Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lyric Opera Cast Change Announcement

I don't have the press release, but we'll assume that the Chicago Sun-Times isn't lying: Sophie Koch, scheduled to sing Didon, has withdrawn from the upcoming production of Les Troyens.

You can keep breathing: stepping in is

Susan Graham.

Graham was magnificent last year in SF, but I must admit that I was looking forward to Koch, about whom I have heard only good things.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rubin Institute for Music Criticism Public Panel - Thoughts for the Future

I left my copious notes from yesterday's public panel at work, so I can't give you a full report, but I have some ideas about making this panel even more worthwhile in future years.

1. Hold it at a time when the public is more likely to attend.

The panel was at 2 p.m. on a Friday; that is, for many potential audience members, it's a work day. Lots of people can't leave work at that time of day, period. Lots work too far from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to get there at all without taking time off. Scheduling this during working hours on a weekday makes it accessible to students, people who aren't working (out of a job, retired), and people who can take the time off work to attend.

I understand that there are constraints on where and when this can be held. However, between the SFCM and the sponsoring organizations that are within blocks of the SFCM (SFO, SFS, SF Performances), maybe there's an appropriate space free during the day on a weekend or evening.

2. Coach the panel about speaking up.

I'm glad, very glad, that the panel wasn't amplified, but the panelists were not equally audible.

3. Post the questions that will be asked of the panelists in advance.

4. Find a way to enable people who aren't in the room to submit questions for the panel.

You could do this with a Facebook page, by setting up an email address at SFCM for questions, or by using various online programs that can take questions, allow comments, etc.

5. Find a way to get the panel on the radio or on line in real time.

San Francisco Opera has been webcasting some of its press events, including the event at which Matthew Shilvock was named General Director Designate. There is, or used to be, some way to use Google Hangouts for webcasting. Facebook has to have a livestreaming component. Twitter has Periscope.

6. Include at least one past student from the Rubin Institute.

7. Include a panelist who isn't working primarily for a nationally-known publication.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

San Francisco Opera Chorus Gives a Concert!

Here's something I've never seen before: a concert by the SF Opera Chorus, and hoorah for that. They're a great group that has made immense contributions to many, many performances. Their role in Les Troyens was unforgettable, for instance.

I will be out of town on the 19th and can't go to this program, but I hope there's a good turnout. Those Debussy songs are gorgeous, which I know because I sang them many years ago.

Note the early start time of 7 p.m.

Concert featuring the San Francisco Opera Chorus

November 19 at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 pm)
Taube Atrium Theater, Wilsey Center for Opera
Veterans Building (4th floor), 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA

Approximate running time: 60 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: $30 general admission

Chorus Director Ian Robertson
Fabrizio Corona, piano

Program (subject to change)

Johannes Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem: IV “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen”
Claude Debussy: Chansons de Charles d’Orléans
1.      “Dieu! Qu’il la fait bon regarder!”
2.      “Quand j’ay ouy le tabourin”
3.      “Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain”
Leos Janáček: The Wild Duck
Igor Stravinsky: Ave Maria
Arvo Pärt: Bogorditse Dyevo (Ave Maria)
Franz Biebl: Ave Maria
Hector Berlioz: Le Ballet des Ombres H 37
Sergei Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil, Op. 37, VIII: Praise the name of the Lord,
Traditional: “Ride on King Jesus” (arranged by Moses Hogan)
Traditional: “Deep River” (arranged by Moses Hogan)
Charles Alfred Tindley: The Storm is Passing Over (arranged by Barbara W. Baker)
Eric Whitacre: Water Night
Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser: “Freudig begrüssen wir die edle Halle” (“Entrance of the Guests”)
Jerome Kern: Show Boat: “Hey! Fellah!”

Ronnie and Lawrence Ackman Classical Piano Prize - Nomination

From the New York Philharmonic comes email and an accompanying a press release:
The New York Philharmonic has announced the creation of the Ronnie and Lawrence Ackman Classical Piano Prize at the New York Philharmonic, with 24-year-old pianistBenjamin Grosvenor named the inaugural recipient. The Ackman Prize is to be awarded every three years to an up-and-coming pianist or piano duo chosen by a confidential panel comprising prominent pianists, New York Philharmonic leadership, and other recognized musical figures. Prize-winners receive $30,000 and will perform with the New York Philharmonic, play chamber music with Philharmonic musicians, and serve as classical music ambassadors, taking part in community engagement and education initiatives around New York City. The Ackman Prize is made possible by a generous gift from Philharmonic Board Member Lawrence Ackman and his wife, Ronnie. 
Congratulations to young Mr. Grosvenor. I haven't heard him, but I keep reading good things about him.

