Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hand of Bridge / Trouble in Tahiti

Sunday afternoon I attended the last of 3 performances by Opera Parallèle of Barber's Hand of Bridge & Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. The Z Space venue does not have a pit, so the 16-member orchestra was arrayed along the right side of the performing space. The action took place on a rotating set containing all the locations. There were 3 screens for video projections. As latecomers were seated, the orchestra's pianist played an Erik Satie Gymnopédie, & the characters of Hand of Bridge arrived for their game. Hand of Bridge ran barely 10 minutes & established the social setting for Trouble in Tahiti, which followed without a break.

Bernstein's critique of the disappointing banality of suburban life might be dated, but I liked his music, & Brian Staufenbiel's staging satirically played up the 1950s. The Trio, who function as chorus, are commercial jingle singers, grouped around a radio microphone. The wife Dinah wears pearls & a pink chiffon dress. Projections show post-war advertisements for kitchen appliances & cigarettes. The husband Sam smokes a cigarette while doing curls at the gym. Dinah's frantic "What a movie!" is accompanied by a hilariously campy Trouble in Tahiti film, featuring the opera's performers. It's replete with opening credits, special effects, natives in coconut shell bras, & a live cameo by conductor Nicole Paiement, all of it tightly sychronized to the aria.

Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu looked the part of a chauvinistic business man, & his singing was open, effortlessly powerful, & plush. Mezzo Lisa Chavez sounded strong & sterling & was a sympathetic Dinah. Both singers made the text intelligible. Their duet in the middle of the opera, set in the rain, was impassioned & sad. The Trio singers swung lightly. Soprano Krista Wigle's singing was clear & beaming. Tenor Andres Rarmirez has a light, pleasing voice that fit his character's romantic daydreaming in Hand of Bridge.

Opera Parallele photo TroubleInTahitiEncore_zpsc678f84c.jpgThe event was short, lasting around an hour. The bar was open after the performance, &, for those who stayed, the singers repeated Hand of Bridge from a catwalk above the lobby & tossed their playing cards down on the audience at the conclusion.

§ Opera Parallèle Double Bill

Hand of Bridge (1953)
Music by Samuel Barber/Text by Gian Carlo Menotti

Trouble in Tahiti (1952)
Music and Text by Leonard Bernstein

GERALDINE (Hand of Bridge) and DINAH (Tahiti): Lisa Chavez
DAVID (Hand of Bridge) and SAM (Tahiti): Eugene Brancoveanu
SALLY (Hand of Bridge) and TRIO (Tahiti): Krista Wigle
BILL (Hand of Bridge) and TRIO (Tahiti): Andres Ramirez
TRIO (Tahiti): Randall Bunnell

Creative Team
Nicole Paiement: Conductor/artistic Director
Brian Staufenbiel: Concept & Stage Director
David Dunning: Lighting Designer
David Murakami, Sam Clevenger, Tal Kamran: Video/Media Designers

April 28th at 2:00 pm at Z Space

Monday, April 29, 2013

SFIFF: Google and the World Brain

I was happy to get to a screening on Saturday at the SF International Film Festival, which opened last Thursday. The documentary Google and World Brain concerns Google Books, Google's project to build an on-line universal library. When the corporation starts scanning copyrighted texts without authors' permissions, it gets into legal & political trouble.The film consists of pristinely photographed interviews with librarians, technologists, & authors, plus intertitles, soaring shots of libraries, archival footage, & bad animations. I wish it included more of a TV appearance by the 17-year-old Ray Kurzweil on I've Got a Secret. The filmmakers assume that copyright is a good thing & raise issues about the purpose of libraries, the monopolization of access to information, & on-line privacy. Interviewees speak English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, & Japanese, envincing Google's global reach. Google did not permit interviews with its employees talking about Google Books specifically, & it comes across as predatory, secretive, & arrogant.

San Francisco International Film Festival photo IMG_20130427_181130_zpse2ddbcca.jpgThe screening was at rush, & the audience seemed to be as skeptical of big Internet companies as the film. I would have liked to know how many Google employees attended. Festival programmer Sean Uyehara introduced the show & observed that since we can look up anything online right away, we don't wonder as much.

§ Google and the World Brain
Ben Lewis, dir; 2013, 89 mins, England, Spain

The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Sat, 4/27 6:45 PM New People
Sun, 5/5 6:30 PM Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Curious Flights Inaugural Concert

Curious Flights photo IMG_20130426_214206_zps41365343.jpgFriday night I attended the 1st performance of Curious Flights, a new chamber music series featuring audience-friendly contemporary music. Each of the works on the program required a different combination of personnel, so there were quite a few participants. Clarinetist & series founder Brenden Guy introduced the concert & explained that proceeds from the season aid international students at the SF Conservatory of Music. Soprano Indre Viskontas gave inviting & appropriately wry renditions of satirical songs about science by composer & San Jose State physics professor Brian Holmes. Pianist Ian Scarfe accompanied her tidily.

