Friday, May 31, 2024

Fuga Libera to Release Ernesto Lecuona Album

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

One week from today, Fuga Libra will release a new album that will provide about an hour’s worth of the piano compositions by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona. (As is often the case, is currently processing pre-orders.) My guess is that anyone reading that sentence will associate that name with only one piece of music, “Malagueña.” This is actually the final movement in a six-movement suite that Lecuona composed entitled Andalucía.

The pianist on this new release is Pierre Solot. He did not choose to record the Andalucía suite in its entirety, but he did include the “Gitanerías” movement along with “Malagueña.” Rather than quibble over what is missing, though, it is worth considering what Solot did record. The major undertaking on this album is all ten movements in the 19th Century Cuban Dances suite. Solot also recorded the shorter Tres Miniaturas suite. From a personal point of view, I also was glad to see that he concluded the album with “San Francisco el grande,” even if it has nothing to do with the city where I now live!

Most important is that, in spite of the vagaries of popular culture, Lecuona was far from a “one trick pony.” There are 28 tracks on Solot’s album, and every one of them deserves as much attentive listening as any track of music by Maurice Ravel or George Gershwin. Both of them had encountered Lecuona’s performances during his tours in Europe and the United States, and they both thought very highly of him. Solot clearly shares the perspective of both of these twentieth century giants, and he clearly wanted to make this recording as a way of “sharing his love” for the diversity of Cuban perspectives that Lecuona explored.

Having now listened to this new album several times, I have no trouble casting my lot with Ravel and Gershwin (even if my curiosity about the entire Andalucía suite has yet to be satisfied!

The Lab to Host Brutal Sound Effects Festival

The Brutal Sound Effects Festival was launched in 1995 at Klub Kommode. Located on 16th Street, the venue was, in its time, a space available for “underground” performances. These became “occasional” (rather than annual) events, which have migrated from one venue to another and, at least since July of 2018 (if not earlier), have found The Lab to serve as an accommodating host. True to its name, it has inspired similar concert series, one most familiar to readers probably being G|O|D|W|A|F|F|L|E|N|O|I|S|E|P|A|N|C|A|K|E|S, which seems to have established a monthly home at the Center for New Music.

Poster design for the next Brutal Sound Effects Festival (from the The Lab event page)

Meanwhile, the Brutal Sound Effects Festival is still going strong; and, at the end of next month, The Lab will host installment #97. The spirit of the poster for this concert, shown above, provides some visual cues as to the sort of listening experience one should expect. Actuary will be visiting from Los Angeles. Collision Stories is a quartet of performers, at least some of whom are likely to be familiar to regular readers: Mason Jones, Michael Gendreau, Jorge Bachman, and Bryan Day. Other sets will be taken by R.K. Faulhaber, Anti Matter, Fletcher Pratt, Famous Techno, Compression of the Chest Cavity Miracle (performing with Syrnx, which is Yasi Perera on a Buchla synthesizer), and Earth Jerks.

For those that do not already know, 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. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 29. Admission will be $13 for tickets purchased in advance through the event page. Entry at the door will be $15. As usual, no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

SFCMP: A Disappointing Season Conclusion

Following up on an engaging variety of programs for its 53rd concert season, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) limped its way across the finish line last night in the Mission at the Brava Theater. The title of the program was RE;voicing 2: “Worlds Apart,” those last two words being the title of a new composition by Richard Festinger that filled the second half of the program. This was a major undertaking with two SFCMP instrumentalists joined by the sixteen vocalists of the Volti chamber choir and two soloists, soprano Winnie Nieh and baritone Daniel Cilli.

As might be expected, the How Music is Made preview discussion amounted to a conversation between Artistic Director (and conductor) Eric Dudley and Festinger. Sadly, this was of little benefit when listening to the three movements of “World Apart,” each setting text by a different poet: Bertolt Brecht, Stephen Crane, and Wendell Berry. Festinger seemed more inclined to talk about the experience of making the music, rather than providing the attentive listener with any sort of guide to the music itself.

To be fair, however, I wonder whether such a guide would have been possible. The performance seemed to amble its way through the score, almost on a note-by-note basis giving a syllable-by-syllable account of each of the three poems. It almost seemed as if the composer was focused entirely on situating each note in just the right place, without any clear sense of what “place” happened to be. The result was a gathering of talented musicians determined to bring sense-making to all the marks on their score pages without a clear grasp of just what “sense” was.

The program began with Elliott Carter’s “Asko Concerto,” written late in the composer’s life. When he was younger, many listeners came away from Carter’s works perplexed with the feeling that they had experienced “all theory and no practice.” As he grew older, Carter also grew away from earlier obsessions with theory; and his resulting subjectivity could often be downright cheerful. Such high spirits can be found in “Asko Concerto,” which was given its Bay Area premiere last night. Those spirits were clearly shared by both conductor and instrumentalists, getting things off to a decidedly good start.

Sadly, that start was not continued when Volti took the stage for the remainder of the first half. Jens Ibsen’s “De Profundis” setting was followed by “Effortlessly, Love Flows” by Aaron Jay Kernis. Sadly, the program book did not provide the texts for these selections. However, since the audience had to sit in pitch darkness, printed matter would have been of little value. Fortunately, I was familiar enough with the text to negotiate Ibsen’s composition and found the rhetorical stance to be suitably engaging. On the other hand, I had absolutely no idea what Kernis was trying to do with his setting, let alone what his source was!

Hopefully, 2024–25 will take a turn for the better.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Merola Opera Program: The Song as Drama

Those familiar with yesterday morning’s summary account of the four Merola Opera Program performances that will take place this summer already know that the season will get under way towards the end of next month. The title of the first offering will be The Song as Drama; and it will be curated jointly by Merola Artistic Director Carrie-Ann Matheson and tenor Nicholas Phan. This will be the third time that the two of them will join forces, having presented What the Heart Desires in 2021 and Metamorphosis: Recovery, Renewal, and Rebirth at the beginning of last season.

The Song as Drama will feature performances by five Merola vocalists and five pianists. The program selections will encompass a diverse range of eras and styles. When necessary, additional chamber musicians will provide the necessary accompaniment. However, as of this writing, the full program has not yet been finalized. (I plan to attend this program; and, for what it is worth, I have to confess to cultivating an interest in the art songs of Claude Debussy, which deserve more attention than they tend to receive!)

Seating in the Taube Atrium Theater for recital performances (from a Symphony Parnassus Web page)

This performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 27. The venue will be the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater, which is located on the fourth (top) floor of the Veterans Building, located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. (Note that there are Muni bus lines on both Van Ness and McAllister.)

