Thursday, August 31, 2023

Voices of Music Announces 2023–2024 Season

A little over two weeks ago, Voices of Music (VoM) released its first announcement of the four concerts planned for its 2023–2024 season. The schedule will amount to two concerts to be performed during the remainder of this year and another two scheduled for next year. As has consistently been the case in the past, VoM will return to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street, for all four of the performances taking place in San Francisco. Once again, all four of these performances will begin at 8 p.m.

Subscriptions for the entire season will be $210 with a reduced rate of $190 for seniors and members of SFEMS, EMA, or ARS. A Web page has been set up for processing subscription orders. General admission for individual concerts will be $60, and the reduced rate will be $55. Full-time students with valid identification will be admitted for $5. A single Arts People event page has been created with hyperlinks for tickets to each of the four concerts in the season. Dates and program plans for the four concerts are as follows:

Sunday, October 29, Mainly Mozart: Soprano Liv Redpath will make her VoM debut in a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 165 motet Exsultate, jubilate. The program will also include two violin concertos. The more familiar will be another Mozart selection, the K. 207 (first) violin concerto in B-flat major with Augusta McKay Lodge as soloist. Less familiar will be the somewhat later (but still eighteenth-century) violin concerto by Maddalena Laura Sirmen, which will be performed by Shelby Yamin. There are also plans for music by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, which have not yet been finalized.

Saturday, December 16, Entertainment for Elizabeth: This program will focus on Renaissance music from the court of Elizabeth I. This will include selected composition by William Byrd to honor the 400th anniversary of his birth. Vocal selections will be performed by soprano Molly Netter with both plucked (lute) and bowed (viol) accompaniment.

Saturday, February 17, An Evening in Vienna: Tenor Thomas Cooley will return with a collection of art songs from the early nineteenth century by composers such as Franz Schubert. He will be accompanied by a period fortepiano played by Eric Zivian. In addition, violinist Augusta McKay Lodge will join Zivian in a performance of Clara Schumann’s Opus 22 as set of three romances.

Marc Schachman giving a previous oboe concerto performance with VoM (from the Web page for the VoM concert schedule)

Saturday, March 9, Virtuoso Concertos: Bach and Vivaldi: The specific concertos to be performed have not yet been finalized. However, Marc Schachman will return to present another oboe concerto. The other soloists will be violinists Lodge and Rachell Ellen Wong.

Brazilian Music Beyond Heitor Villa-Lobos

from the Web page for the album being discussed

A little over two weeks ago Navona Records released CHORINHO a duo album of music by Brazilian composers performed by violist Georgina Rossi and pianist Silvie Cheng. The title is the diminutive of the instrumental Brazilian popular music genre choro. The latter is probably best known as the title of fourteen numbered compositions by Heitor Villa-Lobos; but it would be fair to say that those pieces are reflections on the genre, rather than instances of it. The same can be said of the seven compositions on the album, one of which is a waltz for solo piano by Villa-Lobos.

The only other composer on this album that I have previously encountered is Chiquinha Gonzaga, whose “Cananéa” waltz was included in the ten-CD anthology Three Centuries of Female Composers. On the new CHORINHO album, she claims the final track, which is “Lua branca” (white moon), an excerpt from her operetta O Forrobodó (the Forrobodó). Cheng and Rossi collaborated in arranging this music for viola with piano accompaniment. The album title is also the title of the opening track, a duo for viola and piano composed by João de Souza Lima. Only two other selections are duo performances, both three-movement works by Osvaldo Lacerda and Brenno Blauth.

The aforementioned waltz is Chang’s only solo turn. Rossi performs two works without accompaniment. The first of these is a three-movement suite by Ernani Aguair, the fifth in a series of compositions entitled Meloritmias. The other is a “little étude” (the Opus 78 “Pequeno Estudio”) by Lindembergue Cardoso. Taken as a whole, this amounts to a journey of discovery that lasts for about an hour and ten minutes.

Mind you, that makes for a generous amount of discovery. However, while one might find the full scope of these selections to be more than a little demanding in a recital setting, one can work one’s way through a recording by taking a piecemeal approach to the contents. For those that get their “portable music” through headphones (probably connected to a cell phone), one might acclimate to the repertoire simply by allowing it to serve as “background music.” While many may take that to be a heretical recommendation, the fact remains that one often begins to appreciate a “foreground experience” only after “background” sources have begun to register in memory. This is worth bearing in mind when one encounters works by six unfamiliar composers!

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Noe Music Announces 31st Season

Noe Music has announced the programs for its 2023–2024 season. This year the first concert of the season will be preceded by a free pop-up concert, which will take place at 5 p.m. on Saturday, September 16, at the Noe Valley Town Square. All other performances will take place at the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. Opening Night will begin at 7 p.m. on September 17, after which all other performances at the Ministry will take place on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. Brief summaries for these eight concerts are as follows:

September 17: The first program of the season will be a “double header.” It will begin with Franz Schubert’s D. 667 quintet, best known as the “Trout” because of the movement that consists of a set of variations on the Schubert song (D. 550) of the same title. This will be followed by the 1925 Buster Keaton film Seven Chances, for which Stephen Prutsman has provided accompaniment for a chamber ensemble of piano (Prutsman), flute (Tara Helen O’Connor), violin (Owen Dalby), viola (Lesley Robertson), cello (Paul Wiancko), and bass (Tony Manzo).

October 15: The Dreamer’s Circus trio of guitarist Ale Carr, violinist Rune Tonsgaard, and pianist Nikolai Busk will return to San Francisco. This past March they were in town to perform at Herbst Theatre. They were presented jointly by San Francisco Performances (SFP) and the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. SFP President Melanie Smith called them “eclectic and energetic,” which is a good way to classify a repertoire that amalgamates folk, jazz, classical, and pop influences.

November 12: The Dior String Quartet will make its San Francisco debut. The highlight of their program will be a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 117, his ninth quartet, composed in the key of E-flat major. The other composers on the program will be Joseph Haydn, Leoš Janáček, and Kevin Lau.

December 3: The genre will shift over to jazz. Pianist Jarrett Cherner will perform with vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. Much of the program will be devoted to their original compositions.

January 14: This will be a trio performance by three members of Silkroad. They will be Kinan Azmeh on clarinet, Haruka Fujii on percussion, and Karen Ouzounian on cello. Their repertoire ranges from folk, improvisation, and original composition to the contemporary classical genre.

February 18: The Brentano String Quartet will present a program organized around Béla Bartók’s fifth quartet; this selection will be a “response” to the “call” of short compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Haydn, Henry Purcell, Luciano, Berio, and Bartók himself.

March 17:  Dalby will return with Co-Director Meena Bhasin for a program of viola quintets by both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn, joined by participants yet to be announced.

April 14: The season will conclude with the wind octet Nomad Session, joined by Jeff Anderle as guest soloist, most likely on bass clarinet.

Admission is now available for both a variety of subscription packages and single tickets.

Telegraph Quartet Couples Ravel and Schoenberg

Telegraph Quartet members Jeremiah Shaw, Eric Chin, Pei-Ling Lin, and Joseph Maille (photograph by Lisa Marie Mazzucco, courtesy of Jensen Artists)

This past Friday Azica Records released its first recording of performances by the Telegraph Quartet. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area with connections to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) as Quartet-in-Residence, the ensemble consists of violinists Eric Chin and Joseph Maille (who share first chair), violist Pei-Ling Lin, and cellist Jeremiah Shaw. The title of the new album is Divergent Paths, and it is the first in a series entitled 20th Century Vantage Points. The album title refers to the decidedly different directions followed by the two composers represented. The first four tracks present Maurice Ravel’s only string quartet in the key of F major. The remaining tracks account for Arnold Schoenberg’s Opus 7, his first “numbered” string quartet in the key of D minor.

By way of disclaimer, I should confess that I was in the audience at SFCM for the first time that Telegraph performed each of these selections at that venue. The first of those recitals took place on December 9, 2017 with a program in which the Schoenberg quartet was preceded by the fifth (in A major) of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 18 quartets. The Ravel quartet was then performance at SFCM on April 4, 2018, the earliest composition on a program that showcased Robert Sirota’s third string quartet and John Harbison’s sixth string quartet.

