Wednesday, January 31, 2024

2024 Schwabacher Recital Program Announced

The icon “accompanying” this year’s Schwabacher Recital Series (from the Series event page)

This year the annual Schwabacher Recital Series will begin a few weeks earlier than it did last year. As a result, this site’s account of the series is about a week earlier than it was in 2023! This year will amount to somewhat of a landmark, since it will be the 40th anniversary of this series of programs presented jointly by the San Francisco Opera (SFO) Center and the Merola Opera Program. Regular readers probably know by now that the series is named after James Schwabacher, who was a co-founder of the Merola Opera Program; and it provides an opportunity to showcase the talents of the exemplary artists who have participated in the training programs of the Merola Opera Program and/or the SFO Center.

Readers familiar with this event probably know that, in the past, the season consisted of four concerts. This year there will be only three: one each in the months of February, March, and April. As was the case last year, the March program will feature multiple vocalists (four of them); and that event will be curated by tenor Nicholas Phan. The other programs will be solo recitals. They will all take place in the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday evenings. Brief reviews of the specifics are as follows:

February 21: Mezzo Simona Genga, an alumna of last year’s Merola Opera Program, will be accompanied by pianist Hyemin Jeong. She has prepared a program entitled Two Laurels, which she describes as “a journey through the intimate moments of a queer love story.” The songs themselves occupy a broad span of music history, reaching back to the nineteenth-century composer Hector Berlioz and advancing into the immediate present of Chelsea Pringle-Duchemin. It is also worth noting that the program will include two of the songs from Arnold Schoenberg’s Opus 2 collection.

March 6: The four vocalists will be sopranos Arianna Rodriguez and Olivia Smith, mezzo Nikola Printz, and bass-baritone Jongwon Han. All of them will be accompanied by pianist Yang Lin. All five of them are second-year SFO Adler Fellows. As might be guessed, the program will span a broader repertoire, reaching all the way back to the seventeenth century of Henry Purcell. Once again the “other end” will be the immediate present, represented by Stacy Garrop.

April 3: The final recital will feature another mezzo, Samantha Hankey. Of particular interest will be the performance of a set of five songs composed by Alma Mahler. This will be coupled with the Opus 13 of her teacher, Alexander von Zemlinsky, a set of six settings of poems by Maurice Maeterlinck. In addition, Hankey will present selections from musicals performed on Broadway with Cole Porter and Kurt Weill as the composers. She will also give a nod to Hollywood with Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” composed for the film The Wizard of Oz.

The Taube Atrium Theater is part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which is located in the Veterans Building (on the fourth floor) at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. General admission will be $30, and the “series package” of all three recitals may be purchased for $75. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through an event page on the San Francisco Opera Web site. Note that it is possible to select the option of Wheelchair Accessible seats. In addition, subject to availability, student rush tickets will go on sale at 7 p.m. at the reduced rate of $15. There is a limit of two tickets per person, and valid identification must be shown.

Satoko Fujii’s New Tokyo Trio Album

Satoko Fujii, Takashi Sugawa, and Ittetsu Takemura in performance (photograph by Kazue Yokoi)

If my archives are reliable, my first encounter with the Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio took place in May of 2021. Led by jazz pianist Satoko Fujii, the other members of her trio are Ittetsu Takemura on drums and bassist Takashi Sugawa. The title of that album was Moon on the Lake. Last month saw the release of a new album performed by that trio, this one entitled Jet Black. As in the past, finding Fujii’s albums involves departing from the “usual suspects;” but, in this case, it is not hard to find the Web page provided by the CDs Vinyl Japan Store. (Just to be clear, this album is available as a CD!)

When I wrote about Moon on the Lake, the first phrase I evoked was “highly energetic jamming.” On Jet Black the jamming is as energetic as ever. This time, however, I found myself drawn to the extended (not to mention highly imaginative) solo passages taken by each of the trio members. I would not go as far as to say that each composition has a chorus-verse structure; but the solo “verses” all involve highly inventive improvisation. As is often the case, I found myself drawn to Takemura’s work, particularly when it involved mind-bending polyrhythms.

Indeed, the name of this group suggests that it is Fujii’s trio. However, she has no interest in dominating over her two partners. Indeed, what makes listening particularly interesting is the interplay between solo and group improvisations. In many respects the album as a whole has a bit of the spirit of opera to it, in which there is an overall background of “ensemble” playing from which the individuals emerge to contribute their own “arias.”

If my memory is correct (big “if”), I first became aware of Fujii when she gave a performance during the opening season of the Center for New Music here in San Francisco. She could not have given a better “fit” to the “new music vision” of the venue! I suppose that it was because I had to get my head around the breadth of her capacity for invention, that I leapt at the opportunity to get to know her work better through her albums. Over a decade later, I am still getting to know her work!

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

SFCO to Present Program of Chamber Music

Flutist Stacey Pelinka, one of the instrumentalists to contribute to the chamber music selections on the program to be performed (courtesy of SFCO)

The title of the next program to be presented by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra (SFCO) will be Quintets and Sextets. In other words, members of the ensemble will gather in different combinations to perform five selections of chamber music. The program will be curated by Principal Conductor Jory Fankuchen, who will host the concert with interviews with the performers, along with his own offerings of fascinating musical tidbits.

The program will begin with Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 77, his second string quintet in G major. That quintet will be complemented by Jennifer Higdon’s wind quintet entitled “Autumn Music.” The second half of the program will begin with three of the movements from Alfredo Casella’s Opus 70, his Six Studies collection. These have been arranged by P. Lemberg; and, like the first name, the instrumentation has not yet been specified! This will be followed by the sextet that Francis Poulenc composed for wind quintet and piano. The final selection will be Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 34, his “Overture on Hebrew Themes,” which takes a piano quintet (string quartet and piano) and adds a clarinet.

The San Francisco performance of this program will begin at 7:30 p.m. in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. There will be no charge for admission. However, reservations will be appreciated and may be enabled through an Eventbrite event page.

Monday, January 29, 2024

The Bleeding Edge: 1/29/2024

This will be a moderately quiet week in the Bleeding Edge. Two events have already been accounted for as follows:

There are two previously unreported events. However, one of them will be the first February event at the Center for New Music (C4NM); so this report will preview the rest of the month there.

Saturday, February 3, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., Keys Jazz Bistro: Trio M brings together three visionary jazz artists: pianist Myra Melford, Mark Dresser on bass, and drummer Matt Wilson. All three of these performers are so inventive that there are no distinctions between the frontline and the accompaniment. There will be a happy hour beginning at 5 p.m. Seating is first-come-first-serve. The venue is located in North Beach at 498 Broadway.

