Saturday, December 26, 2009

San Francisco Opera Broadcasts, Early 2010

Here's what KDFC is playing, one Sunday evening a month, mostly from San Francisco Opera's Fall 2009 season:

Sunday, January 3 at 8 p.m. – Verdi’s Il Trovatore

Nicola Luisotti makes his debut as San Francisco Opera’s music director with Verdi’s suspenseful tale of a corrupt count, a dashing warrior and a Gypsy who plots to avenge her mother's wrongful death. The illustrious cast features soprano Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora), mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (Azucena), tenor Marco Berti (Manrico) and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Count di Luna), with bass Burak Bilgili (Ferrando) and mezzo-soprano Renée Tatum (Inez). Walter Sutcliffe, director. [Fall 2009; I was less thrilled with this than most people were, but S. Rad. is worth the price of admission.]

Sunday, February 7 at 8 p.m. – Puccini’s Il Trittico

A triptych that runs the gamut from heart-wrenching tragedy to sparkling comedy, audiences have the rare opportunity to enjoy Il Trittico in its entirety, the way its creator intended. Soprano Patricia Racette portrays the heroine in each of Il Trittico’s three one-act operas—Giorgetta (Il Tabarro), Sister Angelica (Suor Angelica) and Lauretta (Gianni Schicchi)—joined by baritone Paolo Gavanelli (Michele/Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi), tenor Brandon Jovanovich (Luigi/Il Tabarro) and contralto Ewa Podleś (The Princess/Suor Angelica). The cast also features mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook and bass Andrea Silvestrelli. San Francisco Opera Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers, conductor; James Robinson, director. [Fall 2009. Racette, Gavanelli, and Podleś were all spectacular, with great performances also from Andrea Silvestrelli, Meredith Arwady, Brandon Jovanovich, and David Lomeli.]

Sunday, March 7 at 8 p.m. – Listener’s Choice

Listeners vote on their favorite opera from the preceding year. The opera receiving the most votes will be rebroadcast on March 7. For more information, visit

Sunday, April 4 at 8 p.m. – Verdi’s Requiem

KDFC broadcasts this special gala performance of Verdi’s choral masterwork celebrating former San Francisco Opera Music Director Donald Runnicles, who concluded his remarkable 17-year tenure at the close of the 2008-09 Season. Maestro Runnicles leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus, with soprano Heidi Melton, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Stefano Secco and bass Andrea Silvestrelli. [Spring 2009. This started out as a train wreck, improved a lot!]

Sunday, May 2 at 8 p.m. – Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio

A Spanish nobleman sets out to rescue his beloved from the clutches of a tenacious Turk in this witty tale set to Mozart’s exuberant score. Soprano Mary Dunleavy (Constanze) and tenor Matthew Polenzani (Belmonte) head an exceptional cast featuring soprano Anna Christy (Blonde), bass Peter Rose (Osmin) and tenor Andrew Bidlack (Pedrillo). The performances feature the United States operatic debut of German conductor Cornelius Meister. Chas-Rader Sheiber, director. [Fall 2009; Fantastic conducting from Meister, great performances from Polenzani, Christy, Rose, and Bidlack. Dunleavy, why??]

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Power Couple, Hoisted from the Comments

A real Metropolitan power couple, from the distant past: Giulio Gatti-Casazza, General Manager of the Met from 1908 until 1935, and soprano Frances Alda.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Power Couple?

Anthony Tommasini had an article in the Times a couple of weeks back about Heidi Grant Murphy and Kevin Murphy, billing them a classical world "power couple." I was mildly flabbergasted.

