Friday, September 26, 2008


                          Music Club Concert

Overture to "Ferdinand Cortez"                       Anton Spontini
              David Urrows, Therese Provenzano, piano

Tides of Manuan
The Banshee
Aeolian Harp                                         Henry Cowell

The Darkened Valley                                  John Ireland
Irish Tune From County Derry                         Percy Grainger

Temps de Chiffon: 1. Greene Street Slow Drag
                  2. Waverly Stomp                   R. Albert Hall
               David Urrows, piano


In C                                                 Terry Reilly

The Spirit of Ink                                    Alan Hovhanness
        Apparition of the eternal one
        Salutation of dawn
        Tree of birds
        Apparition of a celestial city
        Strange birds
        Birds in a magic forest
             Lisa Hirsch, Michael Vogel, Lisa Braverman, flutes

Overture to "Tancredi"                               Rossini
              David Urrows, Therese Provenzano, piano

Slosberg Music Center Recital Hall            8:30   April 10, 1976

Free Oakland-East Bay Symphony Concert, Sunday, Sept. 28

Up in Joaquin Miller Park, in the Oakland Hills, there's an amphitheater that is used for a variety of purposes. This Sunday, September 18, there will be a free concert that includes the Oakland East Bay Symphony, led by its music director, Michael Morgan. 

The program runs from 2:30 to 6 p.m.:

2:30 p.m. Strings of Soul Youth Violinists
3:00 p.m. SONG: Strings of a Nubian Groove (jazz played by a harp, violin, and viola trio)
4:00 p.m. Oakland East Bay Symphony, playing Offenbach and Elgar.

Woodminster Amphitheater
Joaquin Miller Park

For full details, see Oakland city council member Jean Quan's web site.

New Music and Net Neutrality

Technology makes interesting bedfellows, and the headline above twists my brain just a bit. But Sidney Chen, artistic administrator of the Kronos Quartet, singer, and blogger, has quite a bit to say about why net neutrality is important to the future of new music. He talks about net neutrality in a podcast at the Future of Music Coalition's blog.

I support net neutrality. I hope you will listen to Sid's podcast - and check out the web site of the Future of Music Coalition. They're a great organization doing important work for musicians and music of all kinds.

(Disclaimer: my opinions are mine and mine alone and do not in any way represent those of my employer, which also has a stance on net neutrality.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Whoa, and Congratulations!

Not only is Alex Ross about to celebrate the paperback publication of The Rest is Noise, apparently he has recently gotten a call from the MacArthur Foundation!! Congratulations!!

Update, 1:15 p.m.: The new recipient talks about his plans, which include starting a new book next year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Trojan Wars

Over the last decade, I've toyed off and on with the idea of a themed opera season. I've seen some half-hearted attempts at this; for example, San Francisco Opera usually finds some kind of overarching tag line for its summer season. Those have seemed strained to me, though I suppose the 1998 season of Poppea, Lulu, and Carmen was aply characterized as "Femmes Fatales." Beyond the prima donna roles, though, it's hard to figure out what those operas might have in common.

I'd like to propose a Trojan Wars season, to be staged by a major opera company with a big budget and access to more than one performing space. My candidate operas:
  • Dido & Aenaes, Purcell
  • Les Troyens, Berlioz
  • Elektra, Strauss
  • Idomeneo, Mozart
  • Die aegyptische Helena, Strauss
  • King Priam, Tippett
  • Troilus and Cressida, Walton
  • One of the Iphigenia operas - Iphigenie en Tauride or Iphigenie en Aulis
  • Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, Monteverdi
  • Penelope, Faure
I've seen Elektra, Idomeneo, Iphigenie en Tauride, and, probably the greatest rarity I've seen live, Penelope. I'd want the 17th and 18th c. works done in a small theater, holding 800 to 1100, the big-gun works done in larger houses.

There must be other worthwhile Trojan Wars operas. And I have a couple of other seasonal themes in mind to blog.

Remember Him?

