Thursday, February 27, 2014

SF Symphony 2014 - 15 Season Announcement

SF Symphony 2014-15 Season Announcement photo IMG_20140224_111828_zpsbbcd0802.jpgAt a press conference Monday morning, the San Francisco Symphony announced its 2014 - 15 season, which will be MTT's 20th as Music Director. In his honor, the room was illuminated with blue lighting. The event began with a video of highlights of MTT's tenure, including a clip of Martha Stewart recommending the Symphony's website for kids. Attendees then heard an informal discussion between SFS President Sakurako Fisher, Executive Director Brent Assink, cellist Margaret Tait, Maestro MTT, composer Samuel Adams, & Director of Artistic Planning John Mangum.

The opening night gala on September 3rd will feature Bonnie Raitt & pianist Yuja Wang, as well as a video installation for Stravinsky's Circus Polka. A Beethoven festival in June 2015 is monumental. It will include a staged performance of the Missa Solmenis, a concert performance of Fidelio with Nina Stemme & Brandon Jovanovich, & a recreation of Beethoven's famous 1808 concert that gave public premieres of the 5th & 6th symphonies, the 4th piano concerto & the Choral Fantasy.

The Symphony's popular film series includes screenings of The Godfather & The Wizard of Oz, with the orchestra providing a live soundtrack. The organ will accompany Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde on Halloween, & the final program features movie scores by Tan Dun. The Great Performers series presents The English Baroque Soloists in a concert version of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. MTT will lead a performance of John Cage's Renga incorporating video & dance.

In December, the Symphony launches an experimental series called SoundBox, aimed at new audiences & taking place in a black box rehearsal space, backstage at Davies Hall. Each event will be curated by a different personality & will be a mix of audio, video & audience interaction. The space will be equipped with Meyer Sound's Constellation, a high-tech audio system that can instantaneously alter a space's acoustics. I happened to witness a demo of it last year. These events are separate from the regular subscription series, & most have start times of 9p on a Friday & Saturday night. A bar will be available in the venue.

During the Q&A that concluded the press conference, one of the attendees amusingly pointed out the predilection of the season's visiting conductors for works by Russian composers.

§ San Francisco Symphony 2014 - 15 Season Highlights
§ Press Release 
§ Digital Brochure 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

ABS: Bach's Hercules

American Bach Soloists photo IMG_20140223_155343_zpsc812ef5c-1.jpgSunday afternoon I heard the American Bach Soloists give smooth, pleasing performances of the Orchestral Suite in C Major, the Missa Brevis in G Major, & the birthday cantata Hercules at the Crossroads. An ensemble of 19 played the Orchestral Suite. Tempos were fast yet stately. Dominic Teresi's bassoon solos were brisk, & oboist Debra Nagy played expressively. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas led with small, minimal gestures & ended each movement with a feeling of uplift. The chorus & soloists were behind the orchestra for the Missa Brevis & the cantata, & the soloists also sang in the choruses. The 19-member chorus made a solid, unified sound, & their entrances & cut-offs were very together. I'd never heard the Hercules cantata before, but Bach recycled most of the numbers into the Christmas Oratorio, making me feel like I was wandering in & out of a Christmas concert.

Baritone Jesse Blumberg sang a virtuosic aria in the mass with a warm, even sound. He didn't get an aria in the cantata, but he sounded youthful & firm in his extended recitative at the end, & he colored his voice nicely. Tenor Derek Chester has a ringing, clarion voice & sang rapid runs with clarity & ease. He certainly communicated soaring flight in his tenor aria in the cantata. Soprano Kathryn Mueller has a strong, supple voice that is a little warbling. She sounded cute, even when portraying Vice in the cantata. Countertenor Ian Howell sounded open & free & sang flexibly. He enunciated the "ch" sound very distinctly in the cantata aria "Ich will dich nicht hören." Ms. Nagy accompanied him with a full-bodied tone in the echo aria "Treues Echo dieser Orten." Countertenor Dan Cromeenes supplied the impressively punctual off-stage echo, even though it was not at all apparent how he was being cued. The orchestra's 2 violists stood while accompanying the alto & tenor duet "Ich bin deine." Everyone on stage looked delighted to be there, & the perfomance had a slightly giddy atmosphere. Mr. Chester in particular appeared gleeful, whether singing or listening along.

