Sunday, March 31, 2024

Anton Baranov performing in the Biserica Piaristă church (screenshot from the video being discussed)

The latest OMNI on-Location video, created by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts, is now available for viewing. It is a brief (roughly a quarter hour in duration) solo recital by guitarist Anton Baranov performing in the Biserica Piaristă church. The church was built in the town of Cluj-Napoca in Romania and was consecrated in 1724. Those that read the preview article for this screening were shown a photograph of the church’s exterior. As can be seen above, the video presents the interior, which is just as impressive!

As is frequently the case, the program provided me with, for the most part, a journey of discovery. There were four relatively brief selections, the last two of which were composed by Johann Kaspar Mertz. He was active in Vienna at the same time as other major guitar composers, the best-known of whom would be Mauro Giuliani (whose familiarity is due, at least in some part, to Andrés Segovia). The moods of those compositions were, respectively, introspective (“An Malvina”) and lively (“Tarantella”). As “first contact” experiences go, these made for a satisfying introduction.

Those selections were preceded by two arrangements. The first of these was the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice, and the arranger was Michael Goldort. I suspect that this music has been arranged for just about any instrumental setting, but this offering was still decidedly engaging. It was followed by Sergey Rudnev’s arrangement of Anatoly Lyadov’s Opus 32, originally a solo piano composition entitled “Muzikalnaya tabakerka” (a musical snuffbox). This was another “first contact” experience; and, through Baranov’s interpretation, it was just as engaging as the Gluck offering.

Hopefully, Baranov will find his way to a North American tour sooner, rather than later; and, just as hopefully, that tour will bring him to San Francisco!

Old First Concerts: April, 2024

Some readers may think that this is a bit late for reporting the monthly schedule of events in the Old First Concerts (O1C) series taking place next month. However, the first of those events will not take place for another two weeks; so, for most readers, there is still plenty of time to make plans. O1C offerings will continue to be “hybrid,” allowing both live streaming and seating in Old First Presbyterian Church at 1751 Sacramento Street on the southeast corner of Van Ness Avenue. However, only two of three concerts scheduled this month will be live streamed through YouTube. The other event is not, strictly speaking, a concert; and it is being presented by Amateur Music Network. So different arrangements are being made for live streaming. Ticket prices are now adjusted according to seating areas. Hyperlinks to the event pages continue to be attached to the date and time of the performances, as above. Specifics are as follows:

Saturday, April 13, 6 p.m.: O1C has had a long-standing reputation for including Indian classical music in its repertoire. This accounted for many concerts hosted by the world-renowned sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan. This performance will be the fifteenth annual Birthday Tribute in Kahn’s honor; and it will feature sarod performances by his two sons, Alam and Manik. They will be joined by Kahn’s long-time table accompanist Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. The program will also include a performance by the Ali Akbar College of Music Tabla Ensemble, along with vocal performances by Pandit Uday Bhawalkar. Information about the individual selections will be announced from the pulpit/stage.

Monday, April 22, 7 p.m.: Sarah Cahill’s Backstage Pass will be an evening of performance and conversation. Cahill will converse with Theresa Wong, who is both a cellist and a vocalist, as well as a composer. The topic of the conversation will be “creativity and form.” This will include exploration as a compositional tool, tuning according to just intonation, queerness in music, and the distinction between composing for oneself and others. Wong will perform music from her recent album, Practicing Sands and will talk about her approach to composing and improvising. Cahill will perform Wong’s “She Dances Naked Under Palm tress,” which was inspired by Nina Simone.

Friday, April 26, 8 p.m.: The ZOFO duo of pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi will return to Old First. They will present a program entitled Echoes of Gamelan. This will be a very rich program of a diversity of selections, most of which will reflect Asian influences on Western music. It will conclude with Colin McPhee’s transcription of Balinese ceremonial music, originally composed for two pianos and arranged for four hands on one piano by Zimmermann. This will be preceded by “Speech Delay,” a composition by Ni Nyoman Srayamurtikanti, who is currently Guest Music Director of Gamelan Sekar Jaya, arranged for four-hands by Brian Baumbusch. ZOFO will also perform excerpts from Baumbusch’s suite Prisms for Gene Davis. This, in turn, will be preceded by the “Beta Cygni” movement from George Crumb’s Celestial Mechanics. The program will begin with three arrangements by Nakagoshi: “Sirènes,” which is the third and final movement of Claude Debussy’s Nocturnes, “In the Kraton” from Leopold Godowsky’s Java Suite, and the “Saturn” movement from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

Klemperer Volume 2: Beethoven and Brahms

When this site discussed the first volume of the Warner Classics Remastered Edition albums of conductor Otto Klemperer, it seemed desirable to account for performances of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms in separate articles. Where the second volume of recordings of both operas and sacred works is concerned, there are only four CDs accounting for both composers. Brahms, whose first volume recordings quickly became personal favorites, is accounted for by only one of those CDs with the performance of the Opus 45 A German Requiem. This is “partnered” by a CD of Beethoven’s Opus 123 Missa solemnis. The remaining two CDs provide a performance of Beethoven’s only opera, his Opus 72 Fidelio.

My experience with Fidelio goes all the way back to my pre-college days, when NBC would present occasional broadcasts of opera performances, often abridged and usually in English. My most recent encounter took place in the War Memorial Opera House when it was performed by the San Francisco Opera in the fall of 2021. From the vantage point of my seat, I could appreciate how Music Director Eun Sun Kim had arranged the instrumental ensemble to provide the best account of the interplay between strings and winds. This was also a performance in which the third of Beethoven’s “Leonore” overtures (Opus 72b) provided “interlude” music between the two scenes of the second act.

Klemperer’s recording was a studio affair that did not have to worry about any of the constraints imposed by staging. The result is “all Opus 72” without any “extras.” Among the vocalists, I have to say that I was most impressed by Gottlob Frick’s account of Rocco (the jailer), which provides a rich palette of dispositions that consistently align with the narrative. On the other hand, the “lead” roles of Leonore (mezzo Christa Ludwig) and Florestan (tenor Jon Vickers) seem to be straightforward stand-there-and-sing studio work.

Opus 123 provides an entirely different perspective of Beethoven’s technique as a composer. I have never been able to warm up to this setting of the Mass text; and, more often than not, I come away from both performances and recordings wondering if Beethoven felt the same way. The best I can say is that bass Martti Talvela used to be one of my favorite vocalists; but I always felt that his comfort zone was in opera, rather than sacred music.

The Brahms Opus 45 is another matter. In spite of its title, it is not, strictly speaking, liturgical. Rather, it provides choral settings of texts from both the Old and New Testaments. It consists of seven movements, only three of which require soloists. One of them is for soprano (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf); and the other two are for baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau). What particularly strikes me is that this composition pre-dates all of the instrumental Brahms selections found in the first volume of this Warner collection. The fact that it has always impressed me for its maturity only increases my appreciation for both the technical and expressive sides of Brahms’ skills as a composer.

Engaging Evening with SFCM Orchestra

Last night at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), the SFCM Orchestra presented the fifth and final program of the current academic year. The ensemble was led by Guest Conductor Mei-Ann Chen, and the opening selection was performed by Assistant Conductor Chih-Yao Chang. The conventional program structure was given an engaging twist. As is frequently the case, the first half of the program concluded with a concerto (Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 18, second, piano concerto in C minor); and the second concluded with a symphony (Robert Schumann’s Opus 120, fourth, in D minor). However, each of these pieces was preceded by an overture, the two of which made for a matching set, of sorts.

