Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Congrats to Steve Smith!

Steve Smith, who left Time Out NY only weeks ago, has been offered, and has accepted, a position as Assistant Arts Editor of the Boston Globe. It's a loss for NYC and for the NY Times, for which he has been freelancing, but a big gain for Boston!

As I told him on Facebook, not much opera in Boston, but the new music and early music scenes are matchless. Oh, and I hear they have an orchestra, too.

Music for Earth Day

All on YouTube:
H/T Thomas May for the idea!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Safe Rolling & Fall Class, Berkeley Dan Zan Ryu

I will, in fact, be teaching a ten-week class in safe rolling & falling this year. It's intended for adults who aren't studying a martial art on a long-term basis, but who would like a basic grounding in protecting themselves if they happen to fall.

It's a ten-session class, starting in July. Here are the details:

Start date: Saturday, July 12, 2014
Time: 1:30 - 3 p.m. (90 minutes)
Location: Studio 12, Sawtooth Building, Berkeley, CA, on Eighth Street near Dwight Way
Cost: $200 + AJJF membership ($35 for age 16-64, $10 for age 65+). No one turned away for lack of funds.

Class size is limited to ten students. I'll be teaching several of the rolls and falls from Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu, and there will be plenty of time to practice them. 

Please do let others know about this class. If you'd like to enroll, let me know in comments or email.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Encounters with Britten

Over at ArtsJournal, Terry Teachout has a posting up about his first encounter with Britten's music, which happened to have been the great Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. I am reasonably certain my own first Britten was the Variations on a Theme of Henry Purcell, better known as the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

But the second was very likely the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera performances of Death in Venice, the composer's last opera, which also marked one of the few Met appearances of the tenor Peter Pears, Britten's partner in life and music, for whom so much of Britten's music was written. I did not hear Pears again for many years after that, but the sound of his voice, individual as it was, stayed with me all that time.

I'm lucky enough to have a couple of great recordings of the Serenade, including the very first, with Britten, Pears, and Dennis Brain, and I've heard it performed live twice, with a third encounter to follow in June. In between, I've seen several of Britten's operas - my favorites are Midsummer Night's Dream and Turn of the Screw - and heard live Les Illuminations, the Violin Concerto, the string quartets, and of course the War Requiem, in a first-rate performance by Semyon Bychkov with SFS. On record I've heard a good deal more.

As to the Serenade - no disrespect to the Prelude or "Pastoral," but it's "Dirge" that kills me every time.

Most of my readers undoubtedly know at least some Britten. If not, dig in; his music is both extremely beautiful and deeply moving.

Compare & Contrast 25

I have deep respect for Finn Pollard, of Where's Runnicles, and for Mark Berry, of Boulezian. They're both thoughtful, passionate, and intelligent reviewers whose comments illuminate whatever performance they're discussing. So it's with great interest and curiosity that I link to their very different conclusions about Claus Guth's recent production of Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Royal Opera.

  • Finn Pollard. "Guth's more significant, and problematic decision, is the dramatic framing. We open and close on the Empress in a hospital bed, and the clear implication is that everything else that happens in the entire opera is a figment of her imagination. The whole story is an extended dream sequence. Now, I don't say that there isn't material in text and context which can justify this approach. This is not a production, broadly speaking, where you feel constant violence is being done to the text (though there is more than I was altogether happy about). But I came away with significant objections to it. It was never sufficiently clear to me why the Empress was in this institution. 
  • Mark Berry. "To begin with, she – and we – are somewhat unclear concerning the boundaries of reality and dream. Is Freud being channelled or satirised? Unclear, and all the better for it, which renders the very ending, in which it appears ‘all to have been a dream’ something of a disappointment. That said, much of what we see in between is riveting. With the best will in the world, some of Hofmannsthal’s symbolism upon symbolism –The Magic Flute really is best left alone – can seem unnecessary; it certainly seemed – and seems – to do so to Strauss. Yet the poet’s idea of transformation gains a fair hearing, or rather viewing, and there is a proper sense of the mythological, even the fantastical, to the dreamed world we enter, never more so than at the spectacular close to the second act, Olaf Winter’s lighting crucial here, and the craggy opening of the third."
The kind of reviews that make me wish I'd seen the production, indeed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie, NY Times

I know, I know: after warning you of reduced posting, here I go again.

But seriously: if you haven't read the fabulous Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie, which ran in yesterday's NY Times Magazine, do yourself a huge favor and run right over there. It is a great story: music, obsessive collectors, mystery, friendship, and John McPhee-level journalism.