Saturday, February 3, 7:30 p.m., C4NM: This will be the third installment of The Opus Project with a survey of Opus 3 compositions. They will include Jean Sibelius and Niccolò Paganini, as well as local Bay Area composers Johannes Löhner, John Vidovic, and Lukaš Janata. In addition, Vance Maverick will contribute a special new arrangement. For those that do not yet know, the Center is located at 55 Taylor Street, half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, which is where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. Ticket will be $15 for general admission with a $10 rate for members and students. Tickets may be purchased in advance through an Eventbrite Web page. The remaining events of the month are as followed with hyperlinks on the dates for ticket purchases: [added 1/31, 9:10 a.m.:

  • Sunday, February 4, 7:30 p.m.: Sarah Grace Graves and Helēna Sorokina will present a program entitled Shared Monologues. As may be deduced from the title, each of them will perform a selection of solo compositions. However, there will also be a few duo performances, one of which will be Giacinto Scelsi’s “Sauh.” Other composers to be represented on the program will be Jon Yu, Sarah Grace Graves, Carol Robinson, Gudenga Šmite, and Feliz Anne Reyes Macahis.]
  • Saturday, February 10, 7:30 p.m.: This is the latest program of new music written by members of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of NACUSA. Contributing composers will be Darrell R. Adams (Divergences for clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello), Molly Axtmann (Prelude in F# minor for piano), Douglas Ovens (whisper, Murmur… SHOUT! for clarinet and vibraphone), Allan Shearer (Duo for violin and cello). There will also be two works for a trio of clarinet, violin, and piano. “Dance Aria” was composed jointly by John and Anthony Bilotta, and Davide Verotta will contribute “Two Dances.” The program will also feature the winners of the Nancy Bloomer Deussen Competition, Emily Thomas – for the Emerging Composer category, and Malcolm Xiellie – for the Young Composer category.
  • Saturday, February 17, noon: This will be the latest 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. This offers the usual opportunity to enjoy vegan pancakes will listening to “bleeding edge” music. As usual, general admission will be $10 with a $6 rate for members and students. Music programming is scheduled to conclude by 2 p.m. The contributing performers and composers will be John Bischoff, Evicshen, Andrew Wayne Bored Valentine, Midmight, and Conner Tomaka.

“Reimagining” Gershwin’s Classic Rhapsody

Cover of the album being discussed

This coming Friday Pentatone will release a new album of centennial significance. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was given its first performance in February of 1924; and, one hundred years later, pianist Lara Downes will mark that occasion with her latest album entitled Rhapsody in Blue Reimagined. Currently, the best way to purchase this album is through a Presto Music Web page, which is processing pre-orders for digital downloads. No booklet is included as part of the download. However, the album itself includes a track of useful commentary provided by Downes.

She commissioned Puerto Rican composer Edmar Colón to create a new arrangement of Gershwin’s classic. What made “Rhapsody in Blue” a classic in the first place was the way in which the music provided a vivid perspective of the aspects of urban American life. (Think of the many ways in which Franz Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies reflected on lifestyles that were part of his own “roots.”) Those aspects have changed over the course of 100 years, and Colón’s arrangements reflect the changes in urban life with thematic content that interleaves with the themes from Gershwin’s original perspective. Adam Abeshouse, the producer of Rhapsody in Blue Reimagined, summed up the results with one of the oldest saws in the book: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”

Nevertheless, I have to confess that my personal reaction to this undertaking has been somewhat mixed. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been working my way through a new Sony box set of the Columbia albums of music by Aaron Copland conducted and/or performed by Copland himself. I was enthusiastic about Copland in my high school days, but that enthusiasm dropped off quickly as I aged.

On the other hand, somewhat ironically, whenever I attend a concert that includes “Rhapsody in Blue,” I go in thinking “Here we go again” and then end up dropping my jaw at the sound of that opening clarinet cadenza! Over the course of a century, the “social context” of “Rhapsody in Blue” has changed. However, the music itself is as a vivid as ever, just as the final choral movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 125 symphony in D minor continues to get the juices flowing.

Still, I can appreciate the effort that Colón put into his work, just as I can appreciate how conductor Edwin Outwater provided a vivid account of the results leading the SFCM (San Francisco Conservatory of Music) Orchestra. I shall probably revisit this new album, just as I often revisit so many of Downes’ other albums. I do my best to engage both breadth and depth in my listening undertakings!

Sunday, January 28, 2024

SFS Chamber Music Series: Eshima and Debussy

This afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) presented the latest installment in its Chamber Music Series. The works performed accounted for three different centuries, but that account was a bit more unusual. The program began with the most recent selection, Shinji Eshima’s “Hymn for Her (Conversations I Wish I Had),” composed in 2022 on a commission celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Music at Kohl Mansion series of chamber music recitals. The remainder of the program accounted for both extremes of Claude Debussy’s life. The 1915 sonata for flute, viola, and harp was one of this last works, while the intermission was followed by the 1880 piano trio in G minor, written when the composer was eighteen years old.

Eshima’s contribution was scored for a decidedly non-standard quintet of instruments. The quintet included cellist Amos Yang and Charles Chandler on bass, for whom Eshima had composed the duo “Bariolage” in 2016. They were joined by Jerome Simas on clarinet, pianist Marc Shapiro, and, of particular interest, percussionist Jacob Nissly playing marimba. This amounted to a thoroughly upbeat rhetoric, allowing each of the instrumentalists to “strut his stuff” and concluding with what can only be called a whirlwind cadenza for the marimba given a fiery account by Nissly.

While the Debussy selections may not have lit any fires, the contrast of the two extremes made for the sort of listening experience that one rarely encounters. The fact is that both of these works are seldom encountered for different reasons. Where the 1880 trio is concerned, most listeners tend to shy away because “it doesn’t sound like Debussy.” Well, yes, it is the earliest piece of chamber music, number 5 in François Lesure’s catalog; but he wrote it for Nadezhda von Meck, who is best known for having supported Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Given that Debussy was only eighteen, the fact that he could write music for Meck that did not sound like Tchaikovsky can be credited as achievement enough!

The 1915 sonata, on the other hand, suffers from the problem of the need to assemble an unconventional trio of musicians. Fortunately, SFS was the perfect site for providing the necessary resources. Assistant Principal Viola Katie Kadarauch has been a frequent participant in Chamber Music Series programming. On the other hand, Associate Principal Flute Blair Francis Paponiu joined SFS at the beginning of this season; and I found it delightful that a “newcomer” could contribute to the Chamber Music Series repertoire. Pianist June Choi Oh, currently Chair of the Department of Music, Dance, and Performing Arts at Dominican University, was a “newcomer,” who fit perfectly well into the company of her two trio partners. Now, how long will I have to wait for my next opportunity to listen to this highly inventive approach to composing for an unconventional trio?

Adhyâropa Launches Makrokosmos Orchestra

Cover of the album being discussed

This coming Friday, Adhyâropa Records will release Dissolve, a three-part suite by Richard Nelson performed by the fifteen-piece Makrokosmos Orchestra, which Nelson conducts, along with playing guitar. This is one of those cases in which those looking for this album on are likely to be disappointed. Fortunately, Bandcamp has created a comprehensive Web page, which is currently taking pre-orders for both the physical and the digital versions of the album. “For the record,” as they say, the list of the performers (on both the Web page and the album booklet) has fourteen entries (along with three “guest artists” on one of the tracks). Nelson is on that list, so I am not sure where there is a fifteenth performer!

To be fair, there is nothing new about an “orchestral” approach to jazz. On my shelf, Nelson’s CD sits right next to two CDs from about 60 years earlier, the two Blues and the Abstract Truth albums that Oliver Nelson recorded at the Van Gelder Studio for Impulse! Records. Then, of course, there is the substantial “book” of compositions and arrangements by Gil Evans, much of which involved his partnership with Miles Davis. So, at least in some respects, Dissolve is the latest everything-old-is-new-again phenomenon.

