Friday, June 30, 2023

New Takács Album Features Coleridge-Taylor

According to my archives, I have not written about the Takács Quartet since the release of the Dmitri Shostakovich album in April of 2015. At that time the ensemble still had two of its founding members, second violinist Károly Schranz and cellist András Fejér, performing with first violinist Edward Dusinberre and violist Geraldine Walther. On their latest album, which will be released one week from today, Schranz has passed his “founder’s baton” to Harumi Rhodes; and violist Richard O’Neill has replaced Walther. As many will have expected, has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

Cover of the latest Takács Quartet album (courtesy of PIAS)

The album is divided roughly evenly between two composers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (British) and Antonín Dvořák (Czech). Both of them made “professional” visits to the United States. Dvořák made the move in 1892 to become the Director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, based in New York City. Coleridge-Taylor never worked in the United States; but he made three tours to promote his orchestral compositions in 1904, 1906, and 1910.

Where the music itself is concerned, the Takács players made the somewhat bold move to represent each of these composers with a piece that was completed in the same year, 1895. The album begins with Coleridge-Taylor’s Opus 5, entitled Fantasiestücke. That, of course, was a familiar “category” in the nineteenth century; and, in this particular case, it explores five different structural forms: “Prelude,” “Serenade,” “Humoresque,” “Minuet and Trio,” and “Dance.” This is followed by Dvořák’s Opus 106 quartet in G major, one of his last string quartets. (Like Opus 106, Opus 105 was composed in 1895.) The album then concludes with Dvořák’s B40a, an Andante appassionato in A minor, which was the original version for the third movement of the Opus 12 quartet (also in A minor).

This album can best be appreciated for the features that distinguish Dvořák from Coleridge-Taylor. One gets the impression that the Opus 106 quartet was more in the players’ “comfort zone.” This should not surprise anyone. To paraphrase an old New York advertising slogan, you do not have to be Czech to get into the spirit of Dvořák’s chamber music, particularly his string quartets. While Coleridge-Taylor may have structured his Opus 5 movements around familiar forms, his rhetoric was far from retrospective, which may explain why the New Yorkers that experienced any of his music were not shy in calling him the “African Mahler.”

To be fair, however, that epithet does not really apply to Coleridge-Taylor’s chamber music, given how little chamber music Gustav Mahler composed! I would argue, instead, that Coleridge-Taylor found a way to establish and distinguish his own voice, establishing a distinction that Dvořák may never have entertained. Instead, his listeners seemed to like being charmed by listening to Native American tunes expressed with a Czech accent! In that context, the new Takács album is probably best approached for breadth of diversity; and, within the scope of that breadth, I count myself among those curious about what else Coleridge-Taylor composed.

Kenya Moses: Active Through End of Next Month

It has been well over a year since I have written a preview for jazz vocalist Kenya Moses. Indeed, it has been well over two years since I first saw her in performance at Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio. This morning, however, I encountered a major sea change with a list of five performances that she will be presenting between tonight and the end of next month. Here is the “basic agenda” with as much information as I currently have at my disposal:

Friday, June 30, 5 p.m., Lyon & Swan: This will be the first in a series of four consecutive duo performances with Moses’ life partner, the Latin jazz drummer Brian Andres. Lyon & Swan is an “underground supper club” that couples food, wine, and cocktails with live entertainment. Moses and Andres will be performing for about three hours, presumably two sets with a break between them. The venue is located at 124 Columbus Avenue in Jackson Square. Dinner reservations may be made through the Tock Web page for the venue. Because this is a supper club, there does not appear to be an option for sitting at the bar.

Saturday, July 1, 2 p.m., Curio: This will be the second duo performance. Curio is basically a “reincarnation” of The Chapel, located in the Mission at 775 Valencia Street. This venue has a bar; and, for the timing of this particular event, it also has a brunch menu. This will probably also be a two-set performance taking place over the course of three hours.

Friday, July 7, 5 p.m., Lyon & Swan: Moses and Andres will return to Lyon & Swan for another duo evening.

Saturday, July 15, 6:30 p.m., Cole Valley: This will be an in-person Groupmuse Concert. Moses will perform with Brazilian guitarist Paride Pignottii. They will present a one-hour performance dedicated to the memory of Astrud Gilberto. As is the case with most Groupmuse events, this will be a home concert; and the location will be provided once a spot has been reserved through the Web page for the performance. The reservation fee is $5. The price for the event will be $20 at admission. There will be 45 minutes of music with a fifteen-minute intermission for beverages and mingling. Groupmuse has classified this event as “kid-friendly;” and dogs live at the venue.

Friday, July 28, 9 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: This will be a quartet performance. Bird & Beckett has not yet provided details; but, presumably, the quartet will include Moses, Andres, and Pignottii. My guess is that the fourth member will play bass, but that is just a guess. [updated 7/2, 6:45 a.m.: Moses and Andres will be joined by Fred Randolph on bass and Tammy Hall on piano.] This will be a 90-minute evening, probably divided into two sets with a separating break for the performers. Another detail not yet provided is the price of admission both in advance and for limited standing room for those paying at the door. The price of admission has not yet been announced. Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station that serves both BART and Muni.

Gershwin and Ravel Together Again

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen led the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in the first of three performance of the final concert in the 2022–23 season. The program brought together two composers that had cultivated a rich friendship during the first quarter of the twentieth century. (The running joke has been that each had wanted to compose something the other had written.) Those composers were Maurice Ravel and George Gershwin.

Léon Bakst’s set design for the first part of Michel Fokine’s “Daphnis et Chloé” ballet (Houghton Library at Harvard University, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Ravel occupied the entire second half of last night’s program with a performance of the complete score that he had composed for a new ballet that Serge Diaghilev was planning for his Ballets Russes based on the myth of Daphnis and Chloé. The choreography by Michel Fokine has been pretty much forgotten; but Ravel’s music has endured, due, in at least some part, to his having extracted two suites from the full score. Last night Salonen conducted that score in its entirety, and the program notes by James M. Keller assisted those interested in following the narrative behind that music.

Ravel’s approach to instrumentation has always been a rich one. This one pretty much goes over the top with generous parts for the full sections of winds and brass, a rich abundance of percussion, two harps, celesta, and, as “icing on the cake,” a full chorus that vocalizes without singing any words. Salonen’s balancing of all of these resources was consistently absorbing, and the clarity of his phrasing was an asset for those following Fokine’s narrative. As one might expect, the entire ballet concludes with a “Danse générale,” a wild Bacchanal that Salonen deftly led to its explosive climax. Clearly, he wanted to make sure that the rich repertoire that had formed the entire season would go out with a bang.

Gershwin’s contribution to the program was decidedly more modest but no less engaging. Soprano Julia Bullock sang the familiar “Summertime,” which begins the Porgy and Bess opera. However, that selection was flanked on either side by a pair of songs that Nelson Riddle arranged for Ella Fitzgerald. The first of these was “Somebody from Somewhere” from the 1931 musical Delicious; and the final selection was “Soon.”

Between these pieces were two compositions by Margaret Bonds, both settings of texts by Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Winter Moon,” the latter from the Songs of the Seasons cycle. Both of these selections were given orchestral arrangements by Jannina Norpoth. All four of these songs were being given their first SFS performances. Finally, Bullock took an encore, singing “Somewhere” from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, which she had previously sung when Michael Tilson Thomas had conducted the full score with SFS almost exactly ten years ago.

