Wednesday, March 04, 2015

NCCO Open Rehearsal

This morning I heard an open rehearsal for this week's concerts by the New Century Chamber Orchestra, featuring violinist Glenn Dicterow as their guest concertmaster. The rehearsal began with Holst's St. Paul's Suite. The orchestra worked on the movements out of sequence & brought out the dance element in each. It was nice hearing Mr. Dicterow's warm, seamless sound in the solos. His tone remains sweet even when he's playing very high notes. He was friendly & relaxed, & he kept the mood of the rehearsal light. The 19-member ensemble is conductorless, so the musicians spend a lot of time discussing among themselves issues such as tempo, cueing & the character of the music.

Mr. Dicterow did more leading when they played Grieg's Two Nordic Melodies, & their performance sounded cohesive already. The music is beautifully song-like, & Mr. Dicterow clearly loves it. His playing had bite in the rhythmic final section, which he called a "hoedown."

The rehearsal ended with run-throughs of all 3 movements of Mozart's Divertimento in D. The orchestra's playing was at first robust & vigorous, but Mr. Dicterow thought it felt too pushed & suggested ways to make it more elegant & light. The full program also includes Brahms's Sextet for Strings, which we did not hear. The musicians clearly enjoyed playing with Mr. Dicterow, & he told us how welcoming they had been & how amazing he thought they were.

The audience lined up for coffee & donuts during the break. A school group from, I think, Antioch made up a large portion of the attendees. They were perfectly quiet & better behaved than some of the adults who freely came & went while the musicians were playing.

§ New Century Chamber Orchestra
Program 3. Dicterow Leads Brahms and Mozart
Glenn Dicterow, Guest Concertmaster

Mozart: Divertimento in D Major K. 136
Grieg: Two Nordic Melodies, Op. 63
Holst: St. Paul’s Suite, Op. 29, No. 2
Brahms: Sextet for Strings No. 1 in Bb Major, Op. 18

Open Rehearsal
Wednesday, March 4, 2015, 10am, Kanbar Performing Arts Center

Thursday, March 5, 2015, 8pm, First Congregational Church

Palo Alto
Friday, March 6, 2015, 8pm, First United Methodist Church

San Francisco
Saturday, March 7, 2015, 8pm, Nourse Auditorium

San Rafael
Sunday, March 8, 2015, 5pm, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Relighting of the Ferry Building

This evening, in commemoration of the centenary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the City lit up the Ferry Building with a big "1915." This recreates the building's lighting display during the fair. The lights look Christmasy & will stay on until December 4th, the date the fair closed.

When I arrived to see the lights turned on, a small ceremony was being held across the street from the building. Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, Willie Brown & Mayor Ed Lee were among the speakers.

A comparison with old photographs shows that the new lights fall a bit short of replicating the original display.

§ Relighting of the Ferry Building
Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 6:15

1 Ferry building


Last night I was at the Rickshaw Stop for BarelyOpera, a pop-up musical evening featuring SF Opera Adler Fellows Zanda Švēde, Maria Valdes, Julie Adams, Edward Nelson, Efraín Solís, Chong Wang & Anthony Reed. The SF Opera, aiming beyond its traditional audience, publicized the event primarily through social media. When I arrived 5 minutes before the doors opened, the line was already down the block, & I was surrounded by a lot of people I don't think I normally see at the opera.

The program was a mix of opera & musical theater & was partly determined by audience members who spun a wheel to randomly select the next number. The venue was packed, & the atmosphere was lively & fun. My favorite part was hearing people applaud & cheer spontaneously during the arias, something I can imagine happening in 18th century opera houses before it all got so serious.

The young Adler Fellows were very appealing in this setting. Baritone Efraín Solís engaged with the audience through his convivial personality as well as his hearty singing, & he took a selfie with us. Baritone Eddie Nelson took me by surprise with his tasteful & lovely renditions of Noël Coward songs, even accompanying himself on the piano. Tenor Chong Wang literally ended the show on a high note with glorious renditions of "Nessun dorma" & "O sole mio."

Robert Mollicone was the night's excellent emcee, & he was both sincere & funny. At one point he got all the singers to yodel for Yahoo's 20th anniversary. Slides projected behind the singers provided hilariously modern translations, as well as informative factoids about the composers & the music. Costumed supers from the opera greeted guests, & there was a rack of costumes for attendees to try on themselves. There were door prizes from the SF Opera, & I received a packet of pop rocks on the way out. For those who stayed, a dance party immediately followed. All this for $10!

