Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Boccanegra on the Air

Yesterday, I heard a good bit of a Liceu (Barcelona) production of Simon Boccanegra over the intertubes, via Catalunya Musica; the conducting and most of the singing were okay, not great, with the exception of soprano Krassimira Stoyanova. In what I heard of her, she had what it takes. This did not include Amelia's entrance aria, a tough five minutes for any soprano. I would like to hear her at SF some day.

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

Reactions to the Record II

Stanford University's Music Department is putting on a second Reactions to the Record Symposium. It's in just a couple of weeks, January 14 to 17, 2009.

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

Women in Electronic Music

A hat-tip to Roger Bourland, who posted this about a week ago:


  • 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

New to the Blogroll

Combining two interests of mine, Medicine and Opera, written by nephrologist Dr. Neil Kurtzman. Needless to say, this Eva Turner partisan is with him on the correct pronunciation of her greatest role.

Your Local Food Bank

I just got email from Michelle Obama suggesting that I do what I have already done: donate to my local food bank. So I'm passing along her suggestion.

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

If You Were Gilbert Kaplan...

....what would your monomania be? What piece of music would you study, to the exclusion of all others, and, if you had the bucks, as he does, donate or buy your way into conducting with major orchestras?

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

Now Just Wait a Minute

Anthony Tommasini has a feature in today's Times about prompting and the tenor Peter Seiffert's use of an earpiece to which his own prompters sends prompts electronically. Overall, the article makes a mountain out of a molehill, but Tommasini does a lousy job of supporting his crashing final conclusion:
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. 

Tommasini also underemphasizes or doesn't even address some of the circumstances of this Tristan revival. 
  • 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. 
All of these issues would affect how well any singer performed in a given revival. Tommasini does not make the case that Seiffer does not know the role well enough to sing it.

Chicago Opera Vanguard

Composer Eric Reda added me to his mailing list some time ago, and I've been getting all sorts of great mailings about goings-on in the Chicago area. The latest made me want to *buy a plane ticket: Chicago Opera Vanguard's 2009 season. They're producing two operas, and what a pair:
  • Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Eurydice, January 29 to February 8, 2009
  • Mark Anthony Turnage's Greek, May 28 to June 7
If you're within hailing distance of Chicago, gosh, go!

* I've been discussing a trip to Chicago with friends, for dinner at Alinea and a CSO concert. The Boulez trio of programs is droolworthy! But those programs don't coincide with COV's season, alas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

San Francisco Opera, 2009 Broadcasts

Received today and notable for what's missing: The Bonesetter's Daughter and Idomeneo.  I wonder why. You can hear these on KDFC.

Sunday, January 4 at 8 p.m. – Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra [Fall 2008]

Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky stars in the title role of Verdi’s gripping drama. Barbara Frittoli makes her Company debut as the Doge’s daughter and is joined by Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow as Jacopo Fiesco and tenor Marcus Haddock as Gabriele Adorno. Donald Runnicles, conductor; David Edwards, director.

 Sunday, February 1 at 8 p.m. – Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt [Fall 2008]

Torsten Kerl makes his San Francisco Opera debut as Paul, a man unable to come to terms with his wife’s death. Emily Magee, also making her Company debut, appears as the object of Paul’s obsession and former Adler Fellow Lucas Meachem returns to the Company in the combined roles of Fritz and Frank.  Donald Runnicles, conductor; Meisje Hummel, director.

 Sunday, March 1 at 8 p.m. – Listener’s Choice

Listeners will be asked to write in and vote for their favorite opera from the prior broadcast season (January–December 2008).  The opera receiving the most votes will be rebroadcast on March 1.

 Sunday, April 5 at 8 p.m. – Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov [Fall 2008]

In this Russian masterpiece, a ruler is haunted by a horrible act he committed years earlier. Samuel Ramey, recipient of the 2003 San Francisco Opera Medal, returns in the title role. He is joined by returning artists Vitalij Kowaljow as Pimen, Vsevolod Grivnov as Grigory and Vladimir Ognovenko as Varlaam. Vassily Sinaisky, conductor; Julia Pevzner, director.