Alberto Vilar, investor and one-time heavy-hitting arts donor, goes on trial this week. The Times story details the charges; to the extent that he admits anything, he says the problems were "regulatory." We'll see how the trial turns out.

Update: I corrected the link and spelling of Vilar's name around 2:15 p.m. on Monday.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Farewell to The House that Ruth Built
I last saw a game there in the early 1970s, when it was  a fearsome  460 feet to center field (though not quite as fearsome as the original 490 feet). I have not been back since the mid-70s renovation.

Signs of the Apocalypse

Paul Krugman and William Kristol both have doubts about the proposed bailout.
Hint: the guy with the doctorate in economics has more cogent doubts.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

As If You Need More Reasons to Vote Obama

Frank Rich's column tomorrow is a winner, including such gems as this:
For better or worse, the candidacy of Barack Obama, a senator-come-lately, must be evaluated on his judgment, ideas and potential to lead. McCain, by contrast, has been chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, where heclaims to have overseen “every part of our economy.” He didn’t, thank heavens, but he does have a long and relevant economic record that begins with the Keating Five scandal of 1989 and extends to this campaign, where his fiscal policies bear the fingerprints of Phil Gramm and Carly Fiorina. It’s not the résumé that a presidential candidate wants to advertise as America faces its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. That’s why the main thrust of the McCain campaign has been to cover up his history of economic malpractice.

A Useful Summary

I often disagree with the wiseasses at the Freaknomics blog, but after admitting that the current financial crisis is outside his area of expertise ("As an economist, I am supposed to have something intelligent to say about the current financial crisis. To be honest, however, I haven’t got the foggiest idea what this all means."), Steven Levitt called in a couple of experts to comment. They are Douglas Diamond and Anil Kashyap, and they are quite lucid. However, I note that the link is to a September 18 posting, which is before the Fed suggested the (urk) $700 billion bailout. They're commenting primarily about Lehman and AIG.

I've learned some things from their comments. For one thing, the Fed has an option to buy up to 80% of AIG. That's quite different from buying 80% of AIG outright. The bit about the difference between what Fannie and Freddie were supposed to and what they did supports claims of corruption; F & F were intended to use their government-backed status and funding to make mortgages less costly to homeowners, but instead they made huge profits. They were supposed to stick with smaller (conforming) loans with strong underwriting standards and did not.

Government Intervention

So, the Bush administration's failure to pay attention and regulate the mortgage business to keep risk levels reasonable means that the taxpayers are now on the hook for the $85 billion buyout of AIG and for bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Now the Fed is asking for $700 billion - that is not a typo - to buy bad mortgages. This is the cost of not regulating. Isn't it amazing how quickly even Republicans think government is the solution, not the problem, when the economy and the financial health of the nation is on the line? Why didn't they figure this out a few years ago, when this mess could have been prevented?

And keep repeating to yourself: privatize profit (and don't tax it sufficiently), socialize losses.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Can You Believe This One?

Tireless defender of the Bush Administration David Brooks has a column today that not only says McCain's running mate is not qualified for high office, but the last eight years are an example of why:
In the current Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward argues that the nation’s founders wanted uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land. They did not believe in a separate class of professional executives. They wanted rough and rooted people like Palin.

I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice.

And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.
A little late to the party, David. Most of us noticed his ineptitude and lack of prudence years ago.

Monday, September 15, 2008

No Link

Jonathan Bellman has a thoughtful posting up, responding to an emailed link that I also received. I couldn't have said it better.
There's always been plenty of appreciation for glamour in the classical world - as this collector of opera photos can attest - but the Myra Hesses of the world, profound but unglamorous musicians, have more than earned their place on stage.

