Thursday, November 30, 2023

SFP to Present Jonathan Biss’ Schubert Series

Pianist Jonathan Biss (photograph by Benjamin Ealovega, courtesy of SFP)

The New Year will see the launch of two remaining subscription series to be presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP). The title of the first of those series will be Echoes of Schubert, and it will consist of three solo piano recitals by Jonathan Biss. All three of them will take place on a Thursday evening in Herbst Theatre. The programs will account for the last three piano sonatas to be composed by Franz Schubert: D. 958 in C minor, D. 959 in A major, and D. 960 in B-flat major. These sonatas will be coupled with the first three of the D. 935 impromptus: the first in F minor, the second in A-flat major, and the third in B-flat major. In addition, each program will begin with the performance of a new work by Tyson Gholston Davis, Alvin Singleton, and Tyshawn Sorey, respectively.

As usual, all of the concerts will be held in Herbst Theatre, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the evening. The performances will take place on January 18, March 14, and May 2, respectively. The entrance to Herbst is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel.

Subscriptions are still on sale for $225 for premium seating in the Orchestra, the Side Boxes, and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $195 for the center rear of the Dress Circle and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $165 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. Subscriptions may be purchased online in advance through an SFP Web page. Orders may also be placed by calling the SFP subscriber hotline at 415-677-0325, which is open for receiving calls between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Single tickets are on sale for the first, second, and third of the recitals. Prices are $80, $70, and $60. The above hyperlinks provide the appropriate Web pages for single ticket purchases.

Does Balanchine Now Belong to the Past?

This morning I used my lunch break to catch up on the PBS broadcast of performances by the New York City Ballet (NYCB) in Madrid. The program consisted of two early works by George Balanchine and a significantly later one by Justin Peck, which was so much of a departure from the first half of the program that it did not take me long to bail on it. The Balanchine selections were “Serenade” and “Square Dance.” While both of them provided a solid reminder of Balanchine’s meticulous attention to music, I have to say that both of the performances came across as a relatively inadequate account of present-day dancers to evoke the spirit of Balanchine’s creativity during the middle of the twentieth century.

For those that do not already know, “Serenade” was the first ballet that Balanchine created after moving from Europe to New York. The dancers were students at the School of American Ballet. The ballet was first performed in 1934, a time when the very idea of a professional ballet company was little more than a consummation devoutly to be wished.

An example of the “geometry” of Balanchine’s choreography (screen shot from the YouTube video being discussed)

While Balanchine had some very strong ideas as to how choreography could reflect the abstract structures in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 48 four-movement serenade for string orchestra, he was also smart enough to work with the relatively inadequate materials available to him. This was particularly evident when, while working on the Allegro con spirito tempo of the final movement, one of his dancers collapsed from exhaustion. In the language of my fellow students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Balanchine immediately recognized that this was a feature, rather than a bug. Thus, what Tchaikovksy had composed for the Finale of his serenade become the penultimate movement of Balanchine’s choreography, which concluded with the poignant “Elegie,” which had been the third of the four movements in Tchaikovksy’s score.

The good news is that this highly emotional response to an abstract scenario carried the same impact that made “Serenade” one of the most powerful works in the NYCB repertoire when Balanchine was in charge. It did not matter how many times one saw this ballet, whether in New York or when it had been “exported” to another ballet company. The circumstances leading up to that “Elegie” and the narrative that responds to those circumstances remain some of the most powerful examples of what the “modern ballet” of the last century could achieve. Even when now danced by a corps whose members had not been born when “Serenade” was first created, the ballet continues to sustain a gut-wrenching impact, even for those that have not perviously seen any Balanchine choreography.

“Square Dance” did not enter the repertoire until 1957, over twenty years after the creation of “Serenade.” Nevertheless, like its predecessor, it is a ballet that Balanchine created in reflection on his selection of musical composition, drawing entirely on works by Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi. Nevertheless, the title of the ballet was no mere gratuitous gesture. While the strings in the orchestra pit were churning away at challenging virtuoso passages, Elisha C. Keeler was on  stage serving as the square dance caller, drawing upon American style to cue the performance to music from the Italian Baroque period.

Sadly, there was no caller for the performance in Madrid which was subsequently broadcast on PBS. I suspect that one problem was that finding an authentic square dancer willing to work with Balanchine musical selections would not have been an easy matter; and, had a caller been recruited, the Madrid audience would probably not know what to make of him (or her). The down-side to this approach to “Square Dance” is that the spirit of that particular dance form has been all but obliterated. Instead, one views a ballet setting music by Corelli and Vivaldi that seems to be following in the steps of music by Tchaikovsky. The very idea of a square dance is left to the viewers to scratch their respective heads.

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, I passed on Peck’s choreography when, after only a few minutes, I realized that, when compared with Balanchine, he had nothing to say. What I fear, however, is that there is a chemistry about Peck’s work that “speaks” to his audience in ways that Balanchine’s tradition no longer does. This program was yet another reminder that the NYCB legacy of my approach to the performance of ballet is a far cry from the ways in which those sharing the audience with me tend to think. Thus, if I am accused of being too rooted to the past, I can only reply, “Guilty as charged.” Nevertheless, I would rather live with that guilt triggered by past experience than endure most (if not all) of the present-day alternatives.

Bill Noertker Takes On Samuel Beckett

Cover of the album being discussed

I first encountered the work of Samuel Beckett late in my high school days. Since that time I have lost count of the number of times I have seen his two-act play Waiting for Godot in a wide variety of settings, often with unexpected casting. (The version with Robin Williams and Steve Martin, directed by Mike Nichols, made it to Public Television.)

While I was aware that Beckett wrote more than plays, I was only vaguely aware of his prose fiction works. At best, I knew them by name but had not added any of them to my library. As a result, my interest in that side of Beckett’s efforts returned to my consciousness when I learned that bassist Bill Noertker had composed a four-part suite, whose full title is in flitters: 49 bits from B*ck*tt, with a recording that is now available through Bandcamp. Each of the suite movements has a title taken from the text of Beckett’s novel Watt, and each one verges on the microscopic. Since Watt is not in my library, it is hard for me to say whether or not the sequence of movement titles amounts to an abbreviated account of the entire novel.

Nevertheless, Nichols’ staging of Godot struck me as a useful lesson in how it is not a good idea to overthink Beckett. Better to just let the words flow and accept the fluidity for what it is, which amounts to traversing the border between syntax and semantics. Where in flitters is concerned, that amounts to accepting each of the “bits” for its musical qualities, which involve rhythmic structure, a bass line (performed by Noertker), and an “upper voice,” which tends to explore a variety of different approaches to incantation.

That “upper voice” is performed by Annelise Zamula, who alternates between clarinet and flute. Often, that “voice” interleaves with an upper-register “melody line,” performed on the piano by Brett Carson. When rhythm dominates, it is usually realized through the drum work of Jordan Glenn.

