Tuesday, October 31, 2023

SFO to Conclude Fall Season with Comedy

Group scene of the Italian Riviera in the Fifties from the Lyric Opera of Chicago production of L’elisir d’amore (photography by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SFO)

Following up on a series of decidedly intense operas, including the Bay Area premiere of Omar, which will receive its first performance this coming Sunday, San Francisco Opera (SFO) will conclude its Fall Season with the West Coast premiere of a new staging of a long-time favorite comedy, Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (the elixir of love). The staging was conceived by Director Daniel Slater working with Choreographer Tim Claydon, the same team that gave this co-production its first performance by the Lyric Opera of Chicago. There are also several choral moments (see the above photograph); and the SFO Chorus will be directed by John Keene.

Readers should note that “long-time” is no mere exaggeration. L’elisir d’amore was given its first performance by SFO on September 14, 1929, some ninety-odd years after the opera was first performed in Milan on May 12, 1832. Ironically, this opera was inspired by another opera, Le philtre by Daniel Auber, which had its debut in Milan during the previous year. The narrative itself is probably much older than Auber’s opera. In Felice Roman’s libretto for Donizetti, the hero is Nemorino, too shy to win the heart of the village sweetheart Adina, who seems to be more attracted to the army sergeant Belcore. As a result, Nemorino turns to the medicine man Dr. Dulcamara for the magic potion of the opera’s title to improve his standing with Adina.

The role of Nemorino will be sung by tenor Pene Pati, who has been a San Francisco favorite since his performances in the Merola Opera Program in 2013 followed by SFO Adler Fellowships in 2016 and 2017. Slovak soprano Slávka Zámečníková will be making her American debut as Adina, a role she will be singing for the first time. Belcore will be sung by Serbian baritone David Bizic, who will be making his SFO debut. Similarly, Italian baritone Renato Girolami will take the role of Dulcamara for his SFO debut. Spanish conductor Ramón Tebar will also make his SFO debut, having previously conducted this opera at the Gran Theatre del Liceu in Barcelona.

As was the case for Omar, L’elisir d’amore will be given its first performance on a Sunday at 2 p.m. on November 19. It will be followed by five performances, four beginning at 7:30 p.m., on November 24 and 29 and on December 5 and 9, and a second 2 p.m. performance on November 26. On November 29 the role of Nemorino will be sung by tenor Jonah Hoskins. Ticket prices range from $26 to $426; and a single Web page has been created for tickets for all six of the dates. Tickets may also 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 2 p.m. on November 26. The charge will be $27.50, and it may be purchased through a separate Web page.

Monday, October 30, 2023

The Bleeding Edge: 10/30/2023

This week’s calendar of events is moderately generous, but all of those events are taking place on either Wednesday, November 1, or Saturday, November 4. So readers will have to make some hard choices. One of the Wednesday events has already been reported, the first LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) New Music Series concert on the Outsound Presents calendar. However, it will have to compete with a show presented by the Dead End Vintage clothing store, whose proceeds will benefit Medical Aid for Palestinians. Specifics are as follows:

Wednesday, November 1, 8:30 p.m., Dead End Vintage: This will be a three-set program, beginning with two solo sets by visiting improvisers. The program will then conclude with a new local trio. Yan Jun is a musician and poet based in Beijing. His solo will use electronics for noise, field recordings, and amplification of the sounds of his own body. He will be followed by a solo cornet set by Rebecca Novak, visiting from Houston. She will perform in a visual context of 35-millimeter slides. The new trio will consist of Wilson Shook on soprano saxophone, Kevin Corcoran on percussion, and Aine Eva Nakamura, who supplements her vocal work with movement. Dead End Vintage is located in the Mission at 3370 19th Street, between Mission Street and Capp Street. Doors will open at 7:30 p.m. Admission will be between $10 and $20.

The Saturday events are as varied in geography as in performance content; specifics are as follows:

Saturday, November 4, 1 p.m., The New Farm: This will also be a highly varied three-set program serving up three distinct flavors of instrumental music. The sets will be taken by Lords of Outland, VOCO, and Bill Wohler’s Kairos. The New Farm is located in the Bayview at 10 Cargo Way. No information about the charge for admission has been released.

Saturday, November 4, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Exactly one year ago Bird & Beckett hosted and streamed a performance by Noertker’s Moxie, a quartet let by bassist Bill Noertker joined by wind player Annelise Zamula, Brett Carson on piano, and Jason Levis on drums. The show was recorded in an anticipated release of a CD entitled Noertker’s Moxie Live at Bird and Beckett. [updated 10/31, 10:10 a.m.: Noertker has now released a new and decidedly different CD. Once again, it is a quartet performance; and only the drummer has changed, from Levis to Eli Knowles.] The album title is in flitters: 49 bits from B*ck*tt, and the music was inspired by Samuel Beckett’s book Watt.

For those that do not already know Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station that serves both BART and Muni. The price of admission is $20 in cash for the cover charge. Given that only a limited number of people will be admitted, reservations are necessary and can be made by calling 415-586-3733. The phone will be answered during regular store hours, which are between noon and 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday. This performance will also be live-streamed for a viewing fee of $10.

Saturday, November 4, 7:30 p.m., San Francisco Zen Center: This will be a program of butoh dance and virtuosic, improvised music. The butoh selections will be danced by Shoshana Green, who is based here in San Francisco, and Min Yoon, who will be visiting from Berlin. The music will be provided by Phillip Greenlief on saxophone and percussionist Kevin Corcoran. The Zen Center is located on the edge of Hayes Valley at 308 Page Street, between Laguna Street and Buchanan Street. General admission will be $30, and tickets are being sold through an Eventbrite Web page.

Saturday, November 4, 8 p.m., Lakeside Presbyterian Church: This will be the annual fall program prepared by the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra. The title of the program will be Life Forces. The contributing composers and their respective works will be as follows:

  • Mark Alburger: Mikhail’s Navy
  • Hussein Al-Nasrawi: Mark
  • Michael Cooke: Open Ended
  • Michael Orlinsky: Requiem
  • Vance Maverick: Lumping and Splitting
  • Scott Sterlin: Melodious Bugling
  • Davide Verotta: Energy

Lakeside Presbyterian Church is located at 201 Eucalyptus Drive, just off Highway 1 near Stonestown. Tickets will be sold only at the door. General admission is $25 with a sliding scale available for students and seniors. Further information is available by calling 707-474-7273.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

SFCM Baroque Ensemble: Disappointing Video

This afternoon I decided to view another live video stream from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). The offering was the performance by the SFCM Baroque Ensemble, an all-string chamber orchestra of students led by Corey Jamason, one of the Directors of the Historical Performance Department. As had been the case on opening night, the performance took place in the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall. On that occasion I observed that “those responsible for the streaming technology were sadly ill-equipped.”

This time the streaming experience was even less equipped. As a result, the video did not begin until the middle of the first (Adagio) movement of the Antonio Vivaldi concerto known as “Madrigalesco,” which was the second work on the program. Taken as a whole, the listening and viewing experience was so inferior to the high quality of Chamber Music Tuesday programs, streamed from the Barbro Osher Recital Hall, that I have to wonder whether no one took streaming from the Concert Hall seriously.