As was announced yesterday, tickets will be available for $10 for those under 25 and those attending their first Merola production. All other tickets will be $35 for general admission. There will also be discounts available for groups of ten or more, and group sales can be arranged by calling 415-621-4403. Otherwise, tickets may be ordered through the San Francisco Opera Box Office, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. The Box Office, which is in the outer lobby of the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue, is not open on Saturday, when it can be reached only by calling 415-864-3330, which will connect at all of the above hours.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Merola Opera Program Announces 2024 Season

"Banner" of graphic icons for the four events in the Merola Season (from the home page for the season)

With San Francisco Opera beginning its spring season tomorrow evening, can the performances presented by the Merola Opera Program be far behind? Now 67 years old, the program for this summer will feature, for the first time in the organization’s history, three stage directors who are women. There will be four performances open to the public, each of which will be discussed in greater detail in a forthcoming article. However, for those that believe in “saving the date” sooner, rather than later, here is the list of dates, times, and places:

  1. June 27, 7:30 p.m., Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater, The Song as Drama: Artistic Director Carrie-Ann Matheson and tenor Nicholas Phan will co-curate a vocal chamber recital that explores the narrative arc of song.
  2. July 11, 7:30 p.m., and July 13, 2 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Schwabacher Summer Concert: Omer Ben Seadia (Merola ’14) and Anna Theodosakis (this year’s Merola Stage Director) will present extended scenes from the opera repertoire with Louis Lohraseb conducting a full orchestra.
  3. August 1, 7:30 p.m., and August 3, 2 p.m., Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, Don Giovanni: Soprano Patricia Racette (Merola ’88) will direct a fully-staged production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera with Stefano Sazani conducting.
  4. August 17, 7:30 p.m., War Memorial Opera House, Merola Grand Finale: As BBC announcers like to say in introducing the last night of the summer Proms concerts, this is when “the circus leaves town!” All of the participating young artists will gather for staged performances of well-known operatic scenes and lesser-known musical gems. Staging will again be by Theodosakis, and the conductor will be Steven White.

A single Web page has been created for purchasing tickets. This year Merola will be offering tickets to those 25 and under for only $10. In addition, there will also be a $10 rate for those seeing their first Merola production, with specific directions for this offer on the aforementioned Web page. All other ticket prices will range between $35 and $65 (with a $25 option in the War Memorial Opera House).

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Coming to Omni: Rodrigo on Three Guitars

This coming Sunday the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts will release its next OMNI on-Location video. Those that have followed this site for some time probably know by now that these releases usually offer unique perspectives on both repertoire and the settings in which the selections are performed. The new release will present a performance of a new arrangement of one of the most familiar compositions for guitar, the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo.

Marcin Dylla, Ewa Jablczynska, and Dariusz Kupinski (photograph provided by the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts)

The concerto was arranged for three guitars by Dariusz Kupinski. He and Ewa Jablczynska perform as the Kupinski Guitar Duo, and they will be joined by Marcin Dylla. Some readers may recall that, in December of 2022, Omni released a video of this trio performing Kupinski’s arrangement of the guitar concerto by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

YouTube has already created the Web page for this new video, and it will be available for viewing any time after 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 2.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Randy Weinstein Plays Monk on Harmonica

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

This Friday (at least according to the Web page) Random Chance Records will release HarmoniMonk, a delightful arrangement of seven compositions by Thelonious Monk played on a variety of different harmonicas by Randy Weinstein. The above parenthesis is a “red flag of sorts,” since the content on the Web page is sparse and inaccurate to the extent that the Track Listing folds two separate tracks into a single one. (For what it is worth, Bandcamp is even more confusing.)

The compositions, in order of appearance, are as follows:

  1. Bright Mississippi
  2. Bye-Ya
  3. Green Chimneys
  4. In Walked Bud
  5. Off Minor
  6. Ruby My Dear
  7. Straight No Chase

Weinstein plays all of these, but he does so in a variety of imaginative settings. For the most part, the settings are result of Weinstein’s own mixing techniques. For example, in “Bye-Ya” Weinstein compiles a collection of samples of drum performances by Clyde Stubblefield to serve as his only accompaniment. “Off Minor” is even more imaginative. It seems to be a “layered” recording beginning with a “foundation” of Richard Huntley on drums and other percussion. Weinstein then adds additional layers, which included not only his chromatic harmonica, but also keyboard work and electronically synthesized bass and bass flutes.

On the other hand, there is a good chance that both “Green Chimneys” and “In Walked Bud” are “live” performances. Both of these are duets with George Rush accompanying Weinstein on bass on “Green Chimneys,” while Michaela Gomez provides guitar accompaniment for “In Walked Bud.” Ironically, even when it is clear that a track is the result of meticulous engineering and mixing, there is still an element of spontaneity. The delivery may not bring you to the edge of your seat the way that watching Monk in action tended to do (back when I tried to catch him at the Village Vanguard whenever I was in Manhattan). Nevertheless, Weinstein has conjured up a decidedly non-standard reflection on Monk that is likely to seize the attention of any serious listener.

The Bleeding Edge: 5/27/2024

Readers that visit this site regularly probably know that, at the beginning of each week, I make a comment about the balance between new and previously reported events in my weekly Bleeding Edge article. This week it turns out that there are only two new events, while four events have already been reported:

  1. The Lab will present a performance by the Natural Information Society on Wednesday.
  2. The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players will conclude its 2023–24 season with a program entitled RE:voicing 2: Worlds Apart on Thursday.
  3. Audium will present two more performances of The Depths on Friday and Saturday.
  4. Blaise Bryski will play the piano music of Mark Winges at the first Old First Concerts program of next month on Sunday.

The two new events for this week are as follows:

Friday, May 31, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares: For this week’s installment of Other Dimensions in Sound, reed player David Boyce will host the Social Stutter Saxophone Quartet. The members of this group will probably be familiar to most readers: Phillip Greenlief, Beth Schenk, Kasey Knudsen, and Cory Wright. (I would be surprised if Boyce were not to join in with this group for a grand finale!) The venue is located in the Mission at 3036 24th Street, between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street. As always, there is no charge for admission, presumably to encourage visitors to consider buying a book.

Saturday, June 1, 1 p.m., Koret Auditorium: The main building of the San Francisco Public Library will host a two-set afternoon of Bleeding Edge performers. Each set will be slightly less than an hour, meaning that the second set will begin close to 2 p.m. The first set will be taken by a musical collective called Surplus 1980. It is led by percussionist Moe! Staiano, a veteran of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Recordings of this group have involved sharing tracks over the Internet, so it is unclear whether or not any performers will be joining Staiano for this set. The second set will be taken by Dizzy Twin, whose founding members are vocalist Mia d’Bruzzi and Paul Simmons on guitar. Since its founding, the group has grown to a quintet, whose other members are guitarist Roger Rocha, Tim Perdue on bass, and drummer Michael Tornatore. For those unfamiliar with the venue, it is located at 100 Larkin Street, across an extended park with City Hall at the other end.

