Wednesday, December 31, 2008
This Sunday, January 4, you can catch this fall's SFO Boccanegra on KDFC at 8 p.m. The singing ranged from good to outstanding, and Runnicles was ON, so it's highly recommended.
Monday, December 29, 2008
I didn't get email or a mailing about this, despite having attended the 2007 symposium (groan). I am not sure whether I can go - it's opposite the Saariaho and Andriessen premieres at LAPO (groan). But I had a wonderful time at the 2007 symposium, and if you're interested at all in old performance styles or old records and what we can learn from them, I urge you to attend.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
- La Boheme, Acts I and II. Toscanini/Peerce, Albanese, McKnight, Valentino. My traditional Christmas Eve music. The good transfer of my favorite Boheme (Gigli/Albanese, need I say more? The conductor is also splendid, among the best, but I can never remember his name.) is at work along with the Beecham, and I couldn't find the bad transfer of G/A, so it was back to the Toscanini. Peerce is servicable and correct, never quite inspired and not in a vocal class with Gigli or Bjoerling, the Marcello and Musetta are not better than okay, but Albanese is as touching as with Gigli, and the occasion - the 50th anniversary of the opera's premier, also under Toscanini - and greatness of the conducting make it worth a spin. For Italian-opera doubters, I suggest following along with the score sometime. I'd rather conduct an act of any Wagner opera than take this on, with its myriad orchestral details, metrical complexity, extended syncopations, and constantly shifting tempos. It's the most-performed opera in the repertory because it's a great, great masterpiece.
- O Holy Night, a raft of YouTube performances on Tuesday. My favorites turned out to be the elegant and slightly understated Florez and Bjoering, singing magnificently in Swedish. Fleming is very good but I couldn't watch her because of the smirking. Also notable is Thill, singing in about 1932, and of course, Caruso. Yes, I do like my tenors.
- Schmidt, Second Symphony, Jarvi/CSO, Chandos. Whew.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
- Schoenberg, Gurrelieder; Leibowitz/Lewis, Semser, Tangemann, Riley, Gruber, Gesell; Preiser. From 1953. I've only heard one CD, more later.
- Charpentier, The Judgement of Solomon; Christie/Les Arts Florissants; Virgin Classics
- Tan Dun, Internet Symphony, Eroica. God, what crap. ANAblog has the clip.
- Carter, String Quartet No. 1. Arditti String Quartet, Etcetera
This is a tough year for far too many people, given the state of the economy, layoffs all over, foreclosures, and so on. Food banks have been hit from all sides, with fewer people in a position to donate and more needing their services.
Mrs. Obama's email provided a useful link, to Feed America (formerly America's Second Harvest). Click the link Find a Foodbank to locate your community's food bank. In my neck of the woods, it's the Alameda County Community Foodbank. In yours?
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Post here in the comments, or on your own blog; if the latter, post a link here!
[If you're behind on this, read Dan Wakin's story in the Times and the blog posting that gave rise to the fuss. Me, I'll have some thoughts on the matter and the larger questions it involves in a day or so, I hope.]
Monday, December 15, 2008
- Sibelius, Kullervo; Spano; Gunn, Hellekant/Atlanta Symphony, Telarc. Yes, I have two different Kullervos. Kullervi? How do you make a plural in Finnish, anyway? An excellent recording of this early Sibelius symphonic work, a retelling of the story of the antihero Kullervo.
- Evans, Sad Pig Dance, Kicking Mule. Out of print, and I am so glad I picked up a copy before it disappeared. Dave Evans is a stupendous guitarist and songwriter, and this is apparently his only recording. (No, he's not the other Dave Evans who is out there.)
- Rimsky-Korsakov, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitzeh and the Maiden Fevronia. A 1950s Soviet recording, now available on Preiser. I got 20 minutes into it and took it off, because the soprano who sings Fevronia has one of those squeezed Slavic voices that always sounds faintly out of tune - and the role isn't written in her best register, either. The music is charming, so some day I will gird my loins and listen to the whole thing.
- Dir Ha Tan, Traditional Songs from the Vann Region [of Brittany], Arion. When you order from Berkshire Record Outlet, you win some, you lose some. Mostly I win, but this one was so deadly dull that I took it off after five tracks.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The basic issue with this performance of "Tristan und Isolde" was pretty elementary: Mr. Seiffert, it seemed, did not know the role well enough to sing it. Neither an old-fashioned prompter nor a newfangled earpiece can compensate for that."Tommasini musters essentially no evidence in support of this conclusion, expressed in the closing sentences of the story. He writes endlessly about the role of assistant conductors (he must surely know that they're responsible for quite a lot of musical preparation with soloists, as well as sitting in the prompter's box), about the earpiece, about prompting at other theaters, and about what a solo vocal recital would be like if the singer had a prompter. He says that Seiffert looked at the prompter's box a lot anyway and said this in his review of Tristan as well. Nowhere does he say that Seiffert got lost or sang incorrect phrases or trampled the soprano or...well, he offers no direct evidence that Seiffert was insufficiently prepared, only the indirect evidence of the tenor's reliance on his own prompter and the earpiece.
