Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Century Chamber Orchestra 2010 - 2011 Season

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra have announced their 2010-2011 season which features composer & fiddler Mark O'Connor, a tour of the Midwest, bassist Edgar Meyer in their season opener, & Adler Fellow Melody Moore singing Schubert songs.

Bay Area Rainbow Symphony

Bay Area Rainbow Symphony
Daniel Canosa, Artistic Director and Conductor

Saturday, March 27, 2010, 8pm
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Franz Schubert: Overture to Rosamunde

Felix Mendelssohn: Thou, Lord, Our Refuge
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
Carl Pantle, Associate Director

Eric Whitacre: Lux Aurumque
Vocal Minority - Carl Pantle, Associate Director

Johannes Brahms: Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53
Marla Volovna, mezzo-soprano
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus

Jean Sibelius: Symphony no. 2 in D major, Op. 43

BARS ReceptionI was at the 2nd of 2 performances of a very full program by the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, a community orchestra launched in 2008. As the audience was being seated before the concert proper, principal players from the orchestra offered 3 movements from Martinu's Nonet #2. Martinu is rather unusual promenade music, but it did demonstrate that BARS intends to make serious music. The orchestra has players of a wide range of ages, & there are apparently many SF Conservatory students. The ensemble was well-prepared & played quite securely. The flute & trombone sections have fine soloists. The orchestra tired a bit during the long second half, but I certainly never heard any tentative moments. The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus sang with finesse in the hymns by Mendelssohn & Whitacre. I enjoyed the ending of Whitacre's Lux Aurumque, in which the higher voices sustain a falsetto note for a seemingly impossible duration.

The Conservatory's concert hall was packed. After the performance, there was a wine reception downstairs, which quickly became too crowded to move in comfortably. It looked like some food was laid out, but it had disappeared by the time I got close to the table. The BARS audience is probably just too large for this venue. After the reception, the party moved to a nearby sports bar.

BARS seems to have quite a successful organization already. Before the concert, an appeal was made to raise funds for a timpani, & we were given a humorous demonstration of what the Scherzo of Beethoven's 9th might sound like without this vital instrument. During the intermission, there was a silent auction in which the prize was a seat on stage, in the middle of the orchestra, for the performance of the Sibelius.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Met Hamlet in HD

The Metroplitan Opera
Live in HD

March 27, 2010

Conductor: Louis Langrée
Ophélie: Marlis Petersen
Gertrude: Jennifer Larmore
Laërte: Toby Spence
Hamlet: Simon Keenlyside
Claudius: James Morris
Ghost: David Pittsinger

Production: Patrice Caurier, Moshe Leiser

I had low expectations for the music of Thomas's Hamlet, but I was curious enough to try to get into the Met's HD Broadcast at the Century San Francisco Centre on Saturday morning. The seating situation is competitive, & even though I got there at 8:40am for the 10am start time, people had been in line since 8. And once people get in, they save seats for their friends, so it can be trickier than it looks to find an untaken seat.

The production is spare & stark, taking place on a mostly empty stage, with 2 enormous walls that glide around for scene changes. The opening immediately prepares us for an inexorable sequence of events, as the chorus, in Edwardian dress, performs a halting, lock-step procession to the front of the stage. The tone of the staging is consistently dark & unforgiving. There is a startling moment in the last scene when the grave digger drives a pick axe into the floor of the stage. It all worked to leave me with a crushing feeling.

Simon Keenlyside gives a complete singing/acting performance & is a compelling, & even dreamy, stage presence. I found him fascinating to watch, even if he was merely walking across the stage. & then sometimes he was moving so fast that the camera missed things, like his destruction of a painting in the closet scene. The rest of the show was also cast from strength, & one got the feeling that everyone was giving 110% for the performance. I especially liked David Pittsinger's big, focused sound as the ghost & Jennifer Larmore's urgent performance as Gertrude. The 2 grave diggers had nicely contrasting bass & tenor voices. It was clear from her first scene that Marlis Petersen was going to sing a lot of high notes fearlessly.