SFS: Penultimate Chamber Music Series Program

Yesterday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) presented the penultimate program in its series of six chamber music recitals. The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Opus 50 piano trio in A minor, while the first half served as a “bridge” between the late twentieth century and works from the previous decade. As usual, most of the performers were SFS members, joined by pianist Elizabeth Dorman, who would be familiar to those attending these chamber music performances regularly. There were also a “guest appearances” by Evan Kahn, Principal Cello in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and guitarist Steven Lin.

Kahn performed in the Tchaikovsky trio, along with Dorman and violinist Chen Zhao. I have to confess that, in my personal hierarchy of the Tchaikovsky catalog, this trio has gradually risen above all of the symphonies and overtures. It is a lengthy undertaking, due primarily to the middle movement, which is an extended series of highly diverse variations on a relatively basic classical theme. In the printed program for this performance, the final variation is listed as a movement unto itself, which completes the composition with a reflection on the opening theme, followed by a dark funeral march.

All three of the performers gave this music all of the interpretative passion they could muster. Thus, while the “ride” through the score was a long one, it abounded with a wide spectrum of dispositions, all of which were given just the right level of expressiveness by the performers. The journey through Opus 50 may have been a long one, but there was never a dull moment.

The three recent compositions in the first half were presented in reverse chronological order. There first of these was Durwynne Hsieh’s 2013 Four Duos, which amounted to a (four-movement) suite for cello (David Goldblatt) and guitar (Lin). To some extent the movements reminded me of the short compositions that Virgil Thomson wrote as “portraits” of his friends and acquaintances. (Indeed, the first of the duos is entitled “Portrait of Professor X.”) However, brevity was the soul of wit behind each of Thomson’s portraits, while each of Hsieh’s movements felt like it would go on forever (even when the clock may have declared otherwise). Nevertheless, there was no faulting the efforts of cellist David Goldblatt to evoke a stimulating interpretation in partnership with Lin.

This was followed by a late (2011) composition by Krzysztof Penderecki. Those of my generation had our “first contact” with this composer when encountering his “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.” Scored for a large ensemble of strings, each with its own individual part, the dissonances could not have been more bone-chilling. Fortunately, the composer mellowed with age. Violinist Jessie Fellows performed his 2011 “Duo Concertante” with Daniel G. Smith on bass. Their account was downright playful, making for a refreshing relief from Hsieh’s long-winded rhetoric.

Smith then returned to play the first and last movements of the Concert Duo that Edgar Meyer (himself a virtuoso bass player) composed in 1999. The other instrument in this duo was a violin, played by David Chernyavsky. Back when my wife and I were going to performances in New York, we often encountered Meyer’s bass recitals, which were almost always in that “downright playful” category. Scoring this duo for extremes was clearly part of Meyer’s playfulness, and both Chernyavsky and Smith had no trouble getting into the spirit of things.

Taken as a whole, the program was a journey worth taking; and the trio performance definitely reinforced my conviction that this was Tchaikovsky at his best!

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Argentina Durán: Mexican Solo Piano Music

Pianist Argentina Durán (presumably at the keyboard of the Yamaha CFX grand piano on which she recorded the album being discussed) (photograph by Alfredo Hacheve, courtesy of Classical Promo Services)

Rapsodia Mexicana is a new solo album by Mexican pianist Argentina Durán. Over the course of fourteen tracks, she reviews works by nine different Mexican composers. For most readers the most familiar of these will be Manuel Ponce, and I have to confess that the remaining eight all provided me with “first contact” experiences. The album is currently available for digital download through an Web page. The physical release is scheduled for June 1; and, presumably, on that date, the Purchase Options pulldown menu will be upgraded.

It is only fair for me to confess that, by way of disclaimer, none of the selections on this album were familiar to me. Indeed, the only hint of recognition came towards the end of the final track, when one of the themes in Jesús Corona’s “Rapsodia Mexicana” turned out to be “La Cucaracha!” (This left me wondering how many of the themes in Franz Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies were actually familiar to Hungarians!) Ironically, I had encountered Ponce’s four-movement “Danzas Mexicanas” composition a little more than two years ago, when I wrote my two articles about pianist Álvaro Cendoya’s project to record that composer’s complete works for piano.

I suppose that what struck me most about all of the composers encountered on Rapsodia Mexicana is that each one of them had cultivated his own approach to exploring embellishments. Indeed, one can almost take these tracks as reflections on jazz, whose expressiveness emerges from embellishments (otherwise known as “riffs”) that rise above the tunes themselves. It is also worth noting that, over the course of the album, the attentive listener encounters a refreshing variety of dispositions. Put another way, no one would accuse Durán of having prepared a “same old same old” program over the course of her album!

Perhaps it is time for me to revisit some of those other Ponce compositions …

Madison Smith to Return with Benefit Concert

About a month ago I learned that soprano Madison Smith would be returning to give a performance after almost ten years. I have to confess that I took this news very personally. Unless I am mistaken, Smith’s Graduate Recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was the topic of the very first article I wrote for I was delighted to discover that this was one of the few articles to benefit from an online archive, and I have to confess that it was with a bit of relief that I found I could reread the article without blushing!

Poster for the concert being discussed (from the Web page for ticket purchases)

After that recital the two of us went our separate ways (or, more accurately, Smith moved on while I remained at my desk). Now, in about a month’s time, she will be performing again in San Francisco. She has prepared a program entitled Echoes of Innocence, which is structured around the performance of Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (songs on the death of children) song cycle. As of this writing, the other works to be performed have not yet been finalized. Smith will be accompanied at the piano by Margaret Halbig.

This will be a two-hour program beginning at 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 23. The venue will be the Noe Valley Ministry, which is located at 1021 Sanchez Street, just south of 23rd Street. (This makes it convenient to public transportation lines that stop at the corner of Church Street and 24th Street.) All tickets are being sold for $50, and a Web page has been created for online purchase. A portion of all sales will be donated to UNICEF, and the percentage of the donation will increase with the number of tickets sold.

David Afkham Makes DSO Debut

Yesterday evening, my wife once again settled in over dinner with a Live from Orchestra Hall streamed performance by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO). The ensemble was led by German conductor David Afkham, making his debut with the ensemble. He prepared a program consisting of a single composition on either side of the intermission and devoted, respectively, to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Screen shot from last night’s streamed performance of violin soloist Veronika Eberle with David Afkham conducting the DSO

The composer for the first half was Johannes Brahms, represented by his Opus 77 violin concerto in D major. The soloist was Veronika Eberle, and her command of both the “text” and the cadenzas could not have been more engaging. (No information was provided regarding the sources of those cadenzas.) Afkham brought a sure hand to balancing the rich sonorities of the ensemble against Eberle’s solo work. There are probably those that think that this is a concerto performed too many times, but Eberle brought a freshness to her perceptive command of detail. The music was familiar, but one still sat on the edge one’s seat wondering where her expressiveness would lead.

As might have been expected, the audience would not let Eberle leave without an encore. Rather than perform any of the usual solo fireworks, she played a duo with Concertmaster Robyn Bollinger. Sadly, the selection was not announced, leaving most of us in the dark with regard to both composer and title. Nevertheless, there was no mistaking that the performance was a dynamite account of a short piece clearly conceived for spectacle.

