Saturday, February 28, 2015

Berkeley Symphony: Program III

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

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

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

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

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

Program III: Imagination

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

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Maria Valdes at the Rex

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

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

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

§ Maria Valdes, soprano
Sun Ha Yoon, piano

Salon at the Rex



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

Ernesto Lecuona: Malagueña

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


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

Charles Ives: The World's Highway
                     At Parting

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

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Hotel Rex

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Maker Faire Bay Area Town Hall Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Scott McCloud at Books Inc.

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

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

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

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

Ernst Ostertag, Röbi Rapp and Der Kreis

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

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

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cappella SF Sings Susa and Conte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Conte: The Composer (2002)

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Opera Parallèle: Dead Man Walking

Friday night I was at the opening performance of Opera Parallèle's production of Dead Man Walking. Baritone Michael Mayes as death row inmate De Rocher looked, acted & sounded the part. His singing was sinewy & clean & particularly beautiful in his reverie about "A warm night" in his 1st scene with Sister Helen. He was both obdurate & vulnerable, & his character's final redemption felt well-earned. Mezzo Jennifer Rivera as Sister Helen was consistently sturdy & conveyed a hard strength throughout. As De Rocher's mother, mezzo Catherine Cook made a big impact & was emotionally powerful in all her scenes. Her voice was steady, grounded & gripping, & she switched seamlessly from speech to song in her address to the pardoning commission.

Baritone Robert Orth as the father of one of the murder victims sang urgently, & the ensemble of the victims' parents in act 1 had focused intensity. The high, concentrated voice of tenor John Duykers as Father Grenville & the effortlessly large sound of bass-baritone Philip Skinner as the warden were distinctive. I also enjoyed hearing soprano Talise Trevigne's swooping, full-throated sound as Sister Rose. The production's adult & child choruses were both solid.

At the start of the show, conductor Nicole Paiement stealthily entered the pit with her head lowered so that we would not applaud her. She got an amazingly lush, sweeping sound from an orchestra of only 30 musicians. They played crisply, & I enjoyed listening to the woodwinds & the 2 charged-up violists.

Director Brian Staufenbiel left the stage as a large empty space. To indicate the various locations, the cast positioned chairs, beds & large metal frames that hung from the flies. I was unclear about the meaning of the bare light bulbs that sometimes descended in front of the chorus of inmates. Videos were projected on an overhanging, beamed structure at the back of the stage. The videos unobtrusively indicated scene changes & sometimes augmented the action.

The teenagers who are murdered in the opening scene are retained as mute characters, often appearing at the side of De Rocher or Sister Helen like ghosts. In the final scene, their gestures of forgiveness toward their killer are both surprising & satisfying. Though the performance was over 3 hours long, the audience was engrossed throughout. People laughed heartily at the libretto's jokes & witnessed the execution scene in taut silence. It felt inappropriate to be clapping after that, but there was warm applause for the cast & for composer Jake Heggie, who came out for a bow. On our way out of the theater, we saw an after-party being set up on the stage.

§ Dead Man Walking: An Opera in Two Acts
Music by Jake Heggie
Libretto by Terrence McNally

Opera Parallèle
Conductor: Nicole Paiement
Director: Brian Staufenbiel

Sister Helen: Jennifer Rivera
Sister Rose: Talise Trevigne
Sister Catherine: Crystal Kim
Sister Lilianne: Krista Wigle
Mrs. Charlton: Rachel Rush
Mother: Ellen Presley
Cop: Mark Hernandez
Father Grenville: John Duykers
George Benton: Philip Skinner
Guard 1: Igor Vieira
Guard 2: Anders Froehlich
Inmate 1: Mark Hernandez
Inmate 2: Andres Ramirez
Inmate 3: Lorne Barfield
Inmate 4: Roy Eikleberry
Inmate 5: Patrick Hage
Inmate 6: Chris Coyne
Joseph De Rocher: Michael Mayes
Older Brother: Jonathan Smucker
Younger Brother: Baxter Spark
Mrs. De Rocher: Catherine Cook
Owen Hart: Robert Orth
Kitty Hart: Kristin Clayton
Howard Boucher: Joseph Meyers
Jade Boucher: Michelle Rice

Brandon Blum
Amitis Rossoukh

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
8 p.m. February 20, 2015

Friday, February 20, 2015

Opera Parallèle: An Evening with Sister Helen Prejean

Last month, as part of the run-up to Opera Parallèle's performances of Dead Man Walking this weekend, Temple Emanu-El hosted an evening of discussion & music with Sister Helen Prejean & composer Jake Heggie. The event did a good job priming audiences for the themes of the opera.