Listening to in flitters several times has left me hungry for reading Beckett’s novel. This is one of those cases in which procrastination was probably an asset, rather than a liability. I was aware of Watt as a paperback published by the Grove Press. However, according to the Wikipedia page for the novel, Beckett himself took issue with the publication, having identified “over eighty spelling and typographical errors” and the omission of an entire sentence. As a result, a more faithful account of the text only surfaced in 2009, when C. J. Ackerley edited the entire text for Faber and Faber. Presumably, Noertker’s manuscript pages have been treated with more respect!

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

SF to Conclude Chanticleer Xmas Performances

Members of Chanticleer celebrating the Christmas spirit through song (banner for the Web page with the details for this season’s holiday tour)

Those that have followed this site for some time probably know that Chanticleer celebrates the season with a program entitled A Chanticleer Christmas, whose title speaks for itself. In the past the program has been taken on tour through many different venues in California, and last year the tour ran from December 11 to December 23. This year, however, there has been a significant change of plans.

First of all, the tour begins tonight, not in California but in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As the tour continues, both New York and Chicago will host two performances of the program, while, here in California, the only cities to enjoy repeat performances will be Petaluma and Carmel. That means that San Francisco will host only one performance, and that will be the one that concludes the entire tour on December 23.

As in the past, the program will begin with a candlelight procession, which provided the setting for selections by Renaissance composers. However, this year the music for the procession will be works by William Byrd and Arvo Pärt. Taken as a whole, the program will feature selections from the Renaissance to spirituals and traditional carols. Three of the Chanticleer vocalists, Adam Brett Ward, Jared Graveley, and Andrew Van Allsburg, will provide arrangements for many of the selections. There will also be a new “guest” arrangement provided by Cedric Dent, one of the recent members to join the Take 6 American a cappella gospel sextet. Another tradition will be concluding the evening with Joseph Jennings’ raucous settings of traditional spirituals.

As already mentioned, the San Francisco performance will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 23, and run for about two hours without interruption.  As in the past, the venue will be Saint Ignatius Church, located on the campus of the University of San Francisco at 650 Parker Avenue on the northeast corner of Fulton Street. Ticket prices will be $85 for Premiere seating, $68 for Preferred seating, $54 for Reserved seating in the Balcony, and $36 for general admission seating in the side sections of the sanctuary. All tickets are being sold online by City Box Office. Tickets can also be purchased by calling City Box Office at 415-392-4400.

Another Penthouse Album from Jazz Detective

Cal Tjader on the cover of his Catch the Groove album

Yesterday I wrote about wrapping up a series of three Ahmad Jamal albums with the title Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse. These were produced by Zev Feldman for the Jazz Detective label, and this morning I encountered another Feldman production of Penthouse recordings. The release involves six sets led by vibraphonist Cal Tjader performing with a variety of different quintets. This time the title is Catch The Groove: Live at the Penthouse (1963–1967). Like the final Jamal album, Catch The Groove will be released this coming Friday; and, once again, Amazon has created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

I have to confess that, while I have been aware of Tjader’s name since my campus radio days, I paid little attention to his albums. Now that retirement allows me more time to expand my musical interests, I have to say that I was engaged in Catch The Groove as much as I had been with the Jamal releases. Thanks to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I have been able to enjoy “close-up” views of vibraphone performances; and I have to confess that I envy the proficiency that a good vibraphonist commands. In that context I would say that Tjader was (he died on May 5, 1982) so proficient that he may have even educated himself by listening to piano improvisations and then working out how he could take his instrument down similar paths.

Another confession I have to make is that almost all of Tjader’s quintet partners were unfamiliar to me. The one exception is the pianist in the first of the sets, Clare Fischer. Fischer’s own work tends to “straddle” the domains of both classical and jazz; and that set provided one of the rare occasions where I could appreciate her approaches to jazz improvisation.

However, a more consistent setting that spans all six of the sets is the Latin side of the percussion work. Two percussionists contribute to this Penthouse collection, Johnny Rae for the first three sets and Carl Burnett for the remainder. To the best of my knowledge, these were “first contact” experiences involving both of them; but there was much to draw my attention to not only their solo takes but also their “punctuations” of Tjader’s improvisations.

It is also worth noting that this new album is the first official release of previously unissued live Tjader performances in nearly twenty years. Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that one of his albums was recorded at the Blackhawk, here in San Francisco, not too long before the first Penthouse set on this new release. I should probably try to check out that album to see how much context it provides for these newly-discovered tracks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Bleeding Edge: 11/28/2023

This is the week that will see the shift from November to December. It turns out that all of this week’s events will take place on the long weekend that begins the last month of the year. They will account for a venue that is new to the Bleeding Edge but is no stranger to the events that have been covered on this site. Most likely, all of those events will keep faithful listeners at a safe distance from “holiday programming.” Specifics are as follows:

Friday, December 1, 6 p.m., Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio: This venue is a relatively short walk from where I live, which means, more importantly, it is also a short walk from Davies Symphony Hall. Last June I learned that this proximity would sometimes lead to San Francisco Symphony musicians playing jazz sets there after one of their Thursday afternoon concerts. There are usually four sets performed at this venue, the first two taken by one group and the second by the other. On this particular occasion the first two sets will take place at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saxophonist Beth Schenck will lead a quartet which may (or may not) be the Social Stutter Saxophone Quartet, in which she is joined by saxophonists Kasey Knudsen, Phillip Greenlief, and Cory Wright. The other two sets will take place at 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. They will be led by saxophonist Richard Howell, whose Sudden Changes trio includes violinist Jenny Scheinman and drummer Elé Salif Howell. The roots of the music draw upon the spirit of John Coltrane’s four-movement suite A Love Supreme. Mr. Tipple’s is located at 39 Fell Street, on the south side of the street between Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street.

Friday, December 1, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore & Gallery: This will be a slight departure from the usual. David Boyce will curate at visit by Bleeding Vector. This is the duo of Eric Vogler on guitar and vocalist Lorin Benedict. As usual, 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, December 1, 8:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: REOTRIO is a trio that was formed when guitarist Karl Evangelista joined the duo of percussionist Donald Robinson and reed player Larry Ochs. For this particular performance they will be joined by bassist Kazuto Sato. 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, December 2, 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., Angel Island Immigration Station: This is a program that will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation by giving a performance at that venue. The program will be shared between readings by the Last Hoisan Poets (Flo Oy Wong, Nellie Wong, and Genny Lim) and a performance by the Del Sol Quartet, whose members are violinists Hyeyung Sol Yoon and Benjamin Kreith, Charlton Lee on viola, and cellist Kathryn Bates. They will perform excerpts from Huang Ruo’s Angel Island oratorio, along with works by Chinary Ung and Erika Oba. The event is free with admission to the Detention Barracks Museum ($5 for adults, $3 for youths). Angel Island can be reached only through a ferry service.

Saturday, December 2, 6 p.m., Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio: This will be another four-set evening featuring two different performers. The first two sets (6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) will be taken by the Kasey Knudsen Quartet, led by saxophonist Knudsen. The other members of the quartet have not yet been named. As of this past May, they were pianist Dahveed Behroozi, Justin Thurston-Milgrom on bass, and drummer Eric Garland. The remaining two sets (9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) will be taken by The Charles Unger Experience, led by saxophonist Charles Unger. Once again, the other performers have not yet been named; but the “educated guess” would be Vicky Grossi on bass, drummer Tony Coleman, and Sue Crosman on piano. Mr. Tipple’s is located at 39 Fell Street, on the south side of the street between Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street.