- He doesn't say how much rehearsal time was allotted; this was the fourth go-round of the production since 1999, and Met revivals don't always get a lot of stage time.
- The cast was largely new, as well, which presumably complicated the rehearsal period.
- Seiffert has been ill or on the verge of it since the start of the run. Goodness knows, I get foggy-headed when I have a cold. I have never had to sing a Wagnerian role in that condition, for which I'm thankful. I can't guarantee I'd sing every note correctly.
- Lastly, how available was conductor Daniel Barenboim during the rehearsal period? As the Times has reported, he must have spent some time in Boston over the last few weeks rehearsing and performing Elliott Carter's Interventions.
- Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Eurydice, January 29 to February 8, 2009
- Mark Anthony Turnage's Greek, May 28 to June 7
Friday, December 12, 2008
“It’s a funny grievance coming from a lifetime reporter, that the people that he writes about have an obligation to stay silent,” said Robert Duvin, a lawyer for the orchestra. “We don’t have the same platform, so what we have to do is write letters or have meetings. You guys get to publish every day, and bring the hammer down as often as you want to on anybody you want to.”
Mr. Duvin said he could not address the specifics of Mr. Rosenberg’s lawsuit. But assuming it were true that orchestra officials had urged his dismissal, he said, “So what?”
“I consider what he wrote to be the equivalent of urging the removal of the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra,” Mr. Duvin said. “There are many people who considered his relentless negative assessment, when contrasted with worldwide praise, to be personal, petty and vindictive.”
The lawyer said it was natural for orchestra management to react strongly to such an assessment from its hometown paper. “He doesn’t like what happened,” Mr. Duvin said. “That’s too bad. We didn’t like it either, for years.”
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Paul Sacher Foundation holds a remarkable collection of composer archives, including those of Bartok, Berio, Sorabji, Webern, Varese, Ligeti, Birtwhistle, Kurtag, Ferneyhough....is your jaw on the floor yet? Read the whole list, which includes some prominent performers as well as composers, here.
The Paul Sacher Foundation has entered into an agreement with the American composer Steve Reich (b. 1936) to take over his musical archive. The working papers of this internationally renowned artist will shortly be made accessible to scholars at the Foundation's premises in Basel.
The Steve Reich Collection at the Paul Sacher Foundation covers the composer's entire oeuvre, from his dodecaphonic early works to his very latest creations, such as Daniel Variations (2006) and Double Sextet (2007). In addition to letters, sound recordings, manuscripts from various stages in the creative process, and other documents, special importance attaches to his many audio and program files, which capture various working layers in the music of a composer to whom computers, synthesizers, and samplers have long been standard compositional tools.
I feel the slightest bit sad about Reich's papers going overseas, as I also feel a bit sad to see Elliott Carter's name on the list. They are New York composers and American composers, and I can't help but wish that there were a place for their papers in the U.S., at the Morgan or NYPL, or the Smithsonian, or the Library of Congress. Very likely there isn't the money to fund the acquisition - I assume the Sacher pays, rather than simply accepting donations. I am grateful that the papers will be preserved in a proper archive, and kept together for study, of course, especially given the possible alternatives.
Reading Anthony Tommasini's review of the Met production of a particular Massenet opera, I was astonished to find an accent aigue on "Meditation" and umlauts in the correct places in the soprano and baritone characters' names.
Out of sheer laziness, this blog eschews accents and diacriticals, and, in most circumstances, so does the Times. Look up Janacek in their archive, for example: no diacriticals. So what gives with Tommasini's review? Did he submit his copy with the diacriticals hand-inserted? Or did the Times upgrade its content-management or publishing system? Inquiring minds want to know!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
In any event, a day or so ago, I received email with a link to their favorite recordings of the past year. Not the best, mind you; their favorites. Because it would be a problem if they recommended anything dissonant or anything written before 1710 or anything with a singer in it.
At least they've posted their list at ArkivMusic, so if their listeners buy directly, the money goes to a good classical music source. And if they navigate from that page, they might find Arkiv's much more interesting recommendations. If the list were at Amazon, you never know what a listener might buy instead: luggage, a stand mixer, a personal lubricant. Or a book!
The KDFC list contains about what you'd expect: some guitar music, a little Lang Lang, the required Vivaldi Four Seasons, other violin light classics played by a second-tier violinist, some Tchaikowsky, an Einaudi disk. Nothing too challenging - say, the Brahms piano quintet - or atonal - say, the Carter quartets.
There are a couple of surprises in there. Since they like Hilary Hahn's Sibelius violin concerto, they have to mention
Playlist for a centenary:
- Vingt Regards, Yvonne Loriod
- Harawi, Rachel Yakar & Yvonne Loriod
- Turangalila-symphonie, Nagao/Berlin Philharmonic
- Des Canyon aux Etoiles, Chung
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Me, I'm just wondering when Trebs will withdraw from performances one through five. Remember, you read it here first.
The New York Philharmonic will have a Day of Carter on Saturday, Dec. 13; the day includes a talk with the composer and the world premiere of a new work, Poems of Louise Zukovfky, for soprano (Lucy Shelton) and clarinet (Stanley Drucker, in his valedictory season at the NYPO). It's at the tiny Kaplan Penthouse space, which seats many fewer people than the Yerba Buena Center's Forum space. If you don't have tickets...
