Sunday, April 30, 2023

SFCMP to Conclude Season with “Family Pairs”

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) will conclude its 2022–2023 season with a program entitled Power Duos, Power Dynamics. The title refers to the fact that the program will present two family pairings of composers. The first of these will couple Anthony Braxton with his son Tyondai, and the second will couple George Lewis with his wife Miya Masaoka. The remaining composer will be Aiyana Braun, one of the winners of SFCMP’s 2022 Search for Scores Commissioning Prize.

The title of Braun’s composition is “Unwound,” scored for solo cello. It will be performed during the first half of the program between the works composed by wife and husband. The program will begin with Masaoka’s “The Dust and the Noise;” and the first half of the program will conclude with Lewis’ “Anthem.” The second half will begin with Anthony Braxton’s “Composition No. 152,” scored for flute and bass. It will be coupled with Tyondai’s “Fly by Wire,” which will conclude the program.

This program will be presented in Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The performance will begin at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 11. Doors will open early for the How Music is Made pre-concert talk, which will begin at 7 p.m. General admission will be $35 with a $15 rate for students. Tickets may be purchased through a City Box Office Web page.

Quatuor Arod Makes its San Francisco Debut

Last night in Herbst Theatre, Chamber Music San Francisco presented three of the members of the Quatuor Arod: violinist Jordan Victoria, violist Tanguy Parisot, and cellist Jérémy Garbarg. Apparently due to visa problems, second violinist Alexandre Vu was unable to join them on the American tour, which included their debut performance in San Francisco. Fortunately, American violinist Anthony Bracewell was equipped to replace Vu for the tour; and, to judge by last night’s performance, he had no trouble fitting in with the three quartet members.

The program was a lengthy one, probably due to the fact that the Arod players are inclined to take all repeats. Like many offerings this season, the program was framed by two of the First Viennese School composers. The opening selection was Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken III/35 quartet in F minor. This is the fifth of the six quartets in the Opus 20 collection and one of the three of those quartets to conclude with a fugue (in this particular case a fugue with two subjects). This minor key quartet was complemented by the second half of the program, which was devoted entirely to Franz Schubert’s D. 810 string quartet in D minor, whose second movement is a set of variations on the theme of the D. 531 song “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Death and the maiden).

Due to all the repeats (as well as a reading of the text of the song), that was enough content to fill a two-hour evening; but Haydn and Schubert were separated by the first of Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 44 quartets, composed in the key of D major. To some extent this relieved the pressure of the two minor-key quartets on the other sides. Nevertheless, the duration did not seem to bother most of the audience, who responded to all of the selections with enthusiastic applause. As a result, the French ensemble decided to provide an encore of French music: the third movement from Claude Debussy’s only string quartet.

Matters of duration aside, that enthusiastic reception was well deserved. The players clearly established a convincing rhetorical framework in their performance of each of the three selections. The minor-key rhetoric of the Haydn and Schubert quartets cast a well-defined dark shadow, due in no small part to the collective approach to phrasing and dynamics. This led to edge-of-the-seat attention by any serious listener; and, in that context, one can appreciate inserting the Mendelssohn selection as a calming influence before the storm returned for the Schubert quartet.

As a result, if this evening turned out to be a lengthy one, no one in the audience seemed to have been fazed by how much time had elapsed; and I expect that many of us are already looking forward to a return visit.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Chet Baker in Holland in 1979

Chet Baker at VARA Studio 2 on April 10, 1979 (courtesy of the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Image)

I have to confess that my collection of recordings of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker is not particularly extensive, but I have had an interest in archival albums of sessions in Europe for some time. Thus, when I learned that Jazz Detective was releasing a two-CD album entitled Blue Room: The 1979 VARA Studio Sessions in Holland, I figured I would give it a try. This was my first “European connection” with Baker since 2014, when I wrote about the Jazzhaus album Early Chet: Chet Baker in Germany 1955–1959 for

Baker led two different quartets in his sessions with VARA. The first seven tracks on this new release have rhythm provided by Phil Markowitz on piano, Jean-Louis Rasinfosse on bass, and Charles Rice on drums. The tracks were recorded during a single session, which took place on April 10. The remaining tracks were recorded on November 9; and the rhythm section consisted of pianist Frans Elsen, bassist Victor Kaihatu, and drummer Eric Ineke. Several of the tracks present Baker’s vocal work alternating with his trumpet solos.

The accompanying booklet is twelve pages long, and most of it is devoted to texts that provide a context for listening to the eleven tracks. Indeed, the essay by Edwin Rutten offers perspectives on the recording of each of those tracks. This supplements a longer article by Jeroen de Valk entitled “Chet Baker in Holland, 1979.” There are also “memory essays” by Phil Markowitz, Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, Randy Brecker, Enrico Rava, and Enrico Pieranunzi. All of this content provides a rich context for listening to each of the tracks, an experience likely to be far more useful than checking out Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of Baker in the 2015 film Born to Be Blue!

Benjamin Appl Debut to Conclude SFP Season

Baritone Benjamin Appl (photograph by Lars Borges, courtesy of SFP)

Next month in Herbst Theatre, the final program in the San Francisco Performances (SFP) Art of Song series will also mark the conclusion of the entire 2022–23 season. The vocalist will be baritone Benjamin Appl, performing with accompanist James Baillieu. They will begin a North American Concert Tour on May 2, culminating in a Carnegie Hall debut recital on May 20.

The program to be performed throughout that tour has been given the title Nocturne. The content of that program has been described as “a nighttime journey with selections arranged according to facets of the night – romance, the moon, stars, nightmares, fancies, insomnia, dreams, the darkest hour, and finally, morning.” The contributing composers will extend from the early nineteenth century of Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann to living composers from Seattle (William Bolcom, born in 1938) and Scotland (James MacMillan, born in 1959). The conclusion of the journey at morning will be taken by that last of the four songs in Richard Strauss’ Opus 27, entitled, appropriately enough, “Morgen!”

This program will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10. The entrance to Herbst is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. This venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. All tickets are being sold for $65 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $55 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $45 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony, and they may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page. As available, single tickets will be sold at the door with a 50% discount for students and a 20% discount for seniors. Single tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545.

Bridges and Owens Bring “Hope” to Herbst

Ulysses Owens Jr. with a reduced drum kit (photograph by Rayon Richards, courtesy of SFP)

Last night in Herbst Theatre, mezzo J’Nai Bridges made her San Francisco Performances (SFP) debut with a program entitled Notes on Hope. This was a project she developed in partnership with percussionist Ulysses Owens Jr., who is currently SFP Jazz Artist-in-Residence; and last night marked his first main-stage SFP performance. He led a “backup” combo for Bridges, which amounted to a rather unique quintet whose members were David Rosenthal on guitar, Reuben Rogers on bass, Ted Rosenthal on piano, Carol Robbins on harp, and Jalen Baker on vibraphone.

The program, which was performed without intermission, was divided into three parts reflecting the overall title: “Divine Hope,” “The Crux of Hope,” and “Hope Fulfilled.” Each section was organized around (but not confined to) a different genre. The first section was framed by traditional religious songs, “The Lord’s Prayer” and “There is a Balm in Gilead,” flanking Duke Ellington’s “Heaven,” one of the movements in his Second Sacred Concert.

The second began with an instrumental account of Geri Allen’s “Skin,” followed by combo arrangements of art songs by Erik Satie (“Je te veux”), Ted Rosenthal (“Always Believe,” from his Dear Eric opera), and Valdemar Henrique (“Boi Bumba”). The final section offered two compositions by Florence Price, the song “Hold Fast to Dreams,” composed for Marian Anderson, and an instrumental combo arrangement of “Adoration.” The program then wrapped up with “It’s Good to Have You Near Again,” which André Previn composed for Leontyne Price. For the one encore selection, the combo backed up Bridges for a jazzy account of “L'amour est un oiseau rebelle,” the habanera from the first act of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, sung by the title character.

