Saturday, September 30, 2023

SFJAZZ: October, 2023

Next month the “main event” at the SFJAZZ Center will be the Thelonious Monk Festival, which will take place over the four days between Thursday, October 12, and Sunday, October 15. This will be preceded by a birthday concert in Miner Auditorium; but all the Festival programs will be performed in the Joe Henderson Lab, which is likely to be more conducive for those that feel that anything by Monk deserves serious and attentive listening. For those that do not yet know, the SFJAZZ Center is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street; and Henderson tickets are almost always sold for $25. Because all of the Festival performances have already been accounted for (through the above hyperlink), this site will provide specifics for the other Henderson events taking place next month with performance dates, times, and hyperlinks for purchasing tickets as follows:

Friday, October 6, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: This will be the first program in the Guitar Week series. It will be a performance by Molly Miller, leading a trio whose other members are Jennifer Condos on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums. The selections are likely to reflect her latest album, St. George. Their style involves the mixing of a wide variety of genres, including blues, country swing, modern jazz, and surf rock.

Saturday, October 7, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg will lead a quartet. Unfortunately, the other members of the quartet have not yet been announced. The most recent membership I have been able to identify consists of pianist Martin Bejarano, Matt Clohesy on bass, and drummer Colin Stranahan. As of this writing, the first of the two sets is listed as “Almost Sold Out.

Sunday, October 8, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Guitar Week will conclude with the “multi-generational guitar duo” of Dan Wilson and Bruce Forman. Forman has been a major Bay Area performer since the Seventies, and he is now based in Carmel. His style is a synthesis of Western swing with bebop and post-bop idioms. Wilson made his SFJAZZ debut under his own name during the 2022 San Francisco Jazz Festival. He appeared on Christian McBride’s 2021 album Vessels of Wood and Earth.

Friday, October 27, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: The title for the final week at Henderson is New Sounds. The first performer in this series will be bassist and singer Aneesa Strings. She will be making her long-awaited debut as a leader with the release of her new album. As of this writing, both sets are sold out; but it is always worth checking with the Box Office on the date of the performances.

Saturday, October 28, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, October 29, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: This will be a Dance Floor Show. The featured artist will be tuba player Theon Cross, a product of the London jazz scene. He is a founding member of Sons of Kemet, led by tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. This quartet performed at SFJAZZ in 2019. Cross is now making his Bay Area debut as a bandleader with “a blazing young group straight out of London.”

Stunning Tchaikovsky Concerto from Kavakos

Violinist Leonidas Kavakos (from the SFS event page for last night’s performances)

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen led the first subscription concert for the 2023–24 season. The program followed the usual overture-concerto-symphony format. The concerto soloist was Leonidas Kavakos performing Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 35 violin concerto in D major.

Kavakos is no stranger to Davies, but this was his first performance since the pandemic. His most recent appearance was as a recital soloist in the SFS Great Performers Series in January of 2019; but, at the beginning of that season, he performed Igor Stravinsky’s 1931 violin concerto in D with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. I suspect that many (if not most) of the audience know the Tchaikovsky concerto so well that they can reproduce it in their sleep. Nevertheless, there was an energetic freshness to Kavakos’ approach to Tchaikovsky, which was more than adequately shared by Salonen’s leadership. As a result, regardless of familiarity, there were any number of edge-of-your-seat moments in Kavakos’ virtuosity, particularly in his interpretation of the well-known cadenza that is usually performed towards the end of the first movement.

As might be expected, the account of the first movement was exciting enough to elicit a rousing burst of applause from the audience. When it seemed evident that they would not stop, Salonen tried all sorts of mime techniques to remind them that the concerto still had two movements remaining! It goes without saying that the applause following the final movement was just as vigorous as the first round. When it was clear that the audience demanded more from Kavakos, he finally offered a solo encore. He selected the Sarabande movement from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1004 solo partita in D minor, making the clear case that he was just as sensitive to quietude as he was agile in jumping through all of Tchaikovsky’s hoops.

The downside is that Kavakos’ appearance made for the only satisfying account of the evening. The “overture” selection was the West Coast premiere of “Herald, Holler and Hallelujah!,” composed by Wynton Marsalis in 2022. Early in his career, Marsalis released albums of both classical and jazz. At that time, I remember listening on the radio to an interview with conductor Raymond Leppard, who asserted rather strongly that Marsalis would have to choose between the two genres if he is to achieve the best of his abilities.

We now know that Marsalis disregarded Leppard’s cautionary remarks. One result is that last night’s opening selection never made much of a mark, whether it involved the “roots” rhetoric of the thematic material or the arrangement of those “roots” for fifteen brass players and (as Peter Schickele liked to put it) “an awful lot of percussion.” Mind you, it was clear that all of the SFS instrumentalists were having a grand old time by “letting it all hang out” (as my generation used to say). However, there was little about the music itself to prompt sustained attention. Since the piece was only five minutes in duration, that disadvantage did not signify very much or for very long.

Would that the same could be said of the symphony offering that followed the intermission! The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Richard Strauss’ Opus 64, “An Alpine Symphony.” Composed in 1915, this is one of his later tone poems, composed not long after his success with the Opus 59 opera Der Rosenkavalier. Those familiar with that opera know that, while the plot unfolds over three acts, the action flies by like lightning.

Sadly, this was not the case for Opus 64. The tone poem was structured around a single day involving ascending and descending an alpine trail. This consists of twenty episodes, all of which were meticulously enumerated in the notes for the program book by the late Michael Steinberg. (The program note concludes with the sentence “This note has been edited for length.”) Even with Salonen’s attentiveness to the many details in the score, last night’s performance could not get beyond coming off as a rather tedious (if well-intentioned) slog. True, everyone up on stage had a turn in the spotlight (along with an organist that seemed to have been situated off-stage). However, when placed alongside the more familiar Strauss tone poems, Opus 64 seems to have little to say to seize and sustain attention.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Primavera Returning to the Cadillac Next Month

The Primavera Latin Jazz Band performing at the Cadillac Hotel on September 13, 2019 with slightly different personnel from this week’s appearance: Al Stanford, Lena Johnson, Dave Casini, and Jeff McNish (screen shot from the Vimeo video of the concert)

At the beginning of next month, the Primavera Latin Jazz Band will make their next visit to the Cadillac Hotel. This will be a quintet performance, rather than the sextet gig, which took place at their last visit at the beginning of this past March. Once again the group will be led by Lena Johnson, who will be seated at the Patricia Walkup Memorial Piano that graces the lobby space. Dave Casini will “respond” to the “call” of her chromatic keyboard work with his vibraphone performance. Rhythm will again be provided by Paul Smith on guitar and Jeff McNish on bass. However, this time there will be only one percussionist, Bob Blankenship, performing on both congas and his drum kit. (He can be seen in the photograph that was posted at the beginning of the March preview article.)

