Friday, February 29, 2008

Advice: See Pieczonka, not Lukacs

Los Angeles Opera has some performances of Tosca coming up - hmm, now that I peer more closely at the press release, I see that they're in May and June. I would have expected to receive this press release in April, but whatever.

Two casts are splitting the performances: Adrianne Pieczonka and Neil Shicoff (called "one of the great tenors of our time" - not by me) in the first cast, Georgina Lukacs and Gwyn Hughes Jones in the second. Juan Pons sings Scarpia throughout the run.

Based on Lukacs's badly-sung Lady Macbeth in San Francisco this past fall, I'd suggest giving her a pass. The first cast conductor is Placido Domingo, a great tenor who doesn't belong on the podium, alas.

Did I Say Something About the Tchaik 5th?

I believe I did, and I think I was right, because guess who's playing it in Los Angeles next year:

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Monday, January 26, 2009, at 8 PM
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, piano
THOMAS Street Song
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 5
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5

I'll pass, thank you, but an early heads-up: I plan to attend these two:

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Thursday, January 15, 2009, at 8 PM
Saturday, January 17, 2009, at 8 PM
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Peter Sellars, director
Dawn Upshaw, soprano
Michael Schumacher, dancer
Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, music director
SAARIAHO La Passion de Simone (LAPA commission; West Coast premiere)

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Friday, January 16, 2009, at 8 PM
Sunday, January 18, 2009, at 2 PM
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Katia and Marielle Labèque, pianos
JANÁ EK Sinfonietta
ANDRIESSEN Double Piano Concerto (LAPA commission; world premiere)
STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring

Monday, February 25, 2008

Head, Wall, Bang

San Francisco Opera's new digital cinema broadcasts will not be available in San Francisco or Oakland or Marin or the Peninsula or the South Bay. Or Los Angeles!

Here are the theaters showing the programs:
  • Cinemawest Boulevard, Petaluma Petaluma CA
  • Cinemawest Livermore Livermore CA
  • Cinemawest Fairfax Fairfax CA
  • Cinemawest Fortuna Fortuna CA
  • Cinemawest Angels's Camp Angels Camp CA
  • Cinemawest Sonoma Cinemas Sonoma CA
  • Cinemawest Sebastopol Sebastopol CA
  • Galaxy Riverbank, Riverbank CA
  • UltraStar Flower Hill 4 Del Mar CA
  • UltraStar Mission Valley San Diego CA
More details here.

Berkeley Symphony Music Director Search

For better or for worse, Berkeley Symphony has a web page for feedback on the music director search. Following each candidate's concert, you can complete a survey with your opinions on various subject.

Soliciting audience reactions can't hurt. But I see some potential pitfalls:
  • Ballot-stuffing, because the survey software doesn't block multiple responses from the same IP address.
  • Survey-design issues. Some people are going to read "Would you like to have him/her conduct the Orchestra again" to mean "Do you want this person to be the next Music Director?" They're not the same question.
  • Complaints from people who feel like their opinions weren't taken seriously.
  • Audience variability, in knowledge, musical preferences, and listening ability. Should a candidate be marked down because too many people don't like his or her programming choice?
Choosing a music director also takes into account a raft of issues not visible to most audience members: how does a candidate work with the orchestra? Is the conductor prepared for rehearsals? Is the candidate efficient, and professional at rehearsals? How does the candidate work with soloists? Does the candidate hit it off with the administrative staff and board members? How good is the candidate at gladhanding and fundraising? How many weeks per year is the candidate available? Does the candidate have a good track record with new music, a Berkeley Symphony speciality? How good is the candidate at budgeting? And so on.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Berkeley Symphony, Hugh Wolff

Berkeley Symphony, it turns out, has a highly efficient web site or web master: last week's concert, with guest conductor Hugh Wolff, disappeared from the listings by the next day, leaving only upcoming concerts. I hope the information has been archived. I wish every orchestra and opera company had an online archive, but that's a subject for another posting. [Update: Berkeley Symphony has an archive of recent concerts here. The archive goes back a few years only, to 2004.)