Presumably, Owen was responsible for all of the combo arrangements. He could not have done a better job, and it was impressive how the group could find its “comfort zone” in Satie and Price as easily as it could in the only Ellington selection. Bridges, on the other hand, seemed to be still finding her way through a terrain that distanced itself from the recital hall and the opera stage.

As a result, the seriousness she brought to Satie overlooked the composer’s wry sense of humor; and her delivery of “Boi Bumba” came across as too operatic. In fairness, however, she may have still been adjusting to working in a jazz combo setting. Her Carmen encore was clearly more in her comfort zone, even in an arrangement of unconventional instrumentation!

Hopefully, Bridges will find her comfort zone sooner, rather than later, because the very idea of her singing with a jazz combo had the potential of a treasure trove of stylistic possibilities.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Víkingur Ólafsson to Make his SFP Debut

Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson (photograph by Ari Magg, courtesy of SFP)

Next month Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson will make his debut as a San Francisco Performances (SFP) recitalist, concluding the 2022–23 Shenson Piano Series and presenting the penultimate program of the entire SFP season. Approximately a year earlier, he was the concerto soloist for the final subscription program in the 2021–22 season of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen led SFS in a performance of the John Adams piano concerto entitled “Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?” In that context, the program he has prepared for SFP is decidedly “something completely different.”

If Ólafsson’s SFP recital were to be given a title, it would probably be something like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the Company of his Contemporaries. Eight of the selections were composed by Mozart. Two of them are three-movement sonatas: K. 545 in C major and K. 457 in C minor. There will also be a solo piano account of the Adagio movement from the K. 516 string quartet in G minor. The program will conclude with the K. 618 choral motet, “Ave verum corpus,” presented in a transcription composed by Franz Liszt.

Among the other composers on the program, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is probably the most significant. He is represented only by a Rondo movement from one of his keyboard sonatas (Wq 61). However, he is also cited in an encomium attributed to Mozart: “[Emanuel] Bach is the father. We are the Children!” The program will also include the opening slow movements from two sonatas by Baldassare Galuppi, a three-movement sonata by Joseph Haydn (Hoboken XVI/32 in B minor), and two single-movement sonatas by Domenico Cimarosa, both arranged by Ólafsson.

This performance will take place in Herbst Theatre beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 9. The entire recital will be performed without an intermission. The entrance to Herbst is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. This venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. All tickets are being sold for $80 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $65 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $55 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. They may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page. As available, single tickets will be sold at the door with a 50% discount for students and a 20% discount for seniors. Single tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545.

New Solo Album from Vibraphonist Taiko Saito

Those familiar with my efforts to keep track of the many activities of jazz pianist Satoko Fujii probably know that she constitutes half of the Futari duo, the other half being vibraphonist Taiko Saito. During the COVID pandemic, Saito was based in Berlin, while Fujii was in Japan. Nevertheless, they created an album entitled Underground, whose tracks were developed through a process of exchanging files over the Internet.

Taiko Saito playing marimba (photograph by Cristina Marx)

Today Trouble in the East Records (which is also based in Berlin) released a solo album, entitled Tears of a Cloud, of Saito performing on both marimba and vibraphone. The above hyperlink leads to the Bandcamp Web page, which is currently selling the digital album with tracks in MP3 and FLAC, along with unlimited streaming through a free app provided by Bandcamp. As of this writing, the only physical medium is a vinyl record; and those purchasing it will also have download access.

The Web page says nothing about a booklet. However, the better part of that booklet is an extended essay about Saito written by Fumie Tsuji ; and that essay is reproduced in its entirety on the Bandcamp Web page. Ironically, the booklet consists of only four pages, none of which include the track listing. To the best of my knowledge, the Bandcamp Web page is the only source for that content. The most valuable page in the booklet consists of Saito’s comments about the music she composed for the album. However, those comments account for only eight of the nine tracks.

Nevertheless, all that really matters is the wide diversity of musical ideas that cover the album’s nine tracks. Most compositions (and improvisations) for the two instruments that Saito plays tend to be structured around themes and the motifs that serve as building blocks for those themes. Saito, on the other hand, is more interested in sonorities, most of which arise from different ways in which the individual bars of the instrument are struck. There is also one track, “Underground I,” on which she exchanges her mallets for a double bass bow. (The length of that particular bow provides more opportunities for cultivating sonorities than a shorter one can.)

I have Steve Reich to thank for introducing me to new and imaginative techniques applied to both marimba and vibraphone. As a result, I could approach this new album well-prepared for encountering a “new generation” of sonorities from these instruments through new performance techniques. Most likely, each iteration in listening to these tracks will turn up new sound qualities that had been previously missed.

PBO: Disruption or Train Wreck?

In writing my preview article for the final concert of the season to be presented by Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale, I suggested that at least two of the selections on the program would be “disruptive.” This applied to the entire second half of the program, which consisted only of the “Missa in labore requies” (a Mass for rest from labor), composed by Georg Muffat. One might think that a Mass setting would not be disruptive; but this one was scored for 24 separate parts, including eight vocal soloists, five trumpets, three trombones, and two cornetts.

I do not think I have previously seen the stage of Herbst Theatre as crowded as it was last night. This may have made for good spectacle, but it definitely did not do the music any favors. Ultimately, what emerged was a muddle of sonorities and an account of the Mass text that would not have been recognizable, even to those that already knew the text by heart. Conceivably, Music Director Richard Egarr wanted the season to go out with a bang; but, ultimately, all he got was a train wreck of poorly blended sonorities.

The other disruption did not fare much better. This was the world premiere of Mason Bates’ “Appalachian Ayre,” given the disruptive subtitle “baroque meets bluegrass” on the poster design. However, while the music could have been disruptive enough to jar the attentive listener, the performance itself turned disruption into dreariness. I would like to believe that there was a bit of Justified lurking in Bates’ bluegrass rhetoric; but, if it was there, Egarr’s conducting disclosed no sign of it.

The two works that separated Bates from Muffat were not as disruptive. They consisted of a lament to mark the death of Ferdinand III by the Austrian composer Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and an instrumental partita by the Bohemian composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. Sadly, even in these pieces, there was very little in Egarr’s leadership to encourage audience attention. Since the Biber selection was in A minor, one might have expected a dark rhetoric to embrace both compositions; but all that emerged was a bevy of notes from a string ensemble with no sense of any rhetoric at all.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Tim Brady’s “Symphony” for Electric Guitar

Tim Brady with his electric guitar (courtesy of Starkland)

Tomorrow Starkland will release its latest CD. It presents an electric guitar solo performance by Tim Brady of the composition he has entitled “Symphony in 18 Parts.” has created a Web page for MP3 download or streaming, but the Bandcamp Web page provides for both physical and digital releases. Since the album includes an eight-page booklet, which, in turn, includes the notes that Brady prepared for his composition, it is unclear whether or not Amazon will include that booklet with its download. As a result, it would be fair to say that Bandcamp is (as usual) the better provider!

That Bandcamp Web page also includes a generous account of background information. This includes a statement by Brady justifying his use of the “symphony” label:

Each movement has its own world, its own unique way of proceeding, but together they are kaleidoscopic. This is a piece that is designed to feel that it can hold everything within it. That sounds symphonically ambitious to me… The architecture, the ambition, the big ideas – it turns out they are all here.