Having devoted the first half of the program to a virtuoso soloist, Afkham broadened the scope as wide as possible in the second half with a performance of the work that Béla Bartók called “Concerto for Orchestra.” This title was no mere conceit. Over the course of five movements, Bartók made it a point to allow every instrumental sonority to have its say at least once, if not more often.

As a result, this is music that allows the attentive listener an opportunity to appreciate the full scope of what all those instruments can do, either in solo or in differently combined groups. This is particularly evident in the second movement, which was given the title “Game of Pairs.” The theme consists of five “stanzas,” each of which is played by a different pair of instruments separated by a different interval. It is introduced by two bassoons in parallel minor sixths. They are followed by a pair of oboes in minor thirds, after which two clarinets pick up the theme in minor sevenths. The flutes then continue the theme in open fifths, followed by a radical shift to muted trumpets in major seconds.

By all rights, last night’s telecast should have been a visual feast as much as an auditory one. Sadly, the camera work for that “Game of Pairs” was disappointingly lax; and the full-brass chorale that followed all those pairs was distressingly neglected in the video. Going back to a tradition established by Jordan Whitelaw with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, this is a composition in which the camera work needs to follow the score as acutely as the musicians do. However, it is clear that no one in the video crew paid very much attention to the score, figuring that they would be able to “wing it” on the basis of familiarity with auditory cues.

The good news is that Afkham delivered a first-rate account of one of Bartók’s most imaginative undertakings; and there was more than enough to be engaged in attentive listening to compensate for the negligent video work.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Opera Parallèle to Conclude Season with Premiere

Next month Opera Parallèle will conclude its 2023–24 season with three performances of the West Coast premiere of Fellow Travelers. Greg Pierce developed the libretto for this opera by turning to the novel by Thomas Mallon with the same title. The music was composed by Gregory Spears. Cincinnati Opera presented the world premiere in 2016. This was followed by performances in New York during the 2018 Prototype Festival. Subsequent performances were presented by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Minnesota Opera, and the Boston Lyric Opera. Finally, the opera is making its way to the West Coast!

Back when the season was first announced, I cited a Wikipedia page to account for the opera’s title. The “capsule description” of “fellow traveler” is “a person who is intellectually sympathetic to the ideology of a political organization, and who co-operates in the organization's politics, without being a formal member of that organization.” In this case the ideology was Communism; and the “fellow travelers” were those sympathetic to the ideology without becoming “card-carrying members” of the Communist Party. Many of those sympathizers were accused of homosexuality, resulting in an anti-Communist movement known as the “Lavender Scare.”

Guest Conductor Jaymes Kirksey (from the Opera Parallèle Web page for Fellow Travelers)

Jaymes Kirksey will be Guest Conductor, leading the seventeen-piece Opera Parallèle Orchestra. Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel will provide the staging. The vocalists will include Jonathan Pierce Rhodes, Joseph Lattanzi, Victoria Lawal, Kurt Winterhalter, Elena Galván, Cara Gabrielson, Daniel Cilli, Matthew Worth, and Matthew Lovell, several of whom will be performing multiple roles. The most significant role to be called out by a familiar name is that of Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose part will be sung by Cilli. (Those of us that can look back on “Tail-Gunner Joe” without choking or spitting are getting fewer in number!)

Opera Parallèle will present three performances of Fellow Travelers. These will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21, and Saturday, June 22, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 23. The venue will be the Presidio Theatre at 99 Moraga Avenue, in the southwest corner of the Presidio. All tickets are being sold through a Presidio Theatre Web page. Prices range from $30 to $120. The Web page also includes a hyperlink for information about round trip bus tickets for $35 The opera will be performed in two acts separated by an intermission, with an overall run time of 135 minutes.

Discovering the Symphonies of George Enescu

Cristian Măcelaru leading the Orchestra National de France (photograph by Christophe Abramowitz, courtesy of Radio France)

Earlier this month Deutsche Grammophon released a three-CD album of performances of the first three symphonies composed by George Enescu. The conductor is Cristian Măcelaru, leading the Orchestra National de France, where he is Music Director. This past April he was named to be the next Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

These days one is more likely to encounter Enescu’s music in a violin recital, rather than an orchestral performance. Indeed, at the end of last month, Daniel Hope played his “Impromptu Concertante” in Herbst Theatre with pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips as his accompanist. Where the orchestral repertoire is concerned, during the last century Enescu was probably best known for his two Romanian Rhapsodies (Opus 11), the first of which has secured a solid place in at least one popular high school music textbook. On the other hand, the advance material I received when this new collection (which included both rhapsodies) was released declared that “the three symphonies are yet to be discovered as truly centre [sic] pieces of the symphonic repertoire.”

Having now listened to all three of those symphonies, I cannot nod in agreement with that phrase. The best I can say is that Enescu definitely had a keen ear for instrumental sonorities. He could deploy the full resources of an orchestra and consistently summon up just the right blends of coloration. On the other hand the structures of the individual symphonic movements leave much to be desired. He guided both of the rhapsodies with a sure hand migrating from one theme to the next; but there was far less sense of a well-planned journey in any of the individual symphonic movements, let alone in any one of the symphonies taken as a whole.

All three of these symphonies are early works, composed between 1905 and 1918. (Opus 11 was composed in 1901.) Two much later symphonies were begun in 1935 and 1941, respectively; but they were left uncompleted when Enescu died in 1955. Pascal Bentoiu prepared completed version of them between 1995 and 1996, but I have to wonder if dealing with the architectural scale of a four-movement symphony just was not in the composer’s wheelhouse. Personally, I would be happier if the current crop of conductors would go back to the Opus 11 rhapsodies to serve “overture duty” for the programs they prepare.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Kronos to Present Ninth Festival Next Month

Once again, the Kronos Quartet is making plans for its annual music festival. As in the past, the event will be held at the SFJAZZ Center; and it will be organized around three concert performances. These will take place between Thursday, June 20, and Saturday, June 22. There will also be a screening of the documentary A Thousand Thoughts on Sunday, June 23, with Kronos giving a “live” performance of the music.

Kronos Quartet members Hank Dutt, John Sherba, David Harrington, and Paul Wiancko (courtesy of Mona Baroudi)

This is a special year in that it marks the quartet’s 50th anniversary.  However, it will also mark the final performances to be given by violinist John Sherba and violist Hank Dutt. That means that cellist Paul Wiancko and leader David Harrington will be recruiting two new members, hopefully in time to pursue next season’s activities and commitments.

Kronos has created a single Web page with up-to-date information summarizing performances, all of which will take place in Minor Auditorium. It is structured with a series of four tabs for the three evening concerts and the documentary screening. There are two additional tabs, one for two Kronos Labs events and the other for Ellen Reid’s free SOUNDWALK installation in Golden Gate Park.

