuor Byron

courtesy of PIAS

Another new release scheduled to come out this Friday is the second album of Quatuor Byron released by Aparté. The members are violinists Wendy Ghysels and François James, violist Robin Lemmel, and cello Coralie Devars, each of whom is from a different European country. The title of their new album is Souvenir d’Espagne, and most of the tracks are devoted to the music of Joaquin Turina. However, for the last four tracks they are joined by guitarist Matteo Mela for a performance of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Opus 143 guitar quintet. As usual, Amazon.com has create a Web page for processing pre-orders.

Ironically, that quintet was the only composition familiar to me when I first encountered this new recording. I came to know it through my collection of recordings made by guitarist Andrés Segovia. (Most likely, Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed the piece for Segovia.) Furthermore, readers may recall that, a little over a week ago, I had my first encounter with this quintet in performance as part of a recital that brought guitarist Sean Shibe together with the members of the Quatuor Van Kuijk:  violinists Nicolas Van Kuijk and Sylvain Favre-Bulle, violist Emmanuel François, and cellist Anthony Kondo.

Where Turina is concerned, most of the few encounters I have experienced have involved art song. The only significant exception is an encounter with his Opus 67 piano quartet in A minor back in June of 2012 at an Old First Concerts program, which took place during my tenure with Examiner.com. Ironically, the chamber ensemble included a guitarist, who joined them for a performance of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco quintet.

The Turina string quartet included on the new Aparté album is an early composition, Opus 4, completed in 1911. It has the subtitle “de la guitarra,” perhaps because much of the thematic material can be found in the guitar repertoire. The quartet is flanked on either side by much later offerings. It begins with the Opus 34, which amounts to a tone poem in microcosm entitled “La oración del torero” (the bullfighter’s prayer). This was composed in 1925; and ten years later Turina composed the selection that follows the Opus 4 quartet, the Opus 87 “Serenata.”

Taken as a whole, Quatuor Byron’s album provides an engaging journey of discovery. However, I am not sure that the Turina selections have much staying power. Hopefully, I shall be as fortunate enough in encountering recital performances of those selections as I have already been in my acquaintance with Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s guitar quintet.

Old First Concerts: March, 2023

March is going to be a busy month at Old First Presbyterian Church. The pull-down menu for Concerts on the Old First Concerts (O1C) home page currently lists seven events for that month. This amounts to a more-than-generous share of diversity, suggesting that all readers are likely to find at least one of the offerings to be of interest. Furthermore, because we are still dealing with COVID recovery conditions, O1C will continue to allow both live streaming and seating in the Old First Presbyterian Church at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue. General admission tickets will be sold for $25 with reduced rates for seniors ($20) and students ($5). The suggested donation for those viewing the live stream is $20. Hyperlinks to the event pages (which include hyperlinks for streaming) will be attached to the date and time of the performances as follows:

Saturday, March 11, 8 p.m.: Pianist Gabriele Baldocci has prepared a solo piano recital of impressive diversity. He will begin with Franz Liszt’s transcription for solo piano of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 67 (fifth) symphony in C minor. Having seized listener attention, he will then play three United States premiere performances, the first of which will be his own bagatelle, composed in the key of G major. The other composers to be premiered will be David Winkler and Douglas Finch. The program will then continue with “Poem of the Bohemian” by Michael Glenn Williams and conclude with Baldocci improvising on Beethoven themes.

Sunday, March 12, 4 p.m.: The Ives Collective last performed at Old First at the end of last month. However, at that time, co-manager Susan Freier was unable to play second violin due to injury. She should be sufficiently recovered by next month to perform with her co-manager, cellist Stephen Harrison, and first violinist Kay Stern and violist Clio Tilton. The pianist for this program will be Keisuke Nakagoshi, and there will also be guest appearances by oboist Kyle Bruckmann and flautist Tod Brody. Bruckmann will perform the opening selection with Stern and Harrison, a trio composed in 1936 by Grażnya Bacewicz. Brody will then join the string quartet members in a performance of Amy Beach’s Opus 80, a set of variations on a theme first composed in 1916 and revised in 1920. For the second half of the program, Nakagoshi will join the quartet to play Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 81 quintet in A major.

Friday, March 17, 8 p.m.: The Lang/Rainwater Project is the duo of trombonist William Lang and pianist Anne Rainwater. Some readers may recall that Rainwater was one of the pianists to participate in the Piano Break series, presented under the auspices of the Ross McKee Foundation and live-streamed through a YouTube Web page during pandemic conditions in September of 2020. She will accompany Lang in a performance of Beach’s Opus 23 “Romance,” originally scored for violin and piano. The program will also include “All We Could See From the Window was Water” by Alex Temple and compositions by Eli Greenhoe and Arvo Pärt, whose specific works have not yet been announced.

Saturday, March 18, 7:30 p.m.: This will be the 70th Junior Bach Festival, an annual event involving performances of music by Johann Sebastian Bach by young soloists and ensembles; program details have not yet been finalized.