Nevertheless, I have now listened to Dissolve several times; and I have no trouble taking it on its own terms. To be fair, however, I am not sure to what extent the track titles, “Dissolve,” “Float,” and “Cohere,” had any influence on my listening. For the most part, I simply wanted to focus on what emerges from the interplay of a large number of instruments. (This is basically the strategy I brought to listening to the Blues and the Abstract Truth albums.) So I expect that there will be more to pique my interest on my subsequent visits to this new album, which definitely deserves credit for both ambition and the fulfillment of that ambition.

VoM to Venture into Nineteenth Century Vienna

The third of the four concerts in the 2023–2024 season of Voices of Music (VoM) will venture into the nineteenth century. The title of the program will be An Evening in Vienna. Tenor Thomas Cooley will return as a visiting soloist. He has prepared a program of art songs from that period, a time when Franz Schubert provided a major boost for the art song genre. In the interest of VoM’s commitment to historically-informed performance, Cooley’s keyboard accompaniment will be provided by Erik Zivian playing on a period-appropriate fortepiano. Zivian will also accompany violinist Augusta McKay Lodge in a performance of Clara Schumann’s Opus 22, a set of three “romances,” which she composed in 1853.

The San Francisco performance of this program will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 17. As usual, the venue will be St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, located at 1111 O’Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. General admission will be $60. Seniors will be admitted for $55, as well as members of SFEMS, EMA, and/or ARS. Full-time students with valid identification will be admitted for $5. Arts People has created a Web page for online purchases.

SFP: Bryce-Davis’ San Francisco Recital Debut

Mezzo Raehann Bryce-Davis (photograph by Sam Eltosam, courtesy of San Francisco Performances)

Last night mezzo Raehann Bryce-Davis made her San Francisco recital debut in the second of the four programs presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP) in this season’s Art of Song series. She is no stranger to San Francisco, having been a 2015 Merola alumna. Her accompanist at the piano was Jeanne-Minette Cilliers. The program was one of many that had to be rescheduled due to the COVID pandemic. However, during those hard times, Bryce-Davis and Cilliers presented a Merola Opera Virtual Recital Series performance.

The title of last night’s program was In Honor of Women. Almost all of the selections were composed during the current or preceding century. However, there was one nineteenth-century selection in which the woman being honored was the amateur poet Mathilde Wesendonck. Five of her texts were set by Richard Wagner as a collection entitled Wesendonck Lieder.

This is Wagner at his most intimate, and two of the songs were identified as “studies” for his work on the opera Tristan und Isolde. I have been fortunate enough to listen to performances of the collection on several occasions, and I was delighted with last night’s opportunity for another encounter. As one might guess, there is an intense undercurrent of passion in Wagner’s settings; and both Bryce-Davis and Cilliers could not have done a better job in their expression of those passions.

I was just as delighted with my latest encounters with three significant women from the twentieth century. The program began with Amy Beach’s Opus 44 setting of three poems by Robert Browning. It has been a long time since I last encountered what used to be a familiar couplet: “God’s in his heaven,/All’s right with the world.” It must have been familiar to Beach, too; but she knew just how to give it the right twist. The second half of the program presented songs by Margaret Bonds (“Birth”) and Florence Price (“The Crescent Moon”), both of which were “first encounters” for me but definitely welcome.

The issue of race surfaced in Melissa Dunphy’s “Come, My Tan-Faced Children.” Far more politicized, however, were the three selections of settings by Maria Thompson Corley: “I Am Not an Angry Black Women,” “The Beauty in My Blackness,” and “Black Riders’ Freedom Song.” The program closed out with three of the songs in Fi Mi Love Have Lion Heart, settings of Jamaican folk songs by Peter Ashbourne. The encore selection was Jacqueline Hairston’s arrangement of “Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.”

Taken as a whole, this was a throughly engaging evening of discoveries interleaved with the familiar. Bryce-Davis’ vocal skills are solid, and she couples them with just their right personality traits to engage her audience. There is an intimacy in solo vocal music that sets the genre apart from instrumental performances. Last night, however, that intimacy was evident not only in Bryce-Davis’ delivery but also in the chemistry she shared with Cilliers. Like Oliver Twist, I would have liked to approach them at the end of the evening and ask for more!

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Neave Trio’s Second Album of Women Composers

Readers that can recall pre-pandemic days may also remember that, at the beginning of October of 2020, Chandos Records released Her Voice, which featured performances of piano trios by Amy Beach, Rebecca Clarke, and Louise Farrenc. The music was performed by the Neave Trio, whose members are violinist Anna Williams, cellist Mikhail Veselov, and pianist Eri Nakamura. I had been following this group with great interest, and that interest was further sparked by a generous series of streamed video performances that satisfied my listening and writing urges when the pandemic limited my world to what I could find on my computer screen.

At the beginning of next month, the trio’s commitment to present music by women will continue with the release of their latest Chandos album, A Room of Her Own. has created a Web page for pre-ordering an MP3 download. The pull-down menu includes an Audio CD link; but, as of this writing, that link is not effective for anything, including placing a pre-order.

The composers to benefit from that coy nod to Virginia Woolf are, in order of appearance on the recording, Lili Boulanger, Cécile Chaminade, Germaine Tailleferre, and Ethyl Smythe. Boulanger is represented by a pair of pieces composed near the end of her short life entitled “D’un matin de printemps” and “D’un soir triste,” coupling morning and evening reflections. The other three works are identified only as trios, Chaminade’s Opus 11, her first trio in G minor, Tailleferre’s trio, completed in 1917 and subsequently revised in 1978, and Smythe’s 1880 trio.

I have been familiar with all four of these composers for quite some time. Nevertheless, opportunities for listening to music by any of them remain few and far between. If recordings of their respective achievements are sparse, opportunities to listen to performances in recital border on non-existent. It would be fair to say that I learned more about this repertoire through Neave’s video streams during the pandemic than I have done through attending performances here in San Francisco. (In the latter case, my primary source has consistently been pianist Sarah Cahill; and I try to do my best to take up her torch after attending one of her Future is Female recitals.)

In reviewing my past Neave experiences, I found myself looking at the gallery of their album covers. For the most part, the poses and facial expressions are inviting, welcoming the would-be listener to get to know what they have to offer. The poses on the new album, on the other hand, are more serious, if not defiant:

It almost seems as if, when it comes to coming to know the works of female composers, they seem to be thinking, “Don’t you get it yet?” There is more than enough to “get” on this new album; and serious listeners would do well to benefit from what it has to offer!

PBO to Present Concertos for Two Harpsichords

Keyboardists Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya and Richard Egarr (courtesy of PBO)

The title of the next program to be performed by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) will be Double Espresso. The entire program has been organized around the three concertos that Johann Sebastian Bach composed for two harpsichords, BWV 1060 in C minor, BWV 1061 in C major, and BWV 1062 in C minor. Some readers may recall that, during the COVID pandemic, this was the title of a Live from Amsterdam program streamed by the PBO 2020/Virtual series, featuring keyboardists Richard Egarr and Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya. They will again be the soloists for this second installment of Double Espresso. The caffeinated title reflects on the likelihood that Bach composed these concertos when he was director of the Collegium Musicum, which gave weekly concerts at Gottfried Zimmermann’s coffee house in Leipzig.