Sunday, December 3, 4 p.m., Center for New Music: This will be an afternoon of free improvisations performed by the Tremble Trove Quartet, which was formed when ROVA saxophonist Jon Raskin joined the trio of cellist Ben Davis, Chris Brown on both piano and electronics, and percussionist Marshall Trammell. For those that do not yet know, C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, which is where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. 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. Since this is the beginning of the month, it is a good time to account for the remaining events of the month as follows with Eventbrite hyperlinks attached to the date and time of each of the performances:

  • Saturday, December 9, noon: Once again, the monthly installment of G|O|D|W|A|F|F|L|E|N|O|I|S|E|P|A|N|C|A|K|E|S will be on the early side. As usual, vegan pancakes will be included with the price of admission. General admission will be $10 with a $6 rate for members and students. Music will be provided by Bran…POS, Zero Collective (visiting from Los Angeles), Microwave Windows, the duo of Lx Rudis and Kevin Cocoran, and the Dovetail duo of Hora Flora and Nurse Betty. [added 11/29, 4:30 p.m.:
  • Friday, December 15, 8 p.m.: Guitarist Angel Bianco has prepared a program as a tribute for the 100th anniversary of György Ligeti. The program will include works by Morton Feldman and Niccolò Paganini. He will also includes Mexican composers Julian Carrillo and Blas Galindo. The repertoire for this program will combine virtuosity, minimalism, improvisation, electric guitars and microtonality.]
  • Saturday, December 16, 7:30 p.m.: The second generation of The Opus Project (which began at the end of this past October) will consist of Opus 2 compositions. Allegra Chapman will be special guest pianist. Contributing composers will be Franz Schubert, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Arnold Schoenberg, Vance Maverick, Gabriella Smith, and Mark Alburger. General admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for members and students.

Jazz Detective to Release Final Jamal Album

Ahmad Jamal on the cover of his final Emerald City Nights album

Almost exactly a year ago, the Jazz Detective label produced by Zev Feldman released two albums sharing the title Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse. These were trio performances led by master jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal. The first had the “subtitle” 1963–1964, and the second was 1965–1966. This Friday this series will be completed with the release of the 1966–1968 album; and, as of this writing, the hyperlink for the date can be used for pre-ordering the album.

The new release accounts for sessions on September 29, 1966, August 24, 1967, August 31, 1967, and April 26, 1968. The Penthouse is the club in Seattle where all of the recordings were made. For all four of these sets, the other trio members were Jamil Nasser on bass and Frank Gant on drums.

As was the case in the earlier releases, the repertoire is widely diverse. However, each genre seems to provide Jamal with its own potential for extended improvisations. This is as evident in his approach to Erroll Garner’s “Misty” as it is for the theme for the television series Mr. Lucky, one of Henry Mancini’s early ventures into commercial television. One of the things that strikes me about such “popular standards” is that Jamal and his colleagues almost always depart from any expectations we may have about those tunes. For example, Garner’s moody qualities are all but obliterated by Gant’s aggressive and complex drumming.

Now that the series is complete, one has to marvel at the breadth of inventiveness that cuts across the many sets that were recorded. Indeed, Jamal is probably one of the best examples of my favorite epithet that “jazz is chamber music by other means.” Over the course of my writing gig, I have never turned down an opportunity to cover one of Jamal’s recordings. Each one has had its own journey (or journeys) of discovery; and I have to confess to more that a bit of regret that I was on the other side of the continent when Jamal was cooking up so much engaging diversity in Seattle.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Completing the Piano Works of David Del Tredici

Cover of the Albany album of David Del Tredici’s piano works

Some readers may recall that, a little over a week ago, I used my “memorial” article about the death of David Del Tredici at the age of 86 to grumble over the fact that Naxos had not completed its project to record his complete piano works. I had written about the first volume for an article in September of 2012. Over a decade had passed, and I had yet to see any further Naxos releases of this repertoire. It was only after I consulted that I learned that the project had been completed this past April by Albany records (which is not one of the many labels that Naxos manages). Once Amazon had informed me, I did not waste any time in placing an order!

That order arrived this past weekend. It was at that time that I realized how much I had been missing. The album consisted of three generously-packed CDs whose respective durations were 71:26, 69:53, and 67:30. As was the case with the initial Naxos release, the pianist is Marc Peloquin. My article had begun with a recollection of an Old First Concerts recital performed by both Del Tredici and Peloquin, when they joined forces for a four-hand account of “Carioca Boy.” They then went on to play it a second time at a pre-concert recital to mark the beginning of the 2012–2013 season of the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony. As a result, I knew that the new Albany anthology was off to a good start when I saw that the opening track of the first CD was that duo performance of “Carioca Boy!”

Having now traversed the “complete works” of this collection, I have to say the most lasting impression is Del Tredici’s capacity for wit. There is a playfulness that pervades most of the tracks in this collection, and frequently there is a playful interplay between the music itself that the composer’s choice of title. These traits are particularly evident in “Ode to Music,” composed in 2015. The title is basically a reflection on Franz Schubert’s D. 547 song, “An die Musik;” and, as one tends to expect from Del Tredici, that reflection is realized through quotation.

I was also particularly struck by the Ray’s Birthday Suit suite. The “title character” is Ray Warman, who had been Del Tredici’s husband. The suite provided a decade-by-decade account of Warman’s age, culminating in his 60th birthday (which Warman preferred to call 50/10). The thematic material runs an amusing gamut with college songs from Yale University at the beginning and unabashedly celebrating the age of 60 with the “Ode to Joy” music from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 125 (ninth) symphony in D minor. This is matched only by the 40th birthday, which is celebrated by Salome dancing with her seven veils to the music by Richard Strauss.

The fact is that just about every one of Del Tredici’s solo piano compositions has an engaging (and usually amusing) backstory. Now that I have the full canon at my disposal, I can enjoy the luxury of befitting from both Peloquin’s performances and the engaging text commentary. There is clearly much more for me to learn about the personality behind all of this music!

Christmas Returns to NCCO Repertoire

Trumpet soloist Lucienne Renaudin Vary (courtesy of NCCO)

Unless I am mistaken, the New Century Chamber Orchestra has not presented a “seasonal” concert in December since the onset of the COVID pandemic, meaning that the last such program was presented in December of 2019. Next month the holiday spirit will return with Christmas Ornaments, a program of festive works and the United States debut of trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary. The only departure from the celebratory will be the performance of Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City,” featuring cor anglais soloist Jesse Barrett; but the other “festivities” will be secular as well as sacred.