The program began with another premiere, the world premiere, in fact, of Reena Esmail’s revised version of her tone poem “Black Iris.” Like the Ravel selection that concluded the program, this tone poem drew upon rich instrumentation, this time to reflect on the horrors of sexual abuse. Her own notes for the program book cited the rage that occupied her while writing the music. Nevertheless, she is a disciplined enough composer that she did not allow her music to devolve into a mere rant. Indeed, she took her title from the elaborate detail in a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe; and I was particularly impressed in the ways in which her approach to detail served as a key to her compelling account of such an intensely disquieting context.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Free Concert to Celebrate 50 Years of Kronos

Kronos Quartet members Hank Dutt, John Sherba, David Harrington, and Paul Wiancko (photograph by Lenny Gonzalez, from a Kronos Quartet Web page)

The Kronos Quartet was originally founded in Seattle by violinist David Harrington. The first performance took place in November of 1973 at North Seattle Community College, and Harrington was joined by violinist Jim Shallenberger, violist Tim Kilian, and cellist Walter Gray. Harrington moved to San Francisco in 1978; and this marked the beginning of the Kronos Quartet “as we know it,” bringing Harrington together with violinist John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud. Since that time, the only personnel changes have involved the cello, whose chair has been taken by Paul Wiancko since this past February.

This coming August, Kronos will begin the celebration of its 50th anniversary with a season’s worth of performances under the rubric of KRONOS FIVE DECADES. To enhance the celebratory occasion, the first offering will be a free concert in Golden Gate Park. This will mark the first time that the ensemble will perform in the park’s Bandshell, which was originally built in 1894 for the California Midwinter Exposition. The program has not yet been finalized; but it will include new works and signature pieces from the vast Kronos repertoire, featuring composers such as Bob Dylan, Angélique Kidjo, Nicole Lizée, Clint Mansell and Sigur Rós. (Are they still playing Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” 😈?)

The performance will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 26. The Golden Gate Park Bandshell is located at 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive. Admission will be free, and no RSVP will be required. A Web page for the event has been created on the Kronos Web site, which promises “More details to come!”

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Pentatone Releases New National Brass Album

Cover of the latest National Brass Ensemble album (courtesy of Pentatone)

About two months ago Pentatone released its first album of the National Brass Ensemble (NBE), which, unless I am mistaken, was also the group’s second album, the first having been a recording that shared the labels of OBERLIN MUSIC, the official label of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and 50 Oak Music, the label of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and was distributed by Naxos of America. The title of the first album was Gabrieli, and it consisted almost entirely of selections from Giovanni Gabrieli’s 1597 Sacrae symphoniae in arrangements by Tim Higgins, Principal Trombone of the San Francisco Symphony. Unless I am mistaken, all of those Gabrieli selections were performed without a conductor.

The title of the new album is Deified, which is also the title of a composition by Jonathan Bingham receiving its world premiere recording. The world premiere performance took place on June 20, 2022. This was the date of the most recent appearance in Davies Symphony Hall by NBE, performing with conductor Eun Sun Kim, Music Director of the San Francisco Opera. It was followed by a second world premiere (both in performance and on the album), “Brass Fantasy,” composed by Arturo Sandoval. Both of these works were given an “overture” in the form of a fanfare that Richard Strauss composed for the first benefit ball to be held by the Vienna Philharmonic in 1924. Those three compositions accounted for the first of the two CDs in the Deified album.

The second CD is devoted entirely to Higgins’ latest achievement as an arranger for NBE, and there is a good chance that it is his most impressive undertaking to date. Entitled simply “The Ring,” it is best described as a synopsis of the four operas of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (the ring of the Nibelung). The score was structured in four movements, one for each of the operas. More specifically, the CD has twenty tracks, two for Das Rheingold, seven for Die Walküre, four for Siegfried, and seven for Götterdämmerung. The overall duration is slightly shy of 80 minutes.

Compared with the overall duration of the four Wagner operas, this amounts to a modest number. However, those that know Wagner’s version are probably well aware of how he drew upon the concept of the leitmotif to guide the listener through the complexities of the narrative. The Wikipedia page for “Leitmotif” cites The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music for the concept’s definition as a “short, recurring musical phrase" associated with a particular person, place, or idea. It is closely related to the musical concepts of idée fixe or motto-theme.” Higgins clearly understood Wagner’s Leitmotif vocabulary; and, if his results did not account for every last one, they certainly captured the ones that were most critical for the overall plot.

There is no doubt that this was an impressive undertaking. Having listened to it when it was performed in Davies and revisited it several times on the new Pentatone release, I can say with some confidence that it is unlikely anyone could do a better job than Higgins achieved. For that matter, having reached an age when I can no longer count the number of my encounters with Wagner’s music, my personal opinion is that Higgins provided the most convincing account of the overall narrative this side of Anna Russell. Mind you, NBE had the benefit of having been led by a serious opera conductor; but the accomplishment still is achieved primarily through Higgins’ talents in reading Wagner’s scores.

While the three selections on the first CD are all engaging, The Ring is definitely the show-stealer on this new release.

CMC Faculty to Present Four Free Concerts

Yesterday afternoon the Community Music Center (CMC) announced the 28th season of its Shenson Faculty Concert Series. I feel more than a little embarrassed that the last time I wrote about an event at the CMC Mission Branch, which I used to visit regularly, was in May of 2022. More recently, however, Old First Concerts hosted the nineteenth annual CMC Juliet McComas Keyboard Marathon at the beginning of last month. There is considerable diversity within the CMC faculty, and they used this marathon to explore the richness and range of the keyboard repertoire.

Over the next two months CMC will present four concerts that will take place in the Mission District but not at the Mission Branch. The venue will be Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, which will probably be familiar to readers that follow the Music in the Mishkan chamber music series presented by The Bridge Players led by Music Director Randall Weiss. Each of this summer’s concerts will be curated by a different CMC faculty member accounting for a different musical genre. All four of the performances will take place on a Thursday evening at 7 p.m. Program details have not been announced, but the genres and curators are as follows:

CMC faculty members Dorisiya Yosifova, Rita Lackey, Erick Peralta, and Jon Jang (from the Eventbrite Web page for the Shenson Faculty Concert Series)

July 13: Rita Lackey is a jazz vocalist and pianist; and she has described her program as a musical “gumbo” of jazz standards, soul tunes, and original compositions.

July 20: Dorisiya Yosifova is a Bulgarian violinist. The title of her program is A Journey Through Time. She will review the Eastern European repertoire with an emphasis on women composers from the Baroque period to the present day. She will also perform a solo commission composed by Jillian Honorof, which is based on a Bulgarian folk tune.

August 3: Erick Peralta is an Afro-Latin pianist who will be leading a jazz quintet. The title of his program is The Neo-Creolism of Peruvian Music. He has prepared original arrangements that blend traditional and Peruvian folkloric sound with contemporary and jazz elements.

August 10: Chinese-American composer and pianist Jon Jang will conclude the series. The title of his program is Civil Wrongs: Music about Black American & Japanese American Incarceration. He prepared it to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act on August 10, 1988. That legislation granted reparations to Japanese Americans, who had been wrongly incarcerated during World War II.

Congregation Sha’ar Zahav is located at 290 Dolores Street at the northwest corner of 16th Street. While there is no charge for admission, reservations will be required. Eventbrite has created a single Web page with hyperlinks for making reservations for each of the individual performances.

