Saturday, August 29, 2015

Alice in Bookland

Last Monday morning I visited the Book Club of California on the last day of their exhibit of fine art editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The books come from a much bigger Lewis Carroll collection belonging to one of the club's members. The oldest edition in the exhibit dates from 1907, which is when the copyright for Alice expired, allowing new artists to illustrate the story. I never find these subsequent illustrations preferable to the originals by Tenniel, but it was fun seeing the variety of formats & styles on display.

I liked this edition by George Walker & Eleanore Ramsey, with what look like woodblock prints on handmade paper. It was frustrating not to be able to handle it.

I was also intrigued to see that Mervyn Peake had illustrated the Alice books. His thin-lined, sinister picture of the Cheshire Cat looks like it was drawn by an evil Dr. Seuss. I wanted to see the rest of the pages in this book as well.

There was also an eclectic array of Alice translations, in languages ranging from Turkish to Icelandic.

The exhibit was in what appears to be the club's meeting space, a quiet library-like room overlooking Sutter Street & invitingly equipped with a wet bar.

My favorite thing, though, was this sturdy card catalog, still packed with cards indexing the club's holdings

§ Alice in Bookland
Fine Press Editions from the Collection of Mark and Sandor Burstein
May 18-August 24, 2015
Book Club of California

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Curious Flights 2015-2016 Season

Curious Flights, the amiable concert series founded in 2013 by clarinetist Brenden Guy, returns this weekend for a 2nd season, with a concert of English vocal & chamber music at the SF Conservatory of Music. Past programs have featured genial performances from local & international musicians of new & rarely-presented works, & the new season is ambitious & pleasingly varied. This Saturday's concert looks charming & features soprano & Adler Fellow Julie Adams & piano whiz Keisuke Nakagoshi, as well as the Choir of St. Dominic's.

Future events include a recital by British violinist Madeleine Mitchell, performing works by mid-20th century American & UK composers, & a cutting-edge program of new music from Mason Bates, Samuel Adams & Simon Dobson, a British composer who seems to specialize in pieces for brass bands. The final concert of the season presents the West Coast premiere of Marc Blitzstein's Airborne Symphony, a massive cantata about the history of flight, requiring full orchestra, men's chorus, soloists & a narrator. The splashy program also has music by Erich Korngold, Aaron Copland & Samuel Barber. Marin Symphony's Alisdair Neale will conduct, & tenor Brian Thorsett & baritone Efraín Solís are the 2 soloists.

§ Curious Flights | 2015-2016 Season | Tickets

An English Portrait
Saturday, August 29, 2015, 8 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco

Recital Masters: Violinist Madeleine Mitchell
Wednesday, November 11, 2015, 7 p.m.
The Century Club of California, 1355 Franklin Street, San Francisco

Transatlantic Crossings
Saturday, March 19, 2016, 8 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The Age of Flight
Saturday, May 28, 2016, 8 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Monday, August 24, 2015

ABS: Sémélé

Rebecca Myers Hoke (Sémélé) and Sara LeMesh (Juno). Photo: Gas Lamp Productions.
Last week the American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy presented Sémélé, a 1709 opera by Marin Marais, in a concert version that was its North American premiere. ABS fielded a large orchestra of at least 45 musicians, plus a dozen soloists, plus a chorus of 17. The music is pretty & elegant throughout, with lots of dances & choruses. Characters behave politely, using flattering language no matter what the situation.

The performance was impeccably well-prepared. The orchestra played cleanly, with detailed articulation, & never tired over the 3-hour evening. Concertmaster Robert Mealy made a sweet sound, & the violins were perfectly synchronized even in very rapid passages. The extended trumpet solo in the Prologue was impressively secure & in tune, & the Fourth Air was exceptionally graceful. I liked the soft timbres of the woodwinds, & the flute solos were clear & smooth. The percussion had a cheerful bounciness. The low, heavy sound the strings made to depict an earthquake was striking. It was nice having the continuo harpsichord in front of the orchestra, where it was easier to hear.