Wolff is the first of six guest conductors who are auditioning for the post of music director. He conducted a concert that seems typical of the orchestra: two newish pieces, one 20th century classic, and a 19th century classic.

Neither of the two newish pieces made much of an impression on me. Both are energetic, amiable, and forgettable. Wolff is a longtime advocate of Aaron Jay Kernis's music, and opened the concert with Kernis's Overture in Feet and Meters. The conductor's introductory remarks ended with "Hold on to your hats," but mine stayed firmly on my head. The overture is an orchestration of the first movement of Kernis's Second String Quartet, and I'm willing to bet that it works better in the quartet format. Mahler created wonderful string orchestra versions of Schubert's Death and the Maiden quartet and Beethoven's Op. 95, both works with a good bit of grandeur to them. Kernis's piece has charm and cleverness, but not enough weight to survive being inflated for performance by a full orchestra.

I haven't got much to say about Osvaldo Golijov's Night of the Flying Horses, a movement of his song cycle Three Songs, which in itself is damning - but it did bring the wonderful soprano Heidi Melton, a San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, on stage.

She had a far bigger part, along with tenor Thomas Glenn and mezzo Katherine Tier, for Shostakovich's From Jewish Folk Poetry, settings of Yiddish poems. All three gave fine performances, with Melton's mighty dramatic soprano making a fine match for Tier's velvety, dark mezzo and Glenn's well-focussed tenor. Glenn's diction was superior to that of the women; each had fine moments in their solos.

The work was performed using the original Yiddish, though the published score has the words in Russian. The English translations must have been from the Russian, because they deviated significantly from the Yiddish in the program: too bad!

After the intermission, Wolff led a rousing performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony; apotheosis of the dance, indeed.

My only complaint about the concert - besides the slightness of the Kernis and Golijov works - is about the poor acoustics of Zellerbach. The orchestral sound was flat in the first half of the concert, more nuanced in the second. I don't know if the technicians tuned the amplification sound enhancement system during intermission or what, but those honking big speakers do not inspire confidence at all. I wish there were a better venue for this excellent orchestra.

[Joshua Kosman's review nailed this concert, as far as I'm concerned.]

Reasonable Accommodation

Dear Concert Presenter:

I have a couple of suggestions for what to do when the guest conductor shows up for rehearsals on crutches.

First of all, you could put something in the program or have an announcement made about just what his situation is. Very likely it's temporary, and it's also something that everyone in the audience will notice if they have normal eyesight. We were all very curious.

Next, do not make him come on stage and go offstage between all of the pieces, especially if there are three works on the first half of the concert. I do realize that very possibly he decided himself that he would do this; maybe he needed a few minutes to shift his thoughts from one piece to the next. Maybe you could encourage him to just stay on the podium, even though the stagehands were busily moving soloists' music stands around.

Lastly, how about a podium with steps? Watching him hop onto the Zellerbach podium was scary: we were all hoping he would not wind up in the laps of the first-row patrons. Or, worse, see season 2 of Slings & Arrows.

Yours truly,

Local Blogger

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chicago Symphony

The CSO season for 2008-09 has been announced, and among the Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart programs are these:
  • A bracing pair of concerts by Pierre Boulez, who leads works by Ives, Carter, Varèse, Janácek, Szymanowski, and Stravinsky
  • Riccardo Muti conducts the Verdi Requiem
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts music of Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartok, and, oh, yes, Salonen, a new commision
  • A piece by Turnage/Scofield, led by Steven Sloane
  • A six-concert Dvorák series, led by Mark Elder, giving the Bohemian master more attention than he probably gets in any five-year period. One of my readers is already plotting to attend, I am sure.
I'd most like to hear the composer-conductors' programs, and am only sorry Boulez isn't conducting his own music too.