While K. Murphy's new gig, director of music administration at NYCO, is, in fact, an important spot, H.G. Murphy's career isn't exactly huge. Tommasini cited her recent Met appearance as Sister Genovieffa in Suor Angelica, terming the character innocent and dreamy. Honestly, if you've seen Suor recently, can you tell the nuns apart?? Aside from Angelica, the monitor, and the Abbess, I mean?*

You can take a look at her career in the Met archive to get some perspective; there've been a lot more Barbarinas and Gianettas (Elisir) than Sophies and Nanettas. You can't make a case for her being what I'd call an important Met artist, though she has certainly been a consistent and valuable singer there for the last 20 years. If you're looking for career comparisons, bearing in mind that Grant Murphy is singing a lighter repertory, see Patricia Racette, who is a year or so older than Grant Murphy, but who graduated immediately from the Voice of the Falcon in Frau and the Priestess in Aida to leading roles.

Tommasini also runs off the rails when he says that Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland were a powerhouse team who "kept their married life private." Richard Bonynge's career got an immense boost from the fact that you could hardly hire Sutherland to sing without also hiring him to conduct. The one time I heard him, in a late 1990s Lucia at San Francisco, he struck me as an extremely competent, but not very interesting, conductor. I doubt he would be as prominent as he has been if he'd been married to, say, Mary Curtis-Verna.

So, while I enjoyed the Murphy family article a great deal - there are plenty of interesting insights into what it takes to have a musical career, let alone two musical careers in one family - I don't think Tommasini proved that they're a "power couple."

* I confess. Genovieffa has some real music; she gets the leading vocal part when they're discussing the beam of sunshine on the fountain. Still. It's one of those roles that nearly any lyric soprano can sing effectively. At San Francisco, Rebekah Camm sang the part. And did you ever judge a performance of Suor on the basis the singers other than the Angelica and Zia Principessa?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Seventh Avenue Performances

I try not to just copy and paste press releases into the blog, but I just received the 2010 Seventh Avenue Performances (San Francisco) release, and I think you ought to 1) read it in full 2) go to these fabulously programmed and incredibly inexpensive concerts. I've plugged the SFRV concerts already, and again I see: go see them!

Seventh Avenue Presbyterian is a comfortable venue, intimate enough and spacious enough, and easy to get to by public transit. Parking in the neighborhood is not so much fun.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Seventh Avenue Performances (San Francisco) announces 2010 Season
For more information contact: J. Jeff Badger, Managing Director at the above EMail address or 415.664.2543 x3

Seventh Avenue Performances ( is pleased to announce its 2010 season that once again presents a variety of performances at reasonable prices (general admission $20, student/senior $15) in San Francisco's Inner Sunset neighborhood; all performances are at Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1329 Seventh Avenue in San Francisco. Our new season features opera, classical and world music, and we are pleased to once again be the San Francisco venue for our Artists-in-Residence, San Francisco Renaissance Voices ( The 2010 season includes:

Saturday, January 17, 7:30 pm – "Castles and Countrysides" - Season Opener with Brocelïande

We had such fun when Brocelïande made their Seventh Avenue debut on our 2009 Season that we decided to have them back to provide a celebratory start to 2010 with an inviting program of Celtic traditional and Early Music to welcome in the New Year! Included are Scottish songs by Robert Burns, Irish songs and dances, French traditional music, and songs of Tolkien. Featuring stellar vocal and instrumental harmonies, their entrancing sound is built on the interweaving of up to 3-part vocals with the lyrical music of the Celtic harp, octave mandolin, cello, 12-string guitar, recorders, whistle, and percussion. Brocelïande is Margaret Davis, Kristoph Klover, and Kris Yenney.

Saturday, February 6, 7:30 pm – The Music of Benjamin Britten

San Francisco Opera Chorus tenor Colby Roberts is joined by Kevin Rivard, horn; Dawn Harms, concertmaster and Maestro Matthias Kuntzsch, conductor and piano, to perform the music of Benjamin Britten featuring Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horns and Strings. The program will also include Britten's Les Illuminations, Sonnets of Michelangelo and Winter Words.