The program began with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 62, the “Coriolan Overture,” led by Chang. This was composed in 1807 to introduce Coriolan, the tragic drama written by Heinrich Joseph von Collin in 1804. (The character is the same as that in William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, but Collin’s narrative has its own differences from Shakespeare, including the concluding resolution of the plot.) Beethoven’s overture was complemented after the intermission by Unsuk Chin’s “subito con forza.” The latter reflects the former by echoing the opening gesture of Opus 62; and, during the introduction portion, there are several other references to Beethoven’s score. However, the remainder of the overture is very much in Chin’s own very compelling voice; and the relationship between Chen and her ensemble in presenting this compelling music could not have been better.

Parker van Ostrand performing with Mei-Ann Chen conducting the SFCM Orchestra (screenshot from the livestream)

The soloist for Opus 18 was Parker van Ostrand, winner of the 2022–23 SFCM Piano Concerto Competition. His account of Rachmaninoff was solid, bringing detailed precision to the shaping of his phases, rather than just wallowing in the lush qualities of the composer’s score. Chen brought complementary precision to her orchestra work. The instrumentation for this concerto is particularly rich, and Chen made it a point to allow each new quality of sonorities suitable attention in the foreground. One can appreciate why this is such a significant composition for such a wide variety of conservatory students.

As might be guessed, the audience would not let the soloist leave without an encore. As might be guessed, he turned to the nocturnes of Frédéric Chopin, playing the twentieth in C-sharp minor. (I have lost track of the number of times I have encountered this as an encore!) The audience was duly appeased, but I found the approach to Rachmaninoff far more engaging.

The program concluded with Robert Schumann’s Opus 120, the last of his four symphonies, composed in the key of D minor. Even this late in his life, Schumann was still experimenting with structural form. Opus 120 has the usual four movements, but they are integrated into a unified flow. Chen knew exactly how to negotiate the unfolding of that flow, providing an insightful account of music that too many other conductors tend to treat as “business as usual.”

Taken as a whole, this was one of my more memorable encounters with the SFCM Orchestra, bringing its season to a more-than-satisfying conclusion.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Lamplighters to Present Sullivan Before Gilbert

Those that really know their Gilbert and Sullivan lore are probably aware that Arthur Sullivan’s first comic opera was not the product of a partnership with W. S. Gilbert. Rather, that first effort was the one-act comic opera “Cox and Box,” setting a libretto by F. C. Burnand. According to his Wikipedia page, Burnand had an impressively prolific career; but these days he is known for little more (if any) than “Cox and Box.”

For those unfamiliar with this comic opera, the title is the name of two lodgers. Because one of them works at night, while the other has the more conventional “day job,” the landlord decides that he can make more money by charging both of them the same amount for occupying the same room. As might be guessed, the scheme falls apart when one of them takes a day off from work. Tempers flare, and a comedy of misfortune is born.

The Lamplighters production will be a very special fundraiser performance. The “very” has to do with the fact that the role of Cox will be taken by Robert Picardo, who is best known (at least to my generation) for his (somewhat officious) role as the Doctor (actually a hologram) in the Star Trek: Voyager series. The role of Box will be sung by Daniel Johnson, and Boz Austrian will perform as the landlord, Sergeant Bouncer. This production also includes a “Mrs.” Bouncer (quotation marks obligatory), performed by Robert Ring. (This character was not in Burnand’s original script.) The production will be staged by Cheryl Blalock, and the Music Director will be Brett Strader.

The event will begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 13. The venue will be the theatre on the second floor of the Marines’ Memorial Club, which is at 609 Sutter Street (south side), between Taylor Street and Mason Street. Admission for only the performance will be $99, and the run time will be one hour. For fundraising purposes, there will be a special Meet & Greet Reception after the show, which will include hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Admission will be by the VIP rate of $149. City Box Office has created a Web page for both ticket prices.

Klemperer Recordings of Mozart Operas

When I wrote about the recordings of orchestral music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart conducted by Otto Klemperer, I grouped those recordings in the same category as the performances of music by Joseph Haydn. Where opera is concerned, on the other hand, there is no need for Haydn to share the category with Mozart. In the second (and final) volume of Warner’s Klemperer anthology, there are no operas by Haydn; and Mozart is accounted for by four of them.

Three of them are the operas set to librettos by Lorenzo da Ponte. In “order of appearance,” these are K. 492 (The Marriage of Figaro), K. 527 (Don Giovanni), and K. 588 (Così fan tutte). The remaining opera (and the first of the four to be recorded) is K. 620 (The Magic Flute). K. 620 is the only opera that includes spoken dialogue. However, all spoken text is eliminated, probably to allow more room for the music, which, when it was first released in 1964, occupied the four sides of two long-playing records (LPs).

At this point I should probably provide a disclaimer in the form of personal experiences. When it came to “narrative” performances, most of the albums that my parents collected were of the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. There were only two exceptions, both of which were Mozart operas. One of these was a recording of K. 492 from a Glyndebourne Festival performance, which incorrectly said “complete” on the cover. (This was discussed as part of my “Fritz Busch and the Origins of Glyndebourne” article on this site.) The other was K. 620, a Columbia album of three LPs, which, like the Klemperer recording, omitted all spoken dialogue. This did not matter very much, because I had purchased the Eulenburg “pocket score” of the opera; and I followed the recording with it so many times that the music is probably still embedded in my brain! More importantly, this album was my first encounter with Herbert von Karajan and the Wiener Singverein.

It would be unfair to compare Klemperer with Busch, primarily because the Glyndebourne recordings of the da Ponte operas were made in the mid-thirties. The Klemperer recordings, on the other hand, were made with far more advanced technology in 1966 (K. 527), 1970 (K. 492), and 1971 (K. 588). (K. 620 was the first to be recorded, with the sessions taking place in April of 1964.) All of these are studio recordings, all with a highly-focused account on the score pages and little regard for “dramatizing” the situation. The one opera that could have done with at least a bit of dramatics would have been K. 588, where, in most performances, Despina delivers her “disguised” roles with coarser vocal qualities. Klemperer clearly wanted the listener to pay full attention to the music itself, regardless of the dramatics!

For the most part I do not mind Klemperer’s “purist” approach. The one exception, however, is K. 620. This is a narrative in which the personalities of the characters matter a great deal, particularly when the plot-line takes them through turn-around changes.

This is the one case in which I really have to side with Karajan. Indeed, I felt strongly enough about his approach that I recently purchased the two-CD EMI release of the LP album I had enjoyed so much in my younger years! To be fair, I should say that I have probably had more experiences with K. 620 (through performances as well as recordings) than of any of the da Ponte operas (all of which I continue to enjoy). Nevertheless, there are any number of ways that I have derived satisfaction from listening to Klemperer’s approaches to all four of these Mozart operas.

A Disappointing Evening at SJFAZZ

Jazz pianist Orrin Evans (from the SFJAZZ Web page for last night’s performance)

Since I tend to be as hooked on the “standard” jazz piano trio (piano, bass, drums) as I am on its “classical cousin (piano, violin, cello), I was glad to have the opportunity to visit the Joe Henderson Lab in the SFJAZZ Center yesterday evening. Pianist Orrin Evans led the trio, performing with Robert Hurst on bass and drummer Mark Whitfield. Sadly, the encounter was not particular satisfying.