The Current Financial Mess

If you're wondering how we got into the current mess, start with Paul Krugman's book-tour talk at Google last December. He decided against talking about the book - The Conscience of a Liberal - and instead discussed the subprime mortgage crisis. It's a complicated issue, but he is extremely lucid. (That's Google Chief Economist Hal Varian introducing him, by the way.)
Go on to the Times after that for more about how Lehman Bros. went under, Merrill Lynch sold itself, and AIG...well, we'll see about AIG, won't we. Right now, they're hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

Compare and Contrast 11

I skipped out on the premier of The Bonesetter's Daughter this past Saturday - I'll catch it at a later date - but here's a roundup of reviews:
  • Janos Gereben in SFCV; he is skeptical about the music (not a direct link because the permanent link won't exist until tomorrow)
  • Joshua Kosman is enthused in the Chronicle.
  • Anthony Tommasini has mixed feelings in the Times
  • Opera Tattler finds the characters caricatures and the production "overwrought," with the music unfocussed and too much in the background.
  • Richard Scheinen thinks there's something missing, in the Mercury News
  • Perhaps it's melody, Scheinen speculates. But Marin Alsop, whom he quotes at the end of the article, got it right.
  • Mark Swed in the LA Times calls the score "exotic ear candy" but mostly seems to approve
  • The Standing Room makes fun of it all
  • Civic Center minces no words; "Why does Stewart Wallace continue to get opera commissions?" (Considering how much I remember of Harvey Milk - Jill Grove in the black leather jacket - I was wondering just that myself.)
  • And see The Standing Room's delicious links and commentary
  • Alan Rich says it "must be considered a noble yet abject failure, rarely worthy of its evocative words"
  • Patrick Vaz has more to say about the drama and plotting than any other reviewer; I can't readily summarize except to say that it's mostly negative.
  • Richard Bammer, from the Vacaville Reporter, weighs in.
  • Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal loved it. I'll never trust her judgment again.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Composers, Inc. Correction

Some time ago, I blogged about Composers, Inc. and their upcoming season. I based my posting on an item in SFCV's Music News column, and picked up a mistake based on a misreading of a press release from Composers, Inc. 

Here's the correct information about the upcoming season:

Composers, Inc. has commissioned new works by California composers Ann Callaway, Edmund Campion, Matthew Cmiel, Cindy Cox, Donald Crockett, Richard Felciano, and Derek Jacoby. In addition, they'll perform two works by winners of the Lee Ettelson Composer's Award, Sean Friar (Hell Bent, for piano trio) and Clint Needham (Five Pieces for Woodwind Quintet). Lastly, there will be new works by five directors of the organization, Robert Greenberg, Frank La Rocca, Jeffrey Miller, Martin Rokeach, and Allen Shearer.

My apologies to Composers, Inc., for the major error I made in spelling out what the new works are and which were commissions. They've got an exciting season coming up and I hope all of their performances will be well attended.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Relevant to a Different Season

Stories you might want to read:


Nimble Tread calls attention to the riches of the new Wigmore Hall season; I took a look and the concerts labeled "Stephen Kovacevich Residency" next month tempt me to take a short vacation, especially this one. Well, the other two are nothing to sneeze at. I have long wanted to hear the pianist live in Bartok, after all.

In November, Christa Ludwig gives a series of master classes, and the Emerson Quartet appears with cellist Ralph Kirschenbaum. You know what that means. The Pacifica Quartet has a couple of tasty programs a week or so before they bring the complete Carter quartets to my neighborhood.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not Soon Enough

Gerard Schwarz will "step down" from his position as music director of the Seattle Symphony - but only at the end of the 2010-11 season. He then assumes the lifetime title of Conductor Laureate and will direct the symphony for "several weeks each year."
What a shame. I had hopes that the Board of Directors would act like directors and let him go a bit sooner. Seriously, folks, pay him his full salary for the next three years and shoo him out the door now.

The announcement isn't up on the Seattle Symphony's web site yet - you can find it at Kirshbaum & Demler, a publicity firm. This is a particularly juicy bit:
Schwarz’s history, success and contribution to the life of symphonic music throughout the world, means we must work very hard together to find an individual with the same commitment who will continue to lead the Seattle Symphony in the manner to which it has grown accustomed,” commented Executive Director Thomas Philion as he and Board Chair Susan Hutchison joined Schwarz for the announcement.   “But, happily, we have three concert seasons to celebrate the many contributions Gerard Schwarz has made and will continue to make to this institution, as we look ahead with great excitement to what the future holds for the Seattle Symphony.