“Double” also refers to the fact that program will feature only two composers. The other composer will be Georg Philipp Telemann, who will be represented by two concertos “in 7 parts,” the first in F major and the second in A minor. In addition, the entire program will conclude with his “Alster Overture.”

The San Francisco performance of this program will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 1. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, located on the first two floors of the Veterans Building on the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. Tickets may be purchased online through a City Box Office event page. Ticket prices are $30, $50, $75, and $100.

PIVOT Festival Concludes with “All Hands” Show

Last night in Herbst Theatre, the San Francisco Performances PIVOT Festival, curated by Gabriel Kahane, concluded with an “all hands” program. The semicircle of the eight Roomful of Teeth vocalists, who were featured on Thursday evening, now enclosed the four members of the Attacca Quartet, who performed on Wednesday. Kahane contributed to the program as composer, vocalist, and electric guitarist.

As was the case on Wednesday, the program involved the interleaving of the works being performed. Like the four movements of Maurice Ravel’s quartet on Wednesday, the four movements of Caroline Shaw’s four-movement partita, scored for eight singers, provided the “spinal cord” of the program with the movements alternating with string quartet arrangements of an “unmeasured prelude” by Louis Couperin followed by selections from the 27 suites (ordres) composed by his nephew, François Couperin, all of which were originally written for keyboard. Vocal selections composed and sung by Kahane opened the two halves of the program, and the entire program was wrapped up by Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” Kahane provided the arrangements for all of the selections other than the Shaw partita.

This was far from the first time I had encountered instrumental versions of music composed for keyboard. (Indeed, these were the sort of exercises I had to prepare when studying orchestration.) The “unmeasured prelude” was particularly interesting, since it included a fugue and a coda, making it as sort of “mini-suite.” All the titles from the suite movements were in French without any translations provided. However, the attentive listener could still appreciate the different “personal characteristics;” and Kahane’s arrangements suggested that any of the selections could have originally been composed as chamber music, rather than keyboard music.

Shaw’s selection of “partita” as a title suggested that her music would “rub shoulders” with the early eighteenth-century music of the Couperin family. Indeed, she even gave the movements titles that were consistent with other partitas from that period: Allemande, Sarabande, Courante, Passacaglia. Nevertheless, the music itself never gave the slightest impression of any of those four familiar genres. Indeed, the impression provided by the cycle, taken as a whole, was that eighteenth-century practices were best forgotten and needed a thorough overhaul. However, if that overhaul was to be a thorough one, why go to the trouble of keeping those “outmoded” titles! Particularly when interleaved with “the real thing,” the impressions provided by Shaw’s music ran the gamut from puzzling to annoying.

With the closing of the Simon tune, however, all was well again. Indeed, I could have sworn that, woven within that tune was a subtle suggestion of the music for the Passion hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Was that Simon’s idea or Kahane’s arrangement? The answer does not matter. The concluding selection allowed the attentive listener to dwell on the best parts of all that had preceded.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Chanticleer to Launch New Youth Choral Festival

Vance Y. George at his reception of the Kathleen G. Henschel Award earlier this season (courtesy of Chanticleer)

Exactly one week from today, Chanticleer will launch the inauguration of the Vance Y. George Youth Choral Festival. George served as the Director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus between 1983 and 2006. His efforts made a major impression on much (if not most) of the SFS audiences, and his reputation has earned him is own (relatively modest) Wikipedia page. The inauguration will provide the first opportunity to listen to the talented youth choristers that will contribute to future Festival performances (and, most likely, performances in other venues).

This event will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 2. The venue will be the First Unitarian Universalist Church at 1187 Franklin Street, just below the intersection with Geary Boulevard. The performance will be free and open to the public. However, there is an RSVP electronic mail address ( for those wishing to attend to make sure that they will be able to do so.

Joel Tucker’s “Communal” Trio

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

About a month after the Tucker Brothers album, which was discussed yesterday, was given an MP3 release on an Web page, Joel Tucker released a new “EP” album to another Amazon Web page. Communal is a collection of five relatively short improvisations which are identified as “art rock,” basically because they do not fit conveniently into any of the usual categories. Guitarist Tucker leads a trio whose other members are drummer Justin Clark and Brendan Keller Tuberg alternating between bass and piano. Like Live from Chatterbox, this album is scheduled for “physical” release on February 1, at which time, presumably, its Amazon Web page will be updated to include the CD option.

Personally, I find the five tracks to be a bit too moody for my tastes. However, I would not want my personal tastes to interfere with the inventive capacities of the three improvisers. Since the overall duration is twenty minutes, the experience is not particularly demanding; but, personally, I would have preferred to spend the time listening to one of the symphonies of Franz Joseph Haydn!

Roomful of Teeth Continues SFP PIVOT Festival

The Roomful of Teeth “family portrait” (photograph by Anja Schütz, courtesy of SFP)

The second offering in this season’s PIVOT Festival, presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP) and curated by Gabriel Kahane, consisted of a program performed by members of the Roomful of Teeth vocal ensemble. This was a vocal octet led by Artistic Director Cameron Beauchamp (who was also one of the vocalists), whose other members were five women (Estelí Gomez, Jodie Landau, Virginia Kelsey, Caroline Shaw, and Martha Culver) and two men (Steven Bradshaw and Thann Scoggin). The group made its SFP debut in April of 2017, and this is their second appearance.

This is an ensemble known for its talent for eliciting a wide variety of thoroughly engaging sonorities. Harnessing those sonorities in the service of texts, whether narrative or reflective, is another matter. Where reflection, which tends to be preferred genre, is concerned, the ensemble can establish a setting in which the words themselves are secondary, if not tertiary.

The opening selection by Caroline Shaw, “The Isle,” is a case in point. Taken on their own merits, the sonorities summon up a mental image of a small isle in the middle of a vast sea. However, as fragmented words begin to emerge, the attentive listener will recognize that this song does, indeed, have a libretto. On further listening, one encounters familiar texts from William Shakespeare, after which it is a modest leap to the conclusion that the isle itself is the setting for The Tempest. Whether the ensemble selected this work to begin the evening with auditory calisthenics is left for the listener to decide!

In any event, Shaw’s composition is excellent preparation for the novice listener encountering the ensemble for the first time. Sadly, the remainder of the program amounted to little more than “more of the same.” The second selection was the fourth movement from Peter Shin’s “Bits torn from words,” which amounted to a study of the diversity of phonemes. On the other hand, Angélica Negrón’s “Math, the one which is sweet,” composed on a 2022 commission from the New York Philharmonic, amounted to a case study in what linguists would call “referential opacity.”

In the second half of the program, Kahane joined the ensemble, playing both piano and electric guitar for a performance of his Elevator Songs. As was the case with the first half, no text sheets were provided. Kahane explained that members of the audience would be able to find the texts online after the performance had concluded. I have to say that, personally, I felt that this undermined any effort on the part of a listener to appreciate how a composer achieves interplay between words and music, suggesting that such interplay did not matter very much to this particular composer. Nevertheless, there were at least a few moments of engaging (and sometimes amusing) staging and what sounded like a (very) brief “guest appearance” of a fragment from the second (A major) intermezzo in Johannes Brahms’ Opus 118 collection of six short piano pieces.

Taken as a whole, the evening struck me as one in which self-indulgence rose above any consideration for the audience. On the other hand, much of that audience provided the performers with enthusiastic applause after each selection. Could it be that “being there” was all that mattered?