 Sunday, May 3 at 8 p.m. – Puccini’s La Bohème [Fall 2008]

This heartwarming story of starving artists falling in and out of love in 19th-century Paris is a seamless mix of romantic passion and poignant tragedy. Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu (Mimì) returns in one of her signature roles and Piotr Beczala sings the role of Rodolfo. Quinn Kelsey is Marcello and Norah Amsellem is Musetta.  Nicola Luisotti, conductor; Harry Silverstein, director.


More on Rosenberg

Alex Ross points to Russell Platt's September article on Rosenberg's plight. Note the phrase "widely shared." And today Platt has kindly posted Rosenberg's complaint, which I will attempt to read over the weekend or next week.

(Personal to Alex: Nice posting title.)


Intermezzo saw Hansel und Gretel at Covent Garden. This line nails the opera:
Some people think Hänsel und Gretel is just a cute children's opera; for Sir Colin it's a gateway drug to Tristan und Isolde.

Foot in Mouth

Here's the Times story on Don Rosenberg's lawsuit agains the Plain Dealer and Cleveland Orchestra. I especially love the part where the orchestra's mouthpiecelawyer puts his foot in his mouth:
“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.”

Carter in the Times

I wish the Times had run a happy birthday editorial yesterday, but whatever; here's their coverage:
  • Dan Wakin's story/interview, with photos taken at Carnegie Hall and at Carter's apartment. 
  • Anthony Tommasini's concert review; he liked Interventions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More on the YouTube Symphony

Okay, the long Elliott Carter posting might not get posted today. But here are pointers to YouTube Symphony discussion elsewhere:

Pulling Up a Lawn Chair

I'm the last blogger in the world to discuss the situation of Don Rosenberg, longtime music critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who was reassigned to an "arts & music" beat, and away from covering the Cleveland Orchestra, after, it seems, being too critical of Franz Welser-Most, music director of the Cleveland. Lots of critics here and in Europe agreed with Rosenberg about FW-M's interpretive skills, and were astounded by the recent extension of his contract.

Well, Rosenberg is now suing the Plain Dealer (for age discrimination) and the orchestra (for defamation and interference with his career). Age discrimination? He knows better than me, but I'm doubtful that was the proximate cause of his reassignment. 

(Via Opera Chic!)


I received a press release from Boosey & Hawkes last week about Steve Reich's papers, which are going to live in Switzerland:

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.
The Paul Sacher Foundation holds a remarkable collection of composer archives, including those of Bartok, Berio, Sorabji, Webern, Varese, Ligeti, Birtwhistle, Kurtag, your jaw on the floor yet? Read the whole list, which includes some prominent performers as well as composers, here.

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.

Foreign Accents

The NY Times sometimes makes copy-editing decisions that I consider to be on the odd side. An opera review within the last year or so referred to David Daniels, likely the world's greatest countertenor, as "a countertenor." Contrast this with Samuel Ramey's wedding announcement, which referred to "Samuel Ramey, the bass, married [new wife's name], a soprano." That is as it should be, and Daniels is best referred to as "David Daniels, the countertenor."

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!

Carter 100!

Best wishes to Elliott Carter, dean of American composers, on this auspicious day, and may he have a good number more happy, healthy, years of composing masterworks.

Playlist: why, the Pacifica Quartet's new disk of 1 and 5, of course. I'll get my account of this past weekend's festivities posted some time today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Elliott Carter on Charlie Rose?!

Just hours in advance of his 100th birthday, Elliott Carter appears on Charlie Rose tonight, along with James Levine and Daniel Barenboim, in what must be some kind of first. Or maybe two kinds of firsts.

Sublime -> Ridiculous

I'm on the mailing list of KDFC, the nation's most embarrassing excuse for a classical radio station. In reality, they're an easy-listening station, and I hear from friends that they've recently devolved from playing single movements of multimovement works to playing excerpts from movements of multimovement works. But...they make a lot of money! So they can laugh all the way to the bank.

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 the devil himself Schoenberg. And the Anne-Sophie Mutter disk comes with a Gubaidulina work.

Messiaen 100

By an entertaining and timely coincidence, it's also the 52nd birthday of future convicted felon Rod Blagojevich.