Pulitzer to Adams

To John Luther Adams, that is, for Become Ocean. You can hear Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony perform it in the upcoming Spring for Music Festival, should you happen to be in NYC next month, on an environmentally-themed program with Deserts and La Mer.

(Did I get you there? Well, take comfort in knowing that JCA's The Gospel According to the Other Mary was a finalist. And the other other Mary piece was nowhere to be found.)

Nobody Knows How to Read a 990

If you're interested in nonprofit organization finances, you owe it to yourself to become familiar with IRS Form 990. This is an annual tax filing required of nonprofits by the United States Internal Revenue Service, aka the Taxman. (The IRS is roughly equivalent to the Inland Revenue in the UK, I believe.)

If you have a GuideStar account - the basic kind is free - or you consult the National Center for Charitable Statistics (h/t Mr. CKDH) or Drew's 990 database project comes to pass, you have access to reams of important information about the finances of the nonprofit of your choice. 

The complexity of these forms varies enormously. I challenge you to understand the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 990, which includes information about attendance, assets (immense), income, donations, salaries, etc. The museum's assets include tens of thousands of art objects, valued at, I'm sure, billions of dollars, a huge and ever-expanding campus in NYC, etc., etc. It would take me a couple of days to fully comprehend the form.

But the 990 of a small nonprofit isn't that hard to deal with, and opera company 990s all have the same types of information.

For this reason, it's discouraging that I have now read, for the third time, that David Gockley makes more than a million dollars a year, most recent the claim that his base salary is $1.2 million. Folks, this is just not true. His base salary, as shown by some years of 990s, is currently around $525,000. The most recently filed 990 shows that Gockley received a one-time bonus of $1 million. 

I went into some detail in SFCV a couple of weeks ago about why I believe he earned and deserves every penny of that bonus. I'm not happy about the failure of other people reporting on this subject to get his compensation right. A half-million dollar salary is reasonable for running a complicated organization with a $70 million annual budget. Misrepresenting his earnings because you didn't do enough research is not reasonable.

Expect Reduced Posting...

...for a while. I am putting major effort into jujitsu and my dojo, after getting encouragement from both expected and unexpected quarters the other week at the annual convention of the American Judo & Jujitsu Federation. The hope is that I can test for sandan (third-degree black belt) in some reasonable amount of time (that is, by the end of 2016) and also that I can get membership at the school up to something between 10 and 15. (If you know anyone who wants to study an endlessly fascinating martial art, send that person to me. Or have that person come by the school to watch class or take a free first class.)

So I will be posting less obsessively. However, do expect plenty of blogging during my trip to London next month. I usually don't live-blog vacations, but my partner and our very large dog will be home, so I do not have my usual concerns.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Blomstedt in Nielsen and Schubert

I bought a ticket a few months back for the first of conductor laureate Herbert Blomstedt's two programs with San Francisco Symphony, largely on the strength of the first works on the program, Carl Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto of 1928, to be played by principal clarinetist Carey Bell. Bell has been a favorite wind player of mine since he was principal clarinet of the San Francisco Opera orchestra; let's just say that I will never forget his playing in La Forza del Destino back in 2005, when Nicola Luisotti made his first local appearance. As careful readers of this blog know, I've been hoping to hear Bell in a work other than the ubiquitous Mozart clarinet concerto for a long time.

And the Nielsen did not disappoint: every time I hear something by the Danish composer, I find myself amazed that he isn't played a whole lot more often in the US. His music is lively, quirky, direct, tremendously energetic, and enormously appealing. The Clarinet Concerto is an offbeat work written for a clarinetist who was evidently quite the eccentric. Perhaps the oddest thing about the concerto is the prominent solo part for snare drum; the score doesn't call for timpani, and the snare drum acts as a foil to the often lyrical, but equally often flighty, clarinet part. It's a wonderful piece and got a terrific performance all around.

BUT. The big surprise on the program was Schubert's Great C Major Symphony, D. 944. I had quite seriously told Joshua Kosman before the concert that I was considering taking off after the Nielsen, on the grounds that, well, the Schubert is looooong and I am not a big fan of it.

Boy, am I ever glad I stayed. It turns out that the reason I haven't cared much for the piece is that I'd never heard Herbert Blomstedt conduct it. It is a gigantic piece, huge in scope and length and number of themes; it can be ponderous and hoo boy can it drag.

But Blomstedt neatly sidestepped every one of the inherent pitfalls, conducting the work with energy and momentum from the very first theme, which was noticeably faster than I have heard it before.

