Tuesday, April 30, 2024

SFO: The Spring Operas of the 101st Season

This month will conclude with the remaining three operas scheduled for the 101st season of the San Francisco Opera. As in the past, this site will provide previews for each of these operas in individual articles. However, this article will provide the “nuts and bolts” summary accounting for composers, opera titles, and date-and-time summaries of the performances as follows:

  1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Magic Flute: 7:30 p.m. on May 30 and June 4, 8, 14, 20, 22, and 26, and 2 p.m. on June 2 and 30
  2. Kaija Saariaho, Innocence: 7:30 p.m. on June 1, 7, 12, 18, and 21, and 2 p.m. on June 16
  3. George Frideric Handel, Partenope: 7:30 p.m. on June 15, 19, 25, and 28, and 2 p.m. on June 23

Information about plot and casting will follow soon on an article-by-article basis.

Simon Rattle in Berlin: 20th Century France

The account by Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic of twentieth-century music by French composers is decidedly shorter than the collections for Gustav Mahler and the “Schoenberg-Stravinsky axis.” There are, of course, the “usual expected suspects,” Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, each represented by the entirety of a single CD. Only one other CD remains, which consists of a single composition by Olivier Messiaen.

The Debussy CD begins with two of his own “usual suspects.” The first of these is the “Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune” with the flute solo taken by Emmanuel Pahud; and it is followed by his La mer (the sea), which the composer described as “three symphonic sketches.” The remainder of the CD is devoted to orchestral versions of piano music. The first of these is the score for the ballet “La boîte à joujoux” (the toy-box), whose piano score was orchestrated by André Caplet. The remaining three tracks presented three of the piano preludes in orchestrations by Colin Matthews. I must confess that I was particularly drawn to “La boîte à joujoux,” simply because I was so unfamiliar with it; and it did not take long for listening to emerge as a what-have-I-been-missing event.

Marie-Therese Gauley in her costume for the title role of “L'enfant et les sortilèges” (photograph by Henri Manuel, public domain in France, from Wikimedia Commons)

The Ravel disc begins with the complete performance of the one-act opera “L'enfant et les sortilèges” (the child and the spells), setting a libretto written by Colette. The whole affair is shamelessly silly, which is probably why I find it irresistible! Since this was a studio recording, multiple roles were taken by all but one of the vocalists. As readers might guess, that “one” was mezzo Magdalena Kožená (Lady Rattle), singing the title role! I have had many encounters with this music; and it always leaves me with a smile (along with a few belly-laughs as the plot unfolds). Rattle’s account definitely allowed the music to stand up on its own without staging. It was then followed by the orchestral version of the Ma mère l'Oye suite, which had originated as a piano duet performed by six-year-old Mimi Godebski and her seven-year-old brother Jean. Having performed that four-hand version with one of my neighbors, I am a sucker for any opportunity to revisit the music!

The Messiaen selection is one of his massive undertakings inspired by the New Testament. The Wikipedia page for “Éclairs sur l’Au-Delà…” translated the title as “lightning over the beyond.” However an entire paragraph is devoted to explaining both the denotations and connotations of the title. This is one of those compositions inspired by the New Testament Book of Revelation, which may well be the deepest dive into imaginary rhetoric to be found in any sacred writings.

I must confess that, when I listen to Messiaen, I rarely commit myself to teasing out all of those denotations and connotations in either the music or the text that inspired that music. I am content to “go along for the ride,” and I am seldom disappointed. Rattle’s recording (which was also included in the Warner Messiaen anthology) was a teasing reminder that I should take that ride more often.

Monday, April 29, 2024

The Bleeding Edge: 4/29/2024

This will be a busy week. However, much of it has been included in the “busy weekend” article for May 3–5, including the addition of one more event at the very end of that weekend. In addition, there have already been articles that account the entire new month for both Outsound Presents and the Center for New Music. As a result, this is the first time that all of the events to be considered this week have been accounted for by hyperlinks! 

A Pair of (Sort of) Singing Trumpeters

This month saw the celebration of Record Store Day on April 20. As most readers might guess, I spent the evening at a recital, rather than with my album collection. Nevertheless, a generous number of “historically significant” jazz albums were reissued for the occasion. Now that they have made it to the head of my queue, I feel it appropriate to deal with them on a one-by-one basis.

Chet Baker and Jack Sheldon on the cover of the album being discussed

I shall begin with the Jazz Detective album entitled In Perfect Harmony: The Lost Album. The source of that album was a collection of studio performances recorded in 1972, which was shared by two West Coast trumpet icons, Chet Baker and Jack Sheldon. Both of them also provided vocals, and I suppose the polite way of putting it is that each one had his own unique approach to vocalizing. For the record, as they say, I have had enough exposure to get used to Baker’s voice; but I am not as sympathetic to Sheldon’s efforts!

The album has ten tracks; and rhythm is provided by the quartet of pianist David Frishberg, Joe Mondragon on bass, drummer Nick Ceroli, and Jack Marshall on guitar. For the most part, the vocals prevail over the instrumental work; but, as many readers know by now, I am always a sucker for following the bass line, even when the bass player does not venture into any extended improvisations. I was also drawn to Frishberg’s work, both in the background and on the occasions in which he took the foreground. Unless I am mistaken, this was my first contact with Sheldon; and, while I appreciated some of his stylistic turns, it is unlikely that I shall be actively pursuing any of his other recordings.

Baker’s history, on the other hand, was a variable one (to be polite about it). In reviewing my archives, I discovered that my collection includes two of his Pacific Jazz releases, the quartet album with Russ Freeman, recorded in Los Angeles in 1953, followed by Picture of Heath, six tracks recorded at a single session on October 31, 1956, also in Los Angeles. There are then two additions to my collection from recordings made in Europe, Early Chet, a “lost tapes” anthology of sessions in Germany between 1955 and 1959, and Blue Room, compiled from a series of sessions at the Vara Studio in Holland in 1979.

I must confess to one bit of frustration. While I had no trouble distinguishing the vocalizations of the two leaders, I was never quite sure who was taking which of the trumpet solos! It would not surprise me if those details were never documented (or if any documentation made at the time was subsequently lost). As a result, while the tracks on this album are, for the most part, engaging, I am more likely to return to the other Baker albums in my collection, if only for my personal obsession with specifics!

Pocket Opera’s Staging of Janáček’s Vixen

The monument for Sharp Ears erected in Janáček’s home town of Hukvaldy (photograph by Kazuo Ikeda, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, from Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday afternoon at the Legion of Honor, Pocket Opera presented the San Francisco performance of the latest installment in its 2024 season, Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen. This opera, which explores the parallels between human nature and forest animals, requires a substantial cast, led by the title character (given the name “Sharp Ears”), sung by soprano Amy Foote. The cast also included two dancers, Bela Watson and Stephen Fambro, both with dual roles. The production was directed by Nicolas A. Garcia.

Those familiar with the venue know that its performance area is limited; and, in the absence of an orchestra pit, the musicians are required to perform in a narrow space behind the “action” on the stage. This layout could not accommodate the full extent of Janáček’s instrumentation techniques. Fortunately, Jonathan Lyness created an orchestration of the full score requiring only thirteen instrumentalists (four of whom played multiple instruments); and the Mid-Wales Opera was kind enough to share that score with Pocket Opera.

While the full cast accounts for a rich diversity of both animal and human personalities, the entire narrative revolves around Sharp Ears. As a child she is captured by the Forester (baritone Spencer Dodd); but it does not take long for him and his wife (mezzo Mary Rauh) to realize that she cannot be domesticated. By the time the vixen has matured at the beginning of the second act, she has her first encounter with the fox Goldstripe (mezzo Hope Nelson); and it is not long until the stage begins to fill up with five fox cubs. By the end of the opera, both the vixen and the Forester’s wife have died. However, the Forester encounters a frog, which turns out to be the grandson of a frog that appeared at the beginning of the opera, affirming that life goes on in cycles.