In terms of the “historical time-line,” these two quartets are very close to each other. Ravel completed his quartet in 1903, having begun it the previous year. Similarly, Schoenberg worked on his Opus 7 between 1904 and 1905. However, where listening is concerned, there is a wide gulf between the two compositions. My guess is that almost everyone that goes regularly to chamber music recitals has become familiar with Ravel’s quartet. On the other hand I would be surprised if I could count the number of readers that have encountered the Schoenberg quartet (either in recital or on recording) on one hand. Nevertheless, this was not my first opportunity to experience that quartet in performance, since I had the good fortune to listen to the Kronos Quartet perform it at the University of Southern California when I was living in Los Angeles.

The morning after Telegraph’s Beethoven-Schoenberg program I found myself writing at great length about the Schoenberg portion. This amounted to an exercise in “sense-making through writing;” and, when I go back to read through that article, I have to confess that I had not made very much progress towards making sense of it all. On the other hand, I can appreciate Telegraph’s own approach, which is to liken the score to that of an opera by Richard Wagner. This is not just a matter of extended duration but also an appreciation of thematic material endowed with narrative qualities. To be fair, however, Schoenberg himself wrote that he began work on Opus 7 after having “abandoned program-music.” One might say that, while there may not be an underlying “story,” one can still approach a performance as an “act of narration.”

At the end of the day, my best guide to understanding the nuts and bolts of Opus 7 came from that rather generous booklet that accompanied the Neue Wiener Schule box set of performances by the LaSalle Quartet released by Deutsche Grammophon. In that booklet the background material about Opus 7 was by Schoenberg himself. Sadly, I have no idea whether or not that booklet was included when Deutsche Grammophon reissued this collection in August of 2013. The good news is that the new Telegraph album comes with a booklet of its own, which includes an essay by Kai Christiansen. That essay is much shorter than Schoenberg’s account, but it still lays the basic background for those who approach the quartet as serious listeners.

I suspect that any reader that has made it through all of the above paragraphs may wonder whether or not this is a trip worth taking. When listening to Telegraph’s recital performance of the Schoenberg quartet, I found that the experience was not only worthwhile but downright absorbing. For that matter, the Ravel quartet allowed me to settle in to an appreciation of Telegraph’s expressiveness; and that appreciation continued into the Schoenberg recording. Given that my previous recital encounter with Kronos traversed all four of the Schoenberg quartets, I would hope that Telegraph will extend their appreciation of Schoenberg into the remaining quartets.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Bleeding Edge: 8/30–9/3/2023

Poster of the schedule for JOHN ZORN at 70 (which can be enlarged after downloading)

The format for this week’s headline is slightly different. That is because there is only one Bleeding Edge event, but that event will begin tomorrow, August 30, and continue through Sunday, September 3. The event itself will be a five-day birthday celebration for John Zorn, who was born on September 2, 1953. The title of the entire event will be, as expected, JOHN ZORN at 70.

The opening sentence of Zorn’s Wikipedia page describes him as “an American composer, conductor, saxophonist, arranger and producer who ‘deliberately resists category.’” Indeed, that resistance is so strong that, back in the days of the Schwann catalog, his entries were divided between the Classical and Jazz categories. While Zorn was both a composer and soloist, many of his approaches to composing experimental music were shared with a generous number of improvising artists. Those artists include (but are far from limited to) Laurie Anderson, Bill Frisell, Julian Lage, Fred Frith, Mike Patton, John Medeski, Dave Lombardo, Trevor Dunn, Petra Haden, Trey Spruance, Kenny Wollesen, Brian Marsella, Gyan Riley, Cyro Baptista, Chris Otto, Sae Hashimoto, Steve Gosling, Jorge Roeder, WIlliam Winant, Ikue Mori, and Ches Smith.

Over the course of those five days, there will be fourteen performances, thirteen of which will be hosted by the Great American Music Hall. The remaining program is entitled The Hermetic Organ, and it will be a solo performance by Zorn on the organ of Grace Cathedral. Furthermore, the very first sets tomorrow evening will feature two world premiere performances. Tickets for all events are being sold by the Great American Music Hall; but, unfortunately, there is no single home page for the entire program. Instead, hyperlinks for the individual events (including the organ recital) have all been assigned to the Calendar Web page. The hyperlink for each event leads to a Web page that provides both program specifics and information about purchasing tickets. Tickets include options for all-day passes and full-series passes.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Klemperer Conducts Klemperer (and others)!

My final article about the Warner Classics Remastered Edition of recordings of the conductor Otto Klemperer will account for twentieth-century works by composers other than Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Ironically, the composer that receives the most attention is Klemperer himself! This did not come as a particularly big surprise to me, since I remember that, during my student days, classical music stations took a liking to his “Merry Waltz.”

However, two of the three “bonus” CDs are devoted entirely to his compositions, most of which are multimovement works. These include a second recording of his second symphony (the first having been on a CD that did not have “bonus” status), along with recordings of his third and fourth symphonies. In addition, there are recordings of the “Philharmonia String Quartet” (presumably members of the New Philharmonia Orchestra) playing Klemperer’s third and seventh quartets. That makes for a fair amount of Klemperer. I must confess that I am still getting my head around these recordings; and I am not surprised that I never encountered any of them on the radio, let alone in a concert hall!

On the other hand, I was glad to have my memory of “Merry Waltz” revived. It took a bit of chutzpah to assign it to the final track of a CD that began with three of the best-known compositions by Johann Strauss. However, these selections were separated by Kurt Weill’s Kleine Dreigroschenmusik, the instrumental suite of music from The Threepenny Opera. Apparently, Klemperer got along very well with Weill and his wife Lotte Lenya. I remember reading an article by Lenya about the two of them encountering Klemperer in a hotel lobby, asking (at the top of his voice) “Is here no telephone?” (a quotation from the libretto for Weill’s opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which involved one of two texts written to be sung in English).

Only one other twentieth-century composer receives more than a single CD. Like Weill, Igor Stravinsky found his way to the United States; but they ended up on opposite sides of the continent. While Weill continued his career in New York, both Klemperer and Stravinsky escaped from the Nazis and World War II by going to Los Angeles. Klemperer’s Stravinsky recordings consist of the complete 1947 score for the ballet “Petrushka,” the suite extracted from the ballet “Pulcinella,” and the “Symphony in Three Movements.” (This was Stravinsky’s last symphony, and he provided the title.)`

The only other composer in this collection is Paul Hindemith, who also had to flee from the Nazis. (His wife was part-Jewish.) He is accounted for through “Nobilissima Visione,” a three-movement suite extracted from his score for the ballet “Saint Francis.” The CD also includes a previously unreleased recording of the first movement of the 1949 horn concerto with the solo taken by Dennis Brain.

This amounts to a rather modest account of the twentieth-century repertoire, but one can still appreciate the effort that Klemperer summoned to make sure that each of selections is worthy of attention.

Alon Nechushtan will Return to Chez Hanny

Jazz pianist and composer Alon Nechushtan is based in New York, but he is no stranger to Chez Hanny, having performed there in the past. For next month’s first jazz house concert hosted by Frank Hanny, Nechushtan will lead a quintet, performing with four local musicians. The front line will be taken by trumpeter Ian Carey and multi-reedist Matt Renzi, whose instruments for this gig will probably be tenor saxophone, oboe, and cor anglais. Rhythm will be provided by Matt Montgomery on bass and Isaac Schwartz on drums.

All five of these performers are well-established in the jazz repertoire. My own attention to Nechushtan was piqued when I learned that the Smithsonian Institution had commissioned him in 2017 to prepare of program of the lesser known compositions by Thelonious Monk. Trying to identify what those compositions were was more than a little frustrating, particularly since I could not find a Web page on which Nechushtan enumerated them. However, I found a YouTube video entitled “‘Bb Fantasy’ on themes by Thelonious Monk,” which seems to have been recorded at the Anacostia Community Museum.

