Thursday, February 29, 2024

SFJAZZ to Celebrate Women’s History Month

In addition to presenting its Discover Jazz series curated by SFJAZZ Lead Teaching Artist and pianist Tammy L Hall, SFJAZZ has created an impressive series of five programs, all taking place in the Joe Henderson Lab, in celebration of Women’s History Month. As I browsed through this impressive collection of events, I noticed that one of the events has already been marked as sold out. So time is of the essence for those that appreciate the value of the occasion. For those that do not already know, the Henderson Lab is on the ground floor of the SFJAZZ Center, which 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, March 7, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: The first concert will be led by jazz and blues pianist Lisa Hilton. She will perform with a quartet that will be familiar to those readers that saw last December’s article on this site about her latest album, Coincidental Moment. She will perform with the same quartet musicians that accompanied her on that album: : Luques Curtis (bass), Igmar Thomas (trumpet), and Rudy Royston (percussion). Her visit to SFJAZZ will include music from that album.

Friday, March 8, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Caroline Davis plays alto saxophone. She has formed Alula, a forward-looking electro-acoustic band. For her visit to SFJAZZ, she will be joined by two of her instrumentalists, Chris Tordini on bass and drummer Eliza Salem. However, the program will involve a balance of improvised and composed material amongst electronic samples from freedom fighters held in captivity for wrongful convictions.

Saturday, March 9, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Katie Thiroux is a vocalist, who accompanies herself on bass. In other words, this will be a solo gig! Her performance will be based on her new project, Mothers of the Music. Her approach to performance was inspired by motherhood and the advice she received from fellow female musicians about the life of an artist with children. Some readers may recall reading about her “sophomore” album Off Beat on this site in August of 2017.

Sunday, March 10, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Readers should be aware that, as of this writing, tickets for the 6 p.m. set are almost sold out. Vocalist Pamela Rose specializes in both jazz and blues. Her album Wild Women of Song: Great Gal Composers of the Jazz Era was conceived to bring attention to those women that contributed to the Great American Songbook. The title of her SFJAZZ program will be Blues is a Woman.

Thursday, March 21, 8:30 p.m.: (The 7 p.m. performance is already sold out.) Christina Galisatus is both a singer and a pianist. Her program will be a celebration of Joni Mitchell’s 1974 album Court & Spark. She was impressed by Mitchell’s synthesis of jazz with folk rock, and she will form a band with whom she will be able to reflect on that synthesis.

Friday, March 22, and Saturday, March 23, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 24, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: The entire final weekend of the series will be taken by vocalist Jacqui Naylor. On each of the three nights, she will perform two different shows. Those performances will feature music from her new album Treasures of the Heart. Her arranger is Art Khu, who is also co-writer of her original works and will accompany her at the piano (and sometimes on guitar). The other rhythm players will be Richie Goods on bass and drummer Josh Jones.

New Lords of Outland Album from Edgetone

Cover of the album begin discussed

Two days ago Edgetone Records released a new album of Lords of Outland, a “bleeding edge” jazz combo led by Rent Romus, who plays a prodigious number of saxophones. The title of the album is Ghost Moon; and it offers fifteen tracks of adventurous improvisations, all inspired by a science fiction narrative, which can be found on the Bandcamp Web page for this release. The other members of the Lords of Outland combo are Ray Schaeffer on a variety of electric basses, percussionist Anthony Flores, and Philip Everett, dividing his attention among synthesizer, electric lap harp, Xlarinet, and additional percussion. They are joined by guest artist Tony Passarell, alternating among flute and tenor and soprano saxophones.

According to my records, this is Romus’ first release through Bandcamp since Itkuja Suite, which came out early in 2023. The suite was based heavily on the Finnish classic Kalevala (probably familiar to fans of the music of Jean Sibelius); so this new release is a venture into the fictional future, rather than traditional myths from past. That future evokes a wide variety of unconventional images, matched by the combo sonorities, which, more often than not, venture quite some distance from the instrumental sonorities one encounters from a more “traditional” jazz combo. Mind you, while Lords of Outland is consistently inventive, they most likely are aware of similarly adventurous predecessors, such as Roland Kirk or Eric Dolphy. Nevertheless, Ghost Moon definitely has a voice of its own, which has been scrupulously attuned to the bizarre qualities of the narrative that inspired it.

I have now listened to the album several times. I am just beginning to acclimate myself to the journey that unfolds. Nevertheless, I definitely appreciate that this is a trip worth taking.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Tammy L Hall to Curate SFJAZZ Series

Tammy L Hall (courtesy of SFJAZZ)

Next month SFJAZZ will offer a Discover Jazz series of “classes,” which will examine and celebrate the legacy of women who sing, play, compose, arrange, and continue to pave the way for the next generation. The entire event will be curated by SFJAZZ Lead Teaching Artist and pianist Tammy L Hall. While, in the past, I have confined my attention to the Joe Henderson Lab at the SFJAZZ Center, the four Classes for this event will be divided equally between the Lab and Miner Auditorium. The dates (all Wednesday evenings), topics, and venues for each of the Classes will be as follows:

  1. March 6, How High the Moon? The Bay Area’s Musical Treasures, Joe Henderson Lab: Hall will lead the quartet she directs, whose other members are saxophonist Kristen Strom, Ruth Davies on bass, and drummer Sylvia Cuenca. Vocalist Tiffany Austin and trombonist Dr. Angela Wellman will contribute to a conversation dwelling on stories of Bay Area female trailblazers and their multidimensional career paths. The intention will be to elevate awareness of some of the local “sheroes” in jazz music and education.
  2. March 13, Honoring out Voices: MELBA’S KITCHEN + Special Guests, Miner Auditorium: Nzingah Smith is Musical Director of MELBA’S KITCHEN, which is an all-women big band founded and rooted in the Bay Area. The repertoire is focused primarily on trombonist Melba Liston and pianist Mary Lou Williams, both of whom established reputations as composers. The group also showcases local composer-arrangers Hall and its own leader, Smith. The performance will feature two rising stars as special guests, drummer Jay Hernández and trumpeter Skylar Tang, along with a visit from Jessica Jones on tenor saxophone.
  3. March 20, From Havana to the Bay: The Sounds of Cuba, Joe Henderson Lab: Bobi Céspedes was born in Cuba, but she arrived in the Bay Area in 1959. She was the first female Cuban artist to establish her own groundbreaking band, Conjunto Céspedes. She will lead a band of eleven performers (including herself). In this case, however, three of them will be men, including Musical Director Marco Diaz!
  4. March 27, Celebrating Linda Tillery, Miner Auditorium: Tillery is a native San Franciscan, who is a vocalist, bandleader, songwriter, producer, arranger, and cultural warrior. She founded the Cultural Heritage Choir in 1992. This final Class will serve as a tribute to Tillery, but she will also be the Musical Director. A moderately-sized band, which will include Hall on piano, will perform with nine vocalists, one of whom will be Tillery.

All performances will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets for the entire series will be $100 with an $80 rate for SFJAZZ members. Tickets for the individual classes will be $30 and $25 for members. All tickets may be purchased online through the March Calendar Web page. The SFJAZZ Center is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street.

Aimard’s SFP Recital: Fantasias Past and Recent

Pierre-Laurent Aimard with his piano (photograph by Marco Borggreve, courtesy of San Francisco Performances)

Last night pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard returned to Herbst Theatre for his third San Francisco Performances (SFP) appearance in a solo recital. His program was a broad survey of the fantasia genre, with the SwWV 261 “Echo” fantasia by the early Baroque Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck at one end of the time line and Elliott Carter’s “Night Fantasies,” composed between November of 1978 and April of 1980 at the other. Aimard coupled these (in chronological order) to begin his program, concluding the first half with the more familiar “Polonaise-Fantaisie”, Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 61 in the key of A-flat major.