This makes for a rather elaborate plot line. However, Janáček’s score keeps the action moving, so to speak. The libretto, which was also by Janáček, was sung in a clearly-delivered English translation by Pocket Opera founder Donald Pippin. It was thus easy to negotiate the characters of the large cast and the rich extent of the action. My own quibble would be that an opera with such a rich abundance of imaginative content deserved a setting more conducive for the orchestra, the performers on stage, and (to at least some extent) the audience. Given the many challenges of financing, this is an ensemble that deserves deeper pockets!

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Clerestory to Explore Schumann(s) and Brahms

Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, and Clara Schumann (courtesy of Clerestory)

Tickets are now available for the second concert to be presented in the current Clerestory season. (It has been a bit of a wait, since the first concert was performed this past November!) The full title of the program will be Notes and Letters: Music of Brahms and the Schumanns. Note the plural at the end of the title. The program will present choral music by not only Johannes Brahms but also both Robert and Clara Schumann. Specific selections have not yet been announced, but the program has been conceived to express this three-way relationship in terms of themes of longing, love, loss, and redemption. While Clerestory usually performs a cappella, for this program pianist Kymry Esainko will provide accompaniment for some of the selections.

The San Francisco performance of this program will take place next month on Sunday, May 26, beginning at 7 p.m. The venue will be the Noe Valley Ministry, which is located at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. Tickets may be purchased through an Eventbrite Web page with prices of $35 for general admission, $25 for seniors, and $5 for students.

The Latest Discovery of Art Tatum Recordings

Cover of the album being discussed

Some readers may have observed that, every now and then when writing about pianists, I find of a way of injecting the name of Art Tatum into the context. To call him a jazz pianist of prodigious inventiveness would be selling him short. Indeed, since he was a contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff, I like to fantasize over what might have happened had the two of them been in the same place at the same time. (To the best of my knowledge, this never happened; but I can still wonder whether each listened to recordings of the other!)

As a result, even though I have both of the “Complete” box sets released by Pablo (one for solos and one for combos), I never miss an opportunity to add recordings of Tatum performances to my collection. So when I learned that Resonance Records was releasing a three-CD collection of live performances from the Blue Note jazz club in Chicago, recorded between August 16 and 28 in 1953, I was as happy as a pig in you-know-what. The title of the collection is Jewels in the Treasure Box, and it could not be more accurate.

With the exception of a few solo tracks, all of the performances are of a trio that Tatum led. He was joined by guitarist Everett Barksdale and Slam Stewart on piano. Every now and then, each of them gets an opportunity for a solo take or two; but, for the most part it’s Tatum’s show. My guess is that almost all of the tunes are familiar and have been previously recorded, but Tatum’s inventiveness knows no bounds. It seems as if, every time he returns to a tune, he has another way of approaching it.

It is also worth noting that those approaches often involved a radical shift in connotation. One of Tatum’s favorite sources from the classical repertoire was Jules Massenet’s “Élégie” (which the composer himself repurposed several times). As the title suggested, the composer conceived this as a musical evocation of melancholia. The score page I found through IMSLP gives the tempo as “Triste et très lent.” In this Chicago collection, Tatum’s performance is anything but “triste,” since he performs it at an eye-popping breakneck pace!

Since these are club performances, there is no shortage of “background noise.” Nevertheless, the recording technology consistently keeps the music in the foreground. When any imposition from the background finds its way onto the recording, it is inevitably a sign of appreciation from the audience that is bound to concur with anyone listening to that particular track. It is also worth noting that the album includes a fifteen-page booklet, which includes a diverse collection of retrospective reflections by other musicians with first-hand experiences of Tatum’s talents, such as Ahmad Jamal and Sonny Rollins. I also rather liked Rollins’ reflection that, when Earl (“Fatha”) HInes was at one of Tatum’s performances, he said, “God is in the house!”

Enjoy the journey!

One Found Sound Takes on Beethoven’s “Eroica”

Last night in the Swedish American Hall, One Found Sound (OFS), which performs without a conductor, took their repertoire “to the next level” with a program entitled Waveform. The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 55 (third) symphony in E-flat major, usually known by the name “Eroica.” The composer was originally inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte’s acts of liberation, and had planned to name the symphony in his honor. However, when the liberator devolved into a tyrant, Beethoven’s struck out Napoleon’s name, replacing it with that single word “Eroica.”

Some may have wondered if OFS was too small an ensemble to perform this work of extended proportions in instrumentation, as well as duration. While it is true that the string section was smaller than the one that is usually encountered in Davies Symphony Hall, it would be fair to say that it was on a scale similar to the size of the ensemble Beethoven himself had conducted. While there may have been more brass and winds than usual, these were also instruments that were part of orchestras in the early nineteenth century, even if their roles in the performances tended to be modest. As far as the strings were concerned, there were enough of them to give due credit to the music in a space that perfectly suited the scale of the ensemble.

Those whose listening activities are dominated by recorded sources to the detriment of attending performances do not know what they are missing. In last night’s performance there were so many gestures of subtle interplay among the string section, winds, and brass that made the event totally superior to an “experience through a loudspeaker,” even for a listener hooked on score-following! Ensemble music has been spatial for as long as there have been ensembles, and the very layout of an orchestra reflects a commitment to sonorous interplay captured by all those marks on paper. As the old joke goes, the attentive listener is consistently clued in as to who is doing what and to whom. As a result, however many past experiences of recordings a listener has encountered, being “in the presence of performance” is always a source of fresh observations and insights.

Thus, while this is Beethoven’s second-longest symphony (shorter only than the “Choral”), there is never a dull movement over the course of its extended duration (which, last night, included OFS taking all the repeats)!

As might be expected, the impact of Beethoven towered above the two shorter compositions on the first half of the program. The program began with Ruth Gipps’ Opus 53, “Seascape,” composed in the middle of the last century. One could appreciate her approach to evocative qualities, but the listening experience was not a particularly enduring one.

This was followed by the world premiere of Sam Wu’s “Hydrosphere,” which had received last year’s Emerging Composer Award from OFS. The work was clearly a reflection on current “environmental consciousness;” but I must confess that I was left in the dark when it came to figuring out what the composer had intended to reflect. The fact is that, where premieres are concerned, “first contact” experiences do not often register very well; and the music is better served by opportunities for further listening.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

MOR to Premiere New Heggie-Scheer Opera

Gene Scheer, Megan Marino, Jake Heggie, and Ryan McKinny (from the MOR Web page for the opera being discussed)

Next month will see the latest world premiere of an opera composed by Jake Heggie working with a libretto by Gene Scheer. This will be the fifth work by Heggie commissioned by Music of Remembrance (MOR), which is based in Seattle. The premiere performances will be given over the course of a three-city tour, beginning in Seattle on May 19, followed by a visit to San Francisco, and concluding with two performances in Chicago on May 25 and 26.

The title of the opera is Before It All Goes Dark. The narrative is a true story based on reporting by the Chicago journalist Howard Reich. It follows the life of a troubled Vietnam veteran who discovers his Jewish heritage on a journey to recover art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The role of the protagonist will be sung by bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, and the cast will also include mezzo Megan Marino. Joseph Mechavich will conduct a chamber orchestra. Staging will be directed by Erich Parce.