It strikes me that “architecture” is the key noun in this account. The fact is that the individual movements of this composition are likely to strike many listeners as exercises in miniaturist practices. All of the movements are shorter than five minutes in duration, and the shortest is slightly longer than 90 seconds.

Having read the booklet notes, I have no trouble allowing Brady to call this music anything he wants to call it. However, rather than dwell on the concept of symphony, I found myself more drawn to the track listing, which assigns an imaginative title to each of the eighteen movements. Thus, whatever Brady has to say about “architecture” and “big ideas,” I find that my own listening is drawn to those miniaturist practices and the imaginative phrases of text associated with each movement.

Taken as a whole, Brady’s album definitely provides the listener with a journey. However, I am not sure that the journey aligns with how we would approach a symphony composed in the nineteenth century as a journey. Anyone familiar with that earlier repertoire should have no trouble taking that approach, but Brady’s journey is qualitatively different in many ways. Indeed, I might even go as far as to say that each individual movement is qualitatively different, and Brady’s titles provide hints as to what constitutes difference as he progresses through his eighteen movements.

From my own personal point of view, this music strikes me as a fun listening experience; so I should probably just pull away from trying to intellectualize the listening experience and enjoy the ride!

Choices for May 5–7, 2023

Next month will begin with another “busy weekend.” It will not be quite as busy as the one getting under way tomorrow, but it will still require making choices. Also, the first of the events will mark the beginning of the next month’s round of programming in the Old First Concerts (O1C) series, which will also be summarized. Specifics are as follows:

Friday, May 5, 8 p.m., Old First Presbyterian Church: O1C will begin the month with a performance by the Friction Quartet, whose members are violinists Otis Harriel and Kevin Rogers (sharing first chair), violist Mitso Floor, and cellist Doug Machiz. They will begin the program with two compositions by Caroline Shaw, “Blueprint” and “First Essay.” They will then share the remainder of the program with mezzo Melinda Martinez Becker. This will include two additional Shaw compositions: “Can’t Voi L’aube” and “Other Song.” These will be followed by three world premiere performances. The first of these will be “Canto Caló” by Nicolás Bell Benavides. The remaining selections will be arrangements by Becker of “Por Amor” by Gilberto Parra and “La Cigarra” by Raymundo Pérez y Soto. O1C events will continue to be “hybrid,” allowing both live streaming and seating in the Old First Presbyterian Church at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue. Seating will remain limited to 100 tickets, all being sold for $25 (no reduced rate for seniors or students). Tickets may be purchased through this concert’s event page. The remaining events of the month will be as follows with hyperlinks attached to the date and time of each the performances:

  • Sunday, May 7, 3 p.m.: Old First will host the nineteenth annual Community Music Center (CMC) Juliet McComas Keyboard Marathon. This annual event provides CMC faculty performers with opportunities to explore the richness and range of the keyboard repertoire through a unique lens in both educational and highly entertaining concert programming. The title of the program will be Masterpieces from Folk Traditions with performances of compositions inspired by folk music from many cultures and regions of the world.
  • Friday, May 12, 8 p.m.: Violinist Patrick Galvin will return to O1C, having made his last visit about a year ago. This time his accompanist will be pianist Connor Buckley. His program will encompass an extensive repertoire with Robert Schumann’s Opus 105 (first) violin sonata in A minor as the earliest selection and one of the Six Tasty Caprices by composer and violist Korine Fujiwara as the most recent.
  • Monday, May 15, 7:30 p.m.: Old First will also host the next program in Earplay’s 38th season. This ensemble, which is dedicated to the performance and recording of new chamber music, is conducted by Mary Chun. The instrumentalists are Tod Brody on flute, Peter Josheff on clarinet, Terrie Baune on violin, Ellen Ruth Rose on viola, Thalia Moore on cello, and Brenda Tom on piano. The program will be framed by two world premiere performances of works not yet titled by Wyatt Cannon and Byron Au Young.
  • Friday, May 19, 8 p.m.: New Arts Collaboration will present the latest performance by pianist Ting Luo.  She will perform works by Xuesi Xu, Dylan Findley, Sarah Wald and Cole Reyes alongside multimedia projections and electronic sounds. Furthermore, to commemorate the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, the concert will feature works by Emily Koh and Juhi Bansal, as well as an improvisational piano piece with sounds programmed in Supercollider by Joo Woo Park. The concert will begin with the world premiere performance of “Sustain,” composed for piano and electronics by Aries Mond.
  • Sunday, May 21, 4 p.m.: The final concert of the month will be a solo recital by lutenist Simone Vallerotonda. His program will survey the works of the French seventeenth-century lutenists. There will be no charge for admission, because the performance will be supported by the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco and CICIM (Comitato Nazionale Italiano Musica). Seating will be on a first-come-first-served basis; and this program will not be live-streamed.

Friday, May 5, 8 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The final concert of the California Bach Society’s 51st season will present two rarely performed choral works from the High Baroque period. The first of these will be a setting of the Christian hymn to Mary “Stabat Mater,” composed in 1727 by Agostino Steffani. The more familiar composer will be Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber with his setting of the Requiem text composed for five-part choir in 1692. St. Mark’s is located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of its intersection with Franklin Street. Tickets will be sold at the door for $40 with a discount price of $35 for seniors. Students, and those under 30 can purchase tickets for $10. If purchased in advance, general admission will be $35; and the senior rate will be $30. A Web page has been created to process all online ticket sales, and the alternative will be to call 650-485-1097. Until further notice, concert-goers must submit proof of vaccination, including booster shots; and masks must be worn at all times.

Saturday, May 6, 7:30 p.m., Episcopal Church of the Incarnation: Sunset Music and Arts has scheduled only two concerts for the month of May, so they will be dealt with separately on this site. The first of these will be a program of San Francisco premieres of six compositions by Davide Verotta. The composer has prepared the following itemization of the compositions and their performers:

  1. Tsure: the Haruka Fujii Trio: Haruka Fujii, marimba, Beni Shinohara, violin, Ray Furuta, flute
  2. Tsure Goes to the Beach: Haruka Fujii, marimba
  3. Summoning in Vain: Sharon Wayne, guitar, Martha Rodriguez-Salazar, flute
  4. Deep Blue, Vermillion, and Ivy Gold: Monika Gruber, violin, Davide Verotta, piano
  5. Sulle Aridi Pendici: Martha Rodriguez-Salazar, flute, Jennifer Peringer, piano
  6. String Quartet No. 10: Maki Ishii Sowash, violin, Michael Long, violin, Paul Ehrlich, viola, Victoria Ehrlich, cello)

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. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-564-2324. [added 5/1, 1:25 p.m.:

Saturday, May 6, 8 p.m., Center for New Music: New York pianist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Zucker will present a new duo of drummer Aaron Edgcomb in which they will perform complex compositions with improvised soundscapes. For those that do not yet 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. Masks are still required for all in attendance, and those in the audience are required to show proof of vaccination. Furthermore, since those pandemic conditions still prevail, the audience capacity will be reduced; so purchasing tickets early through an Eventbrite event page is desirable. The remaining events of the month will be as follows with Eventbrite hyperlinks attached to the date and time of each the performances:

  • Sunday May 7, 4 p.m.: This concert will marks the birth of the newly launched duo between Sarah Grace Graves and Eda Er, both singers and composers in the composition PhD program at the University of California at Berkeley, who each stumbled upon experimental music somewhat unexpectedly. [added 5/3, 12:10 p.m.:
  • Friday, May 12, 8 p.m.: Sarah Grace Graves, Ron Heglin, and Ric Louchard will improvise delicate, emotive chamber music, filled with open spaces and some dense clusters.]
  • Saturday, May 20, 7 p.m.: The final concert of the month will bring together two composers working with electronics: r beny and George Hurd. Each of them will perform a solo set of deeply emotional and personal ambient music. Both of them use electronic gear to create intricate and intensely human music, filled with towering walls of harmony, entrancing melody, and immersive visuals.]