The second half was devoted almost entirely to what Charles Rosen called “The Classical Style,” but not in chronological order. The selections were by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the K. 475 fantasia in C minor), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (the sixth piece in the Wq 59 collection), and Ludwig van Beethoven (the Opus 77 fantasia in G minor). The program concluded with the “punch line” of Charles Ives’ “The Celestial Railroad,” identified as a “Fantasy” in its subtitle.

Aimard was not shy about addressing the audience, and his introductory remarks were as engaging as they were informative. Sweelinck’s “echo” effects were conceived for separate manuals on an organ, but Aimard’s approaches to keyboard touch provided a satisfying contrast between the “source” and “echo” passages. The “classical style” selections were particularly engaging. Aimard introduced K. 475 as a “compact opera for solo piano;” and, in the plethora of themes in Beethoven’s Opus 77, I could swear that one of them had been inspired by Papageno’s aria “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” in Mozart’s K. 620 opera The Magic Flute. I also appreciated how Aimard cited the “musical independence” of “The Celestial Railroad.”

The only real challenge came from “Night Fantasies.” While one could appreciate that all of the other selections may have emerged from improvisatory explorations, Carter’s composition seemed to be the product of a seriously vast expanse of notes, each of which had been precisely calculated. One could almost call it pointillism in which even the slightest dot carried its own weight of significance. Carter was a Visiting Professor during my senior year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and I put a prodigious amount of effort in trying to get my head around the music that was performed in a recital at the conclusion of his visit. Several years later I happened to hear his string quartet on the radio and realized how quickly all of those efforts had evaporated.

Ironically, I have encountered “Night Fantasies” several times over the course of my listening history. Most recently, I wrote about it when Pina Napolitano released her Tempo e Tempi album in July of 2020. For all of that exposure, the music never seems to secure a place for itself in long-term memory. Sadly, last night’s impression never rose above the level of any of my previous encounters.

(I should also add that, during one of his MIT lectures, Carter confessed that he had no idea what to make of Ives. I have had a fair exposure to much of Ives music, thanks in some part to Michael Tilson Thomas; and, for me at least, “The Celestial Railroad” was like a walk in the park, even if the park was surreal. “Night Fantasies,” on the other hand, left me figuratively grouping around in the dark!)

The reception for last night’s performance was too enthusiastic for Aimard to avoid taking an encore. He used the occasion to introduce the little known Russian composer Andrei Volkonsky to the audience. HIs Wikipedia page describes him as “a key figure in Early Music Revival in Russia,” and this description was affirmed by Aimard’s encore. He played the third and fourth movements of “Musica Stricta (fantasia ricercata),” the composer’s Opus 11, composed in 1957, which applied twelve-tone syntax to the semantics of that “Early Music” period. This was “something completely different” from the program that Aimard had prepared, but it left me curious about when I would encounter further works by this composer!

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Sticking it to Milton Babbitt?

In 1958 the popular magazine High Fidelity published an article by the highly intellectual composer Milton Babbitt. Babbitt had entitled the article "The Composer as Specialist;" and it addressed the mindset gulf between many composers following in the footsteps of Arnold Schoenberg and most audiences. (Schoenberg himself had addressed this topic.) Without Babbitt's knowledge or consent, High Fidelity changed the title to "Who Cares if You Listen?;" and Babbitt has been living with the consequences of that decision ever since. However, even if he found the title "offensively vulgar," there remains that connotation of detachment in his "specialist" stance.

I have no idea if Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson intentionally decided to exploit this stance and twit Babbitt at the same time, but they definitely found an amusing and clever way to do so. Here is the BBC News account of their project:

US rock star Lou Reed and his artist wife Laurie Anderson are to stage a "high-frequency concert" for canines in Australia.

Music for Dogs, to be held outside the Sydney Opera House, is billed as "an inter-species social gathering on a scale never seen before in Australia".

The bizarre recital in June will be largely inaudible to the human ear.

The couple said they have experience making music for at least one dog - their rat terrier, Lollabelle.

"She likes things with a lot of smoothness but with beats in them,'' Ms Anderson told the Sydney Morning Herald.

She said the inspiration for the performance at the Vivid Live festival in Sydney came while she was backstage at an event and thought: "Wouldn't it be great, if you were playing a concert and you look out and you see all dogs?"

The show, created by Ms Anderson, will last for 20 minutes as she says "dogs don't have a giant concentration span".

The sounds will be played at high frequency like a dog whistle, setting dogs' ears twitching but barely audible to their owners.

It is billed in the festival programme as "an absolute must for any dog and their two-legged friends".

The link to Babbitt is delightfully obvious: Now we have "Who cares if you can't listen?" However, even if Babbitt was not the intended target, this is clearly aimed at those who tend to get excessively serious about concert attendance, particularly in an opera house. It takes a certain level of chutzpah to break with such a strongly-held social tradition; and I would say that the level is high enough for Reed and Anderson to share the Chutzpah of the Week award!

Dennis Russell Davies to Return to Other Minds

Dennis Russell Davies performing for Other Minds in 2022 (photograph by David Magnusson, courtesy of Other Minds)

Next month Other Minds will host a benefit recital to celebrate the 80th birthday of pianist Dennis Russell Davies. Davies will be joined by his wife, Maki Namekawa, to present a recital of solo and four-hand piano music. This will be their fifth appearance in San Francisco hosted by Other Minds.

The highlight of the program will be a four-hand arrangement of selected movements from the six-episode tone poem Má vlast (my fatherland). (The best known of those movements is frequently performed on its own: “Vitava,” the Czech name of the river Moldau.) The rest of the program will be focused primarily on the twentieth century, with compositions by Maurice Ravel, John Cage, Philip Glass, and Laurie Anderson.

Only 80 tickets will be available for this event. As of this writing, tickets may be purchased for either $70 or $100. They may be purchased through an Eventbrite Web page. The performance will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 22, preceded by a dessert reception at 7 p.m. The venue will be the McCarthy Art Studio in the Mission, and the address will be provided once ticket purchase has been confirmed.

Nash Ensemble Pairs Tchaikovsky and Korngold

courtesy of PIAS

According to my archives, I have not listened to an album of the Nash Ensemble for about eleven years. I was still writing for when I encountered their album Brundibár: Music by Composers in Theresienstadt (1941–1945). This coming Friday Hyperion will release their latest album, which will involve fewer players than Brundibár. It offers a pair of sextets, the first being Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 70 in D minor, given the title “Souvenir de Florence,” followed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Opus 10 sextet in D major. The performers will be violinists Stephanie Gonley (the only player that was also on the Brundibár album) and Jonathan Stone, violists Lars Anders Tomter and Rachel Roberts, and cellists Adrian Brendel and Gemma Rosefield.

It goes without saying that this new release is not as adventurous or provocative as Brundibár was, but attentive listening does not live by provocation alone! The fact is that I was familiar with both of these compositions before I began listening to this new release. The Tchaikovsky offering has been a longtime favorite; and, unless I am mistaken, I have been fortunate enough to listen to it in a recital performance. I “discovered” the Korngold in March of 2020, when it was released by Chandos to complement a performance of his violin concerto with Andrew Haveron as the soloist. The thing about chamber music, however, is that it is highly personal; and I had no problem with another encounter with another ensemble, particularly since this is music I have yet to hear in a recital setting.