American Bach Soloists photo IMG_20140223_171155_zps622f0ffb-1.jpgWhile the stage was reset for the Missa Brevis, ABS president Hugh Davies, a bass in the chorus, gave a cheeky speech, asking the audience for support beyond the ticket price, "whether you are a gambler, party animal or philanthropist." He concluded by proclaiming ABS's new tag line as "Music to enrich your soul & impoverish your wallet." It was well-begged. During intermission substantial refrehments were served in a downstairs reception room. A barking dog attended, & there was an outbreak of spontaneous singing.

§ Bach's Hercules
American Bach Soloists

Kathryn Mueller, soprano
Ian Howell, countertenor
Derek Chester, tenor
Jesse Blumberg, baritone

American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066
Missa Brevis in G Major, BWV 236
Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen, BWV 213

February 23 2014, 4:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

Saturday, February 22, 2014

CAAMFest Press Announcement

CAAMFest 2014 photo IMG_20140213_105357_zps8c941294.jpgLast week, the Center for Asian American Media held a press conference to announce the programming for CAAMFest 2014, which will run March 13-23 at venues in San Francisco, Berkeley & Oakland. Masashi Niwano, Festival Director, cheerfully called it their "most epic" festival. There are over 120 films from 20 countries. Opening night is How To Fight in Six Inch Heels, a slapstick comedy set in the fashion world, which was a big hit in Vietnam last year. It will have its US premiere at the festival, followed by a gala at the Asian Art Museum. Centerpiece films are a documentary about civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs & Cold Eyes, a Korean crime thriller. Archival selections include 2 Cantonese-language feature films made in San Francisco in the 1940s, which will be screened in a theater in Chinatown. Stephen Gong, Executive Director, warned us that a Hula documentary about the Merrie Monarch Festival is likely to sell out early.

Closing night takes place at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland & features the documentary Delano Manongs, about the key role of Filipino farm workers in the formation of the United Farm Workers. Live events include a music showcase featuring the US debut of Suboi, Vietnam's Queen of Hip-Hop. There are also food-related programs. A fundraiser on March 8th will present chef Martin Yan & local chocolatier Wendy Lieu of Socola Chocolates. Samples of their chocolates were passed out during the press conference. The Sriracha chocolate truffles caused some debate.

Press conference attendees saw a preview screening of How to Fight in Six Inch Heels. The filmmakers are so paranoid about illicit copies that they had us watch a watermarked version. The farcical story concerns an over-achieving Vietnamese-American fashion designer who goes to Vietnam for one frantic week to spy on her fiance, whom she suspects of infidelity. All the characters behave with a cartoonish determination, & the film often seems aimed at giddy 13-year-old girls. There's plenty of slapping, falling down & problems caused by eating. At one point a character even gets into a taxi & delivers the line, "Follow that cab!" A gag about a fortune teller practicing an inappropriately hands-on form of divination was plain weird. The heroine has not one but two gay sidekicks, whose swishy behavior is past its sell-by date.

§ Press Announcement for CAAMFest 2014
Thursday, February 13, 2014, 9:00 am
New People Cinema

§ CAAMFest 2014
March 13-23
San Francisco | Berkeley | Oakland
(formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival)

§ CAAMFeast: Stories, Food & You
Saturday, March 8, 2014, 6:00-9:00 pm
One Kearny Club

§ How to Fight in Six Inch Heels
Ham Tran, dir. / Vietnam / 2013 / 90 mins /
In Vietnamese & English

Castro Theatre
March 13, 2014 7:00 pm

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Yoga at the Asian Art Museum

Yesterday morning the Asian Art Museum gave a press preview of Yoga: The Art of Transformation, which opens this Friday. Yoga is one of the few mainstream movements I actually follow myself, so I was disappointed that museum director Jay Xu did not lead us in 5 sun salutations before the gallery walkthrough.

Debra Diamond, curator of the original exhibition at the Smithsonian, & Jeff Durham, the Asian Art Museum’s assistant curator of Himalayan Art, led the press tour. The show occupies 3 galleries & comprises sculptures, paintings, illustrations, photos, books & films, spanning 2 millennia. The Osher Gallery contains spectacular sculptures & paintings from India, such as these 3 sensuous female deities from a 10th century temple.

Ms. Diamond pointed out that the shimmering surface of this 19th century painting, depicting the Absolute, is best viewed by looking up from below. She was delighted that visitors would thus fall to their knees in front of it.