The San Francisco performance will take place at the Presidio Theatre, located in the Presidio (of course) at 99 Moraga Avenue. It will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22. Tickets are being sold for $75, $55, and $40. The venue has created its own Web page for purchasing tickets, which includes an interactive “map” for seat selection. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 415-960-3949.

Owen Broder’s Hodges Tribute Continues

Some readers may recall that, back in October of 2022, saxophonist Owen Broder launched a project that would serve as a tribute to another saxophonist, Johnny Hodges, through a series of albums of tunes that Hodges performed either as the lead alto saxophonist in Duke Ellington’s big band or on his own. The second album was released this past April 19, and it is available through an Amazon.com Web page for MP3 download and the purchase of a vinyl album. Once again, Broder alternates between alto and baritone saxophones, leading a quintet whose other members are Riley Mulherkar on trumpet, pianist Carmen Staaf, Barry Stephenson III on bass, and drummer Bryan Carter.

The new release has eight tracks, only two of which are familiar to me. One of them is, as its Wikipedia page puts it, “a fundamental part of jazz musicians' repertoire,” W. C. Handy’s “Saint Louis Blues.” The other is one of Ellington’s most lyrical creations, “The Star-Crossed Lovers,” which he composed in 1957. (This was given poignant choreography by Talley Beatty in his “The Road of the Phoebe Snow.”) The remaining six tracks are “Used To Be Duke,” “Wabash Blues,” “Back Beat,” “Big Smack,” “Shady Side,” and “Stompy Jones.”

All of this makes for thoroughly engaging listening. My only quibble is that the advance material I received included some very informative liner notes by Willard Jenkins. Sadly, these are not available through the download site; and I have no idea whether they are included with the vinyl release. Those that take their listening seriously deserve the benefits of “background knowledge.” There is no question that Hodges is worthy of this tribute project, but such a tribute decidedly deserves context as well as content!

ZOFO Echoes Gamelan Practices

ZOFO pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi (photograph by Keith Saunders, courtesy of Old First Concerts)

This morning I was somewhat saddened to discover that I had not encountered a performance by the ZOFO duo of pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi since May of 2016 until I live-streamed their latest recital in the Old First Concerts series last night. I remember when this four-hands-on-one-keyboard duo made its debut and the innovative approach they took to repertoire that subsequently followed. That approach surfaced last night with a program entitled Echoes of Gamelan.

Many readers probably know by now that gamelan refers to both a genre of traditional Indonesian music and the ensemble that performs the music, consisting primarily of metallophone instruments, augmented by hand-drums to keep the beat, and occasionally joined by vocalists, both male and female. While a piano keyboard cannot match the sonorities of those instruments, Colin McPhee, who spent much time in Bali, transcribed gamelan music for two pianos; and roughly half of last night’s program consisted of four-hand arrangements of McPhee’s efforts. The remainder of the program then involved works by recent and twentieth-century composers reflecting on gamelan practices.

Sadly, some of those reflections seemed to be rather remote, if not distorted. I have not yet come up with a good reason for why Nakagoshi’s arrangement of the “Saturn” movement from Gustav Holst’s Opus 32 suite, The Planets, was included; and the “Sirènes” movement from Claude Debussy’s collection of three orchestral nocturnes, also arranged by Nakagoshi, was similarly opaque. However, these were outliers in a program that explored how the thematic content of the gamelan repertoire could hold up under the limitations of a piano keyboard.

For the most part, the results were satisfying. Mind you, my wife and I had the good fortune to experience gamelan performances in both Java (Yogyakarta) and Bali (Ubud). These were not “concert” experiences. It would be better to say that we had the good fortune to be in the presence of music being made. This is not to say that there were not situations that involve “stage” and “audience.” However, more often than not, the music is associated with particular occasions; and it is the nature of the occasion, rather than a “concert setting,” that matters.

Nevertheless, last night’s “concert setting” made for an engaging account between traditional and contemporary practices, leaving the attentive listener with a feast of food for thought.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Simon Rattle in Berlin: Schoenberg and Stravinsky

Simon Rattle on the cover of one of his Stravinsky albums (from the Amazon.com Web page for the single-disc release)

Readers familiar with the history of music in the twentieth century may accuse me of being a bit prankish in my decision to couple Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky in a single article accounting for performances by the Berlin Philharmonic led by Simon Rattle. Both of them spent the last years of their lives in Los Angeles County. However, as far as I can tell, the two of them were never in the same place at the same time (at least knowingly)! Indeed, the closest they ever came involved the fact that Robert Craft worked with both of them and may well have engaged in conversations in which each asked about the other! Thus, in accounting for the new Rattle anthology released by Warner Classics, I decided to take a compare-and-contrast approach to the two individuals that were clearly leading figures in the history of twentieth-century music.

Sadly, the grounds for comparison are more limited than I would have wished. Stravinsky is represented by only two CDs, while Schoenberg has three, one of which includes music that he arranged, rather than composed. Furthermore, each composer went through a series of stages, each of which involved a different approach to composition; and, in neither case, is the full extent of those stages given a fair shake. However, as is always the case where “the business” is concerned, one must work with what one has; and I shall try to do my best in accounting for both of these “rival” composers on this new anthology.

As is often the case such anthologies, I tend to follow where my strongest memories lead me. Therefore, I would like to begin with Stravinsky’s rather innovative approach to composing symphonies. After his initial undertaking, the 1905 symphony in E-flat (sometimes identified as his Opus 1), Stravinsky put the very idea of a symphony aside for over a decade. After that, each of his compositions had its own unique qualities, which reflected what he thought a “symphony” should be. The first of these was the 1920 “Symphonies of Wind Instruments.” Ten years later he composed the “Symphony of Psalms;” and, in the following decade, he composed the “Symphony in C” (1940) and the “Symphony in Three Movements” (1945).

In the Warner collection, the “Symphonies of Wind Instruments” is situated between “Le Sacre du printemps” and “Apollon musagète.” All three of these were recorded in concerts on dates very distant from each other; and my guess is that the producers (Stephen Johns and Christoph Franke) had a “compare and contrast” album in mind. Nevertheless, these are all early compositions, even though the two ballet scores were recorded using their respective 1947 revisions. (Stravinsky seems to have known how to keep his checkbook healthy when a copyright was about to expire!)

The other three symphonies are grouped on a separate CD but not ordered chronologically. Nevertheless, they do account for the composer’s “later thoughts” about what he wanted a symphony to be; and I, for one, enjoyed listening to how they had been grouped when the CD was pressed. On the other hand, where the ballet scores are concerned, I think that I still prefer listening to the recordings that Stravinsky himself made.

Schoenberg is represented by only three original compositions. However, the first of these is also his longest! Gurrelieder requires both solo vocal and choral resources, and its full duration requires two CDs. I actually purchased this as a two-CD set when it was first released. I felt that listening to this music frequently would be the only way I could get my head around what had struck me as a sprawling undertaking. I never quite succeeded, but there are definitely moments that still send a chill down my spine, particularly when they are sung by Karita Mattila!

Another work that requires a fair amount of exposure before the listener begins to appreciate the content is the first (Opus 9) chamber symphony. This was subsequently rescored for a full orchestra (still keeping “chamber” in the title), published as Opus 9b. Personally, I still prefer the original version; but Rattle seems to have found just the right way to guide the attentive listener through the orchestral version’s plethora of enigmatic cadences. Where that genre is concerned, I was far more satisfied with Opus 34. The full title of this composition (including the parenthesis) is “Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene (Drohende Gefahr, Angst, Katastrophe),” which translates as “Accompaniment Music for a Light Play [as in “the interactive play of lights] Scene (Threatening Danger, Fear, Catastrophe).” All of those parenthetical qualities are clearly evident, and one does not need visual stimuli to reinforce them!