The most explicit holiday offering will be the eighth of the twelve concerti grossi that Arcangelo Corelli collected in his Opus 6, often referred to as the “Christmas concerto.” However, the festive spirit will be extended by coupling this concerto grosso with a trumpet concerto in E-flat major by the eighteenth-century Czech composer Johann Baptist Georg Neruda, the selection that will feature Vary as soloist. In addition, the program will conclude with a “Festive Christmas Medley” of familiar “holiday spirit” tunes arranged by Paul Bateman.

The Corelli concerto will be preceded by two compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, both “secular” but still in a “festive spirit.” The opening selection will be the BWV 1048 (third) “Brandenburg” concerto in G major, composed for an ensemble of solo strings. Music Director Daniel Hope will then perform as soloist in the BWV 1041 (first) violin concerto in A minor. The entire program will be performed without intermission.

The San Francisco performance of this offering will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 17. The venue will be St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. Ticket prices will be $70 for premium seating, $55, and $30 for General Admission in the rear. All tickets are being sold online through a City Box Office event page. In addition, $10 tickets are available for students with valid identification, and patrons under 35 can purchase single tickets at the door for $15.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Sanel Redžić’s Omni Guitar Recital Video: Part 1

Screen shot of Sanel Redžić performing on the altar of the Kaufmannskirche in Erfurt

As was announced this past Tuesday, the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts uploaded its latest video to YouTube this morning. The video presents the first half of a solo guitar recital prepared by Sanel Redžić. This is the latest offering in the Omni On Location series, whose subtitle is Music from Historical Sites.

The site for Redžić’s performance is the Kaufmannskirche (merchant’s church), located in the city of Erfurt in Thuringia, Germany. The church has been around for about 900 years; but, over that course of time, it has experienced both rebuilding (following a fire in 1291) and a series of restorations, the most recent of which was completed on June 28, 2009. In the context of music history, this is the church where Johann Sebastian Bach’s parents were married!

With such a legacy it should be no surprise that Redžić decided to begin his recital with a Bach selection. He chose the last two (Siciliano and Presto) movements of the BWV 1001 solo violin sonata in G minor; and it would not surprise me if Redžić’s performance was based on his reading of the score as Bach had written it. To the extent that Bach may have composed this music for pedagogical purposes, Redžić chose to couple it with another pedagogical offering, three of the caprices from Luigi Legnani’s Opus 20 collection of 36 caprices for solo guitar. Like Niccolò Paganini’s Opus 1 collection of 24 caprices for solo violin, Legnani’s caprices were probably conceived to provide the guitarist with a mastery of technical skills. (Apparently, Legnani was a friend of Paganini; and the latter may have inspired the former to compose for the guitar in the spirit of how the latter had composed for the violin.)

The remainder of the video was devoted entirely to music by Astor Piazzolla. In this case Redžić played arrangements that had been transcribed for guitar by Baltazar Benítez. He began with the “Verano Porteño” (summer) movement of Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenõs (the four seasons). Redžić then concluded this portion of his recital with two of the compositions in Piazzolla’s Angel Series: “Milonga Del Ángel” and “Muerte del Ángel.”

The entire video was less than about 40 minutes in duration. While some may find this brief, the performance disclosed a wide variety of technical skills applied to three decidedly different composition settings. Through the camera work, one could appreciate Redžić’s command of those skills and his ability to endow them with his own approaches to expressiveness. Personally, he has me on the edge of my seat wondering what challenges he will confront in the second half of the program he prepared!

SFGC to Bring Folk Songs to Annual Davies Visit

Next month the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) will make its annual appearance at Davies Symphony Hall, led by its Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe. This has consistently been one of the high points in the “seasonal programming” planned for the better part of December in Davies. The full title of this year’s performance will be SFGC Winter Concert: Folk Songs of the World.

Last year’s performance of the full SFGC complement in Davies Symphony Hall (from the City Box Office Web page for this event)

As in the past, the program will involve performances by all six levels of the Chorus School, along with the Premiere Ensemble and selected SFGC alumnae. In addition to the usual piano accompaniment, the program will include accordionist Sam Reider as a Special Guest. Mind you, the “seasonal spirit” will not be overlooked; but this year it will be represented by “hidden gems from the holiday choral repertoire.” There is also a tradition of singing “Silent Night,” even though it is not strictly “folk” music. (The music has a composer, Franz Xaver Gruber; and the words were written by Joseph Mohr.)

This program will be given one performance beginning at 7 p.m. on Monday, December 11. Ticket prices range from $30 to $68. Tickets may be purchased online through a City Box Office Web page or by calling 415-392-4400. The entrance to Davies is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

SFJAZZ: December, 2023

As might be guessed, it is not easy to avoid the “holiday spirit.” Even the Joe Henderson Lab at the SFJAZZ Center will devote itself entirely to a Holidays at SFJAZZ series of program during next month. For those that do not already know, the entrance to the Center 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:

Friday, December 8, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: The festivities will begin with a program entitled Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O. Wilson is a drummer, as well as an educator and a composer. This program will be prepared as a trio project to celebrate the holiday season; but, as of this writing, the other members of the trio have not yet been identified. The Web page includes a video of a past Christmas Tree-O performance. Wilson is joined by a saxophonist and a bassist, neither of whom are identified!

The Tres Souls trio of Roberto Carlos, Rocio Mendoza, and Jesus Martinez (from the SFJAZZ Web page for their performance)

Saturday, December 9, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Tres Souls is a trio (as one might guess) based in Los Angeles. All three of the members are vocalists, with Rocio Mendoza as the lead. Roberto Carlos also plays guitar, and Jesus Martinez plays a requinto (higher pitched) guitar. Their approach to the holiday season will reflect the classic Mexican bolero and the trio romanticos tradition.

Thursday, December 14, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: This will be a special holiday Hotplate concert featuring Jonathan Dely. Dely was a finalist in the National Trumpet Competition, the International Trumpet Guild Jazz Competition, and the Yamaha Young Performing Artist Competition. As a result, he decided that a career in music would outweigh an investment banking position on Wall Street. This concert will be his SFJAZZ debut, and the other members of his combo have not yet been announced.

Friday, December 15, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: This will be another SFJAZZ debut, this time by vocalist Halie Loren. Her repertoire encompasses material in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese and Korean. However, for this program she will focus on holiday songs taken from her popular 2012 album Many Times, Many Ways: A Holiday Collection. No information about accompaniment has been provided.

Saturday, December 16, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, December 17, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Guitarist George Cole will showcase selections from Nat King Cole’s album The Magic of Christmas. Guitarist Cole will sing the arrangements of the holiday songs that were originally sung by pianist Cole. Like pianist Cole, guitarist Cole will lead a trio, whose other instruments will be piano and bass. Performers of those parts have not yet been named.

Discovering a String Quartet Joining a Vocalist

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

It was only a little over a month ago that I first became aware of the Delgani String Quartet, whose members are violinists Anthea Kreston and Jannie Wei, Kimberlee Uwate on viola, and cellist Eric Alterman. The title of their latest album, released by Avie Records this past October 13, is Soul of Brazil; and it features, as a “guest artist,” vocalist and pianist Clarice Assad, who was born in Brazil. Since Assad is “at home” in both classical and jazz repertoires, this may be approached as a “crossover” album.