The video is slightly less than ten minutes in duration. However, Nechushtan leads a sextet on a wild ride through what he seems to have designated as “lesser known” Monk works, presented in the following order:

  • Round Lights
  • Monk’s Point
  • Blues Five Spot
  • Something in Blue
  • Blue Sphere
  • Bluehawk
  • Raise Four
  • Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-Are
  • Hackensack
  • Functional

In addition, “Raise Four” is followed by Sonny Stitt’s “Blues for Duke;” and the entire program concludes with two of the most familiar Monk tunes: “Misterioso” and “Rhythm-a-ning.” Whether or not any of this unique perspective on Monk will be presented at Chez Hanny will only be resolved by those attending the performance!

Three of the other members of Nechushtan’s quintet are no strangers to Chez Hanny. They are Jekabson, Renzi, and Schwartz. Montgomery’s experiences extend beyond straight-ahead jazz to include indie, rock, and folk genres. He also prepared the score for a documentary entitled Enduring Democracy: The Monterey Petition.

Following the usual plan, the performance will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 10. The venue is Hanny’s house at 1300 Silver Avenue, with the performance taking place in the downstairs rumpus room. Those planning to attend should think about having cash for a donation of $25. All of that money will go to the musicians. 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.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Klemperer Pairing of Richard Strauss and Mahler

This is my second article about the first volume of the Warner Classics Remastered Edition of recordings of the conductor Otto Klemperer that is structured around two composers that were contemporaries. The contemporaries of the previous article were Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for which Haydn’s share consisted of only four CDs. In this second pairing, Richard Strauss is the composer that receives very little attention alongside the recordings of the music of Gustav Mahler.

Indeed, three of Strauss’ compositions were recorded twice. In chronological order these are the Opus 20 “Don Juan” tone poem, the Opus 28 “Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks,” and the “Dance of the Seven Veils” instrumental extract from the Opus 54 opera Salome. To be fair, the first recordings of these three selections have historical interest, since they were originally released as 78 RPM recordings. The other Strauss works to be recorded were the Opus 24 tone poem “Death and Transfiguration” and “Metamorphosen,” which Strauss called a “study” for 23 solo strings (ten violins, five violas, five cellos, and three basses).

I have not yet put much time into distinguishing the early German recordings (made in Berlin between 1927 and 1929) from the “higher fidelity” recordings made with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Klemperer clearly had his own strong ideas about how these selections should be interpreted, and those ideas make for satisfying listening in both selections. However, I have a much stronger preference for “Metamorphosen,” which is far less frequently encountered.

Nevertheless, that preference is a result of the fact that I have yet to get my head around this composition and am determined to keep trying. (Those that have followed this site for some time may recall that, back in November of 2021, I even tried to mine clarity from a video that was directed by Frank Zamacona using robotically controlled cameras.) To be fair, however, on this new release I am not sure whether my understanding of “Metamorphosen” has been advanced as a result of Klemperer’s approach to conducting or of the efforts of Balance Engineer Douglas Larter!

For my own tastes, the Mahler selections that appeal to me the most are the ones that involve vocalists. More specifically, I relished the opportunity to return to two female vocalists, one soprano and one mezzo, that I had been following since my student days. The soprano is Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, who contributes to two of the symphonies: the second (“Resurrection”) in C minor and the fourth in G major, whose final movement is a setting of a poem from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection. The mezzo is Christa Ludwig, who alternates with tenor Fritz Wunderlich in the recording of the Das Lied von der Erde (the song of the earth) orchestral song cycle. She also contributes five tracks of orchestral songs, two from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and three from the Rückert-Lieder collection. (It turns out that those three songs are the same ones that she recorded with pianist Geoffrey Parsons for the third BBC Legends collection.)

The instrumental selections are limited to two of the late symphonies, the seventh in E minor and the ninth in D major. Both of these are sufficiently long that they have to be distributed across two CDs The ninth is the more familiar and also the more satisfying. On the other hand Klemperer seems to have decided to take an “extreme interpretation” of the Langsam tempo that begins the seventh symphony. It even extends into the other four movements, never loosening the reins of the tempo, so to speak. This made for growing frustration during my own listening experience, leading to an almost total undermining of the final movement.

Perhaps some day I shall come to understand the logic behind Klemperer’s approach to that seventh symphony.

Omni Video Premiere: Michael Button

Guitarist Michael Butten (screen shot from the video being discussed, courtesy of the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts)

This morning the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts released the latest video to be added to its Omni On Location series. The location for this video is the Holy Trinity Church in Prestwood, England. The soloist is guitarist Michael Butten, who, as a student at the Royal Academy of Music, won both the Julian Bream Prize and the David Russell Prize. The video was recorded in November of 2020, and Butten’s instrument was made in 1986 by Jeffrey Elliott.

The program is a relatively short one, lasting only about ten minutes. It consists of three compositions by Luis de Narváez taken from two of the volumes in his six-volume collection entitled Los seys libros del Delphin, dedicated to his patron Francisco de los Cobos. I suspect that many, like myself, will be most familiar with the opening selection, the set of seven variations on “Guárdame las vacas” (look after the cows for me). Back in my student days, this would show up on classical music radio stations frequently, probably because it was a track on an Andrés Segovia album that could serve as an appealing background for a commercial announcement! Butten’s performance of “Guárdame las vacas” was followed by “Baxa de contrapunto;” and these two pieces constitute the conclusion of the sixth of Narváez’ six volumes. The final selection was the set of six variations on “O gloriosa domina,” which begins the fourth volume.

It is worth noting that, in his publications, Narváez did not begin to compose variations works until that fourth volume. Nevertheless, there is something engagingly appealing (if not downright jolly) in his approach to the “cow theme.” Perhaps that is why commercial classical radio programs deployed it as a useful vehicle for advertising! Of course, like Segovia, Butten probably never had advertising in mind; and there is much to be gained simply in following the course of those seven variations, rather than worrying about commercial potentials!

For those that missed the premiere performance of this program, it is available on its own YouTube Web page.

Background for Beginning of New PBO Season

Some readers may recall that the five programs to be presented during the 2023/24 season of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) were announced at the beginning of this past May. Those readers may also recall that the season would begin with the West Coast premiere of Ancestor, a recently commissioned composition. The world premiere was given in England by PBO on July 29, 2022 at the Ryedale Festival, some three centuries later than the “core” of the PBO repertoire.

As has already been observed, Ancestor is a diptych that explores the creation story in two movements, each by a different composer. The first movement, “The Forms,” is by Errollyn Wallen CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), while the second, “The Golden Measure,” is composed by Tarik O’Regan, currently the PBO Composer-in-Residence. Both the context of the composition and its libretto were inspired by the book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, whose author, Margaret Fuller, is the “woman” of the title. The following paragraph provided a “trigger” for the Ancestor libretto:

Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman. History jeers at the attempts of physiologists to bind great original laws by the forms which flow from them. They make a rule; they say from observation what can and cannot be. In vain! Nature provides exceptions to every rule. She sends women to battle, and sets Hercules spinning; she enables women to bear immense burdens, cold, and frost; she enables the man, who feels maternal love, to nourish his infant like a mother.

Countertenor Tim Mead at the premiere of Ancestor (photograph by Scott Merrylees, courtesy of PBO)

Both composers were inspired by this text. They both found ways to extract from it, paraphrase it, rework it, or just use it as a point of departure. The Web page that provides background material by O’Regan also observes that each of the two of them provided the text for the other. The titles of the two movements are taken from the first words of those texts. Both will be sung by countertenor Tim Mead, and this performance by will conducted by PBO Music Director Richard Egarr. The San Francisco performance will take place on Thursday, October 19, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Tickets may be purchased online through a City Box Office Web page.

SFIPF: An Uneven Finale

Last night the San Francisco International Piano Festival made its concluding visit to Old First Presbyterian Church to present the Festival Finale, given the title A Night at the Cinema. The entire second half of the program was devoted to the screening of a silent Buster Keaton film with “live” musical accompaniment by pianist Stephen Prutsman and the members of the Telegraph Quartet, violinists Eric Chin and Joseph Maile, violist Pei-Ling Lin, and cellist Jeremiah Shaw. However, the high point of the evening preceded the intermission.