Igor Levit Concludes Residency with Solo Recital

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, pianist Igor Levit concluded his tenure as San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Artist-in-Residence with a solo recital that concluded this season’s Great Performers Series. The first half of his program consisted of a coupling of two collections of relatively short pieces. The first of these was a selections of six chorale preludes that Johannes Brahms had composed for organ, arranged for solo piano by Ferruccio Busoni. This early twentieth-century arrangement was coupled with Fred Hersch’s second “book” of a collection entitled Songs Without Words, composed in 2022.

The second half of the program began much later in the twentieth century with Zoltán Kocsis’ 1978 arrangement for solo piano of the opening prelude to Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde. This was followed by Franz Liszt’s B minor piano sonata, composed about half a decade before Wagner’s opera. Levit’s one encore selection continued this “reverse traversal” of the nineteenth century with a performance of the third of the D. 780 collection of six solo piano compositions given the overall title Moments musicaux by composer Franz Schubert.

Over the course of his SFS visit, Levit traversed a repertoire that was as highly imaginative as it was extensive. He had begun his visit with the most conventional of his offerings, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 73 (fifth) piano concerto in the key of E-flat major, often known as the “Emperor.” His Liszt selection, coupled with its encore, presented a return to this domain of familiar repertoire. Mind you, the Liszt sonata can be an unwieldy beast; and too many pianists present it simply for the sake of letting the audience know how skillfully they can jump through all of the composer’s fiery hoops.

In that context Levit should be credited for trying to present the score as music, rather than some kind of Olympic challenge. He provided one of the clearer accounts of how this single-movement composition can be parsed into a sequence of episodes that constitute a coherent narrative. This established the encore as a perfect context, contrasting Liszt with a composer who, in the spirit of Buckminster Fuller, knew how to make “more and more with less and less” in his cycles of short pieces.

On the other side of the sonata, so to speak, Levit introduced the second half of the program with a composer that excelled in making more and more with more and more. The Tristan prelude is a perfect example unfolding a rich repertoire of themes couched in a series of harmonic progressions that never (even in the final measure) establish a sense of finality. (Mind you, this is a prelude to an opera with a very long first act!) What struck me as important, however, had more to do with the way in which Levit could negotiate the dynamics to reflect on the original orchestral version than with how Kocsis had telescoped Wagner’s score down to the resources of a single keyboard.

In the first half of the program, I was particularly drawn to how easily Hersch could shift away from jazz piano gigs into a more formal recital setting. As his notes explained, his Songs Without Words compositions were “written out completely,” in contrast to the usual jazz “charts.” Each of the six short pieces was endowed with its own distinctive “personality” in Levit’s interpretation; and I have to say that I was delighted with the freshness Hersch brought to a genre usually associated with the nineteenth century.

Cover of Levit’s album that couples chorale preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach and Johannes Brahms (from the album’s Web page)

I was equally struck by how the entire program had been framed with Brahms at the beginning the Liszt at the conclusion. Busoni’s arrangements of Brahms’ organ music were as perceptive of those he had composed based on the organ chorales of Johann Sebastian Bach. Some readers probably know that I have been writing about Levit’s recordings for some time; and, in the collection I have accumulated, I particularly liked how he had the chorale preludes of Bach and Brahms reflect each other in his Encounter album. Levit seems to believe that, where sacred music is concerned, Brahms deserves just as much attention as Bach; and last night I was particularly delighted with the case he made for Brahms.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Jazz Chez Hanny: Janis Mann Group

Jazz vocalist Janis Mann on the cover of her Let It Happen album (from its Web page)

As was the case this past Friday,  the next jazz house concert presented by Frank Hanny will be a quartet. This time the group will be led by vocalist Janis Mann. Mann was born in New York City, but she has been a major presence in the Los Angeles music scene for years. However, she will be backed up by a trio of instrumentalists, all of whom are likely to be familiar with those that follow the Bay Area jazz scene. The members of that trio will be pianist David Udolf, John Wiitala on bass, and drummer Jim Zimmerman. Mann is both a striking song stylist and a fearless improviser; and, where the latter is concerned, she will be with good company.

This will be a “Sunday matinee” performance, beginning at 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 9. As usual, there will be a recommended donation of $25. All of the money goes to the musicians, and donations can only be made in cash. There will be two sets separated by a potluck break. As a result, all who plan to attend are encouraged to bring food and/or drink to share. Seating is first come, first served; and the doors will open at 3:30 p.m. Reservations are preferred by sending electronic mail to Masks are optional, but attendees should be vaccinated. Vaccination will be based on the honor system. Finally, volunteer efforts for cleaning up after the show and moving furniture to accommodate both players and listeners are always appreciated.

The “house” for this house concert is located at 1300 Silver Avenue. This is best reached by public transportation by taking the Muni 44 bus going east from Glen Park Station. For those thinking of driving, parking tends to be available on Silver Avenue, Silliman Street, one block south of Silver, and Holyoke Street, which connects Silver and Silliman. Finally, the performance will take place in a well-ventilated room. Visitors are encouraged to dress accordingly.

Discovering Unfamiliar Vaughan Williams

Cover of the album being discusses (courtesy of PIAS)

I have long been more than satisfied with my EMI Classics box set of recordings of Adrian Boult conducting the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. As a result, I recently overlooked Andrew Manze’s project to record the nine symphonies with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. However, his latest album provided me with an opportunity to listen to two Vaughan Williams compositions that I had not previously known to have been recorded. The longer of these is a score for a ballet in nine episodes entitled “Old King Cole.” The other is a setting of traditional dance tunes given the title “The Running Set.”

On the new album these are preceded by the more familiar “Job: A Masque for Dancing.” The CD version of this “Vaughan Williams program” is due for release this coming Friday. Currently, the best site for pre-ordering is provided by Presto Music; and that Web page is currently also available for MP3 and FLAC downloads, which include the accompanying booklet.

To be fair, “Old King Cole” is not, strictly speaking, a choreographed ballet as we know it. It was written for members of the English Folk Dance Society, who danced to the music on June 5, 1923. The narrative basically follows the familiar nursery rhyme. However, I was amused to observe that the “fiddlers three” of the text were presented as three solos, all performed by the same violinist, Thelma Handy. The music is structured in nine episodes, each with a brief text that establishes the narrative. There is more than a bit of wit, particularly in the sixth of these texts: “King is bored and goes to sleep. Queen betrays a lively interest in 2nd Fiddler.” “The Running Set” is a briefer offering (a little over six and one-half minutes). It consists of four episodes, each a setting of a different dance tune.

Both of these selections differ significantly from the “Job” ballet score. This was meant to be performed as a ballet, and Serge Diaghilev was approach to provide it with a suitable choreographer. However, he dismissed the work as “too English and old-fashioned;” and he died after passing that judgement in August of 1929. It was only in September of 1931 that the resident dance company at Sadler’s Wells (which would later become the Royal Ballet) performed choreography by Ninette de Valois. The choreography was revived in 1948, and the ballet’s Wikipedia page gives no further accounts of any other performances.

While Manze’s approach to Vaughan Williams’ “Job” score is definitely compelling, this music has never been near the top of my personal Vaughan Williams list. On the other hand I was decidedly amused by the narrative for “Old King Cole” and found the music for it more than merely appropriate. Since I seldom encounter something new for my “all things Vaughan Williams” list, I expect to revisit this album sooner rather than later!