The remaining Schoenberg selection is his orchestration of Johannes Brahms’ Opus 25 (first) piano quartet, composed in the key of G minor. Schoenberg clearly had fun in deploying instrumental qualities that one would never encounter in Brahms’ own orchestral undertakings. Nevertheless, it is clear that, in composing the concluding “Ronda alla Zingarese” movement, the composer wanted to have some fun; and I always break out in a grin when Schoenberg deploys a xylophone to add to the “fun factor!”

Schoenberg really did have a sense of humor. (The family car had a horn that was tuned to play the opening motif of his second string quartet.) On the recordings that he made in Berlin, Rattle seems to have an effective grasp on the composer’s full extent of dispositions!

Lamplighters to Present Dickens Musical

Poster from the production discussed in this article (from the City Box Office Web page)

Having presented (as I put it at the end of last month) “Sullivan Before Gilbert” for this month’s performance, next month Lamplighters Music Theatre will depart from both W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan to present Rupert Holmes’ musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Those that did not fall asleep in the classroom (either in high school or as undergraduates) probably know that this is the title of Charles Dickens’ final novel, which was left unfinished at the time of his death. Staging this narrative, with or without music, clearly poses some serious challenges.

Holmes rose to those challenges in a particularly innovative way. The narrative itself is basically a whodunit involving a murder, so the climax occurs when the murder is revealed. Holmes decided that, rather than trying to second-guess Dickens’ intentions, he would write multiple versions of the final scene, each revealing the murderer to be a different member of the cast. He then decided that the best way to engage the audience would be to invite them all, at the appropriate moment, to vote on who they think the murderer should be. As a result, Holmes created a “confession song” for each of the characters in the narrative. The Lamplighters production will be staged by M. Jane Erwin, and the Music Director will be Brett Strader. The show will also feature choreography by Vivian Sam.

This production will be given five performances. The venue will be the Presidio Theatre Performing Arts Center, which is located (as one might expect) in the Presidio at 99 Moraga Avenue. Ticket prices are $80, $70, and $65. The evening shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 11, Friday, May 17, and Saturday, May 18. The matinees will begin at 2 p.m. on Sundays, May 12 and May 19. The final production will be given a simulcast for a fee of $25. City Box Office has created a single Web page for all performances, including the simulcast option. For those that want to be thorough about the production, all eight of the confessions will be sung at the opening night performance!

Piano Quintets Conclude SFP Chamber Series

Leif Ove Andsnes at his keyboard (photograph by Helge Hansen, courtesy of SFP)

Last night in Herbst Theatre, San Francisco Performances (SFP) concluded its Shenson Chamber Series with a program structured around two piano quintets. Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who has been giving SFP performances since November of 1994, performed with members of the Dover Quartet (first appearing for SFP in October of 2016), violinist Bryan Lee, violist Julianne Lee, and cellist Camden Shaw. First violinist Joel Link was indisposed and was replaced by Adam Barnett-Hart, first violinist of the Escher Quartet. The first of the quintets performed was Ernst von Dohnányi’s Opus 26, his second quintet in E-flat minor. The intermission was then followed by Johannes Brahms’ Opus 34, the more familiar quintet in F minor.

It would be fair to say that the Brahms quintet is a major icon in the chamber music repertoire. By now I have lost count of the number of times I have heard it in performance, but it never fails to get the juices flowing. If I were to speculate, I might even guess that there is something about the score that brings out the best in the musicians, possibly because, over the course of the composition, every one of them has many opportunities to stand out among his/her colleagues. (Yes, that includes the second violin!) Even with the last-minute substitution, the chemistry exuded by the full ensemble could not have been richer; and I found it a joy to let my eyes wander from one player to another, making note of how each of them could express both individuality and group membership. Last night’s performance was, indeed, “one for the books!”

The Dohnányi selection was another matter. According to my records, I have not encountered one of his pieces in recital since March of 2020, when his Opus 10 serenade in C major was performed in a Music in the Mishkan program. I have been a bit more fortunate in finding recordings of his music; but I am almost certain that Opus 26 was a “first contact” for me. His rhetoric tends to be affable, but what really locked in my attention was the fugue around which the final movement was structured. I really need to get to know this music better in the hope that I shall find it again in future piano quintet recitals!

The program began with Joaquín Turina’s string quartet entitled “La oración del torero” (the bullfighter’s prayer). Curiously, the music was first composed for a quartet of lutes for members of the Aguilar Quartet, formed in 1923 by four of Dr. Francisco Aguilar’s six sons: Paco, Ezequiel, Pepe, and Elisa. As might be expected, the string quartet version receives more performances; and, while I had been familiar with the title, this was a “first contact” experience for me. The music is episodic, traversing a rich variety of dispositions reflecting what must be going through a bullfighter’s mind before he enters the ring. Indeed, the breadth of expressiveness in this music was rich enough that I would hope to encounter another performance of this music sooner, rather than later!

Thursday, April 25, 2024

SFIAF to Present Piano-Percussion Improvisation

At the end of last week, this site announced that the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble would present the first concert of this year’s San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF). While the program will introduce an engagingly adventurous repertoire, there will be another concert later in the month that promises to be even more adventurous. This will be the latest production by the New Arts Collaboration (NAC), which describes itself as “an interdisciplinary art project for sound and multimedia.”

Ting Luo in performance (from the SFIAF Web page for this event)

The full title of the program to be presented is KEYSCAPES 2024: New Identity in Improvisation for Piano and Percussion. Percussionist Kevin Corcoran will join forces with three pianists, Ting Luo (curator of NAC), Motoko Honda, and Kevin Lo. The program will consist entirely of improvised performances with a duration of 75 minutes including an intermission.

The performance will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 12. General admission tickets are currently being sold for $25 through an SFIAF Tickkl Web page. The performance will take place in the Mission at the Community Music Center, which is at 544 Capp Street. Admission at the door will be $28.

Noah Haidu Releases Second Standards Album

Jazz pianist Noah Haidu (photograph by Jimmy Katz)

Readers may recall that, a little less that two years ago, Sunnyside Records released Noah Haidu’s Standards album, conceived as a tribute to the Standards Trio that Keith Jarrett formed with Jack DeJohnette on drums and Gary Peacock on bass. As I observed at the time, the release was not, strictly speaking, a trio album, involving a variety of different combinations of players, including four quartet tracks. Furthermore, however much Haidu chose to honor Jarrett, he definitely has a voice of his own, which encouraged the same from the other players on the album.

Earlier this month, Standards II was released. This one really is a trio album, with Billy Hart on drums and bassist Buster Williams, who had appeared on four of the Standards tracks. (This was the same trio that can be found on the SLOWLY: Song for Keith Jarrett album.) Once again, the tunes are, for the most part familiar; and each track lasts long enough to allow for a generous span of exploratory improvisation. Haidu is particularly accommodating in sharing those explorations, a gesture which is particularly rewarded in Williams’ expressively inventive bass work. Hart, on the other hand, is rarely in the foreground; but, when he occupies it, his inventions are just as engaging.

Haidu has stated that he plans to make his Standards Trio “a regular part of my touring schedule.” I would agree with him that inventive elaboration on the familiar can have just as much impact as “original” invention. Indeed, some “originals” are often so exploratory that even the most attentive listener develops a yearning for a more recognizable “frame of reference.” That frame of reference is always clear on Standards II, but there is more than enough vibrant creativity to make for a satisfying experience.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Dave Bass Has a New Trio

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

The last time I wrote about jazz pianist Dave Bass was when he released  the third installment in a series of albums entitled simply The Trio. The other members of his trio were Kerry Kashiwagi on bass and Scott Gordon on drums. This past Friday Tiger Turn released his latest album. This is yet another trio album, but the title is Trio Nuevo; and, as of this writing, it is available through an Amazon.com Web page that provides only an MP3 download. As readers may have guessed, this is a new trio album; but Bass is joined by two new players. The bass is now played by Tyler Miles, and Steve Helfand is the drummer.