Ticketing will again be handled by the SFJAZZ Center on a performance-by-performance basis. There will be reserved seating for all three of the evening concerts with prices ranging from $25 to $75. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 866-920-5299 or by visiting the Box Office on the ground floor of the SFJAZZ Center. The SFJAZZ Center is located at 201 Franklin Street, on the northwest corner of Fell Street.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

SFGMC to Perform with SFS next Month in Davies

A few of the SFGMC members (from the event page on the SFS Web site)

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) first performed with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in 1995. However, they began to arrange annual concerts in 2022; and tickets were sold out both in that year and in 2023. For its third annual concert, SFGMC will present a newly commissioned work for chorus and orchestra composed by Dominick DiOrio. San Francisco composer David Conte will contribute to the program with “Elegy for Matthew.” Turning back to the preceding century, there will also be a performance of the cycle by Ralph Vaughan Williams entitled Five Mystical Songs. There will also be a “pops” side to the program with selections such as “True Colors,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “Cut to the Feeling.” The conductor for this performance will be SFGMC Artistic Director Jacob Stensberg.

This performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18. As most readers will expect, it will take place in Davies Symphony Hall, which 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. Ticket prices range from $20 to $139. Since the chorus will be performing with a full orchestral ensemble, they will be situated in the Terrace section, meaning that audience seating will not be available there.

Alchemist Jazz Quintet at Mr. Tipple’s

As had been announced earlier this month, the Alchemist Quintet visited Mr. Tipple’s Jazz Club yesterday evening to perform the first two sets. This group has a somewhat unconventional front line shared by Michele Walther on violin and saxophonist Doug Pet, playing both tenor and soprano. The rhythm section consisted of John Kiskaddon on piano, bassist Ted Burik, and Greg German on drums.

Most of the selections were originals. By my count, both Walther and Kiskaddon contributed two of them. Pet used his, “Castles Out of Ashes,” to highlight his soprano work, which could not have been more polished. By my count, both Burik and German took only one extended solo each. Burik took the lead in improvising on Walther’s “Valentine’s Waltz,” providing a “call” to which Walther then “responded.” That exchanged was then capped off by a solo take from Kiskaddon. German got his chance to bring his technique to the foreground to cap off a series of improvisations around Pet’s “Breakthrough.”

As just about every reader will realize by now, this was a combo that delivered jazz the way I like it. Whether the music was a ballad (“Stella by Starlight”), a waltz (“Valentine’s Waltz”), or straight-ahead jazz, there was more than enough inventiveness to keep the attentive listener occupied. There also seemed to be a determination to connect with the audience (even those more occupied with food, drinks, and conversation), thus getting beyond the don’t-bother-me-I’m-busy demeanor of many of the more intensely focused jazz players. The whole affair was an engaging one serving up novelty mixed with imaginative takes on the traditional selections.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Trinity Alps in San Francisco (so to speak)

This year’s poster for the Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival showing the schedule of all performances (from the Festival home page)

This summer the Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival will celebrate its fourteenth season. While the focus of the festival involves concerts in Trinity County and Humboldt County, the season has regularly concluded with the performers bringing their repertoire to San Francisco. This year that final offering will take place at Monument SF, 140 9th Street in SoMa, on Friday, July 26, beginning at 7:30 pm. Since that repertoire has not yet been finalized, program specifics are not yet available.

This year, however, there will also be a special event prior to the launch of the Festival. This will be an Online Watch Party, making it as accessible to those of us in San Francisco as anywhere else connected to cyberspace. This will be a livestream of the world premiere of “Hyampom,” composed by Sam Reider on a commission supported by Louise Cogan in memory of her husband Michael, who was an enthusiastic and generous supporter of the festival. The title is named after a village in Trinity County, and the music is based on the composer’s childhood memories of visiting that area. Keeping in mind the Trinity Alps musicians, Reider scored “Hyampom” for fourteen instruments, including strings, woodwinds, piano, and accordion.

The performance will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 6. Streaming will be enabled through Zoom. There will be no charge for viewing, but Zoom has created a Web page for registration prior to establishing the connection.

Quatuor Hanson Surveys Schumann Quartets

Pianist Adam Laloum surrounded by the members of Quatuor Hanson on the cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of PIAS)

This Friday harmonia mundi will release a two-CD album that presents the complete string quartets composed by Robert Schumann. These are performed by Quatuor Hanson, named after first violinist Anton Hanson. The other members are violinist Jules Dussap, Gabrielle Lafait on viola, and  cellist Simon Dechambre. There are only three of those quartets, all collected as Schumann’s Opus 47. In “order of appearance” these are in the respective keys of A minor, F major, and A major. The durations are such that the second of the two CDs also accommodates a performance of the better-known Opus 44 piano quintet in E-flat major, for which pianist Adam Laloum joins Quatuor Hanson. Those in a hurry to acquire this album will be glad to know that Barnes & Noble has created a Web page for placing pre-orders (which qualifies for free shipping)!

Whether Schumann deliberately set out to be a polymath, his undertakings were, as they say, “all over the map.” There is every reason to believe that he only felt he had a right to write about music after he had established his credentials for making it himself. Nevertheless, the results of the “making” were very much a “mixed bag.” His instrument was the piano; and, when one surveys everything that he wrote for solo piano, one finds the best of his achievements in the entire catalog.

Thus, it would not be unfair to say that, in spite of his great admiration for the compositions of Ludwig van Beethoven, the string quartet genre was just not in Schumann’s “comfort zone.” All three of them follow the conventional four-movement format, each with a well-conceived overall plan. Nevertheless, anyone that decides to sit down one afternoon and listen to these two CDs may well breathe a sigh of relief upon encountering the piano quintet (as I did)!

Mind you, I am as interested in Schumann’s efforts as Schumann was in Beethoven’s. Ironically, this was not my “first contact” with Opus 41. Thanks to San Francisco Performances (SFP), the last time I encountered one of those quartets in performance was in October of 2022, when the Danish String Quartet performed the A major quartet; and the Elias String Quartet gave performances of the A minor quartet on two different occasions, the first of which, in March of 2013, was for Jonathan Biss’ Schumann: Under the Influence project.

In that context I was aware of one or two familiar themes while listening to the Quatuor Hanson performances. I could even associate that familiarity with past Schumann encounters! Nevertheless, the music itself never rose to a level of rhetorical intensity that I have experienced so frequently in the solo piano compositions. However, those that have had their fill of familiarity with the quartets of Beethoven (and, for that matter, Béla Bartók) may appreciate an opportunity to listen to something different!

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Dred Scott Trio to Begin June at Chez Hanny

Dred Scott at the piano performing in Midtown Manhattan with Matt Pavolka (bass) and Diego Voglino (drums) (from their YouTube video)

Next month at Chez Hanny will begin with a program entitled Dred at 60. “Dred” is jazz pianist Dred Scott (not to be confused with the litigant of the 1857 Supreme Court decision), who was a major figure in the San Francisco jazz scene before moving to New York. He will lead a trio whose other members are significant San Francisco jazz performers: John Wiitala on bass and drummer Eric Garland. Scott has described his program as follows: “I’ll be playing songs, tunes and compositions that have inspired me over the course of my career, played by musicians and composers I have admired an emulated.” The musicians he has in mind include Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett.