The performance was, indeed, long, clocking in around 50 to 55 minutes, because Blomstedt took the first and fourth movement repeats, but (except for a bit in the scherzo - how many repeats are there, anyway??) it was an entirely gripping and absorbing performance. In fact, it seemed shorter than MTT's 2009 performance, in which he omitted the first and last movement repeats.

Blomstedt used a large string section, and yet there was no muddying of textures: instead, there was the most marvelous transparency, with a beautiful rich string sound in which you could still hear every inner voice and detail of the string orchestration. He had the first violins on the left, seconds on the right, basses and cellos next to the firsts on the left. I've been saying for several years that Davies sounds betters with the strings in this formation, and this concert provides a little more backup for that claim.

I was also hugely impressed with Blomsted's control of the architecture and dynamics of the piece; in fact, he made the dynamics an obvious factor in the architecture and line.

Really, I've never heard a better performance of the Great C Major, and I expect it will be a long time before I hear one that's as good. I have grown more and more impressed with Blomstedt over time, and I hope - given that he is now 86 - that I will have many more opportunities to hear him.


Friday, March 28, 2014

The Best Program in the World

Not opera, but I would pay - and pay a lot - to see this program:
  • Boulez, sur Incises
  • Birtwistle, Moth Requiem
  • Stravinsky, Les Noces
Conducted by Le Maitre himself, of course. I was lucky enough to see him conduct sur Incises just about three years ago. I hope I never forget the beauty of the work sounding through Disney Hall.

H/T Boulezian for suggesting that Les Noces would go well with the other two!

You Win Some, You Lose Some 3

And that's true even when the someone is Marc-Andre Hamelin, one of the best and most interesting pianists working today.

He played a program with the Pacifica Quartet back in November, a Monday night at SF JAZZ the day after I got home from my trip to NYC. It was awesome in every way: the Pacifica led off with an intense performance of Shostakovich 7, and Hamelin joined them for the Leo Ornstein and Dvorak piano quintets. The Dvorak was lovely, with a nice Czech spicing, and I'm afraid at this remove I can't get any more specific than that.

The Ornstein was a horse of an entirely different color, a weird and wonderful work, around an hour long. It is about as discursive as a piece can get and still hang together, and indeed it did. It has what sounds like an impossibly difficult piano part, and of course the combination of weird and impossibly difficult means it's catnip for Hamelin, who has the weirdest recorded repertory of any living pianist.

The five of them gave it bang-up performance; it's a good enough piece that I'd say it deserves to be, at least, on the edges of the standard repertory.

By the way, this was my first time at SF JAZZ. Fabulous sight-lines, comfortable seats (for me), and hoo boy, a very clear, dry acoustic, making it a bit like hearing an x-ray of a program. A little more resonance wouldn't have hurt.

Here's what a couple of other reviewers thought of this program:

Then there was Hamelin's solo recital at the Nourse Auditorium, which left me scratching my head. He led off with his own Barcarolle, a misty Debussyan exercise that is, perhaps, a bit longer than it needs to be.

Then came the centerpiece of the recital, Medtner's Sonata in E minor, "Night Wind," Op. 25, No. 2. Um. Around and around and around it went, getting absolutely nowhere. Nice try, Marc-Andre, but leave it for the recording studio. Even you couldn't persuade me to hear this thing again - and I've heard and liked more Medtner than most. See Joshua Kosman's review of a different Hamelin recital; that's exactly how I felt.

After the intermission, he played the four Schubert Impromptus, D935, and, again, these just never took off. They lacked spring and vibrancy; only the last finally had the kind of momentum and energy I expect of both performer and composer. The encores were lovely, especially Hamelin's own hilarious version of Chopin's "Minute" Waltz.

Zachary Woolfe heard this program in NYC a few days before I did and liked it a lot. (I don't know about the pianist's alleged reputation; I must have missed that memo.) I'll chalk up what I heard to an off night on MAH's part, knowing we all have them (or maybe I just didn't like what he was doing with this particular repertory).

Tell Us What You Really Think, Mark!

Boulezian takes down John Adams's Shaker Loops, in a review worthy of A Lexicon of Musical Invective.

I know a fair amount of Adams, but can't remember whether I've heard Shaker Loops or not; will check the CDs I own later today. I can imagine that Adams might not sound as good as he can be in the company of Carter and Birtwistle; the compositional goals and techniques are too different. Regardless, go read that review, which had me laughing out loud at a bus stop before 8 a.m. this morning.

(Regular readers know that I'm a fan of Adams and adore some of his music. Still!)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Diana Damrau Live Stream (Soon!)