Monday, June 26, 2023

The Bleeding Edge: 6/26/2023

This is shaping up to be a relatively quiet week of “usual suspects.” Once again, there will be three performances of “Audium V” beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 29, Friday, June 30, and Saturday, July 1. There will also be one of those rare appearances of a Noontime Concerts event. Specifics for the remaining events are as follows:

Tuesday, June 27, 12:30 p.m., Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Noontime Concerts will host a performance by Quinteto Latino. This is the wind quintet whose members are Diane Grubbe on flute, oboist Kyle Bruckmann, clarinetist Leslie Tagorda, Armando Castellano on horn, and bassoonist Jamael Smith serving as guest artist for the season. With a nod to her debut with the San Francisco Opera, the quintet will play Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Mitos,” which she composed on a commission from the ensemble. Another commissioned work on the program will be the suite The Spanglish Dances by Victor Márquez-Barrios. The remaining works on the program will be “Puzzle-Tocas” by Gabriela Ortiz and “Wapango” (a title that some will recognize as a play on words) by Paquito D'Rivera.

Old Saint Mary’s is located in Chinatown at 660 California Street on the northeast corner of Grant Street. There is no charge for admission, so all donations are greatly appreciated. Noontime Concerts has also created a Web page for those that prefer making their donations online.

Friday, June 30, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore & Gallery: Once again, curator David Boyce will give a multi-reed performance of his own music. Any guests that will join him have not yet been announced. 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, July 1, 2 p.m., San Francisco Public Library: This week the Library will host an indoor performance by Echo’s Bones, a woodwind trio that describes their repertoire as “avant pastoral improvised music.” The members of the trio are Amber Lamprecht, playing both oboe and cor anglais, Sheldon Brown, playing both clarinet and bass clarinet, and Joseph Noble, playing flute, alto flute, and bass flute. This event will take place at the Library’s Richmond Branch, which is located at 351 9th Avenue; there will be no charge for admission.

Saturday, July 1, 7:30 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): As of this writing, this will be the only concert presented by C4NM. The performance will be by Desert Magic, which describes itself as “an ensemble that specializes in round writing, sonifications of cosmic and natural phenomena, and musical settings of ancient poetry.” The current members of the group are Alex Wand (viola da gamba, resonator guitar, and voice), Steven Van Betten (electric guitar, and voice), Logan Hone (drums, saxophone, and voice), Heather Lockie (viola), Stuart Wheeler (voice and organ), Mustafa Walker (hurdy-gurdy and lute), Jessica Hemingway (dance), and Brock Stuessi (bass).

Tickets will be on sale for $15 with a $10 rate for students and C4NM members. 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.

Craft Reissues Sonny Rollins on Contemporary

2011 photograph of Sonny Rollins in performance (photographed by Tom Beetz, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Once again I find myself doing my best to keep up with the efforts of Craft Recordings to remaster many of the finest jazz albums of the past. Most recently I wrote about two Craft releases this past March. One of these was The Birth of Bop, a 30-track anthology of the generous number of bebop performers that recorded for Savoy. More focused was the remastering of the Contemporary Records album Art Pepper meets The Rhythm Section on which Pepper performed with Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums, all of whom date back to the Miles Davis Quintet recording sessions with Prestige that began in November of 1955.

This past Friday saw the latest Craft release of remastered Contemporary albums. Go West!: The Contemporary Records Albums is a three-CD box set that accounts for all of the recordings made by saxophonist Sonny Rollins for Contemporary. To be fair, this involved only two Rollins albums, Way Out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders. The “leaders” on that album were pianist Hampton Hawes, guitarist Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinnegar on bass, Shelly Manne on drums, and, on two tracks, Victor Feldman on vibraphone (identified on the album as “vibraharp”). Way Out West, on the other hand, was a trio album with Ray Brown on bass and Manne on drums. The third CD accounts for alternate takes of tracks from both of the Contemporary albums. The entire collection is also available on three vinyl discs and for MP3 download.

Unfortunately, my only writing about Rollins took place during my tenure with, when I covered his performance in Davies Symphony Hall for the 30th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival in the fall of 2012. I have a vague memory of having seen him earlier at Herbst Theatre, when I observed to a man sharing a box with me that there were some “Stockhausen moments” in Rollins’ improvisations. (For as long as I can remember, I have entertained the fantasy that Karlheinz Stockhausen kept a “secret stash” of jazz albums in his basement!)

I was already familiar with the Go West! content through the box set The Freelance Years: The Complete Riverside & Contemporary Recordings, a five-CD box set, which is still available. However, I appreciated the opportunity to home in on the Contemporary side of that collection; and I was definitely not disappointed. The cowboy songs on Way Out West are clearly tongue-in-cheek; but I have always relished their muted sense of humor. The more traditional offerings on the Contemporary Leaders album have a more than generous share of wit; but there is also a sincere honoring of what makes a standard a standard, so to speak.

Rollins is still alive, but he retired in 2014 “due to recurring respiratory issues” (as reported on his Wikipedia page). His appearance at Davies took place during his last season of public performances. I definitely appreciated the opportunity to listen to him in performance (at least) once. I was also struck by his close relationship with Thelonious Monk, which I learned about when reading Robin D. G. Kelley’s Monk biography. Rollins may not have been as arcane as Monk, but his recordings reveal an extensive (and frequently adventurous) capacity for improvisation. I seem to have accumulated quite a few of his albums, and I treasure them all.

Revisiting Frank’s Frida/Diego Opera at SFO

Yesterday afternoon I returned to the War Memorial Opera House for my second encounter with the San Francisco Opera production of Gabriela Lena Frank’s El último sueño de Frida y Diego (the last dream of Frida [Kahlo] and Diego [Rivera]). This opera is very much a major undertaking, and I realized that this was just as much the case for members of the audience as it was for everyone involved in the production. To be more specific, I realized that, when I saw this opera for the first time a little over a week ago, I found myself still saturated with details of the first act when it came time for me to take in the second. This second time around my memories of the first act were salient enough that I could devote more attention to the second act; and, as a result, I left the Opera House with a more satisfied account of the entire plot line.

Nevertheless, I also came away with a few new perspectives on the first act. The most important of these involved the selection of those that would be allowed to visit the world of the living during the Day of the Dead. Those visitors were selected by La Catrina (soprano Yaritza Véliz), who serves as the Keeper of the Dead. The “selection scene” left me with the impression that Catrina was basically a bureaucrat, presiding over an organization that was not that different from any major corporation! I was also struck by how the set for the opening scene of the first act, the cemetery where Frida is buried, amounted to a vast array of red flowers. The transition to the following scene, which takes place in Mictlán (the Aztec underworld), was realized by elevating that entire landscape of flowers, making for a convincing account that we, the viewers, were now in the underworld!

Frida (Daniela Mack) appears to Diego (Alfredo Daza) while he is struggling to begin a mural (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera)

While the first act is structured around a balanced account of the realm of the living and the realm of the dead, the second act tends to wander through its share of the narrative, leaving a variety of different settings (not always congruous) in its wake. Yes, the rising of the curtain provides a jaw-dropping account of Diego (baritone Alfredo Daza) facing an empty wall (canvas?), making a few gestures on how to begin a mural but ultimately rejecting all of them. Most of the act, however, is primarily dialogue between him and Frida (mezzo Daniela Mack), with particular attention to Catrina’s rule that the living are not allowed to touch the dead. (Bureaucracy strikes again!)

Of course, it is inevitable that they do touch. However, it struck me that this moment never seemed to carry the impact of its parallel in operatic settings of the Orpheus myth. Instead, Diego makes it clear that he wishes to follow Frida; and Catrina “makes it so” (as we used to see on Star Trek). Like Romeo and Juliet, the protagonists are “united in death;” but that union comes across with the same matter-of-factness found in the first act’s “selection scene.”