Possibly best of all, the Boston Symphony plays Carnegie Hall on the composer's birthday, under adopted New Yorker James Levine. The program features the local premier of yet another new Carter work, Interventions for solo piano and orchestra and includes the work that convinced Carter he wanted to be a composer, Le Sacre du printemps, which I presume needs no introduction. See the BSO web site for more Carter goodies.
One criticism I've heard is that he's burned out, and this I really do not get. His reviews are consistently enthusiastic, perceptive, and often very funny, regardless of whether he loved or hated the music and performances. I read a Kosman review, I wish I'd been there.
Take, for example, his review of this past weekend's Elliott Carter Centenary Celebration concerts, which I'd consider a model: there's enthusiasm for the performers and respect for the composer and what he inspires, even as Joshua ruefully admits that the music itself leaves him in "a state of bewildered incomprehension." (I, a Carter fan, must admit that if you've been grappling with the music for a couple of decades and still don't get it, you probably won't.)
I wish critics' jobs gave them more opportunities to write about music beyond concert reviews. Joshua's extremely good at this, at taking a moment of music and explicating its meanings. See, for example, his remarks on Mahler in the comments section of this Detritus Review posting. Or the series of postings he calls This Magic Moment on his own blog. Give us more!!
Monday, December 08, 2008
- Francesconi, A fuoco
- Saariaho, Sept Papillons
- Zhou Long, Wild Grass
- Boulez, Le Marteau sans maitre
I, for one, would have simply donated back my ticket to Elisir. I only bought it to see Ramon Vargas, who hadn't sung in San Francisco in a few years and who is a perfectly lovely singer. Oh, okay, the half-price ticket offer helped too.
As all the reviewers said, the singing was very good all around, with special honors to Alessandro Corbelli as Dulcamara (the Belcore huffed his way through the fioriture, yeesh, but has a good voice), and production was adorable, though I dispute the plausibility of the girl in overalls considering that it's 1915 or so. That ice cream truck made me want to pick up a pint on the way home. Too bad about Bruno Campanella's sleepy conducting.
As it turns out, my original impulse ("nothing could drag me into the house for another Elisir") turned out to be right, because I left at half-time, making a lone standee very happy when I gave him my 10th-row ticket.
Friday, December 05, 2008
And at Soho the Dog, Matthew Guerrieri has posted a link to his Boston Globe interview with Carter and material that didn't make it into the Globe.
My unasked question for Carter: what did the Harvard campus look like in the 1920s that brought up the worry that building dormitories would ruin it? And get that story about Carter's visit to the White House and his little exchange with Leontyne Price.
I will have something to say, I hope, at the end of the Carter Centenary Celebration here in San Francisco.
1. The composer Tan Dun has written a new work, his Symphony No. 1, "Eroica." (Yes, you're reading that correctly. More below.)
2. The parts are available as PDFs. You can find them on the YouTube Symphony site.
3. There is video of Tan conducting.
4. You download the part you'd like to play; you practice and then record a video of yourself playing the part. You're supposed to watch the conductor video so that you're keeping the proper tempos.
5. You submit the video to YouTube.
6. From these videos, a panel of experts will select the best and create a mashup to post on YouTube.
7. You can also submit a video of yourself playing a solo work for your instrument. You can find suggested works here (link to follow).
8. A panel of experts will select finalists. (London Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and other leading orchestras around the world will narrow the field of entries down to the semifinalists.)
9. The "YouTube comunity" will then decide who will be part of an orchestra that will perform at Carnegie Hall next year, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. Google/YouTube will pay the winners' ways to New York City. The concert is part of a three-day workshop with Thomas.
It's a novel way to get to Carnegie Hall. I am not a big fan of Tan Dun's, based on the mess that was The First Emperor, but was curious about the new piece, especially since he had the nerve to call it "Eroica." So I downloaded and examined the first flute part. It's not especially difficult; even my decades-out-of-practice flute chops are sufficient to play it. And, yes, it incorporates themes from Beethoven's huge, genre-changing Symphony No. 3, subtitled "Eroica." With a couple of weeks' practice...well, as I contemplated the logistics of creating and submitting the video, it dawned on me that I'd better look at the contest rules. Sure enough, if you work for one of the Competition Entities or its parent or subsidiary company, you are ineligible to enter. So I'm out as a possible participant. Whew! I don't have to get the Hindemith flute sonata, which I learned in the 10th grade, back in shape after all.
A couple of bloggers have already written about this thing:
- Matthew Guerrieri is amused.
- Amanda Ameer at Life's a Pitch says "it's not a bad thing" and tells you why.
- Greg Sandow thinks it's typical of the way bottom-up initiatives can change classical music. "This exists only because a couple of people at Google thought of it!" He calls it "auditioning for orchestra projects on line;" I note that this is one particular project. He also says "pitched it to the rest of the company." Really? I heard about this in the New York Times.
- Anybody could have thought up and executed the YouTube video mashup, with any piece they chose - or wrote.