As what now seems to be usual, this show will begin at 1 p.m. on Friday, October 6. The Cadillac Hotel is located at 380 Eddy Street, on the northeast corner of Leavenworth Street. For those attending for the first time, the piano is a meticulously restored 1884 Model D Steinway concert grand, whose original soundboard is still intact. All Concerts at the Cadillac events are presented without charge. The purpose of the series is to provide high-quality music to the residents of the hotel and the Tenderloin District; but all are invited to visit the venue that calls itself “The House of Welcome Since 1907.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Omni to Stream Angenendt Guitar Duo

The next video to be added to the OMNI on-Location video series, curated by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts will be brief but engaging. It will be a performance by the Angenendt Guitar Duo, filmed in Upper Austria in front of the ruins of a twelfth-century castle. Only one composition will be performed, an arrangement for two guitars of “Mallorca,” the Opus 202 composed by Isaac Albéniz originally for piano.

Guitarists Tristan and Martina Angenendt (courtesy of the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts)

The performers will be the husband-and-wife duo of Tristan and Martina Angenendt. Tristan currently teaches at the University of Music in Rostok, located in what was formerly East Germany. Martina teaches at music schools in Moers and Wesel, both in the Wesel district of Germany on the west bank of the Rhine. Their first CD, Serenade, was released by AureaVox this past May.

As usual, this new video will be streamed through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel, beginning at 10 a.m. this coming Sunday, October 1. The YouTube Web page for viewing has already been created, and it includes an engaging account of the castle’s history. There is no charge for admission, which means that these performances are made possible only by the viewers’ donations. A Web page has been created for processing contributions, and any visits made prior to the streaming itself will be most welcome.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Bleeding Edge: 9/26/2023

This is a week in which all but one of the events have already been reported. Here is a summary of those offerings with hyperlinks to their original announcements:

  • This week’s three performances of EXPLORATIONS of EXTRACTION and DECAY: a Palliative Song Cycle of Bodies and Stuff will take place at Audium (1616 Bush Street) at 7:30 p.m. on September 28–30.
  • Other Minds will present its Latitudes 21 program of solo, duo, and trio performances at St John the Evangelist Episcopal Church (1661 15th Street) at 7:30 p.m. on September 28.
  • The Lab (2948 16th Street) will present two programs. September 29 will see Jordan Glenn’s BEAK performing with Sudhu Tewari playing his invented instruments. The following evening S3ljam will begin a two-night performance of six scores that were developed collectively by the performers.
  • On September 30 the Center for New Music (55 Taylor Street) will wrap up the month with the next installment of G|O|D|W|A|F|F|L|E|N|O|I|S|E|P|A|N|C|A|K|E|S, beginning at noon.
  • On October 1 Outsound Presents will host its next SIMM (Static Illusion Methodical Madness) Series with a two-set program at the Musicians Music Hall.

The one remaining event will probably be familiar to most readers.

This will be the latest performance by reed player David Boyce as part of his semi-regular Friday residency at Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore & Gallery. For this particular week he will perform a very special solo session. The performance will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 29. 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.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Chez Hanny to Begin October with Quintet

The members of Tidball5

The first of next month’s Chez Hanny jazz house concerts hosted by Frank Hanny will present Tidball5. As the name suggests, this is a quintet led by saxophonist and composer Dave Tidball. As a teenager he played in his father’s dance band in Wales. After moving to London, he performed in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and was a founding member of Turning Point, a pioneering group of the British jazz fusion movements. He now lives in the Bay area and is no stranger to Chez Hanny, having previously performed with the FivePlay Jazz Quintet and the Albatross Clarinet Quartet.

The remainder of Tidball5 consists of two front-line musicians and two providing rhythm. The front line includes a second saxophonist, Charlie Keagle, who is currently playing in Manny Moka’s Latin funk band and Tony Corman’s Mochestra. The two saxophonists will be complemented by trumpeter Christopher Lowell Clarke, whose education took place in Cincinnati, first at the School for Creative and Performing Arts and subsequently at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. On this coast he has led a quintet at the Fillmore Jazz Festival and performed in the Contemporary Music Orchestra at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

The first of the two rhythm players will be bassist Peter Barshay. He has performed in combos in both New York City and the Bay Area. He has made many visits to Chez Hanny, including one in which he led his own trio. The drummer will be David Rokeach, who has a richly extensive touring record. He has also participated in several previous Chez Hanny gigs.

Following the usual plan, the performance will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 8. 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. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Steve Jobs as a Subject for Opera

This afternoon at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera, San Francisco Opera (SFO) presented the second of its six scheduled performances of the Bay Area premiere of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” a one-act opera composed by Mason Bates. While this production was commissioned in conjunction with the Seattle Opera and the Santa Fe Opera, which presented the world premiere performance on July 22, 2017, the entire narrative of the libretto takes place at different venues in our own peninsula, primarily in Silicon Valley. One may thus say that the current run of performances counts as a “homecoming” for the overall narrative.

Most readers are probably familiar with the story of Jobs, which provided scripts for two different movies. So it is probably worth asking what an operatic treatment can add to that story. One answer is that music can add perspectives that words alone may not convey as convincingly. It is also important to note that the libretto that Mark Campbell prepared for Bates’ music dispenses with chronology. The opera consists of a single act (performed without interruption) consisting of eighteen scenes along with both a prologue and an epilogue. In Campbell’s libretto the “distortion of the time-line” brings new perspectives to the chronological accounts provided by the movies. Unfortunately, it can also undermine an understanding of the motivations behind the actions.

On the basis of a single viewing, I would say that the narrative of the libretto has, indeed, been undermined by that lack of chronological linearity. To be fair, anyone familiar with past accounts of Jobs life will probably have no trouble negotiating that non-linearity. Nevertheless, there remains the question of what librettist and composer were trying to communicate and why the subject matter of that communication is significant. Thus, while most of us know the basic narrative of Jobs’ biography, I would venture to say that the music never seems to make up its mind on what it wants to reveal to the audience about the roller-coaster ride of Jobs’ dispositions. The stage direction by Kevin Newbury seldom resolves this matter, nor does the delivery of Jobs’ character by baritone John Moore, who is making his SFO debut in this production.

Kōbun Chino Otogawa (Wei Wu) standing beside Steve Jobs (John Moore) at the Los Altos Zen Center (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SFO)

Indeed, the clearest account of motive seems to reside in the character of Jobs’ spiritual advisor, Kōbun Chino Otogawa, sung by bass Wei Wu (also making his SFO debut). In a context that is more often associated with Zen paradoxes, Campbell conceived Otogawa as a font of common sense. Indeed, in the midst of that non-linear time-line, Otogawa emerges as a sort-of still center of the universe. His presence becomes a consistent relief not only from Jobs stressful nature but also the behavior of those closest to him, particularly his wife Laurene Powell Jobs (mezzo Sasha Cooke) and his closest professional partner Steve Wozniak (tenor Billie Bruley, another SFO debut).