§ BarelyOpera
SF Opera Adler Fellows
Robert Mollicone, emcee
Noah Linquist & Ronny Greenberg, piano

Program, as much as I can remember:

Habanera from Carmen
Zanda Švēde

"Là ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni
Maria Valdes & Edward Nelson

''Tirannia gli diede il regno'' from Rodelinda
Efraín Solís

"If Love Were All" by Noël Coward
Edward Nelson

"La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto
Chong Wang

"Ol' Man River" from Porgy & Bess
Anthony Reed

Flower Duet from Lakmé
Julie Adams & Zanda Švēde

"O Isis and Osiris" from Die Zauberflöte
Anthony Reed

"Fin ch' han dal vino" from Don Giovanni
Edward Nelson

"Make them hear you" from Ragtime
Efraín Solís

"O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi
Maria Valdez

"Mad about the Boy" by Noël Coward
Edward Nelson

"Nessun Dorma" from Turandot
Chong Wang

"O sole mio"
Chong Wang

Monday, March 2, 2015 at 8:00 PM
The Rickshaw Stop

ABS: St. Matthew Passion

Derek Chester
Sunday afternoon I heard American Bach Soloists deliver a spotless performance of the St. Matthew Passion, done with just one person per part. The singers were arrayed behind the orchestra, & 8 soloists sang both the arias & the choruses. Their combined voices were strong, & the choruses sounded incisive & convincing. 16 additional singers, representing the congregation, joined in the chorales & the opening & closing choruses. The Pacific Boychoir, sounding neat & poised, sang in both the opening chorus & the chorale at the end of part 1.

Tenor Derek Chester sounded sweet as the Evangelist, & his performance was much more like singing than declaiming. He was so consistently lyrical that the one or two times his voice had a slight hiccup, it was very noticeable. Baritone William Sharp sang Jesus plus the aria "Mache dich," & he conveyed maturity, softness & calm.

Agnes Vojtko, singing alto 1, made an earthy, grounded sound & sang with urgency. Clara Rottsolk sang the soprano 2 arias with a full, liquid voice & supple phrasing. Countertenor Jay Carter, as alto 2, had firm high notes, & his upper & lower registers were seamlessly connected. Soprano 1 Hélène Brunet's voice was light, high & a bit warbling. Charles Blandy as tenor 1 sounded bright & ringing, & 2nd tenor Jon Lee Keenan had a focused, slightly raw sound. Bass 1 Thomas Meglioranza made a big, open sound & projected the text well. Bass 2 Joshua Copeland sounded even & flexible.

Every number was meticulously prepared, & the orchestra played cleanly. Violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock & Tekla Cunningham & flutist Janet See executed their obbligato parts with virtuosity. Gamba player William Skeen accompanied "Komm, süßes Kreuz" immaculately & even squeezed a few extra notes into his already complicated part. Debra Nagy played multiple reed instruments with a steady, viscous sound. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas led with somewhat square tempos.

ABS audiences are extremely dedicated, & they were quiet & conscientious throughout, though someone's cell phone rang several times during the 2nd half. The owner apparently could not hear it. The performers received a standing ovation, cheers & even foot stamping from the audience. During the intermission someone reported being seated next to a father with a restless 4-year-old child. My concert companion was struck by the youth of many of the performers & was impressed by Mr. Chester's new facial hair.

§ Bach: St. Matthew Passion
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Derek Chester, tenor (Evangelista)
William Sharp, baritone (Christus)

Hélène Brunet & Clara Rottsolk, sopranos
Agnes Vojtko, mezzo-soprano - Jay Carter, countertenor
Charles Blandy & Jon Lee Keenan, tenors
Thomas Meglioranza & Joshua Copeland, baritones
American Bach Choir & Pacific Boychoir

Sunday March 1 2015 4:00 p.m.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Berkeley Symphony: Program III

Sasha Cooke
Photo credit: Dario Acosta
Thursday night I heard the Berkeley Symphony present a program of pleasurable music. Executive Director René Mandel thanked the orchestra's sponsors, then conductor Joana Carneiro spoke briefly about the pieces before she picked up her baton. First we heard Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, which Maestra Carneiro gave an airy quality. The last movement culminated in a billowing climax that then seemed to evaporate rather than come to a stop.

