Friday, February 21, 2020

AB5 and the Arts

A law intended to protect gig economy employees, particularly those working for services such as Lyft and Uber, has had the unintended consequence of requiring small performing arts company to treat contractors as employees, greatly increasing the cost of putting on performances.

Joshua Kosman and Carolyn Said covered this in a Chron article published in December. In January, Island City Opera postponed their planned production of a great rarity, Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers.

I have email telling me that San Francisco Renaissance Voices has cancelled their own planned program owing to lack of AB-5-related funding.

You bet that I am worried about the 2020 seasons of many small music, theater, and dance companies that I care about. Consider a letter to your state reps and Governor Newsom about the consequences of AB-5 for the performing arts in California. The law desperately needs to be amended.

Friday Photo

Art Deco interior of 1355 Market St.
San Francisco, CA
February, 2020

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Soul of the Americas Doesn't Include Women

Music @ Menlo has a two-day Focus Residency coming up, called The Soul of the Americas. Here's the program that will be played in association with the residency:

COPLANDEl Salón México for Solo Piano
BERNSTEIN: Three Meditations from Mass (version for piano, cello, and percussion)
BARBER: Souvenirs for Piano, Four Hands, op. 28 
GOLIJOV: Mariel for Cello and Marimba
VILLA-LOBOSDivagação for Cello, Piano, and Drum;
A maré encheu” from Guia prático; and “O Polichinelo” from A prole do bebê no. 1 for Solo Piano
GINASTERA: Pampeana no. 2, Rhapsody for Cello and Piano, op. 21
GERSHWINCuban Overture for Piano, Four Hands, and Percussion

Really nice to know that women don't have souls, or something like that, she wrote while listening to Florence Price, although Copland writing fake Mexican music and Gershwin writing fake Cuban music do count.

Thoughts on the Transbay Terminal

Section of the Salesforce Transit Center
Salesforce Tower in the background
Photo by Lisa Hirsch
February, 2020

Back in the 1930s, San Francisco built a downtown terminal for trains coming into the city from the East Bay. Called the Transbay Terminal, it operated from 1939 to 1959 as a train/tram station, and was then converted entirely to bus use. It closed in 2010 and was then demolished to make way for the new Transbay Terminal. Wikipedia has a helpful article about the old terminal. You can see lots of photos via Google.

By the 1980s, when I started arriving in SF at the terminal, it was not in great shape, but it was awfully convenient, because I was dropped off about two blocks from my first job here, at 333 Market. Subsequently, I worked in the Embarcadero Center, 505 Sansome St., the Icehouse building in Levi Plaza, and back to 505, all for the same company and all at varying distances from the terminal.

Old Transbay Terminal

Eventually, it became apparent that the Transbay Terminal was decrepit and needed to be demolished and replaced by something more modern. There was a big push to make it possible for CalTrain to eventually be able to run trains directly into the terminal, that is, downtown, and so despite the fact that this was completely on spec, the new terminal ("Salesforce Transit Center," thank you naming rights, this is a civic building that shouldn't have a corporate name) was built with sublevels that could, if necesssary, accommodate full-sized trains. I expect there is a lot of infrastructure either already built or with space for eventual build-out; for trains, you need power, platforms, tracks, ventilation, elevators and escalators to the platforms, maintenance space, some way to turn the things around (unless they just back up to get out of the terminal), etc.

The project did not include the actual tunnels or tracks to the current San Francisco terminus of Caltrain, which is located at Fourth and Townsend. This screen shot of Google Maps shows the locations of CalTrain and, sort of, the new Transbay Terminal, which would be around the middle top of the screen shot:

It's around a mile as the crow flies, I think.

Now, I started writing this blog post a while back, between the opening of the new terminal on August 12, 2018 and its ignominious closing about six weeks later, on September 25, when cracks were discovered in a couple of major support beams. Fortunately, the temporary terminal two blocks away had been fenced, but not rendered unusable, in that time period. It went back into service until the new terminal re-opened on August 11, 2019.