The gallery also displays delicately drawn pages from the 1st illustrated manual of yoga poses, made in 1600. Interestingly, it was produced for a Muslim court, & the explanatory texts are in Persian.

A 2nd gallery contains many exquisite drawings depicting the fanciful adventures of magical yogis.

There's also fascinating depictions of yogis by the 1st western observers.

A set of studio photographs from the 19th century is provocative for its mix of cynicism & sensationalism.

A small 3rd gallery shows yoga entering mainstream western culture through the promotion of its medical value. I overheard yoga devotees in the press corp questioning the curator because they felt the show did not reflect their own experiences with yoga.

The exhibition starts Friday, February 21st, with an opening night party, followed by a day of yoga events on Saturday. There is a surcharge above general admission for the exhibit.

§ Yoga: The Art of Transformation
Asian Art Museum
February 21–May 25, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brian Thorsett & Jarring Sounds

Yesterday I attended the inaptly named Noontime Concerts at Old St. Mary's & heard mezzo Danielle Reutter-Harrah, tenor Brian Thorsett, violinist Natalie Carducci & lutenist Adam Cockerham in a pithy 45-minute program of 17th century music. It opened with Ms. Reutter-Harrah presenting 3 coy love songs in English by Henry Lawes. Her singing is controlled & steady, & she makes every note sound distinct. Tenor Brian Thorsett then sang 3 lovely Monteverdi songs. His voice is high, floating & focused, & his singing expressive & urgent. I especially enjoyed the plaintive "Et e pur dunque vero," in which the singer alternates with a violin. Mr. Thorsett & Natalie Carducci, playing a baroque violin, made it seem like a dialogue between the 2 of them. Ms. Carducci then peformed a melancholy Prelude by Kapsberger & a virtuosic sonata by Corelli. Her playing had a nice freedom & was a bit jaunty.  The program ended with Ms. Reutter-Harrah giving a firm performance of "Bess of Bedlam," a disconcerting mad scene by Purcell. Mr. Cockerham accompanied all the pieces, sounding calm & secure. He played a very tall theorbo with 2 sets of strings. The Noontime Concerts audience listened quietly & politely. Ms. Carducci had to compete with a jackhammer on the street during the Corelli sonata.

 photo IMG_20140218_123256_zps8937cbe8.jpg§ Noontime Concerts
Brian Thorsett, tenor and Jarring Sounds: Adam Cockerham, theorbo & lute
Danielle Reutter-Harrah, mezzo-soprano with Natalie Carducci, violin

Henry Lawes (1595 - 1662)
Loves Bachinall
On inconstancy
To his Chloris at parting
Love admits no delay
     Jarring Sounds

Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643)
Ecco di dolci raggi il sol
Et e pur dunque vero
Quel sguardo sdegnesetto
    Brian Thorsett, tenor
    Adam Cockerham, theorbo
    Natalie Carducci, violin

Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger (c. 1580 - 1651)
Prelude No. 13 in C major
    Natalie Carducci, violin
    Adam Cockerham, theorbo

Arcangelo Corelli (1653 - 1715)
Violin Sonata III in C major, Op. 5, No. 3
    Natalie Carducci, violin
    Adam Cockerham, theorbo

Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695)
From Silent Shades, z730, “Bess of Bedlam”
    Jarring Sounds

February 18, 2014, 12:30pm
Old St. Mary's Cathedral

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ex Postal Facto

Envelope drawing by Philip Carey
Last week San Francisco was host to Ex Postal Facto, a convention for mail art enthusiasts & practitioners. Events included receptions, talks, an exhibition, a vendor fair, &, of course, parties. Attendees came from as far away as The Netherlands. The organizer was the bubbly Jennie Hinchcliff, whom I often cross paths with at various indie publishing events.

Ex Postal Facto photo IMG_20140215_152100_zpsbed5a9ec.jpgI dropped by their vendor fair for half an hour on Saturday afternoon & discovered a happy, geeky subculture of hobbyists who mail one another hand-crafted envelopes & postcards just for the fun of it. I enjoyed chatting with Philip Carey, who adorned the envelopes of his letters with such colorful, detailed drawings that postal workers would pass them around before delivering them. It was easy for me to imagine that Bob Dylan would be the sound track to the lives of many of the conventioneers.