Next we heard the world premiere of the orchestral version of Jake Heggie's song cycle Camille Claudel: Into the Fire. Though the 6 songs express varying degrees of anguish, loss & madness, Mr. Heggie's music is consistently pretty. Mezzo Sasha Cooke sounded velvety & rich & presented the songs tastefully. Her voice blended eerily into the orchestra at the conclusion. Many of the movements have a dance-like quality, & Maestro Carneiro led liltingly. The Shakuntala movement, an exotic oriental dance, reminded me of "What a movie!" from Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. The winds are prominent, & the reduced string section often plays with mutes. Mr. Heggie & librettist Gene Scheer were in the audience & came on stage to receive flowers & take a bow with the performers. Mr. Heggie knelt adoringly in front of Ms. Cooke to show his appreciation.

After intermission we heard Brahms 4. The opening was momentarily hesitant, but it was overall a forthright performance, & the orchestra sounded secure. Maestra Carneiro is a perky conductor, & the music always moved forward. She waves her hands very actively & moves freely, at times looking close to dancing.

The audience was generally attentive & quiet, though at the start of the Heggie a man took his seat in the center of the front row while the music was playing, then a man in the row in front of me had a coughing fit & had to leave. I spotted John Adams in the audience, as well as Frederica von Stade, who seemed to be Mr. Heggie's date.

§ Berkeley Symphony
Joana Carneiro, conductor
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano

Program III: Imagination

Ravel: Mother Goose Suite
Jake Heggie: Camille Claudel: Into the Fire for Orchestra and Mezzo-Soprano
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98

February 26, 2015, 8:00 pm
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Maria Valdes at the Rex

Wednesday evening, Maria Valdes performed songs in Spanish & English in the salon at the Rex Hotel. She introduced each pair of songs & explained that this was an abbreviated version of a recital program bringing together different aspects of her heritage. In the 1st half we heard music with popular appeal by Spanish & Cuban composers. Ms. Valdes sings with control, strength & solidity. Her voice was a bit sultry & dark in pair of songs by Ernesto Lecuona, & she easily reached the high notes in Andalucía. She lightly acted out a pair of zarzuela numbers, ending with a big sound that pushed against the walls of the room.

The 2nd half consisted of contemporary songs in English, which were often dreamy & presented at lenient tempos. She made sure to acknowledge her accompanist Sun Ha Yoon after 2 jazzy selections by John Musto. The performance ran about an hour & was followed by a Q&A. When creating programs, Ms. Valdes starts with the poetry, then works her way backward to the songs. This program contains much unfamiliar music, so she had difficulty finding some of the scores. Ms. Valdes is also an Adler Fellow at the SF Opera & announced that she will sing Barbarina & cover Susannah in this summer's Figaro & be Papagena in next season's Magic Flute. The audience laughed when Ms. Yoon explained that the difference between working with instrumentalists & singers is that instrumentalists don't like to be coached. An audience member mentioned Lady Gaga's performance at the Oscars.

The salon is in a busy hotel, & we heard occasional rattling, thumping & voices from next door. The performance was well-attended & little crowded. I was introduced to Adler Fellows Anthony Reed & Eddie Nelson, who happened to sit near me, & they joked about being cast as "Meisters" for next season.

§ Maria Valdes, soprano
Sun Ha Yoon, piano

Salon at the Rex



Blas de Laserna: EI Jilguerito Con Pico de Oro
Antonio Literes: Confiado Jilguerito (from Acis y Galatea)

Ernesto Lecuona: Malagueña

Pablo Luna: De España Vengo (from EI niño judio)
Manuel Fernandez Cabellero: Esta es Su Carta (from Gigantes y cabezudos)


John Duke: Selections from From the Sea: Five Songs for Soprano
                      I. All Beauty Calls You to Me
                      V. Oh, My Love

Charles Ives: The World's Highway
                     At Parting

John Musto: Recuerdo (from Recuerdo)
Penelope's Song (from Penelope)

Tom Cipullo: Touch Me (from Late Summer)
Aaron Copland: Laurie's Song (from The Tender Land)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Hotel Rex

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Maker Faire Bay Area Town Hall Meeting

Tuesday evening I was at the Maker Faire Town Hall Meeting, a general meeting & mixer for exhibitors at the up-coming Maker Faire, taking place May 16th & 17th in San Mateo. This is the fair's 10th year, & Maker Media has done a tremendous job of building an affluent, family audience, which in turn is attracting major corporations. This year there will be a soft opening on Friday afternoon, which raises the bar for exhibitors who want to participate fully.

Dale Doughtery, the fair's exuberant founder, addressed the gathering & pointed out that most everyone present was white. The Bay Area version of the Maker Fair is less diverse than New York's, & he wants to change this.

The event took place in a workshop space in The Palace of Fine Arts Exhibition Hall, which Maker Media is rebranding as the Innovation Hangar.