Corey Jamason leading the SFCM Baroque Ensemble from the harpsichord (screen shot from the video of the SFCM concert being discussed)

The good news is that, when the technology finally did kick in, it was limited to a single camera in a fixed position. This is good news because that position captured the entire string ensemble with a good shot of Jamason leading from his harpsichord keyboard. The duration of the stream was about 50 minutes, offering accounts of ensemble compositions by Vivaldi, Christoph Graupner, Tomaso Albinoni, and Georg Philipp Telemann.

By way of context, I should probably confess that, prior to the COVID pandemic, I tried to attend as many performances as I could during the summer festival presentations by American Bach Soloists (ABS). Looking back on those occasions, I felt that the summer students being coached by ABS personnel always managed to bring a stimulating diversity of styles to the programs they prepared. Sadly, this afternoon uniformity tended to loom over diversity. Any one of the selections performed was engaging unto itself, but the entire 50-minute experience came across as too much of a good thing.

Perhaps the Historical Performance Department still needs some time to “come up to the speed” that made pre-pandemic early music listening experiences so stimulating.

SFP: “Back-to-Back” Recitals in November

Pianist Stephen Hough (photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke, courtesy of SFP)

At the middle of this month, San Francisco Performances (SFP) will provide its contribution to the California Festival with two back-to-back recitals, both featuring British performers. The first will be a solo piano recital by Stephen Hough, whose program will include one of his own compositions. The following evening will see the return of the Castalian Quartet, which made its SFP debut in November of 2021. Their new offering will be “Awake,” recently composed for them by Mark-Anthony Turnage.

Both of these performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Herbst Theatre, which, as most readers know by now, is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue 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. Program specifics for the two dates are as follows:

Tuesday, November 14: The title of Hough’s own composition is “Partita.” The rest of the program will be devoted to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “Partita” will be followed by a set of compositions by Franz Liszt, beginning with the Tre sonetti di Petrarca (three sonnets of Petrarch) and concluding with the “Dante Sonata,” taken from the second “year” of the Années de pèlerinage (years of pilgrimage) collection. Most likely, these five pieces will constitute the second half of the program. The first half will provide the twentieth-century selections, beginning with the Cant màgics (magic songs) collection compiled by Federico Mompou in 1920. This will be followed by Alexander Scriabin’s Opus 53 (fifth) piano sonata, composed in 1907. This marked the beginning of his composing single-movement sonatas without an overall key specification. The first half of the program will conclude with Claude Debussy’s three-movement Estampes (prints) suite, completed in 1903.

Ticket prices are $80 (premium Orchestra and front and center Dress Circle), $70 (remainder of Orchestra, all Side Boxes, and center rear Dress Circle), and $60 (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.

Wednesday, November 15: Both violinist Sini Simonen and violist Ruth Gibson are currently on maternity leave. They will be replaced by violinist Sean Lee and violist Natalie Loughran, performing with Castalian Quartet members Daniel Roberts on violin and Steffan Morris on cello. “Awake” will be the central work on their program, which will begin with Leoš Janáček’s first string quartet, given the name “Kreutzer Sonata,” since it was inspired by the narrative of Leo Tolstoy's novella The Kreutzer Sonata. The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 130 quartet in B-flat major, concluding with the Opus 133 “Grosse Fuge.” For this program 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 again be purchased through an SFP secure Web page.

Mateusz Kowalski’s San Francisco Debut

Last night in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, the young Polish virtuoso guitarist Mateusz Kowalski made his San Francisco debut as the latest solo guitarist in the 2023/2024 Dynamite Guitars series of concerts, presented by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. Almost all of his program was devoted to Polish musicians serving as either composers or arrangers. The most interesting of these was probably Jan Nepomucen Bobrowicz, named by Franz Liszt as “the Chopin of guitar.”

That epithet was closer than one might expect, since Bobrowicz was a contemporary of Frédéric Chopin. He prepared guitar arrangements of Chopin’s piano music, apparently with the composer’s approval. Last night’s program included five of those arrangements, all based on the composer’s early mazurkas. In the first half of the program, Kowalski played the first, third, and fourth mazurkas from the Opus 7 set; and the second half of the program included the second and third mazurkas from the Opus 6 set. These mazurka arrangements may have fallen a bit short in the composer’s passionate rhetoric, but they still captured the underlying spirit of the dance.

Bobrowicz was also represented as a composer at the conclusion of the program with a performance of his Opus 6, “Grandes variations sur un duo de l’opéra ‘Don Juan.’” The opera was, of course, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 527 Don Giovanni; and the duo was “Là ci darem la mano,” which was also given a set of variations by Chopin. Because Kowalski had prepared such a rich and diverse program, I personally would have preferred this set of variations to precede the intermission, since there was much for the attentive listener to follow in the composer’s approach to rethinking a familiar theme.

Indeed, attention had to contend with novelty for almost all of the program that Kowalski had prepared. The other Polish composers included the guitarist Stanislaw Szczepanowski (a friend of Chopin), Marek Sokołowski, Felix Horetzky, and Marek Pasieczny, who contributed a three-movement suite as a memorial for Chopin. The second half of the program began with two more familiar composers. The first of these was Roland Dyens’ solo guitar arrangement of Maurice Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante défunte.” This was followed by Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, arranged for solo guitar by Emre Sabuncuoğlu, a Turkish mathematician as well as guitarist, arranger, and composer. The other arrangement in the first half of the program was by K. Mianmi, setting the “Schafe können sicher weiden” (sheep may safely graze) aria from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 208 secular cantata Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (the lively hunt is all my heart’s desire).

Taken as a whole, this was an abundant program. There were any number of opportunities to appreciate Kowalski’s technical skills, and his approach to repertoire introduced a rich offering of Polish compositions unfamiliar to most of the audience. I suspect that there is much more to learn from the repertoire he has cultivated, meaning that a return visit is probably in order!

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Cadillac Hotel to be Honored at its Next Gig

Album cover design for the release being discussed (from the Bandcamp Web page)

This coming Friday the Cadillac Hotel will host its next lobby concert. This time, however, the music will not only be in the hotel but also about it. At the beginning of this month, Free Press created a Bandcamp Web page for the first volume of House of Welcome. The album is an EP release consisting of two songs: “Near Avalon” and “Reality House.”

These tracks were recorded by Free Press Music, a Filipina American led, San Francisco based music collective with roots in soul, jazz, blues and improvisation. Four of the musicians will visit the Cadillac lobby to perform those two songs. They will be led by vocalist Christie Alda, performing with Dave Mihaly, alternating between percussion and guitar, violinist Alex Spota, and Billy White on the meticulously restored 1884 Model D Steinway concert grand, whose original soundboard is still intact.

As usual, this show will begin at 1 p.m. on Friday, November 3. The Cadillac Hotel is located at 380 Eddy Street, on the northeast corner of Leavenworth Street. 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.”