Thursday, January 25, 2024

SFP: Plans for 2024 Gift Concert

Tickets are now available for the annual Gift Concert presented by San Francisco Performances (SFP). The “gift” is that subscribers and donors are given tickets at no charge. However, as was announced earlier this week, tickets for all others are now available for purchase at the price of $45.

Composite of photographs of Jonathan Swenson (photographer Matt Dine), Stephen Waarts (photographer Emma Wernig), and Juho Pohjonen (photographer J. Henry Fair) (from the SFP Web page for remaining tickets)

SFP frequently uses this occasion to introduce rising and in-demand artists to its audience. This year there will be three such artists, who have joined forces to form a piano trio. The pianist is Juho Pohjonen, performing with violinist Stephen Waarts and cellist Jonathan Swenson. This will be Pohjonen’s third SFP appearance. Both Waarts and Swenson will be making their SFP debuts.

The program will be framed by trios, both early works by their respective composers. The opening selection will be Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 8 (first) piano trio in C minor; and the second half of the program will be devoted entirely to the first of César Franck’s three Opus 1 trios, composed in the key of F-sharp minor. Between these two “bookends” will be two duo performances, both composed by Leoš Janáček. The first is the three-movement “Pohádka” (fairy tale), scored for cello and piano and completed in February of 1910. The second is the sonata for violin and piano composed around the time of the outset of World War I in 1914.

This concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 15. It will take place in 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. This venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. As already observed, all available tickets are being sold for $45. They may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page. Single tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-392-2545.

Tucker Brothers MP3 Release to “Go Physical”

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

These days it seems as if listening to music is a personal/individual experience, as opposed to the group experiences that we associate with concert halls and jazz clubs. Thus, when the Tucker Brothers, Joel and Nick, recorded a quartet gig that took place at the Chatterbox club in Indianapolis, the entire audio document appeared as an MP3 release, readily available for download to any convenient personal portable device, on an Web page this past November. Now, however, I have learned that Live at Chatterbox will be available as a “physical” album one week from today, on February 1. If all goes according plan, the Purchase Options pull-down menu on the aforementioned Web page will include a new link to an Amazon Web page for purchasing the CD version.

The Tucker Brothers are based in Indianapolis; and guitarist Joel is a graduate of Indiana University, known for its first-rate Jacobs School of Music. Brother Nick plays bass, and the other members of the Chatterbox quartet are Sean Imboden on tenor saxophone and drummer Carrington Clinton. Both brothers are composers contributing to the seven-track album.

Nick is responsible for a single track, “Mantra.” Joel, on the other hand, provides three: “Shakshuka,” “Away,” and “Rhythm Changed.” That leaves three “standards” tracks: Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” the classic “Caravan,” composed jointly by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, and “You and the Night and the Music” by Arthur Schwarz. As might be guessed, Joel serves up a fair share of elaborate improvisations (particularly in the 7/4 arrangement of “Skylark”). Nevertheless, there is a generous share of solo bass work, as well as expressive improvisations from both saxophone and drums.

Since my own (distant) past experience included playing alto saxophone, I have to confess that Imboden occupied a fair amount of my attention. Nevertheless, the entire gig is definitely a satisfying listening experience. I hope that next week’s “physical” release will draw more listeners to this “live” account of jazz improvisations.

SFP: PIVOT Festival Begins with Attacca Quartet

Attacca Quartet members Amy Schroeder, Domenic Salerni, Andrew Yee, and Nathan Schram (photograph by David Goddard, courtesy of SFP)

Last night San Francisco Performances (SFP) launched the ninth annual installment of its PIVOT Festival. The program book described the “mission statement” of this series of three programs as “created for adventurous audiences interested in truly unique arts experiences, driven by a philosophy of innovation, creativity and artistic excellence that pushes the boundaries of the traditional concert experience.” This year’s festival is curated by Gabriel Kahane, who recruited two ensembles appropriate for that mission statement, the Attacca [string] Quartet and the a cappella vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. Kahane is contributing to all three programs in his capacities as vocalist, pianist, and guitarist.

Last night’s opening program was devoted to Attacca, whose members are violinists Amy Schroeder and Domenic Salerni, Nathan Schram on viola, and cellist Andrew Yee. The structure of the program was an unconventional one. Maurice Ravel’s string quartet served as the “spinal cord” of the evening with its four movements woven through the other selections. Similarly, the two movements of Paul Wiancko’s “Benkei’s Standing Death” were distributed across the two halves of the evening. Interleaving among these six movements were five of Kahane’s own compositions. No program notes were provided, so all background was delivered by Kahane.

Ravel’s quartet is now over 120 years old, which may have led some to feel it was out of place in an “adventurous” context. While the themes may be familiar, one can still appreciate the innovative spirit venturing into unfamiliar sonorities; and there are any number of moments in which those sonorities continue to disrupt, if not disturb, the reactions of the attentive listeners. The Attacca musicians knew exactly how to present this music in a thoroughly contemporary light without in any way compromising marks placed on paper over a century ago.

“Benkei’s Standing Death,” of the other hand, is a two-movement quartet based on a samurai legend. Kahane explained the tale; but it was not easy to follow it in the music, particularly when the two episodes were situated on either side of the intermission. Reflecting back on last night, the pizzicato technique of the first episode is all I can recall (and that only because of a note scribbled on my program sheet).

Sadly, Kahane’s own contributions were the most disappointing. His vocal work gives little (if any) attention to diction. Thus, in the absence of any song sheet, even the most attentive listener is likely to have trouble grasping (let alone following) the words of his songs. As a result, the high point of his presence came when Attacca performed his “Klee” string quartet, the world premiere of a revision of the original score, which Kahane completed last year. There was also a world premiere arrangement of Kahane’s “Final Privacy Song,” which concluded the program with an “all hands” performance by Attacca and Kahane covering both piano and vocals.

Kahane has appeared at SFP concerts on four previous occasions. I first encountered Attacca in February of 2017, when I wrote about their Songlines album. I subsequently saw Schram when I streamed the opening night performance of the 2021 Ojai Festival, but my Ojai viewing never included the entire Attacca Quartet. Last night was their SFP debut, making it my first “face-to-face” encounter with the musicians. They will return to this year’s Festival on Friday, and I am looking forward to learning more about their repertoire.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

SFJAZZ: February, 2024

Hopefully, this time I shall not have to contend with tickets already being sold out for performance in the Joe Henderson Lab at the SFJAZZ Center. This remains my preferred venue in the Center when it comes to attentive listening, and the programs planned for the space tend to be consistently engaging. For those that do not already know, the Center is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street, where the main entrance doors are located. Performance dates, times, and hyperlinks for purchasing tickets are as follows:

Thursday, February 1, and Friday, February 2, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Houston-born pianist and composer James Francies will make his debut as a bandleader with a trio performance. He will be joined by Mike Moreno on guitar and drummer Damion Reid. The program will draw upon music from his album Purest Form, which was released by Blue Note last year.

Saturday, February 3, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 4, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Saxophonist Howard Wiley is the current Resident Artistic Director. He will lead a band which will include flutist Camille Thurman, also providing vocals, Damien Sneed on multiple keyboards, Amina Scott on bass, and drummer Darrell Green. The title of his program will be Saturday Night to Sunday Morning. This will be a Dance Floor Show, so do not expect the usual seating!