The youthful cast were even & well-matched. Soprano Grace Srinivasan displayed a light, pretty voice as a Priestess & a shepherdess, & baritone Ben Kazez got a laugh for his wide-eyed exit as the drunken High Priest. This opera's Sémélé constantly worries about her predicament, & soprano Rebecca Myers Hoke was a tormented & even grieving Sémélé from the start, her voice sounding dark & mature. I liked soprano Chelsea Morris's beautifully sustained sound & gliding high notes as the confidante Dorine. Tenor Steven Brennfleck portrayed a stylish Adraste, & his phrasing was expressive & conversational. Bass Christopher Besch had a compressed sound & conveyed in authoritarian Jupiter. Mezzo Sara LeMesh was an appropriately stern Juno, her singing strong & vivid.

The chorus was satisfyingly proficient, & I enjoyed listening to their wonderfully balanced, polished sound. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas kept to regular, squared-up tempos & did a good job keeping everything consistent & together. The computer running the supertitles misbehaved several times during the show, resulting in the audience seeing the OS X desktop instead of the words. The audience was generally attentive, though there was some attrition after intermission. Each half of the concert received enthusiastic applause & cheers, & there was a partial standing ovation.

During the intermission I was introduced to journalist Chloe Veltman. I do not bake much, so I was unreasonable excited that the lemon yogurt cake I brought to share got good reviews. I found the recipe here, but to make it Sémélé Intermission Lemon Cake, use 2 lemons supplied by Patrick from his garden.

§ Sémélé (1709)
Composed by Marin Marais (1656-1728)

American Bach Soloists Academy Orchestra
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

The Grand Priestess of Bacchus: Julianna Emanski Grace Srinivasan, soprano
The Grand Priest of Bacchus: Ben Kazez, baritone
Apollon: Matthew Hill, tenor
Cadmus: Corbin Phillips, baritone
Sémélé: Rebecca Myers Hoke, soprano
Dorine: Chelsea Morris, soprano
Adraste: Steven Brennfleck, tenor
Mercure (Arbate): David Rugger, baritone
Jupiter (ldas): Christopher Besch, bass
Junon: Sara LeMesh, mezzo-soprano
Shepherd: Ryan Strand, tenor
First shepherdess: Hannah De Priest, soprano
Second shepherdess: Grace Srinivasan, soprano

2015 American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy
Thursday August 13, 8p
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Thursday, August 13, 2015

ABS: Versailles & The Parisian Baroque

Last Friday evening the American Bach Soloists held the 1st concert of their summer Festival & Academy, which runs at the SF Conservatory of Music through August 16th. The event opened Bayreuth-style, with a trumpet fanfare proclaimed from the topmost level of the lobby 15 minutes before the performance. In keeping with this year's theme, the program consisted of dance suites by 3 composers of the French high Baroque.

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas briefly introduced the scenario of Jean-Féry Rebel's Les Élémens, which depicts nothing less than the emergence of the universe. Maestro Thomas had the string section play the motives representing water, air, fire & earth so that we could recognize them later. The piece begins with a shockingly dissonant chord, which sounds nothing like the 18th century, though the rest of the music was conventional.

The orchestra of about 25 gave a flawless, well-prepared performance which could go straight to CD. The violins' phrasing was precise & emphatic. The woodwinds sounded lovely. The flute & piccolo were clean, woody & never breathy.  I enjoyed the oboe solos, which were consistently smooth, clear & even. The bassoons had a distinctive, mellow sound that was less flatulant than their modern equivalent. The brass instruments blended nicely, & the orchestral balances seemed right. There were more fine woodwind solos, especially from the oboe, in the suite by Aubert, & the violins played rapid 16th note passages with impressive synchronization. Maestro Thomas was a calm conductor. He led with small, undemonstrative gestures, & tempos were straight & unrushed.

The program concluded with a selection of instrumental numbers from Rameau's opera Naïs. Rameau's colorful & inventive music stood out from the courtly pieces in the 1st half. The strings were gently heaving in the Sarabande, & Maestro Thomas gave the Gavotte pour les Zéphirs a nice, airy feeling. It was fun hearing the tambourine & the vigorous chordal flourishes from the strings. ABS audiences are dedicated, & they were attentive throughout, though I couldn't tell if the man in the row in front of me was headbanging to Rameau or just repeatedly nodding off.