Nevertheless, we should remember that “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” is an opera, rather than a documentary. SFO emphasized this with a statement in the program book:

The R(e)volution of Steve Jobs is inspired by the life and creative spirit of Steve Jobs and does not purport to depict actual events as they occurred or statements, beliefs, or opinions of the persons depicted. It has not been authorized or endorsed by Apple Inc., the Estate or Family of Steve Jobs, or by any persons depicted.

So, in the absence of reportage, what does the opera depict? Personally, I would suggest that, if the opera has any message at all, it is a relatively simple one: “Life is messy.” In that context Otogawa’s “still center” confronts the turbulence of that messiness. Campbell’s libretto provides an informative account of that turbulence, which is given a relatively clear account through Newbury’s staging. This leaves the question of what the music brings to this party.

This is where things get disappointing. Before attending this afternoon’s performance, I had listened several times to the recording that was made in Santa Fe. As a result, I could follow the unfolding of the plot with reminders of which musical passages communicated which elements of the overall narrative. Nevertheless, I fear that the experience of listening to Bates’ music in performance never contributed very much to what was coming to me from the staged activities.

The fact is that, no matter how hard I tried to pay attention to the music, it had far less impact on the overall opera production than I would have expected.

NSO to Release Album of Walker’s Five Sinfonias

George Walker examining his second piano sonata at his keyboard (photograph by Frank Schramm, courtesy of [Integral])

This Friday the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) will release an album of the five sinfonias composed by George Walker in a single CD. For those interested in taking a “deep dive” into this composer’s music, the new release (which was available as a digital album earlier this month) should serve as a valuable complement to the Bridge Records CD of the five piano sonatas that Walker composed between 1953 and 2003. As expected, has created a Web page for processing pre-orders of the new CD.

As I had observed when writing about the sonatas, Walker tended to work with relatively short durations. These can be found in both individual movements and compositions in their entirety. That brevity can also be found in the movements of the first three sinfonias. These provided him with a variety of approaches to extending his thematic inventions with exploratory approaches to sonorities. In the second sinfonia this goes as far as providing an extended solo for flute in the second of its three movements. (It may be worth noting that, unlike the four-movement second sonata, all of the sinfonias have at most three movements; and the last two are single-movement compositions.

The first of those was co-commissioned by NSO. Given the title “Strands,” it leads the attentive listener into the exploration of longer durations. Furthermore, while “Strands” still clocks in at less than ten minutes (by about a quarter of a minute), the final sinfonia, “Visions” is practically a quarter-hour in duration. Furthermore, just as Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth symphony required choral resources, “Visions” augmented the orchestra with five vocalists: one soprano (Shana Oshiro), one tenor (DeMarcus Bolds, two bass-baritones (Daniel J. Smith and V Savoy McIlwain), and one bass (Kevin Thompson). However, the vocal work tends to involve declamation, rather than “conventional” singing. (There is also a version that can be performed without vocalists.)

As was the case with the sonatas, I feel a need to note that this new album was a “first contact” experience. Indeed, I doubt that I can say very much about how Walker’s approach to composing his sonatas had any influence on his orchestral composing (or, for that matter, the other way around). As had been the case with compositions by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, “informed listening” involves the accumulation of multiple experiences. Personally, I would be more than delighted to encounter any one of the five sinfonias in a performance by the San Francisco Symphony; and I feel more than a little discouraged that I have no idea when such an opportunity will arise.

Red Poppy to Host Afro-Peruvian Quintet

It appears that performances at the Red Poppy Art House are back on track. Readers may recall that the venue hosted a “Bleeding Edge” performance at the beginning of this month; and it now appears that, thanks to Facebook, I may be able to give more consistent accounts of future performances. The first of these Facebook-enabled notifications will take place during the middle of next month.

The Huarango quintet of Javier Trujillo, Ayla Davila, Kyla Danysh, Pierr Padilla, and Pedro Rosales (screen shot from a YouTube video of a performance of “Yugo”)

The performers on that occasion will be the Huarango quintet, which performs Afro-Peruvian music. The members of that quintet, and their respective instruments, are as follows:

  • Pierr Padilla: cajon
  • Pedro Rosales: congas and voice
  • Kyla Danysh: violin and voice
  • Javier Trujillo: guitar
  • Ayla Davila: bass

The percussion work by Padilla and Rosales provides the foundation for the genre and is often extended with a quijada de burro (donkey’s jawbone). The quintet was formed in Oakland with the goal of diffusing Afro-Peruvian culture through the San Francisco Bay Area.

The group has provided the following statement about their name:

The Huarango is a tree that grows in the southern coast of Peru. It is characterized by its great resistance. It has strong roots that can measure up to 70 meters (230 feet) deep, this allows the tree to live up to one thousand years self-sufficiently feeding itself from the water in the subsoil. Therefore, it survives the arid land and hostile climate even creating new ecosystems for the habitat of other species.

The performances will take place on Saturday, October 14, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street, which is on the corner of 23rd Street. Doors will open at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online through Eventbrite for $25 and $35. Admission at the door will be for $30 or $35.

SFCM Bungles Opening Night Video Stream

As usually seems to be the case, last night the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) launched its season of concert and recital programming with a performance by the SFCM Orchestra led by conductor Edwin Outwater. There was much to engage the attentive listener in the program that had been prepared. Furthermore, the concert (which was described as sold out on its event page) marked the first livestream offering of the fall semester. This technology emerged as a means of making performances available during the early stages of the pandemic; and it has now become a “regular item” for many of the programs. However, as is always the case, technology demands training; and, while the SFCM Orchestra could not have been better prepared for last night’s performance, those responsible for the streaming technology were sadly ill-equipped.

Isabel Tannenbaum playing William Walton’s viola concerto (screen shot from last night’s video stream)

Fortunately, the problems only affected the video, meaning that the music that Outwater prepared for this program was given a highly satisfying audio account to do justice to the performance by the ensemble itself. The program followed the usual overture-concerto-symphony structure, except that both concerto and symphony had its own “introducing overture.” The concerto was William Walton’s viola concerto (one of the few opportunities to listen to a recording of Yehudi Menuhin playing the viola). The soloist was Isabel Tannenbaum, and her chemistry with Outwater could not have been better. Walton also had a keen ear for rich instrumentation, and Outwater knew exactly how to balance all of those sonorities against Tannenbaum’s solo work. The “overture” for this concerto was Anna Clyne’s “Masquerade,” perhaps suggesting that one good Brit deserves another! Nevertheless, her overall command of resources never rose to Walton’s capacity for inventive and compelling sonorities.

The symphony which concluded the program was Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 10, his first symphony, composed in the key of F minor during his student days. This is an impressive undertaking, particularly in light of the composer’s age. More importantly, however, it provided the perfect opportunity to experience the diversity of instrumental skills commanded by the Orchestra members, all managed expertly by Outwater’s conducting. The “overture” for this symphony was Mikhail Glinka’s settings of two Russian folk songs, “Kamarinskaya.” The performance was led by student conductor Chih-Yao Chang.