Saturday, March 6, 7:30 pm – Songs of War and Peace
Our Artists-in-Residence, San Francisco Renaissance Voices (Todd Jolly, Music Director), perform the first concert of their new season, "Music in Time of War," with music from the Renaissance and early Baroque featuring Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Missa pro Victoria (based on Janequin’s Le Guerre) as well as Dufay’s Lamentio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae, Gallus’ Les Heroes, Te Deums from the Franco-Flemish Renaissance, and troubador songs from the Crusades.

Saturday, April 17, 7:30 pm – Ya Elah Women’s Ensemble (Bon Singer, director)
Ya Elah sparkles with the influence of Bulgarian village songs, Sephardic and Middle Eastern melodies. The musicians have backgrounds in cantorial, folk, jazz, ethnic and classical styles. Composer, arranger, and singer with Kitka for 14 years, Artistic Director Bon Singer is recognized as one of the premier directors of Bulgarian choral music in the United States.

Saturday, May 15, 7:30 pm – The Armed Man
The Renaissance drinking song L’homme Arme’ (The Armed Man) has served as the basis for more masses than any other tune in history. This concert by San Francisco Renaissance Voices (Todd Jolly, Music Director) features both of Josquin des Prez’s versions his Missa L’homme armé sexti toni and his most famous version, Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales, a technical tour-de-force, containing numerous mensuration canons and contrapuntal display in which the L'homme armé tune is repeated for each movement on a consecutive step of the scale.

Saturday, June 26, 7:30 pm – Les Grâces Baroque Ensemble
Les Grâces performs the music of the 17th and 18th centuries with a focus on French music. The group features soprano Jennifer Paulino with Rebekah Ahrendt (viol), Annette Bauer (recorders) and Jonathan Rhodes Lee (harpsichord).

Saturday, July 31, 7:30 pm – The Armed Woman
San Francisco Renaissance Voices (Todd Jolly, Music Director) presents this concert dedicated to proving that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword and features music composed by women from the Medieval through Baroque periods. Featured is Isabella Leonarda’s (1620-1704) Magnificat, Opus 19 #10 with other music by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), Maria Xaveria Peruchona (1652-1709), Sister Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (c1602-1678), Maddelena Casulana (1544-1590), the courtesan Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677), the mysterious Antonia Bembo (1640-1720) and the child prodigy Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729).

Saturday, August 21, 7:30 pm – Of Heloise
Soprano Nancy Ogle (University of MN professor of Music, Surry Opera) and countertenor Justin Montigne (Chanticleer, Clerestory) offer the Bay Area its first listen to selections from an upcoming opera by Minnesota composer Jan Gilbert. Of Heloise recounts part of the epic love-lost story of Heloise and Abelard, whose letters, exchanged years after the end of their affair, bear testament to the passion they held for each other and to the deep intellectual and artistic bond they shared until death. Modern music on a medieval theme anchors this original and exciting program.

Saturday, September 18, 7:30 pm – Teslim
Teslim means both ‘commit’ and ‘surrender’ in Turkish and features two well known Bay Area musicians: violinist Kaila Flexer and Gari Hegedus on oud, Turkish saz, Greek lauoto and other (mostly plucked) stringed instruments. This potent duo performs Greek, Turkish and Sephardic music. In addition, both Flexer and Hegedus are composers whose original music is based on these fertile traditions

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I'm Afraid to Look...

...but on the other hand, according to the Times, the Democrats say they have the votes to pass health care reform. I'm really curious what they gave Ben Nelson (or threatened him with) and whether they persuaded Snowe or Collins to come on board.

Before you start protesting about the many, many problems, take a look at what Krugman has to say about it: he's not overjoyed, but if this doesn't pass, it'll be the 2020s before anything passes. Yep, we can continue to have 35 million people without health insurance (and thus without consistent and decent access to health care), or we can accept and build on the Rube Goldberg machine that is the current bill. So: Pass it!