I suppose the reason was that, over the course of an hour of selections, Evans piano work never seemed to rise above the level of routine. Only an extended solo by Whitfield, towards the end of the set, made me sit up and take notice. Performing a piece he entitled “Feed the Fire,” he knew how the explore the full extent of his kit; and he unfolded a series of consistently engaging rhythm patterns with enviable fluidity. Mind you, Hurst also offered up a few inspired moments on his bass; but, for the most part, he seemed to be going about his business with that same sense of routine found in Evans’ work.

This was one of those evenings when my mind kept saying to me, “I’d rather be listening to….” Sadly, I could only fill in that blank with relatively distant memories of the past. As a result, I took refuge in the ghosts of such memorable pianists as Cecil Taylor (died April 5, 2018) and Ahmad Jamal (died April 16, 2023). As Kurt Vonnegut (died April 11, 2007) liked to say, “So it goes!”

Friday, March 29, 2024

Philharmonia Baroque to Revisit the 19th Century

Next month the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra will conclude its 2023/24 season with its annual venture into the nineteenth century. The program, entitled Romantic Radiance, will feature two major composers from that century, one on either side of the intermission; and the ensemble will be led by Music Director Richard Egarr. The first half of the program will present violinist Shunske Sato as the soloist in a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 64 concerto for violin in E minor. For the second half, the program will shift into the major mode (except during the second movement) with a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 55, his third symphony in E-flat major, now generally known as the “Eroica” symphony.

The San Francisco performance of this program will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 11. 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.

Second Box of Remastered Klemperer Available

I first learned that there would be a second “volume” in the Warner Classics Remastered Edition of recordings of the conductor Otto Klemperer late in the summer of last year. Readers may recall that I had wrapped up accounting for the first volume at the end of August of that summer. When created a Web page for this new release, it gave October 27 as the release date. That date was then updated seven times: November 5, November 26, February 2, February 16, March 1, March 15, March 29. Today that second volume is finally on that Web page with the cautionary remark: “Only 4 left in stock - order soon.”

Readers probably know by now that, when I am encountered with a massive undertaking, the first thing I do is break the whole thing down into more manageable parts. When this is applied to working memory, psychologists call this technique chunking (which has its own Wikipedia page); and, during my student days, I often heard the phrase “mind-sized chunks.” The result of my applying this technique to the first 95 CDs in the first Warner volume amounted to nine such chunks, with Johann Sebastian Bach at one end and “Klemperer Conducts Klemperer” at the other.

The second volume, whose subtitle is Operas & Sacred Works, is far more modest. This time I found it best to work with only four chunks:

  1. Bach-Handel
  2. Mozart
  3. Beethoven-Brahms
  4. Wagner

That third category may raise some eyebrows. However, neither of those two composers had made either opera or sacred music a “strong suit” (as they say in contract bridge). Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, on the other hand, were contemporaries. While Bach never composed an opera, both of them made significant marks in the genre of sacred music; and, in fact, there are no operas in this first category.

In this new release Handel is represented only by his HWV 56 oratorio Messiah. He is coupled with Johann Sebastian Bach, who is represented by the BWV 232 setting of the Mass text in B minor and the BWV 244 St Matthew Passion. There is also a separate CD which consists of thirteen of the choral movements from BWV 232.

Readers probably recall that none of the Bach recordings in the first volume showed any signs of “historically informed performance.” This will probably make for difficult listening, since the idea of performing Bach the way Bach would have done has now elevated to “mainstream” status. Thus, where listening to BWV 244 used to promise little more than spending a long period of time on an uncomfortable church bench, ensembles such as American Bach Soloists have presented thoroughly engaging accounts that make for a much more vivid narrative.

BWV 232, on the other hand, receives much more attention and, for the most part, no longer strikes listeners as an unpleasant ordeal. What Bach thought was another matter, since he was a devout Lutheran setting a Roman Catholic text. The last time I found myself writing about this composition was in February of 2022, when it was performed here by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale. On that occasion I suggested that BWV 232 was a “pedagogical project,” which had nothing to do with the rites of any religion. In other words, just as the manuscript for the BWV 1080 (given the title The Art of Fugue) was, as I put it, “a document of ‘pure notation,’ demonstrating the wide diversity of approaches that one could take when composing a fugue or a canon,” BWV 232 was a similar “study” in composing for both choral ensembles and solo vocalists.

Given that Klemperer was from a Jewish family, I suspect that he saw little, if any, religious significance in the texts for both BWV 232 and BWV 244. He performed these compositions because they were strongly associated with Bach to the point that audiences were as eager to listen to them in concert halls as they would be to attend a church service. The same can be said for “public opinion” regarding HWV 56. Nevertheless, Klemperer did know a fair amount about how to bring enough expressiveness to a piece of music that an avid listener would sit through the occasion without squirming. Thus, even if the words were “sacred writ,” Klemperer could afford them the same respect and sensitivity that he would bring to working with an opera libretto.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

SFJAZZ: April, 2024

As usual, this site will do its best to account for performances in the Joe Henderson Lab at the SFJAZZ Center. This remains my preferred venue in the Center when it comes to attentive listening; and I try to account for all of the options, even when one of them (April 7) has s Web page claiming the performance is in Miner Auditorium! (Anyone clicking “BUY TICKETS” will quickly see that the prices are for Henderson!) 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:

Sunday, April 7, 4 p.m.: Júlio Resende will appear as a “Visiting Presenter.” He is a pianist and composer, whose expertise encompasses both jazz and traditional Portuguese fado. He will perform with Bruno Chaviero, a master of Portuguese guitar. The program will debut songs from Resende’s most recent album, Sons of the Revolution.

Thursday, April 18, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: This evening will mark the beginning of a Joe Henderson Festival, which will run through April 21. Ranzel Merritt is a tenor saxophonist, who will lead a trio with rhythm proved by Eytan Hyman on bass and drummer Rodney Rocques, Jr. The title of the program will be Inner Urge, which was the title of Henderson’s fourth album, recorded for Blue Note in 1964 and released in March of 1966. The program will include Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” as will as Thelonious Monk’s “Isotope.”

Saturday, April 20, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: The second Henderson tribute will be a performance by The Modern Line quartet, led by flutist and composer Lori Bell. The other quartet members are pianist Josh Nelson, Owen Clapp on bass, and drummer Brian Fishler. The quartet will mix their own original compositions with reimagined approaches to music by Henderson, Woody Shaw, and Bill Evans.

Sunday, April 21, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: The Festival will conclude with another saxophonist, Michael Zilber; he will leader a larger band, whose details are not yet available.

Thursday, April 25, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Henderson programs for this week have been prepared for South African Freedom Day Commemoration. The series will begin with a solo performance by South African guitarist Derek Gripper. His program will include his own original compositions and transcriptions of music by West Africa’s greatest masters of the 21-string kora, particularly Mali’s Toumani Diabaté and Ballaké Sissoko. For those unfamiliar with the latter instrument, it is made from a skin-covered calabash with a hardwood neck. Due to the number of strings, an adept performer can improvise flowing melodies accompanied by bass lines and harmonic progressions.

Friday, April 26, and Saturday, April 27, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: South African vocalist and composer Melanie Scholtz will be accompanied at the piano by Aaron Rimbui (who was born in Nairobi). Their program will be a tribute to Miriam Makeba, who was a leading social activist in South African, as well as a vocalist and a songwriter. She was no stranger to the United States; and, when the equal rights movement was at its most intense, she married Stokely Carmichael (which led to her visa being revoked). Scholtz and Rimbul will be joined by other musicians not yet finalized.