I am not, personally, hugely thrilled about the new terminal. It cost an enormous amount of money, around $2.2 billion. I have not investigate how much of the cost is attributable to making the building rail-ready. It is very large and casts a fairly big shadow. There is a park on the roof that has some issues (I think some of the plants weren't doing well?) but which I hear is very nice and has pleasant amenities. I went up there once, but either I am coming or going when I pass through, and while I have time to poke around a bit, I don't have time to linger

The areas that I do see are big and empty:

Taken from escalator, going down into the lobby.
Photo by Lisa Hirsch, September, 2019

When the transit center opened, there were no static maps showing the location of each transbay bus, just video displays that changed way too fast for you to actually scan them. Apparently there were complaints, because now there are stands with printed maps all over.

Those four bright white pylons on the floor? They have signage pointing to each transit system you can readily access from the terminal. But guess which major transit system is missing?

If you guessed BART, you'd be right! Because nobody coming off a transbay bus might want to find BART! That's right, there is no signage telling you which direction BART is in.

Pylon, up close
Photo by Lisa Hirsch
February, 2020

Upstairs, the build-out included queue guides embedded in the floor where each bus stops...but apparently this wasn't enough, because they had to use masking tape to add a lot of guides:

Go this way.
Photo by Lisa Hirsch, September, 2019

Seriously? Nobody thought of this??

And here's a point that amazes me, and that I think is a legal violation: I have been unable to find any kind of finding aid for people who are blind or have limited vision. I can't find any Braille and I can't find audio help. There isn't even an information desk with live humans in the lobby, not that you could find it without help, if you were blind. But the center claims that it is ADA-compliant:
Yes, the transit center is designed to serve people with disabilities and is fully compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes ADA-compliant entrances, exits, paths of travel, restrooms, and five sets of public elevators throughout the building for the Bus Deck and rooftop park.
Maybe they don't understand what "fully compliant" means.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Auditions at San Francisco Symphony

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

The auditions page of SFS has provided me with a few tip-offs to upcoming changes in the orchestra, including the retirement of Assistant Concertmaster Mark Volkert a couple of years ago.

SFS has apparently conducted or no longer is accepting applications for the Associate Principal Horn position vacated by Nicole Cash; auditions are upcoming for Associate Principal Second Violin, which is billed as a one-year opening.

There are two new auditions since I last looked:

  • Principal Cello, open owing to the death of longtime principal Michael Grebanier in December
  • Principal Flute. Aaaaaand this means Tim Day is leaving the orchestra after 15 years. 

Holy New Music Director, Batman!

Esa-Pekka Salonen
Photo: Minna Hatinen, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

Esa-Pekka Salonen and SFS released E-PS's first season as music director, and hoo boy, it is something. Briefly, after a five-minute look at the press release and season calendar:

  • Lots of new music and old music new to SFS
  • Multiple opera performances, including Elektra (Goerke, Magee, other good folks!) and Bluebeard's Castle 
  • Themes!
  • New guest conductors
  • New guest soloists
  • Composers I spotted: Adès, Ginastera, Chavez, Salonen, Price, lots of others
  • MTT: four weeks, mostly old favs, but including the Missa Solemnis
  • Blomstedt: two weeks
More later, and if you want to check all of this out yourself, you can read the calendar and press releases at SFS.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Pacific Opera Project Continues to Not...Quite...Get It.

Pacific Opera Project released this statement, which I have seen only second hand so far, about their upcoming Cosi fan tutte, which was to be set in the world of Gone with the Wind, that is, a world where the "heroes" owned other humans, beat and raped them, sold them away from their families:
“In unanimous agreement between board and staff, Pacific Opera Project has elected to change the setting of our March production of Cosi fan tutte. 1. We recognize that some view a Gone with the Wind setting as offensive and we apologize for that offense. 2. Appearing insensitive to these concerns is against everything POP stands for and damages our reputation as an inclusive and diverse company, 3. something we have carefully cultivated over the past nine seasons with productions such as our Japanese/English ‘Madama Butterfly’ and our Star Trek inspired ‘Abduction from the Seraglio,’” the company stated on its Facebook page. “POP’s strongest quality has always been creativity — the ability to adapt and innovate to any location, circumstance, or constraint. 4. We look forward to the challenge of reinventing a production, now only six weeks away. 5. We’re confident that a POP ‘Cosi’ — whether set traditionally, in the Civil War, or in outer space — will be one of the most accessible, affordable, and entertaining you have ever seen.
“We thank our unwavering fans for your support during this time of transition and we look forward to seeing you at the show.”
Let me dissect the statement, which isn't exactly framed as an apology, but which comes across as a classic non-apology apology. I have put numbers in the statement for your convenience.

