Saturday, July 02, 2022

Richard Taruskin

The musicologist Richard Taruskin died yesterday at 77. He was surely the most important and influential musicologist of his generation, and very likely of several generations. He became prominent after I'd quit grad school, so I did not have to grapple with his work or his personality during my studies. I read some of his NY Times articles, and I might be going back to read a few more, or reread some of the more famous ones.

He had a combative personality; on Twitter, many folks attested to his greatness as a scholar and teacher, and others mentioned incidents where he bullied people in public. Here's a thread that is absolutely about Taruskin the bully. Some of his opinions were eye-rolling; his Times articles included attacks on composers he didn't like, including Carter, Boulez, and Martino.

But he said a lot that needed to be said: that Stravinsky was profoundly Russian, despite his efforts to claim that he really wasn't; that music can't be understood out of its historical context; that the "Western canon" was designed to be German.

Among Taruskin's big works was the enormous Oxford History of Western Music. I can't imagine anyone else having the breadth of knowledge to write such a thing (I imagine that research assistants were involved, but I don't have a copy so I cannot check the credits*), or, ahem, the hubris to try. I understand from the obituaries and various comments on Twitter that there are no Black composers mentioned in this six-volume, 4200 page monster. I wonder how many female composers are mentioned. You have to wonder about that, and also wonder where the fuck his editors were.

Back in the day, a couple of grad students decided to live-blog reading the Oxford History. Read The Taruskin Challenge for all sorts of fun!

Last June, Will Robin, author of the NY Times obit for Taruskin, interviewed the musicologist for his podcast, Sound Expertise. I listened to it a few weeks later, and during the interview, Taruskin said something so jaw-dropping that I replayed that bit multiple times and then read the transcript to make sure that he'd really said what I heard him say. First, there was this, which is reasonable:

Musicology was very much of an [unclear] thing when I was a student, you have no idea, you young people, you have no idea how narrowly the field was defined in the 1960s when I was introduced to it. That's why I take a somewhat jaded view of all the clamor for inclusion nowadays. I'm all for the inclusion of racial minorities and women, who are a majority after all. 

And then, a few minutes later, there's this:

If you have a desirable political end in mind, you will skew your scholarship to produce a good result. That's a hard one to resist. And therefore, I feel it's really important to resist. And that's why I made a few somewhat skeptical remarks about all of the pressure for inclusion. That is our shibboleth now in musicology -- well, in the humanities, and I therefore find it important to bring up the question of what is sacrificed or what is lost when you gain -- whatever it is. 

To spell it out: first, he equates greater inclusion with "desirable political ends." And it never occurs him to ask what might have been lost during literally centuries of exclusion of women, Black people, and other minorities from musicologies. This is intellectually dishonest and a real failure on Taruskin's part.

I've also got to note that he had advantages that most people don't: he went to Columbia for his undergrad, masters, and doctoral studies, then got his first professional appointment there. This kind of career trajectory is incredibly rare today. Among other things, I was advised not to stay at my undergrad institution for graduate school; new Ph.D.s rarely get hired at their doctoral institution these days. I am pretty sure that in the Sound Expertise interview, Taruskin mentions that his mentor Paul Henry Lang got him access to publishing in The Musical Quarterly, and, again, that's a rare advantage.

Here are the formal obits and other articles that I've seen; I'd also suggest reading mentions of him on Twitter here and here. (They're two different searches and bring up different tweets.)

The three obits address his career and personality from somewhat different angles and all are worth reading. 

* Regarding RAs, a Twitter friend tells me they believe that Taruskin did not use RAs.

Friday, July 01, 2022

Friday Photo



Placard on a wall saying Public Open Space, Public Sitting Area, Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-FOutdoor bench and planter made of stone. Planter contains some plants. It's right in front of a building's exterior wall and under a large overhang, protected from rain.


Sign and sitting area
Mission St., San Francisco
June, 2022
Click to enlarge

One doesn't quite know what to say. The placard says that the seating area is Public Open Space from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It's an outdoor, unfenced area that you actually can't keep people out of except, you know, by threatening force. I assume that the signage is boilerplate to give the building a reason to evict anyone who might, say, try to sleep there overnight, or just be there at 1 a.m. or whatever.









