Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

You Say That as if it's a Bad Thing

"This is what comes of bona fide intellectuals flirting with and dabbling in the world of popular culture," ACD says of Alex Ross's appearance on the Colbert Report tonight.

Upcoming at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The indefatigable Janos Gereben calls our attention to upcoming public master classes at SFCM:

Jan. 30, 7:30 - James Ehnes, violin (free)
Jan. 30, 7:30 - Håken Hardenberger, trumpet
Feb. 2, 9:30 a.m. - Ann Baltz, voice
Feb. 6, 7:30 - Robert Mann, violin (free)
Feb. 19, 7:30 - Jonathan Biss, piano
Feb. 26, 7:30 - Paula Robison, flute
Feb. 27, 7:30 - Barbara Bonney, voice
March 6, 10 a.m. - Gil Shaham, violin
March 14, 7:30 - Manuel Barrueco, guitar
March 18, 7:30 - Joel Krosnick, cello, in a chamber-music master class (free)

Those not marked "free" are $15 or $20.

Liszt, Faust Symphony

A little while ago, I put on my favorite Internet radio station, Cesky Rozhlas D-Dur (yes, I am leaving out all the diacriticals), and found them playing the Faust Symphony of Liszt, which I'd never heard before.

What a whacky piece! The section I came in on sounded like outtakes of Schumann's symphonies, and 20 minutes later it turned into purest Wagner. A bit of a mess, but a really beautiful and memorable mess, conducted with plenty of commitment by Simon Rattle and with Peter Seiffert, last year's San Francisco Tannhauser, singing the tenor solos. Must buy!


My weekend was supposed to be spent poaching in the sulfurous waters of Wilbur Hot Springs, but after driving through torrential rains Friday afternoon, we reached the five-mile gravel road leading to the springs and were turned back by the police, who told us we were unlikely to make it safely to the end of the road. We spent the night in Williams, talked with Wilbur on Saturday morning, and drove back to Oakland.

I was determined to make it to either the San Francisco Symphony, which was playing Messiaen's L'Asencion (and Mahler's First), or to Christopher Taylor's concert, on which he was playing Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jesus. I attended neither, alas.

Patrick Vaz has written the best possible review of Taylor, though; take a look.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Already Bought Mine... now I can mention that this weekend is the San Francisco Symphony's more-or-less annual bargain ticket sale. All tickets are $25 or $55. I am stocked up for the spring, with these:

Metzmacher/Bartok, Ligeti, Shostakovich

MTT/MTT, Sibelius, Shostakovich (wondering if the two MTT pieces will be better than Island Music, which I was much too kind to in my review)

Gilbert/Stucky, Mozart, Nielsen

Dutoit/Falla, Strauss (have wanted to hear Master Peter for 30 years)


MTT/Brahms 3, PC2

MTT/German Requiem, songs for women's chorus (wondering if the songs are Op. 17)

Gaffigan,Shwartz, Bohlin/Turnage, Poulenc, Prokfiev, Bartok

Oramo/Lindberg, Beethoven, Debussy, mostly for the Lindberg

Robertson/Lutoslawski, Janacek, Dvorak

I passed on Dudamel (I know, I know - I'll see how I'm feeling that week), I sorta feel like I should see MTT/Gil Shaham for the W. Schuman violin concerto, a real rarity, but....

I really hate the way SFS bills their concerts: the Alan Gilbert series is advertised as "Goode Plays Mozart!" Well, yes, but the other pieces are the draw for me.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Times Primary Endorsements

They've come out for Senator Clinton and Senator McCain; links are to the respective editorials. But the really juicy bit is in the McCain endorsement, where they clobber Rudy Giuliani. Make sure you read it!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New at New Century Chamber Orchestra

NCCO has announced that Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will be their new music director, starting with the 2008-09 season. She'll have a three-year contract.

Of the audition concerts held last year, I heard only the January concert, led by Axel Strauss, so I can't say how she compared to the other candidates.

The orchestra also announced a $500,000 matching grant from Gordon Getty; links to that press release are on the same page as the link above.

I Suppose That's One Way to Read the Review...

...but it's still wrong. ACD thinks that Bernard Holland is somehow being subtle rather than lazy in his Bostridge/Quasthoff/Roeschmann review. I might believe ACD if almost every Holland review didn't read the same way. If you don't believe me, check out Holland's review of the Emerson Quartet in today's Times. It's 85% musings about Brahms and 15% a review of the concert supposedly under review.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Getting It Wrong

Marcus Maroney called a Bernard Holland opinion piece - for lack of a better term, since it's obviously not a review - to my attention a couple of weeks ago. The piece opens with this paragraph:
Schubert died at 31. How much music did his early death deprive us of? Not a lot.
Really? And how can you tell? Gosh, I wish I had a crystal ball.