Sunday, April 28, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: The Festival will conclude with South African McCoy Mrubata, who plays both saxophone and flute. He was born in Cape Town and is now based in Johannesburg. He will be making his West Coast debut as a leader, but any information about whom he will be leading has not yet been provided.

Some Confusion over the ECM Azimuth Reissue

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

There seems to be some confusion over the latest release in the new ECM Luminessence series, discussed on this site on March 1 and March 3. According to my sources, the first round of releases was scheduled to conclude tomorrow with the reissue of the debut album of the British jazz trio Azimuth with a self-titled album. While this was confirmed on ECM’s own Web page, it seems to be available through an Web page, which claims the album has been available since this past January 19. My past experience suggests that Amazon tends to be not very good about dates, but that Web page appears to be accepting orders. Those that are not particularly obsessed with the new vinyl trend will be happy to know that Amazon also has an MP3 download Web page.

The Azimuth album, which was entitled simply Azimuth, was recorded in March of 1997 and released later that year. The group was far from your usual jazz trio. Pianist John Taylor performed with vocalist Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler on trumpet. The group also worked with looping technology for some of the tracks. For the most part, Taylor provides a “continuo” for “dialogs” between voice and trumpet; and the production crew used overlay technology to turn the solo voice into a polyphonic choir.

The album consists of only six tracks. The longest of these is the title track, which lasts a little more than twelve minutes. The shortest, “Greek Triangle,” comes and goes over the course of only two minutes. Winstone’s voice has dreamy qualities, which make for a sharp contrast to Wheeler’s interjections. Taylor works primarily with electric keyboards, rather than an acoustic instrument.

ECM cultivated a reputation for what might be called a meditative aesthetic in its choices for composers and performers. The initials stood for Edition of Contemporary Music; and its early reputation was for what might be called “adventurous jazz.” Where my own writing has been concerned, I would say that the label is now best known for its recordings of the music of Arvo Pärt, the primary beneficiary of the ECM New Series releases.

On the jazz side, Azimuth is far less adventurous than other ECM jazz musicians I have encountered, such as Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Charlie Haden. For better or worse, my preferences run to the cerebral side. The Azimuth aesthetic may have been trending when the trio released its album; but, as far as I am concerned, it is now part of a past that is best forgotten!

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

March to Conclude with Yet Another Omni Video

This has been a good month for viewing OMNI on-Location videos, created by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts, on a Sunday morning. One was released at the beginning of this month on March 3, followed by a second release on March 24. Late yesterday afternoon it was announced that the month would conclude with one final offering.

Photograph of the church where this Sunday’s video was recorded (courtesy of the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts)

The new video will be a performance by Anton Baranov performing in the Biserica Piaristă church. This was built in the town of Cluj-Napoca in Romania. Construction began in 1718, and the church was consecrated in 1724. The “vintage” of the church will be acknowledge by the first selection on the program, an arrangement of the instrumental interlude from Christoph Willibald Gluck’s best-known opera, Orfeo ed Euridice. The arrangement was prepared by Michael Goldort. This will be followed by “Muzikalnaya tabakerka” (a musical offering), Anatoly Lyadov’s Opus 32, originally composed for solo piano in the key of A major. Sergey Rudnev prepared the arrangement of this music for guitar. The program will then conclude with two short pieces for guitar by Johann Kaspar Mertz, both taken from his Opus 13 Barden-Klänge (bard sounds), “An Malvina” and “Tarantella.”

As most readers will probably expect by now, 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. on Sunday, March 31. 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.

Jazz Hang Records Disappoints Again

Cover of the album being discussed (from the Jazz Hang Records Web site)

Those reading this site yesterday are probably aware of my discontent with Jazz Hang Records for its release of the vocal album Bob Anderson LIVE!  This morning I decided to give the label a second chance, checking out another vocal album. This one was The Gal That Got Away, a compilation of past recordings by vocalist Jack Wood with a “guest appearance” of the Australian jazz singer Nichaud Fitzgibbon on two of the tracks. Once again, the album (this time of twelve tracks) is available from download from (through the above hyperlink); and the CD is scheduled for release on Friday.

So as not to be entirely negative, I have to say that there were a few imaginative riffs from some of the instrumentalists. The guitar work for “Secret Love,” performed (presumably) by Doug MacDonald. made me sit up and take notice. The same can be said about the alto saxophone work by Greg Floor; and, on several of the tracks, the two made for a dynamic duo worthy of forming their own combo. There were also a few gratifying moments provided by the Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra. All of those swallows could make for an inspiring spring if they did not have to contend with providing backup for mediocre vocal work.

If this is the complaint of a “grumpy old man,” then so be it. The fact is that I treasure every track I have of Ella Fitzgerald. Granted, she set a very high bar. However, I have little tolerance for any vocalist that cannot at least aspire to that height!

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

A New Ensemble for Jewish Music

Next month will see the launch of a new concert series entitled JIVE - Jewish Innovative Voices & Experiences. This project was conceived by pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg, countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, and baritone Simon Barrad. As described on its first Eventbrite event page, programs will be prepared to present “new perspectives, new works and arrangements … representing the rich and diverse Jewish musical traditions [to] bring together the themes of freedom, bondage, and resilience.”

Performers for the first JIVE performance (clockwise from upper right): Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Ronny Michael Greenberg, Elizabeth Castro Greenberg, Simon Barrad (courtesy of JIVE)

The first program to be presented will be entitled Dayenu: A Passover Celebration, anticipating the beginning of the holiday on April 22. There will be two further programs in the 2024 season, one for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the other for Hanukkah. All three of the founders will contribute to the first performance, joined by violinist Elizabeth Castro Greenberg.

The performance of that first program will take place on Tuesday, April 9, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The venue will be The Century Club of California, which is located at 1355 Franklin Street, between Post Street and Sutter Street. General admission will be $100. However, for parties of four or more, admission will be $75 per person. Those aged 30 and under may purchase tickets for $65. Tickets may be purchased through an Eventbrite event page.

A Time Machine Trip Not Worth Taking

Cover of the album being discussed (from the Jazz Hang Records Web site)

Jazz Hang Records recently produced an album entitled Bob Anderson LIVE!, a sixteen-track compilation  of live performances by the vocalist in New York City, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Hollywood, and Boston. All sixteen tracks are currently available for download from an Web page. The CD is scheduled for release this coming Friday, at which time the Web page will be updated with an appropriate hyperlink.

With the exception of Anderson’s own opening track, “So Much Music in Me,” the album is a time machine that transports the listener through fifteen iconic songs from the twentieth century. Having lived in a little more than half of that, almost all of those songs were familiar to me as I listened to the album. Where the ones that were not familiar were concerned, the style still rang true.

Anderson’s delivery, however, is another matter. There is never any faulting in his diction. However, his approach to expression tends to come across as tedious. It is almost as if he is trying to prompt memories from a sympathetic audience without endowing those memories with any signification. Put another way, this is the sort of performance one might expect at a night club where familiar music is expected and appreciated, as long as it does not interfere with the food, the drinks, and the conversation. Take away the setting, and there is little motivation to focus attention on the recording.

Perhaps Anderson leaves a stronger impression when one is in his presence.