Playlist for a centenary:
  • Vingt Regards, Yvonne Loriod
  • Harawi, Rachel Yakar & Yvonne Loriod
  • Turangalila-symphonie, Nagao/Berlin Philharmonic
  • Des Canyon aux Etoiles, Chung
All except Des Canyon aux Etoiles are from the Warner Classics Messiaen Edition. I have strewn the CDs all over place, and don't have the Quatour pour la fin du temps with me.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Six, No, Five of Nine

Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from the last of her six scheduled San Francisco Opera appearances as Violetta in La Traviata. That's the July 1 performance. Ailyn Perez, a 2005 Merola Fellow, replaces Netrebko; Elizabeth Futral performs on June 29, July 2, and July 5.

Me, I'm just wondering when Trebs will withdraw from performances one through five. Remember, you read it here first.

More Carter!

While Bay Area symphonies merrily ignore Elliott Carter's very big round number birthday, East Coast audiences have had plenty to listen to. First, the magnificent tribute at Tanglewood, where the students played forty-seven (47!) Carter pieces in a huge multiconcert tribute this past summer. Read Matthew Guerrieri's Magna Carter series for a marvelous account of the festivities.

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.

Future Elective Office?

I plan to run for Governor of Illinois. Hey, I don't live there! But I also won't be mixed up in the kind of shenanigans that have Rod Blagojevich heading for the slammer.

The Underappreciated Critic

Joshua Kosman, fellow blogger and classical music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, comes in for a lot of stick from his readers, as do all critics. Goodness knows, I disagree with him often enough (he was wrong wrong wrong about Die tote Stadt and The Bonesetter's Daughter, for example, just going back a couple of months, and apparently he was immune to the luminous beauty of the last Runnicles Tristan).

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

More Modernist Music

If you weren't at the Carterfest - or if you were and you're in the mood for another concert of music with spine - the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players have this on their agenda for tonight, December 8, 2008, 8 p.m., Yerba Buena Gardens Forum:
  • Francesconi, A fuoco
  • Saariaho, Sept Papillons
  • Zhou Long, Wild Grass
  • Boulez, Le Marteau sans maitre
If I could sleep in tomorrow, I'd go, but I need a night off after this past, very wonderful, weekend.

Just Sayin'

If you're an opera company, and you know in advance that the star tenor in your current Donizetti production is canceling because of illness, you could email your patrons about this.

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


Over at listen101, Steve Hicken is running a fine series of postings leading up to Elliott Carter's 100th birthday on December 11. Each posting discusses a work of Carter's that has been particularly important to Steve and his development as a composer. Start here.

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.

YouTube Symphony

I found out about the YouTube Symphony on Monday via the NY Times story; a press release about it dropped into my mail box a couple of hours later. If you missed the story (or Joshua Kosman's Chron story, or Janos Gereben's SFCV Music News item), here's how it works:

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.
Let me point out a couple of things in response to Greg:
  • 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.
Looking a bit beyond these issues, I'm extremely curious about who will enter. Talented amateurs, yes. Kids, yes. Anyone wanting to have a good time - yes, because you can enter playing any damn instrument you choose, whether it's part of the official scoring or not. (I really like that aspect of the project!)

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
Bamberger Symphoniker
Bangalore Music Association
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Carnegie Hall
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
Conservatorio Real
Valery Gergiev
The Hague Music School
Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Imma Shara
Lang Lang
Liceu Barcelona
London Symphony Orchestra
Moscow Conservatory
National Music Conservatory
New World Symphony
New York Philharmonic
Orchesta de Galicia
Orchestra Filarmonica
Orchestre de Paris
Orquesta Nacional
Petersburg Conservatory
Prague Philharmonica
Radio France
Rotterdam Philharmonic
San Francisco Symphony
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra
Tan Dun
Michael Tilson Thomas
William Joseph International Academy
Yale School of Music

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tickets Still Available for Carter Centenary Celebration!

Email today from San Francisco Performances indicates that you can still buy tickets to the Elliott Carter Centenary Celebration. It's this weekend at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, south of Market in San Francisco.

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.