As usual, Bass is the composer for the lion’s share of the tracks. This includes the latest effort of a “meeting of the minds” with Johann Sebastian Bach (who was no slouch when it came to improvising). The title of the track is “Three Views of Bach;” and, while I am not yet sure of the enumeration, I found the interleaving of Baroque and jazz riffs to be more engaging than I anticipated.

While Bass dominates as composer, there are also highly imaginative tracks based on tunes by Charlie Haden (“Sandino”) and Denny Zeitlin (“Offshore Breeze”). For those that may still be nostalgic for Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, there is a setting of Herman Hupfield’s “As Time Goes By,” which eases its way into the tune. Personally, I rather like the way in which Bass keeps the listener guessing about when the tune will actually show itself explicitly. Ironically, however, such a listener is likely to be disappointed by the time the track concludes, realizing that the tune has revealed itself only through its most telling of its fragments. This implicit approach to familiarity makes for an engaging contrast with the more explicit Bach riffs.

In other words these are tracks that are likely to please particularly attentive listeners. Some might wish to dismiss such an attitude as “snob appeal.” I prefer to call it just “having fun with the music!”

Choices for May 17–19, 2024

The middle of next month will be busy. What is probably most important is the breadth of diversity among the choices. The full breadth of the specifics is as follows: [added 5/8, 8:10 a.m.:

Friday, May 17, 1 p.m., Cadillac Hotel: The next Concerts at the Cadillac program will be presented by the Primavera Latin Jazz combo. This consists of pianist Lena Johnson, Paul Smith on bass, guitarist Jeff McNish, Dave Casini on vibraphone, and percussionist Bob Blankenship. For those unfamiliar with this series, all performances are free, and everyone is welcome. The hotel, which has an official San Francisco Landmark, is located in the Tenderloin at 380 Eddy Street, on the northeast corner of Levenworth Street.]

Friday, May 17, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Joe Henderson Lab (JHL), SFJAZZ Center: Pianist and flutist Gaea Schell will lead a quartet. Her selections will be taken from her latest Saphu Records release, In Your Own Sweet Way. The other quartet members are guitarist Jordan Samuels, who serves as leader, John Wiitala on bass, and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte. This is the second event in a series entitled Generations, but tickets are already sold out for the Thursday performances. As a result, it seems appropriate to provide readers with a “heads-up” account of two few remaining events that are not sold out. Tickets for all events may be purchased through the hyperlinks attached to the dates and times.

  1. Saturday, May 18, 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.: The leader of the Todd Cochran Trio is the pianist whose previous work included collaborations with Bobby Hutcherson and Freddie Hubbard. The other members of his trio are John Leftwich on bass and drummer Lyndon Rochelle. JazzTimes has described Cochran’s repertoire as a “deliciously complicated mix of classical influences, free-jazz innovation, progressive fusion complexity, angular art rock, quiet-storming R&B, and Black consciousness.” He has prepared a program that will celebrate his home town (which is San Francisco).
  2. Sunday, May 19, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Telemakus is a young pianist from Santa Cruz that will be making his JHL debut. He took his name from Greek mythology and his jazz influences come from Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Robert Glasper. His debut album Calantha, which was released in 2018, took its name from the off-world colony in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Since that time he has released two further albums, and his debut here will present music from his forthcoming release.

Friday, May 17, 7:30 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): This will be a full weekend at C4NM, which will begin with a solo recital by violinist Sarah Saviet. She will perform a new work, along with recent compositions by Lisa Streich and Tim McCormack. Her program will also include a performance of music by Iannis Xenakis: “Miika.” For those that do not already know, C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, about half a block north of Market Street. Admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members and students. As usual, tickets may be purchased in advance through an Eventbrite Web page. The remaining two performances for the weekend (and, as of now, the rest of the month) are as follows, with Eventbrite links attached to the dates:

  1. Saturday, May 18, 7:30 p.m.: David Michalak will return with another program of films. This time he will share the program with a quartet that calls itself the TRI-CORNERED TENT SHOW. Philip Everett leads with a diversity of synthesizers and percussion, along with the electric lapharp and the Xlarinet. Rhythm will be provided by Ray Schaeffer (electric basses), percussionist Anthony Flores, and vocals by Valentina O. Admission will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members and students.
  2. Sunday, May 19, noon: This will be the latest monthly installment of G|O|D|W|A|F|F|L|E|N|O|I|S|E|P|A|N|C|A|K|E|S. This offers the usual opportunity to enjoy vegan pancakes while listening to “bleeding edge” music. As usual, general admission will be $10 with a $6 rate for members and students. Music programming is scheduled to conclude by 2 p.m. The contributing performers and composers will be Heartworm, Dominic Cramp, Liver Cancerr, Ava Koohbor, and Brian Day.

Friday, May 17, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The Chamber Music San Francisco season will conclude with a solo recital by Bruce Liu, who will be making his San Francisco debut. He has prepared an imaginative program in which tradition rubs shoulders with bold innovative strokes. He will begin with Haydn’s only sonata in B minor, Hoboken XVI/32. This will be followed by Chopin’s Opus 35, his second sonata in the key of B-flat major. Probably the most unique offering will be Nikolai Kapustin’s Opus 41 set of variations. This will be followed by six pieces from Jean-Philipe Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin collection. The program will conclude with Sergei Prokofiev's Opus 83, his seventh piano sonata in B-flat major. For those that do not already know, the venue is located at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street and directly across Van Ness from City Hall. Tickets are available from a City Box Office event page for $35, $45, and $60.

Sunday, May 19, 2 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: Daniel Stewart will conduct his final concert in his capacity as Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. The program will be devoted entirely to a performance of Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony. This symphony is probably best known for its overall architecture, with a prodigiously long scherzo as the central movement, flanked by pairs of shorter movements on either side. Davies is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of Grove Street. (The entrance to both the Box Office and the hall itself is on the south side of Grove.) Tickets are available online through a Web page, which allows for reserved seats in the Loge and Side Boxes for $55 and general admission for $20. [added 5/11. 9:05 a.m.:

Sunday, May 19, 2 p.m., Bowes Performing Arts Center, San Francisco Conservatory of Music: Listen Local is a free concert series presented by InterMusic SF in partnership with Classical California KDFC. The next program will be a solo violin recital performed by Nancy Zhou. According to her Web page, the program will begin with Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1002 solo violin partita in B minor. This will be followed by the fourth of the six solo violin sonatas composed by Eugéne Ysaÿe for his Opus 27. There will be one further solo sonata by Béla Bartók. The program will then conclude with Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Cadenza,” composed originally for viola in 1984. The InterMusic announcement also suggests that there will be an encore by Fritz Kreisler, but specifics have not yet been provided. There will be no charge for admission. Those interested in attending are requested to join a waitlist on the Eventbrite event page for this concert.]