Conductor Louis Langrée made the score sound interesting, & the orchestra played vividly for him. However, I found Thomas's music to be featureless, despite his colorful orchestral writing. I was surprised, though, to hear a saxophone solo during the play scene.

The broadcast intermission began with Renée Fleming interviewing Mr. Keenlyside, fresh from the stage, his face dripping with blood-red wine. He was unexpectedly soft-spoken, & he politely & earnestly discussed the opera's relationship with the play & his approach to performance. Later on Peter Gelb talked about the Met's up-coming productions, such as their new Ring, which he said was currently "being tested in Canada". We also saw a disconcerting publicity photo of tenor Juan Diego Flórez in a nun's habit.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Find Your Niche in History

ColumbariumThe Neptune Society Columbarium is one of those hidden nooks in San Francisco that I had never been to until today, when I dropped in at noon. It's odd that one approaches it from the back, but I suppose this is because the streets have changed around it since 1898. It was good to see from all the fresh flowers & tokens that the Columbarium residents have frequent visitations. Indeed, the place seems quite active, & I was definitely not the only visitor at lunchtime. The grounds & the interior are well maintained. The paint on the office building is currently being touched up.

ColumbariumI really like the idea of using the niches to display personal items about the deceased. I often felt that I got quite a good impression of the person after just a brief glance into one of the diorama-like niches. Besides photos, I saw stuffed animals, toy cars, travel souvenirs, a mahjong tile, an unsolved sudoku, even an ACT-UP card. Indeed, many of the niches bear witness to the early days of the AIDS crisis. & of course one cannot help thinking what one would include in a niche of one's own.

The location within the City is also a great feature. There should be more places to visit the dead as we go about our daily business.

Gergiev & the Mariinsky Orchestra

Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra
Mon, Mar 22, 2010 8:00pm
Davies Hall

Mariinsky Orchestra
formerly Kirov Orchestra

Valery Gergiev, conductor
Denis Matsuev, piano

Berlioz: Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15

Anatoly Lyadov: Musical Snuff Box
Anatoly Lyadov: Baba-Yaga

I heard the 2nd of 2 fat programs given by the hard-working Mariinsky Orchestra at Davies Hall earlier this week. I wasn't familiar with the Les Troyens excerpts at all, but I like Berlioz's music & its often odd proportions. It was certainly easy to recognize the hunt, with its echoing horn calls, & the storm at sea, reminiscent of The Flying Dutchman. Gergiev created a nice diminuendo at the end.

The Rachmaninoff 3 sounded a bit restrained to me rather than Romantic or even schmaltzy. Pianist Denis Matsuev plays with effortless speed & with an evenness of tone. The audience gave him an enthusiastic ovation, with those near the stage standing. He responded with an encore by Anatoly Lyadov called Musical Snuff Box, in which he imitates a mechanical music box.

There had already been some impressive orchestral playing, but the Shostakovich Symphony No. 15 really made me love this orchestra. There were great solos from all sections, beginning with the beautifully played opening flute solo. The brass chorales in the 2nd movement were always perfectly in tune. This movement also featured wonderful cello & trombone solos. Even the little passage for celesta & vibraphone caught my attention. I like that the violas sit on the outside, so every time they have something interesting, you really notice it.

Gergiev's technique is still a puzzle to me. He led without either a podium or a baton. I have no idea how the orchestra plays together so well, since his directions consist largely of hand fluttering & vague dance-like moves. During the final movement, he became airborne just before a big climax. Yet I can't complain about the results. The Shostakovich was correctly mordant, & he made the audience laugh at the fractured Rossini quotation in the 1st movement. A sense of foreboding became present by the 2nd movement. The ending, with its ticking clockwork whirring away, left me with an unsettling feeling of dread. The evening closed with another Anatoly Lyadov piece, Baba-Yaga, in which Gergiev & the orchestra showed they could also be effectively galumphing & boisterous.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Blooming Bus Shelter