Saturday, May 6, 8:30 p.m., The Lab: This will be the first of two concerts hosted by The Lab. The program has been prepared by guitarist and composer Bill Orcutt, who is based here in San Francisco. Last year saw the release of his album Music for Four Guitars. He will lead an all-electric guitar quartet in performances of the music from that album. The additional guitarists will be Wendy Eisenberg, Ava Mendoza, and Shane Parish. This live performance will combine intricate composition with no-holds-barred improvisation. The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street. This is particularly good for those using public transportation, since that corner provides bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel as well as a BART station. Doors will open half an hour prior to when the performance will begin. General admission tickets are available for $25 and may be purchased online through a Withfriends Web page. Admission will be discounted or free for members. Students can purchase discounted tickets by sending electronic mail to

Sunday, May 7, 4 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: American Bach Soloists will conclude its Discovery Series with a program entitled Harmonious Love. The program will consist of two narrative offerings. The first of these will be George Frideric Handel’s HWV 122 secular cantata Apollo e Dafne. This will be followed by Jean-Philippe Rameau’s one-act opera “Pygmalion.” The participating vocalists will be sopranos Mary Wilson, Amy Broadbent, and Morgan Balfour, tenor Matthew Hill, and bass-baritone Mischa Bouvier. Tickets are available through a Tix Web page. Ticket prices are $101, $77, $56, and $39, with wheelchair-accessible seats for $101 and $39.

Sunday, May 7, 8 p.m., The Lab: The second concert at The Lab is entitled The Shape of Minds to Come. The program will showcase the work of five artists, all of whom are taking experimental approaches to making music. Those artists are John Duncan, Schneider TM, Scot Jenerik, Chandra Shulka, and Thomas Dimuzio. General admission tickets are available for $20 and may be purchased online through a Withfriends Web page. Admission will again be discounted or free for members; and students can purchase discounted tickets by sending electronic mail to

SFP Presents Rarely Played Piano Quintet

Doric String Quartet members Alex Redington, Ying Xue, Hélène Clément, and John Myerscough (photograph by George Garnier, courtesy of SFP)

Yesterday the Travel Gods were unhappy, and the consequences for us here in San Francisco involved a foreshortened recital program last night in Herbst Theatre. San Francisco Performances (SFP) had planned the occasion for the debut of Doric String Quartet, based in Great Britain and currently touring the United States. The members of the quartet, violinists Alex Redington and Ying Xue, violist Hélène Clément, and cellist John Myerscough, were joined on their tour by pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. That partnership allowed them to introduce Frank Bridge’s piano quintet in D minor to their American audiences.

Bridge is probably best known as Benjamin Britten’s teacher, yet it is not often that one encounters an opportunity to listen to his music. In that respect I find that I have had more opportunities to listen to his work here in San Francisco than I had for the first 60 years of my life. Only this past April the San Francisco debut of the Kanneh-Mason duo of cellist Sheku and his sister Isata at the piano in Davies Symphony Hall included Bridge’s duo sonata for those instruments.

Thus, while the delay in beginning last night’s program led to the omission of a string quartet by Joseph Haydn (Hoboken III/49, the last of the six Opus 50 compositions, known as the “Prussian” quartets), the Bridge quintet was the high point of the evening. Even the structure of the music was innovative. Bridge reworked the usual four-movement plan into one consisting of three movements. The middle movement then consisted of a scherzo, framed on either side by an Adagio, thus accounting for two movements in a single ABA structure.

More important, however, was the abundance of rich rhetorical stances one encountered throughout all three of the quintet’s movements. This involved some imaginative approaches to the interplay between keyboard and quartet, as well as allowing each of the quartet instruments have is own fair share of attention. The listening experience was enlightening from beginning to end; and I, for one, would be happy if the Doric’s contract with Chandos Records would lead to a recording of a composition that clearly deserves far attention than it has been receiving. (Doric already has a Chandos album of the complete Britten quartets.)

The program began with Doric playing Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 95 (“Serioso”) quartet in F minor. This is the last of his so-called “middle” quartets; and the rhetoric is as intense as its name implies. The Doric players were definitely not shy in taking on that intensity. One might even call their performance a blood-and-guts interpretation. Nevertheless, it was clear that all four of the players were tightly coupled among each other, allowing even the slightest gesture of interplay to register as strongly as each of the individual voices. Anyone complaining about hearing too much Beethoven would do well to consider the many virtues of how Doric interpreted this particular quartet score.

Thus, while last night’s performance was shorter than originally planned, there was more than enough to satisfy the needs of any seriously attentive listener.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Difficult Listening from Seth Parker Woods

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

Around the middle of this month, Cedille Records released the latest cello solo album of Seth Parker Woods, whose first album, asinglewordisnotenough, was released by Confront Recordings in London in November of 2016. The title of the new album, his Cedille debut, is Difficult Grace, which had previously been the title of a full-evening multimedia concert. In that performance Woods served as narrator as well as cellist.

Much of the album serves to document world premiere performances of compositions by Monty Adkins, Frederick Gifford, Ted Hearne, and Nathalie Jackson. Earlier works by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson and Alvin Singleton are woven among the premiere tracks. In a staged multimedia setting there may have been enough imaginative content to draw (if not sustain) the attention of a sympathetic audience. However, the experience of listening to this recording left me (in the immortal words of Fred Astaire) “cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes,” with Hearne’s scatology prompting the only raised eyebrows.

One might say that, taken as a whole, the album serves up far too much “difficult” along with no convincing signs of “grace.”

SFS: Guest Conductors in May, 2023

Following up on the current month, May will be another month of three guest conductors taking the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) podium for subscription concerts in Davies Symphony Hall. The first two of them, Thomas Wilkins and Rafael Payare, will be making their respective debuts in the Orchestral Series. The third, Philippe Jordan, who is currently Music Director of the Vienna State Opera, will be returning for the first time since October of 2007.

Wilkins is currently Principal Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The featured soloist for his program will be saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who will serve as soloist in two works receiving their first SFS performances. The first of these will be “Hot-Sonate” by Erwin Schulhoff, which will be followed by John Williams’ “Escapades.” The program will begin with three dance episodes extracted from Leonard Bernstein’s score for the musical On the Town. The final selection will be “Harlem,” composed by Duke Ellington. This was commissioned by Arturo Toscanini, who had planned a large suite with each movement providing a “portrait” of a particular area of New York City.

This program will be given three performances. The first will begin at 2 p.m. on Thursday, May 4, followed by 7:30 p.m. concerts on Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6. Ticket prices range from $20 to $135. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Box Office is also open only for tickets to the evening performances two hours before the concert begins.

Payare is Music Director of both the San Diego Symphony and the Montreal Symphony. His soloist will be Hilary Hahn in a performance of Johannes Brahms’ Opus 77 violin concerto in D major. [update 4/9, 5:15 p.m.: Due to illness, Hahn will be unable to perform. She will be replaced by pianist Bruce Liu, who will be making his debut in the SFS Orchestra Series. His concerto selection will be Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 37 (third) piano concerto in C minor.] The “overture” for this concert will be “Darker America,” a tone poem about Black Americans’ journey from sorrow to triumph, composed by William Grant Still. The “symphony” portion of the program will be taken by Richard Strauss’ episodic tone poem “Ein Heldenleben” (a hero’s life).