Prism Percussion Duo Goes Trio

Last night the Prism Percussion duo of Divesh Karamchandani and Elizabeth Hall returned to the McRoskey Mattress Company, where they had made their debut. This was their third appearance, following up on their pre-pandemic recital in November of 2019. The title of the new program was 2+1, which turned out to embody both “local” and “global” semantics.

 Prism percussionists Divesh Karamchandani and Elizabeth Hall on either side of composers Nicholas Pavkovic and Mika Nakamura (photograph by Lynn Wilcox)

The latter involved trio performances included in the program along with their duet work. Percussionist Mika Nakamura joined them for two selections; and, for the final composition on the program, they were joined by the composer of the work, keyboardist Nicholas Pavkovic. The “local semantics” involved the title of the program itself, which was also the title of the first work on the program. Ivan Trevino scored “2+1” for one large marimba with two players facing each other from either side. Like all of the other selections on the program, this was a highly physical undertaking, demanding the sort of precision that one associates with a highly skilled pas de deux performance.

“2+1” was followed by the only other duo composition on the program. “For two” was composed by Hiroto Kobayashi for the UTARI Duo of sisters Haruka Fujii and Rika Fujii. Once again, the title has is own coy semantics, since the composition itself is in two movements. The instrument was the same marimba, but this time it was a side-by-side performance.

Nakamura then joined the Prism duo for two highly contrasting compositions. The first of these was “To give you form and breath,” composed by Inti Figgis-Vizueta in 2019. This was scored for a “mobile percussion trio” performing with two pieces of wood, three flower pots, two pieces of “non-resonating metal,” two pieces of “resonating metal,” and three glass bottles. This was very much an “action” composition in which the trio worked with a steady rhythm to coordinate the distinctive sounds of the different objects.

This was followed by Juri Seo’s “Shui,” scored for crotales performed by all three of the players. Each performer also had a bowl of water, which served to modulate the pitch of the sustained sonority of a crotal after it had been struck. This was music for the eyes, as well as the ears, since one could follow how sonorities would change as a crotal was immersed in the water bowl.

The program concluded with Pavkovic’s “Transit.” This involved an electric keyboard with controls that evoked a variety of different sonorities, serving up a broader palette than the listener had encountered with the marimba work. This was a three-movement composition with impressive scoring that definitely required more than one listening encounter. I was particularly struck by how Pavkovic could control the sound of his instrument to match and supplement the less diverse marimba sonorities. Nevertheless, even with a strategically chosen seat from which I could see the keyboard score, I came away feeling that I had only begun to develop a sense of how this music progressed. Hopefully, I shall be able to follow up with further encounters with this music.

Friday, October 27, 2023

SFJAZZ: November, 2023

As in the past, this site will focus on the intimate setting of the Joe Henderson Lab in suggesting programs that are likely to appeal to those given to serious and attentive listening. The venue is on the ground floor of the SFJAZZ Center (and can been seen by those walking past the full-length windows on Franklin Street). The entrance is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street. Henderson events taking place next month are as follows, providing performance dates, times, and hyperlinks for purchasing tickets:

Thursday, November 9, Friday, November 10, Saturday, November 11, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 12, 6 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.: Born in Rio de Janeiro, vocalist Claudia Villela is no stranger to SFJAZZ. Performing with saxophonist Harvey Wainapel, she has prepared programs to salute composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, vocalist Elis Regina, and the classic Getz/Gilberto album, which brought American saxophonist Stan Getz together with Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto. Over the course of this week, her performance will include piano and percussion as well as vocal work. She will give duo performances with three different partners. On Thursday she will perform with guitarist Ricard Peixoto. The following evening Gary Meek will play saxophones, flutes, melodica, and piano. Her final partner will play on both Saturday and Sunday. Vitor Gonçalves will alternate between accordion and piano.

Thursday, November 16, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: The following week will present four different programs under the title Boundary Pushers. The first of those “pushers” will be saxophonist Steven Lugerner, who will celebrate his latest album, In Solitude. His combo is called the SLUGish Ensemble, the result of recruiting a brilliant cadre of young musicians centering on the Stanford Jazz Workshop, where Lugerner has worked as the faculty and camp director since 2013. For this program he will alternate between baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, performing with Christina Galisatus on piano, guitarist Justin Rock, Steve Blum on synthesizer, Giulio Xavier Cetto on bass, and drummer Michael Mitchell.

Friday, November 17, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Clarinetist Ben Goldberg should be no stranger to those that read this site regularly. Some may even recall his PLAGUE DIARY project, in which he would record one track every day during the COVID pandemic beginning on March 19, 2020. These brief melodic statements may or may not have contributed to his latest program, entitled Porch Concert Material. However, while the PLAGUE DIARY pieces were solos, Porch Concert Material will be performed by a quartet, whose other members will be guitarists Steve Cardenas and Will Bernard and Hamir Atwal on drums.

Saturday, November 18, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Pianist Sumi Tonooka will lead a combo called the Alchemy Sound Project. This is an eclectic cast of artists, who blur the boundaries between notated composition and improvisation. Their latest album is a self-released session entitled Afrika Love. For this particular performance, Tonooka will be joined by two tenor saxophonists, Salim Washington (doubling on flute) and Erica Lindsay (doubling on soprano saxophone). The other performers will be trumpeter Samantha Boshnack and David Arend on bass.

Sunday, November 19, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Tenor saxophonist Raffi Garabedian will lead an all-star octet in a performance of his song cycle The Crazy Dog. The vocalist will be Danielle Wertz. The other six performers will be Marcus Stephens (flute and tenor saxophone), Goldberg (returning with his clarinet), Danny Lubin-Laden (trombone), Mark Clifford (vibraphone), Rashaan Carter (electric bass), and Sean Mullins (drums).

JACK Quartet Revisits John Luther Adams CDs

JACK Quartet members Austin Wulliman, Jay Campbell, John Pickford Richards, and Christopher Otto (photograph by Shervin Lainez, courtesy of San Francisco Performances)

Last night in Herbst Theatre the JACK Quartet returned to San Francisco Performances with its first Shenson Chamber Series performance. This followed two appearances in the PIVOT series, the first in March of 2016 and the second in April of 2021, which, due to COVID, was a streamed presentation. The quartet members are violinists Christopher Otto and Austin Wulliman, sharing the position of first chair, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Jay Campbell.

The program consisted entirely of compositions by John Luther Adams that they had previously recorded for Cold Blue Music. The earliest of those recordings accounted for the concluding work on last night’s program, “The Wind in High Places.” The more recent recording coupled “Lines Made by Walking” with untouched. The program began with the “Rising” movement from untouched, followed by the “three-movement journey” of “Lines Made by Walking.”

All three of these selections presented Adams’ passionately informed interest in sonorities, particularly those that can be traced back to “natural” sources. This made “Rising” an apposite approach to beginning the entire program. Simply put, the composition evoked the synthesis of bell-like sonorities using only the auditory qualities of the four string quartet instruments. This requires skilled musicianship on the part of the JACK players, but it also presented Adams’ deep understanding of the spectral qualities of the underlying sounds.