Monday, March 25, 2024

The Bleeding Edge: 3/25/2024

Once again, most of this week’s activities have already been reported. As readers will see, the first of those entries was a bit of a surprise:

  • “Bleeding edge” saxophonist Kasey Knudsen will be playing at Mr. Tipple’s Jazz Club on Wednesday.
  • Wednesday will also see the final Outsound Presents concert of this month, a third (bonus) LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) New Music Series event.
  • The Lab will be presenting performances on both Thursday and Saturday.
  • Audium will continue its NEW VOICES III performances on Friday and Saturday.

What remains to be reported is relatively modest.

Tuesday, March 26, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares: The animals and giraffes ensemble was launched by composer Phillip Greenlief and writer Claudia La Rocco in 2013. Medicine for Nightmares will host a release party for their latest album on Evander Music, live@medicine for nightmares. Festivities will include performances by oboist Kyle Bruckmann and experimental sound artist Alexandra Buschman-Román, both of whom contributed to the album. Special guests, also associated with animals and giraffes, will include Chris Cooper, Tom Djll, Danishta Rivero, and Zachary James Watkins. (Readers uncertain about what to expect may wish to consult the report on this site about brittle feebling, an album released in 2020 of quartet improvisations by Bruckmann and Djll joined by Jacob Felix Heule and Kanoko Nishi-Smith.) 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.

Poster for Adobe Books Improv Night (from the BayImproviser Web page for the event being discussed)

Thursday, March 28, 8 p.m., Adobe Books: As readers will see from the above poster, this evening will be the latest installment of Adobe Books Improv Night. This involves improvising among a wide diversity of media. However, because music is included among those media, it seemed appropriate for acknowledgement on this site!

Friday, March 29, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares: This is the usual weekly gig presented by David Boyce. This week he will host the duo of cellist Ben Davis and Nishi-Smith, who will probably be bringing her koto, since a piano may not be available. As was the case on Tuesday (above), there will be no charge for admission.

SFS: Ray Chen’s Great Performers Recital

Last night in Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) continued its Great Performers Series with a recital by violinist Ray Chen, accompanied at the piano by Julio Elizalde. Chen is no stranger to Davies, having been a Shenson Young Artist in 2018 after having made his SFS debut in January of 2011. (The duo also made its San Francisco Performances debut at the Gift Concert in March of 2014.) As an indicator of how long I have been at this present gig, I remember first seeing Elizalde as a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; and now he is a member of the faculty!

The program that Chen prepared was an unabashed nod to the violinist Jascha Heifetz.  Four of the works on the program (and one of the three encores) can be found in The Heifetz Collection, the 46-volume account of the recordings the violinist made for RCA Victor. (Several of those volumes have multiple CDs.) What was important about last night, however, was that none of Chen’s performances reflected Heifetz’ approach to interpretation. Where my own listening experiences are concerned, each was an engagingly fresh take on many of my favorite encounters with recordings.

The program began with the one selection that was not in the RCA collection, Giuseppe Tartini’s GT 2.g05 violin sonata in G minor. To be more accurate, however, Chen played Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of that sonata, which included realizing the figured bass into a piano accompaniment and adding a cadenza of his own that pretty much overshadowed everything that Tartini had composed. Chen gave that cadenza all of the attention that Kreisler would have desired. By the time that passage had run its course, it was clear that he had everyone in the audience on the edge of their respective seats!

Having firmly seized attention, Chen and Elizalde were ready to proceed with their Beethoven offering, the second of the three Opus 30 sonatas, composed in the key of C minor (the only minor-key work in the set). Chen introduced this piece by stressing how it contrasted with the other two Opus 30 compositions, making the case that this was Beethoven at his most expressive. Sure enough, the performance itself disclosed the full extent of that expressiveness. Indeed, one could say that the expressiveness emerged from the acute attention to every single note given by both of the performers, resulting an an interpretation that made for edge-of-your-seat attentive listening.

After the intermission Chen took the stage alone to cultivate further attentive listening from his approach to Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1006 solo violin partita in E major. Among the six works in BWV 1001–1006, accounting for three sonatas and three partitas, this last tends to be the most familiar, particularly for its energetic opening Preludio and the thoroughly dance-like Gavotte en Rondeau. I also noted that, in the two Menuetto movements, there was no da capo structure, returning to the first after playing the second. This may not have been a “historically-informed” account of Bach’s music; but, as contemporary perspectives go, Chen found just the right dispositional stances to take for each of the partita’s movements.

Chen then chatted a bit about how the program could be conceived as a “menu” of sorts, with Bach being the “main course.” That was his way of introducing the remainder of the program as a series of desserts! This began with two favorites in the Heifetz canon. The first of these was Antonio Bazzini’s finger-busting “La Ronde des Lutins” (the dance of the goblins), captured by RCA during Heifetz’ first recording session on December 19, 1917. This was followed by the second of the “Slavonic Dances” in Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 72 collection (another early Heifetz recording).

Chen and Elizalde then took a “great leap forward” into the twentieth century. They concluded the program with their own arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Spain,” which he had composed in 1971. This took Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” as a point of departure and then unfolded its own set of samba riffs. For my own listening, this provided an excellent complement to the Spanish guitar music I had experienced on Saturday evening!

Julio Elizalde and Ray Chen playing “A Evaristo Carriego” (screen shot from their YouTube video)

The audience was so enthusiastic that they would not leave until three encores had been taken. The first of these was “A Evaristo Carriego,” a tango, which Chen and Elizalde recorded for a YouTube video. The second was not announced; but my guess is that it was the eleventh piece in Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances collection (the first in the third book). The final encore returned to early Heifetz with the performance of Manuel Ponce’s “Estrellita.” Taken as a whole, this made for an evening that was definitely “one for the books!”

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Choices for April 5–7, 2024

As was the case for the first two weekends of this month, next month will begin with another weekend for which serious choices will have to be made. This time there will be one account of a series with a second offering later in the month. Specifics are as follows:

Friday, April 5, and Saturday, April 6, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, April 6, and Sunday, April 7, 2 p.m., Miner Auditorium, SFJAZZ Center: Opera Parallèle has prepared a program for its fourteenth anniversary season entitled Birds & Balls. This will be a pairing of two one-act operas based on sportsmanship, competition, and gender equality. “Vikensport, or The Finch Opera” was commissioned by soprano Dawn Upshaw in 2010 for the Graduate Vocal Arts Program at the Bard Conservatory of Music. It is based on a Flemish folk sport of “Finch-sitting,” where the winning contestant is the one with the most melodious bird. David Little is the composer of this “chamber opera with wings,” working with librettist Royce Vavrek. “Balls” is similarly based on an actual sport. This time, however, the sport is more familiar; and the libretto is about one of the more notorious “battle of the sexes” that took place in the last century, the tennis game between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

Ticket prices for Friday and Sunday will be between $40 and $185. The Friday tickets are subject to an SFJAZZ Member Discount and are almost sold out. Ticket prices for both Saturday performances are between $30 and $175. The SFJAZZ Center is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street.

Friday, April 5, 7:30 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), Barbro Osher Recital Hall, 7:30 p.m.: The title of the next program to be presented by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT) will be entitled Expression: Ism. E4TT musicians Nanette McGuinness (soprano and co-founder) and Dale Tsang (pianist) will be joined by an impressive diversity of guests: Elizabeth Hall (vibraphone), Laura Reynolds (cor anglais), Lylia Guion (violin), Amy Brodo (cello), and Taylor Chan (piano). The title is a reflection on the three Second Viennese School Composers, Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils Alban Berg and Anton Webern.