Percussionist and composer Haruka Fujii (photograph by Eriko Watanabe, courtesy of SFGC)

Sunday, May 19, 3 p.m., Concert Hall, San Francisco Conservatory of Music: The San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) will continue its 2023–2024 season with a performance by the SFGC Premiere Ensemble. As usual, Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe will lead the ensemble. They will be joined by percussionist Haruka Fujii, whose new work, “Dareno Chikyu,” will be given its world premiere performance. The program will also include a revival performance of “Belong Not” by Aviya Kopelmann, Moira Smiley’s arrangement of Huddie Ledbetter folksongs, entitled Bring Me Little Water, Silvy, Akira Miyoshi’s “Letters to God,” Michael Barrett’s arrangement of the South African prayer song “Ndikhokhele Bawo,” and the world premiere of Mokale Copeng’s “Toro Ya Alkebulan.” This program will precede an upcoming tour of South Africa. The Concert Hall is in the building at 50 Oak Street. Tickets are available from an Eventbrite event page. General admission is $35, and Supporters will receive special seating with a $45 admission. Students with valid identification will be admitted for $20.

Sunday, May 19, 4 p.m., Calvary Presbyterian Church: The San Francisco Bach Choir, led by Artistic Director Magen Solomon, will give a complete performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 245 St John Passion setting. The tenor role of the Evangelist will be sung by Kyle Stegall, and the worlds of Jesus will be sung by bass Chung-Wai Soong. The other vocalists (who provide “poetic commentary”) will be soprano Michele Kennedy, mezzo Heidi Waterman, tenor David Kurtenbach Rivera, and baritone Nikolas Nackley. The church is located at 2515 Fillmore Street, on the northwest corner of Jackson Street. General admission will be $40 with discounted rates for seniors ($35) and students ($15). There will be no admission charge from those under the age of eighteen. Ticketstripe has created a single Web page for online purchases. [added 5/3, 4:45 p.m.:

Sunday, May 19, 4 p.m., Chez Hanny: This will be the second of this month’s two jazz performances. The program will present the Kerry Politzer Quartet. Politzer, who is based in Portland, will lead from the piano. Harvey Wainapel will divide his time among clarinet and saxophones, presumably of different sizes. Rhythm will be provided by Aaron Germain on bass and drummer Deszon X. Claiborne.

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.] [added 5/18, 12:00 p.m.:

Sunday May 19, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., Keys Jazz Bistro: Unless I am mistaken, I have not written about this venue since my account of a performance by Kenya Moses in August of 2023. This will be another program in a series called Women in Latin Jazz. This time the woman in question will be Sandy Cressman, who is both vocalist and Latin percussionist. She has prepared a program entitled Homenagem Brasileira, which was conceived to embrace the diversity of Brazil’s music traditions. (It is also the title of one or her CDs.) She will lead a combo whose other members are trombonist Jeff Cressman, Murray Low on piano, drummer Dillon Vado, and David Belove on bass. Tickets are on sale for $25, and they may be purchased through hyperlinks attached to the above times. Seating is first come, first serve; so it is strongly recommended to arrive 30 minutes before the show begins to secure a seat. (Happy Hour is between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.!)]

The Chopin-Franchomme Connection

Julien Brocal and Camille Thomas (photograph by Miguel Barreto, courtesy of San Francisco Performances)

Last night in Herbst Theatre, San Francisco Performances presented a Subscriber and Member Concert performed by the duo of cellist Camille Thomas and pianist Julien Brocal. The two of them are currently touring the United States, and last night was their San Francisco debut. They structured their program around an early nineteenth-century relationship that was probably unfamiliar to most members of the audience (myself included).

The more familiar member of that relationship was Frédéric Chopin. As one might guess from Thomas’ appearance, the other member was a cellist, Auguste-Joseph Franchomme. It was for Franchomme that Chopin wrote his last composition, the Opus 65 sonata in G minor for cello and piano. However, Franchomme also made arrangements of Chopin’s piano music for cello and piano. Two of those arrangements were included on the program: the Opus 28, Number 15 prelude in D-flat major and the Opus 34, Number 2 waltz in A minor.

The program also included two other Chopin arrangements. It began with Thomas’ own account of the Opus 28, Number 4 prelude in E minor. The first Chopin selection after the intermission, the posthumous nocturne in B minor, was Mischa Maisky’s arrangement of music originally composed in C-sharp minor. Franchomme was also represented by a nocturne of his own, his Opus 14, Number 1, and his Opus 32 “Air russe varié” (whose thematic source was actually Ukrainian). The program then concluded with the “Hungarian Rhapsody” (Opus 68) by David Popper, a late-nineteenth century composition, which had clearly been influenced by Franz Liszt.

Taken as a whole, the evening was a journey of discovery well worth taken. Those that follow cello recitals were probably familiar with the sonata, but the rest of the program probably served as “first contact” experiences for most of the listeners. Thomas and Brocal provided engaging accounts of every selection, occasionally augmented by verbal commentary that was consistently useful. This was an experience that sustained attention from start to finish, even through the excesses of Popper’s rhapsody! Hopefully, we shall be able to experience a return visit in the near future.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Revisiting Dutilleux and Queyras

Conductor Gustavo Gimeno and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras on the cover of their new Dutilleux album (courtesy of PIAS)

This past Friday, harmonia mundi released a new album showcasing the music of the twentieth-century French composer Henri Dutilleux. This composer displayed a rich command of instrumental sonorities, reflected in this album by his first symphony, composed in 1951, and “Métaboles,” composed in 1964. On the album these works serve to frame a cello concerto, completed in 1970 and given the title “Tout un monde lointain….” (a whole distant world). This is decidedly an “other worldly” composition, with movement titles that evoke enigmas, mirrors, and cosmic swells. Gustavo Gimeno conducts the Luxembourg Philharmonic in all three of these selections, and the concerto soloist is Jean-Guihen Queyras.

That cellist is probably no stranger to those that have followed this site for some time. They are likely to recall him as a member of a piano trio, performing with pianist Alexander Melnikov and Isabelle Faust on violin (all three of whom have a distinctive presence on the harmonia mundi label). According to my records, however, I have not had an opportunity to write about Dutilleux’ music since March of 2017. Nevertheless, with this “return visit,” I easily settled back into the imaginative sonorities that this composer could evoke, while having another rich opportunity to appreciate Queyras enjoying the advantages of a solo turn.

Nevertheless, I must confess that I tend to be more content with “occasional visits” to the Dutilleux repertoire, rather than taking “deep dives.” It is easy to delight in the composer’s prodigiously extensive imaginative qualities in seeking out innovative sonorities. However, when I listen to an album in its entirety, I find myself reflecting on Archy’s cautious warning to Mehitabel about being “too toujours gai!” In other words, over the course of this writing career, I have acquired more than a few Dutilleux albums, all of which amounted to “first contact” experiences. However, after becoming familiar with the content, I almost never returned to it in later periods!

That said, anyone interested in an engagingly imaginative approach to instrumental coloration deserves at least one encounter with Dutilleux’ compositions; and this new album provides an excellent opportunity to get to know at least a few samples from this repertoire.

Choices for May 3–5, 2024

The busy weekend that concludes this month will be followed by a busy weekend that begins next month. This will involve a rather generous diversity of options. Specifics are as follows:

Friday, May 3, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: San Francisco Performances will conclude its 2023–24 season with a pair of multi-instrumentalists, both of whom are also vocalists. Pekka Kuusisto will alternate between violin and piano, while Gabriel Kahane will alternate his piano work with guitar playing. Any information about repertoire is being kept under wraps and most likely will be announced from the stage.

As most readers probably know by now, Herbst is on the first two floors of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Tickets are being sold for $70 for premium seating in the Orchestra, the Side Boxes, and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $60 for the center rear of the Dress Circle and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $50 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. They may be purchased through an SFP secure Web page or by calling 415-392-2545.