However, beyond the nature of the sounds themselves, Adams developed his own approach to progression, departing entirely from anything taught to music students about harmonic progressions. Indeed, it would be fair to say that, taken as a whole, “Lines Made by Walking” is a single progression in three movements. First it ascends a mountain, then it follows a ridge at the height it had achieved, after which it follows a path of descent. What makes the entire composition so engaging is that this “journey” unfolds entirely through the progression of sonorities that depart entirely from the rhetoric of harmony.

That sense of journey is equally evident in “The Wind in High Places.” Each of the three movements establishes its own “high place.” This is made explicit through the titles assigned to the movements:

  1. Above Sunset Pass
  2. MacLaren Summit
  3. Looking Toward Hope

Admittedly, those unfamiliar with Alaskan geography may not “get the message” of these titles. However, after having experienced “Lines Made by Walking,” the attentive listener can easily apprehend the same sense of journey in “The Wind in High Places,” even if the specific locations are unfamiliar.

The JACK Quartet has championed Adams’ string quartet repertoire for quite some time, and it was a thorough delight to experience in performance what had previously been available only on recordings.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Albany Consort Contributing to California Festival

Julie Elizabeth Jeannin, the honoree of the opening selection of the Albany Consort’s latest program (courtesy of the ensemble)

Most readers probably know by now that the California Festival: A Celebration of New Music will get under way in San Francisco with a performance by the New Century Chamber Orchestra on Friday, November 3. The following week the Albany Consort will give its contribution to the Festival when the musicians return to Old St. Mary’s Cathedral for their next Noontime Concerts™ performance. While this ensemble is not usually associated with “new music,” the program they have prepared will begin with a world premiere.

The opening selection will be Suite for Julie Elizabeth, composed by Sheli Nan to celebrate the first birthday of the daughter of Concertmaster Laura Jeannin and the granddaughter of the two Albany Consort Directors, Jonathan Salzedo and Marion Rubinstein. The music will be performed by the “all-star cast” of all sixteen of the Albany Consort musicians. The remainder of the program will then go “back to the Baroque” with selections by Johann Sebastian Bach, the BWV 1048 (third) Brandenburg Concerto in G major, and George Frideric Handel, the HWV 294 organ concerto (the sixth in the Opus 4 set), originally composed for harp solo.

Like all events in the Noontime Concerts™ series, the performance will take place in the sanctuary of Old Saint Mary’s beginning at 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, November 7. The cathedral is located at 660 California Street, on the northeast corner of Grant Street. There is no charge for admission, but this concert series relies heavily on donations to continue offering its weekly programs.

“Trio Works” from Guitarist Joe Wittman

Cover of the album being discussed (from the Amazon.com Web page)

Next month will begin with a release of a new straight-ahead jazz album by guitarist Joe Wittman entitled simply Trio Works Sol. As might be guessed, Wittman leads a trio with rhythm provided by Daniel Duke on bass and drummer Keith Balla. Amazon.com has create a Web page for pre-orders; but, as of this writing, only MP3 tracks are available for download.

All but two of the eight tracks are Wittman originals. The other two can be taken as straight-ahead standards: Cliff Burnwell’s “Sweet Lorraine” and “Born to Be Blue” by Mel Tormé. The overall rhetoric of the album is decidedly low-key. However, that gives the attentive listener every opportunity to listen to the twists and turns of Wittman’s guitar works and the “rhythmic context” provided by Balla. Given how much over-the-top stridency there is in our daily encounters (unless one avoids news reports and the District of Columbia), Wittman’s low-key but engaging rhetoric is just what we need to overcome threats of excessive tension.

This trio is based in New York; but, if they ever decide to pay San Francisco a visit, I want to know about their plans (sooner, rather than later)!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Russ Spiegel’s New Caribbean Jazz Album

Cover of the album being discussed (from the Amazon.com Web page)

At the beginning of this week, Ruzztone Music released Caribbean Blue, a jazz album led by guitarist Russ Spiegel. The album title is also the title of the third of the ten tracks, all of which are original compositions by Spiegel. To be fair, the tracks are not limited to Caribbean styles, since one of them is entitled “The Streets of Milan,” “The Underdown Groove” is a “response” to the “call” of Australia, and, while “E. 22nd St.” is a samba, it was written when Spiegel was living in Brooklyn.

Spiegel leads a trio, whose other members are organist Jim Gaslor and Lucas Apostoleris on drums. However, there are a generous number of “guest artists.” The most interesting of these is Hendrick Meurkens on chromatic harmonica for three of the tracks, including both the title track and “E. 22nd St.” Other supporting instruments are trumpet (Brian Lynch), tenor saxophone (Tim Armacost), and trombone (Javier Nero), along with vocalist Ben Beal on the track entitled “Inquietude.”

As of this writing, the album is available from an Amazon.com Web page but only for MP3 download. All efforts to find a source for a CD release have thus far been in vain! Taken as whole, the album is both diverse and engaging; but I probably will not be making many further visits over the course of the near future.

Outsound Presents: November, 2023

Unless a performance skipped my attention, there were only two Outsound Presents events this month, both of which took place at the very beginning of the month. When they were announced, there was also the promise that November would return to the familiar three-concert format:  two LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) New Music Series events taking place on Wednesday evenings and a SIMM (Static Illusion Methodical Madness) Series on a Sunday evening. However, it turns out that next month will include a “special Thursday show” in the LSG Series, suggesting that the overall balance of repertoire has been restored. The specifics for these four events are as follows:

Wednesday, November 1, 8 p.m., LSG: The month will begin with a three-set LSG program. The opening set will be taken by guitarist David Leikan, playing a six-string fretless electric bass supplemented with pedal controls. Electronics will also figure in Hayden Dekker’s solo set, which will begin at 8:40 p.m. He plays both the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and alto saxophone. The final set will begin at 9 p.m. with two improvisatory compositions by Mika Pontecorvo. The first of these, “River of Shadows,” will be performed by Elijah Pontecorvo, again on a six-string fretless bass guitar. For his second composition Pontecorvo will play guitar in a duo with Jaroba on bass clarinet, their performance being transformed through a Generative Process Architecture. LSG 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.

Thursday, November 9, 8 p.m., LSG: The second LSG program will be the “special Thursday show.” There will again be three sets. However, as of this writing, the only information available will be the names of the performers with hyperlinks to respective background information: Diesel Dudes, Wife, Gumby’s Junk. Information about LSG is the same as on November 1.

Sunday, November 12, 7:30 p.m., Musicians Union Hall: The entire SIMM Series program will be devoted to a performance by the Heikki Koskinen Quartet, led by Koskinen playing both e-trumpet and tenor recorder. He will actually be joined by four other performers: Rent Romus on saxophones, Eria Oba alternating between piano and flute, Safa Shokrai on bass, and drummer Donald Robinson. 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.