Sunday, March 19, 4 p.m.: Prayers for a Feverish Planet is the result of pianist Ann DuHamel putting out a call for scores asking composers to share their works about climate change. She has now accumulated over 300 movements for either solo piano or piano with electronics. The themes behind these compositions include water, grief/anxiety, shadows and light, time, human “progress,” trees, and hope. For this program DuHamel has selected works composed as early as 2002 and as late as 2020. The contributing composers will be (in order of performance) Erik Tapia, Karen Lemon, Frank Horvat, Laura Schwendinger, Chris Williams, Dario Duarte, Ian Dicke, Daniel Blinkhorn, Clifton Callender, Alex Burtzos, and Gunter Gaupp.

Soprano Heidi Moss (from the O1C event page)

Friday, March 24, 8 p.m.: Soprano Heidi Moss, violinist Joel Pattinson, cellist Peter Myers, and pianist Paul Schrage will join forces to present a program that invites the audience to reflect on the violence that occurred on September 11, 2001, as well as the twenty years of war that followed. The program will begin with a piano trio by Afghan composer Arson Fahim, who was born in 2000. This will be followed by Songs of Afghan Women, a song cycle by William Harvey inspired by the time he spent teaching violin and viola at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. The program will then conclude with “Aftermath,” which Ned Rorem composed as a reaction to the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Sunday, March 26, 4 p.m.: This performance by the Bernal Hill Players will feature Martha Rodríguez-Salazar in flutes and vihuela, Annelise Zamula on saxophones and flute, Leah di Tullio on clarinets, Jennifer Peringer on piano and tablas, and Sharon Wayne on guitar. The title of the program will be Forces of Nature; and the selections will evoke moods both calm and stormy, with Italian volcanoes, Brazilian rainforests, Japanese seas, English forests, New York rain showers, French spring mornings, and California canyons. All of the works on the program were composed in either the twentieth century or the 21st. Two of them were written on commission by Bay Area composers.

SFRV’s “Choral Renaissance” Continues

Last night at the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro, San Francisco Renaissance Voices (SFRV) presented a “second installment” of a program performed almost exactly a year ago at the same venue. At that time A Choral Renaissance was presented to highlight many of the significant performances that were given during the first sixteen years of this a cappella ensemble. Last night SFRV presented A Choral Renaissance II, once again reviewing highlights in the overall repertoire.

According to my records, I have not attended an SFRV performance since before the pandemic, more specifically in August of 2019. Much happened since then, including the tragic loss of the ensemble’s former Executive Director J. Jeff Badger. Nevertheless, I did my best to keep readers apprised of the SFRV schedule; and last night my wife and I were able to “get back on the track,” returning to Most Holy Redeemer.

Last night’s program was given the subtitle Passion, perhaps as an acknowledgement that Ash Wednesday will be celebrated three days from today. However, music appropriate for the Lenten season was performed only at the beginning and the conclusion of last night’s program. The evening began with Josquin des Prez’ setting of the “Stabat Mater” hymn and concluded with the “Libera me” portion from the six-voice setting of the Missa pro defunctis by Tomás Luis de Victoria. In other words the entire evening was framed by composers from earlier and later periods in the history of Renaissance music.

The other extended selections were the six-voice Missa Papae Marcelli by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and the “Miserere” setting of Psalm 51 by Gregorio Allegri, which is probably best known for the (not necessarily true) story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart writing out the entire score from memory. Allegri composed the work for two choirs and was performed last night by four soloists in a balcony to the rear of the audience with the remainder of the ensemble in front of the audience accounting for the “primary” choir. There were also performances of three shorter sacred texts by William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, and Thomas Tomkins.

Finally, the Victoria setting was preceded by three selections from Claudio Monteverdi’s third book of madrigals. Two of the texts were by Giovanni Battista Guarini, “O primavera, gioventù de l’anno” and “Occhi, un tempo mia vita.” The set concluded with the first madrigal in the book, “La giovinetta pianta.” I am so used to listening to this music in one-voice-to-a-part settings that I found myself disappointed with the thicker textures of last night’s choral performances. However, that was the only down-side of an otherwise highly stimulating survey of sacred music from the Renaissance period of history.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Bob Roden to Bring Quintet to the Cadillac

Bob Roden with his trombone (from his quintet’s home page)

It looks as if the Cadillac Hotel is back to presenting its Concerts at the Cadillac events on a regular monthly basis. The next offering in this series will be a jazz quintet led by trombonist Bob Roden (who is also both a vocalist and a percussionist). Roden will share the front line with Ron Jackson, who plays both alto and tenor saxophone. Rhythm will be provided by Richard Freeman on drums, Jamie Dowd on bass, and Mark Rossi on piano.

As was the case with last month’s Concerts at the Cadillac event, this show will begin at 1 p.m. on Friday, February 24. The Cadillac Hotel is located at 380 Eddy Street, on the northeast corner of Leavenworth Street. The lobby features the Patricia Walkup Memorial Piano, which will be Rossi’s instrument. It is a meticulously restored 1884 Model D Steinway concert grand, whose original soundboard is still intact. All Concerts at the Cadillac events are presented without charge. The purpose of the series is to provide high-quality music to the residents of the hotel and the Tenderloin District; but all are invited to visit the venue that calls itself “The House of Welcome Since 1907.”