- Tan Dun, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Carnegie Hall are involved only because of Google's enormous influence and, you know, money. The commission cost something (and from his position as an orchestral consultant, Greg can come closer to guessing how much than I can), bringing a couple of hundred people to New York City will cost something, renting Carnegie costs something, presumably MTT is getting a fee, etc., etc.
- Of course, Tan Dun and MTT's prestige was involved in getting the musical institutions involved. It's a long, long list, which I've taken from the press release and will put at the end of this posting.
- Every institution involved expects to get something out of it, at a minimum, publicity.
But what about aspiring pros? Are we going to get conservatory students entering? Freelancers? What would happen if you're a violinist, you win a spot in the Carnegie Hall program, and you find yourself auditioning for the BSO next year? Will your resume say "Member of the YouTube Symphony Carnegie Hall concert"?
And who will gain what from this venture? Well, there will be a lot of publicity for MTT and Tan Dun, for that long list of orchestras that's involved, for Carnegie Hall, and, of course, for Google and YouTube. Very likely a lot of curious people who are not classical music enthusiasts will be pulled in by the spectacle. I happen to like the spectacular aspects of classical music, in the form of gigantic messy works, especially stage works (Mahler's 8th, Wagner's Ring, Bantock's Omar Khayyam, to name a few), and in the form of crazy virtuoso performers. Really, the only thing missing from this piece seems to be Lang Lang. Maybe there's a piano part? On the other hand, will this apparent one-shot deal get people away from their computers and into the concert hall?
I would think not - so I'm going to suggest that the long list of participating musical organizations throw in a whole bunch of tickets to their concerts, and give 'em away at random to the entrants.
Selected list of program partners as of December 1, 2008, from the press release:
Amsterdam Music School
Arnhem Music School
Bangalore Music Association
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
The Hague Music School
Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
National Music Conservatory
New World Symphony
New York Philharmonic
Orchesta de Galicia
Orchestre de Paris
San Francisco Symphony
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas
William Joseph International Academy
Yale School of Music
Thursday, December 04, 2008
C'mon, folks: he's only going to turn 100 once. And you're not going to have too many opportunities to hear the Pacifica Quartet play all five string quartets (to date) and the great Ursula Oppens play all of the piano music (to date) on one weekend.
Personal to David Schiff: Wait a decade or so before issuing the third edition of your excellent book. Bet you thought you wouldn't need one, back in 1998 when the second edition was published.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
About that price differential: what you pay depends on the format you choose. The recordings are available as 320 kbps MP3 and as HD Surround with PC Lossless encoding.
I haven't bought any of these and so can't report on either the sound or musical quality. I stopped looking at the site when I realized I'd have to click every album to find out what's on it, because the recordings index page doesn't display the track listings. Sure, it wouldn't take that long to go through the 15 or so albums now available, but this is an avoidable (and easily correctable!) design error. I've emailed the BSO about this because I'm not the only crank out here, and they will want to maximize sales while minimizing user frustration.
In addition to the recordings, I want to point out another fine feature of the BSO web site: the BSO Classical Companion, where you can find information about classical music. To my relief, it's not focussed on the 18th and 19th century warhorses, but primarily on music of our time and the recent past.
I listened to a chunk of the Elliott Carter Centenary episode, which features both talk and performances. I wasn't paying attention when the works and performers were introduced, but the first piece seems to be the Double Concerto, and isn't that Oliver Knussen conducting? There are also episodes about Berlioz & Messiaen (what a pairing!), John Harbison, William Bolcom, and Henri Dutilleux. Highly, highly recommended.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
La Boheme appeared in San Francisco Opera's first season (1923) and has never been absent from the repertory. During its first decades, the Company presented the greatest Italian singers in the roles of Mimi and Rodolfo: Claudia Muzio, Lucrezia Bori, Mafalda Favero, Licia Albanese, Rosana Carteri, Renata Tebaldi, Mirella Freni; and Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Galliano Massini, Giuseppe di Stefano, Gianni Raimondi, and Luciana Pavarotti. Since the 1960s, however, it has been rare to see an all-Italian cast singing La Boheme in the major opera houses outside of Italy. Has this lead to a stylistic difference, and, if so, does that matter?(The lack of an accent on "Boheme" is not part of the quiz. I'm just lazy.)
Thursday, November 27, 2008
- Carter, String Quartets 1-4, Arditti Quartet (now if only I can find the CD that has the fifth and some other Carter chamber music)
- Beethoven, Harp quartet, Op. 74; Juilliard Quartet, from the early '60s
- Humperdinck, Hansel und Gretel; Rother/Berger, Schilp, Waldenau, Nissen, Arndt-Ober. This set, recorded in 1944, is a marvelous performance with wonderful, very idiomatic singing. It appears to have been recorded in one day. Berger and Nissen are perfect, Arndt-Ober, both scary funny, singing with enormous authority. What's even more impressive is that Arndt-Ober was 59 and had been singing professionally since 1906. The sound is acceptable, but considering the greatness of the set, you wish it had been made a few years later and in stereo.