As usual, the show will begin at Chez Hanny at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 2. As always, the venue will be Hanny’s house at 1300 Silver Avenue, with the performance taking place in the downstairs rumpus room. Those planning to attend should think about having cash for a preferred donation of $25. All of that money will go to the musicians. There will be two sets separated by a potluck break. As a result, all who plan to attend are encouraged to bring food and/or drink to share. Seating is first come, first served; and the doors will open at 3:30 p.m. Reservations are preferred and may be made by sending electronic mail to

Natsuki Tamura’s Duo with Drummer Jim Black

Jim Black and Natsuki Tamura during the recording of one of the tracks on NatJim (photograph by Felix Wolf)

Those that have followed this site for some time are probably familiar with Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, usually for his performances with his wife, jazz pianist Satoko Fujii. However, after following Fujii’s work over the course of many years of writing, I eventually broadened my scope to take in Tamura’s albums. The latest of these is NatJim, a duo album of nine tracks of performances with drummer Jim Black. This is the first time that the two of them have made a recording in 25 years, which reaches way back before I even began to nurture thoughts about this kind of writing!

The “theme” of the album is evident from the track titles:

  1. Morning City
  2. Afternoon City
  3. City of Dusk
  4. City of Night
  5. Quiet City
  6. Noisy City
  7. Calm City
  8. Bright City
  9. Bonus

For the most part, Tamura takes the lead in establishing a mood consistent with the title of each of the tracks. It is clear (at least to my listening capacities) that a fair amount of playfulness is involved; and that play often extends to give-and-take exchanges with Black. The good news is that neither player is inclined to let a track linger for too long. As a result, the attentive listener is likely to come away from an encounter with the entire album feeling that it was a journey well worth taking.

Much of that feeling reflects on the sounds themselves. Tamura’s technique explores a wide diversity of sonorities. Often, when they depart from what one usually expects from a trumpet, they are likely to bring a smile. Meanwhile, Black is a master of polyrhythms, always establishing just the right textures to serve as background to Tamura’s foreground. Neither of these players is afraid of taking deep dives into adventurous details, meaning that, over the course of playing this album several times, the attentive listener is likely to keep making new and engaging discoveries.

An Uneven Earplay Concert at O1C

Last night’s performance by the Earplay chamber ensemble at Old First Presbyterian Church turned out to be a perplexing affair, at least for those of us that did not attend the pre-concert conversation. The first selection on the program was the world premiere performance of “Mouthpiece 40,” composed by Erin Gee on a commission shared by Earplay and the Fromm Foundation. The work was scored for the full complement of Earplay musicians: Tod Brody, playing two sizes of flutes, Peter Josheff on bass clarinet, violinist Terrie Baune, Ellen Ruth Rose on viola, cellist Thalia Moore, and Keisuke Nakagoshi on piano, conducted by Mary Chun.

The Earplay ensemble about to begin the performance of “Mouthpiece 40” (screenshot from the YouTube video)

The title suggested a vocal performance, and the program indicated that the composer herself would join the ensemble. However, as can seen from the above screen shot, the composer never appeared; nor was there any explanation of her absence! (There may have been an explanation during the pre-concert event, but those of us that missed it were left in the dark.)

Sadly, the music itself was not particular engaging, muddling its way through three movements with little sense of progression. The good news was that, for the rest of the evening, things got better! There were two throughly engaging duo performances on either side of the intermission.

The first of these was “Syriac Fugato 2” by Lebanese composer Sami Seif. This was the prizewinning submission to the 2023 Earplay Distance Shores competition, and one could relish the Middle Eastern rhetoric that unfolded in the interplay between violinist Baune and violist Rose. George Walker’s “Perimeters,” on the other hand, was a three-movement duo for clarinet and piano. Composed in 1966, this music still has a freshness to it the reminded me of how much I enjoy the intimacy of chamber music.

The program concluded with The Headlands Suite, composed by Byron Au Yong and performed by the full ensemble. The title comes from a San Francisco noir detective story; and each of the seven movements (except for the fourth) is associated with an episode in the narrative. Nevertheless, the music was perfectly capable of standing on its own merits without belaboring the text fragments taken as movement titles. This was a world premiere performance; and, as far as I am concerned, it deserves further listening experiences!

So, if things got off to a perplexing start, the Earplayers did not waste any time in regaining their “musical footing” to provide engaging accounts with their limited instrumentation!

Monday, May 20, 2024

The Bleeding Edge: 5/20/2024

This week will be both relatively quiet and well-balanced between new announcements and previously reported events. More specifically, there are three performances in each of those categories. The events that have already been reported are as follows:

  • Old First Concerts will conclude the month with the New Conversations program presented by the Earplay ensemble this evening.
  • Audium will continue its performances of The Depths on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Those three events will be complemented by three new offerings as follows:

Tuesday, May 21, 7 p.m., Make-Out Room: Once again, Jazz at the Make-Out Room will present three sets of adventurous performances. The first set will be led by reed virtuoso Jaroba. While I have been used to listening to his solo gigs, on this occasion he will be joined by saxophonist Steve Munger and Paul Winstanley on bass. The second set, which will begin at 7:45 p.m., will be taken by the WAG trio, whose initials identify three reed players, Cory Wright, Steve Adams, and Philip Greenlief. All of the selections were have been composed by Greenlief. The final set, beginning at 8:30 p.m., will be taken by guitarist David Lechuga with other performers yet to be announced. As usual, the Make-Out Room is located in the Mission at 3225 22nd Street. Doors will open at 6 p.m. There is no cover charge, so donations will be accepted and appreciated.

Friday, May 24, 7 p.m., Medicine for Nightmares: This week Other Dimensions in Sound, curated by reed player David Boyce, will present a performance by The Living Room. Unfortunately, no further information has been provided. Whether or not that performance will have anything to do with John Cage’s percussion composition “Living Room Music” will be left for the listener to decide! 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, May 24, 8:30 p.m., Bird & Beckett Books and Records: Saxophonist Rent Romus will lead a performance by his Spirit Quintet. The other members are guitarist Jakob Pek, who will probably alternate between front line and rhythm, Brett Carson on piano, drummer Eli Knowles, and Quinn Gerard on bass.  For those that do not already know, Bird & Beckett is located at 653 Chenery Street, a short walk from the Glen Park station that serves both BART and Muni. The information provided by the venue is more limited than usual, but 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. Since this is a Friday, it is likely that there will be a live stream available through YouTube. Those interested in that possibility should consult the Bird & Beckett home page on the YouTube Web site.