Muni Bus Shelter in BloomThis morning it looked like the centerpiece for Martha Stewart's Easter brunch exploded on top of the Muni bus shelter at Chestnut & Pierce. These are giant plastic plants. I have no idea what this means.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ecstasy on Octavia Boulevard

EcstasyI was one of several people who immediately pulled out their cameras when happening to cross Octavia Boulevard yesterday. The statue, Ecstasy by Karen Cusolito & Dan Das Mann, is one of a group that was at Burning Man in 2007, & the provenance is unmistakable. Her proportions are so elegant, & her skin is a filigree of curved metal rods, chains & gears. She's quite lovely.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nareh Arghamanyan

SF Performances
2010 Gift Concert
Thursday, March 18 8pm
Herbst Theatre

Nareh Arghamanyan, piano

Scarlatti: Three Sonatas
Schumann: Humoreske in B-flat Major, Op. 20
Liszt: Ballade No. 2 in B minor
Rachmaninoff: Etudes tableaux, Op. 33

Bach: Adagio from Concerto in D minor after Marcello BWV 974
Mozart: Turkish Rondo
Khachaturian: Sabre Dance

As a gift to subscribers, SF Performances presented this recital featuring young Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, winner of the 2008 Montreal International Music Competition. She opened with 3 Scarlatti Sonatas, all in the key of d minor. She immediately established a dreamy mood which was never fully absent from her performance. Her sound is round & full, fluid rather than percussive. I was impressed by her voicing & the way all the notes of her chords begin precisely together.

Regardless of the composer or style of the piece, she played everything in a seamless & romantic way. Even her Bach encore sounded more like Chopin. The 3 different Scarlatti Sonatas & the multi-movement Schumann Humoreske & Rachmaninoff Etudes came out joined & continuous, even though their sections are quite contrasting. I listened to much of her recital with my eyes closed, pulled into an inner reverie. The audience was very still. The effect seemed to have little to do with the particular piece she was playing. Instead it was a result of her intimate & involved manner of playing. (The scary German in me wants to call it innig, after a movement of the Schumann Humoreske).

She allowed herself to break character a bit in her encores, which she offered without waiting for lengthy applause. Her version of the Mozart Turkish Rondo was jokingly enhanced with distinctly un-Mozartian riffs & fat chords which made it sound like a transcription by Rachmaninoff. She also got some laughs from her playful yet taut version of the Sabre Dance, at the end of which she whisked her hands quickly away from the keyboard.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Real Vocal String Quartet

Salons at the Rex
Wednesday, March 17 6:30pm
Hotel Rex

Real Vocal String Quartet
Irene Sazer, violin and voice
Alisa Rose, violin and voice
Dina Maccabee, viola and voice
Jessica Ivry, cello and voice

The Real Vocal String Quartet consists of a classically trained string quartet whose members have acquired the neat trick of vocalizing while they play. Their set consisted of about 10 songs drawing on different styles, such as bluegrass, jazz, African & Brazilian. Many of the numbers were written by members of the group, & there were 2 improvised pieces in which one player began with a short motif & the others joined in. These were short & not particularly adventurous, but it is still something of a novelty to hear string players improvise.

For the most part, their vocalizing was something added onto their string playing to enhance the harmony. Violinist Irene Sazer seemed most comfortable with the singing aspect & was the loosest performer. In the dance numbers, she moved in a way that suggests she plays the violin with her hips. I thought their most effective number was an actual song. In Darling, Irene & Dina traded verses of a sweet love song, & there was a nice balance between singing & playing.