Tate Modern

Apparently I need a plane ticket to London, and soon. Hat tip to Alex for the tipoff.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

If You Missed the Mahler...

...or even if you didn't, tune in to KDFC at 8 p.m. tonight to hear the SFS broadcast.

BSO Musical Offerings

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has decided to offer performances from both its archives and studio recordings as downloads on its web site. The initial batch of performances includes the 12-CD set From the Broadcast Archives:1943-2000 and a recent Mozart disk by the BSO Chamber Players. Prices range from $8.99 to $12.99. You can find the download page here.

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


Spot the errors in the following question posed to incoming San Francisco Opera music director Nicola Luisotti by Robert Wilder Blue:
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.)

Event Photos

Mahler's Eighth, San Francisco Symphony


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

Expanding the Audience

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is taking a practical step toward expanding the audience. Having gotten the message that high ticket prices are a big barrier to attendence by young people, they're going to offer many, many discount tickets:
The Boston Symphony Orchestra will offer $20 concert tickets to patrons under the age of 40 to BSO concerts for the remainder of the 2008-2009 Symphony Hall season, thanks to a generous contribution by an anonymous underwriter who will pay (subsidize) the difference between the full and discounted ticket prices.  Four thousand $20 tickets, normally priced from $29 to $115, will be made available to more than 45 Boston Symphony concerts throughout the remainder of the season.
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.

Tanglewood 2009

A Boston Symphony Orchestra press release about Tanglewood's 2009 season includes news of local interest.

The season will include the return of MTT after a 20 year absence; his concerts include a program of Shostakovich and Rachmaninov (Yefim Bronfman) and....two performances of The Thomashefskys (which is also traveling to Disney Hall in 2009). Other conductors who appear at Tanglewood will include BSO music director James Levine (not conducting anything as interesting as this year's Carter Festival), Rafael Fruebeck de Burgos, former SFS Music Director Herbert Blomstedt, in Central European classics, Andre Previn, and BSO assistant conductor Julian Kuerti. (If you think you've heard the name before, yes, he is the great pianist Anton Kuerti's son.) Speaking of great pianists, Stephen Kovacevich gives a recital of Bach, Schumann, and Beethoven.

Among the singers are some who've appeared locally or were Adler or Merola Fellows: Erin Wall, Kendall Gladen, Laura Claycomb, and Thomas Hampson.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Double Header

I have a busy musical schedule this week, of which Saturday's Kuhnau and Zelenka performance was just the first step. The concert went very well, and we had a big turnout, always gratifying. I wish we could do each program more than once, and I know everyone else in Chora Nova feels the same way. Our Board of Directors has been careful about our budgeting, and that is a good thing; when we have the financial means and audience to expand, we will.

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

Audience Behavior

Dear Couple in the Balcony,

It's true that you were in the last occupied row of the balcony at First Congregational Church last night, so perhaps it was reasonable for you to think you wouldn't attract any attention. When I first caught a glimpse of you, I wondered if someone had had a medical emergency requiring mouth-to-mouth resucitation. But no, a few glances in your direction during the Zelenka's many solo passages revealed that you were smooching, early and often.

Perhaps you forgot about the chorus, or thought we'd have our heads so deep in the score that we'd never notice what you were up to. I'm just glad you kept your clothes on and your hands visible. 

Yours truly,

An Alto

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mahler 8 Ticket?

I have a ticket to tomorrow's SFS Mahler 8 in hand, but after hearing the Bernstein recording, my partner, who declined to have me buy one for her a few weeks back, changed her mind. If you have a ticket you can't use, please let me know.

Orchestral Ranking?

Like many other people in the music biz or blogosphere, I received the press release about Gramophone's ranking of orchestras around the world. Marcus Maroney and Marc Geelhoed have both commented on the rankings.

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

Sad News

I'm not attending the joint string quartet performances by the young Johannes Quartet and the retiring Guarnerius tomorrow night, because I have a rehearsal. But there have been major changes in the program they'll be performing, owing to the unexpected death of the brother of C.J. Chang, violist of the Johannes. Lesley Robertson of the St. Lawrence - big kudos to a real trouper - is subbing for him, and the Mendelssohn Octet and Derek Bremel's Passing Through will be performed as planned. However, the new octet by William Bolcom and Esa-Pekka Salonen's highly anticipated Homunculus will not be played. The Guarnerius will add in a performance of Dvorak's "American" quartet.