True to the music’s “folk” sources, there was a more than generous number of repetitions of each of the two song themes. Diversity dwelled in the instrumentation, and Chang knew how to evoke the subtleties of all of those sonorities in ways that would make all of the repetitions on the score pages come across as less repetitive. Unfortunately, for those of us watching the video, the camera cues were not always pointing at the right instruments at the right time.

This brings us to the primary down-side of the evening. Beyond the usual problems of cues in the wrong places, there was an unexplained (and aggravating) annoyance of the blurring of sharp images. This back-and-forth alternating of the blurred and the sharp took place during the entire performance, meaning that, even during the intermission, no one seemed capable of solving the problem.

The fact is that, no matter how much experience anyone has with personal video cameras, a video account of a concert performance is a sophisticated undertaking requiring a plethora of technical skills to supplement auditory attentiveness. I have built up my own catalog of streamed performances, almost all of which have been more than merely satisfying. Last night, however, not only failed to do justice to the performers but, for particularly attentive video viewers, also undermined the very process of listening to the music.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Decca Gold Releases New Plínio Fernandes Album

from the Web page for the album being discussed

Yesterday Decca Gold released the “sophomore” album of Brazilian guitarist Plínio Fernandes. The title of the new album in Bacheando; and, as one might guess, all of the selections involve some connection or other to Johann Sebastian Bach. As was the case with the first album, Saudade, there is also a distinctive present of Sérgio Assad throughout most of the tracks.

The “primary Bach presence” comes from the performance of his BWV 998, an assembly of three movements (Prelude, Fugue, Allegro) in E-flat major, which, in all likelihood, were originally composed for performance on a lute. Those three movements are immediately followed by another such assembly (this time Preludio, Fuga, Vivace), composed by Assad. It is also worth noting that Assad had a hand in providing either transcriptions or arrangements of the other tracks on the album.

However, establishing his presence is no easy matter. The Web page for this album displays only the album’s front cover, suggesting that the artist, title, and a rather feeble attempt at a track listing are the only information provided. The good news is that Presto Music provides a much more informative account on its own Web page for the album, although the track content is only available through download. It also affirms one of my other suspicions, which is that the “physical” release does not include a booklet.

The good news is that all eleven of the tracks make for thoroughly engaging listening. Nevertheless, the extent of that engagement has much to do with how a satisfying listening experience almost always involves more than the tracks themselves. (Remember when “Context is everything” was a favorite motto worked to death?) Perhaps Assad can give Fernandes a few tips on recording companies that take a more serious approach to the music that they market!

Chamber Music: the Third SFP Series to Launch

Calder Quartet members Tereza Stanislav, Benjamin Jacobson, Eric Byers, and Jonathan Moerschel (photograph by Jesse Holland, courtesy of SFP)

Following up on the first performances of the Piano Series on October 6 and the Guitar Series on October 7, San Francisco Performances (SFP) will launch its Shenson Chamber Series on October 10. As was previously announced, this series will present five different string quartets; but, for three of those programs, the quartet will be joined by a “guest artist.” That will be the case for the first program in the series. The quartet will be the members of the Calder Quartet, violinists Benjamin Jacobson and Tereza Stanislav, violist Jonathan Moerschel, and cellist Eric Byers. Their “guest” will be pianist and composer Timo Andres.

All five musicians will join forces for only one composition, a piano quintet by Andres entitled “The Great Span.” (Andres presented the world premiere of this composition performing with the Calder Quartet.) The quartet will begin the program with another Andres composition, “Machine, Learning;” and they will also play Franz Schubert’s D. 804 in A minor, often known as the “Rosamunde” quartet, because the theme of the second movement drew upon incidental music that Schubert composed for a play of the same name by Helmina von Chézy. The program will conclude with a solo piano performance by Andres. He will play Ann Southam’s “Remembering Schubert,” which will serve as a reflection on the D. 804 string quartet.

Like all of the Shenson Chamber Series concerts, this recital will take place in Herbst Theater, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 10. The entrance to Herbst Theatre is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. This venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Ticket prices are $70 (premium Orchestra and front and center Dress Circle), $60 (remainder of Orchestra, all Side Boxes, and center rear Dress Circle), and $50 (remaining Dress Circle and Balcony); and they may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page. As available, single tickets will be sold at the door with a 50% discount for students and a 20% discount for seniors. Single tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545.

SFS Season Begins with Opening Night Gala

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) launched its 2023–24 season with its annual Opening Night Gala. As was the case last year, Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen took an imaginative approach in selecting those that would perform with the musicians of the SFS ensemble. This involved two compositions, each of which had its own way of marking the end of its respective century.

The first of these accounted for the end of the nineteenth century, involving a composer that would boldly cross the bridge into the twentieth (probably building at least parts of that bridge himself). Baritone Simon Keenlyside sang Gustav Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (songs of a wayfarer) song cycle. Many would call this Mahler’s first mature work (he was in his early twenties when he completed it). The overall theme could be called “A Lover’s Rejection,” in which clouds of depression grow from one song to the next.

Keenlyside accounted for this descent without ever hinting of wallowing it. The only downside is that the audience had to contend with a video, prepared by 59 Productions with Technical Advisor Luke Kritzeck, that went to great length to distract the listener from that poetic trajectory. Fortunately, Keenlyside’s own comportment made for a viable challenge to the video nonsense, even if it was projected on a very large screen.

Anthony Veneziale, Hila Plitmann, and Kev Choice performing with SFS (photograph by Devlin Shand for for Drew Altizer Photography, courtesy of SFS)

The second of the two works that formed the core of the program went all the way up to the end of the twentieth century, having been completed in 2000. This was the first San Francisco performance of Anders Hillborg’s “Rap Notes.” It required three vocal soloists, hip-hop artist Kev Choice, freestyle artist Anthony Veneziale, and soprano Hila Plitmann. This piece worked better with its video background. It provided the text account of the rapping exchanged between Choice and Veneziale.

That projection provided a useful supplement to the performance until the two rappers decided to start improvising! Those improvisations seem to have summoned Plitmann to the stage, where she took the most difficult passage for the Queen of the Night in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 620 opera The Magic Flute and sang it over and over again. This turned out to be the wildest trio singing that I have ever encountered since the days of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.

These two vocal selections were framed by two warhorses. The program opened with a vigorous account of Richard Strauss’ Opus 20 tone poem “Don Juan.” This was another performance supplemented with video. However, it did not take long for the attentive listener to realize that Kritzeck and his team did not have the foggiest idea what the music was doing. They would have done well to consult James M. Keller’s notes for the program book, since the music does have a narrative. Instead, the audience had to view a parade of videos of women; and, for those of my generation, it felt a bit like flipping mindlessly through an issue of Playboy.