This program will be given three performances, all beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 11, Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13. Ticket prices range from $20 to $165. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Box Office is also open only for tickets to the evening’s performance two hours before the concert begins.

This program will also be given a Katherine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal on Thursday, May 11. This special behind-the-scenes experience begins at 8:30 a.m. with coffee and complimentary doughnuts, followed by a half-hour introductory talk 9 a.m. The rehearsal itself begins at 10 a.m.; and, of course, the music to be rehearsed will be entirely at the conductor’s discretion. General admission is $30 with $40 for reserved seats in the Premiere Orchestra section, the Side and Rear Boxes, and the Loge. Tickets may be purchased online through a separate event page.

War Requiem “mosaic” showing the SFS Chorus (left), Jordan and Holloway (above right), and Bostridge and Paterson (below right) (from the event page for the concert, courtesy of SFS)

Jordan’s program will be devoted entirely to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. The score calls for a full orchestra for settings of the Latin Requiem text, which is sung by a full chorus and a soprano. That vocalist will be Jennifer Holloway, making her Orchestral Series debut. The choral parts will be sung by both the SFS Chorus and the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, whose Director is Kent Jue. The Requiem text is interleaved with the poetry of Wilfred Owen, whose texts are sung by tenor and baritone soloists. Those vocalists will be, respectively, Ian Bostridge and Iain Paterson, both also making Orchestral Series debuts. [updated 5/13, 9:05 a.m.: Paterson has regretfully withdrawn from this program due to visa difficulties. He will be replaced by baritone Brian Mulligan, who made his SFS debut in January of 2017. He has also made numerous appearances with the San Francisco Opera.]

This program will also be given three performances, all beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 18, Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20. Ticket prices range from $35 to $165. (Terrace seating will not be available due to the choral resources.) They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Box Office is also open only for tickets to the evening’s performance two hours before the concert begins.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Dynamite Guitars: 2023/2024 Programs

This past Sunday the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts announced the schedule for its Dynamite Guitars concerts that will take place during its 2023/2024 season. (For those that like to count, this will be the series’ 43rd season.) Eleven programs have been planned; and, as has been the case in the past, four of them will be presented in partnership with the San Francisco Performances (SFP) Guitar Series.

All of the programs will be evening recitals beginning at 7:30 p.m. They will take place at either St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street) or Herbst Theatre (on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue). Programs have not yet been finalized, but the participating performers will be as follows:

Thursday, September 14, Herbst Theatre: The season will begin with ukulele virtuoso Taimane Gardner, who performs under the name Taimane.

Saturday, October 7, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: Australian guitarist Stephanie Jones will present a solo recital, which will be shared with SFP.

Saturday, October 28, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: Polish guitarist Mateusz Kowalski will present a solo recital.

Saturday, November 4, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: Maestros of 50 Oak Street is a program that brings together past and present members of the Guitar Faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). For this iteration of the series, the contributing guitarists will be Sergio Assad, David Tanenbaum, Richard Savino, and Marc Teicholz. The program will include solo selections, as well as groups in different combinations.

Friday, November 10, Herbst Theatre: The Dublin Guitar Quartet program will be shared with SFP.

Saturday, December 2, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: This year will see the return of the Beijing Guitar Duo, which used to visit frequently prior to the COVID pandemic; as in the past, their performance will be shared with SFP.

Saturday, February 10, Herbst Theatre: Pepe Romero will return to Herbst to give a solo recital, which will be shared with SFP.

Thursday, February 22, Herbst Theatre: International Guitar Night is a program that will present four guitarists of four different nationalities: Thu Le (Vietnam), Marco Pereira (Brazil), Minnie Marks (Australia), and Luca Stricagnoli (Italy).

Saturday, March 23, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: Guitarist David Russell is a regular visitor to San Francisco and, most recently, was in town to teach a Master Class at SFCM.

Saturday, April 20, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: Readers may recall that Ana Vidovic is one of the performers for this coming busy weekend, and she has already made plans to return almost exactly a year later.

Saturday, April 27, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The season will conclude with a recital shared by a pair of guitarists: Julia Trintschuk and Grisha Goryachev.

Subscription packages for the 2022–2023 season are currently available by calling 415-242-4500. The price of the full series of eleven concerts provides a 20% discount over the purchase of eleven individual tickets. There is also the Create-Your-Own option. The subscriber can create his/her/their own package of four or more concerts and receive a 14% discount. The order form is a PDF file, which provides price information for the individual concerts, as well as the multiple-concert offerings. As of this writing, tickets are only available through the above telephone number.

Taj Mahal Takes on the American Songbook

As a high school student living in a Jewish neighborhood just north of the Philadelphia border, I never heard of Taj Mahal until I became an undergraduate in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in September of 1963. His name was, of course, a stage name inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s commitment to social tolerance. He began performing on the East Coast, but his career began to take off after his move to Santa Monica in 1964. He was one of several musicians from whom I learned about blues as a genre.

Cover of the album being discussed

Mahal will turn 81 next month, and he seems to be having fun with broadening his repertoire. This Friday Stony Plain will release his latest album, entitled simply Savoy. As usual, has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

The opening track is, as might be guessed, “Stompin’ at the Savoy;” but it sort of serves as “background music” to “set the stage” for the remaining thirteen tracks, which review many of the favorite standards from the American Songbook. While I enjoy the ways in which Mahal has put his own personal twist on each of those Songbook tunes, I worry a bit about whether or not the current generation of listeners knows very much (if anything) about what the Songbook is and the ways in which several generations of jazz and pop vocalists had put it to good use. Mahal has now joined that crowd, but each track is rich with his own approaches to delivery. However, I suspect that his style will not resonate with much impact among those generations that are younger than my own.

I grew up being taught a bevy of quotations taken from Abraham Lincoln. The one that really stuck with me was: “we cannot escape history.” (Full disclaimer: I have Aaron Copland to thank for bringing that phrase to my attention!) These days, however, whenever I cite that phrase to many significantly younger than I am, the only reply I expect is, “Who cares?” That marks the end of the discourse and my return to a collection of recordings that evoke pleasant memories!

SFCMP’s Rescheduled Flute-Harp Program

Last night at the Noe Valley Ministry, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) presented the rescheduled program entitled Fire and Water, Shadows and Dust. More precisely, the program was presented by two of the players, Meredith Clark on harp and Tod Brody alternating between flute and alto flute. The selections included both duo and solo performances.

Where the solos were concerned, the program provided an opportunity to listen to the first two of the compositions that Luciano Berio entitled “Sequenza.” Berio composed fourteen of these pieces, each requiring different solo “instrumentation” (scare quotes because the fourth composition was for female voice). The first of these pieces, composed in 1958 and revised in 1992, was for flute; and the second, composed in 1963, was composed for harp.

Berio created these pieces to explore the capacity of each the instruments for exploring a wide diversity of sonorities, many (if not most) of which involved sounds not usually associated with the instrument. Given the distance of five years between the first two “Sequenza” compositions, it is unlikely that Berio viewed them as a “matched set;” but, fortuitously enough, they happened to align with last night’s performers.

For those unfamiliar with these compositions, each was its own adventurous journey of discovery, as much for the listener as for the performer. Having one performed on either side of the intermission allowed those in the audience to reflect on the “sonorous scope” of the first as preparation for the same scope of diversity of the second. Taken together, the pieces celebrated the capacity of each of the instruments for “non-standard” performance techniques.