Their act got a warm reception from the audience. In the Q&A immediately after the performance, the group talked about the challenges of training their brains to do 2 separate things at once. They also discussed adjusting to using microphones at most of the venues they perform in, though in the Rex Salon they were unamplified.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

New Century Saxophone Quartet

Morrison Artists Series
March 14, 3pm, McKenna Theatre

The New Century Saxophone Quartet

Michael Stephenson, soprano saxophone
Chris Hemingway, alto saxophone
Stephen Pollock, tenor saxophone
Connie Frigo, baritone saxophone

J.S. Bach (1685-1750): The Art of Fugue
Contrapunctus I
Contrapunctus III
Contrapunctus VII
Contrapunctus IV
Contrapunctus IX

Ben Johnston (1926-)
O Waly Waly Variations (1999)

John Fitz Rogers (1963-)
Prodigal Child (2004)

Jacob ter Veldhuis (1951-)
Heartbreakers (1999)

Russell Peck (1945-2009)
Drastic Measures (1976)

Encore: Shostakovich: Folk Dance

I came out for this concert for the chance to hear a saxophone quartet, something I have never heard live before. The ensemble sound is mellow & glowing & works as well for the Bach fugues as for the modern jazz compositions. In the Contrapunctus IX it was great fun to listen to Connie Frigo's rapid-fire bass lines. She's a dominant force in the quartet & also fun to watch, resembling somewhat the sax-playing Lisa Simpson.

I liked the John Fitz Rogers piece, Prodigal Child, which builds in intensity as it moves through several contrasting sections. It ends with a humorous race of descending runs. Jacob ter Veldhuis's Heartbreakers is a complex piece which requires the quartet to the play with pre-recorded audio & video. The recorded audio includes samples of emotionally charged moments from daytime TV talk shows. It's all a bit frenetic & loud. Halfway though, the performers stopped playing & Ms. Frigo left the stage. When she came back she explained that the wrong DVD track had been cued & that they would have to restart a little before the interruption. The quartet performed Russell Peck's Drastic Measures without music, so they could walk around & play to each other. It was as if they were having a conversation & telling jokes. As an encore we got a joyfully demented Shostakovich Folk Dance.

The members of the quartet each took turns talking during the program, adding perhaps 20 minutes to the show. Ms. Frigo explained, among other things, her 9 month leave of absence & told us that this was her 1st performance with the quartet since last June. The audience included a baby, who occasionally had things to say during the 1st half. At the start of the show, a cell phone went off right in a rest in the Contrapunctus I, causing a commotion as the phone was snatched up by its owner, who was then chastised.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The String Circle Quartet

The String Circle Quartet
Joseph Edelberg, Anthony Martin, Kati Kyme, and Thalia Moore
Saturday, March 13, 2010, 4:00pm
The Walt Disney Family Museum Special Exhibition Hall

String Quartet in F, K 590
W.A. Mozart

Adagio and Rondo for Piano Quintet
W.A. Mozart (trans. Czerny)
with Jonathan Dimmock, pianist

String Quartet No. 1, Opus 25
Benjamin Britten

PhotobucketI attended this string quartet recital partly because of the unlikely setting of the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio. As it was, the performance took place not in the museum but in another building behind it. Eager staffers in purple outfits made sure I found the right place, even opening doors for me. The venue was a high-ceilinged room, with an upper gallery, a wood floor & folding chairs. A piano tuner was at work when I arrived. Afterward, a man came in with twin boys, perhaps 3 years old, who immediately tried out the piano themselves, pounding the high keys & laughing. Several more preschool children were in the small audience, though none remained by the 2nd half. They were all perfectly well-behaved while the music was playing.

The 1st movement of the Mozart String Quartet came to a halt when the 1st violinist discovered his music was out of order & stopped the proceedings while he reshuffled his pages. Despite the interruption, the quartet played well together, listening alertly to each other. The cellist, Thalia Moore, was an especially reliable player. The last movement, taken at a rapid pace, kept the musicians on their toes. The room was very reverberant, maybe even too live. After a big chord, the sound would ring for several seconds.

The Adagio & Rondo was originally written for glass armonica, here replaced by the piano. The piece feels a bit lightweight. I found the piano's sound to be muffled & cloudy, perhaps because of the space or the lid being closed. The Britten String Quartet No. 1 is a precocious piece, fun to listen to & to watch in the quartet's involved performance. I was initially unsure about the pitches of its extremely high opening chords, but each time this music came back, the quartet's intonation was better. I found myself surprisingly moved by this glassy, other-worldly opening & the lush, suspended-in-time 3rd movement.