Valinor Winds premiered Joseph Stillwell's Fantasy Pieces for wind quintet. The piquant 1st movement, full of contrasting short phrases, is attention-grabbing & slightly edgy. The 2nd movement, a scherzo, is rapid & stuttering & of course gives the punchline to the bassoon. Melodic lines interweave continuously in the elegiac 3rd movement. The 4th movement features a pointed, jaunty theme of notes all the same length. Mr. Stillwell does a good job keeping each instrument involved, no one voice dominating. I like the way the pieces simply come to a stop without much ado. The performers seemed at ease with the music, & Mr. Stillwell took a bow with them.

The 1st half ended with the Aleron Trio's raucous & angular performance of Paul Schoenfield's Cafe Music. The music is jazzy, toe-tapping, tuneful, & fun. It has a lot of notes, & the racing final movement could have accompanied the chase scene in a silent movie.

In his prefatory remarks about Khachaturian's Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, violinist Kevin Rogers told us that parts of the 3rd movement reminded him of Philip Glass, & he made clear which passages by his body language during the performance. I like his incisive playing. Mr. Guy's playing was exuberant, & pianist Miles Graber made a weighty sound.

Curious Flights photo IMG_20130426_211735_zps2b26c5ae.jpgThe program ended with the Nonet by Arnold Bax, conducted by Mr. Guy. The ensemble played with clarity & alertness, & Mr. Guy engagingly kept the music active & flowing. A lush climax in the 1st movement bloomed nicely. Cellist Michelle Kwon's playing was emphatic and grounded. The 1st Curious Flights audience was small but attentive, & the event had the collegial atmosphere of a chamber music party.

Patrick has provided a more comprehensive account here.

§ Curious Flights Inaugural Concert
Cultural Fusion

Updike's Science, Brian Holmes (b. 1946)
Indre Viskontas, soprano
Ian Scarfe, piano

Fantasy Pieces, Joseph Stillwell (b.1984) (world premiere)
Valinor Winds
Sasha Launer, flute
Jessie Huntsman, oboe
Brenden Guy, clarinet
Alexis Luque, bassoon
Caitlyn Smith, french horn

Cafe Music, Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947) 
Aleron Trio
Solenn Seguillion, violin
Anne Suda, cello
Sophie Zhang, piano

Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) 
Brenden Guy, clarinet
Kevin Rogers, violin
Miles Graber, piano

Nonet, Arnold Bax (1883-1953)
Curious Flights Chamber Ensemble
Sasha Launer, flute
Jesse Barrett, oboe
Dan Ferreira, clarinet
Emily Laurance, harp
Kevin Rogers, violin
Tess Varley, violin
Tracy Wu, viola
Michelle Kwon, cello
Eugene Theriault, double bass
Brenden Guy, conductor

Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8 p.m.
Community Music Center, San Francisco

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Goerne Sings Wagner

SF Symphony photo IMG_20130425_195407_zps590c3df4.jpgThursday evening I heard baritone Matthias Goerne sings excerpts from Der Fliegende Holländer & Die Walküre with the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Mr. Goerne makes a distinctive, beautifully dark, viscous sound. Even though he takes frequent breaths, he always maintains a long, connected line. "Die Frist is um" from Der Fliegende Holländer sounded ghoulish & brooding. His singing was velvety & tender in the quiet moments of Wotan's Farewell. His diction was mushy, & my concert companion joked that he only seems to be have 2 vowels. Mr. Goerne did not act his scenes. He makes circular swaying motions as if he is molding the sound inside his body before releasing it. The orchestra under Maestro Eschenbach played both very softly & very loudly. Mr. Goerne sang his selections from memory, & his voice merged with the overall texture rather than rising above it.

The 2nd half of the program was Dvořák's New World Symphony, which Maestro Eschenbach led without a score. His movements are eccentric, & he sometimes seems to be conducting along with the orchestra rather than directing it. The strings were shimmering, though the orchestral balances felt unstructured. Maestro Eschenbach lingered on one of the 1st movement's secondary themes played by the solo flute & then the violins. He elongated the famous second movement. The 3rd movement had a rhythmically off-kilter feel. The viola section played a nicely coordinated passage in the 4th movement.

SF Symphony Patrons photo IMG_20130425_195018_zpscb84d6b4.jpgThe audience enjoyed Dvořák, applauding & even whistling after the 1st movement, then giving the concert a standing ovation. A patron in premier orchestra left quickly during the 4th movement. The gentleman next to me made involuntary throat-clearing noises frequently. He sounded like a dog having a bad dream, & many glanced in his direction throughout the evening.