To be fair, if the narrative did not always register with me on the best of terms, there is no doubt that I was blown away by the music. Frank brought a well-trained ear to her score, particularly in the rich diversity of sonorities from the large ensemble in the orchestra pit; and conductor Roberto Kalb, making his SFO debut, knew how to make all of those sonorities register with the attentive listener. Furthermore, whether it involved what was being sung or what the setting was for the singing, the score itself consistently provided sonorities conducive to the progress of the narrative. Like many of the operas of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, there are no end of episodes in which the music “does all the talking;” and I suspect that I would be as drawn to an audio recording of Frank’s music as I have been to the works of those “two Richards.”

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The Mathematician’s Ballet

After having kept the book on a shelf for far too long, over the last several months I have been working my way through Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. This effort was probably motivated by the recent appearance of Homans’ second book, which is devoted entirely to George Balanchine. It would be fair to cite Balanchine as the  pioneering force in the development of American ballet, distinguishing it clearly from much of European ballet tradition. For the most part, Apollo’s Angels has made for a consistently enjoyable reading experience; but things became interesting for me when the timeline arrived at Balanchine’s achievements. Reading Homans evoked distant memories of the period when I took out my first subscription to New York City Ballet (NYCB) performances in Lincoln Center.

At that time I was an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, majoring in mathematics and taking as many electives as I could manage in music courses. As I have previously observed on this site, my spare time (such as its was) was spent working at the campus radio station, devoting much of my time to programming twentieth-century music. As might be guessed, the mathematician in me was particularly drawn to techniques pursued by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern that involved permutations of pitch classes, leading eventually to what became known as the twelve-tone technique.

In that context I became totally hooked on Igor Stravinsky’s “Agon,” which he composed for a Balanchine ballet with the same title. For the better part of his life, Stravinsky wanted nothing to do with Schoenberg. However, after Schoenberg’s death, Stravinsky took an interest in atonal technique, possibly as a result of the influences of Robert Craft.

“Agon” fascinated me for the ways in which atonality rubbed shoulders with tonal traditions, traditions that, in this case, reflected back to the seventeenth century of René Descartes, Étienne Pascal, and particularly Marin Mersenne, whose Harmonie universelle treatise was published in 1636. It was the bold rhetoric of “Agon” than convinced me that I had to see how Balanchine had created a ballet for it. So it was that I began following Balanchine’s choreography both at Lincoln Center and in works that were performed by the Boston Ballet.

Thus, after about 500 pages of reading, I found myself scribbling no end of marginal notes when Homans wrote about “Agon.” She cited the ballet as the third part of a “Greek trilogy” of Balanchine working with Stravinsky’s music. The first two ballets, “Apollo” and “Orpheus,” were grounded in familiar narratives. In sharp contrast, “Agon” was inspired by a seventeenth-century treatise on the dance. What was important, however, was that such dances were intended for “recreational activities” taking place in the setting of a royal court; they were not created to present narratives.

In that context “Agon” had less to do with ancient myths and drew, instead, upon Balanchine’s abstract approach to Paul Hindemith’s composition for piano and strings involving a theme with four variations, given the subtitle “The Four Temperaments.” Balanchine’s choreography realized each of the dispositions associated with those variations (melancholy, sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric). However, there was also an underlying “vocabulary” for the entire ballet; and all of the elements of that vocabulary were assembled into the choreographic interpretation of Hindemith’s coda. As a result, it was no surprise to me to observe that the choreography for “Agon” also wraps up with a coda that reflects on the opening measures of Stravinsky’s score.

All this should reflect back on the thoughts about “Agon” that I documented back in June of 2020 when, due to pandemic conditions, I had turned to YouTube when I was unable to attend “physical” performances. At that time I had discovered that John Clifford had uploaded digitizations of films of NYCB performances. The “Agon” film had no end of technical shortcomings; but I made it a point to cite “the rich interplay of abstraction and expressiveness.”

Because of the close partnership between Balanchine and Stravinsky, one could appreciate the many intricacies of abstraction based on how Balanchine chose to interpret Stravinsky’s music. At the same time there is an underlying foundation of expressiveness coming from all of the dancers, reflecting not so much on Stravinsky’s music as on a rich understanding of what it means to bring Balanchine’s choreography to life through the act of performance. From my own point of view, I feel that mathematics provided me with a platform on which I could grasp the elements of of abstraction; and those elements, in turn, provided a second platform from which I could view the “parallel” elements of expressiveness.

This may well be the only setting in which mathematics can serve as a prerequisite for appreciating a ballet!

Friday, June 23, 2023

New ECM Release of Jarrett Playing CPE Bach

The cover of the new ECM Records album of Keith Jarrett, with nothing to do with members of the Bach family or the keyboard instruments they played (courtesy of DL Media)

Some readers may recall that, this past March, ECM Records reissued Book of Ways, a two-CD album of Keith Jarrett improvising at the keyboard of a clavichord. Some may choose to approach this as context for the next Jarrett release, which will take place one week from today. While Book of Ways was a reissue, next week’s album is being released for the very first time, even though the tracks were recorded in May of 1994. The content consists of six keyboard sonatas composed by Carl Philiipp Emanuel (CPE) Bach, cataloged as Wq 49 and known collectively as the Württemberg Sonatas. has created a Web page for pre-orders.

The accompanying booklet includes a Jarrett quote that left me thinking:

I heard the Württemberg Sonatas recorded by harpsichordists. And I felt there was space left for a piano version.

The six sonatas dedicated to Charles Eugene, Duke of Württemberg, were published in 1744, when Bach was based in Berlin. This was when he was supported by his service to the court of Frederick the Great. Bach was also interested in pedagogy, and the first part of his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (an essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments) was published in 1753. By this time he was applying his own techniques to the clavichord and the the fortepiano. Indeed, in that classic story of Frederick providing Bach’s father with a theme that became the basis for the BWV 1079 Musical Offering, the king picked out the theme on a fortepiano that he wanted to show off to the elder Bach. To be fair, however, anyone browsing Amazon will find that there is no shortage of performances of music by the younger Bach played on a harpsichord!

What matters more than whether strings are plucked or struck is the clarity of the sounds that result. In recording these Württemberg sonatas, Jarrett makes it a point to endow every note he strikes with the clarity it deserves. This is particularly important because Bach was never shy about writing lightning-fast passages. (I have been working my way through the Wq 61 collection, also consisting of six pieces, only two of which are sonatas; and those passages drive me crazy!)

When I wrote about Alexander Melnikov’s latest album Fantasie: Seven Composers, Seven Keyboards, I found out that, where this particular Bach was concerned, Melnikov chose to play the music on a tangent piano built in 1790 (which is about two year’s after Bach’s death). That makes for a sharp contrast with his performance of the elder Bach’s BWV 903 “chromatic” fantasia coupled with a fugue, which is played on a two-manual harpsichord. The fact is, however, that any one of these compositions can hold its own on a modern piano as long as the pianist gives the marks on paper the treatment they deserve. In that context Jarrett’s performances on this new album are both clear and engaging, and I shall leave it to musicologists seeking topics for publication to address any other issues!

Igor Levit Brings Ferruccio Busoni to SFS

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall pianist Igor Levit gave the first of the three performances of the third of four programs he had prepared in his capacity as Artist-in-Residence for the 2022–23 season of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). The program consisted entirely of Ferruccio Busoni’s Opus 39 piano concerto, given its first SFS performances. Busoni was no stranger to grand undertakings; and this work, completed in 1904, was definitely one of the grandest of them. The score requires not only a full orchestra but also a male chorus, which joins the instrumentalists for the final movement, given the title “Cantico.” The text is taken from the final scene of the verse drama Aladdin by the Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger.