The String Circle Quartet will be back in May with another concert. It's nice that the museum is presenting these programs, which do not have an obvious connection to Walt Disney, though a communication with the museum reminded me that Disney featured classical music in many of his animated shorts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi

Love, Loss, and Lamentation
The Madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi

Fri, Mar 12, 2010, 8pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco

California Bach Society

Paul Flight, Artistic Director
Brian Thorsett, tenor
John Gale, tenor
Nicole Schuetz, soprano
Gwen Adams, harpsichord
Farley Pearce, cello

From Madrigals, Book 3 (1592) and Book 4 (1603)
O primavera gioventù dell'anno
Sfogava con le stelle
Ah, dolente partita
A un giro sol de' begl'occhi lucenti
Quel augellin che canta

From Madrigals, Book 6 (1614)
Sestina: Lagrime d'amante al sepolcro dell'amata

From Madrigals, Book 6
Lamento d'Arianna

Scherzi Musicali (1632)
Eri già tutta mia

Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze (1624)
Sì dolce è 'l tormento

From Madrigals, Book 7 (1619)
Interrotte speranze
Ballo: Tirsi e Clori

Intermission at St. Mark's
I was drawn to this California Bach Society concert by the chance to hear Monteverdi's beautiful & pained songs about love. A chorus of 25, accompanied discretely by a small organ, was led by Artistic Director Paul Flight. They make a smooth, blended sound with no rough edges. Men & women are intermingled, so it is not easy to distinguish the parts spatially. The final chords of the songs were always in tune & balanced. Chorus members often bobbed up & down in a swaying rhythym. Given the ardent subject matter, the interpretations were a bit measured, though the chorus made a nice forte at the climax of the Lamento d'Arianna.

Tenor Brian Thorsett appeared in the 2nd half & sang 2 solo songs accompanied by harpsichord & cello. Before singing Eri già tutta mia, Mr. Thorsett told us that a stanza had been left out of our programs, & he kindly provided a translation of the missing text. His operatic solo voice immediately filled the space & sounded louder than the chorus of 25. He was expressively very free & urgent. John Gale joined him for the tenor duet Sì dolce è 'l tormento. The song has some tense dissonances & well illustrates how near to love are despair & hatred. Mr. Gale's biography describes him as a baritone, & he certainly has the tall, slim stature associated with that voice type, yet he was definitely singing tenor all night. Mr. Flight was back with the chorus for the closing Tirsi & Clori Ballo. Rather than a whirling dance, there was a feeling of rocking back & forth. I liked their grand pause near the end.

Audience attendance seemed a bit low. There were perhaps 80 people sitting downstairs. After the intermission I went up to the balcony where just 4 other people had spread themselves out. They included a young couple who snuggled in a pew as if watching TV on the couch in their living room.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum opened in the Presidio last October, but I have yet to check it out. After my National Cemetery walk, I stopped by to get some information. It's nice that the exterior of the building is not differentiated from the other historic buildings lining the main parade ground. The museum is about the life of Walt Disney & does not go much past that. So, for instance, you will not find out about Disney World, since that was built after his death. The museum is starting up an events calendar with movie screenings & lectures. A string quartet is scheduled for this Saturday.

Rather immodestly, the lobby contains cases stuffed with all the awards won by Walt. I saw a special Academy Award for Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs. It consists of the standard statuette plus 7 tiny ones. Cute, but I much preferred the fascist Trofeo d'Arte della Biennale, a decorative, candelabra-like trophy depicting characters from the movie, bestowed at the 1938 Venice International Film Festival.

The museum's staff are exceeding cheerful & wear purple uniforms that make them look like bellhops. If you are afraid of perkiness, you might want to stay away.

National Cemetery Walk

Pauline Fryer tombstoneThis morning I went on a guided tour of the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio. Because of the break in the rain, it was a perfect day to spend 2 hours outside. But it was our park guide, Galen, who really made it special. He has a genuine fascination with the cemetery's population, & the tour is largely the result of his own interests & personal research, which can extend to contacting descendants of those buried here. For over 2 hours he led an informative & endearing tour, tracing history through stories of specific individuals interred in the cemetery.