- Carlos Gardel, songs
- French cafe singers
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I know some of you out there are convinced that the audience is old and getting older all the time, but read what Matthew Guerrieri had to say about this before proclaiming that the sky has fallen. Hint: absolute versus relative.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Yesterday afternoon, I saw Mahler's gigantic and sonically overwhelming Eighth Symphony at the San Francisco Symphony. As I told a friend who had tickets for Friday, the opening is like a rocket taking off, and the intensity barely lets up for the next 90 minutes. I could not fault the chorus's beauty of tone, clarity, precision, or diction; hats off to the magician Ragnar Bohlin, chorus director for the last 18 months. Special props to MTT for conducting a coherent, well-balanced, beautifully-paced, very intense performance of an impossible piece. The sound of the orchestra in the first ten minutes of Part II will linger long in memory (those pizzicatos, those harps, the winds), as will the glorious end of the piece.
I mostly loved the soloists; Erin Wall led the way with brilliant tone, joined by the darker-voiced Elza van den Heever, who alone among the soloists looked like she was having a good time. Yvonne Naef impressed with her rich-hued tone and Katarina Kareus with her power and focus. Laura Claycomb was luxury casting for Mater Gloriosa's two lines. I'd love to see Wall, Naef, and Karneus in opera, and I'd love to see van den Heever and especially Claycomb again; David Gockley, where are you? Among the men, Quinn Kelsey was the star, singing with reserves of power, very fine diction and phrasing, and extremely beautiful tone. I can fault Anthony Dean Griffey only for being perhaps a bit light for his role. Of James Morris....well, his performance raises issues I will blog about in another posting.
This was the third Mahler 8 set since 2000. It is so expensive and time-consuming to perform that I have to think it will be a while until the next set, and that makes me sad. Here's hoping it's performed to the south at Disney Hall; I would fly down for it, no question.
Believe it or not, after the cheering had died down, I got on BART and headed to Hertz Hall, where I caught a screening, with live music, of Carl Dreyer's 1927 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. I had seen only one Dreyer film previously, his Vampyr, many years ago at the Pacific Film Archive. As the program notes said, Joan is on every film critic or scholar's short list of the greatest films ever made, and rightly so. The cutting, pacing, cinematography, and acting style must have seemed alien to contemporary viewers, because they are far more like a film made in the 1980s or 1990s than in the 1920s. It is one grim film, compressing Joan's trial and execution into just one day; it contains one of the most shocking screen images I have ever seen, and also one of the greatest acting performances, from Maria Falconetti, as Joan.
The accompanying score, Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light, was composed in the early 1990s; it was performed by various UC Berkeley choirs and a group of instrumentalists. It is mostly minimalist, with a semichorus as Joan's own voice and the massed choirs singing...other text. It is a beautiful score, and so well integrated with the film that they really did seem to be one.
The Passion of Joan of Arc is available on DVD, and one of the soundtracks available on the DVD is the Einhorn score.
- Mahler, Eighth Symphony; Bernstein, passel of soloists, Sony.
- Salonen, Wing on Wing, Insomnia, L.A. Variations; Salonen, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, DG
- Stravinsky, Les Noces; Stravinsky, Columbia. Very surprised to find that this performance is in English. It is also less wildly primitive than the two live performances I've heard of the piece, both of which I liked better.
- Hartmann, Symphonies (see last week's playlist)
- Harp Music of the Italian Renaissance; Andrew Lawrence-King, helios
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I'm not going to bother posting the lists. I think rankings such as this are silly; all of the orchestras on the list are first class. And orchestras have different strengths and weaknesses, which vary depending on who is leading them. Witness reviews of the NYPO under different conductors over the last 40 years, for example.
For that matter, I have to wonder how views of an orchestra are affected by the concert hall in which it plays. I've heard both the LAPO and SFS in their halls, and I have no idea on what basis the LAPO would be ranked above the SFS; from a technical and musical standpoint, I thought the strings and winds about equal and the SFS brass better than that of the LAPO. But the LAPO plays in the best concert hall on the West Coast and the SFS in the worst, and that difference is readily audible.
That gets to another reason I have little to say about the rankings: I have heard only six of the orchestras listed on their home ground, and a couple of them only decades ago. Of course I'd love to heard them all, when my travel budget supports that.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Deepest condolences to Mr. Chang and his family over this tragedy; I'm sure he will be in everyone's hearts during the concert.
According to Steinway, fully 98% of all pianists performing with orchestras last year chose their pianos exclusively. With the “All Steinway School” designation, CCM students and faculty will have the opportunity to perform and practice on the instruments they will encounter most frequently on the concert stage.First, let's take that business about the opportunity to perform and practice on the instruments they will encounter most frequently on the concert stage. What percentage of faculty and students from CCM are or will become concert pianists? I understand that either the US or the entire world awards about eight thousand (8,000) piano degrees annually. The chances are vanishingly small that any particular pianist will make it on the concert stage. I don't mean "Become Lang Lang" or "Become Roger Vignoles." I mean, have a career playing the piano in public.
''We are extraordinarily excited to become an All Steinway School,” says Douglas Knehans, dean of CCM. “This is both a mark of distinction, a high achievement and a profound signal of CCM’s commitment to quality, its students, faculty and community. With this purchase, CCM’s world class facilities will now be matched with the world’s finest pianos throughout its performance, teaching and study spaces.''