The program concluded with Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro.” By this time I knew enough to avoid caring whether or not any video was being projected. This is music that migrates sensuously among the different sections of the orchestra. There is no need for any video supplements since the sonorities clue attentive listener awareness into following the evolving changes in instrumental color. This eventually culminates in the entire ensemble going at it full-blast; but just as effective is the moment around two-thirds of the way into the score, when the entire string section shifts from pizzicato to vigorous bowing.

Was this reinforced by video projection? Who knows? Who cares?

Friday, September 22, 2023

Another Single-Word-Title Album from Igor Levit

Igor Levit on the cover of his latest album (courtesy of Jensen Artists)

Those that have been familiar with this site for some time probably know that it has given a generous amount of attention to pianist Igor Levit. For the most part the articles have provided commentary for his recordings, most (if not all) of which have single-word titles. However, here in San Francisco this was a banner year for Levit, since he gave four performances in Davies Symphony in his capacity as Artist-in-Residence for the San Francisco Symphony (SFS).

From a personal point of view, I have to say that I took considerable satisfaction in having an opportunity to listen to a concert performance of Ferruccio Busoni’s Opus 39 piano concerto, which Levit performed with SFS. Those familiar with the work of pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk probably know of his reputation for presenting “monster” concerts, which featured outrageously flamboyant technical challenges. Busoni’s concerto is a “monster” in its own right; but it “goes to the next level,” framing all of that flamboyance in an overall architecture, which I had described as “symmetry within symmetry” when I wrote about the structure of the score.

One week from today Sony Classical will release its eighth album of solo piano performances by Levit. The title of the album is Fantasia; and, as in the past, has created a Web page to process pre-orders. Over the course of two CDs, Levit serves up fiery performances of three major virtuoso undertakings. The first of these was a keyboard composition by Johann Sebastian Bach, his BWV 903 “Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue.” This is given a “back-to-back” performance, coupled with Franz Liszt’s B minor piano sonata. However, the demands that must be met to provide convincing accounts of these two pieces are dwarfed by those of the “main event” on the second CD, Busoni’s “Fantasia contrappuntistica.” This was composed about six years after the piano concerto. While many will probably find it more accessible than the concerto, there is no questioning the magnitude of technical challenges posed by both compositions.

Too be fair, one must also take note of one more demanding composition on this new album. This is Alban Berg’s Opus 1, a single-movement piano sonata composed during his studies with Arnold Schoenberg. However, where technical challenges are concerned, the bar is relatively low. (I say this because I was able to get my own fingers around this piece, back in the days when they were more agile!) More significant are the ways in which Berg found his own path for working with the absence of a tonal center. Furthermore, it would be fair to characterize this as a “cerebral” composition, which can also be said of BWV 903 (Bach being the ultimate pedagogue of his day) but not of the flamboyant rhetorical turns found in both Liszt and Busoni.

It is also worth noting that my past recital encounters with “Fantasia contrappuntistica” have been performances by two pianists. As a result, Levit’s new solo recording deserves a special place in my catalog of recordings. Mind you, having experienced his solo work in the Opus 39 piano concerto, I cannot say that I was particularly surprised to find that the “Fantasia contrappuntistica” would also get solo treatment.

Post:ballet in San Francisco Next Month

Regular readers probably know by now that Post:ballet in based in Berkeley but occasionally gives performances within the San Francisco city limits. This year two of those performances will take place next month, and one of them will be a free public event, which will be held outdoors. Specifics are as follows:

Sunday, October 8, 7:30 p.m., ODC Theater: Post:ballet will contribute to the San Francisco Dance Film Festival (SFDFF) with both a film screening and a live performance. “say i am you” was originally created by Resident Choreographer Moscelyne ParkeHarrison. It was conceived to be performed outdoors in Salesforce Park. For this particular performance, ParkeHarrison’s choreography will be danced against a screening of a film of the dancers that participated in the original version. It will be presented as part of the second of the two Bay Area Shorts programs, which will take place on the closing night of the Festival. All tickets for this program will be $20, and they may be purchased online through the SFDFF Web page for this final program. The ODC Theater is located in the Mission at 3153 17th Street on the southwest corner of Shotwell Street.

Sunday, October 15, noon and 2 p.m., Salesforce Park: The following Sunday will see the return of Post:ballet to Salesforce Park. As was the case last year, the dancers will probably distribute themselves through the entire space, which is several blocks long and is on the roof of the Salesforce Transit Center. This time, however, the performance will be supplemented with movement workshops for the audience. These events will take place free of charge. The primary access to the park is through the Salesforce Transit Center at 425 Mission Street, which is the terminus for several of the Muni bus lines.

SFCMP Premieres Three Emerging Composers

Last night in Herbst Theatre, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP), led by Artistic Director Eric Dudley, presented a showcase of the beneficiaries of the ARTZenter Institute's Emerging Composer Grant Program. The program consisted of three world premiere performances of works by three composers, one, Julie Zhu, born in 1990 and the other two, Patrick Holcomb and Bobby Ge, born in 1996. While much of “new music” tends to have been composed on a chamber music scale, all three of the works on last night’s program were performed by the full SFCMP ensemble.

The presentation was an interesting one. Each piece would be performed, after which the composer would engage in dialog with Dudley, primarily about the motivation behind the act of composition. That dialog was then followed by a second performance of the music, providing the listener with a different (and, hopefully, richer) frame of reference.

Each composer took a unique approach to the dialog. I was particularly interested in Zhu, whose own “performing instrument” is the carillon. My own first encounter with this instrument took place on the Berkeley campus. I found that I could go upstairs in the tower that housed the bells and watch the act of performance behind the music.

While each work was decidedly unique, all three compositions seem to have been inspired by different aspects of the natural world. Thus Zhu’s composition, “as swiftly and fading as soon,” was a reflection on the weather. “This City Was Once an Ocean,” by Patrick Holcomb, was a reflection on climate change and the possibility that the human race will occupy only a modest span of time in the overall life of the planet. “The Floating World,” the concluding work on the program by Bobby Ge, was inspired by the familiar woodblock print by Hokusai, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”

Taken as a whole, this was a decidedly rich experience. Nevertheless, even with the benefit of the second-listening experience, there seemed to be an overall sense of sameness at the “deep structure,” in spite of the variety of “surface structures.” Walking back from Herbst, I realized that all three composers were of a generation for which the music of John Adams was familiar. As a result, both approaches to instrumentation and the rhetorical expression of thematic material reflected a background that those of my generation had only encountered in middle age.