I suppose what draws me to the Korngold is that, even at a young age, he was not afraid to venture into provocative territory. While the opening movement makes for an accommodating introduction, things start to get interesting with the dissonant jolt that opens the second movement. This is when it becomes clear that Korngold’s “turf” is a far cry from Tchaikovsky’s. Whether that gesture can be taken as a response to his father’s accusation that he was “bathing” in lush harmonies is left as an exercise for the reader to decide!

Monday, February 26, 2024

Artificial Artificial Intelligence?

I probably still have some friends and/or acquaintances out there that know a thing or two about the life I led before I focused this site on writing about the performance of music. Since I spent most of my time at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology between the beginning of my junior year as an undergraduate until the approval of my doctoral thesis, my thoughts about that discipline are more than abundant. Nevertheless, I have tried to hold my metaphorical tongue about that background when writing about the performing arts. I had no trouble doing so until this past Sunday, when the pink Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle devoted two articles and four pages to the topic, along with a headline on the cover: “AI is opening new horizons in music. Computer systems are pulling off previously impossible innovations.”

I have enough experience to assert with a fair amount of confidence that, since my student days, the very idea of what artificial intelligence was has been abused as much as it has been used, if not more so. I would therefore like to attempt a “reality check” to “clear the air” about how the concept was conceived and what has happened to it since then. When I was a student, there was only one book on the topic, Computers and Thought, a generous anthology of previously published articles edited by Edward A. Feigenbaum and Julian Feldman, both at the University of California at Berkeley at the time. (Feigenbaum would go on to launch the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University.)

The anthology began with an essay by Alan M. Turing entitled “Computing machinery and intelligence,” which was published in the October, 1950 issue of the journal Mind. The title of the second section header was “Is It Possible for Computing Machines to Think?” The very first word of the first paragraph in that section was “No!” Nevertheless, he did not dismiss the possibility of artificial intelligence research if one could set at least one realistic goal. The goal he proposed was this: “to construct computer programs which exhibit behavior that we call ‘intelligent behavior’ when we observe it in human beings.” In other words, software might not be able to “make it;” but there might still be some value in software that could “fake it!”

Well over half a century has passed since Turing’s words were published. During that period, there gradually grew a faction that was less interested in pursuing the challenging questions behind artificial intelligence and more interested in “selling the brand.” By now that salesmanship has confined research to pursue challenging questions about intelligence to a very small corner, almost impossible to find in the thick fog of what amounts to little more that hucksterism delivered in frequently elegant and often opaque language.

Now, to be fair, technology has been responsible for a plethora of changes in how the performing arts are now practiced. Unfortunately, there are no end of promoters that like to hang the term “artificial intelligence” on many of those changes without even the slightest idea of how to justify the claim. As a result, the old adage “There’s a sucker born every minute,” usually attributed to P. T. Barnum, may have devolved into “There’s a sucker born every microsecond!”

Sadly, we now live in an age in which it is almost impossible to tell the difference between credible claims and sheer balderdash. My guess is that neither of the Chronicle writers were particularly well-versed on what technology can and cannot do (and whether what it can do has anything to do with “intelligence”). The good news is that the eyes of most Chronicle readers glaze over from any encounter with technology. Nevertheless, in my current capacity, I fear I shall have to be on guard when I encounter a contemporary performance (even one by a writer) that, beneath the surface, turns out to be little more than one of those nineteenth-century medicine shows!

The Bleeding Edge: 2/26/2024

This may well be the quietest week I have encountered out on the Bleeding Edge! There are only two events to take into account this week. Both of them are “usual suspects” as follows:

Wednesday, February 28, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: This will mark the end of the annual Black History Month tour by the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. This month will mark the 50th anniversary of that tour. For this particular performance, percussionist Kahil El’Zabar will lead a trio, whose other members are trumpeter Corey Wilkes and Alex Harding on baritone saxophone in a program entitled Open Me: A Higher Consciousness of Sound & Spirit.

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 $30 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.

Friday, March 1, 7 p.m.,  Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore & Gallery: Reed player David Boyce, curator for his Other Dimensions in Sound series, will host a visit from Ghost Dub. This is the latest incarnation of T.D. Skatchit & Company, which formed a combo called Ghost in the House that released an album entitled Second Sight. Ghost Dub is a quartet that includes David Michalak, one of the Ghost in the House founders, playing steel guitar and Nunn’s skatch instruments, and Cindy Webster, one of the “Special Ghosts,” playing saw and hurdy-gurdy. The other members of the quartet will be alto saxophonist Kersti Abrams and Scott R. Looney on piano and electronic gear. There probably will not be a program, allowing Boyce to join the quartet in at least one set of free improvisation. 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.

Craft Reissues Major Yusef Lateef Album

Cover of the album being discussed (from the album’s Wikipedia page)

Unless something in my archives has escaped my attention, the only time I ever wrote anything of substance about jazz multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef was when I took George Crumb to task for not being particularly innovative in the sonorities he summoned up for “Vox Balaenae;” and I wrote that back in my days! To be fair, Lateef did show up on this site, but only in the list of the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2010 Jazz Masters Awards. Returning to present day, at the beginning of this month Craft Recordings announced the (latest) reissue of Lateef’s Eastern Sounds album, which was first released in April of 1962 following a single session at the Van Gelder Studio on September 5, 1961. I am sure that many readers will not be surprised at not keeping up with the reissue, and the new release is available for purchase on its own Craft Web page.

For those unfamiliar with Lateef, his talent as a multi-instrumentalist took on a prodigious variety. (He died on December 23, 2013 at the age of 93.) He is pictured on the album cover (above) with his tenor saxophone. The other instruments he plays on Eastern Sounds are flute, oboe, and xun (an egg-shaped Chinese wind instrument). He leads a quartet, whose other members are pianist Barry Harris, Ernie Farrow on bass and rebab, and drummer Lex Humphries.

Lateef’s “jazz roots” were in hard bop, but this album explores a variety of Middle Eastern influences. To some extent that is a reflection on the two tracks based on film scores, both of which are identified as “love themes.” The films are (no surprise) Spartacus and The Robe. Aside from one track for Jimmy McHugh’s “Don’t Blame Me,” the remaining tracks are all Lateef originals.

Prior to my encounter with this release, I was more aware of Lateef’s reputation than I was of the music he actually made; and I am now very glad to have access to an engaging sampling of that music!

Alisa Weilerstein on DSOLive

It has been a while since I took the time for live-streaming the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) for its latest Live from Orchestra Hall Webcast. For that matter, it has been even longer (one month short of a year, according to my records) since I have seen Music Director Jader Bignamini on the podium. (My most recent article was about a visit to the podium by Nicholas McGegan.) In addition, this was the first time that my wife and I live-streamed a Sunday matinee in Detroit, rather than the usual evening performance.

Alisa Weilerstein performing with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (screen shot from the video being discussed)

It has also been quite a while since I saw Alisa Weilerstein appear as a concert soloist. However, this particular program presented Edward Elgar’s Opus 85 cello concerto in E minor; and neither my wife nor I wanted to miss it. We were not disappointed. Weilerstein was as passionate as ever as she negotiated the wide spectrum of emotional dispositions that unfolded during this concerto’s three movements. Her chemistry with Bignamini could not have been better, and he seemed to enjoy this opportunity to present Elgar’s music as much as she did. As might be expected, she followed her concerto performance with an encore, the Sarabande movement from the BWV 1010 unaccompanied cello suite in E-flat major by Johann Sebastian Bach.