The whole article is a muddle, though he does get that we'd have lost quite a lot if Carter had died young or if Verdi had died at 78, and that Mozart had more to say. Schubert, too, I'm willing to bet.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

On Sale at Archiv; Recommendations Sought

The Krauss Ring and about a hundred CRI recordings. I'm putting in an order, and since the CRI discs are going for $2.99 each, I plan to get a bunch. Recommendations, anyone? I have already chosen a few, but I'm not telling you which.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Style Points

I've seen a couple of usages become common in the last few years that strike me as just plain wrong. Thank goodness I have a nice public place to rant about this.
  • Orchestrations where I would have expected to see orchestration. I promise you, I never saw "orchestrations," plural, when I was in school. "Orchestration" was considered to refer to every particular point of instrumentation.
  • The "Great" Symphony, by Schubert. Come hear Schubert's "Great" Symphony! This particular horror is turning up on orchestra web sites, for crying out loud. The correct term is "Great" C Major Symphony, to distinguish it from the "Little" C Major Symphony. Or Symphony No. 9 in C Major (the "Great"). Don't use this as if it were "From the New World" or "Rhenish." Schubert's "Great" symphony: wrong, wrong, wrong.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fallout, Part the 98th

Alex Wellsung has some well-considered thoughts about Doctor Atomic.

The thing to know about the amplification is that Adams doesn't like or trust operatic singing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Upcoming in Dallas, Oh, and Also in San Francisco

Dallas Opera is moving into a new home at the beginning of the 2009-10 season, so, they're announcing that season a little ahead of time, simultaneously with the 2008-09 season. The big event will be a new opera by Jake Heggie, Moby-Dick. And it's a co-commission with San Francisco, San Diego, and Calgary. In the press release there's a quotation from David Gockley:
I am thrilled that San Francisco Opera can be a part of Jake’s new opera. The work Jake and I have done together has been some of the most meaningful of my professional life – his ability to write for the human voice is exemplary and his music has an infectious lyricism with huge international appeal.

This will be a major new work by a major American talent, and we are proud to be working with Dallas on this commission.
I'm sorry to say, I thought Jake Heggie's last opera for San Francisco, Dead Man Walking, was weak. I remember Flicka's great scene as the mother of the condemned man, and I remember the unaccompanied spiritual Susan Graham sang, and that's about it as far as the music goes.

And I cannot imagine an effective libretto being devised from Moby-Dick. It is the Great American Novel, as far as I am concerned, and it is sui generis in form. Much that is great about the book is in the language and the treatise on whaling, neither of which will translate well to the operatic stage. Not to mention, a tenor as Ahab??

It's not a secret that Stewart Wallace's opera based on Amy Tan's novel The Bonesetter's Daughter will be in a near-future San Francisco Opera season. Wallace's previous, Harvey Milk, was decent theater and musically unmemorable. If David Gockley is freely handing out commissions, he can do better than giving them to Wallace and Heggie.

Thanks to Maury for the Dallas Opera press release link, which has allowed me to scoop everybody around here on this item.

Reviewing the Pacifica Quartet

A Musical Conversation, San Francisco Classical Voice, January 15, 2008.

I left out a couple of things I'd meant to note: the beautiful viola solo in the Smetana, played by Masumi Per Rostad, and the fact that in a review a couple of years ago, Michelle Dulak Thomson commented on some of the issues I raise. I agree with her about Rostad's tone and wish I could describe it accurately. Some violists - some great violists - have a bit of edge in their tone that I find very attractive. Rostad doesn't, and his tone is equally attractive.

December, 1908

Olivier Messiaen and Elliott Carter were born one day apart, on December 10 and 11, 1908. Messiaen lived a normally long life, dying at 84 in 1992. Carter, through a rare miracle, lives and composes still, in his hundredth year.

Neither composer is especially associated with San Francisco, and yet I hope to hear many of their works played this year.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I was asked in both email and comments to elaborate on why I termed the name of the "Inspirations" series at San Francisco Performances "silly." I elaborated, and thought I'd put all of the comments out here on the blog.

First, I want to reiterate that I think the programming is superb, with each concert pairing two great string quartets, by Ravel, Bartok, Haydn, Carter, Harrison, and others. I plan to attend some of the concerts.

Here's what caught my eye in the press release:
Each of the five concerts pairs contemporary works by such groundbreaking composers as Lou Harrison and Elliott Carter with older works by masters like Hayden, Ravel and Bartók, who may have inspired them, either directly or indirectly.

Those last couple of clauses speak volumes: "who may have inspired them, either directly or indirectly."

I think the idea of "inspiration" is misused and overblown in discussing most music. It's a fuzzy word, and in terms of how it gets used in marketing - not just for music - it has all sorts of spiritual overtones and suggestions that don't particularly apply to how music is composed. I also dislike the idea that composition comes primarily from "inspiration." New music comes primarily from hard work. Sure, it's easier for some composers than others; we all gape in amazement at the endless stream of great songs seemingly tossed off by Schubert, but Beethoven's sketches speak to the hard work and endless revision it took for him to compose.

Moreover, composers listen to the important music of the past. They all take something from what they hear, whether it's a harmonic progression, an idea about form and structure, a thought about orchestration. Sometimes it's clear which past works and composers influenced a given work, sometimes not.