(And we should think about some serious reform of the Senate. The U.S. Constitution does not require a supermajority to pass legislation, but between the ideological polarization of Congress, and especially the Senate, and rule changes over the last 40 years, there's a de facto requirement of 60 votes. Consider the history of California under our rule for a supermajority to pass budgets: do you want the whole country to look like my fine state?)

(And yes, I do think it stinks that, as usual, access to abortion is being further thrown under the train to pass this. What Ben Nelson got in addition to that is more federal money to expand Medicaid in Nebraska - that I like just fine.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

No Press Conference

Email to the press from Jon Finck, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at San Francisco Opera, telling us that there won't be a 2010-11 season-announcement press conference for the opera company in January, as in the past...well, ten or fifteen years. Instead, there will be a press release on January 19.

They are operating under significant budget constraints, with a season that will have a budget some $6 million under this past year's. That is something, considering that it includes three presentations of the Ring cycle in a new production. Jon Finck's email makes it clear that the opera will save some money by skipping the press conference.

The fact is, we already know about the Summer, 2011 season: it's three presentations of the Ring cycle. So all that needs to be announced is the remaining productions, for fall, 2010. In a good year, there would be seven operas, making a total of eleven for the season. But given the budgetary issues, I'm betting on six at the most and maybe even five. Opera Tattler has been following rumor, gossip, opera press releases, and singers' web sites carefully; see her San Francisco Opera future seasons page for the latest.

Chloe Veltman's VoiceBox

Journalist Chloe Veltman is about to launch a new public broadcasting radio show, called VoiceBox. VoiceBox will be devoted to the vocal arts in many musical genres and will be supported by a $25,000 grant from the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation. VoiceBox will be running on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco, and here's the schedule of the first few shows:

Why do we sing? – January 1, 2010 10pm, KALW, 91.7 FM
Do human beings have an innate ability to sing? When people say they can’t sing, should we believe them?

The inimitable Ella Fitzgerald – January 8, 2010 10pm KALW, 91.7 FM
America’s First Lady of Song changed the face of jazz vocals. VoiceBox explores the story behind the voice.

Hooray for Community Choruses, January 15, 2010 10pm KALW 91.7 FM
There are more than 500 choruses in the Bay Area and one in five Americans sings in a choir. Why are Americans so passionate about singing for pleasure? (I hope she's talking to Helene and Bill Whitson of the marvelous Choral Archive!)

Men with high voices, January 22, 2010 10pm KALW 91.7 FM
Once upon a time, countertenors wouldn’t go about publicizing the fact that they sang high. These days, male sopranos and altos are kings of the classical and pop worlds.

Mavens of Cabaret, January 29, 2010 10pm KALW, 91.7 FM
VoiceBox explores the vocal pyrotechnics of the smoothest cabaret artists from the Bay Area and beyond

Thursday, December 17, 2009


A friend of a friend asks the following:
Trying to find a video (perhaps in a arts channel archive) of
something that came out perhaps 20 years ago: A performance by a
Canadian orchestra (perhaps the Montreal Symphony, don't know for sure
though) of Rhapsody in Blue that was done in an unusual way, with
performers moving on stage around a pianist--like
an enactment of the music. This is all the info I have to go
by...don't know the title of the piece (other than rhapsody in blue)

I have done some checking on Amazon and the web with no success. Can anyone identify the production in question?