Friday, May 3, 8 p.m., The Lab: This will be the latest two-set performance to be presented at this venue. The Setting ensemble can best be described as a poly-instrumental trio. Nathan Bowles plays strings, keyboards, and percussion, as well as deploying his collection of tapes. Jaime Fennelly plays harmoniums of different sizes, synthesizers, and a piano zither. Finally, Joe Westerlund deploys a prodigious variety of percussion instruments. The second set will be a duo performance by local musicians Chuck Johnson and Cole Pulice. Johnson contributes an interest in alternate tuning systems, realized through both a pedal steel guitar and experimental electronics. Pulice is a saxophonist, who specializes in solo work and also engages in electroacoustic signal processing.

Admission will be $17 for tickets purchased in advance through the event page. Entry at the door will be $20. As usual, members are entitled to free or discounted admission. The Lab is located in the Mission at 2948 16th Street, a short walk east from the intersection with Mission Street, which serves BART and both north-south and east-west Muni buses. [added 4/27, 12:01 p.m.: Other performances taking place this month will be as follows:

  • Thursday, May 9, 8 p.m.: This will be another two-set performance. claire rousay will showcase her latest album release. It is a collection of heart-rending, incisive pop songs that explore universal feelings with subtlety and remarkable vision. The second set will be taken by Maria BC, who is currently base in Oakland. She is classically trained; but she describes her current approach to performing as “filling out the sonic space.”
  • Friday, May 10, 8 p.m.: The next two-set program will begin with a solo performance by sound artist FUJI||||||||||TA, who currently lives in Japan. His unique practice utilizes various natural phenomena that respond to his interest in wanting to hear unheard sounds and unknown sounds. Instead of playing a composed piece of music, he aims to go as far as possible towards his own unknown state of being, with an emphasis on observing the sound closely. The second set will be taken by the duo of Fred Frith and Sudhu Tewari, working with playing manually & electronically manipulated home-made instruments.
  • Friday, May 17, 8 p.m.:  The two works to be performed on this program will share the common theme of exploring sometimes-invisible articulations of landscape. Anna Friz’s “Salar: Adaptation” considers the audible sonic textures of desert field recordings alongside a electro-magnetic and radio signals. Her performance will include video created by Rodrigo Rios Zunino. The title of the second set, composed by Gretchen Jude, is entitled “Divide.” It will be a performance of graphic scores outlining the silhouettes of mountains from an artist residency in Montana, interpreted by John Bischoff, Kevin Corcoran, Suki O’Kane, and Shanna Sordahl, alongside’s Jude’s field recordings from the site.
  • Saturday, May 18, 8 p.m.: In a departure from the usual format, this program will consist of three sets, all of which will be solo performances. Carlos Giffoni made the transition from noise guitar to electronic music. His latest album is Dream Walker, and his solo work will be accompanied by live visuals from Dub Lab’s Alex Pelly on analog video synthesis.Sholeh Asgary is an interdisciplinary sound artist who researches how the auditory characteristics of a location reveal its underlying conditions and our relationship to place. Finally, the set taken by RM Francis will work with computer-generated sound and language via recording, performance, and installation.
  • Wednesday, May 29, 8 p.m.: The final program of the month will be performed by a band called the Natural Information Society. Joshua Abrams will lead a quartet performing on guimbri. The other players are Lisa Alvarado on harmonium, Mikel Patrick Avery on drums, and Jason Stein on bass clarinet.]

Friday, May 3, 8 p.m., Old First Presbyterian Church: The Duo Halo musicians are saxophonist Andrew Harrison and Jason Lo on piano. They will present a program entitled (appropriately enough) Imaginary Folksongs for Saxophone and Piano. The title of the program is taken from the title of the opening selection by Stephen Lias. It will also include approaches to Negro spirituals by Florence Price (as arranged by Harrison) and “Rhapsody on Japanese Folksongs” by Ryota Ishikawa. The other composers on the program will be Lori Laitman (“Journey”) and Jennifer Jolley (“Lilac Tears”).

As will be seen below, this will be the first of two weekend events presented by Old First Concerts. These 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. The hyperlink for live streaming will be found on the event page.

Saturday, May 4, 3 p.m., Presidio Theatre: The major work on the next program by the New Century Chamber Orchestra, led by Music Director Daniel Hope, will be Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade after Plato’s ‘Symposium.’” The guest soloist will be pianist Awadagin Pratt, who will begin the program with Jessie Montgomery’s “Rounds,” scored for piano and string orchestra. The other selections on the program will be David Diamond’s “Rounds,” scored only for strings, and Florence Price’s “Adoration” in Paul Bateman’s arrangement for violin and strings. As might be guessed, the Presidio Theatre is located in the Presidio at 99 Moraga Avenue. Ticket prices are $70, $55, and $30. City Box Office has created a Web page for selecting and purchasing seats.

Saturday, May 4, 7:30 p.m., Incarnation Episcopal Church: Sunset Music and Arts will begin the month with the San Francisco Girls Chorus Level III and Soloist Intensive Program. As is usually the case, this will be a diverse program covering a wide breadth of music history. At one end there will be the “Witches Scene” from Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas.  At the other will be offerings by much more recent composers, such as Caroline Shaw and Jeff Newberry. The Director is Terry Alvord, and accompaniment will be provided by pianists Chelsey Mok and Christopher Hewitt. The church is located in the Sunset at 1750 29th Avenue. General admission is $25 with a $20 rate for students and seniors. Tickets may be purchased online through an Eventbrite Web page. There will also be two more events taking place in this concert series, both on the same date, one week from today, as follows:

  1. Saturday, May 11, 3 p.m.: This will be the annual San Francisco Youth Chorus Holiday Concert. Program specifics have not yet been provided. All tickets are based on donations with a suggested amount between $15 and $35 per family. Payment will be accepted at the door.
  2. Saturday, May 11, 7:30 p.m.: The final recital of the month will be performed by Brazzissimo. This is a ten-piece brass chamber music ensemble consisting of four trumpets (of different sizes), four trombones (including a euphonium), one French horn, and one tuba. The program will include works explicitly composed for these resources, as well as arrangements of classical, jazz, Latin, and contemporary compositions. Ticket prices are the same as those for May 4, and they may be purchased through their own Eventbrite Web page.

Saturday, May 4, 8 p.m., Lakeside Presbyterian Church: The title of the next program to be presented by the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra is Celestial Voyages. The overall theme for the program has been described as “musical narratives about life, death, and the cosmic ballet between the celestial and the terrestrial.” The program will conclude with the Requiem composed by Michael Orlinsky, setting texts in Latin, English, and French. The program will begin with Mark Alburger’s King David Suite. This will be followed by “International Wonders” by Hussein Al-Nasrawi, James Cook’s “Chamber Overture,” and “Sun & Moon: Eclipse Variation,” Michael Cook’s “response” to the “call” of the recent solar eclipse.

The performance will take place at Lakeside Presbyterian Church. This is located at 201 Eucalyptus Drive on the southwest corner of 19th Avenue in Merced Manor. General admission will be on a sliding scale with $25 as the preferred amount. [added 4/25, 11:35 a.m.; updated from one week earlier:

Sunday, May 5, 10 a.m., YouTube: The next Omni On-Location video will be available for viewing. The location will be Dortmund, Germany; and the guitarist will be Tomasz Zawierucha. The program will consist of only four selections, two of which are arrangements of piano music. Specifics are as follows:

  1.  Isaac Albeniz' Opus 202, “Mallorca,” arranged for guitar by Zawierucha
  2. Francisco Tárrega’s arrangement of Frédéric Chopin’s “Raindrop” prelude (Opus 28, Number 15)
  3. The mazurka composed by Alexandre Tansman
  4. “Invocacíon y Danza” by Joaquín Rodrigo
The URL for the video is <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2gDCh-KTKE>, and the video can be viewed at any time after 10 a.m.]