[side-bar commentary: Unannounced encores can be frustrating, particularly when I have to account for them. While Weilerstein was playing, I jotted down the opening rhythmic motif and wrote “Sarabande.” Then, during the intermission, I pulled out my Casals CDs, worked my way through the Saraband movements of the Bach solo cello suites until I found the right one! Sometimes, my computer room has better affordances than the concert hall!]

Furthermore, Weilerstein seemed to enjoy her visit to Detroit enough to take a back seat in the cello section for the second half of the program! This was “warhorse time” for the ensemble, a performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Opus 35, his symphonic suite Scheherazade. It is “symphonic” because it is in four movements, but the structure is more of a multi-movement tone poem than a symphony. The suite movements are inspired by episodes from One Thousand and One Nights. However, it would be an exaggeration to say that the music provides a “literary” account of the source texts. More appropriate would be that the composer was inspired by reflecting on those texts.

I have now seen enough DSO telecasts to know that Bignamini really enjoys the rich sonorities of a full ensemble. With Scheherazade he was in hog heaven and clearly enjoying every minute of it. What was important, though, was that it seemed as if his joyful enthusiasm was faithfully reflected by every member of the ensemble (even the “back benchers” in the string sections). This was far from a here-we-go-again account of music that most of us have heard too many times. Rather, the combination of the attentive performance and the well-conceived video perspective made for an experience that was both refreshing and stimulating.

The video was not quite as perceptive for the opening selection, the overture that Felix Mendelssohn composed for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The camera crew managed to overlook the tuba player during his only solo (which was limited to four notes)! Otherwise, both the performance and the camera work allowed for full appreciation of the freshness of a composition that is now over two centuries old. There are often times when I feel tired of Mendelssohn’s music, but there was nothing tiring about Bignamini’s approach to this particular score.

Tiffany Poon’s Disappointing Return

Pianist Tiffany Poon made her San Francisco debut during the 2022 Chamber Music San Francisco (CMSF) season. My schedule did not allow me to attend that performance, but yesterday afternoon she returned to Herbst Theatre for a return appearance. Sadly, I have no idea what prompted the return, because the entire program, including the three encores, amounted to one major disappointment after another.

There was some sense that she was seeking an innovative approach performance. In the first half of the program, she played Robert Schumann’s Opus 15 Kinderszenen (scenes from childhood) and then launched into Claude Debussy’s Children's Corner without leaving room for applause. The prevailing rhetoric was affectation, poured on particularly thick in her approach to Schumann. The second half of the program was devoted to Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 28, his set of 24 preludes in all major and minor keys, introduced with an “overture of sorts” by Johann Sebastian Bach, the BWV 846 and BWV 847 prelude-fugue couplings in C major and minor, respectively, that begin The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 (again with no interruption between the selections). The Bach selections were tolerable, but the Chopin cycle showed no appreciation of or respect for the composer’s efforts from start to finish. The three encores were no better: the first (in the key of E-flat major) of Johannes Brahms’ Opus 117 set of three intermezzi, Franz Liszt’s transcription of “Widmung,” the opening song in Schumann’s Opus 25 Myrthen song cycle, and one of Liszt’s “Valse oubliée” compositions (the first?).

This made for a very long program that offered absolutely nothing to satisfy any seriously attentive listener.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Chanticleer will Offer a Salon to Preview Machaut

Poster courtesy of Chanticleer

Some readers may recall that Chanticleer will conclude its current season this coming June at Grace Cathedral. That venue was selected for a performance of Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame. Many historians regard this as the first large-scale musical composition in the Western canon, and it is the earliest of the composer’s few surviving sacred works.

Due to the significance of the occasion, Chanticleer is reviving its Salon Series to provide a preview event for the occasion. The evening will feature excerpts from Machaut’s composition. The program at Grace will also include the secular songs of minstrels and bards from that same period in the Middle Ages when Machaut was composing. Several of these will be included in the preview. All of the works to be performed will be introduced with commentary to establish the historical and artistic context of Machaut’s time. All of this will take place in a “contemporary context,” which will include wine, cheese, and a charcuterie. Music may have been “the food of love” in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; but, at this Salon, the guests will not live on music alone!

This event will begin at 5:30 PM on Tuesday, March 19. It has been planned to last for 90 minutes. The venue will be The Green Room on the second floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. General admission for all will be $120 per person. Eventbrite has created a Web page for online purchase of tickets.

Vox Humana SF: The Debut in San Francisco

The logo for the new Vox Humana SF ensemble (from its home page)

This weekend saw the launch of Vox Humana SF, a new a cappella choir founded by its Artistic Director Don Scott Carpenter. The first performance took place this past Friday evening in Belvedere, but the program was repeated last night here in San Francisco at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. The title of the program was, appropriately enough, In the Beginning. The repertoire covered an extensive interval of time, from the early nineteenth century of Felix Mendelssohn to the very recent past of Reena Esmail.

The title of the program was also the title of the first selection after the intermission, Aaron Copland’s setting of the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. Much of the structure involved call-and-response, with the “call” coming from the solo mezzo Meghan Crosby-Jolliffe and the “response” from the full ensemble. Those readers that recall my account of the Sony Classical anthology Copland Conducts Copland – The Complete Columbia Album Collection may or may not agree with me that the music of this champion of the twentieth century has not survived the test of time very well. “In the Beginning” was part of that anthology; and, even with the freshness of contemporary voices, the rhetoric of the music itself began to get tiresome well into the Third Day of the Creation.

Indeed, the selection by Mendelssohn, three selected movements from his setting of the Mass in the German language, was far fresher in its impact. This was probably due in part of the interplay of the four solo voices during the Gloria portion (“Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe”). The interleaving of soprano Morgan Balfour, alto Shauna Fallihee, tenor Sam Faustine, and bass Jefferson Packer with the ensemble revealed a technically elegant side of Mendelssohn’s expressiveness that is not encountered in his instrumental works. It also made for an engaging coupling with its much later predecessor on the program, the opening selection of “Alleluia,” composed in 1990 by Algirdas Martinaitis and featuring soprano Kelly Ballou as soloist.

The oldest composer on the program was followed by the youngest, Reena Esmail. Those that have followed this site for some time know that Esmail was one of the composers included in Sarah Cahill’s Future is Female performances, and her music was also featured at the 2021 International Piano Festival. However, I do not think I have encountered any of her music since May of 2022, when Earplay presented her “Nadiya.” Her choral offering, “Even after all this time…” included a clarinet solo performed by Kevin Tang, which made for a decided contrast to the vocal sonorities. While the text for this selection was brief (six lines of blank verse), I felt that the music had overstayed its welcome somewhere around its halfway mark. This was followed by “Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein reines Herz” (create in me a clean heart, O God), the second of the two Opus 29 five-part motets by Johannes Brahms, whose brevity (three sentences) came across with far greater impact.