As for "high achievement," c'mon. How much achievement is involved with buying pianos? I assume Steinway was happy to sell, given that the CCM is a music conservatory and given that the instruments are obviously not going to be dropped out of windows to test their ability to fly.
Does this really add to the CCM's prestige in the music world? What if the $4.1`million going into this purchase had gone to endowing a couple of chairs that could be filled with important teachers? (Search for the piano faculty from this page.) Or to an ongoing series of master classes? Or to expanding the class offerings on "how to run your musical career so you can eat and pay rent"?
I'm afraid that this reminds me just a bit of the much larger amount of money the New Jersey Symphony scandalously spent a few years back buying an overvalued string instrument collection to add prestige. Again, what if they'd spent that money raising musicians' salaries? Or on guest conductors? Or...?
To make one thing clear, I'm not opposed to music schools owning the best instruments they can afford to purchase. Most piano students can't afford their own Steinways, and if they have a good piano back home, they're not likely to pack it up and bring it to school with them. What I'm opposed to is piffle about being taken more seriously. I'm sure Juilliard has great pianos, and I'm equally sure that students go there for the teachers and to be in NYC. Oh, and the prestige - but the reputation is made by the teachers and history, not by the pianos in the practice rooms.
Update: And here it is. Of course, Vilar will appeal and his attorney says they expect to be vindicated. Right, well, you have to say that.
Dan Wakin's story includes these gems:
Damn right. Vilar's business turned into a Ponzi scheme, in effect.
“Beginning in the fall of 2002 they lulled Ms. Cates with lie after lie,” an assistant United States attorney, Marc Litt, said in closing arguments last week. He said Mr. Vilar was so pressed for funds that he had Ms. Cates call her broker from his kitchen after a meeting at his home to send the money.
When she pressed them for the money back, Mr. Litt said, they put her off and then lied to the Securities and Exchange Commission when she complained.
Instead, within weeks of his receiving the money, $1 million went to Mr. Vilar’s personal account; $650,000 went to an Amerindo corporate checking account; and $3.1 million went toward a settlement with other clients who were seeking their money back, Mr. Litt said, citing internal Amerindo documents.
Mr. Vilar used most of the $1 million to fulfill pledges to Washington & Jefferson and the American Academy in Berlin.
In another transaction involving Ms. Cates, an Amerindo employee said that she had cut and pasted Ms. Cates signature on a letter of authorization for a $250,000 transfer from one of her outside accounts, on Mr. Tanaka’s orders. The money was immediately used to make two $53,000 mortgage payments on Mr. Vilar’s apartment, which was facing foreclosures, [assistant U.S. attorney] Mr. Litt said.“That’s about as fraudulent as it gets,” he added.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
- Conchita Supervia, vol. 3, Marston Records. The inimitable Spanish mezzo, the most charming singer ever, in the third volume of a series of her complete recordings.
- Franz Schmidt, Symphony No. 2, Neeme Järvi, CSO, Chandos. I missed the recent SFS performances of Schmidt's Fourth, and Jeff Dunn kindly sent me a shrink-wrapped copy of the Second. Thank goodness it's Järvi and not the CSO's former music director, who would have made an overblown hash out of this gorgeous explosion of late Romantic extroversion.
- Aulis Sallinen, Kullervo, Ulf Söderblom, Finnish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Ondine. Sallinen is the best Finnish composer whose work you've never heard. Really. Born in 1935, he's a couple of generations past Sibelius and a generation before the young (ish) Turks, Saariaho, Salonen, and Lindberg. Kullervo derives from a particularly brutal story in Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. The music itself feels ancient, relentless, and epic. Give it a try.
- Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Complete Symphonies, Rieger, Leitner, Kubelik, Macal; Wergo. Resuming a project I started...uh...in 2007 some time, when my friend Mike lent me his set. Another of the great underperformed symphony cycles of the 20th century.
Monday, November 17, 2008
In 2009, Potlatch will be in Silicon Valley for the first time, at the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale, from February 27 to March 1. In keeping with previous Bay Area Potlatches, there's a book of honor - no, wait, there are two books of honor this year! They are:
- Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. Le Guin
- Growing Up Weightless, by John M. Ford
- Musician of the Year, Yo-Yo Ma
- Composer of the Year, Christopher Rouse
- Conductor of the Year, Marin Alsop
- Vocalist of the Year, Stephanie Blythe
- Ensemble of the Year, Pacifica Quartet
The release also included a list of all Musicians of the Year. The 1994 award went to Christa Ludwig; a great singer, indeed, but that year was nearly the end of her long career. I doubt there was any specific achievement that earned her the award.
Chora Nova will perform works by the Baroque masters Johann Kuhnau and Jan Dismas Zelenka in
Chora Nova, under the artistic direction of Paul Flight, presents Kuhnau’s Magnificat (C Major) and Zelenka’s Requiem for Kaiser Joseph I. Both works are scored for chorus, soloists, and orchestra.
The concert takes place at 8 pm on November 22nd, at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, Dana and Durant Streets.
Chora Nova is joined by Bay Area soloists: Rita Lilly, soprano, Ruthann Lovetang, alto, Mark Bonney, tenor and Paul Murray, bass.