1. We recognize that some view a Gone with the Wind setting as offensive and we apologize for that offense.

They don't understand or they're not admitting what was wrong with the setting. There is no self-analysis or acceptance of responsibility.

2. Appearing insensitive to these concerns is against everything POP stands for and damages our reputation as an inclusive and diverse company

They are concerned with appearances and how the company looks; they are concerned about their reputation more than about the damaged done by their setting an opera in the world of a novel that glorifies slavery and the slave-owning South.

The problem is that they are unaware and insensitive.

3. something we have carefully cultivated over the past nine seasons with productions such as our Japanese/English ‘Madama Butterfly’ and our Star Trek inspired ‘Abduction from the Seraglio,’”

So they think they have a reputation for diversity and inclusion, but how did the Japanese/English Butterfly mitigate the racism of the opera? And about that Abduction, a musicologist I know who is way more familiar with it than I am says that it is problematic, as is the opera. Again, how do they think their production mitigated the problems with the source material?

4. We look forward to the challenge of reinventing a production, now only six weeks away.

You people are making this hard for us! Yes, they are blaming their critics for problems they brought upon themselves through their own lack of thoughtfulness.

5. We’re confident that a POP ‘Cosi’ — whether set traditionally, in the Civil War, or in outer space — will be one of the most accessible, affordable, and entertaining you have ever seen.

They're subtly defending the GWTW Cosi here.

6. “We thank our unwavering fans for your support during this time of transition and we look forward to seeing you at the show.”

I translate this as follows:

No thanks to those of you who called this to our attention. (Noting here that I emailed some questions to the company via their publicist before blogging or tweeting about the production, giving them a chance to explain themselves or take note of the types of questions I was asking.)

My translation of the above:
We're sorry we offended, which could hurt our ticket sales, so we'll change stuff  but we don't understand why you're so upset because we didn't do anything wrong, and you meanies are making it haaaard for us.
If you want to see everything's been tweeted about them since last Thursday, try this search: 

Museum Mondays

Death of the Virgin
German, 1430-40
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
November, 2019

Friday, February 14, 2020

Thursday, February 13, 2020

More on Pacific Opera Project

I blogged on Tuesday about Pacific Opera Project, which has an upcoming revival of a Cosi fan tutte production set during the Civil War and based on Gone with the Wind.

Not only didn't I get answers to most of the questions I asked, the company's Twitter account started blocking everyone who asked them questions there, deleting their own tweets, then reposting their own tweets without the negative comments attached.

Hoo boy, you know, this is not a good way to find fans.

Here's what I posted on Twitter:

Personal to Pacific Opera Project: believe it or not, all publicity is not good publicity. Deciding not to answer questions that a music journalist asks you and blocking people on Twitter who are asking you questions? This doesn't make you look good. It makes you look defensive and uncommunicative.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Just Stop.

People (pundits, the media, randos on Twitter) are already counting major Democratic presidential candidates out, after the awarding of, what, 24 delegates in NH and 41 in Iowa, when you need 1991 to win the nomination and after one caucus and one primary in tiny, disproportionately white states.

Just stop this.

Also, take note of the fact that in NH, it appears that the three moderates (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, 155,456) won 50% more votes, together, than Sanders and Warren (103,100). Where are the votes of Steyer, Yang, Gabbard, etc. going to coalesce as they drop out? For that matter, where will all of the moderate votes coalesce?

We'll know a lot more after Super Tuesday.

Visa Problems

Perhaps this is a Trump-admin created problem, given the reason. Received from SFS:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—The Siberian State Symphony Orchestra concert scheduled for March 15 at Davies Symphony Hall has been canceled due to visa approval issues. The ensemble is not able to travel to the United States for their tour. There are no plans to reschedule this performance.

The following options are available for those who have already purchased tickets to the performance:

  • Exchange your tickets for a gift certificate, which can be used at any time.
  • Donate your tickets, and receive a tax deduction for the total ticket value.
  • Receive a refund for the value of the ticket.

If you need assistance with your ticket, contact the Box Office by phone at 415-864-6000, email at, or in person at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street in San Francisco. We apologize for the inconvenience.