In terms of the string quartet, everyone who writes in the form knows what came before them, and it's a long and glorious history. I have a composer friend who is wary of writing a quartet, exactly because of the "footsteps of giants." As far as Haydn goes, he invented the format. His quartets are the ancestors of every string quartet written since then.

I'll be looking forward to hearing what lecturer Robert Greenberg will have to say about the lineage and sources of the quartets on the program - one of which is his own.

Boosey & Hawkes E-Newsletter

I've been receiving the Boosey & Hawkes email newsletter for a few years now, and it finally dawned on me that others might also be interested. I made inquiries and found out how you subscribe:

1. Send email to with the subject line eNewsletter Subscribe.

2. Include this information in the body of the email:

Title (Trombonist, Student, Professer, Artistic Administrator, Curious
Listener, etc.)

I don't know how negotiable all of that information is, but you can ask. The newsletter always contains interesting articles about B&H composers and new music in general.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Best of the Year

I'm not yet in the byline, but SFCV snuck in my choices of the best concerts I attended last year into this week's feature. We stuck with Bay Area performances only, so I couldn't nominate the incredible Green Umbrella concert or the LAPO concert of Sibelius's First and Third Symphonies that I caught in Los Angeles.

I agree with David Bratman about the NCCO Telemann/Britten/Schubert concert, which I might have named myself if I'd gotten my picks in sooner.

Monday, January 07, 2008

How Many Rings Does the West Coast Need?

I've written before about the choral car pileup problem, where six choruses perform the same weekend, diluting the audience and tying up every freelance player and the best venues in the Bay Area. Evidently the major West Coast opera companies are trying for something similar. During 2008-09, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle will be staging part or all of the Ring. San Francisco will have Das Rheingold in June, 2008; I'm just guessing that perhaps Die Walkuere will follow in the fall of 2008 or June of 2009. Seattle will present 3 full cycles in August, 2009, the third presentation of Stephen Wadworth's "green" Ring. Los Angeles will present Rheingold and Walkuere during their 2008-09 season, which was just announced today.

Oh, if this isn't enough, it's widely believed that the Met will stage the Schenk production once more during the 2008-09 series (see MetManiac for details) before Robert LePage's production arrives a couple of seasons down the pike.

'Tis the Season for Season Announcements

And first out of the box is LA Opera, from which I received a press release today with season details. You can find the information posted on their Web site here. Highlights include:
  • Robert Wilson's production of Madama Butterfly
  • The first two installments of the new Ring production, directed by Achim Freyer
  • Il Trittico, with directorial duties shared by William Friedkin and Woody Allen
  • Howard Shore's The Fly, with libretto by David Henry Hwang, directed by David Cronenberg
  • Walter Braunfels's The Birds, part of James Conlon's Recovered Voices project

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Desperately Seeking a Score

Elliott Carter's String Quartet No. 5.

The Oakland Public Library doesn't have a copy, though they had the first and second quartets.

The San Francisco Public Library supposedly has a copy, but it's not on the shelves and the card catalog does not say it's been checked out.

The Berkeley Public Library doesn't have a copy.

UC Berkeley's Music Library has a copy, but I don't have a library card for the UC system.

I should have gotten a copy via interlibrary loan a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't. If you have a copy, I'd pay for FedEx to get it here by Wednesday, Jan. 9. Email me or post a comment here if you have a copy handy.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Great Series with Silly Name

I got a press release from San Francisco Performances yesterday. They're presenting a great Alexander String Quartet series at Herbst Theater on some upcoming Saturday mornings.

For some reason, it's called the "Inspirations" series, which is referred to as an "innovative new theme." That's all just silly, but the programming is not and speaks for itself. The following is quoted from the press release, and just look at those great pairings:

All performances begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings and are approximately 2 ½ hours long. Ever since its inception in 1995, the Saturday Morning Series has continued to build momentum, drawing capacity audiences who appreciate the unique format and winning formula of a world-class performance combined with an educational and entertaining lecture.

Here are “Inspirations” programs:

February 2
Maurice Ravel, “String Quartet”
Lou Harrison, “Quartet Set”

February 16
Joseph Haydn, “String Quartet Op. 76, No. 1”
Elliott Carter, “String Quartet No. 2”

March 15
Béla Bartók, “String Quartet No. 1”
Robert Greenberg, “String Quartet No. 3, Among Friends (for the Alexander String Quartet)”

May 10
Béla Bartók, “String Quartet No. 5”
Wayne Peterson, “String Quartet No. 2”

May 17
Franz Schubert, String Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden”
George Crumb, “Black Angels (Images I) for electric string quartet”

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

To Date

I started this blog on October 31, 2004, a couple of weeks after I'd run across The Rest is Noise. I noticed a day or two ago that I blogged more in the last year than in the previous three years combined: 238 postings in 2007, 98 in 2006, 86 in 2005, and 24 in the last two months of 2004. That counts as a good year: I'd rather be writing more than less.