 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Bad Ideas

Two bad, bad, bad ideas that I've heard from time to time:

  • Letting states, generally the southern states, secede from United States. NO. It's not okay to abandon our fellow citizens to the worst state governments. There are millions of poor people and Black Americans and Asian Americans and Indigenous people in the south. The southern states are desperately poor and very much dependent on federal support, financed by taxes paid by the northern and blue states. There are more Democrats in Texas than in New York State. I can't even imagine the unintended consequences of splitting up the country. I mean, right now, I wouldn't put it past a big fraction the right wing to favor the return of chattel slavery. I am completely opposed to anything that risks the harm that splitting country would do.
  • Forced sterilization of men. COME ON. Hundreds of thousands of poor, Black, and Indigenous women have been forcibly sterilized over the last 150 years, up into my lifetime, up until today. Bodily autonomy is for everyone, full stop.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Adams, Stucky, and Sibelius at San Francisco Symphony

Photo of a man in a blue suit playing a grand piano with a woman in black wearing white glasses seated to his left.

Pianist Víkingur Ólafsson performs John Adams’ Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? with Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the San Francisco Symphony, June 23, 2022.

If you take a look at the photo above, you'll see a woman seated to the left of and behind Víkingur Ólafsson. She's the page turner. He's playing from a tablet of some kind and she's turning pages with a Bluetooth or other wireless device.

There was a cute incident before the concerto. Alexander Barantschik, the concertmaster, stood up to tune the orchestra, and she hit an A on the piano. However....it was the A below middle C, which is the wrong octave for tuning. The correct pitch is A above middle C, which is in the oboe's range. When there's a piano concerto, whoever is playing principal oboe picks up the C from the piano for the winds, then the concertmaster. picks up the C from oboe for the strings.

When the page turner hit the wrong note, Barantschik looked shocked, stood up very straight, and with a sly smile hit the right A. He smiled, she smiled, everybody laughed.

Anyway, it was one hell of a performance, and the pianist has a new fan. I would have gone back for a second performance if SF Civic Center weren't completely impassible on Pride Weekend.

Here's a pop quiz: which reviewer wrote "In the transition to the second movement, one minute you think you’re in a roaring bar; a minute later you notice that somehow you have relocated to a quiet, darkened lounge" and which one wrote "The slow movement, at its heart, is like a cocktail-lounge take on Ravel, turning its harmonies this way and that, and catching reflections of light from a mirror ball"? Both also used "tender" to describe the Sibelius. Reviewers do not read each other's reviews before filing their own.

I had a bit more to say about Radical Light because I reviewed its world premiere in 2007. It's a wonderful piece and I'm so glad to have heard it again.

 

Museum Mondays

Detail of a reddish stone block with a human-created crack running from top to bottom

Drawn Stone detail
Sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy
De Young Museum, San Francisco
October, 2006

 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Cast Change, SFO Verdi Concert

War Memorial Opera House at twilight. Photo shows a large neoclassical building with columns, a balcony, front steps, and a fly tower.

War Memorial Opera House
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Received from San Francisco Opera:


SAN FRANCISCO, CA (June 24, 2022) — San Francisco Opera today announced a cast and program update for the June 30 Eun Sun Kim Conducts Verdi concert. Due to illness, tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz must withdraw from the concert. Currently performing in Europe,


Mr. Chacón-Cruz has developed a bilateral ear infection which prevents him from international air travel. The concert program has been updated due to this change.

***

Cast, program, other info:

June 30, 2022 at 7:30 pm

Approximate timing: 2 hours and 5 minutes, including one intermission

War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco

 

Livestream (separate ticket)

After-Party (separate ticket) at 10:15 pm in the Green Room, 401 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco

 

Eun Sun Kim, Conductor

Nicole Car, Soprano

Etienne Dupuis, Baritone

Soloman Howard, Bass

Mikayla Sager, Soprano*+

San Francisco Opera Orchestra

San Francisco Opera Chorus

 

Morgan Robinson, Stage Director

Justin Partier, Lighting Designer

John Keene, Chorus Director

 

 

 

Concert Program (updated June 24/subject to change)

 

Luisa Miller

  • Overture
  • Act II, Scene 1: Il padre tuo … Tu puniscimi … A brani, brani o perfido

 