Mezzo Frederica von Stade set a solemn, introspective mood with a song by Mr. Heggie on a text by Sister Prejean, accompanied by Mr. Heggie on the piano & flutist Julie McKenzie. In the 1st discussion panel, lawyer Elisabeth Semel brought up the link between race & the death penalty, specifically regarding the race of the victim versus the perpetrator. Jeanne Woodford, a former warden of San Quentin who oversaw 4 executions, questioned the effectiveness of the death penalty & brought up the high cost of pursing death penalty cases.

Sister Prejean might have an unassuming appearance, but she is an eloquent speaker & a determined personality. She is very supportive of art & literature taking social issues to the public & immediately welcomed the idea of turning Dead Man Walking into an opera. We heard that in her 1st phone call to Jake Heggie, she told the composer, "I don't know boo-skat about opera!" She also wanted to be sure that he didn't write "any of that twelve-tone stuff." She sees the opera ultimately as a story of redemption.

The event had a large turn out, & the audience was especially still & quiet for the "Forgiveness" duet from the opera performed by sopranos Kristin Clayton & Nicolle Foland, who both communicated the text clearly. We also heard mezzo Catherine Cook's earthy, grounded sound in another short excerpt. The 90-minute event concluded with Cantor Roslyn Barak performing Ravel's "Kaddish." She sang with control & colored her voice nicely. I wished there could have been more music.

§ Dead Man Walking: Art & Social Justice

Welcome: Cantor Roslyn Barak

Heggie/Prejean "Primary Colors" from The Deepest Desire
Frederica von Stade, Mezzo-Soprano; Julie Mckenzie, flute,
Jake Heggie, piano

PART ONE: Dead Man Walking and the death penalty
Speakers: Sister Helen Prejean, Elisabeth Semel, Jeanne Woodford

Heggie/McNally "Forgiveness" from Dead Man Walking
Kristin Clayton, Nicolle Foland, Sopranos; Jake Heggie, piano

PART TWO: Dead Man Walking and the arts community
Moderated by Brian Staufenbiel
Sister Helen Prejean, Frederica Von Stade, Catherine Cook, Jake Heggie, Nicole Paiement

Heggie/McNally "Don't Say A Word" from Dead Man Walking
Catherine Cook, mezzo-soprano; Jake Heggie, piano

PART THREE: Questions from the Audience
Moderated by Brian Staufenbiel

Closing: Rabbi Jonathan Singer
Ravel "Kaddish" from Deux Melodies Hebraiques
Roslyn Barak, soprano; Jake Heggie, piano

Temple Emmanu-El, San Francisco
7 p.m. January 21, 2015

World’s Fair on Film

Events are taking place all over the city this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Thursday night I was at the Officers' Club in the Presidio, where Anita Monga, artistic director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, presented an hour-long program of films documenting the World's Fair. The best footage came from a 1933 compilation that was discovered in a junk shop. The film shows a parade of floats on opening day, a joint visit by Thomas Edison, Henry Ford & Luther Burbank, mock military battles, stunt flying, camel races, sumo wrestlers & a light show mimicking the northern lights, to name just a fraction of the attractions. It all looks way more fun than anything going on in the city today.

This was the 1st World's Fair to use film as a marketing tool, & Ms. Monga showed us a sickly sentimental promotional film starring a little girl dressed as a fairy who emerges from the Portals of the Past in Golden Gate Park. We also saw the 1915 short Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco, in which the comedians are weirdly fascinated with the instruments of torture onboard a convict ship.

Other snippets included a glimpse of Charlie Charlie among a crowd of visitors waving to the camera, a tinted film of the fair's spectacular nighttime light displays & a bizarre clip revealing that preemies were exhibited. The audience applauded shots of the Ferry Building lit up with the year "1915".

Frederick Hodges accompanied live on the piano, playing a variety of jaunty tunes that fit the period & the images. We heard the Ride of Valkyries when a group of sailors appeared rowing a replica Viking ship.

The event was free, but I was not the only one who did not realize we were supposed to register for a free ticket online. When I arrived at the Officers' Club, I joined a line of ticketless attendees, & by the time we were let into the room, it was standing room only. A few people dressed in period costume.

§ World’s Fair on Film: San Francisco 1915
Presidio Trust & San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Feb 19, 07:00PM – 09:00PM
Presidio Officers' Club

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Opera Parallèle: Open Rehearsal

Last Saturday afternoon I attended the open rehearsal for Opera Parallèle's production of Dead Man Walking, which has 3 performances starting Friday night at the YBCA Theater, then 2 more in Santa Monica in March. We got to hear some of the most important scenes in the opera, including the big ensemble with the murder victims' parents in act 1.