Thursday, February 8, Friday, February 9, and Saturday February 10, 7 p.m., and Sunday, February 11, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Drummer Jonathan Blake will make his West Coast debut with a program entitled My Life Matters. This is also the title of a suite that Blake composed on a commission from the Jazz Gallery in New York; and the program will also include selections from Passage, his Blue Note album, which was released last year. He will lead a quintet whose other members are Danya Stephens on tenor saxophone, Jalen Baker on vibraphone, pianist Fabian Almazan, and Dezron Douglas on bass. In reference to the title of his suite, Blake has written, “It’s not just about Black Lives Matter, it’s about us as a whole. We have to learn how to coexist. We were all created here to live in harmony with one another. These pieces will hopefully serve as a jumping point for open discussion on that.”

Thursday, February 15, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: “Valentine’s Week” will begin with an SFJAZZ Hotplate program presented by vocalist Marina Crouse. She will sing selections from her 2022 album Canto de Mi Corazón. This is a tribute to Latin pop legend Eydie Gormé and her 1964 collaboration with Trio Los Panchos, which resulted in the album Amor.

Friday, February 16, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: “Valentine’s Week” will continue with vocalist Danielle Wertz. She will perform selections from her newest album, Other Side, released by Outside in Music. She is based in New York, and her style weaves folk elements into her jazz performances. Her album couples original compositions with covers of familiar standards such as “Spring is Here” by Richard Rogers with lyrics by Lorenz Hart.

Saturday, February 17, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 18, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: “Valentine’s Week” will conclude with a program entitled Swingfully Yours. Pianist Loston Harris, a veteran of the Carlyle Hotel in New York, will lead a trio whose other members are Mike Lee, alternating between tenor saxophone and flute, and Gianluca Renzi on bass. Harris is also the vocalist for the evening. Thus, the celebration of Saint Valentine will conclude with gems from the Great American Songbook!

Thursday, February 22, and Friday, February 23, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Sexmob is a quartet led by Steven Bernstein, who plays a slide trumpet. In New York they have earned a devoted fan base with boisterous deconstructions of tunes by a shaggy menagerie of pop acts, from Abba and James Brown to Prince and Elvis Presley. They also play fast and loose with familiar film scores, and they have release nine albums. The other members of the quartet are saxophonist (baritone and soprano) Briggan Krauss, Tony Scherr on bass, and percussionist Kenny Wollensen.

Saturday, February 24, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 25, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Bernstein will continue his visit leading the Millennial Territory Orchestra. This ensemble was inspired by the pre-swing era territory bands that crisscrossed the country in the 1920s and 1930s. This should be a decidedly different gig than his performance with Sexmob!

Thursday, February 29, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: The month will conclude with a Noise Pop program by pianist Holly Bowling. Her album Seeking All That’s Still Unsung was a “reimagining” of the Grateful Dead. Selections from that album will be complemented by a similar “reimagining” of Phish tunes.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Bleeding Edge: 1/23/2024

Things are definitely picking up on The Bleeding Edge. This week has six events in San Francisco worthy of note. Three of them have already been reported, and the first of those is a three-day festival! Here is the basic summary, with hyperlinks, of the events that have already been announced:

  • Gabriel Kahane will curate this year’s annual PIVOT Festival presented by San Francisco Performances. All performances will begin at Herbst Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (January 24–26). Contributing performers will be the vocalists of Roomful of Teeth and the members of the Attacca Quartet (violinists Amy Schroeder and Domenic Salerni, Nathan Schram on viola, and cellist Andrew Lee).
  • Saxophonist Rent Romus will bring his quintet to Bird & Beckett Books & Records for a two-set evening that will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 26.
  • The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players will present their RE:visitations program, which will juxtapose compositions by Pierre Boulez and Franz Zappa at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall. The program will begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 27. It will be preceded at 7 p.m. by a How Music is Made discussion.

The remaining three events are as follows:

Friday, January 26, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore & Gallery: Reed player David Boyce will continue in his role as curator. This week’s guest artists will be Toriwo, Toncau, Ru. 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, January 27, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books & Records: This will be a “friendraiser” concert for a new non-profit organization. That organization is called the Arts for More Pit Orchestra. That latter noun is a bit of an exaggeration, since the group appears to be a quintet. Vocalist Sarah Hughes performs with Matt Renzi on reeds, guitarist Brad Buethe, Peter Barshay on bass, and drummer Jon Arkin.

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. Unfortunately, the Web page for this event does not provide very much information. Presumably, admission will be $25 in cash for the usual 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. Also presumably, this performance will be live-streamed for a viewing fee of $10.

Saturday, January 27, 7:30 p.m., Red Poppy Art House: This will be a two-set program featuring several familiar “bleeding edge” performers. One set will be taken by The SticklerPhonics, which is a trio consisting of Raffi Garabedian on tenor saxophone and Danny Lubin-Laden on trombone. Rhythm is provided by Scott Amendola with drums, percussion, and electronics. The other group will be The Supplicants, led by Boyce, coming over from his usual “beat” at Medicine for Nightmares. He will play tenor saxophone with electronic enhancements. The other members of the trio are David Ewell on bass and Sameer Gupta, dividing his attention between drums and tabla.

Tickets may be purchased online through an Eventbrite Web page. Admission for the remaining tickets will be $35 and $30 (and Eventbrite has marked this page with a “Going fast” warning, since, as of this writing, only 18 tickets remain). Doors will open at 7 p.m. The Poppy is located at 2698 Folsom Street, which is on the northwest corner of 23rd Street.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Greg Abate to Bring Quartet to Chez Hanny

Some readers may recall that, back in April of 2021, this site discussed the two-CD album Magic Dance: The Music of Kenny Barron. This was a quartet album led by saxophonist Greg Abate, who led a quartet that included Barron himself on piano. The other rhythm players were Dezron Douglas on bass and Jonathan Blake on drums. At the beginning of next month, Abate will bring his latest quartet to Chez Hanny, playing flute as well as saxophone. He also plans to perform his own compositions.

This time his pianist will be Ben Stolorow, who moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area in 1994 to study at the University of California at Berkeley and has not looked back. He is now a faculty member at the Jazzschool in Berkeley. He is no stranger to Chez Hanny, having previously performed with drummer Ron Vincent.

The bass player is another “Bay Area immigrant,” Eric Markowitz. His biography has him growing up in New Jersey about 30 minutes away from the New York jazz scene without giving the genre much thought. That changed when he went to college in St. Louis and became an apprentice to jazz drummer Joe Charles. He has lived in San Francisco since 2004. His previous Chez Hanny performances have been with the trio led by pianist Keith Saunders (now teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music) and the quartet led by saxophonist Scott Barnhill.

Drummer Mike Quigg grew up in Tracy in San Joaquin County. He first encountered a drum kit at the age of nine and has been playing ever since. He is a graduate of the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley.

The quartet will perform at Chez Hanny at 4 p.m. on Sunday, February 4. As always, the venue will be 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 preferred 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.

I Miss Veretski Pass!

The full title of last night’s Great Performers Series event, presented by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), was Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler’s House. He was joined by a septet called the Klezmer Conservatory Band, along with five other musicians and music director and arranger Hankus Netsky, who also served as interlocutor for the occasion. In that setting, Perlman was one of many; and, while he provided several engaging solo riffs, he seemed to be content with the background for the most part.