Diana Damrau and pianist Craig Rutenberg at Le Poisson Rouge:

Works:         Music from her new album Forever (songs from musicals, operetta and movies)
Day/Date:   Thursday, March 27th, 2014
Time:          7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
Location:     Gloriously Livestreamed to all of the interwebs

The charming soprano will be singing music from her new album Forever, songs from musicals, operetta and movies.  Event info is here:http://www.lepoissonrouge.com/lpr_events/diana-damrau-march-27th-2014/

(I have no idea how she is in this repertory, but hey, she has been delightful every time I've seen her.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why Good Publicity Matters

In the last couple of weeks, I've posted a lot of complaints about publicity materials I have received from various Bay Area musical organizations, to the point where one of my readers complained about the complaints. I want to go into some detail about why good publicity is important and why it is a bad thing when organizations don't get what they're paying for.

The job of a publicist is to get attention for your organization, its performers, its music director (if there is one), and for the performances put on by the organization. Publicists communicate on your behalf with journalists, publications, bloggers, and members of the public. I suspect they might give advice to an organization on how to run an effective advertising campaign.

When a publicist does the job effectively, the organization gets timely, accurate publicity; the information distributed by the publicist reaches the people who need it when they need it. Journalists write advances or reviews; bloggers put up blurbs and say "this looks interesting, I'm going."

Part of a publicist's job is to make it easy for concert information to be published. Journalists are busy and have publication schedules to deal with. That's why it's counterproductive to the organization paying the publicist when:
  • Information arrives too late to be useful; for example, a week before the performance. A newspaper (or SFCV) needs some lead time to do an advance or to schedule a review.
  • Information is tough to dig out of a press release. It's just not that hard to structure a press release so it can easily be scanned and the necessary information copied and pasted.
Every critic who isn't kept somewhat happy is a critic who might not be writing about a musical organization.

Organizations shoot themselves in the foot in various ways, with or without the help of a publicist when:
  • Their audience communications are hard to read. This discourages the audience from attending or telling friends about the program. My favorite example of this would be a brochure featuring 6 point red type on a white background. I mean, really? It was so pretty until I tried to read it.
  • Their web site or audience communications provide an email address...but the organization doesn't reply. This certainly discourages an audience member (or potential audience member) who has taken the time to write an email, but is then (apparently) ignored by the organizations.
  • Their web site makes you click and click and click to find basic concert information. Alex Ross, among others, has been quietly imploring orchestras to PLEASE have a single web page that lists each program, with conductor, works, soloists, dates, times, and locations without any clicking at all. 
It's just not that hard to get this stuff right. I've got pages of web site basics and publicity basics that are intended to help small organizations, the kind that can't afford a paid publicist, manage their web sites and publicity well enough. (And believe me, getting less-than-pro publicity from a small chorus is a whole lot less painful than getting it from an organization that has a staff publicist or a hired outside publicist.)

Every potential audience member who can't read your brochures, or who doesn't get a response from your organization, is a person who is less likely to attend a concert...or make a donation. That's why organizations pay attention to the quality of their publicity: publicity affects the bottom line, for better or for worse.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

And Lastly....


Here's the information block I want to see (FOR EXAMPLE) in every press release or email I receive:

Performers: Kansas City G&S Players
Works:         The Gondoliers
Day/Date:   Monday, April 14, 2014
Time:          7:30 PM
Location:     Elmer Gantry High School
                    1912 Anderson Way
                    Kansas City, MO




Sorry for shouting. No, actually, I'm not sorry at all.

Updated, March 22: Added a line for works to be performed. I like to know that, too.

Dear Beloved Bay Area Baroque Band

PLEASE don't send a two thousand word season announcement structured like this:
  • Highlight list
  • More extensive blurbs about each of your six programs, apparently including what will be played, all in running text. You give the month, but not the dates.
  • Bullet list of your venues
  • Long blurb/history of the organization
  • Blurb about your MD
  • Schedule, which has dates, times, and locations BUT NOTHING ABOUT REPERTORY
Folks, what I want, what I think everybody wants, is to have the schedule information, performers, and repertory together in one place. I don't want to scroll back and forth in your very long email to see whether I want to and am able to attend any of your concerts. I can't even do a copy & paste into my blog, which, you know, is a convenient way for me to give your programs a boost.

A Note to Nonprofits

If you're an organization whose primary purpose is fund-raising for a Good Cause, your web site had better tell me exactly where the money goes, or you're not getting a cent out of me. The following isn't good enough, for example:
[Organization name deleted] raises money for breast cancer research, treatment, and educational programs.  
Your web site doesn't say anything about where the money you raise goes. This is a serious governance issue and a problem of transparency.