Another Werewolf Joins Goldberg’s Pack

The is the month when, one year ago, I wrote an account of Ben Goldberg’s tenth werewolf album, Thoughts of a Werewolf. This project began in January of 2022, when the jazz clarinetist released a series of nine mini-albums:

  1. The Werewolf of January 4
  2. Werewolf of Today
  3. Another Werewolf
  4. Werewolf in Therapy
  5. Lonesome Werewolf
  6. Werewolf Ah Um
  7. Good Bad Werewolf
  8. Story of a Werewolf
  9. Werewolf Awareness

These were all spontaneous improvisations, each recorded on a single day, hence the title of the first release. The titles are whimsical; and, if there is any connection between the sixth and Charles Mingus, I have yet to fathom it! Taken as a whole, however, the tracks unfold as an impressive display of solo clarinet technique.

Cover design for Ben Goldberg’s Werewolf Take Care album (from the Bandcamp Web page for the album)

This month the werewolf count was taken up to eleven with the release of Werewolf Take Care. (Any connection to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is purely coincidental.) It consists of six tracks. The longest is the first, running a little over six minutes. The shortest is the last, which is only 45 seconds. Nevertheless, there is again an engaging variety of dispositions emerging from Goldberg spontaneous inventions.

Since these are all digital releases, there are no album covers as such. However, Bandcamp always provides a “cover image.” Those that recall Thoughts of a Werewolf may remember that the image was cosmic. This time, as can be seen above, there is a return to “nature on earth” associated with earlier releases. Is this a sign of a back-to-nature movement among the werewolves?

Sunday, May 19, 2024

SFSYO Takes on Mahler’s’ Fifth Symphony

One of the reasons that I do my best to try to keep up with performances by the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) is that, over the course of my many years of following them, they have never been afraid of challenging repertoire. That said, this afternoon’s program in Davies Symphony Hall took the challenges to a new level. Wattis Foundation Music Director Daniel Stewart led the full forces of the ensemble in a performance of Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony, composed (at least on the title page) in the key of C-sharp minor.

This was the only work on the program, clocking in at around 75 minutes in duration. It is particularly interesting in the way Mahler conceived it as an arch-like structure in five movements. The “keystone” is (of course) the middle movement, a Scherzo, which is usually the longest of the five. (Depending on the conductor, it comes in somewhere around twenty minutes—a “full-length” composition unto itself, so to speak.) It is preceded by two very dark movements, both of which are dominated by funeral marches. (The first is explicitly designated as a funeral march. The second is designated as “stormy;” but a funeral is taking place in the midst of the cloudburst.) It is only after the Scherzo that the intensity dies down a bit with an Adagietto scored only for strings (including a harp). This turns out to be the “calm before the storm” of the concluding Rondo, which, in true Finale form, brings back several fragments from the preceding movements while marching again, this time with more energetic determination, climaxing in what almost amounts to a race to the finish line.

That overall plan poses a major challenge to any symphonic ensemble, let alone one of young performers not yet ready to start thinking about their future professions. Fortunately, the SFSYO players enjoy the resources of a moderately large Coaching Faculty, consisting almost entirely of members of the San Francisco Symphony. Thus, even when the conductor may leave much to be desired (in my case that meant, during this season, blowing both hot and cold), there is no doubting that the players themselves are well-trained.

In that context I came away from this afternoon’s performance feeling that they were definitely well-equipped to take on Mahler. That said, I also often felt as if Stewart was spending more time “going with the flow,” rather than “channeling” it. In addition, from time to time it struck me that he was focusing primarily on providing punctuation marks, not all of which seemed to have reinforced the rhetoric that Mahler had laid out (usually highly specifically) in his score.

I also found myself wondering, during the final movement, whether Mahler had deliberately created a “Das Bemerkt ja schon jeder Esel” moment. I first encountered this in an anecdote that involved someone accusing Johannes Brahms as borrowing from Ludwig van Beethoven. Brahms replied, (in the English translation) “Any jackass can see that!” In that vein I found myself thinking how one of the themes in that final Rondo sounded like the entrance of the Mastersingers. Given Mahler’s experience in conducting Wagner operas, I suspect that he decided to have a bit of fun with the audience for his fifth symphony.

Walking back from Davies I decided that, while this may not have been my most satisfying Mahler experience, I was glad that the players had an opportunity to explore all the complexities in that score and then rise to its many challenges.

SFCMP: Premieres from 3 Emerging Composers

Readers may recall that, earlier this season, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP), led by Artistic Director Eric Dudley, presented two showcases to present beneficiaries of the ARTZenter Institute's Emerging Composer Program. Works by three of those composers have now been selected, and SFCMP will present a program giving all three of them their respective world premieres. In addition each composer will receive a $3000 grant from the ARTZenter Institute, along with the funds for travel to attend this concert, as well as accommodations in San Francisco.

Ben Rieke, one of the three composers whose music will be performed by SFCMP (from the event page for the performance)

The three works on the program will be as follows:

  • Craig Peaslee: Her Dress Waves
  • Cole Reyes: Snap
  • Ben Rieke: Not Another Word

Dudley will conduct the SFCMP musicians in Herbst Theatre, whose entrance is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12. There will be no charge for admission.

Final Album of Thomson Portraits from Everbest

Virgil Thomson at work on a composition (photograph by Christopher Cox, courtesy of AMT Public Relations)

Readers may recall that I have been making it a point to keep up with the efforts of Everbest Music to release recordings of music composed by Virgil Thomson. I was particularly interested in his approach to composing “portraits” of the rich and diverse individual that were part of his life in one capacity or another. I had my first opportunity to write about those efforts in January of 2021, after I had listened to the Everbest album entitled Portraits, Self-Portraits and Songs. This morning I finished my first listening encounter with Everbest’s latest Thomson album, entitled A Gallery of Portraits for Piano and Other Piano Works, which was released this past Friday. This is a two-CD set; and, because those portraits are basically miniatures, it accounts for 81 tracks! The pianist for the album is Craig Rutenberg.

Thomson was born on November 25, 1896 and died on September 30, 1989. To say that he lived a rich and productive life would be bordering on understatement. I was fortunate enough to meet him on one occasion. He did not have much to say, and he may have been offended because that encounter also provided my first and only contact with dance critic Edwin Denby, whom, at that time, I found far more interesting! Thus, I learned more about Thomson by reading his autobiography, even if he had completed it several decades before his death.

However, it is clear that I was not one of the myriad of individuals in his life that were important enough for him to capture in a musical portrait! Nevertheless, I suspect that most listeners that scan the track list will encounter only a few familiar names with Pablo Picasso at the top of that list. (One of Picasso’s models, Dora Mar, appears on the previous track!) Another familiar name (at least to those of my generation) would be John Houseman. Ironically, his track was followed by Rodney Lister, who was one of my fellow students during my undergraduate years.