Wednesday, November 15, 8 p.m., LSG: The final performance of the month will be a two-set program. Jake Rowland will open with a solo performance on electric guitar. The second set will begin at 9 p.m. This will be taken by the Echo’s Bones trio of Amber Lamprecht (oboe, cor anglais, and flutes), Sheldon Brown (clarinet and bass clarinet), and Joseph Noble (flute, alto flute, and bass flute). Once again, the remaining information is the same as on November 1.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Bleeding Edge: 10/24/2023

This week the action within the San Francisco city limits will be during the three-day weekend. The only event that has already been reported will be the duo performance by loscil (Scott Morgan) and Lawrence English at The Lab on Friday, October 27, at 8 p.m. The remaining events involve both usual and unusual suspects as follows:

Friday, October 27, 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. This week performance will be by Red Fast Luck duo, consisting of Boyce on reeds and electronics and PC Munoz playing percussion, broomstick (in the spirit of the holiday), and “assorted percussive locura.” The venue is located in the Mission at 3036 24th Street, between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street. As always, there is no charge for admission, presumably to encourage visitors to consider buying a book.

Saturday, October 28, 7:30 p.m., Adobe Books: This will be an evening of improvised electroacoustic sound featuring both local and touring musicians. If I read things correctly, there will be four sets. Oceans Roar 1,000 Drums is a trio of visitors, Bryan Eubanks, Andrew Lafkas, and Todd Capp. This will be followed by Faults, a quartet of local musicians Gabby Wen, Jorge Bachmann, Jaroba, and Kevin Corcoran. Local musician Jean Carla Rodea will give a duo performance with Matt Robidoux, and Jordan Paul will perform a solo set.

Adobe Books is located at 3130 24th Street in the Mission between South Van Ness Avenue and Folsom Street. This is one of those venues where no one will be turned away for lack of funds. However, payment of $10 is desirable; and all the money collected will go directly to the performing artists.

Saturday, October 28, 7:30 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): Bay Area Arts Alliance is rebooting The Opus Project. All of the works on this program will be Opus 1 compositions. The program will include three Bay Area composers, Vance Maverick, Johannes Löhner and John Vidovic. There will also be vocal music, instrumental solos, and chamber music by past composers, familiar and unfamiliar. This program is a last-minute addition to the previously-reported October schedule. C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, which is where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for members and students, and tickets may be purchased in advance through an Eventbrite event page.

Sunday, October 29, 2 p.m., Vesuvio: David Boyce will make a second appearance, this time for the Jazz in Kerouac Alley series. Vesuvio is located in North Beach at 255 Columbus Avenue. The title of Boyce’s program will be Dark Metals. There does not appear to be a price for tickets. Presumably, one is expected to enjoy the Vesuvio libations.

Sunday, October 29, 3 p.m., ODC Dance Theatre: Small Art Music Projects will present a program performed by The Crushing Spiral Ensemble. All the music has been composed by Matt Small. He will perform with Steve Adams, Cory Wright, Beth Schenck, Erika Oba, Motoko Honda, Chris Grady, Henry Hung, Michael Pinkham, and Jon Arkin. The theatre is located at 3153 17th Street on the southwest corner of Shotwell Street. No information has been provided for the price of admission.

Twilight of the Renaissance Fantasia

Cover of the album being discussed (photograph by Thomas Wunsch, courtesy of Jensen Artists)

At the end of last week, ECM New Series released its latest album of music led by violinist John Holloway. The title of the album is Fantazias; and it presents the collection of the twelve polyphonic fantasias (in three or four parts) composed by Henry Purcell in the summer of 1680. The fantasia is not bound to any particular formal structure; and many, if not most, published fantasias may have originated from the composer’s explorations into improvisation. Purcell’s catalog consists of a wide diversity of both vocal and instrumental music, so it probably is not surprising that at least some of his efforts may have emerged from improvisation.

In his capacity as violinist, Holloway leads a quartet of contemporary instruments. Departing from the usual instrumentation of a string quartet, he performs with two violists (Monika Baer and Renate Steinmann) and cellist Martin Zeller. Holloway probably chose this instrumentation as a contemporary reflection on a consort of viols.

The result is a listening experience that can probably be taken as an approximation of how this music would have been perceived in the seventeenth century. However, it is unlikely that all twelve of these compositions would have been performed for a listening audience during that particular period of music history. More likely the publication served as a resource for selections that would be performed as “background music” for some form of social gathering. (This was probably also the case for some, if not all, of the instrumental compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, including organ music that would have been played while the congregation enters the church.)

Fortunately, we now live in an age of “digital listening,” when playing an album from beginning to end is no longer the favored practice. Individual listeners can invent their own ways of experiencing this album, with or without the useful program notes that Holloway provides in the accompanying booklet. (It is worth noting that the Amazon.com MP3 version includes a PDF of those notes.) Personally, I still prefer beginning-to-end listening, because it helps me develop familiarity with music that I hope I shall subsequently encounter in a concert performance; but I have no desire to proselytize my own listening practices!

Monday, October 23, 2023

Choices for November 10–12, 2023

Busy weekends are definitely back! Towards the end of last week, this site accounted for the many choices for the first Saturday and Sunday in November. The following weekend will offer performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, making it the first three-day weekend with choices since the first weekend of this past June. Therefore, without any further ado, specifics are as follows (subject, as always, to change “with notice”): [updated 11/3, 8:25 a.m.: The Friction Quartet program has been postponed until January 19:

Friday, November 10, 7:30 p.m., Sunset Music and Arts: There has been a change in programming since this concert was first announced at the end of this past July.  Sunset will host a visit by the Friction Quartet, whose members are violinists Otis Harriel and Kevin Rogers, Mitso Floor on viola, and cellist Doug Machiz. As usual, they will perform new works, most (if not all) of which were composed on a commission. The contributing composers will be Jay Lyon, Greg A. Steinke, Adrienne Albert, and Andres B. Robinson. They will also host soprano Amy Foote as a guest artist. She will join in the performances of works by John G. Bilotta, Allen Shearer, Alden Jenks, Davide Verotta, and Molly Axtmann. As of this writing, this will be the only Sunset performance in the month of November.

As usual, the performance will take place in the Sunset district at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, located at 1750 29th Avenue, about halfway between Moraga Street and Noriega Street. Ticket prices are $25 for general admission with a $20 rate for students and seniors. Because the demand tends to be high, advance purchase is highly advised. Tickets may be purchased online through Eventbrite. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-564-2324.]

Friday, November 10, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The next event in the 2023/2024 Dynamite Guitars series of concerts, presented by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts, and the San Francisco Performances (SFP) Guitar Series is a performance by the Dublin Guitar Quartet. The program will consist entirely of recent compositions, including arrangements of music by Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt. The entrance to Herbst Theatre is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue 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, November 11, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 12, 2 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: The first program to be presented by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) for the California Festival, entitled To the Edge, will bring the music of Igor Stravinsky together with two currently active composers. The program will conclude with the work that Stravinsky titled simply as “Symphony in Three Movements.” It will begin with the first SFS performances of a composition by Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen entitled “kinēma.” This will be followed by the world premiere of “Drowned in Light” by Jens Ibsen, the product of an SFS commission.

Ticket prices range from $25 to $75. They may be purchased online through the a hyperlink to a single SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Box Office is also open only for tickets to the evening performances two hours before the concert begins.