§ Eschenbach Conducts Dvořák
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Matthias Goerne, baritone
San Francisco Symphony

"Die Frist is um" from The Flying Dutchman

Wotan’s Farewell from Die Walküre

Symphony No. 9, From the New World

Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cal Performances 2013 - 14 Season Announcement

Matias Tarnopolsky, Cal Performances photo IMG_20130423_100509_zps82e606ee.jpgTuesday morning, Director Matías Tarnopolsky announced the Cal Performances 2013- 2014 season at a press conference on the UC Berkeley campus. The Vienna Philharmonic had such a wonderful time during their visit 2 years ago that they asked to come back. They return next year for 3 concerts, each led by a different conductor. The Kronos Quartet celebrates its 40th birthday with a concert including guest artists & a performance of Crumb's Black Angels. Pianist Emanuel Ax appears with mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter & cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 2 programs featuring music of Brahms paired with new commissions. Other pianists in the season include Shai Wosner, Richard Goode, Yefim Bronfman, Jonathan Biss, Paul Lewis, & Mitsuko Uchida, whom Mr. Tarnopolsky called one of his musical heroes. The Takács Quartet presents a complete Bartók cycle.

The theatrical presentation The Intergalactic Nemesis was described as a live graphic novel done as a radio play & as "Prairie Home Companion meets Star Wars." Mark Morris premieres his version of Handel's Acis and Galatea, using Mozart's arrangement, which Mr. Morris describes as "kind of jazzy."  Mr. Tarnopolsky averred that "one countertenor is never enough," so early music concerts include recitals by Philippe Jaroussky & Iestyn Davies.

The press conference was held in Alumni House instead of on the Zellerbach stage, due to the arrival of the Alvin Ailey company. Mr. Tarnopolsky highlighted the participation of UC students in last year's Wozzeck & showed videos of visiting artists coaching UC music students. We also saw video of Shai Wosner engagingly discussing how Schubert's silences are never funny.

Wu Man, Cal Performances photo IMG_20130423_103422_zpsad9b5013.jpgPipa player Wu Man, who will perform with the Kronos Quartet & in a solo recital, played a traditional Chinese piece at the press conference & hushed the attendees with the surprising range of sounds she produced. I nearly foiled the recording of her performance by sitting where the videographer needed to place his camera, even though he had tried to save the seat by putting a plate of food in front of it.

§ Cal Performances 2013/14 Calendar at a Glance

September 29, Fall Free for All: Open House at Cal Performances

October  4, Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette
October 13, Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-sopranol; Jessica Rivera, soprano; Robert Spano, piano
October 20, Les Violons du Roy with Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano
October 23 & 24, Nederlands Dans Theater
October 26, Musicians from Marlboro
October 27, The Silk Road Ensemble
October 30, Mariza

November  1 & 2, Shanghai Ballet, The Butterfly Lovers
November  3, Paul Lewis, piano
November  3, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán
November  9, Apollo’s Fire; Jeannette Sorrell, music director
November 14, The Intergalactic Nemesis: Book One: Target Earth
November 16, Joshua Redman Quartet
November 17, Danish String Quartet
November 17, Unión Tanguera, Nuit Blanche
November 23 & 24, Imago Theatre, Frogz!
November 24, Shai Wosner, piano

December  1, Davitt Moroney, harpsichord
December  7, Kronos Quartet 40th Anniversary; Wu Man, pipa; Others Musicians TBA
December 14, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Messiah

January 18, Chick Corea & Béla Fleck
January 19, Richard Goode, piano
January 23, Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano; Emanuel Ax, piano
January 25 & 26, Peking Acrobats
January 26, Wu Man, pipa
January 31 & February 1, Martha Graham Dance Company

February  2, Gerald Finley, baritone; Julius Drake, piano
February  2, Barefoot Divas, Walk a Mile in My Shoes
February  7, Venice Baroque Orchestra with Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor
February  9, Michael Cooper, Masked Marvels & Wondertales
February 12, Sweet Honey In The Rock, 40th Anniversary: Forty and Fierce
February 16, Jonathan Biss, piano
February 22 & 23, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
February 22, Eco Ensemble
February 23, Calder Quartet
February 26, Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Emanuel Ax, piano

March  1, Jordi Savall, viola da gamba, with Hespèrion XXI & Tembembe Ensamble Continuo
March  2, Ladysmith Black Mambazo
March  7, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Daniele Gatti, conductor; Juliane Banse, soprano
March  8, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Andris Nelsons, conductor
March  9, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
March 12, Ballet Flamenco Eva Yerbabuena
March 14, Estrella Morente
March 16, Jerusalem Quartet
March 21 & 22, Trey McIntyre Project
March 22 & 23, Takács Quartet
March 23, Zakir Hussain & the Masters of Percussion
March 25, Mitsuko Uchida, piano
March 25, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
March 28, Iestyn Davies, countertenor; Thomas Dunford, lute
March 29, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

April  1–4, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
April  6, David Gonzalez and the Yak Yak Band
April  6, Kronos Quartet with Combat Paper Project
April  8, Yefim Bronfman, piano; Pinchas Zukerman, violin & viola
April 12, Eco Ensemble
April 13, Christianne Stotijn, mezzo-soprano; Rick Stotijn, double bass; Joseph Breinl, piano
April 25 & 26, Mark Morris Dance Group, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Acis and Galatea

May 2, Marcus Shelby Orchestra, The Legacy of Duke Ellington: 50 Years of Swing!
May 3, David Finckel, cello; Wu Han, piano
May 9 & 10, John Malkovich & Orchestra Wiener Akademie, The Giacomo Variations

June TBA, Ojai North, Jeremy Denk, music director

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Earth Day

My visit to the main library Saturday morning was also a chance encounter with the Earth Day fair at Civic Center. It was certainly a beautiful day for it.