And let me get in a nomination for the next award: the Bay Area's very own ZOFO, the dynamic duo of Eva-Maria Zimmerman and Keisuke Nakagoshi. They've been wowing audiences around here for a few years, individually and as a team.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Contact! New Music Series Survives Attempted Murder

Last week, the NY Times ran an excellent, though surprising, article by Michael Cooper about the last-minute reprieve for the NY Philharmonic's Contact! new music series.

This is one of outgoing music director Alan Gilbert's new-music initiatives for the orchestra. It's not so hard to see why the orchestra almost killed it: it's a chamber music series, with concerts given in small spaces, and it had an audience of around 800 annually.

On the other hand, it didn't cost very much, between $150,000 and $200,000/year, or one veteran orchestra member's salary, roughly speaking. For perspective, the orchestra's 990 form for 2013-14 shows total revenue of around $70 million. $200,000 is about .3% of the total annual budget, that is, one third of one percent. From a visibility viewpoint and from the perspective of giving the musicians the chance to play new music, the series is a win all around.

Note also the four guys who stepped forward with the money to keep the series going: Alan Gilbert, Jaap van Zweeden, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Matthew VanBesien. That would be the orchestra's outgoing music director, its incoming music director, its composer-in-residence (who just happens to be a great conductor and composer), and its executive director ("who reluctantly made the decision to suspend [Contact!]").

He really must have been reluctant, since he ponied up to keep it going. This makes me wonder whether it was pressure from the Board to drop Contact! that resulted in the initial decision. In any event, I'm glad the series will go forward and hope that it continues and even expands. And good for these four, especially JvZ, who is an unknown quantity when it comes to new music.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Jenufa at the Met

It's a fool's errand, but I want to argue with a press release. Here's what the Met sent out about Jenufa, which opens on October 28 with an excellent cast.
New York, NY (October 18, 2016) – Janáček’s psychological drama Jenůfa returns to the Met for its first revival in nearly 10 years with Oksana Dyka in the title role of a downtrodden peasant girl and Karita Mattila—noted for her performances in numerous Janáček roles at the Met, including the title role in Jenůfa—debuting a new role with the company as the formidable but unstable Kostelnička. David Robertson will conduct Janáček’s tragedy of love and death in a rural village, also starring Hanna Schwarz as Grandmother Buryja; Daniel Brenna as Laca, Jenůfa’s unreliable love interest; and Joseph Kaiser as Števa, Laca’s half-brother.
Points of contention:
  • Just how downtrodden is Jenufa? When the curtain goes up, she has a future: she is a teacher and she seems to have a fiancé.
  • Laca as unreliable: discuss. Seriously, this makes me wonder whether there is some confusion here. Števa is the drunken fool who cares more about Jenufa's looks than anything else. Yeah, Laca is the guy with the knife, but he also sticks with her despite everything that takes place in the opera. He genuinely loves her.
  • And I think that the Kostelnička's problem isn't that she is unstable. She is too rigid to imagine Jenufa's future under certain circumstances, and her solution to the problem is what sends her over the edge, because she knows she has done something terrible.
Spoiler warning: Karita is going to tear your heart out. If you like her, or you like Janáček, you've got to see this production.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Leo Beranek

The polymath Leo Beranek has died at the astounding age of 102. To the extent that I was aware he was still alive, I had no idea of his great age.

Beranek was a computer pioneer, one of the developers of the Arpanet, without which we might not have the Internet as we know it, and thus you might not be reading me right now. But that's not the reason he's appearing here. From the Times obit:
Dr. Beranek was a sought-after acoustics genius, and Bolt, Beranek & Newman’s first contract was to design the acoustics of the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York. He also improved the acoustic environment in such landmark concert venues as the Koussevitzky Music Shed at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass., and Philharmonic Hall (now David Geffen Hall) at Lincoln Center in New York.
Philharmonic Hall has been an ongoing acoustical disaster, and BBN did the original design. The problems were not their fault: the NY Phil board wanted more seats and the only practical way to get them was to extend the length of the hall, which is what made the acoustics such a problem. The obit doesn't mention Davies Symphony Hall in SF, which BBN also designed, and which also is problematic. The acoustician Christopher Blair helpfully discussed these two halls when he wrote a series of guest posts at Adaptistration in 2009; at that point, I had to stop ranting about and blaming Beranek, given the NYPO board and the state of the art when Davies was built.