Schoenberg will be represented by the first and third of his three Opus 11 piano compositions. The seven Early Songs composed by Berg during his studies under Schoenberg will be given a chamber arrangement for soprano, cor anglais, cello, and vibraphone by TJ Martin. The Webern selection will be his 1906 (also under Schoenberg’s tutelage) composition of a rondo sonata movement for piano. The more recent works will be the “Olive Garden” movement from Adam Schoenberg’s Picture Etudes, the winning piece from the SFCM Technology and Applied Composition Department composition competition, the second piano trio by E4TT co-founder David Garner, and Valerie Liu’s “Mystic Trio,” scored for cor anglais, cello, and piano.

As is the case for most SFCM events, there will be no charge for admission; and this performance will be live-streamed. A Web page has been created for both reserving seats and connecting to the livestream. The performance will take place on the top floor of the Bowes Center building, which is at 200 Van Ness Avenue.

Friday, April 5, 8 p.m., The Lab: The month will begin with a two-set offering. Patricia Wolf is based in Portland, Oregon. She complements her efforts as a musician with both field recordings and sound designs. Her approach to composition is minimalist, and she integrates the natural sounds of ecological sources. Alexandra Spence is also a sound artist, as well as a musician. Her sources include field recordings, analog technologies, and object interventions. Her objective is to achieve “a kind of communion or conversation” with the surrounding environment. Admission will be $17 for all, and tickets may be purchased through the event page. The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street, a short walk east from the intersection with Mission Street, which serves both BART and both north-south and east-west Muni buses.

As of this writing, there is only one other music event taking place this month at The Lab. [added 4/8, 8:23 a.m.: There will also be an event on Friday, April 12. Access: Untitled will be a program of interactions of sound and images curated by Artists Television Access, also beginning at 8 p.m.] It will be at the same time on Saturday, April 13. Specifics are as follows:

Arnold Dreyblatt is one of the second generation of minimal composers based in New York. He studied music with Pauline Oliveros, La Monte Young, and Alvin Lucier. He also learned about media from Woody and Steina Vasulka. He will perform two recent works, both of which will last for roughly half an hour.

“Transmission” was completed in 2021 and uses his own tuning system. He plays an amplified upright bass prepared with music wire and mechanical transducers, He also engages software for real-time audio processing. “Nodal Excitation” was completed in 2022 after about three years of effort. This one requires an upright electric bass and involves the exploration of the higher (as in more remote) overtones. Admission will again be $17, purchased through the event page.

Saturday, April 6, 7:30 p.m., Monument SF, and Sunday, April 7, 3 p.m., Century Club of California: Ian Scarfe, Director of the Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival, will bring his musicians for two performances of the same program in San Francisco. The highlight of the program will be the suite that Aaron Copland extracted from the music he composed for Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring.” This will be performed with the original score for an ensemble of thirteen instruments. This will be followed by a new work for the same instrumentation composed by Sam Reider. All further specifics are being managed by Groupmuse, which has created separate Web pages for the Saturday and Sunday performances.

Two of the members of Nancy Karp + Dancers (from the City Box Office Web page for next month’s performance)

Saturday, April 6, 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 7, 3 p.m., Taube Atrium Theater: This will be the first event in the 2024 Season of Nancy Karp + Dancers. There will be two works on the program, the first of which will be a premiere. The title of the premiere will be “Eppur si muove,” which is supposedly what Galileo Galilei muttered after he was forced to recant his claim that the Earth moves around the Sun. (The loose translation is “Nevertheless, it moves!”)  For this work Samuel Adams has prepared an extended version of his “Sundial” composition, scored for string quartet and percussion. Percussionist Haruka Fujii will perform with the members of the Friction Quartet, violinists Otis Harriel and Kevin Rogers, Mitso Floor on viola, and cellist Doug Machiz.

The second offering will be the reprise of “fly through the night, and land near dawn.” The music brings together three works composed by David A. Jaffe and scored for violin, cello, mandolin, and mando-cello. Jaffe himself will perform the latter two instruments, joined by two of the Friction Quartet members.

The run time for this concert is expected to be one and a quarter hours. Tickets for both performances may be purchased through a single City Box Office Web page at prices between $30 and $60. The theater is located on the top floor of the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center at 401 Van Ness Avenue. This is on the northwest corner of McAllister Street with convenient north-south and east-west bus transportation.

Sunday, April 7, 4 p.m., Chez Hanny: This will be the first of the two jazz performances to be presented next month. The program will feature jazz violinist Jeremy Cohen. He will lead a quartet, whose other members will be pianist Larry Dunlap, drummer David Rokeach, and Jim Kerwin on bass.

The venue is Frank 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, April 7, 7:30 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: The Academy of St Martin in the Fields will return, led, once again, by Joshua Bell. He will also be the concerto soloist in a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s E minor concerto. The symphony for this overture-concerto-symphony program will be Robert Schumann’s Opus 61, the second of his four symphonies. The overture will be “Flight of Moving Days” by jazz composer and arranger Vince Mendoza, which was commissioned to mark the centenary of the founding of the ensemble by Sir Neville Marriner. Ticket prices range from $125 to $399, and a Web page has been created for online purchases. Davies is located on MTT Way (formerly Grove Street) between Franklin Street and Van Ness Avenue.

David Russell’s Omni Recital for This Year

Thanks to the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts, guitarist David Russell has been a regular (if not annual) visitor to San Francisco. I do my best to keep up with these performances, because each one inevitably leads me down a new journey of discovery (if not several of them). The major work on last night’s program, performed at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, was a collection of pieces compiled by Federico Moreno Torroba compiled under the title Castillos de España (castles of Spain).

I first became aware of this music through an Andrés Segovia album, where it was the third of three selections and the only one for solo guitar. (The other two were performed with the Symphony of the Air conducted by Enrique Jordá: the “Fantasia para un gentilhombre” by Joaquín Rodrigo and the “Concierto del Sur” by Manuel Ponce.) What I only recently learned was that Torroba’s collection was only the first of two volumes. Segovia had recorded the first volume shortly before it was published in 1970. This consisted of eight “reflections” on Spanish castles, and six more would be composed for a second volume in 1978.

Russell observed that there is no castle associated with the “Redaba” movement in that second volume! He said little more by way of background other than observing that the castle in Zafra (one of the locations found in the second volume) was used in the filming of Game of Thrones! In addition, he provided his own ordering of the movements, interleaving the selections from the two volumes as seemed appropriate. Thus, to some extent, the overall performance was a journey of dispositions, reflecting different aspects in the different castles being reflected.

The other major structural element in the program was the coupling of two sonatas from the Baroque period, both originally composed for flute and continuo. Russell provided his own transcriptions of both of these selections. The one in the first half of the program was taken from Benedetto Marcello’s Opus 2, a collection of twelve sonatas. Unfortunately, neither the number of that sonata nor its key was announced. When it came to Johann Sebastian Bach, in the second half of the program, Russell was more specific: BWV 1034 (which is in the key of E minor). Both of the transcriptions were faithful to their sources and to their rhetorical foundations.

The one living composer represented on the program was Francis Kleynjans. He had dedicated his “Arabesque en forme de Caprice” to Russell, who performed it along with two short barcaroles by the same composer. The overall program, however, was framed in the nineteenth century, beginning with José Brocá’s “Pensamiento Español” and concluding with the “Gran Jota” by Francisco Tárrega.