Il Trovatore

  • Act II, Scene 1: Anvil Chorus
  • Act I, Scene 2: Che più t’arresti … Tacea la notte placida … Di tale amor
  • Act II, Scene 2: Tutto è deserto … Il balen del suo sorriso
  • Act IV, Scene 1: Udiste … Mira di acerbe lagrime

 

Don Carlo

  • Act III finale Auto-da-Fé Scene: Spuntato ecco il dì d’esultanza
  • Act III, Scene 2: Ballet Music [from the 1867 version of Don Carlos]
  • Act IV, Scene 2: Per me giunto … O Carlo ascolta
  • Act V, Scene 1: Tu che le vanità

 

Traffic Advisory, SF Civic Center

We're not going to the opera this weekend, though I'm trying to figure out whether I can get to Grand Duchess of Gerolstein at the Legion of Honor, but I received this from San Francisco Opera:

We would like to advise you that due to the 52nd Annual San Francisco Pride Parade and Celebration in Civic Center on Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26, the following street closures will be in effect:

Saturday June 25, from 6am to 8pm

  • Look out for closures around Civic Center. Streets include Polk, Larkin, Hyde, Grove, McAllister, and Golden Gate.

Sunday June 26, from 6am to 8pm

  • Look out for closures around Civic Center. Streets include Polk, Larkin, Hyde, Grove, McAllister, and Golden Gate.
  • Closed route starting at Market and Beale Streets.
  • The route runs along Market Street and ends at 8th and Market.
  • Please also note the street fair from 6am to 5pm on Market Street from 8th Street to 9th Street.

Visit sfmta.com for full details and get real-time updates at 511.org.

We would also like to remind you that there is no late seating. Please expect heavy traffic and less available parking in the area and consider taking mass transit and plan extra time for travel delays.

Please also note that the UC Hastings garage will be closed both days this weekend.

If you have any questions, please call our Box Office at (415) 864-3330 or visit sfopera.com. We look forward to seeing you at your performance! 

Enraged? You Should Be.

The states can now force pregnant women, trans men, and nonbinary people to remain pregnant and give birth, regardless of what they want, regardless of whether the pregnancy is wanted, regardless of whether their health is threatened by the pregnancy, regardless of whether they were raped. So much for bodily autonomy, so much for the rights of living humans.

Just wait for Republicans to try to pass a constitutional amendment or federal law banning abortion, even though a majority wants Roe to remain the law of the land. They'll try for this as soon as they have the trifecta again.

Let's note, also, that this is taking place in a country without universal health care, without parental leave, and without child care, where the maternal morbidity and mortality rate is the highest in Western industrialized nations, and where Black women's rate of maternal death is three times that of white women.

The news:

Why this is so very bad:
What you can do:
  • Donate to abortion funds.
  • Donate to practical support organizations.
  • Don't donate to Planned Parenthood. They're well funded and don't need help.
  • If you're using an online period tracker, request that the data be deleted and delete the app itself. The exception is Euki, which was developed with input from reproductive rights activists. It does not collect your personal data. H/T to KW for this.
  • Pressure your elected representatives at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Spread the word about self-managed abortions.
  • Vote. And help others vote. There are any number of organizations providing specific ways that you can help people get registered, get voter ID where it's required, drive people to polling places, and on and on.
  • Support trans rights, and fight racism and sexism. It's all related, because controlling everyone who isn't a conservative white Christian man is the whole point.

Friday Photo

Side chapel at Notre Dame; wooden altar with white altarcloth and wooden wainscoting, stone walls, carved statue of a saint, candlesticks and candles, crucifix
Side chapel, Notre Dame de Paris
October, 2018


 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, 2022 Edition

For several days last week and this week, a group of music critics (writers panel) and a group of Rubin Fellows spent a lot of time together at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where the Fellows wrote and wrote and the critics provided feedback on the writing, as well as discussing various issues in music criticism with the Fellows. This year's panel was to have consisted of:

  • Natasha Gauthier (Opera Canada)
  • Gary Giddins (formerly Village Voice jazz writer)
  • Joshua Kosman (classical music critic of the SF Chronicle)
  • Janice Page (arts editor at The Washington Post)
  • Tim Page (former Washington Post classical music critic)
  • John Rockwell (formerly of The NY Times, where he held several positions)
  • Stephen Rubin (founder; consulting publisher at Simon & Schuster)
  • Steve Smith (culture and arts editor of WNYC; formerly at Time Out, the Boston Globe, NY Times, and NPR)
  • Heidi Walson (opera critic at the WSJ)
  • Zachary Woolfe (NY Times chief classical music critic)
Tim Page and Stephen Rubin weren't able to be there for various reasons, alas.