This will be the first of two Festival programs. The second will be entitled, appropriately enough, From the Edge. It will also be given two performances during the following weekend, both at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 17 and Saturday, November 18. This second program will both begin and conclude with Stravinsky. Between the two selections will be the first SFS performances of Gabriella Smith’s “Breathing Forests.” The program will begin with Stravinsky’s octet for eight wind players. This brings four woodwinds (flute, clarinet alternating between B-flat and A, and two bassoons) together with four brass instruments (two trumpets and two trombones). The second half of the program will consist of Steven Stucky’s orchestral arrangement of Stravinsky’s “Les Noces,” originally composed for four pianos and four percussionists, along with four vocal soloists and chorus. Ticket prices will be the same and may be purchased through a different Web site. [added 11/2, 8:05 a.m.:

Saturday, November 11, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Legendary English saxophonist Trevor Watts will be visiting the Bay Area, joined by his frequent collaborator, percussionist Jamie Harris. They will visit Bird & Beckett for a quartet performance, which will include two major “Bleeding Edge” musicians based here in the Bay Area: guitarist Karl Evangelista and Lisa Mezzacappa on bass. For those that do not already know Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station that serves both BART and Muni. The price of admission is $20 in cash for the cover charge. Students can pay what they can. Given that only a limited number of people will be admitted, reservations are necessary and can be made by calling 415-586-3733. The phone will be answered during regular store hours, which are between noon and 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday. This performance will also be live-streamed for a viewing fee of $10.]

Saturday, November 11, 8 p.m., Grace Cathedral: San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) will begin its 53rd concert season with a program entitled RE:voicing. That title was inspired by Raven Chacon’s “Voiceless Mass,” which won last year’s Pulitzer Prize in music and will be receiving its Bay Area premiere. Chacon was the first Native American (Diné) to receive this award and currently holds the 2023 MacArthur Fellowship. The program will also include music by Olivier Messiaen (“Apparition de l’Église Éternelle”), Chinary Ung (“Luminous Spirals”), and George Crumb (“Ancient Voices of Children”). As usual, the program will be preceded at 7 p.m. by a How Music is Made discussion with Artistic Director Eric Dudley in conversation with Chacon. Grace Cathedral is located at 1100 California Street at the top of Nob Hill. General admission will be $35 with a $60 VIP rate, $20 for rear seating, and $15 for students. Tickets may be purchased online through a City Box Office event page. [added 10/24, 9:10 a.m.:

Sunday, November 12, 2 p.m., Century Club of California: Pianist Ian Scarfe will present his next Groupmuse concert. This will be a duo performance with violinist Mats Tolling, who will offer up his own original compositions and arrangements at the conclusion of the program. The duo will begin the program with selected movements from the four concertos by Antonio Vivaldi known collectively as The Four Seasons. This will be followed by a selection of duos by Fritz Kreisler and movements from Edvard Grieg's Opus 35 set of four Norwegian dances. The other dance on the program will be the tango by Jacob Gade entitled “Jalousie.” This will be coupled with the “Graceful Ghost Rag” by William Bolcom. Tolling's own compositions will be preceded by selected favorites from the repertoire of Frank Sinatra. This is a Groupmuse event, so all specifics about attending must be arranged through a Groupmuse Web page.]

Sunday, November 12, 4 p.m., St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church: As is the case with SFCMP, this weekend will mark the beginning of the Clerestory season. The title of the program will be A Many Splendored Thing. Those familiar with the tune will recognize that this program will explore love in all its forms and facets. The contributing composers will include Gerald Finzi, Abbie Betinis, and Richard Rogers. Whether or not Sammy Fain (composer of “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing”) will be included has not yet been announced.

St. Gregory’s is located at 500 De Haro Street, at the foot of Potrero Hill. Tickets may be purchased in advance through an Eventbrite event page. General admission tickets are $15 with a rate of $10 for tickets purchased for ten or more. Reserved seating tickets are $35 with a senior rate of $25. Students will be admitted for $5.

Sunday, November 12, 4 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: The third program in the 31st season of Noe Music will present the San Francisco debut of the Dior String Quartet. Final details have not yet been announced, but 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. The Noe Valley Ministry is located at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. Tickets may be purchased through a Web page with prices of $45 for general admission $60 for reserved seating, and $15 for students. [added 10/28, 9:10 a.m.:

Sunday, November 12, 4 p.m., Chez Hanny: The first jazz house concert hosted by Frank Hanny for next month will be a performance by the Marina Albero Trio. Her last performance for Chez Hanny was a duo with flutist Rebecca Kleinman. This time she will lead a straight-ahead jazz trio, whose other members will be Giulio Xavier Cetto on bass and drummer Xavier Lecouturier. 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 jazz@chezhanny.com. 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 are always appreciated.] [added 11/6, 8:55 a.m.:

Sunday, November 12, 8 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: [Note: The Bird & Beckett Web page lists this event for a starting time of both 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.!] Drummer Gerald Cleaver will present a program of new compositions by renowned improvisers entitled Insect Life. He will lead a quintet whose other members are Ben Davis (cello), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Raffi Garabedian (tenor saxophone), and Danny Lubin-Laden (trombone). Like the Saturday performance, the price of admission is $20 in cash for the cover charge. Students can pay what they can. Given that only a limited number of people will be admitted, reservations are necessary and can be made by calling 415-586-3733. The phone will be answered during regular store hours, which are between noon and 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday. This performance will not be live-streamed.]

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Pyroclastic to Debut Angelica Sanchez Nonet

Portrait photograph of the Angelica Sanchez Nonet with Sanchez on the far right (photograph by Michael Dyer)

This coming Friday Pyroclastic Records will release Nighttime Creatures, the debut album of the Angelica Sanchez Nonet. Sanchez is both a composer and a pianist; and, in the latter capacity, she can take a fearless approach to improvisation. The eight musicians that she leads are saxophonists Michaël Attias and Chris Speed, Ben Goldberg playing his contra-alto clarinet, Thomas Heberer on a quarter-tone trumpet, cornetist Kenny Warren, John Hébert on bass, drummer Sam Ospovat, and guitarist Omar Tamez. As many will expect, Amazon.com has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

This is one of those albums that is likely to provoke arguments over whether Sanchez is a “classical” composer or the leader of a jazz combo. Where my own collection is concerned, I have pretty much decided on going for the jazz category, due to at least some of the names of the members of the nonet. I also find it interesting that Sanchez’ own preferences lean towards the big band genre, which reminds me of some of the impressive “symphonic” efforts of Duke Ellington.

That said, I think it is important to recognize that the entropy level of each of the eleven Nighttime Creatures tracks frequently soars way above energy levels that Ellington could never imagine. If anything, the nonet instrumentation comes closer to the eleven musicians performing on John Coltrane’s Ascension album. In that context, Sanchez is only two musicians shy. However, her album serves up elementally distinct tracks, which (at least in my opinion) make for more diverse listening than the 40 minutes of free-blowing that constitute the composition of “Ascension.”