"Continue to lead the Seattle Symphony in the manner to which is has grown accustomed," right. I'm sure they want another conductor who brings in the lawsuits and fosters continued artistic mediocrity, who inspires votes of 61 to 8 in favor of new artistic leadership. (See a previous blog posting and the Times article it was based on for details.)

Any ambitious conductor want to take over the most demoralized major orchestra in the country? I bet there are many of you out there who are more interesting conductors than Schwarz and who treat their players with an appropriate level of professional respect.

Update: Dan Wakin reports. He fits in plenty of references to the article he co-authored last year. I like this quotation:
Mr. Schwarz and orchestra officials asserted that the criticism played no part in his decision.
“There are those musicians who dislike their leader in any orchestra in the world,” Mr. Schwarz said. “That’s just the way it is.” He acknowledged that it was natural that some members would be happy with his departure.
Yes, probably about 87% of the players will be happy, based on last year's numbers.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fly on the Wall

Tim Mangan on The Fly:
In the second act the audience was laughing at "The Fly," and there weren't any jokes, just a lot of simulated sex (I guess flies are insatiable) and bad dialogue. 
So much for that planned trip to LA.

By the Sea

Reviewing Simon Boccanegra, San Francisco Opera, September 5, 2008.

The Famous Norrington Elgar

A few weeks ago, you could find lots of blogospheric discussion of Roger Norrington's promise/threat to play Elgar without vibrato on the last Proms concert.

You can catch this program directly on the BBC, via Internet radio, and I now have a notice from American Public Media about a broadcast on  Saturday, September 13, 2008, at 2 p.m. CT, 3 p.m. ET (presumably noon PT). It'll be on SymphonyCast; check your local listings, etc.

Monday, September 08, 2008

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Simone?

That's what Joshua Kosman asks in his review of last Friday's San Francisco Opera opening. My review is posted at San Francisco Classical Voice. (I'll post the final URL tomorrow afternoon.) We're mostly in agreement, though I am meaner than he is about a few things. Civic Center has opening-night photos and opinions as well.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Cost of Not Regulating

Conservatives like to tell you that they're against government regulation because of the cost to business of bringing their operations into conformity with the law. What they don't tell you is the tremendous cost of not regulating, which so often is passed on to the taxpayers, that is, you and me:
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac need a bailout, owing to poor oversight of the mortgage markets over a period of years.
  • It's likely to be the biggest government bailout ever. You and I are paying for it.
  • By the way, Fannie and Freddie have less capital than they have been claiming, auditors have found.
  • The federal government was warned repeatedly subprime lending was going to cause huge problems. These warnings were ignored, because conservatives believe the market can solve all problems, and because the lenders who made money hand over fist during the housing bubble somehow thought the rules of lending had changed, and you could spread out risk by securitizing and repackaging mortgages. 
  • Guess what? Good underwriting and lending only to creditworthy people who understand what they're getting into works a lot better than securitizing mortgages.
  • Millions of people who would have been better off renting are in foreclosure because of underregulated subprime lending and the misrepresentations of lenders.  
Better consumer protection laws and stricter regulation of lending could have prevented this debacle. Did I mention that we will be paying for this? It's the conservative way: privatize profits and socialize losses. Or, putting it another way, the cost of not regulating.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Mark Adamo on the Web

The composer Mark Adamo (Little Women, Lysistrata) has a new web site

David Gockley commissioned Little Women and Lysistrata. Perhaps he'll bring one of them to San Francisco, or commission a new opera.

Opera in the Park

San Francisco Opera's annual Opera in the Park event is tomorrow, September 7, 2008. It's at Golden Gate Park's Sharon Meadow at 1:30 p.m. Appearing in the performance, besides Donald Runnicles and the Opera Orchestra, are Daniela Mack, Tamara Wapinsky, Lucas Meacham, Emily Magee, Torsten Kerl (providing a preview of Die tote Stadt) Vitalij Kowaljow, Heidi Melton (singing the Oberon aria!), Marcus Haddock, and Alek Shrader. 