Some sort of mandala was being built at one end of the plaza.

This yoga class on the grass seemed appropriate.

Attractions included a 360° immersion in the sound of gongs.

Young dancers waited for their number on the main stage.

Plenty of the usual purveyors of food, clothing & jewelry...

...as well as corporate appearances by the likes of Chevrolet...

...& Microsoft.

§ Earth Day SF 2013
Saturday, April 20, 2013, 10am to 6pm
Civic Center Plaza

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Twenty Feet from Stardom

Thursday morning I saw a press preview of Twenty Feet from Stardom, a documentary about backup vocalists that will play at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The film cuts restlessly between interviews, archival footage, recording sessions & performances & gives us fragmented yet adoring portraits of a handful of top backup singers, predominately African-American women with Gospel backgrounds. The most frequent glimpses are of 5 performers: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer (pictured), Táta Vega, & Judith Hill. We learn a bit about their careers & how they deal with not being solo artists. Lisa Fischer's voice is particularly beautiful & versatile, & the joy she experiences in singing is potent. The film also contains starstruck interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, & Chris Botti.

Twenty Feet from Stardom plays at the SF International Film Festival April 26 at 9:00 pm & April 28 at 3:45 pm, at the Kabuki Cinema. Director Morgan Neville will be at both screenings. Darlene Love & Táta Vega will attend the April 26th screening & sing after the movie.

§ Twenty Feet from Stardom
Directed by Morgan Neville
2012, USA, 90 min.

The 56th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Fri April 26, 9:00 pm, Kabuki
Sun April 28, 3:45 pm, Kabuki

Friday, April 19, 2013

Worshipful Silence

The April 17th episode of Noise: A Human History on BBC Radio 4 gives a tart history of listening to classical music in worshipful silence, a convention that arose in the 19th century.

In 1808, audiences in Frankfurt were issued with these printed instructions:
During literary or musical performances, everyone is asked to refrain from speaking. Applause, too, expresses itself better through attentiveness than the clapping of hands. Signs of disapproval are not to be expected. Dogs are not tolerated.
In New York in 1857, the Philharmonic Orchestra tried another approach, encouraging concert goers to start policing themselves:
The remedy lies with the audience itself. If each little neighborhood would take care of itself & promptly frown down the few chance disturbers of its pleasures, perfect order would soon be procured.
Prof. David Hendy, the series author, can only conclude it's plain old snobbery:
To be able to keep still and listen showed you were an altogether more refined person, not just sensitive to the emotions of music, but -- well -- a person of class.
§ Noise: A Human History
Prof. David Hendy
The New Art of Listening, 17 Apr 13, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

TCM Presents The Pink Panther

I watched Pink Panther movies with my family as a kid, so it was a treat to see this free screening of The Pink Panther at the Castro Theatre on Tuesday, presented by TCM in their Road to Hollywood tour promoting the Classic Film Festival in LA next week. A man called Rob Collins, with the up-to-date title of VP of Brand Activation, introduced the show, then host Robert Osborne had a conversation with actor Robert Wagner on the stage. Mr. Wagner has a gentlemanly presence. He told us how fun it was to work on the film & shared a bawdy story about David Niven involving an unconventional use for a glass of brandy. Mr. Wagner also claimed that Dean Martin mistook him for Jane Wyman on the set of Prince Valiant. We learned that Peter Ustinov was initially offered the role of Inspector Clouseau but turned it down. The film began as a star vehicle for David Niven, but once shooting started with Peter Sellers, it shifted toward Clouseau.

Robert Wagner photo IMG_20130416_191430_zps036e638e.jpgThe Pink Panther was shown in a wide-screen print with vibrant colors. The theater was packed with sociable movie buffs. A man in the row behind me talked to the screen as if he were watching at home on his couch. The organist included Henry Mancini tunes in his pre-show performance, & the audience applauded when San Francisco turned into the Pink Panther theme. The audience also applauded Fran Jeffries singing Meglio Stasera within the film.

§ The Pink Panther (1963)
dir. Blake Edwards, 115 mins.

TCM The Road to Hollywood
Hosted by Robert Osborne
Special Guest: Robert Wagner

Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 7:30pm
The Castro Theatre

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Curious Flights Concerts Series

Photo credit: Kristen Loken
Curious Flights, a new chamber music series devoted to new & rarely performed repertoire, launches its inaugural season next week, April 26th, at the Capp Street Community Music Center. The audience-friendly program features a new work by Joseph Stillwell, who premiered an appealing Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano last year. In recognition of the Britten centennial, a June program presents the West Coast premiere of Movements for a Clarinet Concerto. Britten wrote sketches for a clarinet concerto while in America during 1941, but the manuscript was impounded by customs when he left the country, & Britten never finished the work. Composer Colin Matthews realized a 3 movement concerto from the fragments in 2007. The performance will be conducted by Alasdair Neale, with soloist Brenden Guy (pictured). Mr. Guy also happens to be the organizing principle behind Curious Flights, having previously instigated genial chamber concerts with SF Conservatory alumni. The final concert of the season takes place in October & features British composer Edwin Roxburgh, who will conduct his How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear, music to accompany Edward Lear's verse.