The program concluded with a coupling of two contrasting works. “Canticum Calamitatis Maritimae,” composed by Jaako Mäntyjärvi in 1997, is a harrowing account of a shipwreck of a car ferry in the Baltic Sea. Solo passages were taken by soprano Cheryl Cain and precentor Jack Wilkins. The entire text (which is in Latin) is framed by citations of the “Lux æterna” portion of the Requiem Mass. That work was then followed by the full “Lux æterna” text arranged by John Cameron in a setting of the “Nimrod” music from Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

Taken as a whole, the evening was a thoroughly engaging account of the diversity of the a cappella repertoire, making for an absorbing journey of discovery and leaving at least some of us wondering about what will come next.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Omni to Release New Video Tomorrow

The interior of the Oratorio del Battuti, where tomorrow’s performance was filmed (courtesy of the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts)

The next OMNI on-Location video to be presented by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts will be released tomorrow morning. Marco De Biasi will perform his own original composition entitled (appropriately enough) “Vento d’Invierno” (winter wind). That performance was filmed on location at the Oratorio del Battuti, which is in Vittorio Veneto in Italy. The venue takes its name from the Confraternity of Santa Maria dei Battuti, which established it. It is probably best known for its fresco cycle, which dates from the early fifteenth century.

As usual, the performance will be streamed through the Omni Foundation’s YouTube channel. The specific YouTube Web page for this program has already been created. Those that visit this page now will see that it will become available for viewing at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning, February 25. 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.

Other Minds to Release New Feldman Album

Cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Other Minds)

This coming Friday Other Minds Records will release its latest album entitled The Possibility of a New Work for Electric Guitar. This is the title of a composition for solo electric guitar that Morton Feldman composed for his colleague Christian Wolff. The album is currently available for pre-order through a Bandcamp Web page, both for digital download and for a twelve-inch 45 RPM vinyl disc (which will also include the digital download). As is usually the case, that Web page also provides program notes for the album.

Feldman composed this piece in 1966, and Wolff performed it here in San Francisco that same year. That performance was recorded and was archived by KPFA. Sadly, when Wolff was traveling to Yale to play the piece, both his guitar and the only copy of Feldman’s score were stolen from his car. Presumably, the music has “survived” thanks to Wolff’s memory, possibly the KPFA recording, and a reconstruction of that score. According to, a score was published by Edition Peters in France in 2015. However, the Web page for that score is listed as “Currently unavailable;” and it is not listed at all on the French site. On the other hand, the work is included on an electric guitar anthology album of performances by Lars Ove Stene Fossheim, for which Amazon does have an MP3 Web page.

The Other Minds album has three tracks. The first of these is the 1966 recording. This is followed by a second recording of the same piece, recorded by Wendy Eisenberg in 2022. The final track is another Eisenberg recording, this one of Wolff’s “Another Possibility.” It was composed in 2004 as an homage to the Feldman composition based on a scrap of notation from Feldman’’s composition, which was found in the Feldman archives at the Sacher Foundation in Basel.

My interest in Feldman dates all the way back to my graduate student days, when I first came to know him through my acquaintance with John Cage. I also recall first meeting Wolff when he was still at Harvard University, prior to his move to Dartmouth. Sadly, I do not encounter performances of Feldman’s music very often, although I was more than a little surprised to see “The Viola in My Life” on the program of a LIEDER ALIVE! program in February of 2022. As a result, I am most delighted that this new release provides me with another opportunity to introduce Feldman (once again) to my readers!

An Unlikely but Highly Satisfying Coupling

Last night Esa-Pekka Salonen returned to Davies Symphony Hall in his capacity as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony to present his next series of programs. His program may have struck many as an unlikely pairing of composers that, given a time machine, would not have had much, if anything, to do with each other. The first half of the program presented the complete score that Igor Stravinsky composed for the ballet “Pulcinella.” The intermission was then followed by Johannes Brahms’ Opus 77 violin concerto in D major.

“Pulcinella” was the first score that Stravinsky composed for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes following his “Russian trilogy” of “The Firebird,” “Petrushka,” and “The Rite of Spring.” In 1919 Diaghilev recruited choreographer Léonide Massine to create a ballet based on the stock characters of Neapolitan commedia dell'arte and suggested to Stravinsky that he arrange compositions that were, at the time, attributed to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Stravinsky, of course, could not leave well enough alone and basically overhauled the source material, particularly with outrageous approaches to instrumentation that were even more farcical than commedia tradition. Since some of the sources were songs, he added soprano, tenor, and bass vocalists to his instrumentation.

Having never seen Massine’s choreography, I have no idea how farcical it was; but farce was definitely the order of the day in the music Stravinsky provided. This was most evident in just about every intrusion by the trombonist, but there are no end of loopy eccentricities in the combinations of instruments. These included interplay between a string quartet with added bass and the ripieno string section along with a plethora of imaginative passages for the winds.

Last night the concertino strings were violinists Alexander Barantschik and Dan Carlson, Yun Jie Liu on viola, cellist Rainer Eudeikis, and Scott Pingel on bass. The vocalists were mezzo Sasha Cooke, tenor Nicholas Phan, and bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni. Given that Salonen had recorded the full score with the London Sinfonietta for an album still available from Sony, he was consistently on top of every gesture and nuance. The result last night was exhilarating from start to finish, making it hard for me to contain my delight with the entire experience.

Violinist Julia Fischer (©Uwe Arens, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony)

Just as stimulating was the return of violinist Julia Fischer as soloist for the Brahms concerto. I have never been disappointed by her performances, and she shaped every phrase in each of the three movements with a series of expressive stamps that made certain that this was not same-old-same-old Brahms. Her chemistry with Salonen could not have been better, however unlikely the pairing of the program had been. Audience reception made it clear that I was far from the only one to appreciate her return.

Taken as a whole, last night was a generous share of thoroughly engaging music. Nevertheless, it was clear that the audience would not let Fischer leave without an encore. She opted for the seventeenth of the 24 Caprices for solo violin by Niccolò Paganini. This is the one best known for its rapid-fire runs in the outer sections and the killer octaves in the middle. Fischer glided through the entire caprice without ever breaking a sweat, leaving the stage to allow a very satisfied audience to wend their ways home.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Balanchine’s Shakespeare Returns to SFB

Daniel Delvison-Olivera and Jennifer Stahl with the SFB corps de ballet during Act II of George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (choreography by George Balanchine ©The Balanchine Trust, photograph ©Chris Hardy, courtesy of SFB)

The last plan to revive George Balanchine’s full-length ballet A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by the San Francisco Ballet (SFB) was a quickly frustrated endeavor. During the intermission of the opening night performance on March 6, 2020, leaflets were handed out to mark the beginning of lockdown conditions in response to the threat of the COVID-19 virus. Next month SFB will make up for that foreshortened occasion with a run of eleven performances of the ballet between March 12 and March 23.

Those (like myself) that attended the only 2020 performance may wish to return. The production will feature new sets and costumes conceived by the iconic French designer Christian Lacroix, who will be making his North American debut in that capacity. This “new and improved” offering will be given eleven performances with dates and times as follows:

  • Tuesday, March 12, 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, March 13, 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 14, 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, March 15, 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 16, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 17, 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 21, 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, March 22, 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 23, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

In the immortal words of Bullwinkle J. Moose, “This time fer sure!”

All performances will take place in the War Memorial Opera House, which is on the northwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and Grove Street (across MTT Way from Davies Symphony Hall). Ticket prices start at $29, and a single Web page has been created for purchasing tickets for all of the above dates and times. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office in the outer lobby of the Opera House or by calling 415-865-2000. The Box Office is open for ticket sales Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Gidon Kremer’s Latest Album of Discovery

Listening to the repertoire of Kremerata Baltica and its Artistic Director Gidon Kremer is not always an easy matter. Nevertheless, those that have followed this site (not to mention my previous site on for some time probably know by now that I am drawn to every new release by this ensemble the way a moth is drawn to a flame. More often than not, I encounter names of composers that had previously been unknown to me. Unless my memory is failing me, even my first encounter with Mieczysław Weinberg was due to Kremer, even though I would subsequently write about recordings by other performers.