Tickets are $20 general, $18 senior and $10 student, at the door or online at www.choranova.org.
(Or buy your tickets from me.)
Sunday, November 16, 2008
1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog. I was tagged by The Opera Tattler.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
5. If you don't have 7 blog friends, or if someone else already took dibs, then tag some unsuspecting strangers.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Claudio Monteverdi: Magnificat for four voices and continuo, from Selva Morale e Spirituale (1640), Magnificat for eight voices, violins, sackbuts, and continuo,from Selva Morale e Spirituale (1640)
Giovanni Bassano: Quem vidistis pastores?, Hodie Christus Natus Est a 10
Giovanni Croce: Quaeremus cum Pastoribus
Giovanni Gabrieli: Angelus ad pastores ait, Hodie Christus natus est, Quem vidistis pastores?,
O magnum Mysterium
Adrian Willaert: O beata Infantia/O felices Panni (motet in 2 parts), O Magnum Mysterium
Alessandro Grandi: Hodie, nobis de caelo pax vera descendit
Gregor Aichinger Noe, noe, psallite
Friday December 5, 2008, 8pm at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church,
500 De Haro Street (at Mariposa), San Francisco
Saturday, December 6, 2008, 8pm at All Saints Episcopal Church,
555 Waverley Street (at Hamilton), Palo Alto
Sunday, December 7, 2008, 4pm at St. Mark's Episcopal Church,
2300 Bancroft Way (at Ellsworth), Berkeley
Doors open 30 minutes prior to each performance
Advance purchase: General $25 / Senior $18 / Student $10
At the door: General $30 / Senior $22 / Student $10
(415) 262-0272 / http://www.calbach.org
Monday, November 10, 2008
- Other Minds New Music Seance, three concerts on December 6 at the Swedenborgian Church at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 8 p.m. The last program especially makes me weep: Ruth Crawford and her milieu, including music by Cowell and Beyer. Personal to Sarah Cahill: the date on your web site is December 8. I wish!
- The San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows concert, where the highlight, for me, would be the mighty-voiced Heidi Melton taking on Isolde's Narrative and Curse.
Mortier was promised a big budget - $68 million - and among the reasons he left is that NYCO could only get him about $35 million of that. Of course, as a friend points out, Europeans who take over American opera companies - and Americans who've worked only in Europe, like Pamela Rosenberg - are often unaware of or uncomfortable with the fundraising requirements that come with the job. We don't know whether Mortier would have succeeded at this.
He had ambitious plans for next season, including the NYC premiere of Saint Francois d'Assis and works by Debussy, Janacek, Stravinsky, Britten, Glass, Adams, and others. Now the Board of Directors doesn't know who will be running the company, and it's hard to imagine anyone coming in at this point and putting on the planned season.
Joshua Kosman called this situation back in May, 2007. A sad tip 'o the hat to him today.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
I know you're busy and all, but I prefer mass mailings that are honest about it.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Thursday, November 06, 2008
- San Francisco Early Music Society presents the Boston Shawm & Sackbut Ensemble and Friends this weekend. One of the friends is countertenor Paul Flight, who is a wonderful singer as well as chorus director. Concerts in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco; details are here.
- Mahler's Eighth approaches, at San Francisco Symphony, and tickets are still available.
- With ticket sales slowing, San Francisco Opera has a half-price ticket offer on the well-reviewed Elisir. I'm not a Donizetti fan; on the other hand, Ramon Vargas. Email me for details or sign up for their email alerts.
- Esa-Pekka Salonen is in his last year at the Los Angeles Philharmonic (sob). In his honor, the orchestra has put up a huge web site that includes photos, a timeline, interviews, and, best of all, lots and lots of performances. I'm sorry that there are only snippets of Salonen's own compositions, but you'll find complete works by Steven Stucky, Dutilleux, Lindberg, Hillborg, and Lim among the living, and Bartok, Beethoven, Brahms, and Stravinsky, among the dead. I only wish Les Noces were the great four-piano version rather than Stucky's orchestration....h/t to Mr. Noise for the link.
- Meanwhile, just across the street from Disney Hall, LA Opera will be putting on the Ring, and they have their own web site about the production. If only the cast were better! Vitalij Kowaljow, yes; John Treleaven, no.
- But it also seems the whole city of Los Angeles is catching Ring Fever: the opera company has arranged a huge, city-wide look at Wagner and his epic by a range of arts organizations. Click Ring Festival at the link just above.
- Jake Heggie's Three Decembers is on at Zellerbach for three performances next month. I have not decided whether I'm going or not. I love Flicka, but...
- Opera Tattler reports that Faust is on at San Francisco next season, and since she heard it from David Gockley at a post-Elisir talk....god, WHY? It's not 1883.
- Across the sea, London's English National Opera is now taking ticket orders for their spring season, which includes Doctor Atomic and (be still, my heart) L'Amour de Loin. Gerald Finley once more reprises Robert Oppenheimer, but not, alas, Jaufre Rudel.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The boys at FiveThirtyEight.com, my favorite polling analysts, noted today that African Americans made up 13% of the turnout in yesterday's historic election, up from 11% in recent presidential elections. You don't have to think too hard to figure out why: the presence of an African American on the Democratic ticket.