However, in my own classification techniques, I approached the new album as basically classical. It includes two compositions for string quartet. The earlier one is the sixth of the seventeen string quartets composed by Heitor Villa-Lobos. The other is a much more recent work by Assad entitled “Glitch,” whose structure is, in the composer’s words, “full of surprises.” These two pieces are framed on either side of the track-list by music arranged by Assad. The first four tracks are quartet arrangements of four songs by Antônio Carlos Jobim, and the final track is an arrangement of the Villa-Lobos song “Cair da tarde” (twilight song). I have to confess that all five of those songs were new to me, reminding me that, prior to this album, I had not encountered any art song composed by Villa-Lobos.

I also have to confess that, where songs are concerned, I always would like to have the texts at my disposal. Apparently, this was too much content to include in the booklet for this new album. For the most part, however, I found that I could often make “semantic conjectures” that had at least some viability on the basis of Assad’s vocal delivery of the words. On the more positive side, I found that I could enjoy the roller-coaster ride of “surprises” that Assad worked into her composition of “Glitch;” and I found the instrumental account by the Delgani players to ride right alongside Assad in their execution of her music.

Hopefully, I shall be able to learn more about the Delgani repertoire in the near future.

Dudamel Brings Imaginative Concerto to SFS

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel (photograph by Danny Clinch, courtesy of SFS)

Last night conductor Gustavo Dudamel returned to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) for the last November subscription series of concerts. His program brought an engaging twist on the overture-concerto-symphony structure with the concerto having been composed for an instrument not usually encountered in that genre. This instrument, the cuatro, is associated with music indigenous to Venezuela; and both soloist Jorge Glem and composer Gonzalo Grau (not to mention Dudamel himself) are Venezuelan. The concerto itself consisted of a single uninterrupted movement entitled “Odisea;” and the music could be described as an Odyssean journey through the different forms and styles of Venezuelan traditional music.

Grau completed this composition earlier this year, after which Dudamel presented its world premiere with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Last night saw its first SFS performance. Those that came early for the pre-concert discussion probably benefitted from the background material Grau provided about the concerto. They also received “first exposure” to a performance by Glem playing his cuatro, a four-string plucked instrument in the guitar family. (Those following the New Century Chamber Orchestra would probably have been oriented to the sound of the cuatro after having listened to the charango played by Gabriel Navia in Paul Bateman’s arrangement of Ariel Ramírez’ Missa Criolla.)

What was most evident about the cuatro was its soft-spoken quality. One had to wonder whether such a subtle instrument would hold its own against a full symphony orchestra, which included a generous percussion section with many Latin American instruments. Grau thus deserves no end of credits for his skill not only in a wide variety of instruments but also in a keen sense of how all of those sonorities could be properly balanced. In other words, Grau knew perfectly well how to lead the attentive listener through his “Odyssean journey,” making sure that even the subtlest of details would be taken into account.

Furthermore, Grau knew how to acclimate the attentive listener to the subtleties of Glem’s cuatro. Thus, then Glem returned to the Davies stage to take an encore, all the attentive listeners in the audience were ready for him. Most likely, however, they were not prepared for the content of that encore. Glem decided that, since he was playing in a concert hall, it would be only fair to improvise around the sort of music one might encounter there. Thus, he launched into the fugue subject from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 565 toccata and fugue in D minor and then took a segue into one of the themes from Gustav Mahler’s second (“Resurrection”) symphony in C minor. This was followed with a nod to Georges Bizet’s Carmen, which probably triggered another segue, this time into Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana cantata. Then (since the Christmas season is upon us) he threw in the Russian dancers from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet, careening back into the “An die Freude” (ode to joy) music from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 125 (ninth) symphony. (Yes, there was more; but I could only keep up with so much of it!)

“Odisea” was preceded by “Kauyumari,” composed by Gabriela Ortiz, also for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Dudamel. Ortiz’ music has been influenced by traditional sources from Mexico and Central America. This particular work was structured around a Huichol melody. While the theme was certainly engaging, the number of repetitions began to feel like excess, almost as if Ortiz had decided to inject Ravel’s “Bolero” with steroids. Nevertheless, the instrumental colors (again including percussion) established an engaging context for what would follow in “Odisea,” making the overture and concerto portions of the program a satisfying “matched set.”

Sadly, the symphony did not fare as well. Dudamel devoted the entire second half of the program to Johannes Brahms’ Opus 73 (second) symphony in D major. This is music that has established a firm place in the “familiar classics” repertoire. Unfortunately, Dudamel had nothing to contribute that would present this frequently-encountered music as anything more than the same-old-same-old. Indeed, there seemed to be many times during which the conductor was following the orchestra, which, itself, was basically following Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik and all of the other section leaders.

There is an often-told story about the early career of composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold. His father, Julius, made his reputation as a music critic; and he was never shy about exercising his skills on his son. The story I heard was that, after listening to a performance of his son’s music, his only reply was, “Compose, don’t bathe!” More than once I found that, while observing Dudamel during the performance of Opus 73, I came away with the impression that he was bathing, rather than conducting!

Friday, November 24, 2023

December will Begin with Two Jazz Offerings

Next month will begin with two jazz performances taking place at the same time on the first Sunday. One of these is an ongoing jazz tradition. The other involves a more eclectic concert series.

The first of these will be the next gig in the Chez Hanny series, which, because of the current holiday weekend, presented only one concert during the month of November. As a result, the next performance will take place somewhat earlier than usual, on the first Sunday of next month, December 3. This will be a trio gig led by pianist Tim Chernikoff, making a return appearance at Chez Hanny.

Chernikoff is an alumnus of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, but he is now based in New York City. He has an impressively broad range of influences. His jazz keyboard work draws upon performances by Thelonious Monk; but, as a composer, he also draws upon the bold inventions of Ornette Coleman. Then there are his departures from the jazz genre, which include Frank Zappa at one extreme and Maurice Ravel at the other. It is probably also worth noting that the profile of Monk written by Richard Boyer for The New Yorker included the following quote attributed to Monk: “We liked Ravel, Stravinsky, Debussy, Prokofieff, Schoenberg … and maybe we were a little influenced by them.”

The other members of Chernikoff’s trio will be bassist Jakob Dreyer and drummer Kenneth Salters. In the context of the above list of names, it is worth noting that Dreyer received classical training between the ages of four and thirteen. He has performed at Chez Hanny on a past visit by Chernikoff. Salters is also a bandleader, and he has also performed with Chernikoff at Chez Hanny.

Following the usual plan, the performance will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 3 (as stated above). 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.

The jazz duo of Jarrett Cherner and Sarah Elizabeth Charles (courtesy of Noe Music)

Ironically, that date and time have already been allocated for the next Noe Music offering. This will be a jazz duo performance with pianist Jarrett Cherner performing with vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. They have prepared a “book” of original compositions. However, their program will also include some brand new arrangements for strings, meaning that they will be joined by the two Co-Directors of Noe Music, violinist Owen Dalby and violist Meena Bhasin.