Clark presented two additional solo offerings. The first of these was Suzanne Farrin’s “Polvere et Ombra” (dust and shadow), a reflection on a sonnet by Petrarch. In the second half of the program, she performed a “micro-suite” entitled Three Lil Pretties, composed by Marcus Norris and receiving its world premiere. Both of these pieces followed up on Berio’s “mission,” exploring performance techniques for the harp that one was unlikely to encounter in a symphony orchestra performance. Brody’s other solo performance presented Jennifer Higdon’s “,” a reflection on inner-city crime composed in 1992.

Arnold Böcklin’s “Faun and whistling blackbird” (from the Wikipedia page of Böcklin’s paintings)

Among the duo selections, the most familiar to me was the final offering, the flute-harp version of Toru Takemitsu’s “Toward the Sea,” whose movement titles suggest an American perspective of the Atlantic Ocean (rather than a Japanese view of the Pacific). The program began with Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Fauno che fischia a un merlo” (faun, the whistling blackbird), the title of a painting completed by Arnold Böcklin in 1865. (It would not be out of the question to suggest that this canvas may have inspired Stéphane Mallarmé “L’Après-midi d’un faune” poem, the inspiration for Claude Debussy’s composition and the choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky.) The other duo performance presented three of the movements from Roberto Sierra’s Flower Pieces collection: “Lilacs,” “Forsythia’s,” and “Marigolds.”

Taking the entire experience as a whole, none of the selections overstayed its welcome; and the opportunity to experience a generous share of extended techniques for both instruments was thoroughly refreshing.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Melnikov Couples Composers with Keyboards

Alexander Melnikov (photograph by Marco Borggreve, from the San Francisco Performances announcement of his visit in 2018)

This coming Friday harmonia mundi will release a new solo album by keyboardist Alexander Melnikov. He has been a familiar presence here in San Francisco, primarily through the auspices of San Francisco Performances. Past programming has included two solo recitals and, most recently, a performance by his trio, whose other members are violinist Isabelle Faust and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras.

In all my articles about those occasions, I referred to him as a pianist. However, the title of his new album is Fantasie: Seven Composers, Seven Keyboards. That required a noun with a broader scope! As many are likely to assume, has created a Web page for pre-orders of this new release.

The seven composers are as follows:

  1. Johann Sebastian Bach
  2. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
  3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  4. Felix Mendelssohn
  5. Frédéric Chopin
  6. Ferrucio Busoni
  7. Alfred Schnittke

The earliest instrument is a two-manual harpsichord created by Hans Ruckers II in 1624, but this served as a model for a reproduction made by Markus Fischinger in 2019. The most recent instrument is the Steinway D-274. This instrument has become so popular among concert pianists that it has its own Wikipedia page, which cites it as “the flagship of the Steinway & Sons piano company.”

Melnikov is clearly serious in his appreciation of how the construction (and, as a result, the sonorities) of the instrument has evolved over the centuries. In fact, he owns three of the early models:

  1. Christopher Kern’s 2014 reproduction of a fortepiano made by Anton Walter in 1795
  2. A fortepiano made by Alois Graff in 1828, restored by Edwin Beunk
  3. An 1885 Érard piano dating from around 1885, restored by Markus Fischinger

That list leads me to wonder if Melnikov does not have his own Steinway, probably because he does not have room for it! Whatever the case may be, he clearly believes that it is important to play on an instrument whose sonorities would have been familiar to the composer.

I have to confess that I have been interested it this “proper pairing” of instrument and composer for many decades. Indeed, when I was responsible for arranging guest lecturers to visit the research laboratory where I worked in Connecticut, I managed to persuade Malcolm Bilson to give a lecture-demonstration about the eighteenth-century fortepiano. He had no trouble preparing for this, since he arrived at our lab with his instrument in his VW microbus.

Melnikov’s recording reminded me that Bilson’s visit marked the tip of an iceberg larger than I realized had existed. At the risk of tempting virulent disagreement, I would suggest that, on the basis of sonorities, the “piano as we know it” began to take shape relatively early in the nineteenth century (which, on this album, would mean the Mendelssohn selection). On the other hand, even after three or four listening experiences, I feel as if I am just beginning to get my head around the “steps to Parnassus” that lead from the eighteenth century to the contemporary Steinway.

In other words, I expect to spend a fair amount of time with this album, taking it for granted that Melnikov will be able to guide me through the six stages of transition that link Schnittke to Bach.

The Bleeding Edge: 4/24/2023

This week there will be six events, which should count as at least moderately busy. What struck me as interesting, however, is that there is an even split between events that have already been introduced and those appearing for the first time. The three events previously taken into account are as follows:

  1. The rescheduled San Francisco Contemporary Music Players program this evening
  2. The Alaya Project at the Center for New Music on Saturday, April 29
  3. The performance by Quinteto Latino presented by Old First Concerts on Sunday, April 30

As usual, the above hyperlinks lead to the Web pages that provide further information. Specifics for the three remaining events are as follows:

Friday, April 28, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore & Gallery: Once again, curator David Boyce will give a multi-reed performance of his own, probably with one or more guest players that have not yet been identified. The venue is located in the Mission at 3036 24th Street, between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street. As always, there is no charge for admission, presumably to encourage visitors to consider buying a book.

Saturday, April 29, 1 p.m., San Francisco Public Library: Guitarist and composer David James will lead a sextet in a performance of newer and older original music. The “front line” of the sextet will consist of Beth Custer on difference sizes of clarinet, Keith Lawrence on viola, and Alan Williams on trombone. Rhythm will be provided by Lisa Mezzacappa on bass and John Hanes on drums. The performance will take place in the Library’s Western Addition branch, which is located at 550 Scott Street. There will be no charge for admission.

Sunday, April 30, 8 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: This weekend the jazz performances will extend into Sunday evening. The featured artists are both reed players. Sheldon Brown will alternate between alto saxophone and bass clarinet. Ben Goldberg will also play bass clarinet, alternating with the B-flat instrument. Both of them have cultivated the repertoire of two major jazz pianists, Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk. The program will alternate between original music and the works of those two influences. Rhythm will be provided by John Wiitala on bass and Tim Bulkley on drums.

Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station that serves both BART and Muni. Admission will be $20 in cash for the cover charge. Given that only a limited number of people will be admitted, reservations are necessary and can be made by calling 415-586-3733. The phone will be answered during regular store hours, which are between noon and 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday. Because this is a Sunday evening performance, it will not be live-streamed for remote viewing.

Tomasson’s Shakespeare Seldom Hits the Mark

Romeo (Angelo Greco) encountering Juliet (Jasmine Jimison) in the Capulet tomb (photograph by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy of San Francisco Ballet)

Yesterday afternoon I visited the War Memorial Opera House to see the fourth of the ten performances of Helgi Tomasson’s San Francisco Ballet choreography for the Romeo & Juliet ballet score composed by Sergei Prokofiev. I have to confess that I have lost count of the number of different stagings for different ballet companies that I have experienced, both on the stage and through the media of film and video. I find it particularly interesting that Prokofiev could compose a score whose episodes align so precisely with the overall narrative, yet the score is flexible enough to accommodate different approaches to the story taken by different choreographers.

Sadly, Tomasson’s approach to the narrative has been one of the more disappointing versions that I have encountered. This is due in part to rearrangements of the score that do not always align with the composer’s intensions and end up confusing the narrative, rather than highlighting it. Mind you, since this is a story that almost everyone knows by heart, it is not difficult to tolerate distortions in the narrative; but the experience can still run the gamut from frustrating to downright annoying.

Of course one can still follow the trajectories of the two “star-cross'd lovers” (danced yesterday afternoon by Aaron Robison and Nikisha Fogo) with little difficulty; but it often takes a while (if not longer) to align the other dancers with the traits that distinguish their respective characters. This is particularly the case where Mercutio (Cavan Conley) is concerned. It is all too easy to confuse him with Benvolio (Mingxuan Wang) until Tybalt (Alexander Reneff-Olson) fatally stabs him.