One week from today ECM New Series will release Songs of Fate, Kremer’s latest “journey of discovery” album; and, as many will expect, has already created a Web page for processing pre-orders. As usual, he leads his Kremerata Baltica; and he also appears as soloist on four of the twelve tracks. Instrumental solos are taken by cellist Magdalena Ceple and Andrei Pushkarev on vibraphone. The other featured soloist is the soprano Vida Miknevičiūtė, who performs on six of the tracks.

Half of the tracks are devoted to Weinberg. The other composer that Kremer followers may have previously encountered is Raminta Šerkšnytė; but her earlier contribution was an arrangement of a prelude and fugue in A minor from Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 889) for flute, oboe, cembalo, and string orchestra. She appears on the first track of Songs of Fate with “This too shall pass,” scored for string orchestra with solo parts for violin, cello, and vibraphone.

The tuned bird ocarina included in the score of “Lignum” (from a YouTube video)

From my vantage point, the “new discoveries” on this album are the two composers Giedrius Kuprevičius and Jēkabs Jančevskis. The latter appears on the final track in a performance of “Lignum,” which is scored for string orchestra, tumšie svilpaunieki (an ocarina in the shape of a bird, as shown above), chimes, and wind chimes. The four Kuprevičius tracks, on the other hand, are all informed by Judaism. Two of them are movements from a chamber symphony entitled “The Star of David.” The other two are inspired by the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. “Penultimate Kaddish” is a setting the Aramaic text for soprano and orchestra. It is preceded (appropriately enough) by “Kaddish-Prelude,” scored for violin and percussion. As a lapsed Jew I can appreciate the connotations behind this music; but I must confess that, where this text is concerned, I still tend to prefer the setting by Maurice Ravel, even if he was an atheist!

However, whatever issues I may have with religion, I feel that there is much for the adventurous listener to discover in this new release.

International Guitar Night at Herbst

Last night in Herbst Theatre, International Guitar Night returned for its first appearance since February of 2019. What had thrived as a global annual event, presented in San Francisco by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts, had to yield to COVID. Last night it was back “on the road again.” For those unfamiliar with the program, it showcases four guitarists, each from a different country and each prolific in a different genre.

Collage of the International Guitar Night musicians (clockwise from upper right): Luca Stricagnoli, Minnie Marks, Thu Le, and Marco Pereira (photographs courtesy of Harbury Publicity)

It seemed fortuitous that last night’s program was led off by Italian guitarist Luca Stricagnoli, who had contributed to the 2019 program. He was followed, in order of appearance, by Thu Le (Vietnam), Minnie Marks (Australia), and Marco Pereira (Brazil). Each performer took a solo set, after which the first half of the program concluded with “all hands” jamming. (The second half was similarly organized, but my head was already filled with the abundance of the first half to allow for any further input!)

Stricagnoli brought electric rock to the party. He will be best remembered for playing an instrument with three necks, one “standard,” one variant on that standard, and one for bass with the lowest pitch at the bottom of the neck, rather than the other way around. It would be fair to say that Stricagnoli was prodigious in his capacities for invention, which had more to do with sonorities and dazzlingly elaborate riffs than with head-banging noise (much to my personal relief).

Somewhat to my surprise, Le’s repertoire was tango. Having spent time in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Da Nang, I was expecting my nostalgia to be tweaked by some genre of Vietnamese music. To be fair, however, I am probably more nostalgic about the tango genre; and I had no complaints about her command of that repertoire, even if it involved only two tunes!

Like Stricagnoli, Marks was inspired by American music. Her genre, however, was blues, rather than rock. As might be guessed, she added vocals to her guitar work. If that were not enough, she used her feet to perform on a reduced drum kit. Watching her handle all that was as engaging as listening to the results.

The final solo was taken by the “senior member” of the group. Pereira’s two selections highlighted two of the major Brazilian composers from the first half of the twentieth century, Dilermando Reis and Baden Powell. While I was familiar with both names, these were “first contact” experiences with their respective compositions. The “all hands jam” then wrapped up the first half of the program, and I was ready to go home and let the experience sink in deeply enough for me to do justice to my account of the evening!

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Bob Roden Quintet to Return to Cadillac

Bob Roden with his trombone (from last year’s article)

Now that we have settled back into the monthly schedule of Concerts at the Cadillac, we may also anticipate annual visits by the Bob Roden Quintet. This group made its last appearance at the Cadillac almost exactly a year ago. They are now expected to return at the beginning of next month. Somewhat to my surprise, there has not been a change in personnel. The quintet is still led by trombonist Bob Roden (who is also both a vocalist and a percussionist). He will share the front line with Ron Jackson, who plays both alto and tenor saxophone. Rhythm will be provided by Richard Freeman on drums, Jamie Dowd on bass, and Mark Rossi on piano.

As now consistently seems to be the case, this show will begin at 1 p.m. on Friday, March 8. The Cadillac Hotel is located at 380 Eddy Street, on the northeast corner of Leavenworth Street. The lobby features the Patricia Walkup Memorial Piano, which will be Rossi’s instrument. It is a meticulously restored 1884 Model D Steinway concert grand, whose original soundboard is still intact. All Concerts at the Cadillac events are presented without charge. The purpose of the series is to provide high-quality music to the residents of the hotel and the Tenderloin District; but all are invited to visit the venue that calls itself “The House of Welcome Since 1907.”

Gabriel Martins’ Two-Centuries Cello Recital

Cellist Gabriel Martins ((c)Geneva Lewis, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony)

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall the San Francisco Symphony presented the second program in the third season of its Shenson Spotlight Series. The recitalist was cellist Gabriel Martins, accompanied at the piano by Victor Santiago Asunción. The program was framed by the “usual pairing” of nineteenth-century composers, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Their works “enclosed” two decidedly different selections composed during the second decade of the twentieth century. The first of these was Claude Debussy’s 1915 cello sonata, one of his last works. This was followed by Anton Webern’s Opus 11, entitled simply “Drei kleine Stücke” (three little pieces). This was composed in the previous year, 1914; and it was a bold leap into the future that contrasted sharply with Debussy’s account, which bordered on nostalgic.

From a personal point of view, I feel that I encounter performances of Webern’s music so seldom that each occasion feels like a fresh one. Opus 11 is representative of his skills as a miniaturist. The entire set of three pieces usually clocks in at around two-and-a-half minutes. Audiences tend to feel disoriented when they realize that the piece is over before they knew it, and the composer’s pointillist attention to individual tones often triggers restless coughs and squirms in the audience. (Michael Tilson Thomas was a champion of Webern’s music and was consistently frustrated by audience behavior at his San Francisco Symphony performances.) Mind you, Opus 11 is so short that no one in the audience had time to start squirming! Once the piece had concluded, there was a polite response that was at least willing to acknowledge the enigmatic qualities of the experience.

Debussy was provocative in his own way, even if he was better at “coloring within the lines.” Traditionally, the sonata is appreciated for its abstract qualities in which expressiveness emerges from the interpretation of structure, rather than narrative. On the other hand, Debussy came close to tipping his hand by giving this sonata of programmatic title, “Pierrot fâché avec la lune.” The program note by James M. Keller translated this as “Pierrot Angry at the Moon;” but I suspect that Debussy came closer to the French expression for “pissed off!”