Mini-Festival of Contemporary Hungarian Music

Broadcast on Bartok Radio, starting at 19:35 Budapest time:

OperaCast has links to the radio stream:

Here's the program:

XXI. Mini Fesztivál 2009 - IV/2.rész
1. Lendvay Kamilló: Six B. to B.,
a) Sietős léptek,
b) Harangjáték, c)Tétova induló,
d) Dal,
e) Tűnődés,
af Hangyák háborúja (Kéry János),
2. Kurtág György: Szálkák Op. 6/d (Marczi Mariann),
3. Ligeti György
a) Fém - etüd No. 8. (Marczi Mariann),
b) A bűvészinas- etüd No. 10. (Lajkó István),
4. Bozay Attila: Bagatellek Op. 4. (Lajkó István),
5. Durkó Zsolt: A gömb története - részletek,
a) Napsütésben,
b) Csicsergés,
c) Landino-szext és Korál,
d) Vízcseppek,
e) Bartókos dallam,
af Adoniszi sor,
g) Precipitando e ritartando,
h) Vae victis (Lendvai Dalma),
6. Vajda János: Változatok zongorára (Taraszova Krisztina),
7. Dubrovay László: Öt zongoradarab (Holics László)
(Fesztivál Színház, január 24.)
(IV/3.rész : december 30. szerda, 19.30)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Music/Concert Meme

Drew tagged me, but I'm really out of it on this one. I usually keep away from holiday-themed concerts, unless they are serious music, like the Cal Bach Advent program I missed while sick the other week. In general, I never want to hear any standard Christmas carols again. I have skipped anything to do with Messiah for about twenty years, which means I am ready to sing or hear it again.

As for recordings, Christmas from a Golden Age, a Romophone record now reissued on Naxos (I think), the Leontyne Price Christmas album, and sundry medieval sets. That's it for me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Il Trittico Broadcast

An early start: Il Tabarro is on right now. Want more Patricia Racette? Want to hear Stephanie Blythe as Frugola, Zia Principessa, and Zita? Tune in; if your local radio station doesn't carry the broadcasts (sigh), do what I do and go to OperaCast's Met Broadcasts page. I'm listening to a high-quality stream from KUAT in Tucson, AZ.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dear U.K. Bloggers:

So who is blogging about concert/notational/classical music in, say, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, and Wales? Or in the academic centers of Oxford and Cambridge? I know for a fact that there's plenty of musical life outside London.


Best wishes to the great Elliott Carter, who turns 101 today. Looking forward to hearing the compositions of his 102nd year on the planet.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

School that Beat the Odds? Nope.

Despite the claims of conservatives and the Heritage Foundation, it turns out there's no such thing as schools that beat the odds: that is, that have high-poverty kids with behavioral issues, and yet the schools manage to have high test scores. Read this extremely important Crooked Timber article about how the figures get massaged to sort of look as though such schools exist, and why they really don't.

A Reason to be Grateful for David Gockley

That opera company to the south of us, the one under the direction of a famous tenor who might not be giving the company 100% of his highly divided attention while he's busily singing, conducting, and running two companies that are 2,500 miles apart? They've just gotten a $14 million dollar loan from Los Angeles County, which will enable them to pay bills through the middle of next year.

The county supes are naturally a little concerned about the last-minute nature of the loan. The authors of the Culture Monster blog posting, Mike Boehm and Garrett Therolf, note that L.A. Opera's most recent tax return, for the year ending June 30, 2008 (that's 18 months ago), showed serious signs of distress: the company's board of directors provided more than $19 million in interest-free loans, of which $5 million has been forgiven, and ticket sales of $18.2 million covered way less than 50% of the annual budget of $55.6 million.

Even if you wish his programming were less middle-of-the-road, it's almost impossible to imagine the fiscally-conservative Gockley letting San Francisco Opera get into this kind of difficulty. Thank goodness.

Update: Mark Swed discusses the future of the Ring cycle and the opera here, not saying much about how this mess happened.

Further Update: Brian at Out West Arts has interesting comments about the loan.

More Updates: Reportage by Boehm and Theolf here. Short article by Dan Wakin in the Times here. The head-banging line from the LA Times story:
The company had run short on cash, Rountree said, partly because "there was a failure to fully appreciate that they needed to put out $20 million of the $32 million for the 'Ring' Cycle two years in advance."