This is not a matter of picking nits. The title characters may dominate the narrative, but their personalities are shaped by a generous number of roles for other members of the cast. Tomasson never seems to get his choreography around the context established by those other roles, focusing instead on managing well-designed crowd scenes that contribute very little to the telling of the story, either by Shakespeare or by anyone else. Ironically, Prokofiev’s score often captures character traits with meticulous precision; but Tomasson tended to rearrange the music in ways that undermined its impact.

Many readers may know by now that previous encounters with Tomasson’s choreography have left me with many memorable experiences, but I doubt that my memory will retain much from his approach to Romeo & Juliet.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Final Cahill Survey of Women Composers

courtesy of Jensen Artists

This coming Friday First Hand Records will release the last of the three volumes that pianist Sarah Cahill prepared for her The Future is Female Series. Readers that have been following these releases know that each album had its own title: In Nature for the first and The Dance for the second. The title of the final volume is At Play. Once again, has created a Web page for processing pre-orders; and, again as of this writing, the album will be available only for digital download. [added 4/25, 4:15 p.m.:  Fortunately, the physical CD is being sold through a Barnes & Noble Web page, which will process pre-orders prior to this coming Friday.]

Another “once again” is that Cahill begins her “program” in the seventeenth century. This time her selection is the third sonata in the Opus 5 collection of keyboard sonatas composed by Hélène de Montgeroult. There is a bit of fortuitous serendipity here where Cahill’s agenda is concerned. The week after I wrote about The Dance I wrote an article about Montgeroult prompted by the release of Clare Hammond’s album of the 29 études that Montgeroult had composed. On that occasion I cited the Grand Piano album that Nicolas Horvath had recorded of the complete set of Montgeroult sonatas. (There were only nine of them, and Cahill’s selection for At Play was the last of them.)

Another similarity that At Play shares with The Dance is that there is only one selection from the nineteenth century. This time the composer is Cecile Chaminade; and the selection is her “Thème varié,” which she composed in 1898. Where my own listening is concerned, I find this track to be more consistent with the sense of “play” suggested by the album title; and the music differs refreshingly from Clara Schumann’s Opus 20 set of variations included on The Dance.

The remainder of the album consists of three tracks of twentieth-century compositions, followed by four works completed in the current century. Two of those latter compositions are multi-movement suites. The first of these is Hannah Kendall’s On the Chequer’d Field Array’d, and the second is Regina Harris Baiocchi’s collection of four pieces under the title Piano Poems. Kendall’s intention was to depict the three stages in a game of chess (opening, middle-game, endgame). I have to confess that I have not yet managed to get my head around this suite, leaving me wondering if composing music about chess is in the same league as dancing about architecture.

I have to say that my biggest surprise turned out to be also a favorite selection. My past experiences with Pauline Oliveros involve works that have more to do with activities than with the interpretation of notation. I still remember her remark about going out into the desert in the middle of the night. She could then lay on her back to look at the stars, which would then enable her to perform John Cage’s “Atlas Eclipticalis” by reading the “original score!”

The full title of her contribution to At Play is “Quintuplets Play Pen: Homage to Ruth Crawford.” The music is polyrhythmic, making considerable use of five-notes-to-a-beat quintuplets. Oliveros describes the piece as “a playful polyphonic dance;” and both the sense of play and the intricate Web of polyphony can be grasped by the attentive listener with little difficulty. I hope she enjoyed creating this piece for Cahill, because it means that she might give a few more tries to working with conventional notation! [added 4/25, 4:07 p.m.: I wrote that last sentence unaware of the fact that Oliveros died on November 24, 2016, a painful reminder of how little news about her I had managed to follow.]

Outsound Presents: May, 2023

Next month will have a slightly different plan for the Outsound Presents performances involving both content and ordering. There will be the usual two series as follows:

  1. The LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) Creative Music Series events take place on Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m.; and the venue is 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.
  2. The SIMM (Static Illusion Methodical Madness) Series of concerts is a monthly event taking place on Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. The venue is the Musicians Union Hall, located at 116 9th Street, near the corner of Mission Street. General admission will be $20 with a $15 senior rate for those age 62 or older.

As in the usual past, the month will offer two LSG concerts and one in the SIMM Series. This month the SIMM program will be the last of the three. However, the first LSG event will involve more than just the performance of music. Specific details in chronological order are as follows:

Wednesday, May 3: The first LSG program will be a full-evening performance organized around the viewing of a new documentary film. Beat scholar and poet Thomas Antonic will make his debut as a film director with the screening of a feature-length documentary entitled ruth weiss: One More Step West is The Sea. I first encountered Weiss (better known for her lowercase spelling) when the Outsound New Music Summit in the summer of 2018 included a program entitled PoetryFreqs in which she read her poems accompanied by electronic sonorities.

The following November Outsound Presents offered a special program organized around weiss reading her poems. This time she was accompanied by jazz improvised by Doug Lynner on a Mystery Serge synthesizer, Rent Romus on saxophones and flutes, Doug O’Connor on bass, and Hal Davis playing a log. 2018 was the year of her 90th birthday, and she would die two summers later on July 31, 2020.

The screening of Antonic’s documentary will be preceded by opening sets of poetry readings by Jeff Kaliss and Jessica Loos. These will be given improvised accompaniment by the ruth weiss players. That group will consist of three of the four musicians that accompanied Weiss in November of 2018: Romus, Lynner, and O’Connor.

Wednesday, May 17: This will be a two-set evening. However, as of this writing, the first set has not yet been finalized. The second set will be taken by vocalist Dina Emerson, a native of Santa Barbara, who was based in New York City for roughly the last decade of the last century. Her earliest influences were recordings made by Meredith Monk and Robert Ashley. She will give a duo performance with Philip Everett who works with electronic gear under the performing name of Skullkrusher. This will be the rescheduling of a program originally planned for the SIMM Series this past February 12.

Sunday, May 21: The SIMM program will offer two one-hour sets. The first set will be taken by Sharkiface, which is the project of experimental artist Angela Edwards, who is based here in the Bay Area. Edwards’ latest album, Climax in a Process, was released on a Bandcamp Web page at the beginning of this past March. The second set will be taken by Nine Dog Dick, which calls itself “a collaborative psycho-spazz extreme composed original music quartet.” The performers are saxophonist Tom Weeks playing with a rhythm section of Matt Chandler on bass, Doug Katelus on organ, and Jay Korber on drums. They also have a Bandcamp Web page for their debut album, also released last month. The album has only two tracks, the first of which is Miles Davis’ “Rated X,” followed by Larry Young’s “Mother Ship.”

Anderson & Roe “Overlay” Familiar Classics

The piano duo of Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe presented one of the last performances in Herbst Theatre before the lockdown conditions were imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Their last recital for Chamber Music San Francisco (CMSF) took place on February 15, 2020. Last night they made their first “post-pandemic” CMSF appearance. As in the past, high spirits reigned over the course of the evening with their usual innovative twists on familiar repertoire selections.

Because those twists are anticipated by those that have attended past performances, they have given the technique a label. They assign the title “Overlay” to their imaginative techniques of embellishment. The two Overlay selections on last night’s program were applied to two of the pieces under Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances title. In “order of appearance,” those were the second (in E minor) from the Opus 72 collection and the fifth (in A major) from the Opus 46 collection. These made for a delightfully adventurous departure from the “original scores,” complete with each of the pianists adding some vocalizations.