I attended the Friday afternoon panel, which was moderated by Janice Page and on the subject of editor/writer relationships. This is a critical area for any journalist or, really, any writer at all, from assignments to the nuts and bolts of editing to how you handle problems, and so on. Janice Page was a great moderator; she was equipped with a list of on-the-nose questions that elicited good information on a range of topics. She asked about how assignments were made, about needing publisher/editorial support and backup when you write a complicated or difficult story, about good and bad advice from editors, and so on. 

Who or what do you like to read was a good question. Everybody didn't answer it - I was hoping that Joshua Kosman would answer and somehow work in the novels of Trollope - but Zachary Woolfe mentioned Eric Asimov, the Times's wine critic and how good he is at writing about a specialist area for a generalist audience. So true, and of course this is also the job of any classical music writer. I can tell you that when John Rockwell said that Eric Asimov is Isaac Asimov's son, at least two of us in the room snapped right to attention, because Eric is Isaac's nephew, not his son.

Natasha Gauthier talked about interviewing Charles Dutoit....and having him make a pass at her with her tape recorder running. Her editor/publisher backed her up on publishing a story about this, despite all sorts of threats from Dutoit's orchestra, lawyers, etc. It was on tape. 

Trust between an editor and a writer is huge; without it, well. Janice Page had quite the story about a writer who waited until the night before a deadline to admit to being complete stuck. Page worked with her for some hours to put together the article from the writer's note...and then had to tell the writer, no, I'm sorry, I cannot hire you again. Reliability is a necessary quality in a writer!

Then there were wins and losses in discussions with editors. Steve Smith talked about trying to use the word "flensing" in a review and having his editor refuse....even though flensing is removing blubber from a whale, and the review was of Jake Heggie's opera Moby-Dick.

The Q&A was also excellent: one of the Fellows asked about pitching, for example. I took some notes! I'm not good at coming up with stories to pitch, and the answers were really helpful.

My favorite moment at the event might have been during the Q&A, when someone stood up with a paper in hand and started asking questions. He didn't say "This is more of a comment than a question", but it was, and clearly he had an ax or two to grind.

He got two questions in, and clearly had more queued up, before Joshua Kosman jumped in to say "Let's start with those." The first was what I can only call a leading question about how the writers cope with having "less sophisticated audiences than 40 years ago." Gauthier started off by challenging the whole notion of a "less sophisticated audience," then Kosman backed her up and said, yes, they might have less musical education than 40 years ago, but they're not less sophisticated. Gauthier had started right there, and I certainly agree.

Emery Kerekes won the top prize and Lev Memuya won the second prize. Congratulations! I know that all of the Fellows put in a lot of work, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to see their reviews on the web sooner or later.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Media Round-Up: Dream of the Red Chamber, San Francisco Opera

A stage with singers in sumptuous costumes lined up across it; a red gateway also stretching across the stage and very tall; a blue background displaying a village.

Dream of the Red Chamber
Act 1 Finale 
Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera revived its commission, Dream of the Red Chamber, by Bright Sheng, libretto by Sheng and David Henry Hwang, this week. It is nearly unheard of for new opera to get a second bring-up by their commissioning company, so kudos to all. The opera has been revised a bit from the 2016 original; there are some short cuts and one entire aria is gone.

I liked it better than the first time around. I'd watched an archival video of it (thank you, SFO archivist Barbara Rominski!) and it reinforced my...pretty neutral thoughts about it. But in the theater, the colorful music and the excellence of the singers came to the fore. I think the conducting was better than the first time. There were some changes in the cast - new singers for Dai Yu, Bao Yu, and Bao Chai, the members of the central love triangle - but the singing was excellent the first time and excellent this time, so I don't think that's the reason. My review is in Opera News and I don't have a link yet.