Chora Nova, March 8, 2008

Alas, I'll be at the American Judo & Jujitsu Federation's annual convention, so I am not singing in this program:

Celebrate International Women’s Day as Chora Nova presents APHRODITE’S MUSE, choral works by women composers in English, French, German and Welsh. Revel in the lush harmonies of Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Lili Boulanger, Grace Williams, Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and Emma Lou Diemer .

Paul Flight, Artistic Director

8:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8; First Congregational Church of Berkeley, Dana and Durant Streets, Berkeley. Pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m.

Tickets $18/$15/$10 online or at the door.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Compare and Contrast 7

Comments and reviews on Carl Nielsen's music:
I bet you can tell which of them I agree with.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Do You Play Suona or Chinese-Style Percussion?

Or do you know someone who does?

If so, San Francisco Opera wants you for The Bonesetter's Daughter, Stewart Wallace's new opera, which is based on Amy Tan's novel of the same name, and for which Tan is writing the libretto.

The Opera is holding auditions in a couple of weeks, on February 28 and 29 and March 1, by appointment only. Full details are in the press release, which is available in both English and Chinese.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What I Bought

...from ArkivMusic during the recent CRI sale:

  • Ezra Sims: String Quartet No 2, Elegie,
  • American Spiritual - New Piano Works / M Nonken
  • Weisgall: The Tenor, The Stronger, The G
  • American Masters - The Music Of Arthur Berger
  • American Masters - Halsey Stevens
  • American Classics - Henry Hadley
  • 21st Century Classics: Sheila Silver Piano Concerto
  • Silver: The Thief Of Love / Lawton, Stony Brook Opera
  • Sunbursts - Solo Piano Works By 7 American Women / Solomon
  • Boykan: Elegy, Epithalamion, String Quartet No 4
  • Tobias Picker: Violin Concerto, When Soft Voices Die, Etc
  • Glanville-Hicks: Nausicaa Scenes / Surinach, Teresa Stratas
  • Gideon: Sonnets, Wing'd Hour, Etc / Degaetani, Et Al
  • Eleanor Cory: Of Mere Being
  • American Masters - Ursula Mamlock / Parnassus, Sollberger

So far, I've heard Silver's Piano Concerto (liked very much); Boykan (need to hear again; it's what unnamed people would very likely call "uptown" or "academic"); Glanville-Hicks (liked very much).

Cautionary Tale

In 2001, I went to Seattle for the Ring, and I got to see somewhat more than 3/4 of it: I missed the first two acts of Goetterdaemmerung while I kept my mother company in the emergency room. She'd take a spill and broken her wrist.

She's not the only person I know to have fallen and gotten hurt; I number among my friends several who've broken their wrists and two who've broken three elbows between them.

Falls are a major cause of serious injury and death. Dame Eva Turner died three months after breaking her hip in a fall. This pattern is not uncommon among older people, where a broken hip often results in a very long recovery during which pneumonia develops and death follows.

After my mother's accident, I started teaching a class in safe rolling and falling for people who don't want to spend an extended period of time taking a martial arts class to learn how to roll and fall. I encourage anyone who's able to try to learn this skill, which could save you a lot of pain and suffering, at the earliest possible age.

This could also keep you from winding up in the position violinist David Garrett now finds himself in. A couple of days ago In December, 2007, he slipped and fell following a concert. He's fine, but he landed on his violin case, destroying damaging his 1718 (or maybe it's 1710) Strad.

Update, Feb. 14: BBC News has a more accurate account of what happened to David Garrett and the San Lorenzo Strad. The accompanying article on repairing violins discusses the damage to the instrument. It is cracked, and clearly the damage is serious, but the Independent report I linked to above makes it sound as though the instrument was crushed flat.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reviewing the Emerson Quartet

White-Hot, and New, SFCV, Feb. 12, 2008.