A number of colorful characters show up. There's the 300-pound General William Shafter, involved in a beef scandal while directing troops in Cuba. Then there's Sarah Bowman, a camp follower in the Mexican-American War, whose nickname, "The Great Western", derives from the largest sailing ship of the time. We were all intrigued by the headstone of the whimsically named Two Bits, who may have been an Indian scout. Stunningly, when we got to the grave of Archie Williams, African American gold medal winner in the 1936 Olympics, someone in the group told us she knew him, having worked with him as a teacher. She had not expected to come across someone she knew!

Edmund Biow tombstoneIt is notable that the cemetery was originally segregated by military rank, but it appears at no time to have been segregated by race, sex or religion. Indeed, I was amazed to discover that a government issued headstone may include a standard "emblem of belief" denoting an atheist. It looks like a picture of an atom.

Galen's walking tour is offered twice a month in the coming months. He was very sad when telling us that sometimes no one shows up.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Susi Damilano
SF Playhouse
Preview March 10, 2010 8pm

Maggie: Katie Tkel
Paul: Casey Jackson
Flaco: Chad Deverman
Boochie: Corinne Proctor
Sal: Peter Ruocco
Little Tuna: Ashkon Davaron
Big Tuna: Joe Madero

I had fun at this preview of Den of Thieves, which opens officially at the SF Playhouse on Saturday night. It's a black comedy about a quartet of petty criminals who find themselves awaiting execution by a crime boss. The show feels like a sitcom & aims to entertain. The characters & situations are pretty stereotypical. The 1st act is a lengthy exposition establishing the mismatched quartet of criminals. The 2nd act begins with a scene change that jumps right to the unfortunate aftermath of their heist.

There was a lot of laughter at this preview, so the show looks like it will be a hit with audiences. The entire cast is good. I liked Kathryn Tkel as a somewhat sad kleptomaniac, struggling with her addiction to shoplifting. I found her to be the most realistic & least cartoony character. I also liked Ashkon Davaran as a son whose heart is not quite in the family business. It was only afterward that I realized I had seen the intensely physical & very watchable Chad Deverman before, in a completely different kind of show.

The play's director, Susi Damilano, was on hand & personally requested us to move to better seats. She also asked the audience to fill out a questionnaire telling her what we liked, what confused us, & which characters we most & least identified with. She assured us that our responses would be used to give notes to the cast. I wonder what Shakespeare's audience surveys looked like.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Noontime Concert: Barber & Chopin

"San Francisco's Musical Lunch Break"
Celebrating Two Birthday: Samuel Barber & Frédéric Chopin
Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 12:30pm
Old St. Mary's Cathedral

Daniel Glover, piano

Barber: Ballade, Op. 46 (1977)
Chopin: Ballade No. 2 in F/A minor, Op. 38 (1839)

Barber: Nocturne (Homage to John Field), Op. 33 (1959)
Chopin: Nocturne in B-flat minor, Op. 9, No. 1 (1830)

Barber: Excursions, Op. 20 (1944)
Chopin: Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4 (1833)
Chopin: Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53 (1842)

PhotobucketThis being the 100th birthday of Samuel Barber, as well as last week being the 200th birthday of Frédéric Chopin, pianist Daniel Glover presented a nicely thought-out program pairing pieces by both composers. I appreciated getting the chance to hear the Barber pieces, which are new to me & which I now like. Mr. Glover explained that Barber's Ballade was his final composition & that it gave the composer much difficulty, & indeed the piece sounds troubled & anxious. Excursions is a bit more fun, in 4 movements, each in a different American music style, from a chugging New York boogie-woogie to a brilliant hoedown.