§ Curious Flights Inaugural Season

§ Cultural Fusion
Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8 p.m.
Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street

Brian Holmes – Updike’s Science
Joseph Stillwell – Fantasy Pieces *World Premiere Commission
Paul Schoenfield – Café Music
Aram Khachaturian – Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano
Arnold Bax – Nonet

Valinor Winds
Aleron Trio
Curious Flights Chamber Ensemble
Brenden Guy, conductor
Indre Viskontas, soprano

§ A Britten Celebration
Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 8 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall

Britten – Winter Words, Op.52
Britten – Wind Sextet
Britten – Phantasy Quintet in F minor
Britten – Movements for a Clarinet Concerto

Friction Quartet
Valinor Winds
Curious Flights Symphony Orchestra
Alasdair Neale, conductor
Brenden Guy, clarinet
James Rodgers, tenor

§ Transatlantic Crossings
Friday, October 18, 2013 at 8 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall

Dylan Mattingly – Six Night Sunrise
Edwin Roxburgh – Dithyramb I
Larry London – Scenes from Dobashi
Edwin Roxburgh – Aube
Edwin Roxburgh – How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear

Curious Flights Chamber Orchestra
Nicholas Reed, percussion
Edwin Roxburgh, conductor

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cherry Blossom Festival

This was the 1st weekend of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown. Of course food is the biggest draw, & there was a long, snaking line for the takoyaki.

The origami exhibit was a bit patchy this year, but I loved this sculptural fist holding a square of paper. Volunteers teach visitors to fold simpler models, & a young couple asked me to take a picture of them holding their creations.

In the exhibit of washi ningyo, a Japanese version of paper dolls, I was delighted by this graceful figure in bare feet, made by Teruko Yonemura.

I always discover something wacky in the ikebana exhibit. This arrangement, by Kodo Brown, incorporates cut up plastic plates.

This costumed character's unusual dance moves attracted a small crowd.

The cheerful name of this cult seems to be a direct translation from the Japanese.

And the Asian Art Museum's Lost Warrior showed up for photo ops.

§ Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival
Saturday and Sunday, April 13 & 14, 20 & 21, 2013
Japantown @ Post & Buchanan Streets, San Francisco

§ Grand Parade

Sunday, April 21, 2013
Starts City Hall at 1 pm
Ends Japantown approximately 3 pm

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Opera San José Double Bill

Photo by Pat Kirk
Saturday night I attended the opening performance of Opera San José's double bill of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi. The staging is straightforward & traditional, with sets & costumes of the correct period. The same set, featuring a facade of narrow archways, is used for both operas & is cleverly modified to create two completely different locations. Soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Angelica was an engaged actress & emotionally volatile, switching quickly between anger, despair, manic joy, & fear. Her singing was solid, & the soft high note ending her Senza mamma was controlled. Mezzo Nicole Birkland was a dispassionate Princess, & always faced the conductor when she sang. She looked like Elizabeth I in her ornate black & gold costume. Her voice is strong, & she has easy access to low notes.

The youthful cast of Gianni Schicchi was animated. We hear Buoso's relatives jabbering behind the curtain before the music starts. The drunken Betto of Jo Vincent Parks was fun to watch, & Michael Mendelsohn was hilarious as an ancient, doddering doctor. 2 rambunctious boys added to the mayhem. Baritone Evan Brummel as Gianni Schicchi has an open & focussed voice, & his Si corre dal notaio was brash. Tenor James Callon was a lively Rinuccio, & his voice has brightness & weight. His Firenze aria was fast. Ms. López was clear & direct in O mio babbino caro, & there was no lingering here either. Conductor Joseph Marcheso did a good job keeping the singers & orchestra together. His conducting was gentle but sweeping in Suor Angelica, & he kept things moving at a bristling pace in Gianni Schicchi.

The Opera San José audiences are warm, though they sometimes get chatty when there is no singing. The theater organ was played in the lobby before the show. During the intermission The Opera Tattler & I saw oboeinsight, who plays in these performances, & there was sad discussion on the untimely loss of Bill Bennett.