The first movement amounts to a brief study in frustration. This is followed by a somewhat nostalgic recollection of serenading, which is then also frustrated. In the final movement, Pierrot finally gets beyond his frustrations and launches into what Debussy himself called “a song of freedom.” Martins seemed well-attuned to all of these narrative qualities, and his interplay with Asunción made for an absorbing journey with a joyous conclusion.

In that context the Brahms Opus 99 (second) cello sonata in F major came across as a sharp contrast. Nevertheless, there was no shortage of expressiveness in Martins’ account. If the music did not have explicitly narrative qualities, it still emerged as a journey through a vast landscape of dispositions in which retrospection emerges in various intriguing guises. My favorite example comes in the first movement, which takes off like a bolt of lightning with its opening Allegro vivace theme. However, when the soloist arrives at the recapitulation, he confronts the theme now disguised as a chorale!

The entire program was framed by Schumann. The opening selection was his Opus 73 Fantasiestücke set of three pieces. Martins tended to approach these with subdued dynamics, which allowed one to appreciate the subtleties in the composer’s rhetorical approaches. Those subtleties would have had more impact, however, had Asunción decided to keep his piano lid at half-stick level. More often than not, the piano overshadowed the cello; and, while Schumann himself was a pianist, I doubt that he had such dominance in mind!

Fortunately, subtlety prevailed during the encore selection, the “Träumerei” (dreams) movement from the Opus 15 Kinderszenen (scenes from childhood) collection. There are probably any number of arrangements of this solo piano selection for cello and piano. The one by Friedrich Grützmacher is probably the most familiar; but, for all I know, Martins may have prepared his own!

Taken as a whole, the recital made for a thoroughly engaging evening; and I look forward to hearing more of what Martins has to offer.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

SFO Announces 2024–25 Season Repertory

The announcement of plans for the next season of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) seems to have occurred about one month later than it did last year. The full subscription will account for six main-stage productions; and regular subscribers will quickly note that this is two fewer than those being produced during the current season. The first four operas will be performed during the fall and the remaining two in the summer. However, the season will consist of several concert/recital events, all of which will be given a single performance. In “order of appearance,” the operas to be presented are as follows:

Un ballo in maschera, Giuseppe Verdi: This opera was last performed by SFO in October of 2014, but it was one of the productions that was offered for free streaming during the pandemic. Caroline H. Hume Music Director Eun Sun Kim will conduct, continuing her commitment to present one opera by Verdi and one by Richard Wager during each SFO season. The production will staged by Leo Muscato, who created it for a performance by the Rome Opera. San Francisco will see two familiar faces in the leading roles, tenor Michael Fabiano as Gustavo, the King of Sweden, and soprano Lianna Haroutounian as Amelia, who is in love with Gustavo even though she is married to Count Anckarström. The third “side of the triangle,” Renato, will be sung by baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat, making his SFO debut. Also of note will be the role debut of Gustavo’s page, Oscar, taken by Chinese soprano Meigui Zhang.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Poul Ruders: This will be the West Coast Premiere of an opera by Danish composer Ruders based on the novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. It was co-produced by SFO and received its world premiere in Copenhagen in 2000. The libretto was written in English by Paul Bentley. Atwood wrote her novel in the first person, requiring Bentley to reframe the narrative with a third-person perspective. The premiere by the Danish Royal Opera was staged by Phyllida Lloyd, but staging in San Francisco will be by John Fulljames (another SFO debut), former head of the Danish Royal Opera. SFO had originally scheduled its performance for 2020, one of the productions that had to be postponed due to the pandemic. The title character will be sung by mezzo Irene Roberts, who will be making her role debut. The conductor will be Karen Kamensek, who made her SFO debut in 2014, when she conducted that season’s production of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Tristan und Isolde, Richard Wagner: This will be Kim’s Wagner selection for the season. I must confess that I never tire of this opera and have consistently enjoyed my past encounters with it in the Opera House! SFO has been presenting it since September of 1927; and it was last performed in October of 2006. I was just beginning to flex my muscles as a writer at that time, which is when SFO was still reviving the Los Angeles production with sets designed by David Hockney. This will be a new production by Paul Curran, which he originally staged for La Fenice in Venice. The Production Designer will be Robert Innes Hopkins, whose previous work was seen most recently in last season’s performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (the elixir of love). The title roles will be sung by Anja Kampe, who made her SFO debut during the 2010 Ring cycle in the role of Sieglinde, and Simon O’Neill, who sang the title role in Wagner’s Lohengrin, which was Kim’s selection for last season. SFO debuts will be taken by baritone Wolfgang Koch as Kurwenal and mezzo Annika Schlicht as Brangäne.

Carmen, Georges Bizet: This is a production shared with the Washington National Opera. Staging will be by Francesca Zambello, originally created by Opera Australia and based on a co-production shared by the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the Norwegian National Opera. Mezzo Eve-Maud Hubeaux will be making her American debut in the title role. Also making her American debut will be soprano Louise Adler in the role of Micaëla. The ill-fated Don José will be sung by tenor Jonathan Tetelman, while bass-baritone Christian van Horn will take the role of the toreador Escamillo. The conductor will be Benjamin Manis, making his SFO debut.

La bohème, Giacomo Puccini: For those that really like this opera, the month of June will satisfy those pleasures and then some. There will be nine performances between June 3 and 21; and, if that were not enough, Pocket Opera will present its production on July 28 at the Gunn Theatre! Furthermore, in the SFO production, all four of the leading roles (Rodolfo, Mimi, Marcello, Musetta) will be double-cast. In addition, it will revive the staging by John Caird, making it another production that was selected for free streaming during the pandemic. The conductor at the Opera House will be Ramón Tebar.

Idomeneo, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The only thing that Idomeneo, Re di Creta, Mozart’s K. 366 opera, has in common with La bohème is that both are sung in Italian. According to my records, this was last performed by SFO in the fall of 2008, back when Donald Runnicles was the Music Director. As a result, I am particularly interested in how Kim will conduct this score, given the insights she has brought to the music of Verdi and Wagner. The title role of the King of Crete will be sung by tenor Matthew Polenzani, while the role of his son, Idamante, will be taken by soprano (and alumna of both the Merola Opera Program and the Adler Fellowship) Daniela Mack. The other major roles are both princesses. Ilia is the daughter of King Priam of Troy; and her part will be sung by soprano Ying Fang, who will be making her SFO debut. The role of Elettra, the Princess of Argos, best known for her flamboyant “rage” aria in the final act, will be taken by Elza van den Heever (another graduate of both the Merola program and the Adler Fellowship).

All six of the operas will have a single performance that will also be available for live-stream with dates and times as follows:

  • Un ballo in maschera: Sunday, September 15, 2 p.m.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale: Friday, September 20, 7 p.m.
  • Tristan und Isolde: Sunday, October 27, 1 p.m.
  • Carmen, Tuesday, November 19, 7:30 p.m.
  • La bohème, Tuesday, June 10, 7:30 p.m.
  • Idomeneo, Friday, June 20, 7:30 p.m.