Perhaps Mr. Gockley Could Dust This One Off.

In the big CRI sale at ArkivMusic, I picked up a recording of scenes from Peggy Glanville-Hicks's opera Nausicaa. The singing is mostly good, sometimes great - well, that's the very young Teresa Stratas in the title role, you see. I love the music, which is extremely grand, very effective, and in quite an individual style.

In the liner notes is the tidbit that in the early 1950s, San Francisco Opera and the Ford Foundation commissioned an opera from Glanville-Hicks, with a libretto by Lawrence Durrell. Intended as vehicle for Maria Callas, Sappho has never been performed.

When in the Twin Cities... can hear the excellent St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which just announced its 50th anniversary season. It's a humdinger, and will include a chamber orchestra festival in which SPCO will be joined by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the London Sinfonietta, and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

The SPCO has commissioned some new pieces, by Maria Schneider, Steven Stucky, and Chen Yi; other new works by Heiner Goebbels and Peteris Vasks will be heard, as well as Thomas Ades's violin concert, Concentric Circles, a great piece.

Read about the season here (you'll have to dig a bit).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Piece I'd Like to Hear Live

Magnus Lindberg's wonderful Clarinet Concerto, a crazy, playful tour-de-force.

And with Carey Bell playing principal clarinet at San Francisco Symphony, why not?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

More Liderman

More news:
  • Michael Zwiebach wrote an informative and moving obit for San Francisco Classical Voice.
  • Joshua Kosman's review of Monday's SFCMP concert, with the Liderman premiere.

Once More into the Breach

At the end of an article about how much performers move around when they're playing, Bernard Holland asks:
At the end of the day, whom do we take more seriously, Rubinstein or Lang Lang?
To which I answer:
Ask me when Lang Lang turns 75.
Then there's this:

The television program I happened to come across was produced by or for (probably both) a major American piano competition, and the young people I saw on it were part of that process. The program also offered commentary by an eminent conductor talking about the differences between Apollonian and Dionysian approaches to art. The Apollonian refers (and I paraphrase) to symmetry, invention and elegance; the Dionysian, to art more from the gut, more spontaneous.

More personal too. Dionysus had the stage when I was watching: two ambitious young people were taking part in a system that asks them to use Beethoven and Schumann as ways to sell themselves. Maybe our eminent conductor could have added another distinction to his two-sided debate: that Dionysian pianists care about Dionysian pianists, whereas Apollonian pianists care about music.

So, is this a veiled assertion that, for example, Leonard Bernstein didn't care about music?

[Thanks to rootlesscosmo for calling out this bit of Hollandish nonsense.]

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Andrew Rangell in the Times

At the Reactions to the Record symposium at Stanford last year, I attended a talk and a performance by the pianist Andrew Rangell. He is an interesting guy and had a lot to say about his path into music and his career; both his playing style and his take on standard works are extremely individual. He played a Schoenberg suite and a Bach suite simultaneously - not really, but he interleaved the movements. He said he'd never do that in a "real" concert, and afterward everyone wanted to know why, because it was an extremely successful experiment. The two works spoke to and illuminated each other, unlike way too many pairings of older and newer music.

In any event, Vivien Schweitzer reviewed a CD of his in the Times this week. Read the review, and buy that CD - and maybe some of his Beethoven, or A Bridge to Bach, which I like very much. He records for Bridge Records, a small label with a great catalog of current and historical recordings.

Vladimir Ashkenazy Conducts the San Francisco Symphony

Warhorses at a Trot, February 5, 2008.

And for comparison:

I agree with them both that Ehnes needed more fire, but in the face of the middling everything coming from the podium, I'm not sure we would have been able to tell.

More on Jorge Liderman

Joshua Kosman reports in the Chron.

Monday, February 04, 2008

San Francisco Opera Season Announcement

[I'm posting this rather belatedly, yes.]