As a composer, Busoni often tried to achieve just the right balance between Apollo and Dionysius. On the Apollonian side, his piano concerto is structured as “symmetry within symmetry.” The original title page for the concerto even includes an illustration for the sort of symmetry he had in mind:

Busoni’s “architectural” visualization of symmetry in his piano concerto (taken from the original title page for the score, courtesy of SFS)

The concerto is structured in five movements, performed with minimal separating breaks. It begins with a “Prologo e Introito” and has a “Cantico” as a concluding coda. Within this framework, there are three full-length movements entitled “Pezzo giocoso” (playful piece), “Pezzo serioso” (serious piece), and “All’Italiana,” based on a tarantella. “Pezzo serioso,” in turn is in three “parts” preceded by an introduction. Needless to say, the title-page illustration is not so detailed but definitely captures Busoni’s emphasis on symmetry in his structure.

The music itself, on  the other hand, is unmistakably driven by Dionysius. The pianist is required to jump through one hoop after another, each of which has its own set of challenges regarding both dexterity and expressiveness. Every now and then, the orchestra is given an opportunity to present its own take on the thematic material; but the overall structure is decidedly “all about the piano,” even when the male chorus adds its own solemn rhetoric to the mix. Mind you, there is a bit of irony lurking in the final line of the text: “Praising the divine, the poem is silent!” There is clearly no room for silence in Busoni’s Dionysian intensity; and both Levit and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen could not have managed their dynamics any better, particularly when it came to keeping silence at bay!

This was a full-evening performance, lasting about 75 minutes. My own eyes alternated between the action up on stage and the listing of the movements in the program book to guide my way through the overall structure. It pretty much goes without saying that there was never a dull moment; and, when I could not always keep track of who was doing what in the ensemble, I could usually compensate by looking at the reflected images above the stage! In contrast to all that was there to be seen by both instrumentalists and pianists, the male chorus sang behind a thin curtain, suggesting that the voices themselves were other-worldly.

In  spite of the many demands made on the soloist, Levit still had enough energy to provide an encore. He judiciously selected a “completely different” aspect of Busoni’s efforts. He played the solo piano transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 659 chorale prelude based on the hymn “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland” (come now, Saviour of the heathen), composed for organ with two keyboards and pedals. (This was one of the selections on Levit’s Encounter album.) This brought a calming influence that would send all of us on our way home with a quieter disposition!

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Chapel of the Chimes: Revisiting Familiar Faces

Once again a friend was kind enough to transport me to the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland for the annual celebration of the summer solstice with the Garden of Memory concert. As was the case last year, this was a matter of navigating a very large space to check out different performances taking place in different areas. This year I had the presence of mind to print out the map of entire Chapel space indicating which performances would take place at which venues. It turned out that, for the most part, I revisited the performers I had encountered last year with one notable addition.

This year the most memorable performance I experienced came from my return to the space where Paul Dresher and Joel Davel were playing. As was the case last year, Davel played his Marimba Lumina; and Dresher played his Hurdy Grande. This is a massive instrument with a rotating wheel that strokes a single string, and the sound is probably sustained through electronics.

In all likelihood the performance was improvised. However, there was an almost fierce quality to the energy with which Dresher approached his instrument. The result was a wide diversity of thematic episodes (at least one of which seemed to be a waltz) with Dresher steering the melodic line while Davel provided continuo, sometimes departing from his Marimba Lumina controller to join Dresher at the Marimba Lumina. (The two played the instrument face-to-face.) A few of the audience members took this as an occasion to respond to improvised music with improvised dance; but the intricate interleaving of thematic passages kept me fixed in my seat, allowing mind to harvest as much as it could from what ear was providing.

In addition to bringing my map, I also brought my press release, which, for the most part, accounted for the music that Sarah Cahill played in her solo recital. She began with “Kotekan,” one of the movements from Vivian Fung’s suite Glimpses. The composer was present for the occasion and made a few introductory remarks. The movement title refers to a genre of Balinese gamelan music, a genre that has been familiar to me for many decades, reinforced by a trip to Bali that my wife and I made while we were living in Singapore. Listening to that movement left me wondering what Fung’s other “glimpses” were.

Cahill followed “Kotekan” with a solo piano composition by Kaija Saariaho, serving as a memorial for the composer’s death at the beginning of this month. Cahill’s performance of “Ballade” marked my first encounter with any of Saariaho’s piano music. She composed this short piece in 2005 for Emanuel Ax, but I never heard him play it on any of his visits to San Francisco. Cahill then concluded her set with music that had been composed for memorial purposes. Alvin Curran’s “for Cornelius” was composed in 1982 after Cornelius Cardew died by being hit by a car while crossing the street. Cardew was responsible for many adventurous (sometimes mind-boggling) approaches to composition; and he is the namesake for the Cornelius Cardew Choir, which gave an outdoor performance yesterday.

I also checked out the room in which percussionist Andy Meyerson was playing, again with Guillermo Galindo but without his Living Earth Show colleague Travis Andrews. The performances involved costumes and a decidedly bizarre mask. Once again Galindo was in charge of the electronics. As I recall, at least one wind instrument was involved and Meyerson’s work had less to do with “standard” percussion and more with seeking out sources for percussive sounds.

Finally, I had a brief encounter with guitarist Giacomo Fiore. I am pretty sure that his instrument had been both made and tuned for just intonation. He was playing with electronic enhancements that seemed to have provided for further explorations in the the harmonic series of natural overtones. I probably should have spent more time following his work, but I had to find my way back to the Chimes Chapel in time for Cahill’s performance. So it goes when one has to deal with such a feast of listening opportunities.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Dave Stryker Coming to Mr. Tipple’s Next Month

Some readers may recall my recent encounter with members of the San Francisco Symphony playing jazz at Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio (which is a short walk from Davies Symphony Hall). My schedule is sufficiently busy that I do not keep up regularly with that venue’s programming. However, yesterday I received notice that the Dave Stryker Organ Trio will be performing there next month.

Guitarist Dave Stryker and organist Jared Gold (from the Mr. Tipple’s Web page for their performance)

The trio has planned a brief tour of California, and San Francisco is one of the four cities on the schedule. Stryker will lead a trio whose other two members are organist Jared Gold (to be expected) and McClenty Hunter on drums. Stryker now has 35 CDs to his name as a leader. Also, both he and Gold have played in combos led by Jack McDuff. Hunter also has a strong track record as a sideman, performing in groups led by the likes of Curtis Fuller, Jimmy Heath, and Kenny Garrett.

The trio will be in San Francisco on Friday, July 21. They will perform two sets, and tickets will be sold for those sets separately.  The first one will begin at 9 p.m., followed by the second at 10:45 p.m. Unless I am mistaken, admission will be $25 for table seating and $12 for seating at the bar. For those unfamiliar with the venue, food is available as well as cocktails, beer, and wine. There is a Web page for the full menu. It is also worth noting that Stryker’s trio will be preceded by two sets performed by vocalist Loretta Gooden with the San Francisco Quintet, which will be taking place at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Mr. Tipple’s is located at 39 Fell Street, on the south side between Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street. Given how much will be taking place that evening, reservations for any one or more of the sets will be highly desirable. The Mr. Tipple’s home page has a hyperlink for making all reservations.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

2023 San Francisco International Piano Festival

Hopefully, readers are aware of the article written this past Sunday announcing the four performances in this year’s San Francisco International Piano Festival (SFIPF) that will take place this coming August as part of the Old First Concerts series. Last year the Old First Presbyterian Church was but one of four venues in San Francisco where SFIPF recitals were performed. This year, however, much of the schedule will be devoted to master classes. As a result, there will be only one recital taking place at a different venue.