§ Maker Faire Bay Area Town Hall Meeting
February 24th, 2015, 7p
Maker Media Lab
The Palace of Fine Arts Exhibition Hall

§ Maker Faire Bay Area
May 16 & 17, 2015
San Mateo Event Center

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Scott McCloud at Books Inc.

Earlier this month I saw cartoonist Scott McCloud on the San Francisco stop of his book tour for The Sculptor, his new 500-page graphic novel. Mr. McCloud became a darling of web & interactive designers in the 1990s, when Understanding Comics, his book about sequential art, came out. Author Robin Sloan moderated the event, interviewing Mr. McCloud, then conducting a Q&A with the audience.

Extra chairs had to be brought out for the SRO crowd of around 75 people. They were of varying ages & most seemed to be fans. Mr. McCloud is a cheerful speaker & had fun discussing ideas brought up by the audience. Regarding digital platforms, he told us to "design for the device" rather than reformat the same information for different devices. He replied eagerly to questions about the "longevity of value" & "text as object." He also explicated the conceptual difference between Japanese manga, which puts the reader inside the action, & European comics, which are based on theater & whose characters never turn their backs to the audience.

I didn't learn much about the new book, other than that it explores themes related to art & artistic creation. A projector was set up, but it was only used to show one page of the book & a photo of Mr. McCloud's late father-in-law, who was a model for one of the story's characters.

§ Scott McCloud with Robin Sloan at Books Inc. Opera Plaza
Monday, February 9, 2015 - 7:00pm

Ernst Ostertag, Röbi Rapp and Der Kreis

Earlier this month, I attended an appearance at the Main Library by Ernst Ostertag & Röbi Rapp, the real-life couple whose story was told in Der Kreis, a charming Swiss film about the gay emancipation association Der Kreis, active in the 1950s & 1960s. Historian Gerard Koskovich interviewed the 2 men, who both spoke elegant English, exuded warmth & seemed very at much ease. The 2 came from very different social backgrounds & were very frank in relating details of their early lives. We learned that the social events hosted by Der Kreis, such as Christmas parties & an annual ball, were extremely important for the members, who basically all led double lives & were often socially isolated. Even at these gatherings, people were referred to by aliases or membership numbers & rarely by their real names. Messrs. Ostertag & Rapp are still activists & told us how diversity in hiring is currently an issue for Swiss companies. Mr. Ostertag asserted that parents' acceptance of a gay child needs to start while it is in the womb.

The event took place in a small circular room with a Baroque-style mural depicting figures climbing toward the sky. There were around 40 people in attendance, mostly baby boomers, & it felt like an intimate gathering. A few people used the Q&A to share personal stories & got a bit emotional during the telling.

§ The Circle: An Evening of Conversation with Ernst Ostertag & Röbi Rapp
Gerard Koskovich, interviewer
Gay & Lesbian Center, Main Library
Tuesday, 2/10/2015, 6:00p

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cappella SF Sings Susa and Conte

On a Friday night earlier this month, I was slowed by horizontal rain & a toppled tree at Van Ness & Geary but arrived at the SF Conservatory of Music just in time for Cappella SF's concert of choral works by Conrad Susa & David Conte. The 24-member chorus were clearly rigorously rehearsed by conductor Ragnar Bohlin. They sounded precise & had a transparent, narrow sound. Intonation was clean, & the cut-offs at the ends of words were exact. Though the works were settings of secular texts, the entire performance felt reverential & devotional.

Pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi provided a colorful accompaniment to Susa's Six Joyce Songs, playing fluid runs & trills. Conte's rhythmic Invocation and Dance was accompanied by piano four hands & 2 percussionists on a variety of xylophones.

Mr. Conte made friendly introductory remarks before the performance & received a warm ovation from the audience at the end. The intermissionless program ran about an hour and was followed by a crowded reception. I had a glass of wine, was introduced to a woman operatically named Carmen, & learned that Cappella SF had already recorded this music for a CD which is yet to be released.

§ Music by Conrad Susa and David Conte
Cappella SF
Ragnar Bohlin, conductor

Conrad Susa: Six Joyce Songs, Volume II (1984)
    Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano

David Conte: A Whitman Triptych
    Rita Lilly, soprano
    Jonathan Thomas, tenor
    Matthew Peterson, baritone

Conrad Susa: Landscapes and Silly Songs (1987; revised 2010)

David Conte: Invocation and Dance (1986; revised 1989)
    Keisuke Nakagoshi & Kevin Korth, pianists
    Artie Storch & Stan Muncy, percussionists

David Conte: The Composer (2002)

SFCM Concert Hall
Friday, 06 February, 2015 | 08:00 PM