This involved the return of Parker Van Ostrand, whose solo recital on Friday evening was the high point of the entire Festival. Having established his command of the Franz Liszt B minor piano sonata, Ostrand shifted his attention to Sergei Rachmaninoff in celebration of that composer’s 150th year. (Rachmaninoff was born on April 1, 1873.) The major work that he performed was the Opus 36 (second) piano sonata in B-flat minor, composed in 1913 and subsequently, in 1931, “revised and reduced.” Ostrand’s command of this major undertaking was as sure-handed as his interpretation of the Liszt sonata, and he knew just the right way to guide the attentive listener through all the rich embellishments and aggressive dispositions.

Ostrand decided to “warm up” his listeners with a somewhat more moderate account of Rachmaninoff. He selected that composer’s arrangement of “Liebesleid,” one of the most popular compositions that violinist Fritz Kreisler wrote for his own performances with piano accompaniment. Presumably, Kreisler was pleased with Rachmaninoff’s efforts, since the two of them gave several duo recital performances at Carnegie Hall. As one might guess, Rachmaninoff’s arrangement of “Liebesleid” had its own flamboyance; but one could still appreciate the Gemütlichkeit of Kreisler’s rhetoric.

Poster for Buster Keaton’s College (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

The idea of accompanying Buster Keaton’s College with chamber music may have seemed more than a little odd, but subtle oddities provided the bread and butter of the films Keaton made. Keaton’s best known film is The General, which has more jaw-dropping moments than I could possible enumerate. College, on the other hand, lacks both spirit and flesh when compared with the more familiar Keaton films. Why Prutsman thought it would benefit from chamber music accompaniment is beyond my capacity for speculation. Nevertheless, it would be fair say that the visual totally overwhelmed the auditory during last night’s screening, probably because attention was focused almost entirely on the narrative. Put another way, the Festival deserved a Finale that had more to do with pianos.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

60 Years of Tailleferre with Quynh Nguyen

Cover of Quynh Nguyen’s Tailleferre album (courtesy of Crossover Media)

In April of last year, I announced that Nicolas Horvath had launched a project with the Grand Piano label to record the piano music of Germaine Tailleferre; and I wrote about the first album to be released through that project. While this effort progresses slowly but surely, Music & Arts Program released a single-CD survey of the the piano compositions in Tailleferre catalog this past May. The album, entitled The Flower of France, was recorded by Vietnamese American pianist Quynh Nguyen, who has received degrees from the Juilliard School, the Mannes College of Music, and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

It is, of course, unfair to try to compare Horvath’s “complete works” project (with only the first of three planned albums currently available) with Nguyen’s effort to provide a representative sample that cuts across the complete canon. That said, the Wikipedia page of Tailleferre’s compositions provides a chronological list, which begins with an impromptu for piano dated 1909. This can be found on both CDs, although Nguyen’s track listing gives the date as 1912. If Horvath has tried to present the works chronologically, then he concludes with “Au pavilion d’Alsace,” composed for a World’s Fair in 1937. On The Flower of France it appears as Track 21, roughly in the middle of the total number of 40 tracks.

While these overall scopes differ, there is at least one way in which these two albums are similar. This involves the difficulty of attentive listening when the subject is a very large number of very short pieces. A four-movement symphony may not have the qualities of a narrative arc, but there still tend to be a generous number of structural cues that lead the attentive listener from a beginning through a middle into an end.

Musical miniatures are more like haiku, which are limited by the number of syllables and by how those syllables are grouped into three lines. When a haiku is recited, it almost always is over before you know it; and one encounters that same phenomenon is listening to Tailleferre’s miniatures. The problem is that one seldom commits to reading (or listening to) several dozen haiku in a single sitting.

At the risk of sounding heretical, I might offer the “modest proposal” that the CDs of both Horvath and Nguyen make for admirable sources of background music. I say this not to denigrate the quality of the music itself. Rather, when one is dealing with such miniatures, familiarity first begins to grow through the “background,” rather than the “foreground.” If the CD is played through several times (hopefully over the course of several days), then mind will begin to cultivate familiarity; and that familiarity, in turn, can enable more attentive listening, through which one can appreciate not only the composer but also the methods engaged for composition.

By way of establishing context, I should confess that I have been nursing these ideas knowing that I shall be visiting Flower Piano two weeks from today. Sometimes, there is much to be gained by wandering around the San Francisco Botanical Garden, letting the sounds from the keyboard come to you, rather than luring you to seek them. If I spend enough (but not too much) time listening to Tailleferre’s miniatures, maybe I shall detect one or two of them wafting across the Garden space to me!

The Lab: October, 2023

As of this writing, October has turned out to be relatively quiet at The Lab, particularly when compared with the four music-related performance that will be taking place next month. Two events have been planned, the first of which will be given two presentations on successive evenings. For those unfamiliar with the venue, The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street. This is particularly good for those using public transportation, since it is a short walk to the corner of 16th Street and Mission Street. Busses stop at that corner for both north-south and east-west travel, and downstairs there is a station for a BART line running under Mission Street. Doors will open half an hour prior to when the performance will begin. Specific information, including a hyperlink to the event page that provides both background material and hyperlinks for ticket purchases, is as follows:

A photograph of the sculptural electronic system entitled Mesh Manifold (from the event page on the Web site for The Lab)

Thursday, October 5, 8:30 p.m.: MSHR is the duo of Brenna Murphy and Birch Cooper. They build and explore sculptural electronic systems. The title of their installation at The Lab is Mesh Manifold. As they describe the piece, it consists of “a multitude of devices in a complex and unruly feedback system of sound and light.” They have offered the following details:

The resonating bodies contain custom-built electrical circuits with sensors and amplifiers that emit and respond to signals rippling throughout the system. The entities converse through these physical connections as well as engaging with an invisible software canopy inscribed across the terrain through various programming languages. As elements of the system themselves, MSHR move throughout the sculptural array, adjusting the waveform micro-climates while modulating their own decisions in response to the unpredictable audiovisual results of their active presence. The entities and agents together form a babbling biome for electrical current, cultivating a life-like chorus from inert components.

This installation was commissioned by both The Lab and Indexical with in-kind support from the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County and Idea Fab Labs in Santa Cruz. [added 9/8, 12:10 p.m.:

Friday, October 20, 8:30 p.m.:  The TAK Ensemble, which is based in New York, will visit to perform In a forest, by Michelle Lou. TAK is a quintet, whose members are Laura Cocks on flute, clarinetist Madison Greenstone, vocalist Charlotte Mundy, Marina Kifferstein on violin, and Ellery Trafford on percussion. In a forest will surround the audience with immersive eight-channel sound. The program will also include INTERBEING, created by Eric Wubbels. This presents a slow-moving ritualized progression through a series of visual, acoustic, and theatrical formations.]

Friday, October 27, 8:30 p.m.: The month will conclude with a duo performance by loscil (Scott Morgan) and Lawrence English. They collaborated in producing the album Colours of Air, and they will bring a live performance of the music on that album to The Lab. The sources for the album were drawn from a rich palette of sounds from a pipe organ that is about a century old. Since traveling with a pipe organ is out of the question, their performance at The Lab will involve arranging, mixing, and supplementing the source material used to create Colours of Air. The auditory results will be supplemented with real-time adaptive visuals, which will bring alternative perspectives to the experience of just listening to the album.

SFIPF: Another Encore Steals the Show

Last night the San Francisco International Piano Festival returned to Old First Presbyterian Church for the final Solo Recital Series program. The recitalist was Parker Van Ostrand, who was just named inaugural recipient of the American Liszt Society Fellowship. As expected, his recital program included the music of Franz Liszt. More explicitly, Ostrand devoted the entire second half to Liszt’s B minor piano sonata.