Pianist Alvise Pascucci (from the Web page for the SFIPF schedule of concerts and events)

That venue will be Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, which will host a performance in the Noontime Concerts series, which takes place every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. The pianist will be Alvise Pascucci, who won the top prize at the 2022 Los Angeles Liszt Competition. He is currently completing his doctoral studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara. This recital, which will take place on August 22, will be his San Francisco debut.

The program will be devoted to Franz Liszt’s solo piano arrangement of Franz Schubert’s D. 957 Schwanengesang, a collection of fourteen songs that is not, strictly speaking, a song cycle. The cathedral is located in Chinatown at 660 California Street, on the northeast corner of Grant Street. There is no charge for admission to Noontime Concerts events, and tickets will not be required.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Noah Haidu Celebrates Jarrett’s Standards Trio

Jazz pianist Noah Haidu (photograph by Chris Drukker)

This Friday Sunnyside Records will release its latest album of jazz pianist Noah Haidu. I first became aware of Haidu about two and a half years ago when Sunnyside released his SLOWLY: Song for Keith Jarrett album. The title of his new album is Standards; and it is another tribute to Jarrett, this time the 40th anniversary of the release that launched his Standards Trio with Jack DeJohnette on drums and Gary Peacock on bass. As is usually the case, Standards is currently available for pre-order on an Web page.

To be fair, Standards is not, strictly speaking, a trio album. Lewis Nash plays drums on ten of the eleven tracks. However, there are two bass players, Buster Williams for the first four of those tracks and Peter Washington for the remaining six. However, for four of those tracks the trio becomes a quartet with the addition of saxophonist Steve Wilson. (He was mistakenly identified as a drummer on the back cover of my copy of the release. Since the Web page does not include an image of that back cover, I do not know whether that error has been rectified.) Since this paragraph has only accounted for ten tracks, I have to conclude by observing that one of the tracks, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” was given a solo performance by Haidu.

Taken as a whole, the album definitely stands up to attentive listening. The tunes range from the “traditional” Carmichael track to Wayne Shorter’s “Ana Maria.” In addition, the last two tracks are Haidu originals, “Last Dance I” and “Last Dance II.”

The performances are consistently well-polished. One might even say that it is the sheen of that polish that reflects on Haidu’s interest in Jarrett, because it would be fair to say that many (most?) of the standards that appeal to Haidu do not necessarily find their own onto Jarrett tracks. Where the very idea of playing standards is concerned, I doubt that Haidu’s album will lure me away from Jarrett’s trio; but there is still much to appeal to the attentive listener on this new Standards album.

The Bleeding Edge: 6/19/2023

This will be a busy week with roughly the same number of new events as those previously reported. In the latter category, there are three events, one of which involves three performances. Specifics are as follows:

  1. The only Outsound Presents concert to take place this month at the Luggage Store Gallery will begin at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 21.
  2. This week’s three performances of “Audium V” will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 22, Friday, June 23, and Saturday, June 24.
  3. The Five by Five concert at the Center for New Music will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 24.

That leaves five new events, one of which will be given two performances:

Tuesday, June 20, 7 p.m., Make-Out Room: This will be the usual three-set program for the monthly Jazz at the Make-Out Room concert. The first set will be taken by a definitely “bleeding edge” combo called the Diaspora Focii Collective. This is a quintet with rhythm provided by Mike Villarreal on drums, Elijah Pontecorvo on electric bass, and Mika Pontecorvo on both guitar and electronics. The front line consists of two wind players, Jaroba on both tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and Kersti Abrams playing alto saxophone, flute, and kalimba. The second set will begin at 7:45 p.m. with a performance by the David Lechuga-Espadas Duo. The final set at 8:30 p.m. will close out the evening with a quartet whose members are Kyle Bruckmann on clarinet, Brett Carson on a variety of keyboard instruments, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, and Jordan Glenn on drums. The Make-Out Room is located in the Mission at 3225 22nd Street. Doors will open at 6 p.m. There is no cover charge, so donations will be accepted and appreciated.

Wednesday, June 21, 8 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Tenor saxophonist David Murray and percussionist Kahil El’Zabar are currently touring as a duo, and this will be their first performance at Bird & Beckett since 2019. Both of them are highly popular; and, as a result, all advance tickets to this performance have been sold. However, admission will be available at the door for limited standing room.

Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station that serves both BART and Muni. Admission for standing room will be $30 in cash. Because this is not a Saturday evening performance, it will not be live-streamed. [updated 6/20, 2:30 p.m.: The June 22 Bird & Beckett event has been postponed, and the new date has not yet been announced.

Thursday, June 22, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: The second Bird & Beckett event of significance this week will be a performance by the REO Trio. The name is taken from the last names of the three performers: Don Robinson on drums, Karl Evangelista on guitar, and Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones. Admission is still available for a cash cover charge of $20 paid at the door. 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. Again, this event will not be live-streamed.]

Dohee Lee in performance (from the YBCA Web page her solo work for this weekend)

Friday, June 23, and Saturday, June 24, 7:30 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA): “MU-Connector/When the land stands alone” is a solo performance by Korean performance artist Dohee Lee. Her work explores ancestral traditions transmuted through dance, singing, drumming, and storytelling, weaving together electronic soundscapes, an altar installation, and community participation to create a communal creative ritual experience. In addition, the Asian Refugees United’s Storytellers Group will present a performance entitled “Mero Geet Mero Yatra” (my song my journey). The performance will take place in the YBCA Forum. General admission will be $40 with a $20 rate for students and seniors. YBCA has created a Web page for online ticket purchases for this event.

Saturday, June 24, 2 p.m., San Francisco Public Library: Composer Thomas Dimuzio will give a live outdoor performance on a Buchla synthesizer. Don Buchla was one of the two leading inventors of the voltage-controlled modular synthesizer. (The other was Robert Moog.) This technology advanced electronic music beyond the limitations of the early efforts at computer-based synthesis (developed by Max Mathews at Bell Labs in the Fifties). Instead, Buchla’s device could be played (albeit with more than a little training) like most other musical instruments. Dimuzio’s performances involve genres such as classical electroacoustic, dark ambient, improvisation, and drone. This promises to be an engaging “real-time” encounter with the early days of electronic performance. This event will take place at the Library’s Richmond Branch, which is located at 351 9th Avenue; there will be no charge for admission.

Levit Joins Final SFS Chamber Music Recital

Amos Yang, Igor Levit, Jonathan Vinocour, Dan Carlson, and Melissa Kleinbart acknowledging audience applause after their performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 57 piano quintet (photograph by Michael Strickland)

Yesterday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Artist-in-Residence Igor Levit continued his visit by joining SFS musicians in the final Chamber Music Series concert of the 2022–23 season. He took the piano part in the final selection, which accounted for the entire second half of the program. That selection was Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 57 piano quintet in G minor, which he performed with violinists Melissa Kleinbart and Dan Carlson, violist Jonathan Vinocour, and cellist Amos Yang. Shostakovich composed this quintet in 1940, having come back into Joseph Stalin’s good graces with his Opus 47 (fifth) symphony in D minor in 1937. The quintet was subsequently awarded the Stalin Prize.