*Ticket exchanges into other concerts are subject to availability. If you are exchanging into a more expensive section, for a premium or more expensive concert, you will be charged the difference in price. Any special offers used for the initial purchase will not apply to exchanges. Payment must be made at the time of the exchange.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Just No.

Pacific Opera Project, a small opera company located in the Los Angeles area, has sent out a press release about their upcoming production of Cosi fan tutte. The big selling point: it's based on Gone with the Wind.

I am shuddering just to think about this. The production is a revival; the show was first done in 2012.

I'm wondering whether Pacific Opera Project, which has an Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity statement on their web site, somehow missed the fact that Gone with the Wind was a pro-slavery, pro-South, pro-Lost-Cause book (and film).

I just don't see how you can set any production during the U.S. Civil War, which was fought over slavery, without incorporating a sharp critique of slavery and racism. Maybe this production has this, but honestly, it's 2020 and if you're doing Cosi, or any other opera, you might consider the implications of basing your production on such a book. I mean, I was not happy to see that their trailer has a woman dressed in a maid's outfit - in the south at that time, possibly an outfit worn by an enslaved woman - tightening a corset.

I have pretty serious Just Don't Do This thoughts about the production, yes, without having actually seen it, so I sent some questions to the company via their publicist:

  • Does the company have any thoughts on the the extent to which [Gone with the Wind] is very much pro-slavery, pro-plucky-Southern-women, pro-Lost-Cause?
  • How is the company mitigating the underlying and often blatant racism of the book?
  • It appears that there might be a singer in blackface in the photos. That would be the singer tightening a corset and dressed in a maid's / slave's costume. Is that the case?
The publicist said she would run my questions past the artistic director. I told her that my questions were for quotation and attribution for a blog post.

Here is the response that I have received: 
Thank you for being in touch. Our only comment is that Jessica Mamey is Lebanese and most definitely not in blackface.
That's....not forthcoming and doesn't address the larger questions.  As folks on Twitter have noted, it's still not a good look. (I have just read that the only person of color in the current the maid. Oh fucking facepalm.) Neither is the guy holding a woman in the air and looking up into her hoop skirts, or the Confederate soldier look-alike. In fact...the whole production looks like a big mistake from here.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Valley of the Moon Festival, 2020

The upcoming Valley of the Moon Festival is, well, what you might expect this year: there's a whole lot of Beethoven, but 1) original instruments 2) a good chunk is off the beaten track. The musicians are a very fine bunch.

Here's the full schedule:

The sixth annual VALLEY OF THE MOON MUSIC FESTIVAL presenting a program in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, The Obsession: Beethoven’s Influence 1770 – 2020.

Liana Bérubé
Elizabeth Blumenstock
Cynthia Freivogel
Francisco Fullana
Monica Huggett
Catherine Manson
Rachel Barton Pine
Anna Presler
Rachell Wong (TANK Trust Laureate)

Andrew Gonzalez
Phyllis Kamrin

Tanya Tomkins

Eric Hoeprich

David Belkovski (TANK Trust Laureate)
Christian De Luca (TANK Trust Laureate)
Eric Zivian

Emily Marvosh

Kyle Stegall

April 25 – 26, 2020 in residence at the Green Music Center
Saturday and Sunday

July 18 – August 2, 2020 in residence at the Hanna Center
Saturdays and Sundays

April 25, 2020 at 7:30 p.m.


Johannes Brahms, Double Concerto in A minor, Op. 102
Beethoven, Symphony No. 5

Liana Bérubé, violin
Tanya Tomkins, cello
Alex Kahn, conductor

*   *   *

April 26, 2020 at 3 p.m.


All-Beethoven program:
Sonata for Piano in E-flat major, Op. 27, no. 1
Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1, no. 3
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, Op. 30, no. 1
Clarinet Trio in B-flat major, Op. 11

Eric Hoeprich, clarinet
Catherine Manson, violin
Tanya Tomkins, cello
Eric Zivian, fortepiano

* * *

July 18, 2020 at 4 p.m.


Beethoven, An die Ferne Geliebte
Robert Schumann, Fantasy, Op. 17
Antonin Dvořák, Songs
Dvořák, Piano Quintet

Kyle Stegall, tenor
Eric Hoeprich, clarinet
Francisco Fullana, violin
Rachell Wong, violin
Tanya Tomkins, cello
Eric Zivian, fortepiano

* * *

July 19, 2020 at 4 p.m.