As usual, this performance will take place at the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. As already cited, it will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 3. Tickets may be purchased through a Web page with prices of $45 for general admission $60 for reserved seating, and $15 for students.

Previously Unissued Wes Montgomery Recordings

Cover of the album being discussed

One week from today, Resonance Records will release Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings, a two-CD collection of broadcast recordings by the Wes Montgomery Trio. Guitarist Montgomery co-led his trio with pianist Wynton Kelly, and they were joined by Jimmy Cobb on drums. As many may have anticipated, Bandcamp has created a Web page for this album, which is processing pre-orders. The album is also being released as a set of three LPs, which may purchased through a Rough Trade Web page. (For those who might find that name intimidating, Rough Trade was my best source for Brian Eno CDs at a time when few other shops were carrying them.)

Calling Montgomery a virtuoso guitarist verges on understatement. During the pandemic, when YouTube was my primary source for listening to performances, its upload of the Wes Montgomery: Live in ’65 provided an excellent opportunity to appreciate the many dimensions of his virtuosity. As a result, I was not particularly surprised to see that the new Resonance release involved performances from that same year. Mind you, the quality of the gear at the Half Note was a far cry from “high fidelity” standards, probably because it was not intended for studio standards; but Montgomery’s technical skills can be appreciated even without high-quality audio.

Taken as a whole, the new release accounts for seven sets at the Half Note club in New York. The first four of these took place on September 24, November 5, November 12, and November 19. The remaining three sets are documented only as “Late 1965.” All of the sets involve a quartet with four different performers taking on the bass line. Paul Chambers joined the trio on September 24, followed by Ron Carter on November 5. Herman Wright played on November 19, and the remaining three sets were all taken by Larry Ridley.

The presence of an announcer suggests that all of the sets were given “live” broadcasts. This is most evident when that announcer fumbled the title of the first work performed on Carter’s set. (The first guess was “‘Round Midnight” followed by “So What!”) Fortunately, the booklet for the album gets it right. Regardless of what the announcer says, the music is John Coltrane’s “Impressions!”

However, that fumble reminded me of how few opportunities there are these days to listen to “live” jazz performances through the media of either television or radio. (I am beginning to think that, due to streaming technology, radio broadcasting has become almost, if not entirely, obsolete!) Mind you, I do recall seeing a livestream from the SFJAZZ Center during the pandemic; but it was an event that I encountered almost by accident.

What strikes me most about the Half Note sets is their intimacy. Whether he is listening to Montgomery’s own originals or the “standards” of other composers, the attentive listener will be able to appreciate that the guitar work says as much about the music as it says about the guitarist’s own “presentation of self.” Mind you, any performance worthy of listening is likely to emerge as a dialog between “self” and “other.” Whether or not Montgomery was explicitly aware of that dialog in his Half Note performances, one can appreciate the unfolding of that dialog on each of the tracks on this new release.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

SFO Announces Details for Year-End Concerts

Today’s holiday will be followed by the “final stretch” of fall season performances by the San Francisco Opera (SFO). As was already announced, this will include the five remaining performances of L’elisir d’amore. However, these offerings will be supplemented by the two annual year-end concerts that showcase resident artists, the SFO Orchestra, and the SFO Chorus.

The first of these will be The Future is Now: Adlers in Concert, which was conceived to introduce the next generation of opera stars. The vocalists will be sopranos Arianna Rodriguez, Mikayla Sager and Olivia Smith, mezzo-sopranos Gabrielle Beteag and Nikola Printz, tenors Victor Cardamone, Edward Graves and Moisés Salazar, and bass-baritone Jongwon Han. They will perform with the SFO Orchestra conducted by Ramón Tebar, who will provide the program with a suitable overture, the one composed by Vincenzo Bellini for his opera Norma. As of this writing, the selections to be performed are the following (subject to change):

  • "Va, crudele … Vieni in Roma!" from Norma (Vincenzo Bellini): Gabrielle Beteag, Adalgisa • Moisés Salazar, Pollione
  • "Che più t'arresti … Tacea la notte ... Di tale amor" from Il Trovatore (Giuseppe Verdi): Nikola Printz, Inez • Mikayla Sager, Leonora
  • "Amor ti vieta" from Fedora (Umberto Giordano): Edward Graves, Count Loris
  • "Ch'il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine (Giacomo Puccini): Olivia Smith, Magda
  • "Riez, allez" from Don Quichotte (Jules Massenet): Jongwon Han, Sancho
  • "Sull'aria" from Le Nozze di Figaro (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart): Olivia Smith, Countess Almaviva • Arianna Rodriguez, Susanna
  • "I was a woman" from prisoner of the state (David Lang): Nikola Printz, the Assistant
  • "Sometimes th’ pain of missin' him" from Cold Sassy Tree (Carlisle Floyd): Victor Cardamone, Will Tweedy
  • "Un dì, se ben rammentomi" from Rigoletto (Giuseppe Verdi): Edward Graves, the Duke of Mantua • Nikola Printz, Maddalena • Arianna Rodriguez, Gilda • Jongwon Han, Rigoletto
  • "Scostatevi ... il Re giunge … Fin dall'età più tenera ... Salirà d'Inghilterra" from Anna Bolena (Gaetano Donizetti): Jongwon Han, Enrico • Mikayla Sager, Anna Bolena • Victor Cardamone, Percy • Edward Graves, Hervey
  • "Giunse alfin il momento … Deh, vieni non tardar" from Le Nozze di Figaro (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart): Arianna Rodriguez, Susanna
  • "Let me look around once more … To leave, to break" from Vanessa (Samuel Barber): Olivia Smith, Vanessa • Edward Graves, Anatol • Nikola Printz, Erika • Gabriella Beteag, Old Baroness • Jongwon Han, Old Doctor
  • "Nessun dorma" from Turandot (Giacomo Puccini): Moisés Salazar, Calaf
  • "Les Troyens … Je vais mourir … Adieu, fière cite" from Les Troyens (Hector Berlioz): Gabrielle Beteag, Didon • Nikola Printz, Anna • Jongwon Han, Narbal • Victor Cardamone, Iopas
  • "Già che il caso ci unisce … Beva al tuo fresco sorriso" from La Rondine (Giacomo Puccini): Edward Graves, Ruggero • Olivia Smith, Magda • Arianna Rodriguez, Lisette • Victor Cardamone, Prunier • The Adler Fellows, chorus

The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 2. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Ticket prices will be $69 for premium Orchestra and Box seating, $59 for Orchestra Rear, $49 for the Dress Circle, and $34 for the Balcony. Wheelchair seating is available in the Orchestra, Dress Circle, and Balcony. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an SFO event page or by calling the SFO Box Office at 415-864-3330. [added 12/1, 12:05 p.m.:

The second program will be a concert of chamber music performed by members of the SFO Orchestra. The program will feature four different ensembles: string quartet, string trio, woodwind quintet, and brass quintet. As of this writing, only two works from the program have been identified. The less familiar of these will be George Enescu's "Aubade,"scored for string trio. The other work identified will be a string quartet by Joseph Haydn, his Hoboken III/5 string quartet in G major, the fifth of the six quartets in his Opus 33 publication. The performance will take place at the Calvary Presbyterian Church at 2515 Fillmore Street. This will be a free concert, but seating will be limited. A Web page has been created for advance registration, and its use is highly recommended.]