Deepest condolences to Mr. Chang and his family over this tragedy; I'm sure he will be in everyone's hearts during the concert.

All-Steinway = High Achievement?

Opera Chic and the Times's Dan Wakin have both reported on the purchase of 165 Steinway pianos by the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. Read the press release here. I'm especially struck by this:
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.

''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.''
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.

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.

Vilar Convicted

So far, there's an AP report at the LA Times. The NY Times will undoubtedly have something up today.

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:

“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.
Damn right. Vilar's business turned into a Ponzi scheme, in effect.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When Worlds Collide

We had a musical visitation at Google last week. Here's my writeup, in Janos Gereben's SFCV Music News column. I took photos, some of which may appear here or on my Flickr account once I get them off the camera, but the best were of Banda and the gorgeous Shayna.

The Past is Never Past

Jon Carroll reminds us of why.


I really ought to do a better job of tracking what I listen to.
  • 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 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

Potlatch 18

Potlatch is a small, book- and reader-oriented science fiction convention. About 150 people sit around talking about books for a few days, in other words. It has alternated between Seattle and the Bay Area since 1992, with occasional forays to Oregon.

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
I've had a great time at every Potlatch I've attended; they are friendly and convivial gatherings. To sign up or get more information, visit the web site. Registration information is here; hotel information is here.

Musical America Awards

News comes from the venerable Musical America of their 2008, oops, 2009, awards:
  • 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 press release includes appropriate blurbs about why the recipients merited the awards, but I find the blurbs a little puzzling. The awards seem to be for general achievement, not for specific accomplishments in a particular year. The Pacifica's blurb took note of their repertory and their ongoing commitment to performing contemporary music, citing their Carter quartet marathons, which they've been putting on since 2002.

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: Choral Masterworks of the Baroque Era

Better late than never; I'm singing in this one:

Chora Nova will perform works by the Baroque masters Johann Kuhnau and Jan Dismas Zelenka in Berkeley, California.

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

(Or buy your tickets from me.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Opera Tattler got me. You're supposed to post the rules of this meme, answer them, then tag others.

The rules:
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.

The facts:

1. I have conducted both a wedding and a funeral.

2. I've also conducted a chorus, as one of two assistant conductors of the Stony Brook Chamber Singers. The most difficult piece I helped rehearse was the Missa Solemnis.

3. I studied flute from the age of 13 to 22. I can still play, though not nearly as well as back then. If I'd known what fun new music could be, I might have practiced harder. I ran across my piccolo yesterday and discovered I can still play it too. At least, the high D came out easily and cleanly.

4. I'm a second-degree black belt in Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu. Yes, you want to be in dark alleys with me; "don't be evil" applies to martial arts too.

5. I know more about public health and study design than most people who aren't in the field.

6. I once cooked the timpano from Big Night for New Year's Eve. More recently, I baked a buche de Noel.

7. I have four Robert Hupka photographs of Arturo Toscanini in my dining room. My parents found them at a flea market in the late 1970s. This is one of them. The other photographs are by my first cousin, Barry Sonnenfeld, some of whose other artistic endeavors you might know. He took them in high school or college. None of them are signed and dated.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


During the 1990s and early 21st century, I taped quite a few Met broadcasts and intermission features. I am in the process of trying to consolidate my recording media and have collected a bag, a fairly large one, of cassette tapes I don't want. If you're interested and can come get them (or meet me someplace in the East Bay), email me and let me know. I no longer drive to work and no longer have a cassette deck in the car, which drastically reduces the chances of my ever hearing these again. Performers include Domingo, Voigt, Sweet, Pav, Eaglen, Heppner, Mattila Levine, de Billy, Alagna & Gheorghiu, etc., etc. I am going to hold the bag, as it were, until after Thanksgiving, and then they're gone.