C. P. E. Bach, Sonata for Violin and Fortepiano in C minor
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sonata in E minor, K. 304
Igor Stravinsky, Duo Concertant
Beethoven, Songs
Beethoven, String Quintet, Op. 29 (“Storm”)

Kyle Stegall, tenor
Eric Hoeprich, clarinet
Liana Bérubé, violin
Francisco Fullana, violin
Rachell Wong, violin
Phyllis Kamrin, viola
Tanya Tomkins, cello
Eric Zivian, fortepiano
David Belkovski, fortepiano

* * *

July 25, 2020 at 4 p.m.


Joseph Haydn, Piano Trio
Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, Songs to Goethe texts
Brahms, Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 108

Emily Marvosh, contralto
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Tanya Tomkins, cello
Eric Zivian, fortepiano
Christian De Luca, fortepiano

* * *

July 26, 2020 at 4 p.m.


Carl Maria von Weber, Piano Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 8
Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy et al., French songs
John Cage, Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard
Maurice Ravel, Piano Trio

Emily Marvosh, contralto
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Tanya Tomkins, cello
Eric Zivian, fortepiano
with participating apprentices

* * *

August 1, 2020 at 2:30 p.m.


Featuring VMMF apprentices to be announced this spring

* * *

August 1, 2020 at 4 p.m.


Clara Schumann, Piano Trio
Leoš Janáček, String Quartet No. 1 (“Kreutzer Sonata”)
Beethoven, Sonata in A minor, Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”)

Liana Bérubé, violin
Cynthia Freivogel, violin
Monica Huggett, violin
Anna Presler, violin
Phyllis Kamrin, viola
Tanya Tomkins, cello
Eric Zivian, fortepiano
with participating apprentices

* * *

August 2, 2020 at 11 a.m.


Carl Czerny, Funeral March
Franz Schubert, Sonatina for Violin and Piano
Beethoven, Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97 (“Archduke”)

Tanya Tomkins, cello
Eric Zivian, fortepiano
with participating apprentices

* * *

August 2, 2020 at 4 p.m.


Beethoven/Ries, Eroica Symphony, first movement
Berlioz/Liszt, Harold in Italy, first movement
Beethoven, Sonata for Violin and Piano
Brahms, String Quintet in G major, Op. 111

Cynthia Freivogel, violin
Andrew Gonzalez, viola
Tanya Tomkins, cello
Eric Zivian, fortepiano
with participating apprentices

Green Music Center
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Avenue
Rohnert Park, CA 94928

Hanna Center Auditorium
17000 Arnold Drive
Sonoma, CA 95476

$25 - $45 
Discount tickets available for individuals under 35 years old, for early bird reservations, and for groups of six or more. Discounts also apply to packages of two or more concerts.

Tickets will go on sale this spring at or by phone at 888-596-1027.


Met Nozze Cast Change

Also received from the Met:
Etienne Dupuis will sing the Count Almaviva in the February 14, 19, and 22mat performances of the Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, replacing Mariusz Kwiecień, who is ill. 
Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis was already scheduled to appear as the Count in three other performances of Le Nozze di Figaro this season (February 5, 8, and 11), and will now perform the role through the end of the run. He made his Met debut last season as Marcello in Puccini’s La Bohème, and will return this March as Albert in the company’s revival of Massenet’s Werther. Outside of the Met, his recent appearances have included title roles in Don Giovanni and Pelléas et Mélisande at the Paris Opera; the title role of Eugene Onegin at Deutsche Oper Berlin; Germont in La Traviata in Marseille; Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Bavarian State Opera; and Marcello in Madrid. Sir Richard Eyre’s staging of Le Nozze di Figaro returns on February 5, with Cornelius Meister conducting a cast that also includes Adam Plachetka as Figaro, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller as Susanna, Anita Hartig as the Countess, and Marianne Crebassa in her Met debut as Cherubino. Performances of Le Nozze di Figaro are February 5, 8, 11, 14, 19, and 22mat.