The sonata may be the closest that Liszt ever came to following traditional structure. Nevertheless, he is still being Liszt. One can identify the different movement structures as the performance unfolds, but the entire sonata is played without any pauses. It is worth noting that Igor Levitt’s recording of this sonata occupies three successive tracks with no interruptions, meaning that watching a display of the track numbers may assist the attentive listener in recognizing the overall structure.

Actually, once one gets a handle on distinguishing the embellishing from the embellished, the overall structure is strikingly straightforward. The middle is occupied by an Andante sostenuto followed by a Quasi adagio. The primary theme is the Allegro energico, which both precedes and follows this middle “block.” All that remains is the Lento assai that begins the entire sonata and marks the return of the Allegro energico. Ostrand delivered a clear account of this structure, and that delivery provided a satisfying account of the fire-breathing expressiveness that Liszt had written into the score.

Parker Van Ostrand beginning his encore selection before things start to get wild (screen shot from last night’s streamed performance)

As might be expected, last night’s audience insisted on an encore. More often than not, pianists tend to respond to the flamboyant call of Liszt’s sonata with a bit of soothing quietude. Ostrand, on the other hand, seems to live by the old Al Jolson motto: “you ain’t heard nuttin’ yet!” Without giving any introduction, Ostrand dove into the concluding All Turca movement that concludes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 331 sonata in A major.

However, it did not take long to recognize that, rather than playing Mozart, he was presenting the “Concert Paraphrase on Mozart’s Turkish March,” composed by Arcadi Volodos and a particular encore favorite of Yuja Wang. Since Wang was a recent Resident at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (where Ostrand is about to begin his third year), one might guess that she had a hand in Ostrand adding this piece to his encore repertoire. Having already heard Wang play this piece on one of her visits to Davies Symphony Hall, I was more than delighted to listen to another pianist have fun with this music; and I was not at all disappointed.

It was also interesting to note that the prankishness that concluded Ostrand’s recital could also be found in his opening selection, the Hoboken XVI/52 in E-flat major, Joseph Haydn’s final solo piano sonata. This required a lighter touch than the audience would later encounter in Liszt and Volodos, but Ostrand knew exactly how to reflect the playfulness that the composer clearly had in mind.

The remainder of the first half of the program brought a bit more sobriety to the occasion, along with an appreciation of different approaches to technical challenges. Haydn was followed by Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 23 Ballade in G minor. Ostrand then wrapped up the first half with the “French dynamic duo” of Claude Debussy (“Brouillards,” the first selection in the second book of piano preludes) and Maurice Ravel (the solo piano version of “La Valse”). Unless I am mistaken, that version of “La Valse” was on one of Wang’s earliest albums. This was very much a program of interleaving paths, both aesthetic and intellectual. However, thanks to Ostrand’s acute capacity for expressiveness, one could also just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Klemperer’s “Nineteenth Century Miscellany”

On the basis of the content released in the first volume of the Warner Classics Remastered Edition of recordings, it would be fair to say that the nineteenth century was the “sweet spot” for conductor Otto Klemperer. Having examined his extensive focus on Ludwig van Beethoven and generous recordings of the music of Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, and Anton Bruckner, it is now time to address the other nineteenth-century composers that signified in his repertoire. It would be fair to say that the Klemperer legacy accounts for an impressive breadth along with a few instances of what might be called “moderate depth.”

That latter category applies, for the most part, to symphonies. As has already been documented, both Beethoven and Brahms were given the “complete symphonies” treatment. The other composer that is similarly thorough is Robert Schumann, whose four symphonies are conjoined with an account of his Opus 54 piano concerto in A minor. The pianist for that recording is Annie Fischer, who also plays Franz Liszt’s first concerto in E-flat major on that album.

The first three of the Schumann symphonies are coupled with overtures: “Manfred” (Opus 115), “Genova” (Opus 81), and the incidental music for Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The fourth Schumann symphony, on the other hand, is coupled with Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 90, his fourth symphony known as the “Italian.” The only other Mendelssohn symphony is the Opus 56 (“Scottish”) in A minor, which is coupled, logically enough, with the Opus 26 (“Hebrides”) overture. Mendelssohn is also represented by a full CD of incidental music (Opus 61) composed for William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Other notable symphony collections are situated at opposite ends of the century. On the early side we have three symphonies by Franz Schubert: D. 485 in B-flat major, D. 759 (“Unfinished”) in B minor, and D. 944 (“Great”) in C major. There is also a previously unreleased track of the opening movement of D. 417 in C minor. At the other end one encounters the last three of the six symphonies of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Opus 36 in F minor, Opus 64 in E minor, and Opus 74 (“Pathétique”) in B minor.

The only other symphonies in the collection are Hector Berlioz’ Opus 14, given the programmatic title “Symphonie fantastique,” César Franck’s three-movement symphony in D minor, and Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 95 (“From the new world”) in E minor. Other tracks account for a generous number of overtures; and, where Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel is concerned, the overture is coupled with the “Traumpantomime” (dream pantomime). Most likely, all of these offerings will be familiar to most listeners. Nevertheless, Klemperer is a stickler for details, meaning that, more often than not, listeners are likely to encounter a generous number of fresh perspectives not previously considered.

SFO to Begin 2023–24 Season with Verdi

The first full-length opera to be performed in the 101st season of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) will be Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore (the troubadour). This will mark the beginning of a new chapter in Eun Sun Kim’s tenure as SFO Music Director. For the foreseeable future, every season will include at least one opera by both Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, providing an opportunity to appreciate the diverse scope of these two composers.

Here in San Francisco performances of Il trovatore date back to the Gold Rush, and it was first performed by SFO in 1924. More recently, the Schwabacher Summer Concert presented by the Merola Opera Program in the summer of 2019 included performances of both the beginning and final scenes of the opera. Furthermore, it was one of the earliest operas to be presented by Opera at the Ballpark (with its large-screen image transmitted from the War Memorial Opera House).

This season’s staging will be based on a co-production with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, initially directed by David McVicar. Here in San Francisco that staging will be revived by Roy Rallo. The score includes several major choral selections, which will be directed by Chorus Director John Keene.

The gypsy camp from the first scene of the second act, complete with anvil (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SFO)

Like many narratives, the plot involves an ill-fated love triangle. The title character is Manrico, who will be sung by Merola alumnus tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz. The woman he loves is Leonora, a noble lady that is clearly above his station. Soprano Angel Blue will be singing this role for the first time. She is being courted by the Conte di Luna, who will be sung by George Petean, who will be making his SFO debut. The other major character in the cast is the gypsy Azucena, who knows Manrico’s true identity. Her role will be sung by mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk. As is often the case with Verdi operas, none of these characters will have a happy ending. However, on a more positive note, the camp of the gypsies is the scene for the most familiar music from the opera, best known as the “Anvil Chorus.”

This opera will have English supertitles for the Italian libretto by Salvadore Cammarano. It will be given six performances. Four of them will take place 7:30 p.m. on September 12, 20, 23, and 29; and there will be two 2 p.m. performances on Sundays, September 17 and October 1. Ticket prices range from $26 to $426. All tickets may be purchased in the outer lobby of the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue or by calling the Box Office at 415-864-3330. Box Office hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. on Monday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. In addition, there will be a livestream beginning at 7:30 p.m. on September 20. The charge will be $27.50, and it may be purchased through a separate Web page.

Pamela Z Takes Song Cycle to Exploratorium

Last night Pamela Z took her Carbon Song Cycle to the Kanbar Forum at the Exploratorium. She had premiered the work in 2013, when she performed it at the Berkeley Art Music/Pacific Film Archive. The music is, indeed, a series of vocal compositions. However, unlike a “classical” song cycle, there tended to be smooth transitions from one episode to the text. Another departure from tradition is that the accompaniment is provided by a chamber ensemble.

That group consists of only four instrumentalists. Bassoonist Dana Jessen provided the only wind instrument. The string players were Charith Premawardhana on viola and Crystal Pascucci on cello. The remaining player was percussionist Mark Clifford. As usual, Z provided the vocals (the only contribution to the upper register) with electronic enhancement, much of which involved digital processing. There was considerable innovation in Z’s approach to prioritizing the lower register; but, more often than not, the instrumentalists had to struggle to be heard above the overall electronic landscape of the composition.