Saturday, June 18, 2022

Bartók and Respighi at SFS


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



To San Francisco Symphony last night for the next-to-last program of the 2021-22 season, one I'd looked forward to for months, because there was the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 1, which I could not remember have heard live, and which is a great favorite of mine. As it turned out, SFS hadn't played it since 1994, back in the Blomsted era, which surprised the hell out of me. I think that I heard Yuja Wang play the 2nd concerto in 2011 and I know that I've heard the 3rd live a couple of times, once with Hélène Grimaud, once in NYC with Radu Lupu and Cincy. 

ANYWAY. The soloist was Pierre-Laurent Aimard, a formidable pianist in 20th and 21st century music and a player of great technical skill, the conductor was Esa-Pekka Salonen, and so I had high hopes.

Well, um. I was not happy with what I heard. From row T, the piano-orchestra balance was poor, with the piano disappearing under the riotous orchestra. Overall I thought it sounded under-rehearsed, with tricky tempo changes sounding not quite worked out and a general air of can-we-get-through-this. I have never seen Aimard before, and maybe he always plays with the score, but that was a surprise to me. The whole thing sounded rickety and lacking in confidence. They're doing the 3rd concerto tonight and tomorrow, and the concertos are being recorded as part of a big Bartók recording project, so there will be additional chances to check my impressions against the regular Tuesday night broadcast and the eventual recording. (And maybe this means that we'll get Bluebeard's Castle, cancelled in the pandemic, in a future season.)

The rest of the program was played magnificently. Jessie Montgomery's Strum led off the second half of the program, and it's a lovely piece. I heard it last year at Berkeley Symphony as well; it is getting lots of play, I think. The first work on the program, before the concerto, was Luciano Berio's reworking of a piece by Boccherini, and like all Berio, it was wonderful and quirky, and why isn't there Berio on every damn program, dammit. He was such a fine composer.

The closer was Respighi's Pines of Rome, and I tell you, this was not a work I would have guessed Salonen would program. What do I know? Maybe he was advised to put something popular on the program to balance out the Bartók, but I also saw a tweet last night from someone who saw him conduct it in LA, so I'm guessing it was his idea. Respighi doesn't have the world's best reputation as a composer, and it was definitely a backhanded compliment when a conductor, discussing great conductors of the past (dead, that is), called Arturo Toscanini "the world's greatest Respighi conductor." I mean, it's probably true but it's also ridiculous to put that first among Toscanini's achievements. He was immensely important to the profession of conducting and was both admired and respected by conductors who came in ahead of him in the living conductor's ranking.

Now, Pines is a monster of sorts, requiring a gigantic orchestra with everything but the kitchen sink. Respighi studied with Rimsky-Korsakov and clearly took away some ideas about orchestration of the splashy variety. (Spoiler: Rimsky was better at this and so was that Stravinsky guy who studied with him.) There's a celesta, there's a piano, there's an organ though it doesn't do anything beyond playing a pedal point. There's a recorded nightingale. (YES REALLY.) There's a big offstage solo for the principal trumpet and there's a clutch of extra brass. Thursday night I gather that the extra players were up in the balcony, but Friday they were in the audience-left Terrace. Do I ever feel sorry for the folks sitting there, who unexpectedly had half a marching band blasting away right at the back of their heads during the last section of Pines.

You might not have heard Pines, but you would recognize it anyway: it is a prime source of 1930s and 1940s movie music, oh, probably into the 1950s. It is....not subtle, and in fact, it hits you over the head. The opening movement made me think of Liszt's piano piece Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este. I'm guessing that there are fountains at the Villa Borghese too. The second, "Pines Near a Catacomb," is extremely beautiful and atmospheric. The third put principal clarinetist Carey Bell right up front, and you know, he is just so very good that I always want to hear him play. He can make anything sound like the greatest music ever composed.

The last movement is...well...Roman soldiers marching on the Appian Way. In his review, Joshua Kosman called this protofascist, and he is not wrong. Still, it is spectacular in its way, even though Respighi uses what I can only call the most obvious of gambits to generate harmonic excitement, sliding the harmonies up a half-step again and again and again. I was about ready to roll on the floor laughing, and I'm sure that Rimsky rolls over in his grave every time an orchestra plays Pines, meaning that he is truly worn to a frazzle by now. "Pines of the Appian Way" is an elemental pleasure; it's loud and exciting and you don't have to think about it all that much when you hear a great orchestra playing it, even though, like Joshua Kosman, you probably should think about it.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Update on Deborah Borda

Tiling at 66th St. subway stop, NYC, stating 66th St., Lincoln Center

Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Huge news this morning from the NY Philharmonic: Deborah Borda, president and CEO of the organization, will step down from those positions next June. Gary Ginstling, currently in an equivalent position at the National Symphony Orchestra, will succeed her.