There are breast cancer (and general cancer) organizations I actively avoid (Susan G. Komen, ACS) and organizations I donate to (Breast Cancer Action, Women's Cancer Resource Center). Because I have no idea what [organization name] does with money it takes in, I'm not donating.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Could It Happen Here?

San Diego Opera had balanced its budget for 28 consecutive years, a model of financial rectitude. Could San Francisco Opera be looking at a similar fate?

Yes, it could be. Take a look at Janos Gereben's SFCV report on the SFO annual meeting for some terrifying numbers about SF Opera's budget, subscribers, and ticket sales over a 30 year period.

San Diego Opera to Fold

After decades of balanced budgets, San Diego Opera says they can't raise enough money to continue, so they are winding up the company rather than go on and risking bankruptcy.

Minnesota Update

Some big news this week from Minnesota and a recap of something important that I haven't adequately reported on.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

And Don't Do This, Either

Do not put an informational email address on your web site or in printed materials unless you intend to reply to email sent to that address.

I am looking at you, Classical North Voice America, and you, Sacred & Profane Chamber Chorus.

Don't Do This

Dear Soli Deo Gloria:

About that card I received from about the program you sang last weekend?  It just about guaranteed that I wouldn't attend.

Here's the program information you provided, in full. On the front:
In old Vienna, composers reserved the delicate accompaniment of two violins and continuo for their most intimate sacred works.
On the back:
Enjoy short masses by Mozart and Schubert and explore the roots of this tradition in the works of Bach and other Baroque composers. 
The card also has the dates, times, locations, prices, and soloist names. It's a really big card and I know there was room, somehow, for you to list the works you're performing. I care more about that than the soloist names.

That the front of the card is ugly and hard to read, because of the terrible contrast between the print colors and the background, is unfortunate. That the information you provide is insufficient is worse than that.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

But Wait!

Here's the rest of the story. Yeah, I just had to get the rimshot out there.
The Met approached Goerne, who was in New York performing at Carnegie Hall, yesterday evening when the company’s artistic staff learned of Hampson’s withdrawal. Goerne sang a solo recital at Carnegie Hall and then considered the offer overnight before agreeing. He is currently en route to the Met where he will rehearse with Maestro James Levine and the company’s staff directors. In a serendipitous twist, Goerne attended Monday morning’s dress rehearsal of Wozzeck as a guest, allowing him a chance to see the production in advance.
This performance will be Goerne’s first time singing Wozzeck at the Met. He has given acclaimed performances in the role with other companies, including the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and the Vienna State Opera, with whom he sang the role last Friday evening in a concert staging at Carnegie Hall. The German baritone made his Met debut in 1998 as Papageno in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and reprised the role with the company in 2005. This season, he sings numerous roles at the Vienna State Opera, including the title role in a staged production of Wozzeck later this month, Kurwenal in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and Amfortas in Wagner’s Parsifal.

Cast Change Advisory

From the Met:
Matthias Goerne is stepping into the title role in tonight’s opening night performance of Berg’s Wozzeck, replacing Thomas Hampson, who has withdrawn due to illness.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Tuesday Miscellany

Jessica Duchen chatted with John (Coolidge) Adams and published an interview in the Independent, but honestly, I think that the more interesting Q&A is what she posted on her blog....I bet you will be shocked, shocked, to hear that Paul Krugman is rolling his eyes at Paul Ryan's latest pronouncements about poverty; it certainly doesn't help that Ryan omits or misrepresents data that would undermine his positions....At the Geek Feminism blog, Coral Sheldon-Hess talks about why women in technology groups are important....In the course of discussing ticket fees, Drew McManus links to a whole bunch of my past complaints about them; be sure to read the sane and intelligent comments....And lastly, Harold Shapero talks about studying with Nadia Boulanger after he graduated from Harvard. He didn't have to go to Paris, because she was sitting out the war in Cambridge, MA.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Nicholas Lemann on Kitty Genovese

More than a year ago, I blogged about A.M. Rosenthal's role in distorting the facts of the Kitty Genovese murder and the impact of that distortion on accounts of the killing over the last fifty years. Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker has written an article that further fleshes out the story. Money quote:
Rosenthal’s convictions about the crime were so powerful that he was impervious to the details of what actually happened.
And at the end of Lemann's article:
The real Kitty Genovese syndrome has to do with our susceptibility to narratives that echo our preconceptions and anxieties. So the lesson of the story isn’t that journalists should trust their gut, the way Abe Rosenthal did. Better to use your head.