RIP, Leo Beranek, and thank you for your work in areas of interest to me.


Nadja Michael as Emilia Marty in Janáček's "The Makropulos Case"
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

My review of Vec Makropulos is up at SFCV now. I turned it in 24 hours late and it was not posted until sometime this afternoon.

I am not completely satisfied by it. It was hell to write, in part because I got tangled up in one of the late Robert Commanday's guidelines for SFCV writers: do not compare.

This put me in an odd position. I wrote SFCV's review of the 2010 premiere of this production, which starred Karita Mattila, and lemme just say, if you've seen her in just about any role, you remember what it was like. EM was an approximately perfect role for her, between her personal glamour, her magnetic stage presence, and that cool soprano. As you'll see, I snuck her into the review but did not go full-bore into comparisons with Nadja Michael.

I now think I should have sent Bob a silent apology and done some comparisons. For one thing, Michael sang well and was an entirely worthy exponent of the role. I was not going to use Mattila as a club to beat her. It's entirely possible that what Bob had in mind was, say, do not compare a couple of Adler Fellows singing Wolfe to the legendary Lotte Lehmann.

For another, the differences between the two sopranos meant that the opera as a whole had a different balance, with more light cast by the ensemble because they were performing with a less completely dominant lead than Mattila.

I've so far only looked at Opera Tattler's brief review on her blog. She gets at something I meant to include and didn't: while I found Mikhail Tatarnikov more lyrical and warmer in Makropulos than the amazing Jiří Bělohlávek, I also found his approach somewhat blunter and less finely detailed. (I know this because an off-the-air recording of the 2010 bring-up is readily available.)

That said, see OT for a round-up of reviews.

UPDATES: Changes of Venue: First Congregational Church Fire Edition

As anyone who attends or performs in classical music concerts in the East Bay must know by now, First Congregational Church of Berkeley, a much-loved performance venue with a thriving worship community, suffered a serious fire last week. One of the buildings on the campus has been condemned. The sanctuary and its musical instruments, including a most impressive organ, survived, but the extent of the damage to the building is not yet known.

Many performing organizations and presenters are affected by this, because they had concerts planned for this season.
  • New Century Chamber Orchestra
  • Volti / Left Coast Chamber Ensemble
  • Philharmonia Baroque
  • California Bach Society
  • Chora Nova
  • American Bach Soloists
  • Cal Performances
  • Chanticleer
  • San Francisco Chamber Orchestra
The San Francisco Early Music Society uses First Congo during the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition [of Early Music], which is held in alternate years. They will not be affected until 2018, but we do not yet know how long it will be until the church will be available for concerts and the Festival's ancillary events, some of which are also put on there.

UPDATED: Monday, October 17, 2016

More changes of venue:

  • Chora Nova will perform their Sunday, November 20 program, including Haydn's Mass in Time of War, at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, Channing & Dana, diagonally across the street from FCCB. The concert is at 4 p.m. and also includes music by Mozart.
  • Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra will perform on Saturday, Nov. 5, at Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley. Other Saturday concerts during the season will take place at First Presbyterian Church (see above). Sunday concerts originally scheduled for FCCB will take place at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church in Lafayette.

I have the first two venue changes in hand.
  • Volti / Left Coast will perform their Winges, Janáček, Lang, Türkmen program at 7:30, October 15, at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. This is diagonally across the street from First Congo.
  • Cal Bach will perform Bach's St. Matthew Passion at UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall at 3:30 pm on October 9.
UPDATED: Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, twice. Thanks to Joshua Kosman for an addition and correction; thanks to Tod Brody for an addition.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Return of the Rubin Institue

Remember the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism?

It's an organization dedicated to training the next generation of music critics, by giving a small number of music students the chance to work with top-flight music critics for a few days. I had quite a bit to say about the organization two years ago during their last session (yes, it's an alternate-years seminar). In brief, they're trying to solve the wrong problem: the major challenge facing classical music criticism isn't a lack of good critics, it's a lack of ways to make a living as a critic.

Anyway, the Rubin Institute is in town again, October 20-24, again at the SF Conservatory of Music. The cast of, critics is similar to 2014:

  • Joshua Kosman, SF Chron
  • Anne Midgette, Washington Post
  • Tim Page, USC
  • John Rockwell
  • Alex Ross
  • Stephen Rubin
  • Heidi Waleson, WSJ
No sign of Anthony Tommasini of the NY Times, Winn Delacoma, or Steven Winn; no idea why. The late Robert Commanday also participated in 2014, and all I can do is sigh over his absence.

You can read the institute schedule at the SFCM web site.: The public events include pre-concert talks by Anne Midgette (Philharmonia Baroque), John Rockwell (SFS), and Alex Ross (SFO, The Makropulos Case). In addition, there's a public panel at 2 p.m. on Friday and a presentation of prizes at 10:30 a.m. on Monday. This seems significantly reduced from 2014.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Germany Friday Photo

The High Altarpiece Martin Schaffner
Zu Wettenhausen bei Ulm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
August, 2015

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Man Down

The Met press release says it all:
Carsten Wittmoser will make his Met debut as Kurwenal in tonight’s performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, replacing Evgeny Nikitin, who is ill.
German bass-baritone Wittmoser’s recent performances include Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida and Germont in Verdi’s La Traviata at Germany’s Mecklenburg State Theatre; Lord Sidney in Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims and Sarastro in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Ópera de Bellas Artes in Mexico City; the title role in Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer at Germany’s Theater Bremen and Switzerland’s Theater St. Gallen; Don Pizarro in Beethoven’s Fidelio at Michigan Opera Theatre; and Cecco del Vecchio in Wagner’s Rienzi at the Bayreuth Festival.
Tonight’s performance of Tristan und Isolde is conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and also stars Nina Stemme as Isolde, Ekaterina Gubanova as Brangäne, Stuart Skelton as Tristan, and René Pape as King Marke.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Guillaume Tell Cast Change Announcement

Now there's an email subject line to strike fear into one's heart, if one watched Bryan Hymel withdraw from half of last summer's Troyens performances in San Francisco....but have no fear! The cast change is elsewhere in the cast:
Maria Zifchak will sing all eight performances of Hedwige in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell this season. She replaces Marianna Pizzolato, originally announced to sing all performances, who withdrew last week to star as Isabella in Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri.
Maria Zifchak has sung more than 300 Met performances over the course of her 18-year career with the company. Her numerous other roles at the Met this season will include the Old Shepherdess in Janáček’s Jenůfa, the Slave in Strauss’s Salome, Third Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Giovanna in Verdi’s Rigoletto, and Annina in Verdi’s La Traviata. Her other recent appearances with the company have included Ines in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Hannah in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, and Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, a role she has sung 83 times at the Met.
The new production of Guillaume Tell will be conducted by Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi and directed by Pierre Audi. Gerald Finley sings the title role, with Marina Rebeka as Mathilde, Janai Brugger as Jemmy, Bryan Hymel as Arnold, Marco Spotti in his Met debut as Walter Furst, Kwangchul Youn as Melcthal, and John Relyea as Gesler. Guillaume Tell opens October 18, with additional performances on October 21, 25, 29 matinee, November 2, 5, 9, and 12 matinee.

Friday, October 07, 2016

A Conversation of Interest

Received from San Francisco Opera and other sources, news of an event on October 20 at SF Conservatory. It's on a Thursday, so I cannot go, alas. It's free and likely to be interesting.

CONVERSATIONS: The Future of Opera 

A Public Forum Featuring Opera Leaders from Across the Country
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Reception: 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Forum: 6:00 pm to 7:15 pm 
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
50 Oak Street, San Francisco 
Tickets are free. R.S.V.P. by Monday, October 10
at or by calling 646.699.5266
Jake Heggie, Composer
Laura Kaminsky, Composer
Zizi Mueller, Creative Consultant, Boosey & Hawkes, Universal Music Publishing Classical
Timothy O’Leary, General Director, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Yuval Sharon, Artistic Director, The Industry
Matthew Shilvock, General Director, San Francisco Opera 
Moderated by Marc A. Scorca, President/CEO, OPERA America

Germany Friday Photo

Ludwig I, King of Bavaria
Ludwigstrasse, Munich
August, 2015

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Domingo's Contract at LA Opera Extended....

Placido Domingo

....through the 2021-2022 season, when the famed baritenor will be 81. Just wondering what roles he plans to sing then - the Emperor in Turandot? Giovanni Martinelli sang the part at a similar age. Or maybe it'll be time for Boris by then.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Name That Reviewer!

Pop quiz: Who wrote the following excerpts from certain NY Times opera reviews?
1. The main character is a historical figure, Notker Balbulus (Notker the Stammerer), a ninth-century monk, musician and poet from Switzerland. Notker (sung poignantly by the tenor Topi Lehtipuu) is called Prophet in the text; he has wide-ranging exchanges with a jaded male angel (sung by a woman, the earthy-voiced mezzo-soprano Iris Vermillion), who has not been sober, he explains, since getting drunk long ago with Nietzsche. A blowhard narrator (the imposing actor Peter Simonischek, in a speaking role) dominates the oratorio, which unfolds in four parts, each asking a big question: “Who are we?” “Where are we?” “What do we want?” “What are we silent about?”
2. The suave baritone Nicola Alaimo was almost miscast as the hapless Taddeo, singing with elegance and richness of tone.
The sunny-voiced soprano Ying Fang perfectly inhabited the part of Elvira, Mustafà’s jilted, ditsy wife. The vibrant Canadian-Tunisian mezzo Rihab Chaieb, as Elvira’s slave, Zulma, and the solid baritone Dwayne Croft, as the put-upon pirate captain Haly, offered strong support.
3. There was excellent work from the mellow-voiced mezzo-soprano Gaëlle Arquez, as the confused prince Idamante, and the two singers playing the women who love him: the sweet-toned soprano Sophie Karthäuser as Ilia, a Trojan princess, and the intense soprano Alex Penda as the vengeful Elettra. Julien Behr brought a muscular tenor voice to Arbace, the king’s confidant. 
I'm just going to have to assume that there's an addendum to the house style guide.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Dominos, Early October Edition

Jonas Kaufmann, who has a burst blood vessel in his vocal cords, has canceled his scheduled Paris appearance in Tales of Hoffman, and so the following came from the Met:
Paul Appleby will sing the role of Don Ottavio in the November 1, 4, and 10 performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, replacing Ramón Vargas. The Met has released Mr. Vargas from his contract so that he may replace Jonas Kaufmann in the title role of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at Paris Opera.

Danish String Quartet at Stanford

Photo Credit: Caroline Bittencourt

The Danish String Quartet has been getting rave reviews, and it's apparent that they're among the most talented young quartets around. I believe that their only Bay Area appearance this season will be next week at Stanford. It's a great program, which is what you'd think of just about any program featuring a new work, Janáček, and Beethoven. Wish I could be there, but it's on a jujitsu night.

From the press release:

Stanford University - Bing Concert Hall
Stanford, California
Rolf Wallin Swans Kissing (DSQ Commission, West Coast Premiere)
Janáček String Quartet No. 2 “Intimate Letters”
Beethoven String Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59

The young and adventurous Danish String Quartet is already renowned globally for their outstanding level of musical refinement and lush interpretations of classical, contemporary, and folk traditions, offering programs featuring elegant and nuanced compositions of the 21st century, as well as the classics, for which they have been praised by the New York Times as “ of the most powerful performances of [Beethoven’s] Opus 132 I’ve heard live or on disc.  The musicians acutely attuned to one another, didn’t appear to be on autopilot even for a millisecond, with every nuance, phrase, and gesture beautifully wrought.”  In April they released their debut recording on ECM Records featuring works by English and Scandinavian contemporary composers Thomas Adès, Per Nørgård, and Hans Abrahamsen to high international critical acclaim.  With their technical capability and interpretive prowess matched by an infectious joy for music-making and “rampaging energy,” (Alex Ross, The New Yorker) the Danish String Quartet is in demand worldwide by concert and festival presenters alike.  Giving concerts selected by the New York Times as highlights of the years 2012 and 2015, the Quartet won the £30,000 Borletti Buitoni Trust Award to support their creative endeavors on an international scale in February.  This year the group of musical friends host the tenth annual four-day DSQ Festival in Copenhagen, bringing together artists and colleagues the group has met in their travels.

A Bad Day for Classical Music

On September 30:

Update: The Philly strike didn't last long. The musicians and orchestra settled within 48 hours. The musicians are still not very happy - they took a 15% pay cut as a result of the bankruptcy and it will be years before that is made up - but there's a contract.