The M6 in NYC

Okay, I missed blogging the Dec. 4 program, but if you're in NYC, you can still catch The M6 performing music by Meredith Monk. Here are the details:

22 concerts at The Stone, NYC, December 16th through 29th, 2009.

Statement of curator David Garland:
"The emphasis of my programming at The Stone during the last weeks of 2009 is on musicians who subtly, insistingly, and creatively expand the potential of song. By investing songs with both heart and brain, and by tapping into the alchemy of the understandable and the mysterious, these daring songwriters prove that the ancient combination of words and music can still yield surprises, open new vistas, and permit and promote profound communication."

Tuesday, December 22 at 10pm
The M6: Meredith Monk Music Third Generation

Repertoire to include music by Meredith Monk from Book of Days, ATLAS, Volcano Songs, American Archeology, and Dolmen Music

THE STONE is located at the corner of Avenue C and 2nd Street

ADMISSION: $10 per set
students 13 to 19 admitted half price
children 12 and under free

There are no advance ticket sales. All admissions are at the door prior to each performance.

Maximum Reich

WQXR's web stream, Q2, presents a wall-to-wall Reich marathon, running from Thursday, December 10 to Wednesday, December 16. You can find Q2 here.

Here's the general schedule:

10pm nightly: Different versions of the iconic Reich composition, Music for 18 Musicians Noon & 8pm daily: Interviews with Reich from WNYC archives

Daily focus:

Thursday: The Birth of a Style: Influences and Teachers

Friday: Counterpoint: From Vermont to Cello

Saturday: Reich in Full Voice: Vocal, Choral and Tape

Sunday: The Cave (Reich’s only opera)

Monday: Live Concerts from the WNYC Archives

Tuesday: Music for Percussion

Wednesday: Reich Remixed: The Next Generation

Highlights include:

  • Original and exciting new recordings of all of Reich’s recorded works, many with personal introductions by Reich himself
  • Exclusive rare performances and interviews from the WNYC archives, including visits with John Schaefer on New Sounds and Soundcheck, long-format interviews with

Tim Page on Meet the Composer and with Leonard Lopate on The Leonard Lopate Show

Monday, December 07, 2009


I spent the weekend after Thanksgiving reading in the comfy chair and trying to stay warm, because just going out for lunch on Saturday left me feeling tired and sick. Early Monday morning, I had a coughing fit, but by my official wake-up time, I was feeling well enough to go to work. As the week went by, I felt worse and worse. Staying up late at the SF Opera Otello Wednesday night could not have helped, and Thursday morning I was clearly too sick to go to work.
I've barely barely been out of the house since then, though today I was well enough to get a full days' work in. Whether I go to the office tomorrow will depend on how I feel when I wake up and what the weather is like. If it's raining or very cold, or if I'm not really up to snuff, I'm working from home again. Even by shuttle, the commute to Mountain View leaves something to be desired.

The musical upshot of this is that, of course, I missed every one of the concerts I would have liked to see this past weekend. Marino Formenti's Vingt Regards, sob. Cal Bach's "Advent in Dresden" program, with great lashings of Schuetz. That Respighi piece at Soli Deo Gloria. Magnificat's Cozzolani requiem. SF Bach Choir's Schuetz concert.

You get the point. Big sigh from here. I hope you did better than me. And I am very glad I didn't try to book a weekend trip to NY for From the House of the Dead.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Read Along with Mark and Zach

The intrepid Mark Samples and Zach Wallmark are reading their way through the mighty Oxford History of Western Music, ten pages each week, and blogging all the way, at The Taruskin Challenge.

They are brave. H/T to Scott Spiegelberg at Musical Perceptions for the link.


Anyone contemplating minimalism might consider listening to the prelude to Jenufa. Just sayin'.

George Clooney

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, movie reviewer Mick LaSalle takes what he thinks is a close look at actor George Clooney's popularity and success. I am a Clooney fan, so I read the article, and shook my head all the way through it.