Ex Postal Facto photo IMG_20140215_151334_zpsf8a0caff.jpgThe vendor fair was also worth visiting for its venue, the SF Elks Lodge #3, on the 3rd floor of the Kensington Park Hotel. The high-ceilinged ballroom & lounge were impressively old-school, & the hunting lodge motif naturally included mounted elk heads.

§ Ex Postal Facto
February 13-16, 2014, San Francisco

Monday, February 17, 2014

NCCO: Donizetti's Rita

Saturday night I attended the New Century Chamber Orchestra's friendly, opera-themed program at the Jewish Community Center. The 1st half was 4 short instrumental pieces, arranged for the group's 19 string players. The violins used a lot of vibrato in the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, & the performance was viscous. In the Prestissimo from Verdi's string quartet, the cellos played their solo passage nicely, & the piece ended with a flourish of bows in the air. Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg was soloist for the Meditation from Thaïs. Her phrasing was emphatically idiosyncratic, & she made a thick, woody sound. The addition of a marimba made the piece sound like space music. The Overture to Die Fledermaus was raw & a bit hysterical. The ensemble was on a stage behind a procenium, so its sound may have been dampened somewhat.

New Century Chamber Orchestra photo IMG_20140215_204541_zpsa548d3e3.jpgThe 2nd half was Rita, a comic one act opera by Donizetti, featuring 3 Adler Fellows. The music is bouncy & ebullient, & it got a very vigorous performance. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg perched on a stool & half faced the orchestra as she played & led. Woodwinds, horns & a timpani were added to the ensemble. The cast sang in Italian, with supertitles appearing on a screen over the orchestra, but the dialogue was in English. The staging by Eugene Brancoveanu had a sense of fun throughout & kept the singers in constant motion. There were a handful of props, & the singers wore contemporary clothes for costumes. It was clearly a challenge for singers & orchestra to stay together without a conductor, & there were times when the orchestra finished playing ahead of the singers.

Soprano Maria Valdes in the title role displayed a full, luscious voice, which powerfully filled the hall. Tenor Thomas Glenn made Beppe, her pussy-whipped husband, a funny yet sympathetic character. His voice is clear & bright, & he moves easily. I laughed when he sang with a cigarette in his mouth. I think more people at the open rehearsal got the joke when he sang along with the flute, mimicking Lucia. Baritone Efraín Solís was a swaggering Gasparo & made a pleasing sound that had a strong core. When he asked Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg to play "something calming" for Rita, she responded with the Meditation & then the theme from The Godfather. The singers did a great job enacting a goofy slow-motion brawl during a boisterous trio.

New Century Chamber Orchestra photo IMG_20140215_204114_zps021afcb4.jpgRita was introduced by a video of Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg & Mr. Brancoveanu talking about the opera. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg seemed concerned that we understand it is a farce, even though it concerns spousal abuse. The audience was delighted by the entire show, & some stood at the end. Afterward, there was a reception in the lobby where subscribers & donors mingled with the performers.

§ New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director

Mascagni (arr. Assad): Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana

Verdi: Prestissimo from String Quartet in E minor

Massenet (arr. Assad): Meditation from Thais
    Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin

J. Strauss (arr. Lindstrom): Overture to Die Fledermaus

Donizetti: Rita
Rescored & edited by Peter Grunberg
    Maria Valdes, Rita
    Thomas Glenn, Beppe
    Efraín Solís, Gasparo
    Eugene Brancoveanu, Director, Script, Production Design

Saturday, February 15, 2014, 8pm
Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

Sunday, February 16, 2014

2013 British Arrows Awards

Friday afternoon I saw the 2013 British Arrow Awards, playing at the YBCA this weekend. It's a 72-minute compilation of British TV, online & cinema ads. It was pretty intense watching wall-to-wall commercials for over an hour. The public awareness campaigns were especially direct, emotional & memorable. A 2-minute story depicting a cancer patient was so upsetting that I couldn't focus for the next couple of minutes. A campaign against shark finning is 45 seconds of extremely grisly footage.

Second-for-second, the program probably has higher production values than any feature film. I'd love to know the total cost of all the ads in the compilation. The gorgeous photography for a spreadable butter commercial made me glad I was seeing it on a movie screen. A promotion for the National Lottery looks like a remake of Apocolypse Now, & a madcap spot for deodorant seems to have as many stunts as an Indiana Jones movie. Doing more than cameos, Hugh Jackman, Kevin Bacon & Kiefer Sutherland happily parody themselves in several ads. Often I could not tell what was being advertised until the end, & I had no clue what a fake commercial for a creepy humanoid robot was all about.