San Francisco Opera had a press conference this morning to announce the 2008-09 season, and here's what it looks like, briefly:
  • Simon Boccanegra; Runnicles/Hvorostavsky, Frittoli, Kowaljow, Haddock
  • The Bonesetter's Daughter (Wallace); Sloane/Cao, Liang, Yi
  • Die Tote Stadt; Runnicles/Kerl, Magee, Meacham
  • Idomeneo; Runnicles/Streit, Coote, Tamar
  • Boris Godunov; Sinaisky/Ramey, Kowaljow, Grivnov, Ognovenko
  • L'Elisir d'Amore; Campanella/Vargas, Mula, Corbelli
  • La Boheme; Luisotti/Gheorghiu, Beczala, Viviani, Ansellem
  • Three Decembers (Heggie); Summers/von Stade, Phares, Kristin Clayton
  • Tosca; Armiliato/Pieczonka, Aronica, Ataneli
  • The Gershwins Porgy & Bess; DeMain/cast not announced
  • La Traviata; Runnicles/Netrebko, Castronovo, Croft
I am sort of depressed by this: Despite the three operas I've never seen (yay!), the two commissions, and the great and underperformed Simon Boccanegra and Idomeneo, it's an unimaginative and middle-of-the-road season.

Commissions are great, in principle, but I don't have much hope for either of the new works, based on what I remember - or don't - of Harvey Milk and Dead Man Walking, CNN operas to the core. I expect that at best they'll be inoffensive and forgettable, both of which are offensive to me. I'm not a Gershwin fan, so while it'll be interesting to see Porgy, it's not my first choice of 20th c. American operas for SF to stage. I mean, I can't be the only person faintly embarrassed by the dialect.

Beyond the commissions, Boris, Die tote Stadt, Boccanegra, and Idomeneo, in fact, who cares? Two Puccinis, Traviata, and Elisir? Yes, with good casts, but....

[I predicted to a friend after I saw the announcement that he'd be missing Pamela Rosenberg within two years, if Gockley's programming continues to play it this safe. He gave me a lecture about the financial health of the company. Well, even newbies and the conservative get tired of Puccini and, one hopes, Donizetti. Bring back the Berlioz and Janacek, please. Please? Patrick Vaz at The Reverberate Hills agrees with me, with much greater eloquence.]

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Jorge Liderman

Shocking and very sad news: composer and Berkeley music professor Jorge Liderman died Sunday morning after being struck by a BART train at El Cerrito station. The only witness was the train's operator, who reported that he saw Liderman jump off the platform. The Chron report, by Joshua Kosman, is here; Liderman's personal Web site is here.

Liderman was just 50 and had been feted in a recent Cal Performances concert to celebrate his reaching that birthday; read Jason Victor Sirenus's review here.

A new work by him is on the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players concert Monday night, Feb. 4, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. I have the concert on my calendar and had been thinking of attending; works by Feldman and Mackey are also on the program.

I have a CD of Liderman's "Aires de Sefarad," performed by Duo46; it's been sitting near my computer to be blogged for, well, months. I like the piece very much and had been hoping to hear some of his music in person.

Correction to the Record

Quite some time ago, I commented on Wellsung about a vividly-remember Opera News review by, I was convinced, Martin Bernheimer. More recently, I raised the topic of the same review on

Mr. Bernheimer emailed me to say he had written no such review, and repeated attempts to find it on the ON Web site haven't turned it up.

I remember the review quite well, including where it was located on the page, but apparently not the name of the author. I plan to find the damn review so I can attribute it correctly; apologies to Mr. Bernheimer for the misattribution.

Southbank Centre Does It Right

I am drooling right now over the Southbank Centre's months-long Messiaen festival, called "From the Canyons to the Stars," of which Pierre-Laurent Aimard is music director. Aimard himself plays on several concerts; there's lots of organ music; Esa-Pekka Salonen, George Benjamin, and Pierre Boulez, among others, conduct.