Naturally, the audience would not let Russell leave without an encore. He introduced it by observing that, while he now lives in Spain, he was born in Scotland. He therefore chose a traditional Scottish tune, whose title was not particularly clear to me. (All I grasped was that it was the Scottish version of “The Irish Washerwoman.”) Details aside, the spirit was enough to send us on our way outside, where, fortunately, the rain had ceased!

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Mr. Tipple’s: Remainder of March, 2024

Some readers may have observed by now that, when it comes to attending jazz performances, my preferences tend towards Mr. Tipple’s Jazz Club, rather than SFJAZZ. Mr. Tipple’s is located at 39 Fell Street, on the south side of the street between Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street. Reservations for admission may be made through the OpenTable Web page for the venue. Both food and drink are available and may be purchased separately. Unfortunately, reservations are somewhat limited for tonight. However, here is the information for the events taking place for the remainder of this month.

Saturday, March 23, 6 p.m.: Vocalist Chloe Jean, whose is based in Mill Valley, will sing with a quintet led by guitarist Ray Obiedo. The other instrumentalists will be pianist Peter Horvath, Dan Feiszil on bass, drummer Phil Hawkins, and Jon Bendich accounting for other percussion instruments. The repertoire will probably included tracks from Fairy Tale Fail, Jean’s first jazz album, which was produced by Obiedo.

Wednesday, March 27, 7 p.m.: Saxophonist Kasey Knudsen is based in San Francisco. She is also a composer and educator. Some readers may recall that at least some of her performances may be classified as “bleeding edge,” such as her appearance this past Tuesday at the Make-Out Room. In the absence of any additional information from Mr. Tipple’s, there is the possibility that her performance will be a solo.

Wednesday March 27, 8:30 p.m.: The title of Knudsen’s second set will be Trading Fours. This promises to be a lively jam session. However, specifics about the House Band group that will improvise with her have not yet been provided.

Thursday, March 28, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: Vocalist Emily Day will lead her combo known as the Cosmo Alleycats. According to their Web page, this group is a sextet. However, as of this writing, it is unclear how many of those members will be joining her.

Friday, March 29, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: The Cottontails is an eclectic group, whose repertoire reaches back to the Roaring Twenties and advances into vintage R&B from the Fifties and Sixties. The members of the group are Karina Denike on vocals, Michael McIntosh on piano, Vic Wong on guitar, Joe Kyle, Jr. on bass, Tom Griesser on saxophone and clarinet, and Randy Odell on percussion. They also have a “corps” of guest artists, which includes Scott Larson on trombone, Henry Hung on trumpet, Ari Munkres on bass, and vocalist Christie Winn.

Friday, March 29, 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.: Vocalist Amanda Magana will lead a quintet, whose other four members have not yet been finalized. Her genres include soul, jazz, and Latin. In that last category, she is also a skilled percussionist, performing with other bands when her services are required.

Saturday, March 30, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: The Brazil Project is the title of the program that will be presented by vocalist Holly Pyle. Those that follow this site regularly will probably know what to expect! She will be accompanied by Dmitri Matheny on flugelhorn, pianist Matt Clark, Geoff Brennan on bass, and drummer Deszon X. Claiborne.

Saturday, March 30, 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.: Peace, Luv and Treble is a band of Bay Area musicians led by vocalist Shamilah Ivory.The band mixes covers and original music from several genres, with an emphasis on neo-soul, R&B, and hip-hop. Ivory contributed at least some of the original music.

OM Celebrates Dennis Russell Davies at 80

Conductor and pianist Dennis Russell Davies was born on April 16, 1944, meaning that next month he will celebrate his 80th birthday. Last night Other Minds (OM) decided to begin the celebration early with a piano recital in the Mission. The performers were Davies and his wife Maki Namekawa. The program was framed by four-hand arrangements of the first two of the six symphonic poems collected by Bedřich Smetana under the title Má vlast (my fatherland). At the center of the program, Namekawa selected four of Philip Glass’ piano études, having previously recorded all twenty of them for Orange Mountain Music. On either side of that center, Davies performed music by Laurie Anderson (“Bob & Bill”) and selections from John Cage’s “The Seasons” in his own piano transcription of the orchestral score he composed for a ballet by Merce Cunningham.

This all made for a highly satisfying evening, even if the piano itself was not quite up to snuff. Davies made it a point to observe that the four-hand arrangements of the Má vlast selections were written by the composer himself. The first selection “Vyšehrad” takes its title from the castle in Prague on the Vitava River that is known as “The High Castle.” The second selection was “Vitava;” and it is better known by its English title, “The Moldau” (which is the German name of the river). Smetana endowed both of these selections with rich orchestral instrumentation. The keyboard version, on the other hand, brings attention to the polyphonic “spinal cord,” which is then “fleshed out” by orchestration. The attentive listener is in a better position to appreciate how thematic material is introduced and then elaborated, and last night’s performances definitely had that attentive listener in mind!

Davies’ performance of Cage basically accounted for the first half of the entire score. Those were the Indian perspectives on winter (quiescence) and spring (creation), each of which began with a prelude. The music itself would subsequently become a point of departure for Cage’s only string quartet (performed here one week ago by the Calder Quartet), which reconceived not only the music itself but also the ordering of the season movements. This was an early (1947) Cage composition, while “Bob & Bill” was one of Anderson’s more “mature” works. The latter was clearly a very personal work; but, in the absence of much knowledge of those personalities, the music had little impact on my own listening experience.

Glass composed twenty études in two books of ten each. Namekawa played two études from each of the two books, beginning with the third and seventh in the first book. This was followed by the first and last études in the second book, numbered eleven and twenty. Glass’ own observations suggest that these were very personal undertakings. Nevertheless, like the many études of the past, what matters most is focused execution. Namekawa’s presentation last night definitely reflected the qualities of her recording; but there was also a sense of personality behind the music, which can only be appreciated in the immediacy of the performance itself.

Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russell Davies (from the Other Minds program book, photograph by David Magnusson)

On a more personal note, I have to say that, in the photograph of Namekawa and Davies at the keyboard in the program book (shown above), Davies bore a striking resemblance to my doctoral thesis advisor Marvin Minsky. While Minsky is best known as one of the “founding fathers” of artificial intelligence, he was also a serious music student; and at least one of his compositions was performed in recital. I owe bassist Shinji Eshima considerable thanks for providing me with the program for that performance (at which Eshima’s music was also performed). Mind you, I doubt that Davies was ever mistaken for Minsky over the course of his career as either a pianist or a conductor!

Friday, March 22, 2024

Radha Thomas: A Disappointing Vocalist

Cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Powderfinger Promo)

One week ago, Indian jazz vocalist Radha Thomas released a new album entitled As I Sing, which is currently available through only for MP3 download. There are ten tracks with a heavy bias towards standards. On all of those tracks Thomas is accompanied only by a single guitar. However, four guitarists have contributed to the recording sessions: Reg Schwager, Pete McCann, Paul Meyers, and Tom Dempsey.

I am not familiar with any of those guitarists; but I have no trouble declaring that, collectively, they constitute the only reason for listening to this album. Thomas’ sense of pitch is so off-base that it almost makes me think that she took her vocal lessons from the late Darlene Edwards. (Those unfamiliar with that name would do well to consult the Wikipedia page that she shares with her husband Jonathan.)