The compilation starts with an edgy & beautiful title sequence, in which brand names appear as tattoos on the bodies of a nude woman & a snake. It probably deserves its own award.

§ 2013 British Arrows Awards
2013, 72 min, digital
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Feb 13–16, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day Pillow Fight

Pillow Fight
Early Friday evening I followed the stream of young people, many clutching newly-purchased pillows, heading toward the Ferry Building. What started as a flash mob several years ago is now an annual event. Participants & on-lookers filled Justin Herman Plaza.

Pillow Fight
There were some vigorous pillow-wielders, so this is as close as I dared get as a non-combatant. Feathers frequently went flying, & experienced pillow fighters wore dust masks.

Pillow Fight
All in all, it was a joyful & civilized spectacle, even for the non-Romantic like myself.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tim’s Vermeer

The film Tim's Vermeer, directed by Teller of Penn & Teller, documents what might be the ultimate DIY project. Tim Jenison, developer of the Video Toaster, an early video editing application for desktop computers, is obsessed with the 17th century Dutch painter Vermeer. The film follows him as he sets out to paint his own version of The Music Lesson, attempting to recreate Vermeer's photorealistic effects. Mr. Jenison is a talented tinkerer but not a painter. Inspired by the research of architect Philip Steadman & artist David Hockney, both of whom appear in the film, he devises an ingenious system of lenses & mirrors to guide his brush strokes. The preview audience I sat with gasped when it watched him use the technique to paint a copy of a black and white photograph with astonishing fidelity. There are many such “Wow” moments.

With unflappable calmness & grit, Mr. Jenison constructs an exact replica of the room depicted in the painting, builds his own furniture, learns to read Dutch, makes his own lenses & even grinds his own pigments. The final third of the film captures his painstakingly slow but steady progress as he fills in the painting over a period of months. Even though we are basically watching paint dry, the sequence is captivating.

The film’s dreamy, contemporary score by Conrad Pope figures prominently, but I initially mistook a track with a busy violin solo as the “Dogjam” movement from John’s Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams. The best musical moment, though, occurs when Mr. Jenison receives a viola da gamba as a prop for the painting & immediately puts it between his legs & plays "Smoke on the Water.”

Tim’s Vermeer opens in San Francisco on February 14th & around the Bay Area on February 21st.

§ Tim’s Vermeer
A Penn & Teller Film
Teller, dir. USA. 80 mins.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

NCCO: Open Rehearsal

New Century Chamber Orchestra photo IMG_20140211_095545_zps622c4f58.jpgTuesday morning I attended an open rehearsal of the opera-themed program that the New Century Chamber Orchestra is presenting this week in 4 Bay Area locations. In the first half, we heard the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, the Prestissimo movement from Verdi’s string quartet, & the Meditation from Thais, with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as soloist. New Century plays without a conductor, though Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg definitely leads. They played each piece first without stopping, then went back over it, working out tempo & ensemble issues through discussion among members. After they played the Intermezzo a 2nd time with more articulation between sections, Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg joked to the audience, “Disregard the first performance.” Her solo in the Meditation had a dark, woody texture. Weirdly, the arrangement by Clarice Assad has a marimba replacing the harp.

New Century Chamber Orchestra photo IMG_20140211_113404_zps22028467.jpgAfter a break, we saw a complete run-through of Rita, an ebullient one-act comic opera by Donizetti, lasting an hour. Adler Fellows Maria Valdes, Thomas Glenn & Efraín Solís are a lively & appealing cast. They sing in Italian but speak the dialogue in English, & that is enough to communicate the basic plot, which involves 2 men each trying not to be declared the rightful husband of the shrewish title character. Eugene Brancoveanu, another Adler Fellow, did the funny, fast-paced staging, which involves a lot of spousal abuse & fights. The addition of woodwinds & horns gave the orchestra a much fuller sound. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg was very busy playing, conducting, & keeping an eye on the singers. After the run-through, she went over spots where the singers were dragging. The rehearsal took place in a high-ceilinged room that was nice for voices. The enthusiastic audience applauded frequently. Coffee & donuts were served during the break.