Borda has been an immensely important orchestra executive for the last 30 years. She was previously CEO of the NY Phil, then joined the LA Philharmonic, where she made sure that Walt Disney Concert Hall was completed, hired Gustavo Dudamel, and helped make that orchestra perhaps the most forward-looking symphony in the country. Her return to the NY Phil was a gigantic surprise to, well, everyone. At the NY Phil, she has overseen the desperately-needed remodel of their concert hall, and very likely she is going to play a big role in find a music director to succeed Jaap van Zweden, who is leaving at the end of the 2023-24 season.

The succession plan is a little complicated; Ginstling comes on board in November as executive director. Here's the press release:

NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC ANNOUNCES LEADERSHIP SUCCESSION PLAN

Gary Ginstling To Join as New Executive Director in November and Succeed Deborah Borda as President and CEO in July 2023; Borda To Take on New Role as Executive Advisor Beginning July 2023

New York Philharmonic Co-Chairmen Peter W. May and Oscar L. Tang, on behalf of the Board of Directors, announced today that Gary Ginstling will become the New York Philharmonic’s Executive Director, effective November 1, 2022. In establishing a new precedent in succession planning at the NY Phil, Ginstling will serve as Executive Director from November 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023, at which time he will succeed Deborah Borda as the Philharmonic’s President and CEO.

At the Board’s request, Deborah Borda — who remains the institution’s President and CEO through June 30, 2023 — has agreed to become Executive Advisor to the President and Board of Directors, starting July 1, 2023.

Peter May and Oscar Tang stated: “We couldn’t be happier with this succession plan. We welcome Gary Ginstling as Executive Director and as the Philharmonic’s future President and CEO. Throughout our extensive search, Gary embodied all the qualities that we were seeking. We are extremely pleased that Deborah Borda will continue on with us as Executive Advisor to the President and Board, beginning July 1, 2023. Deborah has been a remarkable and inspired leader during a period of unprecedented challenges. We feel so fortunate that she will continue on with us in a newly created role.

They continued: “This succession plan ensures continuity, stability, and forward progress as our organization pursues its mission, strategic plans, and operational effectiveness. With Deborah continuing in her new capacity and in welcoming Gary to the Philharmonic family as her successor, we have the best of all possible worlds.”

Deborah Borda said: “The mark of a strong institution is its ability to plan for the future. The creation of a thoughtful succession plan and an executive team to ensure its success is a ‘must’ as we move our beloved institution into a new era. The challenging cultural ecosystem of our times requires vision, knowledge, and courage. Gary embodies all three. His training as a musician, experience as CEO of important US orchestras, and background in communications and technology is a perfect fit for the NY Phil. He is a trusted colleague whose track record speaks for itself.”

Borda continued: As I welcome Gary, I could not be more energized as we move into the new David Geffen Hall, charting the pathway to a vibrant New York Philharmonic future with Gary

at the helm. And, I add my gratitude to the NY Philharmonic Board and its Co-Chairmen for their wise and profound leadership.”

Incoming Executive Director and future NY Phil President and CEO Gary Ginstling said: It is the honor of a lifetime to be joining the New York Philharmonic as part of this innovative leadership succession plan. The NY Phil was my ‘hometown’ orchestra growing up and played a huge role in instilling in me a love of this art form. It is a tremendous privilege to be joining under Deborah Borda’s visionary leadership, and to transition into the President and CEO role next summer. The Philharmonic’s future has never looked brighter with the reopening of David Geffen Hall, and I cannot wait to be a part of it.


Friday Photo

Stone gothic arches in a church plus a wood case with organ pipes

Organ case, Notre Dame de Paris
Paris, October 2018

 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Stravinsky Double Bill, SF Symphony


Sean Panikkar (Oedipus), Sir Willard White (Creon), Laurel Jenkins (Isemene/dancer), 
Breezy Leigh (Antigone/Narrator) in Stravinsky's Oedipus rex
Photo (c) Kristen Loken, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

San Francisco Symphony's weekend performances were a Stravinsky double bill, of the composer's opera-oratorio Oedipus rex and the big choral work Symphony of Psalms. Both were splendidly performed by Esa-Pekka Salonen, the orchestra, the chorus, and the soloists. Peter Sellars directed.