The performance also included video created by Christina McPhee. There were multiple projections covering much of the area in the vicinity of the stage. The program also listed “video drawing,” which suggests real-time creation of at least some of the projected images. However, the entire visual element brought little to bear on the performance of the music.

The announcement for this performance described it as “inspired by ongoing changes and upheavals in the earth’s ecosystem, and by the carbon cycle–the process through which carbon is exchanged between all terrestrial life forms and domains.” I remember from my student days when Martin Mull declared,, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” One might say the same when it comes to singing about ecology. This is probably a bit unfair, since Z’s imaginative approaches to vocalization go way beyond the boundaries of vocal education at the Juilliard School. However, the overall environment that emerges over the course of Carbon Song Cycle tends to be more overwhelming in its massive electronic content (both auditory and visual) than speculative in raising ecological issues.

One cannot fault the urgent motivation behind creating Carbon Song Cycle; but, as a work created to be performed before an audience, I have my doubts as to whether one leaves the performance better informed or motivated to do something about those ecological issues.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

SFEMF Announces Schedule for 22nd Season

As was the case last year, the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF) will be co-produced with The Lab and will receive support from the Italian Cultural Institute. The Lab will host all three of the Festival’s evening concerts. This is a highly flexible space, which can easily provide for the usual system of 32 loudspeakers configured to surround (immerse) the audience through the control of free open source spatial audio tools. Program specifics have not yet been finalized. However the performers for each of the three dates of the Festival have been planned as follows:

Friday, September 15: Chris Brown with William Winant and Ben Davis, Roziht Eve, Ava Koohbor

Saturday, September 16: re:VOLT, Sam Genovese

Sunday, September 17: Fletcher Pratt, Bono/Burattini, Bonnie Jones

All performances will begin at 8 p.m. with doors opening at 7:30 p.m. The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street, a short walk from the corner of Mission Street. The location is particularly good for those using public transportation, since that corner provides bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel as well as a BART station. This year all tickets will be sold through a single Withfriends Web page. That Web page includes general admission for a single program for a price between $17 and $25 and a Full Festival Pass for $45.

Klemperer Recordings of Anton Bruckner

Those that have followed my articles regularly probably know that I have approached listening to the music of Anton Bruckner as requiring skills that are somewhat orthogonal to the skills encountered when listening to that composer’s predecessors (such as Johannes Brahms) or successors (such as Gustav Mahler). It would be fair to say that I owe much to San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt for cultivating the skill set I brought to listening to the Warner Classics Remastered Edition of recordings of Otto Klemperer conducting Bruckner symphonies. However, to my very pleasant surprise, this past February I discovered that there was also much to be gained from listening to a Bruckner symphony conducted by the current SFS Music Director, Esa-Pekka Salonen.

On the other hand, when it comes to “anthology listening,” my last Bruckner encounter took place a little over a year ago, when I was writing about the Warner Classics 70-CD box set of recordings made by conductor Kurt Masur. Sadly, this consisted of only two symphonies, only one of which, the fourth in E-flat major, named the edition that Masur had chosen. This struck me as a moderately annoying flaw, particularly for those that take their Bruckner listening seriously; and I am glad that the Klemperer collection is much more thorough in giving credit where credit is due.

The fact is that many (most?) of Bruckner’s scores went through multiple revisions. This has led to considerable effort on the part of Bruckner scholars when it comes to preparing a score that will be both suitable for performance and true to the composer’s intentions. The first of those scholars was Robert Haas, and Klemperer selected his edition of the composer’s 1881 version for recording the sixth symphony in A major. The other scores (with possibly one exception) that Klemperer used for recording were edited by Leopold Nowak. In order of their numbers, these are as follows:

  • Symphony Number 4 in E-flat major, 1878/80 version
  • Symphony Number 5 in B-flat major, 1878 version
  • Symphony Number 7 in E major, 1885 version
  • Symphony Number 8 in C minor, 1890 version
  • Symphony Number 9 in D minor, 1884 version, consisting of only three movements at the time of Bruckner’s death

This makes for one of the more generous shares of Bruckner symphonies that will be encountered by many (most?) conductors. The seventh is perhaps the most interesting of these. As the Wikipedia page for this symphony observes, “Bruckner began writing it in anticipation of the death of Richard Wagner, who was in poor health.” Derek Watson’s Bruckner book reinforces a legend that Bruckner was working on the second movement when he learned that Wagner had died. The second movement of the symphony already had a “processional” motif, and the conductor Arthur Nikisch supposedly suggested that the music cite Wagner’s death by adding a cymbal clash and triangle to the final statement of that motif. Michael Tilson Thomas included those “special effects” when he conducted SFS in March of 2013, but they were removed in the 1885 publication. Personally, I feel that Nikisch’s idea was more than a little excessive; and anyone listening to Klemperer’s recording should be able to appreciate the profundity of Wagner’s death without the addition of any “special effects!”

I should probably conclude by noting that, even prior to the release of this Klemperer collection, I had enough Bruckner recordings in my collection for most to regard as too many. On the other hand, consider the composers that have been discussed prior to Bruckner: Johann Sebastian Bach, the coupling of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, and Richard Wagner. All of them probably account for significant percentages in most collections accumulated by serious listeners. It is only when Bruckner is added to the list that eyebrows start to rise. Conductors like Klemperer (from the past) and Blomstedt (still with us) appreciate what an attentive listener can gain from a “Bruckner symphony experience.” The new Klemperer collection may be just the right offering to encourage such listeners to “take the plunge.”

Kenya Moses at Keys Jazz Bistro

Kenya Moses and pianist Camille Mai at The Back Room in Berkeley on February 20, 2020 (screenshot from YouTube video)

Readers may recall that my last encounter with jazz vocalist Kenya Moses took place at the beginning of July at Lyon & Swan, located at the south end of Columbus Avenue in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid. Sadly, Lyon & Swan was basically a supper club, where we seemed to be the only people paying attention to the music, while all the other tables were flooded with jabber about career and money. Last night Moses moved north along Columbus, hanging a right on Broadway to arrive at the Keys Jazz Bistro. This was a venue where everyone was there for the music.

Instrumental accompaniment was provided by the trio of Tammy Hall on piano, Aaron Germain on bass, and Brian Andres on drums. Ironically, my last encounter with Hall took place almost exactly a year ago, when she concluded the final program of the San Francisco International Piano Festival with a set in which Johann Sebastian Bach provided a punctuation mark for Nina Simone. Last night her repertoire shifted over to Antônio Carlos Jobim, whose songs provided the heart and soul of Moses repertoire. The trio took two tunes of its own before Moses came on stage and played one more piece when she took a break about midway through the set.

Moses calls her programs Bossa e Bossa, and her repertoire is guided primarily by bossa nova and samba. Born in Americus, Georgia, she is of African and Afro-Brazilian heritage. However, her earliest years were spend in Darmstadt, Germany, where she had her first experiences with both singing and playing piano. She then moved to California at the age of six.

She has been working on her Bossa e Bossa repertoire since 2010. While her primary focus has been on Jobim, last night she sang a Portuguese account of “Fly Me to the Moon,” possibly reflecting on an earlier vocalist that took great interest in Jobim’s songs, Frank Sinatra. At the end of her program, she shifted over to another Brazilian composer that advanced the bossa repertoire, Luiz Bonfá. Her final selection was “Manhã de Carnaval,” which was included in the soundtrack for the film Black Orpheus.