§ Open Rehearsal
New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director

Mascagni (arr. Assad): Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana

Verdi: Prestissimo from String Quartet in E minor

Massenet (arr. Assad): Meditation from Thais
    Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin

J. Strauss (arr. Lindstrom): Overture to Die Fledermaus

Donizetti: Rita
Rescored & edited by Peter Grunberg
    Maria Valdes, Rita
    Thomas Glenn, Beppe
    Efraín Solís, Gasparo
    Eugene Brancoveanu, Director, Script, Production Design

Tuesday, February 11, 2014, 10am
Kanbar Performing Arts Center, San Francisco

Monday, February 10, 2014

Disney Goes to the Opera

Saturday afternoon I attended a talk at the Walt Disney Family Museum about Disney cartoon shorts that feature operatic music. The event was held in the museum's theater, a comfy screening room that seats perhaps 200. Film music historian Ross Care showed film excerpts & talked about the animation. Between clips, tenor Casey Candebat, from the Merola Opera Program, sang a selection of songs & opera arias, accompanied by Jean Kellogg, Merola's Executive Director, playing an electric keyboard. The singing wasn't really integrated with Mr. Care's talk, but it was a great treat to hear Mr. Candebat's cushy, substantial & well-bolstered sound in an intimate space. At full volume, he probably changed the air pressure in the room. I enjoyed hearing him sing the American popular songs as much as the opera arias. Mr. Candebat was an entertaining talker as well, & he was delighted by the singing chicken in Mickey's Grand Opera, since he already refers to coloratura sopranos as "cluck-aturas." He also attempted the Habanera from Carmen, using a surprisingly weighty falsetto voice. I was glad we got to see all of The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, a completely surreal parody of opera & opera singers. Its version of Tristan & Isolde is devastatingly silly & accurate.

When I arrived at the museum, I was informed that the talk was sold out. Fortunately there were a few open seats just before it started, & I was able to get in. The audience clearly enjoyed the cartoons & the singing, except for 4 fidgety children in the 2nd row who were too young for the presentation.

§ Talk | Disney Goes to the Opera
Ross Care, Disney historian
Jean Kellogg, Merola Opera Program Executive Director
Casey Candebat, tenor

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 3pm
Walt Disney Family Museum

§ Playlist
Cartoon Shorts
The Merry Dwarfs (1929)
The Goddess of Spring (1934)
Music Land (1935)
Mickey's Grand Opera (1936)
The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met (1946)

"If I Could Tell You" by Idabelle Firestone
"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from The Land of Smiles by Franz Lehár
"Una furtiva lagrima" from  L'Elisir d'Amore by Gaetano Donizetti
"Vesti la giubba" from Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo
"L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" from Carmen by Georges Bizet
"Be My Love"from The Toast Of New Orleans by Sammy Cahn & Nicholas Brodzsky

Saturday, February 08, 2014

SESSIONS: A Tale of Two Keyboards

Thursday night I attended a special Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra event that included explanatory talks, selections from PBO's subscription concert this week, & a wine reception. The atmosphere was informal, & the evening seemed designed to be the least intimidating classical music experience possible. Local radio personalities Hoyt Smith & Rachael Myrow hosted & encouraged us to live tweet, post to instagram, & get “free booze” afterward.

We heard CPE Bach's Concerto for Fortepiano & Harpsichord & the 1st, 2nd & 4th movements of Haydn's Symphony No. 68. Conductor Nicholas McGegan & harpsichordist Robert Levin introduced each piece with a brief talk & slides about the composer. It was like going to a concert without needing to read the program notes first. I liked hearing Mr. Levin demonstrate the harpsichord by playing the opening of the Moonlight Sonata. Maestro McGegan was an especially funny & personable speaker. He gleefully pointed out the jokey cuckcoo theme in the Bach & the flatulent bassoon solos in the Haydn. He also told the audience, “You don’t need to go to concerts like you’ve recently been mummified.” While the stage was reset between pieces, Ms. Myrow interviewed orchestra member Kristin Zoernig, who told us that her double bass was built in 1648 & was played at Lincoln’s inauguration and funeral.

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra photo IMG_20140206_193805_zps8940eaab.jpgMr. Levin on harpsichord & Ya-Fei Chuang on fortepiano were soloists for the CPE Bach double concerto. They both played crisply, though Ms. Chuang's playing was more rhythmically free. She looked very elegant at the keyboard. The orchestra gave a characteristcally lively, bouyant & sunny performance of the Haydn. For some reason it sounded twice as loud to me as the Bach.