About all I have to add to the published reviews is that I saw Sean Panikkar in Philip Glass's Satyagraha in LA a few years ago; he was magnificent. I hope for a revival of the work at San Francisco Opera one of these years.

Museum Mondays

Renaissance portrait of a child, woman, and man

Family portrait
Unknown Italian Renaissance artist
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
August, 2015

 

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Don Giovanni, San Francisco Opera, Media Round-Up

Etienne Dupuis as Don Giovanni and Luca Pisaroni as Leporello in Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Reviews are coming in of the SFO Don Giovanni, which opened on Saturday night. I filed on Sunday and the review will be posted at Opera News eventually.

My review is, in spirit, not far off Joshua Kosman's (link below). If you're going to do a dystopian Don Giovanni, for crying out loud, don't stop with some crumbling walls and funky costumes. I want to see evidence of serious dystopia: visibly diseased folks, peasants with pitchforks pouncing on the well-fed aristos, filth everywhere. This was dystopia day camp, not the real thing.

And have a point of view about just who Don Giovanni is. It's not a coincidence that the best production of this I've ever seen took the opera seriously and didn't play it for laughs. If you're going to laugh at this opera, where most of the jokes are about sexual assault or class, you should be laughing nervously.

I'm especially disappointed because honestly, this was about the best-sung Don Giovanni that I have seen at SFO. A good chunk of the cast was new (Etienne Dupuis, Nicole Car, Adela Zaharia, Cody Quattlebaum) and they were all good to terrific. Zaharia sounded like a dramatic soprano, with a big, dark voice, so imagine my surprise at finding Lucia and other coloratura roles in her bio. Donna Anna can accommodate a range of voice types, I guess. 

Dupuis was not quite as magnetic as in the Met Don Carlos, and I feel like he has an even better DG in him, but he was fine. I liked Nicole Car a lot; she took some time to warm up but then sounded really good. There are those who will recall Cody Quattlebaum as a scenery-chewing Merolini, and it's good to see that his career is on the move.

Note that I'm practically the only person who really likes "Per queste tue manine”!

Monday, June 06, 2022

Museum Monday


Two Outfits in the Guo Pei exhibit
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
May, 2022

 

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Ruth Reinhardt at San Francisco Symphony




Ruth Reinhardt made her debut conducting at San Francisco Symphony this past week, and drew a program of Mason Bates's new piano concerto, written for Daniil Trifonov, a short work by Lotta Wennäkoski, and Dvorak's Fifth Symphony. 

Wennäkoski's Om fotspår och ljus (Of Footprints and Light) didn't make a huge impression, and I was mildly disconcerted by a distinct change of style and tone partway through, undoubtedly where the composer incorporated music from a mid-20th c. work by a different composer. I also didn't take any notes, so, not much to say.

The Bates....what to say. I had mixed feelings (which shocked one friend), but sure, I liked some aspects of it. Trifonov played with his accustomed fluency and smoothness; some of the musical materials were pretty and interesting to listen to. 

Overall, though? Well, none of the three movements had what I would call shape or direction or something resembling structure. Instead, it seemed as though Bates just keep picking up nice bits, looking at them, holding them up for us to see, putting them down, and moving on to the next nice bit. I thought that I would like the first movement more than I did; it's grounded in Renaissance music, but very much at a surface level. Bates incorporates what he thinks of as Renaissance timbres (a lot of plucked strings, the kind of percussion you'd hear on a Hesperion XXI record -- but Hesperion does it all better), while not taking anything structural from Renaissance music.

Some of it sounded awfully derivative and bizarrely sweet and trivial. The whole came across as...fakey and insincere, even condescending to the audience. This isn't the kind of thing I can prove, of course. "Fake" and "insincere" and "condescending" make assumptions about the composer's mindset, and I have no reason to think that Bates is other than sincere in his work. But this concerto didn't make a good overall impression on me.