She then teased the audience by quizzing them on how many different titles had been given to this tune. Since the film was directed by Marcel Camus, who was French, one of those titles was “La Chanson d'Orphée” (which never came up last night). Many call the tune “Black Orpheus;” and those wishing to be more specific call it the “Theme from Black Orpheus.” Others reduce the original title down to just “Carnival.” The Wikipedia entry for the tune also includes “A Day in the Life of a Fool,” which, like the French title, never turned up last night.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Klemperer Recordings of Instrumental Wagner

When it comes to the music of Richard Wagner, the first volume of the Warner Classics Remastered Edition of recordings of conductor Otto Klemperer is relatively modest. Those interested in opera recordings will have to wait for the second volume, which is currently scheduled for release at the end of this coming October. The first volume, on the other hand, is limited to three CDs of instrumental excerpts. There is also a track from a 78 RPM recording of the opening prelude to Tristan und Isolde. The original version of “Siegfried Idyll,” for a chamber ensemble of thirteen instruments, is presented as an “appendix” to a recording of Anton Bruckner’s seventh symphony; and the one vocal selection is Felix Mottl’s orchestration of the Wesendonck Lieder sung by mezzo Christa Ludwig.

That last selection appears on the same CD that includes Ludwig singing Johannes Brahms’ Opus 53 “Alto Rhapsody,” along with five orchestral song settings by Gustav Mahler. Readers can probably guess that this is my favorite album in the current collection. However, I have to say that I appreciate Klemperer’s decision to treat “Siegfried Idyll” as chamber music. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that there are probably a more-than-generous number of listeners who prefer listening to orchestral excerpts, rather than sitting through complete performances of any Wagner opera! Whether or not they will appreciate that Klemperer brings his experience as a full-opera conductor to those excerpts I cannot say.

Personally, however, until I have a chance to listen to the Klemperer recordings of Wagner operas in their entirety, I shall probably focus on other composers in the current Warner collection.

The Lab: August, 2023

Ellen Arkbro and Sally Decker (from the withfriends Web page for this event at The Lab)

Yes, I know that my preview article for September performances at The Lab was released at the end of last week. However, yesterday afternoon I learned of a performance that will take place at the end of this month that deserves attention. This will be a two-set recital that The Lab will co-present with Superior Viaduct.

The opening set will be taken by Sally Decker, who is based in the Bay Area. She performs her own compositions, which involve feedback, synthesizers, text, and voice. She describes her approach to performances as being “rooted in presence, healing processes, and the emotional potential of sounds as portals of connection.” In 2021 she released an album on NNA Tapes entitled In The Tender Dream. She is also involved in duo projects, but her Lab performance will be a solo.

Decker will be followed by Ellen Arkbro, whose primary focus involves the qualities of sound that reveal listening as an active process of creative participation. Her awareness of those qualities may have emerged through her studies with La Monte Young, whose The Well-Tuned Piano coaxes the attentive listener into a domain of sequences and simultaneities that transcend the equal-tempered twelve-pitch chromatic scale. Arkbro has composed for an organ based on meantone temperament, and she has similarly given performances based on just intonation. Her portfolio thus accounts for acoustic instruments, synthetic sound, and combinations of both. Her offering at The Lab will involve just intonation, performed by both synthesizer and trumpet.

As many readers probably know by now, The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street. This is particularly good for those using public transportation, since the nearby corner provides bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel as well as a BART station. This performance will take place on Thursday, August 31, beginning at 8:30 p.m.; and, as usual, the doors will open at 8 p.m. General admission will be $15, and tickets may be purchased online through a Withfriends event page. However, there will be a discounted (or free) rate at the door for members.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Liszt Not at Top of Game in Pascucci’s Debut

Pianist Alvise Pascucci (from the Noontime Concerts event page for his solo piano recital)

Every now and then one encounters a recital (usually solo), which does not redeem itself until the encore selection. Sadly, this was the case at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral this afternoon, when Italian pianist Alvise Pascucci made his San Francisco debut in the third Solo Recital Series performance in this year’s San Francisco International Piano Festival (SFIPF). The encore was “Au lac de Wallenstadt” (at Lake Wallenstadt), the first of nine pieces in the “Swiss Year” of Franz Liszt’s set of three suites collected under the title Années de pèlerinage (years of pilgrimage). Over the course of those suites, there is no end of Lisztian bombast, which makes his moments of quietude stand out just for being there. In that context “Au lac de Wallenstadt” is decidedly exceptional, and this afternoon Pascucci knew exactly how to present those exceptional qualities.

Unfortunately, to get to those qualities, one first had to contend with a program devoted entirely to Liszt’s arrangements for solo piano of the fourteen songs in one of Franz Schubert’s final compositions, his D. 957 Schwanengesang song cycle. The first thing one observes when one examines the Liszt publication is that the order of these songs has been altered from the way in which they were ordered for the song cycle. To be fair, the notes provided by Otto Erich Deutsch for this entry in his catalog suggest that Schubert, himself, never decided how to order these songs. Nevertheless, both vocalists and their listeners have come to accept an overall logic based on a structure of two “books” containing six and eight of the songs, respectively.

It should be no surprise that those who embrace that logic (present company included) are likely to react to Liszt’s ordering with more than a bit of a jolt. Most frustrating is that the cycle no longer concludes with the wistfulness of a carrier pigeon whose name is “Longing.” That is now the penultimate song, and the pigeon meets a dark fate at the hands of the warrior in the “Kriegers Ahnung” (warrior’s foreboding) song, which now concludes the cycle. (To be fair, the Schubert publication orders the songs according to the poets providing the texts: seven settings of Ludwig Rellstab, six by Heinrich Heine, and the last by Johann Gabriel Seidl. If there is any awkwardness, it involved the fact that the last of those Rellstab poems marks the beginning of the second “book” of the overall cycle.)

If the ordering of these songs was my only annoyance, I could probably live with it. However, almost all of these songs are subjected an abundance of violent over-the-top embellishments introduced by Liszt. This is Liszt at his most Lisztian; and even those that enjoy many (most?) of his flamboyant moments will probably acknowledge that, after a certain amount of exposure to that flamboyance, an absence of Liszt makes the heart grow fonder. Pascucci would to better to contemplate on the old adage that “enough is enough.” His undertaking of all fourteen Schwanengesang settings suggests a reluctance to show some awareness of when even the most attentive listener has had enough.

E4TT Announces 2023/24 Season Plans

The sixteenth season of Ensemble for These Times (E4TT) will be as abbreviated as it was last season. Once again, only three of the scheduled events will take place within the San Francisco city limits. The core members of the group are still soprano and Artistic Executive Director Nanette McGuinness, cellist Abigail Monroe, pianist Margaret Halbig, and composer and Senior Artistic Advisor David Garner, whose is also a member of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) Faculty. There will also be guest performers, one of whom, Megan Chartier, will be filling in for Monroe for the first concert of the season.

Each of the programs has its own Web page on the E4TT Web site. Each of these pages provides a summary of the works to be performed, along with “preview” excepts. Those pages also provide the specific information and hyperlinks for ticket purchases. All the Web pages are hyperlinked to the date-and-time summary for each of the programs as follows:

Friday, September 22, 8 p.m., Transformations: Halbig, Chartier, and violinist Jennifer Redondas will play Eduard Steuermann’s piano trio arrangement of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” (transfigured night). McGuinness will sing songs selected from Franz Schreker’s Opus 8 collection. The remainder of the program will be devoted to works by living composers. These will be Lisa Bielawa (“The Dragon and the Girl,” composed for solo cello), Darian Donovan Thomas (“Fluid” for violin and tape), and inti figgis-vizueta (a  solo piano composition entitled “a bridge between starshine and clay”).

Saturday, January 20, 7:30 p.m., Quest: Music by Women and Nonbinary Composers: Tamara MacLeod’s “Spent” will be given its world premiere performance. Other contributing composers will be Jennifer Higdon, Tania León, Jessica Mao, Claudia Montero, Niloufar Nourbakhsh, Gabriella Smith, Alex Temple, and Florence Price. The program will also present the results of the Call for Scores, works by alumni of the Luna Composition Lab.

Friday, April 5, 7:30 p.m., Expression: Ism: This will be the annual commissions concert. It will reflect back on Schoenberg having begun the season with a chamber music arrangement of Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs, one of his earliest twelve-tone compositions. There will also be world premiere performances of three trios commissioned by Garner, Darian Donovan, and Valerie Liu. Finally, the winner of the Technology And Applied Composition competition at SFCM will be included on the program.