The case LaSalle tries to make is that Clooney is today's "American actor," which he never really defines, though he offers a bunch of examples. But he misses the most obvious comparison to Clooney, omitting from his list of past "American actors" Cary Grant.

If you've seen a few Grant films and a few Clooney films, the comparison couldn't be more apt. They're both charming, attractive, graceful in a loose-limbed way. You sometimes get the feeling they're playing themselves rather than whatever character they are nominally representing.

Really, by the end of the article, I was rolling my eyes and thinking, never send a guy, and especially a straight guy (which as far as I know is the case with LaSalle) to write this sort of article. He completely and totally missed the most obvious facts about George Clooney: the man is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, he is aging beautifully and not trying to hide his age (think Paul Newman, who was a stunner right through to his last film, versus the grotesque current appearance of Robert Redford), and he's always charming. Honestly, if George Clooney turned up on my doorstep...well, never mind.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Music is...

In this corner, we've got A.C. Douglas making the entirely arbitrary claim that a work must have a "coherent, sustained musical narrative" in order to be music.

Note: what he means is, he has to be able to perceive and understand the musical narrative. The composers he dismisses out of hand this week are Cage, Babbitt, Stockhausen, Glass, Reich, and Riley, a fascinating assortment of composers. He almost seems to be lumping Cage and Babbitt together, in fact!

Just noting that there's obviously a lot of Riley he hasn't heard.

Here's my personal definition of music: it's organized sound moving in time, typically organized by one or more of harmony (in the larger sense), rhythm, meter, timbre, form, or melody.

Just because you don't understand or like a particular style or composer doesn't mean it's not music.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Faust: Convince Me I Need to See It

So last night I finally opened the Marston release of the 1912 Faust, made in Paris with a nearly-all-star cast of Francophone singers. I made it about half-way through CD 1. I do plan to listen all the way through over the next couple of weeks, but so far nothing I've heard has budged me from my contention that Faust is the most boring opera still holding a place in the repertory. I mean, I'd rather sit through Elisir d'Amore or La Cenerentola, to give you an idea.

Convince me that there's something about the opera or next summer's international cast - with an Italian tenor, a Canadian bass, and an American soprano - that makes it worth my shelling out even $10 for standing room to see this thing. I bow to no one in my love of Patricia Racette, but....couldn't they have hired her for Minnie instead?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Music of Kyle Bartlett

Kyle Bartlett was among the composers I profiled in my 2008 NewMusicBox article, "Lend Me a Pick Ax." You can hear a couple of performances of her music in Philadelphia in a couple of weeks; she's also playing flute in the concerts.

Friday, December 11th, 8pm
Settlement Music School—Germantown
6128 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia

Sunday, December 13th, 7pm
Settlement Music School--South Philadelphia
416 Queen Street (between Catharine and Christian)

Both concerts are free.

Program highlights:

The Lost Child tells the story of Ana, a mysterious half-wild woman

who appears unexpectedly on the streets of Nuremburg. Drawn out of her isolation by the kind Dr. Nassar, Ana’s development is marked by a number of unsettling complications. Composer Kyle Bartlett plays amplified flute with live electronics; Benjamin Pierce serves in many roles as actor and Kristopher Rudzinski plays percussion.

Also on the program are three other Bartlett works. The decadent LushLife for electronic and recorded sounds emerges from the famous Coltrane/Hartman realization of the Strayhorn standard.

Mari-Liis Pakk (violin) and Jason Calloway (‘cello) will present Night Vision, a dramatic duet about transformation. They are joined by Kristin Ditlow (piano) for The Obligations of Memory, a searing yet simple meditation on overcoming isolation.

The Lost Child is made possible by the Independence Foundation as part of the Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts program. This concert is also generously supported by Settlement Music School and the Philadelphia chapter of the American Composers Forum.