Back in the days when I was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I learned that, regardless of the career we pursued, we would inevitably have to review papers submitted for publication or for presentation at a conference. One of my colleagues was notorious for one of his one-sentence reviews: “This paper fills a well-needed gap!” Listening to As I Sing reminded me of that sentence and how relevant it could be, even beyond the boundaries of engineering and science.

Outsound Presents: April, 2024

After the addition of a third LSG (Luggage Store Gallery) New Music Series event to conclude the current month this coming Wednesday, Outsound Presents will return to its usual three-concert schedule for next month. As regular 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. The SIMM Series concerts take place at the Musicians Union, located in SoMa at 116 9th Street. Admission is again on a sliding scale, this time between $10 and $25. Program specifics are as follows:

Wednesday, April 3, 8 p.m.: The first LSG concert will again consist of two sets, each somewhat less than an hour in duration. The first set will be taken by Wall of Fog, which is a quartet whose “foggy” sonorities include two basses played by Ned Doherty and Peter Schmitt. They will be joined by guitarist JC O’Donnell and Dave Brandt on percussion. The second set will be led by composer and improviser Matt Robidoux. Their primary instrument is the corn synth (kinetically operated randomness system [k.o.r.n.]), a modular architecture that interprets physical input from two "ears of corn,” which are sculptures cast in aluminum. Rent Romus will contribute to the performance with his usual array of saxophones and flutes. In addition, a film by Lori Varga will be projected.

Wednesday, April 17, 8 p.m.: The first set will be led by interdisciplinary artist Sholeh Asgary, whose primary medium for performance is her own voice. This will be a duo performance with Asgary joined by Jon Carr, who works with electronic gear. The second set will be performed by the DADALOGY trio of saxophonist Kat Eliot, Guinevere Q on bass, and drummer J Young Sun. The resulting improvisations will be inspired by Wayne Shorter, Radiohead, Näkki, and Janelle Monae.

Sunday, April 21, 7:30 p.m.: SIMM Series will present a Jim Ryan Memorial Concert. Romus will again be one of the performers, joined by Scott R Looney and members of Forward Energy. Further information will be forthcoming.

Tenor Ilker Arcayürek Returns to SFP

 Tenor Ilker Arcayürek (photograph by Janina Laszlo, courtesy of SFP)

Last night in Herbst Theatre, Turkish-born Austrian tenor Ilker Arcayürek returned to give his second recital for San Francisco Performances (SFP). He made his debut through the Discovery Series, which had been planned to present “artists who already have their feet firmly planted along the trail of auspicious music careers.” SFP presented three of these recitals between December of 2018 and May of 2019. (Arcayürek was preceded by the Telegraph Quartet, which is based here in San Francisco, and followed by Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi.)

Arcayürek’s debut recital consisted entirely of Franz Schubert’s D. 911 song cycle Winterreise (winter journey). He was accompanied by British pianist Simon Lepper, who was also making his San Francisco debut. Last night he returned with Arcayürek for another all-Schubert program. This time, however, Arcayürek provided his own title for the program: The Path of Life. The program was structured as five “chapters,” given the titles “Love,” “Longing,” “The Quest for Inner Peace,” “Resignation,” and “Redemption.” The intermission was placed between the second and third of these chapters. Most of the selections were relatively short; but the final chapter was devoted entirely to the lengthier D. 933 “Des Fischers Liebesglück” (the fisherman’s happiness in love).

Taken as a whole, this was a thoroughly engaging journey. Arcayürek brought clarity to each of his selections, and his delivery consistently led the attentive listener down the underlying semantics of each of the texts. The interplay between vocalist and accompanist could not have been better, and the dynamic range fit into the Herbst acoustics like a well-crafted glove. There was only a single encore, concluding the evening with one more Schubert song, his D. 827 “Nacht und Träume” (night and dreams).

Most important was that the expressiveness of both vocalist and accompanist conveyed a clear sense of a journey based on how the selections were organized. This was decidedly not a one-thing-after-another affair. The presentation of that a journey made it well worth taking, and even the encore was conceived as a coda to that journey. I left Herbst wondering what Arcayürek’s next project would be!

Thursday, March 21, 2024

SFB will Revisit Three Next@90 Ballets

Parker Garrison (rear) and Myles Thatcher in “MADCAP” (© RJ Muna for San Francisco Ballet)

The San Francisco Ballet will begin next month with a program of encore performances of three of the works given world premiere performances last season during the next@90 festival. One of those offerings will be Yuri Possokhov’s “Violin Concerto.” He described his effort as bring “fresh eyes” to George Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto;” and I came away from seeing this new work performed in January of last year with nothing but positive feelings about the choreographer’s distinctive merits. Next month’s program will also include one of the other ballets premiered on that January program, Nicolas Blanc’s “Gateway to the Sun.” The third work on the program will be Danielle Rowe’s “MADCAP,” setting carnival-inspired music by Pär Hagström orchestrated by Philip Feeney.

Like the other program that will be presented this month, this “revival” program will be given seven performances with dates and times as follows:

  • Tuesday, April 2, 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 3, 7:30 p.m.
  • Friday, April 5, 7:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, April 7, 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 11, 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 12, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The Next Omni Video: Filippos Manoloudis

Title frame for the Filippos Manoloudis video (from its YouTube Web page)

The next OMNI on-Location video will be released by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts this coming Sunday. Unlike last Sunday’s release, which consisted of a single relatively short composition, this will be a program of three selections. That program will be performed by Filippos Manoloudis; and it was filmed in Frankfurt, Germany, at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Frankfurt am Main, which was founded in 1878 by the banker (and music patron) Dr. Joseph Hoch.

Manoloudis will begin his program with seven of the movements from 44 Children’s Pieces on Greek Melodies by Ioannis Constantinidis (who composed popular music under the name Kostas Giannidis), arranged for guitar by Fotis Koutsothodoros. This will be followed by the three guitar compositions by Tōru Takemitsu collected under the title Folios. The program will conclude with Valses poéticos, a collection of eight waltzes for piano, which Manoloudis arranged for himself. The entire video will run for about 35 minutes.

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 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 24. There is no charge for admission, which means that these performances are made possible only by the viewers’ donations. A Web page has been created for processing contributions, and any visits made prior to the streaming itself will be most welcome.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Schwabacher Recitals to Conclude with Mezzo

Mezzo Samantha Hankey (courtesy of San Francisco Opera)

This year’s annual Schwabacher Recital Series began with mezzo and Merola Opera Program alumna Simona Genga. In a sort of nod to symmetry, the series will conclude with a solo recital by another mezzo, Samantha Hankey, who will be accompanied at the piano by Carrie-Ann Matheson. The program has been somewhat updated since it was first announced. The “core” of the program will still be Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Opus 13 settings of six poems by Maurice Maeterlinck; and the program will still conclude with three selections from musicals performed on Broadway, the first by Cole Porter and the other two by Kurt Weill. The program will now begin with Claude Debussy’s song cycle Trois chansons de Bilitis (three Songs of Bilitis), setting texts from Pierre Louÿs’ collection of erotic poetry entitled (in English) The Songs of Bilitis. This will be followed by selections from Manuel de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas (seven Spanish folksongs).

The performance will take place on Wednesday, April 3, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Like the previous two recitals, it will be held in the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater. As most readers probably know by now, this 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. 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.