Friday, September 05, 2008

More on Simon

So, we're supposed to believe that Amelia Grimaldi has been living in the Grimaldi Palace for nearly 25 years, and in that time Andrea Grimaldi has never seen the locket containing the portrait of Amelia's mother, nor has Amelia ever recounted her story within his hearing, which would, of course, match the story Andrea heard from Simon at the end of the Prologue.

Okay, whatever. I really should get my hands on the original play, if it's ever been translated into English.

A couple of postings back, I said you should try to learn something about the Guelfs and Ghibellines. I surrender on that. I did the research myself and read through the libretto a couple of times, at which point I realized that there is an allusion to "Guelfi" all of once.

You do need to know who hates who and why, though.
  • The patricians hate Simon because the plebeians put him in office, and for 25 years he has been a ruthless ruler.
  • Fiesco hates Simon because of Simon's involvement with his daughter Maria, which resulted in the birth of Amelia, and because Simon becomes Doge rather than Lorenzino, an ally of the Fieschi.
  • Adorno hates Simon because Simon killed his father. He switches sides when he finds out Simon is Amelia's father, after nearly killing Simon twice (once in the Council Chamber scene, thinking Simon arranged Amelia's kidnapping, and once in Simon's apartments that night).
  • Amelia hates Simon because he exiled her brothers.
  • Lorenzino hates Simon because the plebians elected Simon Doge.
  • Paolo hates Simon because Simon has denied him the hand of Amelia in marriage, after first agreeing to the marriage. This is after they've been allies for 25 years.
You also need to remember that Maria is the name of Fiesco's daughter, who is also Simon's lover. Maria and Simon's daughter is also named Maria, but she's known as Amelia Grimaldi. Fiesco, Amelia's grandfather - but they don't know that - is known for most of the opera as Andrea Grimaldi.

Sorry! I love this opera, but there are good reasons it's considered murky and confusing.


So, the Republican presidential ticket plans to run against Washington, as outsiders. What gall they have, considering that John McCain has been a Washington insider - a member of Congress - for 26 years.

They are also ranting about how Washington is broken. What gall, considering that the Republicans have had a lock on the federal government for most of the last eight years. What gall, considering the role of lobbyists and other big money in McCain's campaign and the Republican convention.

I'll own that Sarah Palin, his book-banning, creationism-teaching, abortion-rights-opposing, wolf-hunting, ANWR-drilling-supporting, safety-officer-firing running mate, former mayor of a town a third the size of the company I work for, governor of a state with a smaller population than the City and County of San Francisco, is, indeed, not a Washington insider.

But, speaking of hypocrisy, you need to see what various Republican pundits have had to say about certain issues, like experience, that have been raised in this campaign.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Required Reading

I'm reviewing San Francisco Opera's opening-night production of Simon Boccanegra, and so I am carrying around with me the libretto and the correct volume of Julian Budden's The Operas of Verdi. I highly recommend the essay on Boccanegra. Not only does Budden discuss the differences between the 1857 and 1881 versions, with copious musical examples and commentary on Verdi and Boito's changes, he writes about the source play - which was written by the same author who wrote El Troubador.

Boccanegra's plot has a mostly-deserved reputation for gloom and murk, and much of the murk stems from plots details in the play that Piave and Boito left out, changed, or obscured. Read Budden for some clarity.

And do yourself a favor and look up the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The plot makes no sense whatsoever unless you know something about early Renaissance Italian political factions.

Lastly, the 1857 version is well worth hearing. There's this expensive commercial recording; in the early 80s, there was a live performance floating around as well.

Private to Dorothy Dunnett fans: Yes, Gabriele Adorno is from the same family that plays a part in the Niccolo books.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Conservative Family Values

Sex education is abstinence-only, and you don't teach them about birth control.

Presumably this explains why Alaska Gov./Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter Bristol, is reported today to be five months pregnant, and planning to marry the father.

The McCain campaign says they knew this when Palin was nominated. Really?