§ Double-bill Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi
Opera San José

Conductor, Joseph Marcheso
Stage Director, Lorna Haywood
Set Designer, Charlie Smith

Suor Angelica
Sister Angelica, Cecilia Violetta López
The Princess, Nicole Birkland
The Abbess, Sophia Chew
The Monitress, Tori Grayum
Mistress of the Novices, Cathleen Candia
Sister Genovieffa, Jillian Boye
Sister Osmina, Claire Myers
Sister Dolcina, Heather Clemens
Nursing Sister, Jane Burgchardt
The Alms Sister, Catherine Brady
A Novice, Giovanna Hutchison
Lay Sister,    Megan Conroy
Lay Sister, Angeline Pertronijevic
Angelica's Son, Rya Braatz

Gianni Schicchi
Gianni Schicchi, Evan Brummel
Lauretta, Cecilia Violetta López
Zita, Nicole Birkland
Rinuccio, James Callon
Gherardo, Robert Norman
Nella, Jillian Boye
Gherardino, James Costigan
Betto di Signa, Jo Vincent Parks
Simone, Isaiah Musik-Ayala
Marco, Peter Tuff
La Ciesca, Tori Grayum
Maestro Spinelloccio, Michael Mendelsohn
Ser Amantio di Nicolao, Michael Mendelsohn
Pinellino, Krassen Karagiozov
Guccio, Taber Dullea
Buoso, Tony Ciliberto

Sat., Apr. 13, 2013 8 p.m.
California Theatre, San Jose

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Philharmonia Baroque: Handel's Teseo

Philharmonia Baroque at Herbst Theatre photo IMG_20130411_192627_zps3359ab88.jpgThursday night I attended Philharmonia Baroque's semi-staged performance of Handel's Teseo in Herbst Theatre. The orchestra was at floor level in front of the stage, & the singers acted their parts, but without sets or costumes. Soprano Valerie Vinzant, as the girlish Greek princess Agilea, was solid. Her coloratura exit aria M'adora l'idol mio, in which she playfully duels with the oboe, received extended applause. Her Amarti sì vorre was sorrowful & stilled the audience. Soprano Dominique Labelle as Medea wore a blood red hoop dress that set her apart from the rest of the cast. She displayed a range of vocal colors with a full & penetrating voice. She maintained her poise even in mad scenes. Soprano Amanda Forsythe portrayed Teseo, & her singing was connected, clear & even. She had fun with her strutting act III aria S'armia il fato, which included a humorously extended cadenza & finger wagging. Soprano Céline Ricci as the confidante Clizia has a sturdy voice & was a pert actress.

The cast included 2 countertenors, but I am not convinced that this is historically justified. Robin Blaze produced surprisingly big, whooping high notes, though they did not seem connected to the rest of his voice. Drew Minter has an airy sound but switches abruptly to his chest voice for the lowest notes. He made flowery gestures & sang ornaments for comic effect in his 1st aria Serenatevi, oh luci belle! The soloists are all high voices, so the brief contributions from baritone Jeffrey Fields were gratifying. He seemed awfully easy-going for a Priest of Minerva, though.

Conductor Nicholas McGegan led from the right side of the pit, with some of the musicians behind him and some facing the stage. He also accompanied the recitatives on harpsichord. The theorbo player sat on the stage, probably for audibility. Maestro McGegan kept the music moving, often not pausing after arias. The orchestra's playing was unified & consistently buoyant. The many prominent oboe solos were played skillfully.

The plot is shapeless, & the performers let the opera be silly. The on-stage lutenist even became part of the comedy in a scene between Clizia and Arcane in act III. There were no supertitles, but we were handed printed translations on the way in. The long 1st half ran an hour and 50 minutes, the 2nd half an hour and 10 minutes. The audience was attentive throughout & gave the performers a partial standing ovation.

§ Heroic Theseus

HANDEL   Teseo, HWV 9
Philharmonia Baroque
Nicholas McGegan, conductor

Amanda Forsythe, soprano (Teseo)
Dominique Labelle, soprano (Medea)
Valeri Vinzant Amy Freston, soprano (Agilea)
Céline Ricci, soprano (Clizia)
Robin Blaze, countertenor (Arcane)
Drew Minter, countertenor (Egeo)
Jeffrey Fields, baritone (Priest of Minerva)
Jonathan Smucker, tenor

Thur, Apr 11, 2013, 7:30 pm
The Herbst Theatre, San Francisco

Friday, April 12, 2013

Vijay Iyer's Salon at the Rex

Wednesday evening San Francisco Performances presented jazz pianist Vijay Iyer in the Salon at the Rex. He played 6 improvisations, lasting from 5 to 20 minutes, & the event ran about an hour. He usually started in a subdued manner, repeating patterns of notes quietly. A moderate rhythmic flow then develops. Sometimes it sounded like space music. The playing might be gently chordal, or Mr. Iyer might execute long chromatic runs, his fingers hitting the keyboard forcefully. A few times he settled into melodic, toe-tapping sections. All the numbers ended softly. The overall mood was pensive & a bit melancholy. I did not recognize any of the tunes, but during his brief remarks Mr. Iyer named Andrew Hill's Siete Ocho, Somewhere, the theme for ESPN, & Billy Strayhorn's Blood Count. Mr. Iyer is soft-spoken & has a pacific presence. He dedicated one number to a friend "who is no longer here." He evidently attracts an intellectual audience. People on both sides of me were reading scientific texts while waiting for the performance to begin, & during the Q&A mention was made of the neuroscience of music, embodied cognition, & Mr. Iyer's dissertation.