One possibly relevant data point: I started getting mild hits of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini during the first movement. In the course of that work, Rachmaninoff cycles through a number of different styles himself, without directly parodying any of them. There's the louche jazzy number, the barn-storming appearance of the Dies Irae chant, and ever so much more. In about half the variations, I feel as though the composer is watching you listening and very slyly winking at you...but I never feel the slightest bit condescended to.

Reinhardt, though, did a terrific job with the piece. It's got complicated orchestration, and she kept everything coherent and sounding great. The Dvorak symphony that occupied the second half of the program was perfectly lovely, warm and stylish without being at all sentimental. I'd like to hear her again!

Elsewhere:

Friday, June 03, 2022

Interviews with Etienne Dupuis


Etienne Dupuis as Don Giovanni in an early rehearsal for Mozart's "Don Giovanni."
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis, a riveting Marquis of Posa in the recent Met Don Carlos, makes his San Francisco Opera debut on June 4 as Don Giovanni in the eponymous opera. He has given a couple of interviews already; I'll update this post if any new interviews follow.

Friday Photo


Trad'r Sam and the Russian Cathedral
Geary Blvd., SF
May, 2022

 

Monday, May 30, 2022

Friday, May 27, 2022

Nathalie Stutzmann at SFS


Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I recently reviewed concerts by San Francisco Symphony guest conductors Gustavo Dudamel and Karina Canellakis. One thing they had in common, in retrospect, was some kind of competition, perhaps internal, perhaps with an imagined other conductor, to make the SFS play as loudly as it possibly could with the forces required by each work they led. And, you know, that is loud

Both are also, stylistically, purveyors of Big Conducting Gestures. Dudamel is so active a conductor that I honestly wondered whether he'd like a trampoline installed under the podium so that he could end Mahler 5 with a backflip over the orchestra and into the timpani, which would have amazed the audience and appalled principal timpani Edward Stefan.

Given the unnecessary decibels the two of them produced, and my feelings about their musicality, it was an enormous relief on multiple axes to see the French conductor Nathalie Stutzmann last night in a program of Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Now, I'm a well-known lover of Brahms and also possibly known for avoiding most Tchaikovsky, but after last night I've realized that I need to revisit Tchaikovsky with a more open mind.

Readers, Stutzmann was everything that Dudamel and Canellakis were not: slightly reserved on the podium, conducting efficiently and gracefully with smallish, but effective, and evocative, gestures, and getting subtle and extremely beautiful musical results. Rather than setting the volume on high, she explored the ppp to mf range, and when the music did call for more volume, it had far more impact than fff does when it's sitting atop a minimum volume of mf. Also, her phrasing was gorgeous throughout the concert, so supple, and so sensitive to the musical line and harmonic flow of whatever she was conducting. 

I'll also say that the pure sound she got from the orchestra, especially in the Tchaikovsky, was really something. MTT and E-PS, to my ear, mostly go for a slightly lean and transparent tone, a style I think of as American (though that could be wrong, and of course E-P is not American). Stutzmann aimed for a richer, warmer sound than I'm used to hearing at Davies; it was no less transparent, somehow, than the usual. Particularly in the Tchaikovsky, you could hear every layer of his writing; let's say that I came out of the program with a great deal of respect for his pure craft as a composer. (On the way home after I got off BART, I turned on the radio and found myself going "what the heck is this, it's great" and uhhh it was....Souvenirs of Florence, by Tchaikovsky.)

Last night's program started with three of Brahms's shorter works for chorus and orchestra, NänieGesang der Parzen, and Schiksalslied. How I loved soaking for forty minutes in Brahms's magnificent writing for this combination! The second half of the show was Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, Pathetique, and it was a big wow all around. Marvelous conducting and great playing from the orchestra. Special kudos to Catherine Payne, principal piccolo, sitting in the principal flute chair for this program - she has a beautiful sound - to principal clarinet Carey Bell, for his apparent ability to play in a thousand dynamic gradations, and to the aforementioned Edward Stefan, so consistently amazing in the sharpness of his playing and how it undergirds everything the orchestra does. Well, I loved everybody, really.

Stutzmann started her musical career as a singer, and now she has become quite a prominent conductor, with good reason. She is the incoming music director the Atlanta Symphony and the principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. They are lucky to have her, and I hope that she'll be back at SFS sooner rather than later (she's not on the schedule for 2022-23, alas).