There will also be several additional SFO events, most of which will take place in venues other than the Opera House. Many of them will be familiar, while others will be “novel ventures.” Here a brief summary for those wishing to save the dates sooner, rather than later:

  • Friday, September 6, 5 p.m.: The SFO Guild will join forces with SFO to host the annual Opera Ball, which will take place in City Hall both before and after the opening night performance of Un Ballo in Maschera.
  • Sunday, September 8, 1:30 p.m.: The more “public” celebration of the new season will take place, as usual, in Robin Williams Meadow in Golden Gate Park. Kim will conduct the SFO Orchestra, and several of vocal artists from the Fall season will sing both arias and ensemble settings. Those in the audience tend to bring either picnic blankets or deck chairs; and, for many, picnicking is part of the fun.
  • Saturday, October 26, 7:30 p.m.: Sets will be cleared from the Opera House stage to allow the SFO Orchestra to play on that stage. They will be conducted by Kim in a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 125, his ninth (sometimes known as the “Choral”) symphony in D minor. The vocal soloists will be soprano Jennifer Holloway, mezzo Annika Schlicht, tenor Russell Thomas, and bass Kwangchul Youn. The event will honor the 200th anniversary of the symphony’s composition.
  • Thursday, November 21, 7:30 p.m.: Carmen Encounter will be an immersive evening of multi-sensory experiences inspired by the Bizet opera currently being performed on the Opera House stage. This event will involve not only the stage (where the first act of the opera will be performed) but also the lobby areas, which will serve as venues for dancing, interactive experiences, and a festive party. Last year the Encounter was structured around the ongoing performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (the elixir of love). SFO has created a Web page with photographs of that past event.
  • Friday, November 15, 7:30 p.m.: The Future is Now is the final concert of the year for the 2024 class of Adler Fellows. The program will present both scenes and arias, accompanied by the SFO Orchestra. The performance will be held in Herbst Theatre, which is adjacent to the Opera House.
  • Sunday, November 17, 2 p.m.: SFO Chorus Director John Keene will lead the members of his ensemble in the annual intimate choral event. The vocalists will be accompanied at the piano by SFO Associate Chorus Master Fabrizio Corona. The program is seldom limited to the opera repertoire.
  • Friday, June, 27, 7:30 p.m.: This will be a special celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community. The performance will bring music together with immersive projections. The evening will include a special host, who has not yet been identified.

Further information can be found on the “exploration” Web page on the SFO Web site. Currently, only subscription orders are being processed. A Web page has been created that summarizes both subscriber benefits and the diversity of subscription plans.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Bleeding Edge: 2/20/2024

This will be another relatively quiet week with only four new events to document. However, there will also be two previously reported events as follows: [updated 2/21, 7:25 a.m.:

  • The second Outsound Presents LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) New Music Series event of the month on Wednesday, February 21.]
  • The continuation of NEW VOICES III at Audium on Thursday, February 22, Friday, February 23, and Saturday, February 24.
  • The two-set evening at The Lab, also on Saturday, February 24.

With one exception, the new events are “usual suspects” offerings as follows:

Tuesday, February 20, 7 p.m., Make-Out Room: This month’s Jazz at the Make-Out Room will offer three sets with familiar names as either subjects or objects. The latter will be the opening set taken by Tony Passarell entitled Exploring Miles. He has not yet announced the other members of his combo. He will be followed by a solo guitar set taken by Karl Evangelista. The evening will conclude with a trio performance by Rob Ewing on trombone with drummer Jon Arkin and Lisa Mezzacappa 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.

Friday, February 23, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore & Gallery: Reed player David Boyce will return as curator for his Other Dimensions in Sound series. The program has not yet been finalized. 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, February 23, 8:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Korea-born bassist Jeong Lim, now based in New York, will return to Bird & Beckett to lead a quartet, whose other members are local. They will be Ben Goldberg with his usual diversity of clarinets, Rob Reich alternating between accordion and piano, and drummer Jordan Glenn. 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, February 24, 2 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts: This is the one departure from the “usual suspects.” Artists Television Access will present a program entitled Untitled: Sound & Images. As the title suggests, the program will explore the interactions of sound and images through works by Paul Clipson and collaborative expanded cinema performances from Bay Area artists Amma Ateria, Linda Scobie, Joshua Churchill, Konrad Steiner, and more. Each performance will see the sound and visual practices of the individual artists resonate and refract as they integrate improvisational processes and cross analog and digital media. The event will take place in the Screening Room at 701 Mission Street on the corner of Third Street. As of this writing, there is no information about a fee for admission.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Charles McNeal 4tet Begins March at Chez Hanny

Next month at Chez Hanny will begin with a performance by the Charles McNeal Quartet featuring Bruce Forman. Saxophonist McNeal is based in Las Vegas, but he has become a featured performer at both national and international festivals. This will be a return visit for him. He has previously performed with guitarist Forman who will join him for this quartet appearance. Essiet Okon Essiet has established himself as one of New York’s premiere bassists. Drummer Sylvia Cuenca is also based in New York but was born in San Jose. She has become a familiar face at Chez Hanny, including a previous performance with Essiet.

As usual, the show will begin at Chez Hanny at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 3. 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.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

VoM Releases Video Selections of Thomas Cooley

For those of us that chose not to brave the elements to see tenor Thomas Cooley perform with Voices of Music at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church last night, last week’s Sunday Mornings at Ten video episode served as at least some compensation. That compensation consisted of eight recordings from past performances by Cooley. The first two selections were arias from oratorios by George Frideric Handel. They were followed by two selected movements from works by Claudio Monteverdi, and the remainder of the program was devoted to Henry Purcell.

Tenor Thomas Cooley singing Monteverdi with cellist Elisabeth Reed and David Taylor on theorbo (screenshot from the video being discussed)

The first of the Monteverdi selections was a reminder that I still had a lot to learn. I had casually assumed that it was one of the vocal solos to be found somewhere in the composer’s eight books of madrigals. It wasn’t. After a moderate amount of digging, I found that “Sì dolce è'l tormento” (SV 332 in the Monteverdi catalog) was one of the four pieces in a collection entitled Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze. Google Translate transformed those last to words into “airy vagueness,” leading me to believe that Monteverdi may have been having some fun with his audiences and/or patrons. Nevertheless, Cooley gave an affectionate account, accompanied only by Elisabeth Reed on cello and David Tayler on theorbo.

Fortunately, the second Monteverdi selection was more familiar. This was the first of the four “Concerto” movements (motets) from the Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin), SV 206. The text is taken from the Song of Songs: “I am black, but comely, o ye daughters of Jerusalem.” Cooley gave it a perfectly gender-neutral account, allowing the sensuous Hebrew to be “neutralized” by its delivery in Latin.

The two Handel selections were taken from oratorios that also drew upon the Old Testament. In fact, Esther (HWV 50) is most likely the first oratorio to be written for an English libretto. (To be fair, however, that libretto was based on a drama by Jean Racine.) The libretto for Jephtha (HWV 70), on the other hand, was written by the Reverend Thomas Morell, drawing upon Chapter 11 of the Book of Judges. The Esther selection amounted to a duo for Cooley and oboist Marc Schachman, performing against accompaniment by pizzicato strings, making for a thoroughly engaging listening experience.

Purcell was one of those composers that seemed to enjoy writing music about music. This is most evident in his Z.323 ode Come Ye Sons of Art. Cooley sang the fifth movement, “Strike the viol, touch the lute,” in which the contrast between the two instruments is represented by the string players alternating between bowed and plucked performance. That was the first of the four Purcell selections, complemented by the concluding selection, “Music for a While,” taken from the Z.583 incidental music for Oedipus, for which John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee prepared an English-language libretto based on the play by Sophocles. These offerings served to frame “Now that the sun hath veiled his light” (Z.193, given the title “An Evening Hymn On A Ground”) and the Z.402 song “O! fair Cedaria, hide those eyes.”

This all amounted to a most pleasant way to appreciate Voices of Music performances while remaining dry!