Vijay Iyer photo IMG_20130410_193848_zps9fc0d4ec.jpg§ Vijay Iyer, piano
Salon at the Rex

Wednesday, April 10, 6:30pm
Hotel Rex

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Benjamin Grosvenor

On Tuesday night, San Francisco Performances presented pianist Benjamin Grosvenor at the SF Jazz Center, in a gift concert for subscribers. Mr. Grosvenor is just out of his teens but already has an international performance schedule & a recording contract with Decca. He played his opening set of Bach transcriptions with great delicacy & dynamic control. The Beethoven Sonata No. 4 sounded crystalline, every note distinct & separated. The rests in the opening bars of the 2nd movement were well-defined. The 3rd movement was dainty, the concluding Rondo fast but fine-edged.

 photo IMG_20130409_201631_zps451b78af.jpgAfter intermission, Mr. Grosvenor gave a set of Mazurkas by Scriabin a buoyant, floaty feel. A Valse by Scriabin & a Polonaise by Chopin sounded light & iridescent, with neatly played chords & runs. The 2nd half closed with a flowery showpiece version of the Blue Danube. It seemed to have as many notes as the rest of the program combined, & Mr. Grosvenor sustained its rippling passages with astonishing fleetness. He played the recital from memory & with cool aplomb. His hands stay close to the keyboard. The audience was attentive & quiet, though a few latecomers entered the hall during the music. Mr. Grosvenor received a scattered standing ovation, & his Boogie Woogie encore evoked laughter.

SF Jazz Center photo IMG_20130409_202023_zps0a3d9699.jpgIn her introductory remarks, SF Performances President Ruth Felt told us this was the first classical concert held in the SF Jazz Center, which is one of the spaces that SF Performances will use while Herbst Theatre is closed for renovation. The steep seating puts everyone close to the stage. I like the convenient cup holders & ledges for drinks. The topmost seats on the side balcony are definitely not for those with a fear of heights. I did not arrive early enough to grab a ground floor seat, so for the 1st half I sat in the side terrace behind the pianist. The piano sounded perfectly clear if a bit dry. After intermission I moved to the center of the 3rd floor balcony, where the sound was more filled out. The seats up there are swivel bar stools, & a woman seated one over from me swung herself back & forth when bored.

§ Benjamin Grosvenor, piano
Special Gift Concert
San Francisco Performances

BACH/KEMPFF: Siciliano in G minor (from Flute Sonata No. 2 in E-flat Major, BWV 1031)
BACH/RUMMEL: Ertödt’ uns durch dein’ Güte (movement 5 of “Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe”, BWV 22)
BACH/SILOTI: Prelude in E minor, BWV 555
BACH/SAINT-SAËNS: Largo (from Sonata No. 3 in C Major for solo violin, BWV 1005)
BACH/SAINT-SAËNS: Sinfonia (from Cantata “Wir Danken Dir, Gott, Wir Danken Dir”, BWV 29)
BEETHOVEN: Sonata in E-flat Major, Opus 7
SCRIABIN: from Mazurkas, Opus 3
    No. 3 in G minor: Allegreto
    No. 4 in E Major: Moderato
    No. 6 in C-sharp minor: Scherzando
    No. 1 in B minor: Tempo giusto
SCRIABIN: Valse, Opus 38
CHOPIN: Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Opus 44


MENDELSSOHN: Songs Without Words, Op. 85, No. 4
MORTON GOULD: Boogie Woogie Etude

Tuesday, April 9, 7:30pm
SF JAZZ Center

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Christophe Rousset in Berkeley

Sunday evening MusicSources presented Christophe Rousset in a harpsichord recital of suites by Couperin, Rameau & Royer. Mr. Rousset is a focused & intelligent performer. His playing was weighty, & the individual voices were always clear. There were occasional catches in his rhythmic flow, & he never sounded metronomic. His releases are precise. He stamped his foot during heavier passages.

We heard a privately owned harpsichord built in Berkeley by John Phillips. The instrument has 2 keyboards, & Mr. Rousset could mechanically vary its timbre somewhat. It sounded very resonant under his hands. The high notes were particularly bright & clangy in the Couperin pieces. The repeated notes in Rameau's La Poule humorously evoked pecking. Mr. Rousset gave the selections from Rameau's Les Indes galantes an emphatic dance feel. The concluding suite by Royer had a fuller sound and virtuosic effects. There were long trills in La Zaïde & fat, drone-like chords in Tambourin.

Northbrae Community Church photo IMG_20130407_193604_zpsa8a29daf.jpgThe intermissionless performance lasted under 90 minutes. The audience of about 90 were attentive & applauded Mr. Rousset appreciatively. His hands became a blur in a vigorous encore by Royer. Mr. Rousset called his 2nd encore, a decorous piece by Rameau, "more civilized." The setting was a hall in the Northbrae Community Church. The harpsichord was on a raised area with picture windows behind. A side door kept opening by itself & had to be repeatedly closed during the music, & then a slow-moving lady used it as an exit midway through. The church's folding chairs got a bit uncomfortable. Wine & refreshments were served prior to the performance.