Here's something I left out of my recent review of guest conductor William Eddins's excellent concert at the Berkeley Symphony: I saw a noticeable number of African Americans at the concert, more than I can remember seeing at past Berkeley Symphony concerts that I've attended. And at opera performances with soprano Hope Briggs, whether at San Francisco or Festival Opera, it's same story. And at Appomattox last year, where several African American singers had roles, and where the story was, to say the least, important to African Americans. And at The Bonesetter's Daughter, the crowd of Chinese-Americans.
Moral of the story: Diversity of talent also improves the diversity - and size - of the audience.
On the way back to my office after one of these talks, I overheard the following comment:
As a young conservative, I have to say that these liberals don't understand that Americans are not ready to elect a woman or black man to the presidency.I glanced at the speaker and said nothing, but I was thinking "We'll see about that, won't we."
We have seen, and perhaps the young conservative, who must feel mighty outnumbered at this liberal company, is reconsidering his statement.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
I voted on Saturday, in the rain with lots of other Alameda County residents. I got a little teary pulling the lever, er, filling in the mark, for one particular vote. I never thought I'd see the day.
Friday, October 31, 2008
A major infrastructure initiative would create jobs for the less-educated workers who have been hit hardest by the transition to an information economy. It would allow the U.S. to return to the fundamentals. There is a real danger that the U.S. is going to leap from one over-consuming era to another, from one finance-led bubble to another. Focusing on infrastructure would at least get us thinking about the real economy, asking hard questions about what will increase real productivity, helping people who are expanding companies rather than hedge funds.And who is the person advocating a return to New Deal policies? Why, it's that
Moreover, an infrastructure resurgence is desperately needed. Americans now spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, a figure expected to double by 2020. The U.S. population is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 42 years. American residential patterns have radically changed. Workplaces have decentralized. Commuting patterns are no longer radial, from suburban residences to central cities. Now they are complex weaves across broad megaregions. Yet the infrastructure system hasn’t adapted.
The smart thing to do is announce a short-term infrastructure initiative to accelerate all those repair projects that can be done within a few years. Then, begin a long-term National Mobility Project.
I was struck by this while driving down 580 the other day, when I saw one of those round Obama car magnets out of the corner of my eye. It used the image on this button.
It's a brilliant logo, and most people won't even notice all the ways it's brilliant. First, it embeds the first letter of the candidate's last name, by being circular. Second, the subliminal rising sun in a blue sky is extremely powerful; it's hidden because the sun is the white void in the middle of the O. The colors are those of the American flag. The rippling red and white stripes come directly from the flag, but they suggest the open road, a plowed field, an undulating hill. The sense of motion is palpable.
So: the candidate's name, the US of A, a very American sense of forward movement, and the dawn of a new day, all wrapped up in an extremely attracting graphical package. Compare to the boring McCain/Palin graphics!
Thursday, October 30, 2008
San Francisco Opera will provide opera patrons live TV coverage of national and local election returns prior to the performance and during the intermission of Modest Mussorgsky’s historic Russian political opera, Boris Godunov. Eight Hi-Def video screens located throughout the War Memorial Opera House will broadcast the latest election details. For those opera attendees who don’t want to miss this extraordinary opera but want to stay current with national and local news, this is the perfect marriage of art, politics, and high-tech TV.So keep the smartphone in your pocket, no matter how tempted you are to peek halfway through an act.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The all-Bach concert of about ten days ago, at St. Mark's in Berkeley, was sung with such astonishing purity and beauty of tone, such unanimity of intonation and phrasing, and such rhythmic spring and responsiveness that it's clear Cal Bach has made the jump from excellence to greatness. Artistic director Paul Flight led with both vigor and passion. And I have never heard a chorus make a more beautiful sound, both unified and transparent.
It was a great program all around, with Rita Lilly, Adam Coles, and Brian Staufenbiel as the soloists, consisting of Cantata 71, Gott ist mein Koenig, the motet Komm, Jesu, Komm, and Cantata 21, Ich hatte viel Berkuemmernis. They are all marvelous, with magnificent (and plentiful) choral writing - and get that soprano/tenor duet in Cantata 21, a duet between the soul and Jesus.
Cal Bach is holding auditions on Saturday, Nov. 1, in Palo Alto. If you'd like to sing with a great group and you have strong sight-singing skills, it might be the group for you.
(Full disclosure: I sing in Chora Nova, another of Paul's choruses. I can tell you that our sound is headed in the same direction as Cal Bach's, thanks to Paul's direction.)
This had me howling:
No, wait, tell me everything. What have you heard? But don't tell me that Obama's really far ahead, because that would be conventional wisdom and conventional wisdom is often wrong and there would be talk of the McCain Miracle. Oh God no.I feel that way about Bill Kristol myself.
But don't tell me Obama's behind, either. Sometimes polls are wrong, but mostly they are not wrong, and if he's behind, then probably he's going to lose, and then I would have to move to Canada and hide in my daughter's basement in Montreal. Because I could not take four more years of Republicans. Could not. William Kristol alone would drive me crazy. Next Wednesday, I want to see William Kristol rolling on the floor in agony.