That made the program title a bit misleading. Worse was that, in his capacity as host, Netsky cranked his annoying knob up to eleven. He seemed more interested in getting the audience to dance in the aisles (he succeeded … with a vengeance) than in letting both the players and the music speak for themselves. Writing as one that has relished every moment of any performance by the Veretski Pass klezmer trio (which presented a streamed performance for SFS during the pandemic), I must confess that my impression of any instant from last night’s performance was one of extreme agony. (To be fair, given the overall audience reception, my opinion of an extreme minority!)

To paraphrase an old Borscht Belt joke: Itzhak Perlman played klezmer last night; klezmer lost!

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Lunar New Year Events at Davies

Lunar New Year festivities in the main lobby of Davies Symphony Hall (from the San Francisco Symphony Lunar New Year event page)

In reviewing my archives, I was somewhat amused to discover that this was exactly the same day of the year on which I wrote last year’s preview of the annual Lunar New Year Concert & Banquet presented by the San Francisco Symphony. Mei-Ann Chen will return as the conductor for the occasion, making this the fifth such concert that she has led. This year the instrumental soloist will be violinist Paul Huang, who will perform the “Fire Ritual” movement from Tan Dun’s violin concerto.

The program will begin with the “Spring Festival” overture by Li Huan-Zhi, followed by Phoon Yew Tien’s “New Year Greetings.” As usual, there will be traditional selections, including Li Wenping’s arrangement of “Jasmine Flower” and selections from Huang Ruo’s Folk Songs for Orchestra suite. Other arrangements are by Bao Yuan-Kai (Che Chang’s “Ali Mountain Evergreen”) and Lee Che-Yi (Chen Ge Xin’s “Gong Xi Gong XI”). The program will also include Vivian Fung’s “Pizzicato,” which invokes the sonorities of both Chinese and Indonesian instruments.

As in the past, the doors to the Davies lobbies will open one hour before the concert begins. During that hour all of the lobbies will offer a wide diversity of family entertainments. These will include arts and crafts appropriate to the season, lion dancing, games, and, for those wishing to snack, food, desserts, and tea bars. Finally, the concert will be followed by the annual Lunar New Year Imperial Dinner, catered by McCalls Catering & Events.

 This year’s concert will be given at 5 p.m. on Saturday, February 17. That means that the doors to the Davies lobbies will open at 4 p.m. Ticket prices in which seating is currently available range from $39 to $109. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the 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 MTT Way (Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street).

Tickets for the Lunar New Year Imperial Dinner are sold separately. Prices range from $1000 for an individual ticket at the Gold Supporter level to $100,000 for a table of ten at the Sapphire level. There is a separate Web page describing all the different levels, the benefits associated with each, and how much of the price is tax-deductible. A single Web page has been created for purchases for all five levels, and tickets may also be ordered over the telephone by calling the Volunteer Council at 415-503-5500.

Ensemble for These Times’ “Quest” at C4NM

Last night Ensemble for these Times (E4TT) brought the second of its three scheduled programs for this season to the Center for New Music (C4NM). The full title of the program was Quest: Music by Women and Nonbinary Composers; and it served to showcase ten of those composers, six before the intermission. The performers consisted only of the E4TT “core,” consisting of soprano Nanette McGuinness, Abigail Monroe on cello, and pianist Margaret Halbig, joined by violinist Jennifer Redondas, who is guest artist for the entire season.

All but two of the works were composed during the current century. The exceptions were the first two works on the program, “Elegia a Paul Robeson,” composed by Tania León in 1987, and “An April Day,” composed by Florence Price in 1949. From my own point of view, the entire program was a “first contact” experience.

I was particularly struck by the inclusion of Gabriella Smith on the program, since San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen brought her to audience attention in March of 2022, when he conducted SFS in a performance of her “Tumblebird Contrails.” He thought highly enough of the piece to include it in the program for last month’s Nobel Prize Concert. While I did not care much for the music on “first contact,” I would certainly defend Salonen’s right to transport the music from San Francisco to Stockholm! Smith’s contribution to last night’s program was “Imaginary Pancake,” another work whose title had a greater impact on me than the music did.

The good news was that almost all of the recent works were more engaging than “Imaginary Pancake.” Indeed, both my wife and I were struck by how many of those composers had an impressive capacity for wit. Tamara MacLeod even went as far as to title the first movement of her Spent suite “Farcically.” The titles of the following two movements were “Languishingly” and “Desolately;” and, taken has a whole, her “adverbial journey” was a total romp. A bit more explicit, but just as engaging, was the final work, “Forget Your Scarf in My Life” by Madeline Clara Cheng. Indeed, this came across as the final “punch line” after the imaginative (and often witty) rhetorical stances of the three predecessors in the second half of the program, “Fulgurance” (Jessica Mao), the second movement of Ringlorn (Isabelle Tseng), and “grace fall” (Sage Shurman).

I must confess that I tend to be cautious about attending programs that might leave me feeling besieged by new content. In this case, however, almost every composer left me with the impression of knowing when enough was enough. Perhaps the future of music is in better hands than my proclivity for skepticism would have me believe!

I would, however, pick one nit with the program book. The Earplay program books always seem to find the right balance between what to say about the composer and what to say about the music. E4TT, on the other hand, provided generous accounts about each of the composers without saying anything about the music being performed. When a program has so many offerings, it would be nice to have some written content to both prepare and recall the listening experience itself.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Philip Glass Plays … Philip Glass

This coming Friday Orange Mountain Music will release Philip Glass Solo, a seven-track album of composer Philip Glass playing seven of his compositions for solo piano at the age of 84. Glass recorded these performances at his home in 2020. It would be fair to say that this collection contributes to the composer’s reflections on his past achievements. As many probably expect, has already created a Web page for processing pre-orders.

Some readers may recall by now that my experiences of listening to performances of Glass’ compositions go all the way back to January of 1970, when the Philip Glass Ensemble gave its first major performance in the downstairs recital hall of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. I wrote about that occasion back in April of 2019, when Orange Mountain released its two-CD set 50 Years of the Philip Glass Ensemble. As might be guessed from the title, none of Glass’ solo piano compositions were included on that release.

My first encounter with his piano music came when Edition Peters published Waltzes by 25 Contemporary Composers. Glass was one of those composers (the contents were alphabetically ordered by last name); and his contribution was “Modern Love Waltz.” True to the spirit of the title, I fell in love with the piece the first time I played it (possibly because it was so compatible with my own limited dexterity). As a result, my own collection of recordings includes a generous supply of his compositions for solo piano.

The new album has seven tracks and a duration of somewhat less than an hour. It includes four of the five “Metamorphosis” compositions. It begins with “Opening,” the first track on the Glassworks album. This is followed by “Mad Rush;” and the final track is “Truman Sleeps,” composed for the soundtrack of The Truman Show. I am not sure why Glass omitted “Metamorphosis 4;” but I am happy enough to have recordings of it by Nicolas Horvath and Valentina Lisitsa. My writing about both of those recordings took place during my tenure with, which did not take the trouble to archive them!