The third program will be San Francisco Opera Chorus in Concert. SFO Chorus Director John Keene will conduct; and, when necessary, accompaniment will be provided at the piano by SFO Associate Chorus Master Fabrizio Corona. The program will include both opera excerpts and selections of both sacred and secular choral compositions. As of this writing, the selections to be performed are the following (again subject to change):

  • "Ave verum corpus," K. 618 (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
  • Scenes from La Clemenza di Tito (Mozart)
  • "Gondoliera," "Ich stand in dunklen Träumen" (Clara Schumann)
  • "Morgengruß," "Im Wald" (Fanny Mendelssohn)
  • "Cantique de Jean Racine," Opus 11 (Gabriel Fauré)
  • "Sous bois," "Hymne au Soleil," "Soir sur la Plaine" (Lili Boulanger)
  • "Poem of Praise,” "Resignation,” "Wander-thirst" (Florence Price)
  • "The Road Home" (Stephen Paulus)

This performance will also begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 8. The venue will again be in the Veterans Building, but it will be up on the fourth floor in the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater. Seating will be general admission, and all tickets are being sold for $42. Unfortunately, as of this writing, wheelchair seating is not available. Tickets may again be purchased in advance online through an SFO event page or by calling the SFO Box Office at 415-864-3330.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

CBS Christmas: Rosenmüller and Schütz

Having begun its 53rd season with a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 232 Mass setting (best known as the Mass in B Minor), the California Bach Society (CBS) will celebrate Christmas with two rarely performed Baroque composers. One of those composers is familiar to me, even if I am not sure that I have heard any of his music in performance. That composer is Heinrich Schütz, and my knowledge is the result of having written about all twenty volumes of the “complete works” collection organized by Hans-Christoph Rademann and released by Carus-Verlag.

Cover of the second Kleine geistliche Konzerte CD in the Rademann “complete works” collection of the music of Heinrich Schütz (courtesy of Naxos of America)

Schütz will be represented on this program by two  relatively short motets, one from each of the two collections entitled Kleine geistliche Konzerte (small spiritual concerts). The first of these will be the SWV 314 “Verbum caro factus est” (the word is made flesh). The second will be the SWV 502 “Ein Kind its uns geboren” (unto us a child is born).

The remainder of the program will be devoted to Johann Rosenmüller; and his Wikipedia page asserts that “his sacred compositions show the influence of Heinrich Schütz” (although that quoted text has “citation needed,” rather than a footnote). He will be represented by a collection of six motets. Three are settings of German texts, and the other three are in Latin. The latter will include settings of both the “Magnificat” text and the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” section of the Mass.

The San Francisco performance of this program will take place on Friday, December 1, beginning, as usual, at 8 p.m. The venue will be the Saint Gregory of Nyssa church, located at 500 De Haro Street at the foot of Potrero Hill. General admission will be $40 with a $35 rate for seniors. Students and those under 30 will be admitted for $10. A Web page has been created to process all ticket sales, and the alternative will be to call 650-485-1097. Sales should be finalized at least 24 hours before the concert. Doors will open 30 minutes before the performance.

Reencountering Omar ibn Said at SFO

Last night I returned to the War Memorial Opera House to attend the last of six performances by the San Francisco Opera (SFO) of Omar, an opera about the life of Islamic scholar Omar ibn Said composed by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels. Demand for tickets has been high, and it has been comforting to see that an opera that is only about a year old should receive such a massive and appreciative demand for audience seats. One reason may be that an account of Omar’s life and personality makes for a positive and uplifting experience in a time when we seem to be confronted with bad news on all fronts.

Omar (Jamez McCorkle, center) explains Islam to his second owner Owen (Daniel Okulitch, right) while Owen’s friend Taylor (Barry Banks, left) observes (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SFO)

Mind you, the narrative itself is not consistently positive. As an Islamic scholar, Omar could not have imagined being torn away from his country to be shipped to South Carolina, where he would be auctioned off as a slave. His relationship with the master that purchased him was far from an agreeable one, and the first of the opera’s two acts concludes with his running to escape his owner. Ultimately, he is taken in by a second master, who learns about Islam while Omar learns more about Christianity.

From a musical point to view, this is an opera based on a thoughtfully-conceived libretto by Giddens. There is a maturity to the text that continued the twentieth-century approach to opera as a performance in which the narrative is as compellingly meaningful as the music. There is so much for the viewer to learn about a variety of topics, including the role of Islam in Africa, the rise of the slave trade, and the “sense of self” of different slaveholders. Indeed, there is so much to keep the mind occupied that my attention to the narrative tended to overshadow the usual interest in vocal talents and expressive acting. Perhaps this is because, under the efforts of Director Kaneza Schaal, the personalities of all the characters (primary and secondary) emerge more through the narrative than through the music.

This is not to dismiss the qualities of the vocal performances. In the title role tenor Jamez McCorkle is “front-and-center” almost all of the time, providing viewers with a richly-developed account of the title character’s life and personality. On the other hand Omar’s two owners are sung by the same bass-baritone, Daniel Okulitch. The first is Johnson, who expects hard work to be the response to all of his demands, leaving Omar with no choice but to flee his plantation. In contrast, the second, Owen, quickly appreciates Omar’s intellectual background, even if he never seems to get his head around the beliefs and practices of Islam.

Nevertheless, it is the personalities that prevail; and Giddens and Abels provided just the right foundations for those personalities to reveal themselves through vocal performance. Ultimately, like Owen, we in the audience are drawn to Omar for what he has to say. What is impressive is how the music is always there to enhance our perception of the verbal content. Ultimately, we come away with a strong impression of an extraordinary life; and I would not be surprised if at least some of us decide to turn to reading matter to learn more about that life.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Omni Will End Long Weekend with New Video

Guitarist Sanel Redžić (courtesy of the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts)

The long weekend of the Thanksgiving holiday will conclude with the next video to be uploaded to YouTube by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. This will be the first half of a solo guitar recital prepared by Sanel Redžić. He was born on July 25, 1988 in Tuzla, the third-largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and he is quickly becoming one of the most important figures on the international guitar scene.

As is often the case, much of this video will be devoted to arrangements. However, for the “core” of his program, Redžić will play three of the caprices from Luigi Legnani’s Opus 20 collection of 36 caprices for solo guitar. Specifically, these will be caprices 31, 22, and 7. Legnani was a friend of Niccolò Paganini and was probably inspired by that composer’s Opus 1 collection of 24 caprices for solo violin.

Those three caprices will be preceded by the last two movements (Siciliana and Presto) of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1001 solo violin sonata in G minor. Following the caprices, the program will conclude with three compositions by Astor Piazzolla. The first of these will be the “Verano Porteño” (summer) movement of Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenõs (the four seasons) arranged for solo guitar by Sérgio Assad. This will be followed by two of the compositions in Piazzolla’s Angel Series: “Milonga Del Ángel” and “Muerte del Ángel,” the latter arranged for guitar by Leo Brouwer.