The act of listening always requires some sort of point of departure. Every generation has its own reference point for that point of departure. Thus, my own impressions last night were those of having a “first contact” with points of departure of a new generation that offered their own unique listening experiences.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Outsound Presents: October, 2023

Readers probably know by now that this month’s Outsound Presents events were limited only to the two LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) New Music Series events taking place on Wednesday evenings (the second of which took place last night). As of this writing, only two events have been scheduled for next month. As was the case this past June, there will be one program in the SIMM (Static Illusion Methodical Madness) Series, followed later in the week by one LSG New Music Series concert. However, according to the current schedule on the Outsound Web site, it appears that November will return to the familiar three-concert format. Meanwhile, specifics for next month are as follows:

Sunday, October 1, 7:30 p.m., Musicians Union Hall: The SIMM Series program will follow the usual two-set format. The first set will be taken by the Evidence Trio, which is distinguished by having a theremin, played by Andrew Joron, as one of the instruments. The other two instruments are more familiar: saxophone played by Kersti Abrams and Thomas Harrison on bass. The second set will be a duo performance pairing avant-garde percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani with Rent Romus on saxophones and flutes (both of a variety of different sizes). The current plan is that their set will be recorded for later release. The Musicians Union Hall is located at 116 9th Street, near the corner of Mission Street. General admission will be $20 with a $15 rate for students and those age 62 or older. Tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance through an Eventbrite Web page.

Wednesday, October 4, 8 p.m., Luggage Story Gallery: This program will be devoted entirely to composer and bassist James Ilgenfritz. He has performed in a prodigious number of different countries, and his improvisation work has involved an equally prodigious number of fellow composers, including Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, Rufus Reid, Anthony Braxton, and Gene Tyranny. For this particular performance, he will be joined by James Fei and other special guests yet to be announced. The Luggage Store Gallery is located at 1007 Market Street, just off the corner of Sixth Street and across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street. Admission is on a sliding scale between $10 and $20. However, no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Plans for One Found Sound’s Eleventh Season

Readers may recall that, for One Found Sound (OFS), the last season was a landmark event, celebrating the tenth anniversary of this orchestral ensemble that performs without a conductor. This past Friday, OFS announced plans for eleventh season, promising that it would be the “biggest and boldest one yet.” As in the past there will be three orchestral concerts, two of which will present world premiere performances. There will also be the annual fundraising gala, as well as the out-of-the-ordinary holiday spectacular entitled Holiday Pop Rox! This season several different venues will host different different events, all of which will still take place on Saturday evenings. All tickets will be sold individually through Ticket Tailor. A Web page has been created for all OFS events; but, as of this writing, tickets are available only for the opening concert of the season. In order of occurrence, the programs will be as follows:

One Found Sound performing at Heron Arts (courtesy of the ensemble)

October 14, 8 p.m., Heron Arts, Velocity: The first half of the program will present recent works by two of today’s most exciting composers, both of whom happen to be women. Hannah Kendall will lead the program with “Vera,” which will be followed by “bubblegum grass/peppermint field” by Angélica Negrón. The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to Franz Schubert’s D. 803 octet in F major, scored for winds and strings. Max Savage will return to present new visuals and lighting designs.

December 9, 8 p.m., Holiday Pop Rox!: Once again Jesse Barrett will host an evening of favorite holiday tunes. Also once again there will be a special guest appearance by drag queen and performer JAX. The other guest will be Nicki J., this year’s Drag Queen of the Year winner. As was the case last year, the Web page for purchasing tickets, which will also announce the venue, has not yet been created but should appear later in the fall.

March 2, 8 p.m., Swedish American Hall, Waveform: This program will begin with the winner of the OFS Emerging Composer Award for this year, Sam Wu. The title of his award-winning composition is “Hydrosphere.” It will be coupled, appropriately enough, with a work by Ruth Gipps entitled “Seascape.” The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 55 (third) symphony in E-flat major, best known by the title “Eroica.”

April 27, 8 p.m., Swedish American Hall, Supersonic: Some readers may recall that, this past March, OFS launched its Herbert Franklin Mells Project, created to honor the little-known Black American composer of that name. The program for that occasion included his first symphony, composed in 1938. This program will present the world premiere of his “Newsflashes of Late ’44,” a march inspired by the Battle of the Bulge, which was a major turning point on the European front of World War II. The program will begin with a more positive perspective on Germany, Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1046, the first of his six “Brandenburg” concertos, composed in the key of F major. The remaining work on the program will acknowledge another contemporary female composer, Valerie Coleman. Her “Phenomenal Women” lives up to its name, having been inspired by the efforts of women like Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, and Serena Williams.

June 8, 7 p.m., Heron Arts, Now! That’s What I Call a Gala, Volume 11: This will be the annual fundraising party. This year the music will provide “a blast from the past.” It will feature arrangements of some of the greatest hits from the late nineties and the new century.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Stephanie Jones to Launch SFP Guitar Series

Guitarist Stephanie Jones, who will be making her San Francisco debut at the beginning of next month (courtesy of San Francisco Performances)

As was announced this past Sunday, San Francisco Performances (SFP) will launch its 2023–24 season with the first program in its Piano Series, the return of Isata Kanneh-Mason for a solo recital on October 6. The following evening will mark the beginning of the Guitar Series with another solo recital. This one will feature the San Francisco debut of Stephanie Jones; and, as is the case with all concerts in this series, it will be presented in partnership with the Dynamite Guitars series of the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts.

As was observed when the plans for the Guitar Series were announced on this site this past July, Jones, who will be visiting from Australia, commands an “impressively diverse” repertoire. The major work on her program will be an entire account of Ástor Piazzolla’s Estaciones Porteñas, known in English as The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, since the four collected compositions are associated with summer, winter, spring, and autumn. This will be the penultimate selection on her program, which, like many guitar recitals, will begin with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. This will be two movements, “Gavotte en Rondeau” and “Gigue,” from BWV 1006.2, the arrangement of the BWV 1006.1 solo violin partita in E major, which may (or may not) have been written for lute solo.

The major portion of the program will be devoted to five composers, all of whom are unfamiliar to me. In the context of “current events,” the most interesting of them will be the Ukrainian Rostyslav Holubov, who composed a fantasy based on a Ukrainian folk song whose title translates into English as “Oh, in the cherry orchard.” As may have been anticipated, two of the composers are Australian, Richard Charlton and Ross Edwards, both of whom are represented by musical reflections on birds. The other two contributors to the program will be the Bavarian composer and guitarist Jakob Schmidt and Argentinian guitarist Quique Sinesi. The program will conclude with a nod to Antônio Carlos Jobim with Roland Dyens’ arrangement of “A felicidade.”

This performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 7. The venue will be St. Mark’s Lutheran Church at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. All tickets are being sold for $60, both on the main floor and in the balcony. They may be purchased through an SFP secure Web Page or by calling 415-392-2545.