Sunday, May 5, 4 p.m., Mission Dolores Basilica: The Golden Gate Men’s Chorus (GGMC) will join forces with the Peninsula Women’s Chorus (PWC) for a performance of Giacomo Puccini’s setting of the full Mass text, although it tends to be known under the title “Messa di Gloria.” By way of an introduction, PWC will perform three pieces on their own: “Noche de Liuvia” by Sid Robinovitch, Alice Parker’s arrangement of “How Can I Keep From Singing,” and the world premiere performance of “Night into Dawn” by Teresa Wong.

Mission Dolores Basilica is located in the Mission at 3321 16th Street on the southwest corner of Dolores Street. Ticket prices are $30 for general admission, $50 for premium seating, and $15 for students, payable only at the door. Tickets may be purchased online through a Web page on the GGMC Online Store.

Sunday, May 5, 4 p.m., Old First Presbyterian Church: The Ives Collective will make its next regular visit to Old First Concerts. Founding members Susan Freier (violin and viola) and Stephen Harrison (cello) will be joined by violinist Fritz Gearhart, violists Clio Tilton and Evan Buttemer, and Gwendolyn Mok on piano. The program will begin with a quartet composed by Germaine Tailleferre, followed by a piano quartet in G major by nineteenth-century composer Emilie Mayer. The concluding selection will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 515 string quintet in C major. Once again, those unable to attend will be able to benefit from the hyperlink for live streaming to be found on the event page. There will be two more Old First Concerts events during the month of May as follows:

  1. Sunday, May 19, 4 p.m.: Harpist Kaitlin Miller will give a solo recital co-presented with the Bay Area Chapter of the American Harp Society. Program specifics have not yet been announced. However, this program will be available for live streaming through the event page.
  2. Monday, May 20, 7:30 p.m.: The Earplay ensemble will return to present a program entitled New Conversations. It will begin with a new work for instrumental sextet and voice composed by Erin Gee on a commission by the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University. The program will conclude with another work, recently completed and scored for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano by Byron Au Yong. There will also be two duo selections: Sami Self’s “Syriac Fugato,” scored for violin and viola, and George Walker’s “Perimeters” for clarinet and piano. This program will also be available for live streaming through the event page; however, during my last viewing, I found that the pre-concert talk (which usually begins at 6:45 p.m.) was not available for streaming.

Sunday, May 5, 5 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: The twelfth annual Liederabend season will conclude with a performance by mezzo Kindra Scharich. Piano accompaniment will be provided by Jeffrey LaDeur, and they will be joined by cellist Jennifer Culp. Ten different composers will contribute to the program. The earliest of these will be Franz Schubert (“Auf dem Strom,” D. 943) , and the most recent will be Leonard Bernstein (“Dream with me,” from the musical Peter Pan).

As usual, the performance will begin at 5 p.m., and doors will open at 4:30 p.m. The Noe Valley Ministry is located at 1021 Sanchez Street, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth Street. Single tickets for all concerts are $80 for reserved seating, $40 for general admission and a $25 discounted rate for students, seniors, and working artists. These may be purchased in advance through Eventbrite. [added 4/29, 12:30 p.m.:

Sunday, May 5, 8 p.m., Episcopal Church of St John the Evangelist: This will be a performance by the Lantskap Logic Trio, which will celebrate two recent releases on the Clean Feed label. The members of the trio are Evelyn Davis, Fred Frith, Phillip Greenlief, performing on pipe organ (hence the need for performing in a church), guitar and woodwinds. Those particularly interested in Greenlief may know by now that he plans to leave the Bay Area, so this may be one of the last opportunities to experience his approaches to performance. The church is located at 1661 15th Street, a short walk from the corner of 16th Street and Mission Street. Admission will be $20.]

Monday, April 22, 2024

The Bleeding Edge: 4/22/2024

Once again, the activities that have already been reported will outnumber the new announcements. This time, however, only two venues are involved:

  1. The Old First Concerts series at Old First Presbyterian Church with performances tonight and on Friday evening
  2. The Center for New Music with performances on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday

The remaining events are all at familiar venues as follows:

Friday, April 26, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares: This week’s installment of Other Dimensions in Sound, curated by reed player David Boyce, will feature two sets by another reed player, likely to be familiar to most readers of this site. Those sets will be curated by Rent Romus, who plays a variety of saxophones and flutes. For the first set, “From Fire,” he will be joined by Ivy Woods on bass and drummer Eli Streich, along with a guest appearance by Boyce on tenor saxophone. The second set will be taken by his Spirit Quartet, whose other members are drummer Elihu Knowles, Quinn Gerard on bass, and guitarist Jakob Pek. 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, April 26, 8:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Guitarist and composer Mike Gamble will lead a trio, whose other members will be Lisa Mezzacappa on bass and drummer Machado Mijiga. 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. Once again, the information provided by the venue is limited. Readers would do well to assume that the price of admission will probably be $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.

Saturday, April 27, 7:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Following their appearance at The Lab last month, saxophonist Phillip Greenlief and drummer Scott Amendola will given another duo performance to celebrate their 30 years of collaboration. Once again, the selections will include tracks from their recent Clean Feed Records release, Stay with it. Specifics about the venue are again sparse. Readers can refer above to the details for the Friday performance.

Sunday, April 28, 7 p.m., Make-Out Room: Readers probably know by now that this is the venue for the Jazz at the Make-Out Room series. This time the venue will host the San Francisco Lost Signal Concert. There will be four sets of artists who redefine the boundaries of sound and performance: AntiRock Missile (ARME), Striations, Thomas Dimuzio, and Lime Rickey International. There will be an entry fee of $15 at the door. As usual, the Make-Out Room is located in the Mission at 3225 22nd Street.

ECM Releases Fred Hersch’s Latest Solo Album

courtesy of DL Media Music

According to my records, my last account of an album of performances by jazz pianist Fred Hersch appeared on this site at the very end of 2022; and it involved the recording of his performances with esperanza spalding at the Village Vanguard on October 19, 20, and 21 of 2018. The end of last week saw the release of Silent, Listening, his latest solo album with ECM based on recordings made in Lugano in May of 2023. This album serves up seven new original works, one of which (as might be expected) bears the title of the album. The other tracks include “The Star-Crossed Lovers” (also known as “Pretty Girl”), composed jointly by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Russ Freeman’s “The Wind,” “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” by Sigmund Romberg, and Alec Wilder’s “The Winter of My Discontent.”

The advance material for this album cited Hersch’s “in-the-moment spontaneity.” This applies to his interpretations of the composed selections as much as it does to the tracks of the originals. Indeed, it would not surprise me to learn that none of those originals were documented in notation; and, when the polyphony gets thick (as it often does), I wonder if anyone would be skilled enough to transcribe such a document.

Over the course of my many years of listening to Hersch albums, the musicologist in me has finally given way to the in-the-moment listener. In other words, rather like a photograph, any Hersch track amounts to a “snapshot” of how he chose to be making music at a particular time. Were he to perform the piece again at a later time, aspects of the tune may still be there; but, in all probability, the “snapshot” would not be identical. In that respect I regret not having had more opportunities to listen to Hersch in performance, allowing me to appreciate such in-the-moment listening to a greater extent.

Absent those opportunities, I have found that, each time I listen to a recording, I discover new perspectives emerging from each of the album tracks, meaning that this new Silent, Listening album allows for in-the-moment experiences of its own with each subsequent encounter.