Music@Menlo's 2009 dates are July 17 to August 8. You bet I'm putting that on my calendar now. And the 2008 season recordings are available now, on Music@Menlo LIVE.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Venetian Christmas

I will probably manage to attend the next California Bach Society concert, through some careful time management - their concerts are the same weekend as the Carterfest. The program, called Venetian Christmas, is perfectly lovely and sounds as though it will be nicely balanced between grandeur and intimacy:

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 /

Monday, November 10, 2008

In Bad News from This Coast

Opera Pacific announced last week that they're folding because of the economic situation. Tim Mangan has the whole sad story.

The Things I Do for Love

I have tickets to San Francisco Performances' magnificent Carter Centenary Celebration on December 6 and 7, and wild horses couldn't drag me away. This means I'm missing the following great stuff:
  • 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.

But seriously...

...Gerard Mortier's departure from NYCO even before his arrival is a catastrophe for the company. They're out of the New York State Theater while it's being renovated. Their financial situation is precarious, because while their expenses are low at the moment, so is their income. (It's hard to do fundraising when you're not staging anything.) They've laid off a few employees and have had some required vacation days for the remaining staff members.

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

Congratulations, Big Congratulations

Claire Chase, the astonishing flutist (and founder/executive director) of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), has won first prize in the 2008 Concert Artists Guild Competition.
She played only contemporary music for the audition, and brought along not only a raft of flutes, but microphones, laptops, etc., etc. GEAR.

I saw ICE play music of Magnus Lindberg at the Kaplan Penthouse during the 2006 Mostly Mozart Festival; their casual virtuousity and enthusiasm were a joy to behold. And Claire Chase is the kind of flutist who takes the instrument to all sorts of musical and technical extremes, far, far beyond what most flutists try for or even think possible. A great musician, she is, so three cheers for this recognition.

Dear Artist or Publicist

As I've said previously, I welcome email from artists and publicists. But it's best if the email isn't obviously going to a blind-copied mailing list while pretending to be personal. For instance:
Hi there,

I've been reading your blog for some time and am a big fan. It's great to have fellow opera aficionados out there sharing their thoughts on the opera world!
I know you're busy and all, but I prefer mass mailings that are honest about it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Accumulated Matter

Lots going on:

  • 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


(Bear with me, because despite what you're thinking, this is going to turn into a music posting. Really, it is.)

The boys at, 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.


In the fall of 2007, Google hosted a number of presidential candidates, whose talks can still be seen on YouTube. I attended the talks by Bill Richardson, John Edwards, and John McCain. (That's me asking a public health question somewhere near the end of Edwards's visit.) I should have attended Hillary Clinton's. You couldn't get into Barack Obama's; there was a line halfway around the Googleplex of people who wanted to get in.

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


Get out and vote tomorrow, if you haven't done so already. And do what you need to do to make sure your vote is counted, regardless of who you're voting for or what positions you support. You have the right to vote and to have your vote properly counted.

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.

Forgotten Anniversary

Last Friday night, this blog turned four!

It's been a good four years. I promise more music blogging real soon now.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Fine Idea

I found this in today's Times:
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.

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.
And who is the person advocating a return to New Deal policies? Why, it's that Commie pinko rat known Socialist registered Democrat Republican, David Books. Read the whole thing here.

The Power of Graphics

During the 2004 Presidential campaign, the Kerry/Edwards ticket came in for some criticism of their graphics, especially by comparison with those of Bush/Cheney. You can see some of the Democratic nominees' collateral here; ; the NY Times dissected the tickets' graphics here.

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

Staying in the Loop

So, say you have opera tickets for Boris Godunov in San Francisco this coming Tuesday, and say you'd like to know what's going on with events outside the opera house. San Francisco Opera to the rescue:
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.


Reviewing the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, October 23, 2008.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

California Bach Society

I've been attending Cal Bach concerts for the last six or seven years, starting when Warren Stewart was still the group's artistic director. Cal Bach is an excellent chorus that has had a series of terrific artistic directors, and those directors' programming has always been varied and interesting.

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 is Exactly How I Feel

S.F. Chron columnist (and recent Ernie Pyle Award winner) Jon Carroll on the upcoming election.

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.

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.
I feel that way about Bill Kristol myself.