Where the “other piano works” on the album are concerned, I was more that delighted to encounter music I had worked on back when my hands were still agile. Readers may recall that, during the pandemic, I wrote about the music that Virgil Thomson had composed for Pare Lorentz’ film The Plow That Broke the Plains. Thomas prepared two concert adaptations of this music, a six-movement suite for orchestra and one with only four movements for solo piano. I was surprised by how easily the latter fit under my hands; and I took great pleasure in playing it (as did my wife in listening). Rutenberg included that version on his Everbest album, along with a similar piano reduction of music Thomson had composed for the ballet “Filling Station.”

In other words, much of my enjoyment of this new release is grounded on many fine personal memories; and I can only hope that a new generation of listeners can also discover pleasures in listening to this music (if not also taking to trouble to try playing some of it)!

Tod Cochran Trio at SFJAZZ

Todd Cochran (from the banner for the SFJAZZ event page)

Yesterday evening I was able to get over to the Joe Henderson Lab in the SFJAZZ Center to take in the first set performed by the Todd Cochran Trio. Cochran led at the piano, joined by John Leftwich on bass and drummer Lyndon Rochelle. Cochran gave his program the titled Remembering… a homage to my hometown, San Francisco. However, he did not dwell on this concept, preferring to serve up a little less than an hour’s worth of thoroughly engaging performances reflecting on different aspects of his repertoire.

These days it seems as if everyone feels an obligation to give a nod to Thelonious Monk, and Cochran was no exception. He began the set with “Brilliant Corners” (which I have always felt gets far less attention than it deserves). Each of the numbers on the program allowed for extended solos by Leftwich and Rochelle; and, for this opening selection, Leftwich took his solo playing his bass with his bow. The tinge of melancholy in those bowed sonorities almost seemed to constitute a memorial nod to Monk’s spirit.

Early in the evening, Cochran let Leftwich and Rochelle take a break while he gave a solo account of one of his own compositions. “Crescent Moon” unfolded with a throughly engaging interplay of both harmonic and rhythmic progressions. This entailed the sort of sophisticated keyboard work that would make any skilled classical pianist gape with envy. (If Jean-Yves Thibaudet is not yet aware of Cochran, he would do well to go over to and check out some of his albums!)

Of particular interest was “LaRue.” This was composed for Emma LaRue Anderson by her husband Clifford Brown. He performed the tune as a vocal, putting his trumpet aside for the occasion. Last night that vocal line was taken as a bass solo by Leftwich.

In a somewhat affectionate vein, Cochran wrapped up the set with a waltz. The title was “Xoshia Girl,” which seemed to reflect the wrong continent! (Cochran said nothing about the title other than naming it.) Whatever the context may have been, the music provided an engagingly affectionate way to bid farewell to the highly attentive audience that had assembled for this set.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Chanticleer to Conclude Season with Machaut

The Chanticleer vocalists (photograph by Stephen K. Mack, from a Chanticleer Web page)

Most readers probably know by now that Chanticleer will conclude its season with a program organized around a performance of the Messe de Nostre Dame of Guillaume de Machaut. This is one of the first multi-movement large-scale notated compositions in the Western canon. Chanticleer decided that it was important enough to merit a “preview event,” which took place as a Salon Series event almost exactly two months ago. The significance of this paragon of sacred music will be balanced by an assortment of secular songs of minstrels and bards from the Middle Ages.

The San Francisco performance of this program will take place on Friday, June 7, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Grace Cathedral Quire, located at the top of Nob Hill at 1100 California Street. Ticket prices will be $63 for Premiere seating, $53 for Preferred seating, and $20 for limited view General Admission seating in the rear. All tickets are being sold online by City Box Office. They can also be purchased by calling City Box Office at 415-392-4400.

Bruce Liu’s Solo Piano Recital for CMSF

Last night marked not only the San Francisco debut of pianist Bruce Liu for the final program in this year’s Chamber Music San Francisco (CMSF) season but also the conclusion of founder Daniel Levenstein’s tenure as CMSF Director. As a result, the music had to give way for part of the evening to give this terminal occasion its proper due. Sadly, the recognition of Levenstein’s impact on classical music scene in San Francisco (at later both Palo Alto and Walnut Creek) registered a far greater impact than Liu’s contribution to the evening.

That contribution cast a wide net. At one extreme there was a selection of six pieces from the Suite in D major from Jean-Philipe Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin collection, while the most recent work was Nikolai Kapustin’s Opus 41 set of variations. Between these extremes was what amounted to a “walk” through the centuries: the eighteenth (Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken XVI/32 sonata, which happens to be the only one of his keyboard sonatas in B minor), nineteenth (Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 35 sonata, the second in B-flat minor with its funeral march movement), and twentieth (Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 83 sonata in B-flat major, the seventh). The encores were framed by Johann Sebastian Bach with a prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier and a gavotte from one of the keyboard suites, with Chopin’s “Minute” waltz (Opus 64, Number 1 in D-flat major) in the middle.

Liu brought precision to all of these offerings. However, his approaches to expressiveness came across as somewhat arbitrary. There were many occasions in which his approach to rapid tempo was so mechanical that there was little sense of phrasing. He also tended to show a preference for strong dynamics, which allowed few opportunities for subtlety. Mind you, it is clear that everything that Liu played was based on a solid foundation of meticulously mastered technique; but technique alone does not engage the attentive listener.

Friday, May 17, 2024

SFO: The Third Spring Opera

The final program to be presented by San Francisco Opera (SFO) during its spring season will be a revival of George Frideric Handel’s HWV 27 Partenope. This had originally been scheduled for the summer of 2020 but had to be cancelled due to lockdown conditions in response to COVID-19. The production was also to serve as the American staged opera debut of countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński in the role of Armindo. Instead, Orliński came to the War Memorial Opera House in the fall of 2022 to sing (and break-dance) the role of Orpheus in Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice.

Andrew Lieberman’s set for Partenope (photography by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SFO)

This opera was staged by Christopher Alden for its first SFO production, which began on October 15, 2014. Rather than giving the opera an eighteenth-century treatment, he decided on a single-set staging in Paris shortly after the end of the First World War. This is the home of the title character (to be sung by soprano Julie Fuchs, making her American debut), named after the founding Queen of Naples. As might be guessed, Armindo (countertenor Nicholas Tamagna, making his SFO debut) is one of her four suitors. Handel’s score goes to great lengths to reinforce the character developed of both the heroine and her suitors; but, for all of its eighteenth-century rhetoric, the dispositions of just about all of the characters are unabashedly slapstick. Furthermore, both the sets and the costumes reinforce the time and place with coy references to leading post-War artistic figures such as Man Ray, Francis Picabia, and Nancy Cunard.

As has already been observed, this production will be given five performances at 7:30 p.m. on June 15, 19, 25, and 28, and 2 p.m. on June 23. The performances will take place in the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue on the northwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and Grove Street (across MTT Way from Davies Symphony Hall). Ticket prices range from $26 to $426, 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. The Web page also includes a hyperlink to an Opera Previews Web site and a second Web page with information about pre-performance talks.