§ Christophe Rousset, Harpsichord
L'exotisme au clavecin

Francois COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Quatrième Livre de Pièces de clavecin (1730)
Vingt-septième ordre (si mineur)

Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de clavecin (1728)
Suite en sol

Les Indes galantes (1728)
Suite de ballet transcrite pour clavecin (1735)

Joseph Nicolas Pancrace ROYER (1705-1755)
Premier livre de Pièces pour clavecin (1746)
Suite en ré

Sunday, April 7, 2013 6p
Northbrae Community Church, Haver Hall

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Spring Book Sale

A huge used book sale, sponsored by the Friends of the SF Public Library, is going on at Fort Mason through Sunday.

Books are roughly grouped by subject, but it's all about leisurely browsing.

I only bought one book, a Penguin anthology on opera, but it heartened me to see almost everyone else using shopping carts.

It's $3 for hardcovers, $2 for paperbacks & $1 for media. On Sunday everything goes for $1, but expect long lines at checkout.

If you really want to spend more for your books, there is a rare book section, with items like this juicy illustrated history of The Crusades. I also gawked at a 1st edition of Tony Kushner's Angels in America priced at $650.

§ 3rd Annual Spring Book Sale
Friends of the San Francisco Public Library
April 3-7, 2013
10 AM-6 PM
Fort Mason Center, Festival Pavilion

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Cristobal Valecillos: American Family

Yesterday at lunchtime I visited the McLoughlin Gallery in 49 Geary to see an installation of life-size objects cunningly constructed out of recycled cardboard by Cristobal Valecillos. This child's bicycle looks like it could actually work. I like its DIY woven basket.

Objects such as a country mailbox, a lawnmower, & this surveillance camera evoke suburban home life. The largest piece is a one-room house, completely made of used cardboard & large enough to walk inside. It is a grand version of those forts kids make out of an empty cardboard box, & I felt secure being inside it.

The cardboard objects also appear in accompanying photographs of models posing as a multiracial family. I had a nice chat with the gallery proprietor, who shared her thoughts on the social context of the work. She also let me sit in the exhibit's cardboard armchair.

John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller photo IMG_20130402_122650_zps534fb5d2.jpg On my way back to the elevator, I was surprised to notice a door opening into an antiquarian bookstore. 2 steps in & I felt like I was in a small London bookshop. Their specialty is William Blake & illustrated books, but I was too intimidated to take any of the volumes off the shelves. I had a brief but delightfully pithy conversation with the bookseller, who averred that the next generation is growing up without physical books.

§ The McLoughlin Gallery
American Family
Cristobal Valecillos
Exhibition runs until April 27th

§ John Windle 

Antiquarian Bookseller

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

56th SFIFF Press Conference

SFIFF56 Press Conference photo IMG_20130402_100855_zps652ae3e1.jpgThis morning the San Francisco Film Society held a press conference in the Crown Room of the Fairmont Hotel to announce the programming for the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, running April 25 - May 9. Ted Hope, who took over as Executive Director last year, said San Francisco now feels like home. Programmers Rachel Rosen, Rod Armstrong, Sean Uyehara, & Audrey Chang efficiently ran through their lists of festival highlights. Though the festival is not programmed thematically, Ms. Rosen noted that "an unintentional local angle emerged." Opening night film What Maisie Knew, the centerpiece documentary Inequality for All, & the closing night film Before Midnight all have Bay Area connections.

SFIFF56 Press Conference photo IMG_20130402_095628_zpsa1d98800.jpgPhilip Kaufman, Stephen Soderbergh, William Friedkin, Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater, independent filmmaker Jem Cohen, & Finnish film curator & director Peter von Bagh are scheduled to appear in person. Rick Prelinger will present No More Road Trips?, a show of found footage for which the audience provides the soundtrack. Experimental musician Mike Patton & 3 percussionists will provide live accompaniment to Waxworks, a 1924 German Expressionist silent film starring Emil Jannings & Conrad Veidt.

SFIFF56 Press Conference photo IMG_20130402_102254_zps95d6fc25.jpgThe programmers noted many documentaries, including Google and the World Brain, Good Ol' Freda, about the Beatles' secretary, Deceptive Practice, about magician Ricky Jay, & Twenty Feet from Stardom, about backup singers. There's also a program of 3 early Les Blank films. Mr. Armstrong pointed out the longest films in the festival: The 5-hour Penance & the 316-minute Eight Deadly Shots.

SFIFF56 Press Conference photo IMG_20130402_111916_zpsab24540a.jpgGeorge Gund III, the festival's major donor & longtime chair of the board of directors, passed away this year & is being honored with a screening of the Czech epic Marketa Lazarova. Byzantium & The Spectacular Now are added screenings not in the printed program. A press conference attendee took advantage of the Q&A to plug the Oakland International Film Festival, which starts this week. Mr. Hope added that the Bay Area hosts 80 film festivals a year.

§ 56th San Francisco International Film Festival
April 25 - May 9, 2013
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, New People Cinema and the Castro Theatre in San Francisco
Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley