Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I made my first three postings to this blog three years ago tonight.

Quite a lot has changed since then, all for the better:2006 was a little difficult, but it's been a good three years. Thank you, all, for reading and commenting here.

And of course - happy birthday to vilaine fille!

Five by Five

From Steve Hicken -

1) What five six seven oh, forget it operas would you most like to see performed?

Weinberger, Schwanda the Bagpiper
Saariaho, L'Amour de Loin
Verdi, Re Lear
Dukas, Ariane et Barbe-Bleu
Ades, The Tempest
Pfitzner, Palestrina
Respighi, La fiamma
Reyer, Sigurd
Puccini, La Fanciulla del West
Berlioz, Les Troyens
Schreker, Der ferne Klang
Szymanowski, King Roger
Sessions, Montezuma
Ponchielli, La Gioconda
Mascagni, Isabeau
Hermann, Wuthering Heights
Marschner, Der Vampyr (in honor of the day)

2) What five pieces would you most like to hear performed?

Saint-Saens, Organ Symphony
Messiaen, Des canyons aux etoiles
Schoenberg, Gurrelieder
Sibelius, Eighth Symphony
Carter, String quartet (any)
Dufay, mass (any)

3) What five living performers would you most like to meet?

Claire Chase
Kari Kriiku
Stephen Kovacevich
Dawn Upshaw

4) What five living composers would you most like to meet?


"Meet" isn't the right word, but I'd like to see Harold Shapero again. Perhaps there's a plane ticket to Boston in my future.

5) What five living musicians (composers, performers, writers, scholars, etc) would you most like to play three-on-three basketball with/against?

All the combinations I'm coming up with are too darned mean. However, I agree with Elaine Fine that it would be good to have Taruskin on one's side.

Update: All right, all right, I can't resist: my favorite face-off doesn't include me. I like Boulez, Babbit, and Carter vs. Saariaho, Salonen, and Lindberg, at least if it's something less strenuous than basketball. I'd like Carter to make it to 100....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Oh, Come On

Greg Sandow reports on a couple of composers ("one quite well known") who are, apparently, traumatized by the works of Luciano Berio and what he represents to them: the tyranny of serialism and the highly intellectual compositional styles popular (and supposedly required) in academic compositional circles in the 1950s through 1970s.

So, here's the deal. I lived through those times and remember a lot of diddly-beepity music at graduate student concerts at Brandeis in the late 1970s. I have a story or two, yes, I do, especially the one involving a composer friend who failed his written exams under unexplained circumstances. (He got his doctorate at an institution other than the one that flunked him.)

However, it's not the 1970s any more. Anyone still feeling traumatized in 2007 from their graduate student days of twenty or thirty years back needs to bear in mind that it's the 21st century, you're not in grad school any more, and you can write whatever music you want.

P. S. As far as castigating Carter for not incorporating popular tunes into his Joyce-inspired work goes: c'mon. The same thing I said above about writing whatever music you want goes for Carter too. Stop with the prescriptions.

Monday, October 29, 2007

On Originality

A thoughtful post from Matthew Guerrier about the nature of genius, Romantic thinking, and current notions of innovation reminded me of a particular email exchange with a friend a few years back:
Friend: Enthusiastic as I was about "My Father..." and many other Adams pieces, I don't like [Naive and Sentimental Music] at all. To me, it sounds like "Adams Does Adams," without anything new... no, just say. Sorry.

Me: And how did you feel about Haydn around Symphony No. 85?
Clearly some critical antipathy toward Philip Glass originates in the demand for constant newness and originality.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Grand Surprise

A friend sends me a tidbit from the journals of Leo Lerman. It's not the sort of thing I usually blog, but irresistible, for reasons you will understand (Jonathan, look away!):

January 6, 1969. At dinner, Larry Kelly told a saga: Onassis rang Maria [Callas], asking for a date. Maria said no Onassis said that after all they were in business together--the tankers [Onassis gave Callas a tanker for her birthday before they broke up]. She said all right, come to dinner. After dinner, Onassis said that he had to pee. He disappeared into Maria's bedroom. Soon Bruna, Maria's maid, went into the bedroom--rushed out screaming that Onassis was in there starkers. Maria told him to dress immediately. Onassis refused. Maria's butler, Ferruccio, was too airy-fairy to do anything but scream and swoon. Maria sent for the police, who made Onassis dress and leave. Maria flung down the window and screeched, into the three or four a.m. Paris night, "Shame on you! And on the anniversary of your second wife's first husband's death!" This was on November 22, 1968.

Onassis likes to fuck women up their asses. Mrs. Kennedy won't do it. Also, she will not sit in El Morocco with him and his three or four cigar-smoking Greek chums with their lavish, blondined females, while the Greek men talk business. Mrs. K. likes "intellectuals" - Galbraith, Schlesinger - but this is not why he married her. He wants to display her; she won't be displayed. Hence the rented house in Peapack, New Jersey. Onassis is bored with Mrs. K. They never planned a single day past their wedding day on Skorpios. [Whereas] Maria studied her role as Onassis's love. She would go to Crazy Horse [a Parisian nightclub] and watch, preparing this new role as meticulously as she always had prepared her opera roles. She said to Larry and Mary Reed when they were all in Cuernevaca that being fucked up the ass hurt and was boring."
Grand surprise, indeed.

Friday, October 26, 2007

How Long was That??

Nimble Tread reports from London on a performance of the Goldberg Variations by Simone Dinnerstein that took 97 (ninety-seven) minutes. Ninety-seven minutes?? That sounds like she played every variation with two repeats.

I heard Jeffrey Kehane play the Goldbergs, with all repeats, at Music@Menlo a couple of years back. He took no more than the length of a CD, and maybe a little less; yes, it was a wonderful performance. (We all took a lunch break and, for an encore, he played the Diabelli Variations. "Well, I never have to do THAT again," he remarked in the closing Q&A session.)

Ninety-seven minutes?? Um....

Noise at Google

Alex Ross at Google

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Walt Disney Concert Hall

The most photogenic building in the world, or what? I've posted all of the photos I took of the House That Frank Built, but I plan to delete some. How I would love to photograph the interior too.

Ensembles, Programming, and Pandering

Over at listen 101, a reader of Steve Hicken's raises interesting questions about the makeup of an ensemble and the works they program; ACD chimes in as you might expect.

I think this is a complex issue.

I would not take a small, and venerable, chamber music ensemble like the Juilliard Quartet to task for being all white men. Look at the makeup of American string quartets formed within the last 30 years - which are all white men, again? The Emersons, and who else? As recently as the 1970s, most major orchestras had just a few women in them. I think at that time Doriot Dwyer of the Boston Symphony may have been the only woman playing principal anything in the majors. Today, look at the roster of any professional orchestra. You'll find the list is about half women.

As far as ACD's commented on pandering goes, programming classical music is complicated, and plenty of pandering of various types already goes on. Mostly, there's pandering to the perceived old/conservative audience that supposedly sees classical music as a museum and supposedly is not interested in new music. Those people are often major donors, and upsetting them with "radical" programming can have serious financial consequences for an organization. Note, for example, the lawsuit by the estate or foundation of Sybil Harrington over the use of her money to fund the current Met Tristan und Isolde. The production is by no means radical or unusual, except that it wasn't what the lawsuit terms "traditional" and so not a suitable use of her money.

Music directors and artistic administrators make programming decisions with all sorts of interests in mind: which soloists are available, an organization's commitment to performing new or 20th century music, the size of the venue that's available, whether enough rehearsal time can be scheduled to learn 5 rather than 3 works new to the ensemble, und so weiter.

Which composers to program is just one more decision of that type. I would wager that everyone reading this blog has a list of composers who ought to be played more often, from acknowledged masters such as Hadyn, Bartok, and Dufay to underrated and underplayed women composers such as Ruth Crawford. Everyone has their own bugaboos about programming. You can find a number of my rants about programming at the San Francisco Symphony elswhere on this blog, for example.

Honestly, you might as well program a season with lots of rarely-heard women and minority composers. There'd be some terrific music, and some dreck. That's what happens any time you're programming unfamiliar or new music.

I really ought to rant more about the omission of women composers. Elaine Fine had a few things to say about The Rest is Noise today, and certainly the emergence of important women composers in the second half of the 20th century is a huge story.

At the same time, I'm not going to skip a program of interesting music by living composers because the ensemble didn't program any music by women composers. I'm reminded of a friend of mine who, for a long time, and maybe still, would not read books by dead white men. I thought that was just as silly and arbitrary as only reading books by dead white men.

Lucky Stanford

Philanthropists Peter and Helen Bing have donated $50 million to Stanford for a new performing arts center. That's the same amount of money Lillian Disney donated to the Los Angeles Music Center to fund a new concert hall there.

The press release says this:
Nagata Acoustics’ Yasuhisa Toyota, one of the world’s foremost acousticians, will work on the center’s acoustic design. Toyota’s high-profile projects, among them Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Mariinsky Concert Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia, have received high international praise.
I'll say. After five concerts bathing in the magnificent sound of Disney, I am dreading my next trip to the pathetic acoustics of Davies.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Alto and choral networker par excellence Celeste Winant branched out last week in the sense starting a new blog, Choralista, for discussions about the future of classical choral singing. Yes, it's a cross between Adaptistration and Sandow, but focused on choral music, centered in the Bay Area, and staffed, at present, by a couple of altos.

The other one is, right, me. I've already got some postings up, too.

Celeste invites others to contribute rants, raves, and opinions, and, if you're interested in regular blogging on this subject, to join the blog as a regular. Do come visit!

Jenufa, Los Angeles Opera

My brief review of Jenufa at Los Angeles Opera, in SFCV's Music News column.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Found on YouTube

Is this a promotional video for The Rest is Noise?

Ah, yes, so one might conclude from the closing credits. I was viewer number 156.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I Feel Sure the Right Person is Out There...

...but it's not me. The LA Phil has an opening for a Manager, Artists Department. The position would be perfect for someone with a degree in music and the tact and discretion of the personal assistant to the Queen of England. From the job description, it seems that the person landing the job gets to be hand-holder, problem-solver, and gopher for guest soloists, composers, and conductors. I imagine that such people have, um, varied temperaments. I especially like these responsibilities, which do not, in fact, appear consecutively in the list:
  • Be "on call" to assist artists with various request/problems at any time.

  • Interpersonal skills require the ability to work with diverse personalities, discretion in dealing with artist and staff, mature presentation, efficient attitude and manner.

  • Other duties as assigned.
That last one could cover a lot of ground.

Coming to iTunes

At the very least, the orchestral concerts that make up Sibelius Unbound will be on iTunes: there were announcements at each of the three programs I caught, but not at either of the two chamber music concerts. (Okay, the Green Umbrella concert, mostly of Saariaho, was not technically part of Sibelius Unbound, but it should have been.)

And am I glad: tonight's program of Pohjola's Daughter and Sibelius's First and Third symphonies was a corker. I can't wait to hear it again (or, for that matter, Radical Light and Wing on Wing.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Met HD Telecasts

The dates, operas, and partial cast lists:
  • Dec 15 – Romeo et Juliet (Netrebko, Gunn, tenor TBA)

  • Jan 1 – Hansel and Gretel (Schaefer, Coote, Plowright, Langridge, Held)

  • Jan 12 – Macbeth (Guleghina, Aronica, Ataneli, Relyea)

  • Feb 16 – Manon Lescaut (Mattila, Giordani, Croft, Travis)

  • Mar 15 – Peter Grimes (Racette, Griffey, Michaels-Moore, Donald Runnicles conducting)

  • Mar 22 – Tristan und Isolde (Voigt, DeYoung, Heppner, Schulte, Salminen)

  • Apr 5 – La Boheme (Gheorghiu, Arteta, Vargas, Tezier, Kelsey, Gradus, Plishka, Nicola Luisotti conducting)

  • Apr 26 – La Fille du Regiment (Dessay, Palmer, Florez, Corbelli, Zoe Caldwell)
I don't give a damn about Fille but will try to get to most of the rest. For lots more info, check the Met Web site.


Picking up a meme from Tim Mangan and Heather Heise, some music that makes me cry:
  • The Schubert Quintet, first movement, second theme, the first time I heard it and occasionally since.

  • Le Nozze di Figaro, too many moments to count, starting at the downbeat of the overture, and including some moments in the act 2 finale, Deh, vieni, that moment when Figaro and Susannah stop with the teasing, and the moment when the Count finally realizes he's been chasing the wrong, er, the right, woman around in the dark. Oh, and "Sua madre?!" Is it odd that the Countess's arias don't get me?

  • Beethoven, Op. 111, second movement, variation, um, three? four?

  • Tristan und Isolde, act 2, I'll find the measure or score marking when I have the score in front of me; it's pretty deep in the love duet someplace.

  • God, how I hate to admit this, but that moment in Madama Butterfly when she brings out the child, and then again at "Tu, tu, piccolo iddio." I knew I was seeing a great performance the time I burst into tears during "Un bel di."


The Fourth Symphony is the most enigmatic piece of music I have ever heard.

I am curious: has anyone ever heard a live performance of his string quartet?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anxiety Dream

I was singing in an opera. The first performance was approaching, and I couldn't find the conductor, the other performers, the members of the musical staff, the director. I think I had the score. I hadn't learned the part yet. The opera, apparently, was Salome, yes, the Strauss, though I didn't figure that out until someplace near the end of the dream. I was singing the part of the sweet young thing who should be the one to marry the male lead - a character like Micaela in Carmen.

Jump to a performance of the opera. We weren't in a real theater; there weren't real wings, there were no flies. It was more like a garage, a deep, low-ceilinged, rather wide garage. The audience wasn't inside; one side of the building was open and people were watching from outside, mostly sitting on the ground or standing, I think. There was a lot of concrete.

The company had the air of traveling gypsies, or maybe a community theater group. The production looked more like Fiddler on the Roof than Salome. I remember hovering around the curtains that passed for wings and watching the production with horror. I am sure I was visible from the audience sometimes.

I still didn't know the part, so they wouldn't let me go on, but that was fine, because the opera was Salome, and there is no sweet young thing who should marry the male lead. The soprano singing the title character was very bad.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Romance at the Met?

Email from the Met offers the following choices for their Connect at the Met program (singles, meet other singles!):
  • Die Zauberflöte, if you're in your twenties or thirties

  • Iphigénie en Tauride, if you're in your forties and up

  • Le Nozze di Figaro, if you're gay or lesbian
I guess splitting people up like that made sense to someone, but, gosh, why do those not designated gay get split up by age and those designated gay or lesbian get lumped together regardless of age?

Also, I note, as one of the over-40s, that Iphigénie is not an opera that encourages romantic feelings.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Noise Comes to California, and to Google

Alex's book tour brings him to California this week and next. One stop isn't listed, and that's his talk tomorrow at Google.

I, of course, am in Los Angeles, working from our local office and attending Sibelius Unbound at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We will be at opposite ends of the state for Alex's entire trip, as far as I can tell.

But! YouTube to the rescue!

All talks by speakers in the Authors@Google series are filmed and posted to YouTube. You can see talks by the 2008 Presidential candidates, so far including Clinton, McCain, Richardson, Paul, Edwards, and Gravel, presumably with more to come. (That's me asking the public health question in the Edwards Q&A period.) You can see authors from Cory Doctorow to Atul Gawande.

I expect Alex's talk will be posted there by the end of this week, and I will post the URL when the video is available.


Matthew overcomes an obstacle while buying his copy of The Rest is Noise.

I have had my copy in hand since last Friday but I am determined to finish Battle Cry of Freedom before I start it. Well, I might be persuaded to read Noise first, because as Matthew says....

Thursday, October 11, 2007

And Yet...

...having just posted that very long entry about what affects reviewers, I have to say that a series of truly maddening events Tuesday evening did not affect one bit my enjoyment of a spectacular chamber music concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall (Saariaho, Dallapiccolla, and you'll hear more about the concert eventually).

All Alone

[I started this review last March and never finished it; its existence just came up in the comments at oboeinsight, and so I am completing and publishing it now.]

A couple of years back, I started a never-completed blog posting called "Walking Out," about performances of various types where I'd left in the middle. There haven't been very many of these over the years. It's worth going into a little detail about what they were and why:
  • In high school, I walked out of The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, a French film and ostensible comedy that wasn't very funny and seemed anti-Semitic.

  • La Favorite at San Francisco Opera. I dislike Donizetti, I hated Sonia Ganassi and her tenor, the production was ugly. I fled during the second act.

  • The Merry Widow at SFO, an overblown production with a lead-footed and tin-eared adaptation by Wendy Wasserstein, plus, Flicka called in sick that day.

  • Rosenkavalier at SFO. This begins to be more interesting, because the performance was perfectly fine (Mackerras/Fleming, Graham). We got there late (who would have dreamed Rosenkavalier started at 1:30 p.m., not 2 p.m.?) and had to stand through Act I without being able to see a thing; this put me badly out of sorts. Act II was so brightly lit that I had a hard time watching it, and I was still in a bad mood. So I decamped in the middle of the act.

  • A play that will remain nameless, seen in London in 2004; it remains nameless because it will surely be performed in San Francisco some time, and why prejudice anyone else against it? I was tired and had had a hard time picking out a play from the Leicester Sq. discount ticket booth; the theater was Victorian, the seats tiny. The playwright's style got on my nerves; the set distracted me because I thought the actors were physically at risk. I left at the interval. Reading reviews later, I found that the second act was universally considered stronger than the first - so perhaps I'd made a mistake. The scary stage design has lasted through productions elsewhere.

  • As Good as It Gets, at a point where I feared that both dog torture and homophobia were going to be big themes of the movie. Plus, I mostly can't stand Jack Nicholson.

All this is by way of making the point that factors having nothing whatsoever with the quality of what you're seeing on the stage can affect your response to what you see. In a different mood, I expect I would have enjoyed that Rosenkavalier and at least liked the nameless play.

It's not much of a problem for most of us, but it's certainly something I think about when I review a performance, whether it's for SFCV or this blog. What kind of a mood am I in? What worries or discomforts might be affecting how I respond to a particular work?

All this is by way of disclaimer leading up to the comments below, about John Adams's new opera, A Flowering Tree, because I am alone among the reviewers in not having liked it very much.

I don't have a paid review out there someplace; this is it. A few factors undoubtedly influenced how I heard and saw the piece. My mother got pneumonia at the beginning of February; by the beginning of March, she was almost completely recovered, but February was very hard for me. I saw the Friday night performance of the Adams and was dead tired. On top of that, the shuttle trip up from Mountain View was longer and less physically comfortable than I would have liked. In short, I was not in the sort of mood I like to be in when I arrive at a performance

So, about A Flowering Tree.

My problems with the piece are largely extra-musical. I thought the music always effective and often extremely beautiful. But I hated the libretto and disliked the staging.

And here comes another disclaimer: you need to know that I saw A Flowering Tree from the second tier, far from the stage, and also that I had had to make a last-minute - VERY last-minute - ticket exchange. I wasn't even sure I'd make it past the dragons ushers in time for the curtain. None of the other reviewers had to contend with that and they were all a lot closer to the action, and the director's perspective, than I was.

But about that libretto.

I think that somehow John Adams doesn't believe in opera as a form, despite having written several masterly and widely-performed operas. He doesn't like operatic singing, for one thing, and evidently believes that amplification somehow changes or improves operatic vocal style. The orchestra in Doctor Atomic was amplified! He and Peter Sellars compiled the Doctor Atomic libretto from various sources that resulted in a mixed bag of a libretto, and he is one hundred percent responsible for the libretto of A Flowering Tree. [Note: the libretto was a joint effort by Adams and Sellars. See the comments to this posting.]

It's a libretto in which at least 40% of the text is assigned to a narrator; the two main characters each sing arias of sorts, but barely engage with each other vocally; a libretto in which dance plays as much of a part in the action as the singing. Is it an opera? Maybe my mistake was to take the assigned genre too seriously. But the text doesn't sound very singable, and it's pretty unpoetic. A friend who is in a position to know tells me that Adams evidently didn't know how the characters' South Asian names should be accented, and consequently, he consistently misset one of them.

Besides those issues, I didn't like the plot; I hated the way the female character was constantly being forced to transform herself from human to tree form, and the fact that apparently her husband was only turned on by her when she was transformed or in the act of transforming. (If this is inaccurate....I don't have the libretto in front of me.) I disliked the way she was referred to as a thing when she got trapped halfway through a transformation.

I didn't like the use of dancing, which seemed weirdly superfluous; I didn't like the amount of writhing on the floor.

In retrospect, I think that A Flowering Tree would work much better for me on record, and preferably not in English, so that I could ignore the text and staging and focus on the glorious music. But I also have to note that a trusted friend who saw A Flowering Tree from the orchestra section of Davies tells me that he found the dance very moving and loved the staging. Perspective really counts, and I can't say how much more I might have liked the piece if I'd seen it up close.

Read the reviewers here:


Appomattox reviews are appearing all over the net; more to come:
  • Jon Carroll in the Chronicle, not exactly a review

  • Updated, obviously, Oct. 11.

    I'm One

    Not that you didn't know! But I join my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered sisters and brothers in saying Happy National Coming Out Day!

    Fans (Of Leonard Cohen, That Is) May Disagree

    However, I am not one: Joshua Kosman on The Book of Longing.

    P. S. Put down the coffee or water bottle before reading.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Monday, October 08, 2007


    Battle Hymn of a Divided Republic, October 8, 2007.

    Hail and Farewell

    News of two opera singer deaths, from opera-l -
    • Gary Rideout, tenor, age 55. I haven't seen anything about the cause of death yet. He sang in SF quite a few times between 1989 and 2001, and I saw most of those appearances. I remember him best as Flavio in Norma one year (where he outsang the wretch attempting Pollione) and, more memorably, as Mime in Das Rheingold and Siegfried. He brought off the latter, a long and difficult role, with aplomb, again sounding far better than the ghastly Wolfgang Schmidt, who sang the title role.
    • Giuseppe Valdengo, baritone, 93, best known for singing Falstaff on Toscanini's great recording of that great opera. I do not quite remember the circumstances, but he autographed postcards for a number of opera-l members some years ago, and I sent him a thank-you note in return.

    Saturday, October 06, 2007

    Going South

    Appomattox last night - watch SFCV for my review - and today I'm off to Santa Monica, where I will be working from my company's office there and covering the LA Philharmonic's Sibelius Festival. I will be blogging and emailing as usual.

    Friday, October 05, 2007

    As Long as We're Talking About Cellists....

    Alex Ross has reported a couple of times on Jamie Foxx's cello lessons, and today Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll is talking about music lessons. He claims along the way that "Cello players frequently look suicidal."

    He needs to go to the San Francisco Symphony more often, where Associate Principal Cellist Peter Weyrich always looks very happy to be playing the cello.

    Thursday, October 04, 2007


    Tickets are available in every section for the premiere tomorrow night of Appomattox.

    San Francisco Opera has provided a tiny preview - the production photos are already posted.

    Tuesday, October 02, 2007

    Compare and Contrast 5

    Different strokes for different folks vis-a-vis Glass:A friend who wishes to remain anonymous makes the following contribution to the Glass debate:
    Lullaby--Oh my!
    Soporific is that guy!
    To hear the same arpeggio
    While down and down my eyelids grow
    And DUH-duh rhythms thud and glug
    Just makes me want to PULL THE PLUG!

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    Philip Glass at San Francisco Performances

    Chambered Glass, Philip Glass, piano, Wendy Sutter, cello, Mick Rossi, percussion.

    What to Do?

    The Rest is Noise is short of its official publication date, but reviews are starting to arrive.

    My policy as a concert reviewer is that I don't read read others' reviews until I file my own. I have a copy of Noise on order, and I will have lots to say, I presume, though no one is paying me to say it.

    So, I will be collecting links to reviews in one place, the better to read them in one fell swoop after I'm done reading The Rest is Noise. Stay tuned!


    Congratulations to Marin Alsop, who made history last week.

    Something Going Around?

    First Steve and Dr. L.P., now Terry and Hilary.

    Congratulations, Terry, and much happiness!