Mr. Glover is a focused performer & delivered the entire program from memory. I liked his clean phrasing & full sound. He seemed to find different styles of playing for each composer. His Barber was romantic & his Chopin perhaps more straight-forward & less lingering than one is used to. I was drawn into the introspective mood he created in the Chopin Nocturne. His handling of the tricky rhythmic divisions was exceptionally even. At one point the 1st theme unexpectedly cuts out, & Mr. Glover let the moment be abrupt & jarring. After the Nocturnes, Mr. Glover left the stage, only to return immediately & explain that he was looking for some water, but the back room was locked.

A feature of the Old St. Mary's venue is a street musician playing the erhu on the sidewalk next to the building. When the music is quiet, the piercing sound of the instrument easily drifts into the church. Unfortunately it has not been a good match for any of the programs, & the erhu player never takes a break.

Friday, March 05, 2010

James Gaffigan on the NACOcast

James Gaffigan, former Associate Conductor of the SF Symphony, is on the NACOcast podcast this week. He is interviewed with fellow conductor Andrew Grams, & they both get some interesting questions about professional etiquette. Potentially touchy topics include talking to audiences, inadequate sopranos, orchestra relations & ugly contemporary pieces. I thought "Missa Solemnis or Verdi Requiem?" was a good question too. Mr. Gaffigan is a charming character, as evinced already in his interview last year with SFMike.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Noontime Concert

"San Francisco's Musical Lunch Break"
Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 12:30pm
Old St. Mary's Cathedral

Samsun van Loon, Cello
Michael Tan, Piano

Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in F Major, Op. 5, No. 1
Felix Mendelssohn: Sonata in D Major, Op. 58

This lunchtime recital at Old St. Mary's had a nice shape, the Mendelssohn being the major work after the shorter & breezier Beethoven Sonata. I liked the 3rd movement Adagio of the Mendelssohn, which is like a little operatic monologue for the cello. Both musicians are young & have studied at the SF Conservatory. I enjoyed pianist Michael Tan's juicy playing, which is fluid & plush. With long hair that he occasionally has to push back from his face, he looks like a rock star pianist.

I continue to notice that the noontime audiences are very appreciative & like to give standing ovations. Next week's concert features pianist Daniel Glover performing Chopin, fitting for this 200th anniversary year of the great composer.

Monday, March 01, 2010

SF Symphony 2010-11 Season Announcement

At Davies Hall this morning, MTT & Executive Directory Brent Assink announced the SF Symphony's 2010-11 season. MTT began by praising the "sophistication & delicacy" of the orchestra's playing & said he would like to feature more of the players center stage as he did in the Stravinsky Octet performance last month.

I was glad to see that Rufus Wainwright has been rescheduled to present his Five Shakespeare Sonnets in November. Composer John Adams will be featured in December, with performances of Harmonielehre & a concert version of El Niño, which he will conduct. Mr. Adams was on hand & told us he how excited he is to have Michelle DeYoung in El Niño. He finds her ideal to sing his music. Mr. Adams also admitted that he showed up for the very 1st symphony rehearsal of Harmonielehre with an incomplete score, his copyist having fallen asleep on the job the previous night.

The season contains some big choral performances, including Carmina Burana, the Mozart Requiem, Ragnar Bohlin leading Bach's B Minor Mass, & MTT leading Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. MTT revealed that he 1st heard the Missa Solmenis when he played 2nd oboe under Lukas Foss. In May 2011 the orchestra will tour Europe, culminating in performances of Mahler Symphonies 2, 6, & 9 in anniversary concerts in Vienna. MTT wryly observed that this will also be the 137th anniversary of Mahler's bar mitzvah.

We also got a preview of an up-coming Keeping Score program, featuring MTT giving us a tour of Mahler's fancy house on the Wörthersee & a performance of the Symphony #1.

At the press announcement, I was pleased to run into The Opera Tattler & a bit abashed to be greeted by Josh Kosman. I was also delighted to meet Oboeinsight whose blog & whose playing I have been enjoying for some time now. She shared some down-in-the-trenches stories of hazardous things that have fallen into orchestra pits, including sliding chorus members, ballet dancers, frozen grapes & fish.

More details of the season announcement are available in this press release & on the Symphony's Web site.