These two selections were preceded by a “straight” account of “Silent Woods” the fifth composition in Dvořák’s Opus 68 collection, From the Bohemian Forest. A third Overlay provided the first encore of the evening, based on Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.” The other “unembellished” selection on the program was the first, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 448 sonata for two pianos in D major.

Nevertheless, the program abounded with richly developed accounts of music from a variety of genres. More often than not, embellishment was a matter of “pulling out all the stops” (so to speak), as in rethinking the final movement of Mozart’s K. 331 piano sonata in A major into “Ragtime alla Turca.” Particularly impressive was their ability to command the rich orchestration of the “Daybreak” episode from Maurice Ravel’s score for the ballet “Daphnis et Chloé.” Ironically, the was the one piece on the program that involved an arranger other than Anderson and/or Roe. Vyacheslav Gryaznov took on Ravel’s score, but Anderson and Roe took on his transcription with jaw-dropping technique.

The duo could also deliver a subtle insight or two in their own arrangements. They closed out their program with four selections from Leonard Bernstein’s score for West Side Story. However, they were not afraid to remind listeners that “Somewhere” was a product of not-so-subtle appropriation. For those that thought the music was Bernstein’s own invention, Anderson and Roe were helpful by providing an interjection of the passage from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 73 (fifth, know as “Emperor”) piano concerto in E-flat major that “inspired” that upward leap that began the “Somewhere” tune. (As Johannes Brahms said, “Das bemerkt ja schon jeder Esel!”)

The third Overlay was followed by two more encores. The first of these presented the duo at its most lyrical in their arrangement of “Mondnacht” (moon night), the fifth song in Robert Schumann’s Opus 39 Liederkreis song cycle. The was the calm before the stormy no-holds-barred account of the “Sabre Dance” movement from Aram Khachaturian’s score for the ballet Gayane.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Brian Eno’s Instrumental Reworking of Songs

Brian Eno (photograph by Cecily Eno, courtesy of Sacks & Co.)

One of the earliest articles I wrote this year involved Verve’s release of Brian Eno’s 22nd studio album entitled FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE. The tracks on this album were vocal, written by Eno. On two of the tracks, the text involve his working with his daughter Darla; and on another track he partnered with Jon Hopkins.

He decided that he would follow up this release with a second album on which the ten tracks were given entirely instrumental renditions. The title of each of the instrumental tracks was given an abbreviation of the title of the corresponding vocal track. The new album was entitled, appropriately enough, FOREVER VOICELESS. It was scheduled for sale as a vinyl record to acknowledge Record Store Day, which is today.

Sadly, the hyperlink provided by the press release seemed to involve only the digital version. Furthermore, created a Web page consisting of 20 tracks, with the ten tracks of FOREVER VOICELESS following those of FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE. That Web page was created yesterday, and I have yet to succeed in finding a viable Web page for any physical version. Fortunately, my own resources allowed me to created separate playlists for the two albums.

I have no idea whether Eno himself had any “listening strategies” in mind for these two releases. From a purely personal point of view, I happen to prefer the instrumental version. However, that is just because I prefer to dwell on the “semantics of the music” (whatever that may mean!) rather than directing my perception at what the vocals are trying to say. Nevertheless, I expect that, some afternoon when I feel adventurous, I will set myself up to for side-by-side listening to each of the individual tracks. My conjecture is that the instrumental versions will serve as responses to the “call” of the texts being sung, but what those responses signify definitely remains to be seen (or heard)!

SFCM Highlights: May, 2023

Next month will wrap up the highlighted events in the academic year of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). There are only two of those events, the second of which will be given two performances; and all three 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. Most of the recitals will be end-of-term performances.

Each of the dates below will include a hyperlink to the appropriate event page, which, in turn, will include a hyperlink for reserving tickets. (That will include two hyperlinks for the separate performances of the second event.) Each event page will also have 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.

Tuesday, May 2, 7:30 p.m., Barbro Osher Recital Hall: The final installment of Chamber Music Tuesday will feature a visit by violinist Benjamin Beilman, who will perform in all three selections. The first of these will be “Sanguineum,” a work for solo violin composed by Gabriella Smith, which was co-commissioned by SFCM. He will then lead a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 87 (second) string quintet in B-flat major. Faculty member Pei-Ling Lin will perform first viola. Participating students will be violinist Suni Norman, violist Janet Yang, and cellist William Laney. The program will then conclude with Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 65 (third) piano trio in F minor. Beilman will be joined by students Kyle Stachnik on cello and Helen Wu on piano.

Thursday, May 4, and Friday, May 5, 7:30 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall: The season will conclude with two performances of Maurice Ravel’s one-act fantastical opera “L’enfant et les sortilèges” (the child and the spells). This will be a full performance with a student cast involving a rich variety of supernatural characters. Staging will be directed by Heather Mathews, and the conductor will be Curt Pajer.

More Debut Performances by Cristian Mӑcelaru

When Romanian conductor Cristian Mӑcelaru made his debut on the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in October of 2018, the program he prepared featured two debut performances. Last night he returned to Davies Symphony Hall with another program of two premieres. The more important of these was definitely the cor anglais (English horn) concerto composed by Outi Tarkiainen, which had been written on an SFS commission to feature its cor anglais player, Russ de Luna.

Outi Tarkiainen (from the Uniarts Helsinki Web page about “Milky Ways”)

Tarkiainen gave the concerto the title “Milky Ways,” reflecting both on childbirth and the Milky Way galaxy, which is easily seen in the night sky over Lapland, the northernmost region of Finland where Tarkiainen lives. The music was given its premiere by the Finnish Radio Symphony last month. The soloist was Nicholas Daniel, and Nicholas Collon conducted the Finnish Radio Symphony. Last night SFS presented the concerto’s United States premiere.

The composer was present for the occasion, engaging in a pre-concert conversation with Tim Higgins, the SFS Principal Trombone and providing a brief introduction to the entire audience before the performance itself. Beyond the hauntingly engaging solo part, the concerto was scored for a large ensemble with rich sonorities emerging from every section. There was also a significant spatial element, which included de Luna moving to the rear of the stage, behind the brass performers, and a few members of the string section at the end of the “odd number” arm of the 1st Tier. In spite of this abundance of resources, one could appreciate the understated rhetoric and more than a hint of the loneliness of isolation in de Luna’s expressive account of his solo work.

After the intermission the program concluded with the symphony selection, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 10 (first) symphony in F minor. The subtleties of Tarkiainen’s concerto were sharply contrasted by Shostakovich’s raucous rhetoric. The symphony was composed in 1925 when Joseph Stalin was just beginning to consolidate the power of his leadership of the Soviet Union. It would be a decade before Shostakovich would get in trouble for his prankishness, and the Opus 10 symphony practically works its way through a laundry list of outrageous gestures. Mӑcelaru made sure that every one of those gestures resonated with the attentive listener, and the outrageousness of the composer’s rhetorical extremes provided just the right contrast to the melancholy stillness of Tarkiainen’s concerto.

The only real disappointment of the evening was the “overture.” This consisted of two movements (“Reconstruction Rag” and “Big City Breaks”) from a suite by Wynton Marsalis, which he entitled Blues Symphony. The first of those two movements got off to a promising start as a “waltz that isn’t a waltz.” However, once the rag itself kicked in, the music came across as an overabundance of busy work. The program note by Sean Colonna described “Big City Breaks” as “percussion-heavy bebop;” but the rhetoric came across more in the spirit of Thelonious Monk’s departure from bebop tradition. The Marsalis quote in that program note left the impression that he was trying to do too many things at once, and there was little in the performance itself that left me curious about the composition’s other five movements.

Far more promising is the possibility that more of Tarkiainen’s music will find its way into the SFS repertoire.