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Bleeding Edge: 9/18/2023

This will be another busy week with a generous number of new events. On the other hand, the number of events already announced is equal to that of the new offerings. The four events that have already been reported are as follows:

  • The second LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) Creative Music Series concert will begin, as usual, at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, September 20, at 1007 Market Street, just off the corner of Sixth Street and across from the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street.
  • This week’s three performances of EXPLORATIONS of EXTRACTION and DECAY: a Palliative Song Cycle of Bodies and Stuff will take place at Audium (1616 Bush Street) at 7:30 p.m. on September 21–23.
  • Ensemble for These Times will present its Transformation program for Old First Concerts at 8 p.m. on Friday, September 22, at the Old First Presbyterian Church at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue.
  • The Lab, which is a short walk from the corner of Mission Street at 16th Street, will host the Sounds of Slowing Down performed by the SO AR duo of cellist Shanna Sordahl and percussionist Robert Lopez at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 23.

The previously unreported events for this week are as follows:

Tuesday, September 19, 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 The Holly Martins, the trio of Kasey Knudsen on alto saxophone, Eric Vogler on guitar, and vocalist Lorin Benedict. This will be followed by the second set at 7:45 p.m., which will be a solo performance by Matt Robidoux, probably involving one or more different types of guitar. The final set will begin at 8:30 p.m. with a performance by the Mark Clifford Group; Clifford has not yet provided information about the performers that will be joining him.

Friday, September 22, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore & Gallery: This will be the latest performance by reed player David Boyce as part of his semi-regular Friday residency. For this particular performance, he will be joined by clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg. 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.

Friday, September 22, 8:30 p.m., The Warehouse: This will be a three-set program. There will be a “multimedia” trio performance with Joshua Churchill and AC Way performing during the screeing of the film “Hugo Ballroom.” The second set will be taken by the Voicehandler duo of Jacob Felix Heule and Danishta Rivera. Chris Duncan will take the remaining set with a performance entitled “Seasons.” No further details have been provided. Those interested in attending will need to get in touch with one of the performers.

Sunday, September 24, 2 p.m., Vesuvio: Vesuvio is the bar in North Beach at 255 Columbus Avenue. It is adjacent to City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, separated by Kerouac Alley. Dave Mihaly will be in that alley giving his latest Sound Architecture performance. There will be no charge for going to the Alley for the performance. Those wishing to spend money are invited to choose between a drink at Vesuvio or a book at City Lights!

SFO: Beyond the McVicar Staging

Yesterday afternoon I returned to the War Memorial Opera House for a second encounter with the first San Francisco Opera (SFO) production of the season, Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore. Those that read about my first encounter know that it left much to be desired, due, for the most part, to the staging by David McVicar, which amounted to an unsatisfying account of the narrative behind Salvadore Cammarano’s libretto. This time I shifted my attention to the leading vocalists, making the afternoon far more satisfying.

At the top of the list was, as might be expected, the title role of Manrico, sung by tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz. He is no stranger to SFO, nor, for that matter, to the Italian repertoire. Nevertheless, it has been a while since my last encounter, which took place June of 2017, when he sang the role of Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème. By the time this opera has advanced to the tragedy of the final act, the portrayal of Rodolfo risks going over the top with tear-your-hair-out grief. Chacón-Cruz found the “sweet spot” of intensity without overt excess. Similarly, his approach to Manrico reflected a substrate of nobility that the character himself never recognizes, thus keeping the entire narrative from descending into trivial melodrama.

Manrico (Arturo Chacón-Cruz) and Azucena (Ekaterina Semenchuk) in Il trovatore (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SFO)

Manrico’s character is best understood by Azucena, sung by mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk. This is the character that gets a farcical poke from the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera. More importantly, it complements the role of Manrico by also teetering on the brink of melodrama. Semenchuk knew how to establish her role as the tragic infrastructure of the narrative. Through the entire opera she inhabits a cloud of darkness, which Semenchuk knew exactly how to portray without succumbing to excess.

One might say that the narrative as a whole is structured around two triangles, rather than a single conflicted one. Two of the sides of both triangles are taken by Azucena, who knows the truth of Manrico’s identity, and Manrico himself, who never learns it. In the first of the triangles, the “third side” is the Count di Luna, sung by baritone George Petean, making his SFO debut. The triangle is frustrated by ignorance, since the Count never learns of his connections to the other two sides. The same is true of the second triangle, in which Manrico and the Count are rivals for Leonora’s love. (Soprano Angel Blue is making her role debut in this production.) Again, the underlying truth is hidden from all three of these characters; but, in the second triangle, one comes away sympathizing with the loss that Leonora must endure.

As I wrote in my previous article, Production by David McVicar was too wrapped up in playing with stage machinery (including a rotating platform that began to get tedious even before the intermission) to pay much attention to the “social network” behind Cammarano’s narrative. Fortunately, while working with Revival Director Roy Rallo, the “sides” of those two triangles emerged with more than adequate clarity. Thus, while McVicar distracted with “too much information” with his devices, the vocalists working with Rallo brought chilling reality to the characters trapped in those two triangles.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Anthony Burgess Guitar Quartets on Naxos

I first became aware of the musical side of novelist Anthony Burgess when his novel Napoleon Symphony first appeared. This was a book in four “movements” about Napoleon that reflected the four movements of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 55 (third) symphony, best known as the “Eroica.” Beethoven had originally dedicated this symphony to Napoleon; but that dedication was retracted (replaced with the word “Eroica”) when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor.

I remember reading a newspaper article in which Burgess claimed he wrote the book with his typewriter to the right of his desk and his piano to the left. Some of the Beethoven references in the text are amusingly explicit. It is easy to sing the opening words of the second chapter to the opening theme of the second movement of Opus 55. Ultimately, however, it is Napoleon that dominated the novel, rather than Beethoven.

courtesy of Naxos of America

With that distant context, I was not surprised to learn that, this coming Friday, Naxos Classics would release a CD of the complete guitar quartets (four guitars, not guitar and three string instruments) composed by Burgess. This includes three numbered quartets and Morceaux Irlandais settings of three folk songs, as well as arrangements of the “Mercury” movement from Gustav Holst’s Opus 32 suite The Planets and the overture to Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Oberon. As many readers will expect, has created a Web page for pre-ordering this new release.

Like the joke about a dog walking on its hind legs, the fact that Burgess composed such a generous amount of music for guitar quartet is impressive just for having been done at all. This is perhaps particularly important when it came to dealing with the rich orchestration of Holst’s suite, which may be the most impressive rabbit that Burgess pulls out of his hat. However, I was just as impressed by the number of traditional classical forms that show up in the guitar movements and the freshness that Burgess brought to each of those structures.

Burgess may not have spent as much time composing music as he devoted to the typewriter on the other side of his desk. Nevertheless, it is clear that he took his work very seriously. The problem is that there are just too few opportunities to listen to guitar quartet recitals. A decade ago I would not have been surprised to encounter these pieces in performances at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. These days I would not hold my breath, but readers know that I continue to key my eyes open for guitar recitals!