§ Versailles & The Parisian Baroque - Part I
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Lobby music:
Concert de trompettes pour les festes sur le canal de Versailles
Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726)

Les Élémens, Symphonie Nouvelle
Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747)

Concert de symphonies, Suite II in D Major, Op. 9, no. 2
Jacques Aubert le Vieux (1689-1753)

Ouverture & Suite from Naïs, Opéra pour la Paix
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)

2015 American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy
Friday August 7 2015, 8p
San Francisco Conservatory of Music


Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Up-coming: ABS Festival & Academy

American Bach Soloists begins its 6th summer Festival & Academy this Friday, running August 7th to 16th, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The festival presents ABS musicians, guest artists & students in performances, master classes & lectures. Many of the events are free. This year's theme is “Versailles & The Parisian Baroque,” & the festival opens with a 2-concert survey of French music, including Jean-Féry Rebel's ballet music for Les Élémens, which depicts the emergence of order out of chaos. Vocal works by André Campra & Quirinus van Blankenburg feature in the 2nd evening.

A 2-day Baroque Marathon, August 10th & 11th, includes French motets & chamber music by Zelenka, Telemann & others of the German Baroque. There will be plenty of Bach vocal works too, & a complete performance of cantata BWV 131, Aus der Tiefen ruf ich, Herr, zu dir. The Distinguished Artist Series concert spotlights Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen in a program of Italian & English works, along with soprano Kathryn Mueller.

The festival is proudly touting their concert version of Marin Marais’s 1709 opera of Sémélé as the 1st complete performance outside of Europe. Demand for tickets was so high that an additional performance has been added for August 13th. We also get the traditional 2 performances of Bach's Mass in B Minor, which are frequent sell-outs as well.

§ American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy
Versailles & The Parisian Baroque
August 7 - 16, 2015
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

§ Festival Website | Schedule | Tickets

§ 2015 ABS Summer Festival at a Glance
August  7, 5:00 pm | Opening Night Gala Dinner: Dobbs Ferry of San Francisco
August  7, 8:00 pm | Versailles & The Parisian Baroque - Part I
August  8, 2:30 pm | Public Colloquium - "The Culture of Versailles" (FREE)
August  8, 8:00 pm | Versailles & The Parisian Baroque - Part II
August  9, 7:00 pm | Bach's Mass in B Minor
August 10, 3:00 pm | Academy-in-Action "Baroque Marathon" Concert I
August 10, 8:00 pm | Academy-in-Action "Baroque Marathon" Concert II
August 11, 3:00 pm | Master Class: Harpsichord (FREE)
August 11, 5:00 pm | Lecture: Kenneth Slowik (FREE)
August 11, 8:00 pm | Academy-in-Action "Baroque Marathon" Concert III
August 12, 3:00 pm | Master Class: Violin & Viola (FREE)
August 12, 5:00 pm | Lecture: Robert Mealy (FREE)
August 13, 3:00 pm | Master Class: Violoncello, Viola da gamba, Violone, Contrabass (FREE)
August 13, 5:00 pm | Lecture: Corey Jamason (FREE)
August 13, 8:00 pm | Marais's Sémélé (Added performance)
August 14, 3:00 pm | Master Class: Winds & Brass (FREE)
August 14, 5:00 pm | Lecture: Judith Malafronte (FREE)
August 14, 8:00 pm | Marais's Sémélé
August 15, 3:00 pm | Master Class: Voice  (FREE)
August 15, 5:00 pm | Lecture: Debra Nagy (FREE)
August 15, 8:00 pm | Distinguished Artist: John Thiessen, Baroque trumpet
August 16, 2:00 pm | Bach's Mass in B Minor

Saturday, July 04, 2015

4th of July Illuminations Show

The 4th of July fireworks show in San Francisco is an iffy thing. The weather was misty at the pier at Aquatic Park, so this year's show was mostly illuminated fog, accompanied by cheesy songs about America, blasted from loudspeakers.

The crowds were definitely sparser & more low-key than usual.

Just before the start of the show, 3 gentlemen showed up with a miniature hot air balloon & proceeded to light its flame.

The successful launch received applause from the crowd, & the sky lantern wafted up & eastward, toward Fisherman's Wharf.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

SF Opera iCalendar Fix

The calendar page on the San Francisco Opera website has an iCalendar link which I thought would be handy for importing their performance calendar into my Google Calendar. However, when I tried it, Google Calendar only created one event. There's a slight problem with the file, but after a bit of hacking, I came up with a fixed version. If anyone would like to give it a try, I've uploaded it here. For the tech-savvy, I've also made it available on github.