The concert portion ran about 75 minutes, then the audience quaffed complimentary wine on the 2nd floor. I chatted with a couple of people in the PBO administration, who were delighted that the event was sold out & that the attendees seemed to include more young people than usual. I spotted an audience member wearing Google Glass & another dressed like Superman. Maestro McGegan proved himself a party animal by being one of the last people to leave the reception.

§ SESSIONS: A Tale of Two Keyboards
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Robert Levin, harpsichord
Ya-Fei Chuang, fortepiano
Rachael Myrow, host
Hoyt Smith, host

Concerto for Fortepiano and Harpsichord in E-flat major, Wq 47

Symphony No. 68 in B-flat major (selections)

Thursday, February 6 at 8:00 PM

Friday, February 07, 2014

Brokeback Mountain Opera

Perhaps in rebuttal to the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics,  today webcasts Charles Wourinen's opera version of Brokeback Mountain from Teatro Real in Madrid. The stream will be available for 90 days. Annie Proulx wrote the libretto from her own short story. Wourinen, known for his complex & academic music, seems an unusual choice of composer. Bass baritone Daniel Okulitch & tenor Tom Randle are the opera versions of Ennis & Jack. The production was originally meant for New York City Opera, & Gerard Mortier took it with him when he left NYCO for Madrid.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Who Killed Classical Music?

Last week BBC Radio 4 ran a provocative program called Who Killed Classical Music?, hosted by producer & composer Gabriel Prokofiev. Unfortunately the audio is already gone from the Website, but it was an informal account of how contemporary classical music became hyper-refined, appealing only to an elite, minority audience. In Mr. Prokofiev's account, political movements played a role. One of his interviewees observes that the extreme serialism of the Darmstadt School can be seen as a reaction to World War II in countries which had been Fascist or complicit in Fascism, specifically Germany, Italy & France. The large audiences in traditional concert halls, with their synchronized applause & crowd mentality, looked like a class enemy to some composers. If  bourgeois audiences didn't like your music, then you were doing your job. Writer Stephen Johnson, though, thinks audiences just found the music "immensely boring." At the end of the program, composer Tansy Davies suggests that "The concert hall is not appealing to the younger audience, who don't feel that they own the space." The speculation is that contemporary music will forward by moving into new venues.

§ Who Killed Classical Music?
BBC Radio 4
Gabriel Prokofiev, with contributions from Arnold Whittall, Stephen Johnson, Alexander Goehr, David Matthews, Ivan Hewett and Tansy Davies
Broadcast Tue 21 Jan 2014 11:30 and Sat 25 Jan 2014 15:30

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Exploratorium

During the Christmas holiday I visited the Exploratorium at its new embarcadero location. The new building preserves the museum's industrial feel & maker aesthetic but does not have the makeshift feel of the old location. It is vast, & there was more than enough to keep my young museum companions engrossed for a full day. I was impressed by the deceptively simple design of some pretty sophisticated exhibits, such as the high-speed camera that captures the visitor's face in a falling drop of water. My 13-year-old companion was especially eager to watch the cow eye dissection, & he took many photographs with the goal of grossing out his father later. The museum was crowded, & we had to be patient if there was a particular exhibit we really wanted to play with.

Many exhibits are artsy than rather than scientific, like Scott Weaver's immense kinetic model of San Francisco, constructed from toothpicks. Fujiko Nakaya's Fog Bridge clearly delighted those who crossed it & were enveloped in its heavy mist. The Exploratorium's food service got a major upgrade. The upscale cafeteria has a sushi bar & a waterfront view. Museum admission is not cheap, so request the special rate for Bay Area residents.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Up-coming: Leah Crocetto & David Lomelí in Sonoma

When I attended a concert in Weill Hall in Sonoma last week, it was nice to notice that soprano Leah Crocetto & tenor David Lomelí, former Adler Fellows, are doing a joint recital there in March. Though the online listing calls it "An Afternoon of Opera," the audience-friendly program is mostly songs plus a few Puccini excerpts.

§ An Afternoon of Opera

Leah Crocetto - soprano
David Lomelí - tenor
Mark Markham - piano

Sunday, March 9, 3:00 pm, 2014
Weill Hall at Sonoma State University

Saturday, February 01, 2014

49ers Cheese

The 49ers won't be in Superbowl XLVIII, but the Marina Safeway proudly displayed this tribute carved into a huge cheese wheel during the playoffs. It disappeared sometime in the past week & will presumably be bitterly consumed at a Superbowl party this Sunday.