Baritone Michael Mayes, with his bushy sideburns & loping movements, looks convincing in the role of the condemned murderer De Rocher. He can sing while doing push-ups, & his sinewy, unfussy voice sounds just right for the character.

Mezzo Jennifer Rivera as Sister Helen communicates her character's inner strength & did a great job swinging her hips like Elvis. The male chorus sounded focused & much greater than its small size.

The excerpts ended with the painful farewell between De Rocher & his mother, played with an undemonstrative realism by mezzo Catherine Cook. The scene worked well with the performers & audience so close to one another, & some audience members were crying.

Pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi accompanied the singers, playing so brilliantly that I did not miss having an orchestra.

The event concluded with a Q & A with all the participants. We learned that several cast members have been in other productions of the opera, including baritone Robert Orth, who was in the original San Francisco Opera premiere. Opera Parallèle is using a reduced orchestration, which conductor Nicole Paiement has revised to include more strings. She also observed that "There is a fine line in this music. If you do it too slowly, it becomes sentimental, & you don't want that."

§ Dead Man Walking: An Opera in Two Acts
Music by Jake Heggie
Libretto by Terrence McNally

Opera Parallèle
Conductor: Nicole Paiement
Director: Brian Staufenbiel

Sister Helen: Jennifer Rivera
Sister Rose: Talise Trevigne
Sister Catherine: Crystal Kim
Sister Lilianne: Krista Wigle
Mrs. Charlton: Rachel Rush
Mother: Ellen Presley
Cop: Mark Hernandez
Father Grenville: John Duykers
George Benton: Philip Skinner
Guard 1: Igor Vieira
Guard 2: Anders Froehlich
Inmate 1: Mark Hernandez
Inmate 2: Andres Ramirez
Inmate 3: Lorne Barfield
Inmate 4: Roy Eikleberry
Inmate 5: Patrick Hage
Inmate 6: Chris Coyne
Joseph De Rocher: Michael Mayes
Older Brother: Jonathan Smucker
Younger Brother: Baxter Spark
Mrs. De Rocher: Catherine Cook
Owen Hart: Robert Orth
Kitty Hart: Kristin Clayton
Howard Boucher: Joseph Meyers
Jade Boucher: Michelle Rice

§ Open Rehearsal
First Baptist Church, 22 Waller Street, San Francisco
3 p.m. February 14, 2015

§ Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
8 p.m. February 20, 21, 2015
2 p.m. February 22, 2015

§ Broad Stage, Santa Monica
7:30 p.m., March 7, 2015
2 p.m., March 8, 2015

AAM Media Preview: Seduction

Wednesday morning the Asian Art Museum held a media preview for Seduction, a show of Japanese art & objects related to the courtesans of the sybaritic "floating world" of the Edo period. The works come from the collection of John C. Weber, who was present & made opening remarks in which he told us how he began his collecting career by amassing over 500 Japanese textiles.

The 1st gallery features a 58-foot scroll, unrolled in its entirety. It shows, in decorative detail, where & how to party with the courtesans of the Yoshiwara, a walled district containing licensed brothels. It was perhaps a cross between Las Vegas & Amsterdam's red light district. The scroll invites lingering examination, & excellent text labels annotate each of its vignettes.

The exhibit contains prints, painted scrolls, robes & porcelain, designed to create an effect of sumptuousness & sophistication. This is a kimono-shaped bed cover.

This robe with embroidered calligraphy is especially fine.

Curator Laura Allen led the gallery tour & observed that the strongly sensuous appeal of the art was meant to market the women to wealthy clients.

I was delighted to see the 19th century print maker Yoshitoshi represented with one of his characteristically grotesque images of a demon.

Seduction is accompanied by a concurrent show of Japanese woodblock prints from the collection of Edwin Grabhorn. 88 prints are being displayed in 2 phases in a closely packed gallery.

These images promoted trends & fashions to a mass market. Art collector Sebastian Izzard was on hand & gave informative explanations of their social & commercial context.

Every print is in impressively crisp condition. Though the colors of most are faded, this depiction of a Sunrise of New Year's Morning by Eishosai Choki has miraculously preserved, popping colors.

§ Seduction: Japan's Floating World
Feb 20 - May 10, 2015

Asian Art Museum

§ The Printer's Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection
Feb 20 - May 10, 2015

Asian Art Museum