Nevertheless, I still remember how, after purchasing the original Ascension vinyl, I listened to that damned thing over and over until I learned how to “parse” the solo improvisations of all the performers. Because each of the tracks of Nighttime Creatures has its own individual characteristics, I find that it is easier for me to apprehend the diverse variety of sonorities. Will I put as much time into Nighttime Creatures as I gave to Ascension? Probably not; but I look forward to opportunities to dive into Sanchez’ individual tracks, wondering whether or not I shall eventually approach the entire album as a unified experience unto itself.

More Albéniz from the Angenendt Guitar Duo

This morning the OMNI on-Location video series, curated by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts, released its second performance by the Angenendt Guitar Duo. Those that saw the first video may recall that the performers are the husband-and-wife duo of Tristan and Martina Angenendt. That video was less than six minutes in duration, and the new release on YouTube is slightly less than four minutes.

Once again the duo is performing an arrangement of solo piano music composed by Isaac Albéniz. The first video presented “Mallorca,” the Opus 202. The new offering is “Capricho catalán,” the fifth movement from the Opus 165 España suite.

Also once again, the guitarists are playing instruments built by Kazuo Sato. Tristan was again responsible for the audio, which was again captured during an outdoor performance. This time, however, the survey of the surrounding space in Martina’s video restricted itself to background images of the Austrian countryside of Ternberg alternating with close-ups of the guitarists. Having established the background, one could them appreciate the interplay between the two guitarists in the foreground:

Screen shot of Martina and Tristan Angenendt performing their Albéniz selection

Calling this a “short and sweet” video might be taken as a cliché. Nevertheless, it is interesting to observe how, over the course of the duet, the players divide their attention between their own fingerwork and that of their respective partners. Martina clearly brought a keen sense of how video can guide the eye when the viewer is not restricted to a fixed place in an audience setting.

Yet another “once again,” it is important to remind readers that there is no charge for admission to the aforementioned YouTube Web page. The production of these videos relies on support by the viewers. A Web page has been created for processing contributions, and any visits made prior to the streaming itself will be most welcome.

The Lab: November, 2023

The “main event” for next month will be a three-day festival. As of this writing, two additional events have been scheduled for November; and, as usual, this site will do its best to keep up with any changes in plans. For those unfamiliar with the venue, The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street. This is particularly convenient 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 the 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:

Thursday, November 9–Saturday, November 11, 8:30 p.m.: This is a three-evening festival entitled Mills After Mills: Three Days of Crazy Love. Sadly, it will also be a memorial, since it will gather a broad cross-section of composers associated with the legendary and now defunct Mills College Music Department. The title is taken from Seven Years of Crazy Love, a catalogue published by Mills in regard to the Center for Contemporary Music, an audio archive with over 7000 entries. The festival is curated and organized by Sally Decker, Brendan Glasson, Briana Marela, Michelle Moeller, Matt Robidoux, and Mitch Stahlmann. They worked with Laetitia Sonami, who realized a version of this program for performance during her final seminar at Mills. The above hyperlink includes a summary of the performers for each of the three days of the festival. There will also be a workshop led by Danishta Rivero at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Admission for the entire festival will be $40. Tickets for individual dates will be $15 with the usual discounts for members. All other purchases may be made through the Withfriends Web page for this event.

Thursday, November 16, 8:30 p.m.: This program will showcase three composers. Laurel Halo is based in Los Angeles and describes her work as “singular yet stylistically diverse, with releases traversing ambient, leftfield club, experimental pop and film score.” Joel St. Julien is Haitian-American and currently based in San Francisco. His interests as a composer tend to involve the interplay of acoustic and electronic elements. Leila Bordreuil is a cellist based in Brooklyn. She describes her influences as “Noise, contemporary classical, free jazz, and experimental traditions.” Tickets will be $24 with the usual discounts for members. All other purchases may be made through the Withfriends Web page for this event.

Saturday, November 18, 8:30 p.m.: The final program for the month (as of this writing) will consist of two sets. The first set will be taken by the duo of Jeff Witscher and Jack Callahan. As individuals, they have been involved with noise, computer music, and new music circles. They describe their collaborative work as “experiments with transparent composition systems and the limits of our current music technology, sharing sensibilities with radio art, A.A. meetings, group therapy sessions, formalist and fluxus generative poetry experiments, and Q&A formats.” Drought Spa involves interdisciplinary experiments by alex cruse and Kevin CK Lo. They make it a point to acknowledge that they live and work on Chochenyo Ohlone land. Their work involves visuals, stochastic synthesis, sensing-technologies, video, text, and movement. Admission will be $17 at the door. However, advance purchase through a Web page will be $15.87. There will also be the usual discounts for members.

Ian Bostridge Brings Schubert’s D. 911 to SFP

Pianist Wenwen Du, who deserves the same attention previously given to Ian Bostridge! (photograph by Sophie Zhai, courtesy of SFP)

Last night in Herbst Theatre, San Francisco Performances (SFP) presented the first of the four programs scheduled for its Art of Song series with a recital by tenor Ian Bostridge. He made his SFP debut in October of 2005 and last appeared for SFP in May of 2016. On that occasion he presented a program consisting entirely of the songs of Franz Schubert, accompanied at the piano by Wenwen Du making her SFP debut.

Once again Du returned to accompany Bostridge in another Schubert program. This time, however, the program was devoted entirely to the D. 911 Winterreise (winter’s journey) song cycle. This was a setting of 24 poems by German poet Wilhelm Müller. However, the idea of a “journey” was not Müller’s. Schubert developed the plan through his own selection of the poems. This began with a set of twelve, to which he subsequently added another twelve.

While the resulting cycle is not a narrative, it can be viewed as a study in character development over a series of episodes. The protagonist has been rejected in love and is now in the process of enduing a wide variety of reactions, most of which are emotionally painful. Bostridge brought a sense of dramatization to his interpretation of the songs, which elevated the performance above the basic foundation in which the music endows and/or enhances the semantic infrastructure. I suspect there are some (many?) in last night’s audience that would have accused Bostridge of over-acting; but Schubert’s own rhetorical approaches tend not to be shy about exaggeration.

Most important was that, throughout the entire cycle, both Bostridge and Du were on the same rhetorical page, so to speak. Each of the 24 songs has its own intense infrastructure, and the primary challenge in performance is to endow each intensity with its own unique qualities. It would be fair to say that Bostridge could not be expected to do this on his own and that the relationship between piano and voice is one of symbiosis, rather than accompaniment. Furthermore, because the bond between the two performers is so strong in Schubert’s score, D. 911 is, indeed, a journey unto itself. Having completed the journey, the duo “closed the book” on the listening experience and chose (rightly in my opinion) to forego any encore selections.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

A Very-Last-Minute Announcement from LCCE

In only a few hours the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (LCCE) will be presenting a free community concert in the Bayview at The New Farm. This was planned as a family-friendly lunchtime event. However, the performance will offer four chamber music compositions, all of which deserve more than casual listening.

The program will feature two works by Gabriela Lena Frank, “Canto para California” and “Zapatos de Chincha.” They will be preceded by Gabriella Smith’s “Carrot Revolution.” The program will begin with one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s four flute quartets, all scored for flute, violin, viola, and cello. Unfortunately, LCCE did not take the trouble to let readers know which of the four will be performed!