I would not venture to claim that any of the tracks on Philip Glass Solo rise above versions previously recorded by Glass or anyone else. Rather, I take some comfort in the idea that, by the time you are in your eighties, you can do anything within the scope of your capabilities that you damned well please. I suspect that many that follow his work figured that his etudes would be his “last hurrah” as both composer and performer. I guess those etudes have been keeping him in shape well enough for him to revisit seven of his earlier efforts. My own eighties are still a few years in the future, but I sure hope that my writing chops at those advanced years will be as fruitful as Glass’ keyboard technique!

Guitarist Pepe Romero to Return to SFP/Omni

Pepe Romero with his guitar (from the San Francisco Performances event page for his recital)

The next guitar recital to be presented jointly by San Francisco Performances (SFP) and the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts will see the return of Pepe Romero. He is currently the one founding member of the quartet known as The Romeros, and he is now on a tour in celebration of his 80th birthday. His program will survey music that dates back to the Renaissance (Luis de Milán) and advances to the twentieth century with particular attention to the founder of The Romeros, Celedonio. The program will conclude with his “Fantasia Cubana” and will also include his arrangements of piano music by Enrique Granados and Isaac Albéniz.

This performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 10. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, on the first two floors of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Tickets are being sold for $75 for premium seating in the Orchestra, the Side Boxes, and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $65 for the center rear of the Dress Circle and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $55 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. They may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page or by calling 415-392-2545.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Clark Terry Centennial Celebrated with Tunes

Clark Terry performing with Nnenna Freelon at the White House on September 14, 2006 (photograph by White House Photographer Shealah Craighead, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Today Capri Records released an album whose full title is CT! Adam Schroeder and Mark Masters Celebrate Clark Terry. After a fair amount of search, I have found that the best (if not only) way to purchase this album is through a hyperlink on the Capri product page. Masters is responsible for the arrangements of all thirteen tracks on the album. Playing baritone saxophone, Schroeder is the band leader. All tracks are original compositions by Terry; so readers should be alerted that Track 10, “Michelle,” has absolutely nothing to do with The Beatles!

I was fortunate enough to see Terry in action. He was a “special guest artist” when the Hank Jones Trio gave an SFJAZZ performance in Herbst Theatre on May 29, 2004. He still had over a decade of life to enjoy before his death at the ago of 94 on February 21, 2015. The highlight of that gig was his performance of “Mumbles,” which is probably best described as extreme scat singing. For all of his talents as a trumpeter, that vocal work was totally jaw-dropping; and I doubt that anyone will be able to celebrate his prodigious career by taking on a performance with the caliber of “Mumbles.”

That said, Masters has done a first-rate job in reviving the eleven Terry compositions on this album. I like to think of these tracks as a celebration of the joyous rhetoric that began to fade from popularity with the emergence of the hard bop movement. Mind you, he had no trouble adding hard bop to his repertoire; but CT! revels in a more positive outlook, even on the more sentimental tracks. This album is a joyous reminder that “historically-informed” can be applied to more than any of classical music genres!

Rent Romus to Bring Quintet to Bird & Beckett

Rent Romus with his saxophone (from the Facebook Web page for this event)

Regular readers probably associate saxophonist Rent Romus with the Outsound Presents performances that he produces. However, he began this year by venturing into other venues when he contributed to the Strange Days performance at Psychobotanikon one week ago. This morning I learned that next week would see a similar departure. He will lead a quintet performance at Bird & Beckett Books & Records. He has described the program he is preparing as “resistance against the corrupt and cynical power of commercial jazz.” He will perform with “a crack crew of battle hardened Vikings,” who are Eli Knowles on drums, pianist Brett Carson, Jacob Peck on guitar, and Quinn Girard on bass.

This will be a gig of two sets, each a little less than an hour in duration. The performance will begin at 8 p.m. one week from today, Friday, January 26. 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. (A full account of the Muni lines can be found on the event page for this performance.) The usual price of admission is $20 in cash (or Venmo) 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. Since this is a Friday event, there will be no live streaming.

Jonathan Biss Begins Three-Part Schubert Series

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

Last night in Herbst Theatre San Francisco Performances presented pianist Jonathan Biss launching his Echoes of Schubert series of three recitals. The programs have been structured around 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. Thus, the second half of last night’s program was devoted entirely to D. 958, which was coupled, at the beginning, with the first of the four D. 935 impromptus, composed in the key of F minor. This was complemented by an encore performance of the third of the four D. 899 impromptus, this one in G-flat major.

Each program will also include a recent composition that serves as a contemporary reflection on Schubert’s late works. Last night’s selection was “…Expansions of Light” by Tyson Gholston Davis, which was receiving its second performance. The work is framed by two “Arietta” movements, which “enclose” an Interlude. Ironically, the “Arietta” genre is a reflection on late Beethoven, which contrasts sharply with late Schubert! The music itself was conceived as a “response” to the “call” of Helen Frankenthaler’s Winter Light painting.

This was an impressive undertaking, but it never managed to get beyond being “upstaged” by the late Schubert selections. D. 958 ruled over the entire evening, and it was clearly the primary platform for Biss’ expressiveness. However, while there was no doubting the intensity of his delivery, I was never particularly impressed by his approach to the sonata as a metaphorical journey, an approach to interpretation that, in the past, I have associated with András Schiff. Mind you, I did not expect that Biss would approach Schubert the same way that Schiff did; but, over the course of the four movements, I was never quite sure just what his own approach to interpretation was. The notes were all there, but they never seemed to come together in an overall framework.

That said, it has been some time since my last encounter with D. 958. I appreciated the opportunity afforded by this program series. If I never quite found myself “on the same page” as Biss during my listening experience, I certainly learned much about his approaches to interpretation. Perhaps those experiences will shine a different light on my thoughts when he advances to D. 959.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Outsound Presents: February, 2024

Following the “piecemeal” approach of accounting for this month’s Outsound Presents concerts, I should be able to return to “business as usual” where next month is concerned. However, Outsound Presents, itself, will be departing from “business as usual,” since the monthly SIMM (Static Illusion Methodical Madness) Series program will be replaced by a special performance taking place at the Finnish Hall in Berkeley. Since, in the interest of avoiding overload, I do my best to confine my dispatches to the San Francisco city limits, this month’s article will account for only the two LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) New Music Series events taking place on Wednesday evenings.

As most readers probably know by now, 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. Program specifics have not yet been completely finalized. Readers are encouraged to used the above Outsound hyperlink for further information closer to the date of the performances. The current “state of play” is as follows:

February 7: This will be a two-set program. The first hour will be devoted to a duo performance by Andrew Jamieson on keyboard(s) and Rent Romus on winds. Specifics for the second hour have not yet been announced.

February 21: Similarly, details for all of the second concert are forthcoming. [updated 2/14, 7:40 a.m.: This will be a three-set program. Freak Accident may well be a bit over-the-top even for Outsound standards! They describe themselves as "a Punk/Math/Garage/Pop/Surf/Rock collision" with “equal parts comedy and tragedy.” In that same spirit, the second set by VVM is described as “Fast and Fun hardcore.” The third set will be by HARJO, which is the duo of electric guitarists Brent Miller and John Angel. The described their repertoire as “continuing a path that has been illuminated by the works and teachings of John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, (the) Melvins, Arvo Part [sic], Sunn O))), and others.” Taken a a whole, this should be a departure from even the more adventurous LSG offerings!]