There is at least a bit of a sense of “new wine in old bottles” in Opus 57. The first two movements constitute a prelude-fugue coupling, and the fugue is nothing short of jaw-dropping. (Shostakovich would later, in the early Fifties, go on to compose a full cycle of piano preludes and fugues for his Opus 87.) These movements are followed by a Scherzo, which is probably as close as any composition could get to the screwball comedy films from the Thirties and Forties. Sobriety returns in the Lento intermezzo movement with the most poignant rhetoric in the entire composition, and the quintet wraps up with a wistful Allegretto that almost seems to fade off into the distance.

All four of the string players were familiar faces, not just from SFS concerts but also in their frequent participation in the Chamber Music programs. Clearly, all of them were experienced quartet players; and Levit fit comfortably into their company. I have been fortunate enough to encounter Opus 57 several times in the past. Yesterday afternoon provided a delightfully refreshing exercise in memory-prompting, recognizing all the familiar thematic material while enjoying the many dimensions of expressiveness in the performance itself.

On the other hand, none of the selections performed prior to the intermission were familiar to me. The program began with Frank Bridge’s “Lament,” composed in 1912 for two violas. For this performance Vinocour was jointed by Leonid Plashinov-Johnson. Bridge knew exactly how to treat both parts as equals, and it was easy for the attentive lister to get wrapped up within the interplay of the two voices.

The most recent works on the program were two compositions by Mark O’Connor, “Appalachia Waltz” (1995) and “Emily’s Reel” (1999). They were performed by the trio of violinist Jessie Fellows, violist Katie Kadarauch, and Daniel G. Smith on bass. I had expected that O’Connor would have scored his music for plucked bass, but everything Smith played was bowed. “Emily’s Reel” was the more engaging of the two offerings, primarily by virtue of the rich interplay among the three instrumentalists. Nevertheless, the listening experience felt a bit like a “light warm-up” before the intensity of Shostakovich’s wild ride.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Antonio Adolfo Celebrates “Birth” of Bossa Nova

Cover of the album being discussed (from its Web page on Antonio Adolfo’s Web site)

A little less than a week ago, Brazilian jazz pianist Antonio Adolfo released his latest album, whose full title is BOSSA 65: CELEBRATING CARLOS LYRA & ROBERTO MENESCAL. The first part of that title refers to the fact that Bossa Nova first emerged on the south side of Rio de Janeiro 65 years ago. My guess is that most, if not all, readers will associate Bossa Nova with Antônio Carlos Jobim. However, there were other major composers that contributed to defining and promoting the styles, and two of them are acknowledged by the title of this new album.

As of this writing, the album is available only for MP3 download. The best source for downloading is an Web page. Sadly, that Web page supports only the ten tracks of the album. Fortunately, Adolfo has created a Web page on his own Web site that provides an ample supply of background material, including the composers for each of the tracks, along with seven paragraphs worth of liner notes. According to one of my sources, the album will be available for CD release this coming Friday; but has not made arrangements for pre-orders.

None of the tracks on this new album present a partnership of Lyra and Menescal. Rather, each worked with a lyricist; but, since Adolfo’s album is strictly instrumental (except for his own vocalizing on the first track), the music takes almost full priority over the words! As in the past, Adolfo leads from his piano; and, for the most part, he shares the melodic lines with guitarist Lula Galvao. There is also a generous amount of attention to improvisation.

Those that have followed this site for some time know that I have taken considerable interest in Adolfo’s albums. I particularly enjoy encountering opportunities to get my head around new genres and performance techniques. Since BOSSA 65 provides a “first contact” experience of Bossa Nova styles that were previously unknown to me, I am more than delighted to add this album to my collection and explore the efforts of composers whose names were entirely new to me.

Old First Concerts: August, 2023

Readers probably know by now that, as of today, only two recitals in the Old First Concerts (O1C) series will take place next month. However, August is the month of the San Francisco International Piano Festival (SFIPF). This year four of the Festival performances will take place in the Old First Presbyterian Church, including both the opening night on Friday, August 18, and the Festival Finale on August, 26. As in the past, there will be a separate article devoted to SFIPF concerts taking place in San Francisco, but this article will account for not only those four SFIPF recitals but also the two concerts that will precede the Festival.

All of the offerings will continue to be “hybrid,” allowing both live streaming and seating in Old First at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue. All tickets will still be sold for $25 (no reduced rate for seniors or students). Hyperlinks to the event pages (which include hyperlinks for streaming) will be attached to the date and time of the performances as follows:

Friday, August 11, 8 p.m.: The Bridge Music Collective will present a program entitled Prokofiev: Explored. The ensemble is a quintet consisting of Jessica Folson on violin, Sarah Hooton on viola, Carlos Valdez on bass, T. Colton Potter on oboe, and Caleb Rose on clarinet. They perform as a group and in different combinations. Thus, one of the selections will be a duo for clarinet and viola by Rebecca Clarke, while Clarice Assad’s “Jazz Montmartre” explores different ways in which the instruments converse. Ironically, the Web page for this program says nothing about Sergei Prokofiev!

Sunday, August 13, 4 p.m.: The title of this program will be Unfretted: Indian Strings in Conversation. The performance will be by a trio, two of whose instruments are fretless. These are a violin with carnatic tuning, played by Sruti Sarathy, and the chitravina, a rare Indian fretless lute, played by Vishaal Sapruram. The remaining member of the trio is Akshay Anantapadmanabhan, playing mridangam for percussion. No program details have been announced.

Friday, August 18, 8 p.m.: SFIPF will begin with a solo recital by pianist Tanya Gabrielian. The first half of her program will be devoted to Alexander Siloti, who created transcriptions for solo piano of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. The second half will begin with a solo work by Aaron Copland composed in 1921 and given the title Three Moods. This will be followed by Leopold Godowsky’s “Meditation,” written to be performed by the left hand alone. The program will then conclude with Carl Maria von Weber’s Opus 39, a sonata in D minor.

Sunday, August 20, 4 p.m.: The second SFIPF solo recital will be performed by Founder and Artistic Director Jeffrey LaDeur. This will be his first O1C solo performance since 2014. He has not yet finalized his program; but he plans to account for compositions by Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Frédéric Chopin, as well as offering more Schubert.

Friday, August 25, 8 p.m.: The third SFIPF solo recital will be performed by Parker Van Ostrand, recipient of the inaugural fellowship provided by the American Liszt Society. It should therefore be no surprise that the second half of his program will be devoted entirely to Franz Liszt’s B minor piano sonata. He will begin with Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken XI/52 sonata in E-flat major. This will be followed by a selection of Claude Debussy’s solo piano preludes. The first half will then conclude with Chopin’s Opus 23 ballade in G minor.

Saturday, August 26, 8 p.m.: The title of this year’s Festival Finale will be A Night at the Cinema. The Southern California theme of the program will include a reflection on Rachmaninoff’s friendship with the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who championed the composer’s Opus 36 piano sonata in B-flat minor by creating his own performing edition, which combined the original 1913 score with the composer’s 1931 revisions. There will also be a “Hollywood connection” in the form of a piano quintet composed by pianist Stephen Prutsman. He will perform this piece with the members of the Telegraph Quartet, violinists Eric Chin and Joseph Maile, violist Pei-Ling Lin, and cellist Jeremiah Shaw. Prutsman composed this quintet to serve as the “soundtrack” for Buster Keaton’s silent film short “College.” Van Ostrand will return to perform other Rachmaninoff compositions.