The New Farm is located at 10 Cargo Way. It is located in the Bay Natives Nursery, which is part of the Central Waterfront. Unfortunately, this venue is not particularly amenable to public transportation. The performance is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. today.

Vivian Fung’s Quartets on Sono Luminus

Cover of the album being discussed (from the Amazon.com Web page)

This coming Friday Sono Luminus will release Insects and Machines. The album title is also the title of Vivian Fung’s fourth string quartet, and the album presents performances of all four of her quartets by the Jasper String Quartet. The members of that quartet are violinists J Freivogel and Karen Kim, Andrew Gonzalez on viola, and cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel. As usual, Amazon.com has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

Where listening experiences are concerned, Fung is no stranger to me. At the last Chapel of the Chimes concert this past June, Sarah Cahill played the “Kotekan” movement from Fung’s Glimpses suite, which was a reflection on Balinese gamelan music. Two years earlier, I was able to view a video stream of a performance of her flute concerto performed by members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, featuring Principal Flute, Christie Reside. Looking to the future, the next Chamber Music Tuesday program presented by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music will present her piano trio, which was given the title “Ominous Machine.”

Nevertheless, the dirty little secret is that none of my past encounters left much of an impression, meaning that the previous paragraph could not have been written without the assistance of a search engine. I fear that Fung’s string quartets will suffer the same fate. There are any number of technical qualities that can be appreciated, but these may reflect more on the musicianship of the Jasper players than on Fung’s qualities as a composer. Nevertheless, when the album is taken as a whole, I come away feeling that the journey reminds me of past listening experiences from the second half of the last century.

Should not the listening experience involve a stronger impact of personal identity?

Another Freschi Opera From Ars Minerva

For seven years Ars Minerva has been presenting “modern world premieres,” performing operas from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that lapsed into obscurity as new styles of performance began to emerge through composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. More often than not, the composers of that past have been as unfamiliar as the operas themselves. Nevertheless, those of us following the annual Ars Minerva offerings had no trouble encountering composers whose efforts had been previously unknown.


Nicolas Garcia, Leslie Katter (in the title role of Olimpia), and Sara Couden (photograph by Valentina Sadiul, courtesy of Ars Minerva)

In that context 2021 constituted a bit of a landmark. That year’s opera was Messalina, composed by Carlo Pallavicino, who had also composed the second opera in Ars Minerva’s history, The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles, which was presented in 2016. This year’s opera was given its first performance last night. Olimpia Vendicata (Olympia avenged) is the second opera in the Ars Minerva repertoire to have been composed by Domenico Freschi, the first having been Ermelinda, performed in 2019.

These two operas have different librettists, Francesco Maria Piccioli for Ermelinda and Francesco Aurelio Aureli for Olimpia Vendicata; but they both involve no end of entanglements in affairs of the heart. Those entanglements are so abundant that one can pretty much dispense with the narrative summary in the program book and just take every confused relationship as it comes. What matters most is the rapid-pace unfolding of events, skillfully managed by the staging of Ars Minerva Executive Artistic Director and Founder Céline Ricci.

If negotiating those events themselves runs the risk of being problematic, one can always depend on the music to lead the way. All those entangled relationships involve a generous number of characters in the cast. However, Pallavicino provides a rich abundance of solo arias through which we get to know each of those characters personally. Indeed, it is the clarity of those personalities that facilitates efforts to follow the basic steps of the overall plot, leaving the details to be elaborated by aria singing that communicates more through music than through words.

Fortunately, the music was in excellent hands through the efforts of Matthew Dirst, who conducted from the harpsichord. The remaining ensemble consisted of one-to-a-part performances. Violinist Cynthia Black served as Concertmaster with Laura Jeannin as second violin and Daria D’andrea on viola. Continuo was provided by Gretchen Claassen on cello, Farley Pearce on violone, and Richard Savino on theorbo. The transparency of the instrumentation significantly facilitated recognizing the personal qualities of each of the characters expressing themselves through solo arias. Due to the complexity of the plot, the vocalists themselves are too numerous to mention; but their dramatic types were skillfully etched into the memories of those of us on audience side.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Cellist Jay Campbell to Return to SFP

Cellist Jay Campbell and pianist Conor Hanick (courtesy of SFP)

Some readers may recall that the first program in the San Francisco Performances (SFP) Great Artists and Ensembles series will take place at the beginning of next month. The second program will be presented a little less than a week later. The recital will see the return of cellist Jay Campbell. He will be joined by pianist Conor Hanick, who will be making his SFP debut.

The program will begin with Eric Wubbels instrumental setting of “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (Gretchen at the spinning wheel), one of the songs incorporated in Part One of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. This text is probably best known as the D. 118 song composed by Franz Schubert, but Campbell and Hanick will give it an instrumental treatment. On a more conventional side, they will conclude with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 19 sonata for cello and piano in G minor.

Between these two “bookends” Hanick will offer several solo selections. He will begin with two of the impromptus from Schubert’s D. 899 set of four, those in the key of A-flat major and F minor, respectively. This will be followed by three of György Ligeti’s études, two from his first book (“Fanfares” and “Arc-en-ciel”) and one from the second (“L'escalier du diable”). (The English translations for the second and their études are “rainbow” and “the Devil’s staircase.”)

This recital will take place in Herbst Theater, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 8. The entrance to Herbst Theatre is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue 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.

Craft Reissues Curtis Counce on Contemporary

Cover of the Craft Recordings reissue of You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce (courtesy of Craft Recordings)

Almost exactly four months ago, I wrote about what was, at that time, the latest Craft release of remastered Contemporary albums. This was a box set of the recordings made by saxophonist Sonny Rollins for Contemporary. The latest release in the series is the second “volume” in a set of recordings by the Curtis Counce Group. The original title of the album was You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce. Back in the days when vinyl was the only option, the disc was often enclosed in an inner sleeve, whose outer surfaces were often used to promote other albums. That was how I first came to know about this volume. It piqued my curiosity but not my wallet!

Counce began his career when he moved to Los Angeles in 1945, when he was emerging from his teens. His first recordings were made in 1946 with Lester Young, and he quickly cultivated a “literacy” for the many different jazz genres at that time. When he formed his quintet in 1956, his favored genre was hard bop. The members of that quintet were tenor saxophonist Harold Land, trumpeter Jack Sheldon, pianist Carl Perkins and drummer Frank Butler with Counce playing bass. The Bounce album was their second Contemporary release.

Only two of the seven tracks were Counce originals; and it does not take long for the attentive listener to “feel the bounce.” However, whether one is listening to the originals or to the more traditional tunes (such as Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean?”), there is no shortage of hard bop “punctuations,” many of which originate from Butler’s drum kit. Taken as a whole, the album is definitely satisfying, making it more than a tragedy that Counce died of a heart attack at the age of 37 on July 31, 1963.

As of this writing, the Contemporary release is only available from its Amazon.com Web page as a vinyl release. However, that Web page includes hyperlinks to the CD version of the original release and a Web page for MP3 download. There is also a Web page on the Craft Web site for a high-resolution digital download, but I would be amiss if I did not mention that the URL was flagged by my Avast security software.