Klemperer Recordings of Brahms

As I work my way through the Warner Classics Remastered Edition of recordings of conductor Otto Klemperer, I should probably begin with a personal confession, which is that, where orchestral performances of the “Three Bs” are concerned, I have a very strong personal bias towards Johannes Brahms. My thoughts about the catalog of Johann Sebastian Bach have slanted in preference for “historical” performances for many decades; and, where Ludwig van Beethoven is concerned, as the years go by, I just get pickier and picker about the performances I attend and the recordings being released.

On the other hand my attention to Brahms is the result of one of those autobiographical anecdotes. Those of my generation may recall The Miniature Score Series publications edited and devised by Albert E. Wier. Wier basically took European pocket scores (probably those published by Ernst Eulenburg) with public-domain content and reprinted them using a single page to provide a layout of four of the original score pages. My first encounter with this edition was the collection of the nine symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, which I purchased during my secondary school years in a suburb of Philadelphia.

So it was that, when my parents took a weekend off in New York City, my mother returned with another Wier publication she had found in a music store: The Symphonies of Brahms and Tschaikowsky in Score. This was a nice addition to my score collection, particularly since I had recently acquired a Vox box set of Tchaikovsky’s fourth, fifth, and sixth symphonies. On the other hand there were no recordings of Brahms symphonies in the house! As a result my father and I visited my favorite record store and came away with the box set of all four of the symphonies recorded by Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. (The collection also included the Opus 80 “Academic Festival Overture” and the Opus 81 “Tragic Overture”). My mother’s reaction was to recall Klemperer’s nasty behavior when he was conducting children’s concerts in Los Angeles!

That Wier publication remains with me today. I used it heavily during the music classes I took as an undergraduate. I still remember my delight in discovering that the Un poco sostenuto introduction to the first symphony (Opus 68 in C minor) served as an outline of the thematic material for the first movement; and the introduction to the fourth movement exercised that same device. For all of the background material I had encountered about Brahms’ personality, his attention to structure was what got me hooked on his compositions; and, to this day, I find that I am almost always mining new perspectives when I listen to performances of Brahms’ music.

As readers may guess, the recordings I had purchased as a box set have now found their way to the Warner anthology; and it is hard to resist feeling as if I have encountered a long-lost friend. I remain as attached to those four symphonies as I had been as a student. Sadly, there not many additional Brahms recordings in the anthology; but the ones that are there have their own distinguishing merits. The only other all-Brahms CD in the collection is the Opus 77 violin concerto in D major. This is a gem, however, since it marks one of David Oistrakh’s tours outside the Soviet Union. He recorded the concerto with the Orchestre national de France, known at the time of his tour as the Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion française (French Radio National Orchestra).

There are also two CDs on which Brahms “rubs shoulders” with other composers. The CD that includes the Opus 53 “Alto Rhapsody” is actually an album of performances by mezzo Christa Ludwig. As might be guessed, the other composers on the album are Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler. On the other hand the Opus 56a orchestral version of the “Variations on a Theme by Haydn” is both preceded and followed by the music of Paul Hindemith! Finally, there are the “historical” tracks of 78 RPM recordings of both Opus 68 and Opus 80, both of which were made in Berlin (back when it was still safe for Klemperer to live in that city).

I suspect that my attachment to these Brahms tracks may have something to do with the fact that Klemperer was more aware of the cerebral side of Brahms’ compositions than many other conductors were (or are); and, for better or worse, that perspective may influence how I listen to the remaining CDs in the collection.

Monday, August 21, 2023

New Monteiro Album Showcases Korngold

Cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of violinist Bruno Monteiro)

Those that have been following this site for some time probably know by now of recordings released by Etcetera Records that present the efforts of violinist Bruno Monteiro. He has cultivated an engaging interest in both composers and compositions that have received relatively little attention. His discography now yields a generous number of albums discussed on this site, all of which he has recorded with two “partners in crime,” pianist João Paulo Santos and cellist Miguel Rocha. They have enabled his preparing “programs” for his albums that accommodate both trio and duo performances.

This was the case for his most recent prior release, which presented seldom recorded (and performed?) compositions by Ernest Chausson and Eugène Ysaÿe. However, for all the virtues of the content he has presented, the distribution of the albums themselves have often involved “speed bumps.” On the occasion of that album’s release, I informed readers that the Etcetera Web page provided the most reliable source for acquiring the album. However, that source applied only to a physical CD, which had to be shipped from Belgium after payment in euros.

Monteiro has now produced his next album since that past release. This one is devoted entirely to the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a composer that has sustained my curiosity and attention for as long as I have been writing these articles about making music and the act of listening to it. Those interested in possessing this new release, however, will find that their options are limited. As of this writing, the only site taking orders is another Belgian source, La Boîte à la Musique, whose Web page again requires payment in euros. Ironically, at least one site, Presto Music, has a Web page that is only processing pre-orders for a release due for this coming September 29!

Mind you, this site tries to prioritize the music itself over any of the obstacles of marketing. As is the case with most of the past releases by Monteiro, this new album presents a trio performance along with duo compositions for piano performing with either violin or cello. The trio is of particular importance, because it is Korngold’s Opus 1.

What is important is that the trio is far from his first major undertaking, even though he was twelve years old when he completed it in 1910. The previous year he had played his cantata Gold for Gustav Mahler, who declared him a “musical genius.” Furthermore, when he was still eleven, he composed a ballet, Der Schneemann (the snowman), which had a successful performance at the Vienna Court Opera. The trio was also preceded by his first piano sonata in D minor, whose final movement was a passacaglia.

One might think that, with such a track record, Opus 1 would emerge as “show-off” music. However, the attentive listener is likely to be impressed by the discipline engaged by the composer in each of the four movements. Granted, the Scherzo (second movement) is playful; but Korngold establishes a playful rhetoric that is consistently disciplined. Similarly, the following Larghetto is poignant without venturing into the more excessive darker regions that one might encounter in one of Mahler’s slow movements. Indeed, this is a trio that could share a full program with one (if not two) of the piano trios composed by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Of the two duos, I have to confess that my favorite is the one for cello, which is the final track. This is actually an arrangement of a baritone solo aria in Korngold’s Opus 12 opera Die Tote Stadt (the dead city). Unless I am mistaken, I have seen this opera once on television and once on the stage; and I was captivated by both of those performances. What fascinated me was how roughly half of this three-act opera could take place in a dreamworld, as if the overall narrative amounts to escape from reality.

Central to that narrative is an aria (also known as the “Tanslied des Pierrot”) sung by Fritz, who is basically a Pierrot character, almost as if he has one foot in the dreamworld and the other in reality. The text of the song begins “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen” (my yearning, my dreaming), whose nouns reflect those two opposing “worlds.” I sometimes wonder whether the character of Fritz may have been inspired by the Harlequin character in Richard Strauss’ Opus 60 opera Ariadne auf Naxos, in which the dreamworld of Harlequin confronts the reality of the “bourgeois gentilhomme” that financed the performance of the Ariadne story.

Sadly, the booklet does not account for who arranged Korngold’s aria for cello and piano. The one copy of the score provided by IMSLP states “Transcribed for Cello & Piano by Orfeo Mandozzi after the Korngold and Kreisler version for the 9th of Nov. Vienna 2014.” (Presumably, Kreisler arranged the vocal line for violin, and Korngold then reworked it for cello.) With such a “pedigree” it would be reasonable to believe that, even in this cello-piano version, the impact of this music resides in the narrative behind it. As a result I was more than a little disappointed that the booklet notes for this new Korngold album paid so little attention to this brief but thoroughly engaging episode from such an extraordinary opera.

The other duo is far more substantial, the Opus 6 sonata for violin and piano. From a structural point of view, one might view this sonata as a “response” to the “call” of the Opus 1 trio. Both are four-movement compositions. Both provide convincing accounts of Korngold’s richly expressive rhetoric. What may be of greatest interest is the extended approach to the Scherzo movement, which may have been inspired by some of Mahler’s more adventurous scherzo structures.