Isata Kanneh-Mason Returning Next Month

Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason (courtesy of San Francisco Performances)

At the beginning of next month, San Francisco Performances will launch its 2023–24 season with the first program in its Piano Series. The first recitalist in the series will be Isata Kanneh-Mason, who made her solo debut in Herbst Theatre on March 8, 2022. This was followed in April with the San Francisco debut of her duo with her brother, cellist Sheku, in Davies Symphony Hall.

Last year’s solo recital provided an engaging account of selections from the twentieth and 21st centuries. Next month she will shift her attention to the first half of the nineteenth century. The second half of the program will couple Robert Schumann’s Opus 15 Kinderszenen with Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 58 (third) piano sonata in B minor. The first half will be more adventurous with a performance of the “Easter Sonata,” composed by Fanny Mendelssohn. That selection will be preceded by the one eighteenth-century offering, Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken XVI/50 sonata in C major.

Like all of the Piano Series concerts, this recital will take place in Herbst Theater, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 6. The entrance to Herbst Theatre is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. This venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Ticket prices are $70 (premium Orchestra and front and center Dress Circle), $60 (remainder of Orchestra, all Side Boxes, and center rear Dress Circle), and $50 (remaining Dress Circle and Balcony); and they may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page. As available, single tickets will be sold at the door with a 50% discount for students and a 20% discount for seniors. Single tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Omni to Stream One Guitarist with Five Guitars

Guitarist Marcin Dylla (courtesy of the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts)

This morning the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts announced the next video to be added to its OMNI on-Location video series. The program will take an interesting departure from usual practices. Past recitals have presented a guitarist playing a series of compositions on his instrument. On this new release, there will still be a single guitarist, Marcin Dylla. However, he will play only one composition, the five-movement suite by the twentieth-century composer Vicente Ascencio entitled Collectici Intim. Each of the movements in this “intimate collection” will be performed on a different guitar. The oldest of those instruments was built in 1886, and the most recent was completed in 1957.

As usual, this new video will be streamed through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel. [9/19, 12:25 p.m.: The date of the performance has been pushed back to October. The premiere will be live-streamed at 10 a.m. on Sunday, October 15.] The YouTube Web page for viewing has already been created. There is no charge for admission, which means that these performances are made possible only by the viewers’ donations. A Web page has been created for processing contributions, and any visits made prior to the streaming itself will be most welcome.

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Cello+Orchestra on Naxos

This coming Friday Naxos will release an album of concertante music for cello and orchestra by Heitor Villa-Lobos as the latest installment in its The Music of Brazil series. This accounts for two concertos, the first composed in 1915 and the second in 1954, along with a three-movement “Fantasia.” The 1915 concerto is also in three movements, played without interruptions. The 1953 concerto is in four movements with the last two played without interruption. As is usually the case, has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

Joaquín Roca Carrasco’s portrait of Villa-Lobos with his cello (from an online article from The Strad)

As a performer Villa-Lobos played both cello and classical guitar. This best-known work, the fifth of his “Bachianas Brasileiras” compositions, was scored for a cello orchestra with the leader taking solo passages to complement the solo performance by a soprano vocalist. However, those familiar with all nine of the compositions in that series are probably aware of his keen ear for instrumental coloration. Thus, all three of the works on this new release provide a rich diversity of sonorities to complement the virtuoso solo work composed for the cello.

Those that follow this site regularly probably know by now that I seldom pass up an opportunity to listen to works by Villa-Lobos, whether in performance or on a recording. The breath of his “complete works” canon is extensive enough that many (if not most) of my encounters are journeys of discovery. That is definitely the case with this new release. I had previously encountered cellist Antonio Meneses as a member of the Beaux Arts Trio, but this was my first encounter with his work as a concerto soloist. On the other hand, I have been familiar with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Brazilian Isaac Karabtchevsky for some time, since they had previously recorded the complete symphonies of Villa-Lobos for Naxos.

As always, this new release reminded me that every Villa-Lobos composition provides its own opportunities for discovery.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Other Minds Announces Latitudes 21

Latitudes 21 performers (clockwise from upper-left corner) Foreign/Domestic, Matt Robidoux, and Sult (from the Latitudes 21 Eventbrite Web page)

This morning Other Minds announced the latest installment in its Latitudes series. This will be Latitudes 21; and, like Latitudes 20, it will consist of three sets. These will be a solo, a duo, and a trio, although the order of the performances does not seem to have been finalized. Matt Robidoux has described his solo set as “a lysergic world oscillating wildly between hysteria and self-possession.” (That adjective “lysergic” serves as a vivid reminder of my student days.) The duo calls itself Foreign/Domestic, and it consists of the pairing of guitarist Zachary James Watkins with drummer John Diaz. Sult is a trio that pairs the duo of contrabass and acoustic guitar with percussion. They describe their improvisations as “an other-worldly matrix of scrapes, thrums, and throbs.”

As was the case for Latitudes 20, the venue will be the St John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, located in the Mission at 1661 15th Street, between Mission Street and Valencia Street. The performance of this program will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 28. Once again, ticketing for this event is Pay What You Can, with a suggested ticket price of $20 per person. Payment can be made in advance through an Eventbrite Web page.

David Helbock’s Austrian Jazz Album

Cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Jazz Promo Services)

When one thinks of Austrian jazz, the first (if not only) name that comes to mind is that of Joe Zawinul. My own “first contact” came from his keyboard work for Miles Davis as part of what has come to be known as the “Bitches Brew sessions.” Those recordings heralded the emergence of the jazz fusion genre with Zawinul as a leading advocate. Austrian Syndicate, a recent album released by keyboardist David Helbock, offers a return to the roots of fusion jazz and how things subsequently developed.

Availability of this album seems to be a bit up in the air, at least on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. It was released on the ACT label at the end of last month, and may be purchased through the label’s Web page for the album. However, the price is in Euros, and one will have to allow for delivery time. However, on the same date the twelve tracks of the album were made available for MP3 download through an Web page, which has hyperlinks for “physical” albums that are not currently operative.

Helbock leads a combo whose other members are Peter Madsen on piano, Raphael Preuschi alternating between bass and bass ukulele, and two percussionists, Herbert Pirker and Claudio Spieler. There are also five guest artists, two of whom, Maria João and Dhafer Youssef, are vocalists. The other three are Lakecia Benjamin on saxophone, Fred Wesley on trombone, and Alex Acuña on percussion.

When placed alongside Bitches Brew, Austrian Syndicate takes a more diverse approach to fusion rhetoric. If the genre provided Davis with an opportunity to explore his dark side, Helbock is not shy when it comes to serving up unabashed lyricism. Some may find that lyricism more than a bit too syrupy. On the other hand I have to confess that I tend to find the Bitches Brew tracks more than a little over the top, preferring to listen to them individually, rather than as an entire album. Helbock brings more breadth to his album, for which he is responsible for five of the twelve tracks (one jointly with Madsen). Furthermore, all of the tracks are laid out to provide a diverse and engaging journey, which concludes with a modest nod to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (who, after all, still remains as a leading icon of Austrian music)!