As usual, this new video will be streamed through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel, beginning at 10 a.m. this coming Sunday, November 26. It was recorded in Erfurt in Germany, and 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.

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Bleeding Edge: 11/20/2023

As usual, the week of “Turkey Day” is a quiet one. As a result, there are only two events to report. Both of them are “usual suspects,” with one on either side of Thursday. Specifics are as follows:

Tuesday, November 21, 7 p.m., Make-Out Room: This month’s Jazz at the Make-Out Room concert will consist of only two sets. Most likely, each of them will last about an hour. The first set will be the latest incarnation of a solo performance by saxophonist Phillip Greenlief. He will be followed by REOTRIO + 1. The trio members are drummer Don Robinson, guitarist Karl Evangelista, and saxophonist Larry Ochs. Kazuto Sato will join them on bass. The Make-Out Room is located in the Mission at 3225 22nd Street. Doors will open at 6 p.m. There is no cover charge, so donations will be accepted and appreciated.

Saxophonist Francis Wong improvising music for dancer Lenora Lee (screen shot from the video stream of Evangelista’s Unlocked Festival on April 30, 2022)

Friday, November 24, 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 Bay Area saxophone legend Francis Wong will be Boyce’s very special guest. If that sounds a bit like hyperbole, the reader has probably not previously encountered Wong. (In my case I have not had a chance to listen to him since this past May, when he was one of the performers of Evangelista’s Bukas.) 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.

20th-Century Take on 19th-Century Comic Opera

Yesterday afternoon San Francisco Opera (SFO) presented the first of six performances of the final opera in its Fall Season, Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (the elixir of love). This was a new staging, originally created by Opera North in the United Kingdom and first performed in the United States by the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a co-production with SFO. This performance was staged by Director Daniel Slater working with Choreographer Tim Clayton, the latter making his SFO debut. The conductor was Ramón Tebar, also making his SFO debut; and the SFO Chorus was directed by John Keene.

Guests at the Hotel Adina with waiter Nemorino (Pete Pati) taking their orders (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SFO)

The staging was set in the Italian Riviera in the Fifties, recalling, to some extent, the last SFO production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Così fan tutte (thus do all women, K. 588), which took place at the Wolfbridge Country Club in the Thirties. However, while the name of the country club played on the names of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, the venue for L’elisir is the Hotel Adina. This is a far cry from a Basque village (the original setting of the opera). However the original libretto describes Adina as “a wealthy landowner” in that Basque village; so it seems appropriate that, in the twentieth century, she should own a hotel!

Nevertheless, the plot line is focused on Nemorino, who works as a waiter in the hotel and is hopelessly in love with Adina. This performance saw the return of tenor Pene Pati to SFO, and his performance of Nemorino could not have been better. His voice was up to the many vocal twists, turns, and embellishments that Donizetti threw at him; and, in the midst of all that vocalizing, his work with Slater unfolded a thoroughly-conceived and engaging character.

Indeed, one of the fascinating aspects of the libretto by Felice Romani is that, for all of his simplicity, Nemorino’s character has more substance than those around him. Adina, sung by Slovak soprano Slávka Zámečníková, making her American debut and singing the role for the first time, is grounded in self-importance; but, after all, she is “the boss” of the hotel! The sergeant Belcore (Serbian baritone David Bizic, making his SFO debut) is your typical blowhard sergeant; and the medicine man Dr. (sic) Dulcamara (Italian baritone Renato Girolami making his SFO debut) is the just-as-typical con man.

However, if the casting is almost entirely stereotyped, Slater had a keen eye for unfolding the plot without viewers coming away with a same-old-same-old impression. Personally, I still prefer the last SFO production in the fall of 2008, which was set in California Wine Country. This rang truer to the idea of a village setting, too small to accommodate a “tourist sized” hotel. Nevertheless, it was a real delight to see Pati back on the Opera House stage; and Zámečníková made for a thoroughly engaging first-encounter!

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Memorial Thoughts about David Del Tredici

I just received word from Boosey & Hawkes of the death last night of composer David Del Tredici at the age of 86. My awareness of Del Tredici goes back all the way to my student days, when I encountered wildly diverse opinions about him. However, my first “serious listening” encounter with his music did not take place until the late Seventies, when I listened to a broadcast of the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing his Final Alice. I could appreciate why my “serious” colleagues tended to turn away from his music (not to mention his outspoken attitude about his sexuality); but I found the sense of humor behind this particular composition to be irresistible.

If my memory is correct, I never viewed a performance of Final Alice until the Detroit Symphony Orchestra provided an Internet-based video of Leonard Slatkin performing the piece. That viewing experience took place in September of 2012, and it provided one more reason why I have long been interested in Slatkin’s work as a conductor. More recently, the Rainbow Chamber Players presented a chamber version of the “Acrostic Song” that concludes Final Alice. Where recordings are concerned, the “Acrostic Song” also showed up in Lisa Kirchner’s album Something to Sing About.

Cover of the Naxos American Classics album of David Del Tredici’s piano works (cover photograph by Bob Peterson)

Looking back at my past articles, I realize that Del Tredici often did not get a fair break. When Naxos released its American Classics CD, which was the first volume of a project to record his complete piano works, I wrote an enthusiastic account for, which appeared on September 30, 2012. The article I wrote said that the album was the first of three CDs. Sadly, I never saw any account of the remaining two CDs; and it was only this morning that I discovered that the project was completed this past April, with Albany Records picking up after Naxos dropped the ball.

I have the chilling feeling that Del Tredici will be as overlooked in death as he had been in life, but at least I have the power to keep up with recordings of his music.

Three “Music Sundays” at Church of the Advent

Today will be the first of three consecutive Sundays of music at the Church of the Advent of Christ the King. This morning’s service at 11 a.m. will also be a Third Sunday Series performance by Schola Adventus led by Dr. Paul Ellison. The High Mass service will include a performance of the Communion service in C major composed by John Ireland. In addition, Ellison will perform organ music by Flor Peters and Sigfrid Karg-Elert.

Next week (Sunday, November 26) at 11 a.m. the service will consist of a Procession, High Mass, and Solemn Te Deum. Schola Adventus will sing the Te Deum in F major, also composed by Ireland. Additional music to be performed will include works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Edward Bairstow, Olivier Messiaen, and Henry Purcell.

The service for the following Sunday (December 3) will be an Advent Liturgy. This service will begin at 6 p.m., preceded by an organ prelude at 5:40 p.m. performed by George Anton Emblom. As usual, the service will consist of readings and carols, and the carols will be sung by Schola Adventus.

The Church of the Advent of Christ the King is located at 261 Fell Street, between Franklin Street and Gough Street. The entry is diagonally across the street from the SFJAZZ Center. This is an inclusive parish of the Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Those wishing further information may call 415-431-0454. For those planning to drive, free parking will be available in the gravel lot behind the church on Hickory Street.