The Flying Russian

From the Metropolitan Opera:
Evgeny Nikitin will sing the Dutchman in all performances of the Met’s new production of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer, replacing Sir Bryn Terfel, who withdraw last week due to ankle surgery.
Bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin has previously sung the Dutchman at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre and in Baden-Baden, Madrid, Toronto, Paris, Leipzig and Tokyo. At the Met, he performed in this season’s New Year’s Eve Gala and has sung Gunther in Götterdämmerung, Klingsor in Parsifal, Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde, Rangoni in Boris Godunov, Orest in Elektra, Pogner in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Colline in La Bohème, Fasolt in Das Rheingold, and Dolokhov in War and Peace, among other roles. At the Mariinsky Theatre, his roles have included Wotan in the Ring cycle, Scarpia in Tosca, Jochanaan in Salome, Philip II in Don Carlo, the title role Don Giovanni, and Ruslan in Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila, among many others.
François Girard’s new staging of Der Fliegende Holländer opens March 2, with Valery Gergiev conducting a cast that also includes Anja Kampe in her Met debut as Senta, Franz-Josef Selig as Daland, Sergey Skorokhodov as Erik, David Portillo as the Steersman, and Mihoko Fujimura as Mary.
Performances of Der Fliegende Holländer are March 2, 6, 10, 14mat, 18, 21, 24, and 27. The March 14 matinee will be transmitted live as part of the Met’s Live in HD series, which reaches more than 2,000 cinemas in more than 70 countries around the world.

Oh, FFS.

Artimesia Gentileschi
Detail of Judith Slaying Holofernes
Yes, this is how I feel after writing this post.

This is perhaps the most tone-deaf programming imaginable: a two-day St. Louis Symphony Orchestra festival called History: Her Story, Our Future, where, you guessed it, all of the works programmed are composed by men.

From the orchestra's 2020-21 season brochure:

Note the number of women who wind up dead in the works above. I suppose that does represent what a sad percentage of men want, now and historically.

And....there's music composed by women elsewhere in the season. The composers include Joan Tower, Helen Grime, Jessie Montgomery, and others.

Isn't anyone at SLSO paying attention? This is a terrible communications failure and a terrible programming failure, not to mention the complete lack of self-awareness that went into these two programs.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Mark Volpe Retiring from the Boston Symphony

This is big news: Mark Volpe, who has been President and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the last 22 years, will retire from that position in just about a year, as of February 1, 2021.

He has been very successful, raising more than $700 million for the orchestra and increasing its endowment to $456 million, the largest among US orchestras. He recruited Andris Nelsons as the orchestra's music director. I see that the press release does not mention ahem James Levine, whose health caused no end of problems for both the BSO and the Met, not to mention, you know...

The press release is after the cut.

Peter Serkin, 1947-2020

Pianist Peter Serkin has died, age 72, of pancreatic cancer. He came from two famous musical families, with his father Rudolph preceding him as a great pianist, and, on his mother's side, the violinist Adolph Busch, founder of the Busch Quartet, was his grandfather.

His career was not without some struggles as he tried to find his particular place in the musical world. I never saw him live, but I treasure those of his recordings that I know: Tashi's famous 1970s recording of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, a seminal 20th c. chamber work, and his spectacular late Beethoven piano sonata set, recorded on fortepiano and capturing the wildness of those works best of any I know. You have definitely not lived until you've heard his Hammerklavier, with the first movement taken at the printed tempo.

Serkin had ongoing relationships with contemporary composers and performed a good deal of music written for him.

RIP, Peter Serkin.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Secret Life of Scenic Elements

The 1998 Seattle production of Tristan und Isolde, by Francesca Zambello, had an astonishingly beautiful Act II, in which Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppner were set afloat in the night sky during the love duet. Here's a screen shot showing the set after King Marke and his men show up; Michelle De Young, who sang Brangäne, is on top of the glass hut:

This production was done once in Seattle and once in Chicago, also with Heppner and Eaglen, in maybe 2001. It was supposed to be staged by San Francisco Opera in 2006, but the company wound up using David Hockney's production instead. (My bet: the Seattle production would have cost too much to fit to the War Memorial Opera House stage, or maybe it was not in good enough condition. Seattle Opera used a different production for their most recent staging as well.)

Here's a screen shot I took from the promotional video for the upcoming Lyric Opera of Chicago Ring; the scenic element in the middle must be Valkyrie Rock and the scene must be Siegfried Act III:

(Yes, I am debating a trip to Chicago in the spring....)