Kyle Bartlett, flute
Benjamin Pierce, actor
Kristopher Rudzinski, percussion
Mari-Liis Pakk, violin
Jason Calloway, ‘cello
Kristin Ditlow, piano

Ojai Music Festival, June 10-13, 2010

The Ojai Music Festival announced its 2010 programming recently, and as usual....I think I should make plans to go now. Composer (and conductor) George Benjamin will be the music director. Without further ado, here's the programming. I have but one complaint; as is all too common, women don't exist as composers in the world of the 2010 festival.

64th OJAI MUSIC FESTIVAL, June 10–13, 2010
Thomas W. Morris, Artistic Director
George Benjamin, Music Director

Thursday, June 10, 8:00 pm
Members of the Ensemble Modern
George Benjamin, conductor (Schoenberg)
Hilary Summers, mezzo (Potter)

Saed Haddad: Le Contredésir
George Benjamin: Three Miniatures for violin
Steve Potter: Paradigms (excerpts) U.S.Premiere
Schoenberg: Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 (chamber version), arranged by Greissle
Strauss: Emperor Waltzes, arranged by Schoenberg

Friday, June 11, 8:00 pm
Ensemble Modern
Brad Lubman, conductor

Varèse: Density 21.5
Varèse: Octandre
Zappa: Selections from Greggery Peccary
Zappa: Selections from The Yellow Shark

Saturday, June 12, 11:00 am
Eric Huebner, piano

Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jèsus

Saturday, June 12, 8:00 pm
Ensemble Modern
George Benjamin, conductor
Anu Komsi, soprano
Hilary Summers, contralto

Stravinsky: L’Histoire du Soldat Suite
George Benjamin: Into the Little Hill West Coast Premiere

Sunday, June 13, 11:00 am
Wildcat Viols
Indian raga ensemble, tba

Indian Ragas
Purcell: Fantazias for viols

Sunday, June 13, 5:30 pm
Ensemble Modern
George Benjamin, conductor
Anu Komsi, soprano (Knussen)
Ueli Wiget, piano (Messiaen)
Dietmar Wiesner, flute (Boulez)

Pierre Boulez: Memoriale
George Benjamin: Viola, Viola
Oliver Knussen: Songs for Sue
Benjamin: At First Light
Ligeti: Chamber Concerto
Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques

All concerts are held at Libbey Bowl.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Your Local Food Bank, 2009

Speaking of feeding the hungry - if you've got some cash to spare, send it to one of America's food banks, as I did the other day. As usual, they're low on funds; as usual, there are mouths to be fed. Go to the web site of Feeding America, locate the food bank nearest you, and donate what you can to help feed your neighbors.

Things We Should Be Ashamed Of

The New York Times reports that the food stamp program is currently feeding one in eight Americans (that's 12.5% of the population) and one in four children (that's 25% of all children). Let's have higher taxes and more public works projects so that more people are working and can feed themselves and their kids, eh?

(Lest anyone misinterpret me, I'm glad the food stamp program exists because it keeps fewer people from going hungry, thankyouverymuch.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

C'mon, You Guys

Email received from San Francisco Opera about five minutes ago for Sunday's Otello performance says "Ticket prices start at just $55!" Well, maybe a few weeks or months ago they did, but the web site says and the box office confirms, that the lowest price for currently available tickets is $190. Foo. The people who send out the email should talk with the people in the box office before sending making misleading claims.

Political Blogs

Life is short, and there has to be some limit to how many blogs I read. I can't even keep up with the music blogs on my blogroll, and I definitely have to keep away from Daily Kos and other high-traffic political blogs. But I've been reading Paul Krugman for as long as he's had his Times blog, and I recently - like, this week - added economist Brad DeLong. So I'm sticking them on the official blogroll, as well. Make what you will of the fact that my idea of "political blog" winds up as "left-wing economics blog."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What to Do With Expensive Unsold Seats

I don't have a ticket to SF Opera's Otello, as I'd been intending to stand. It seems possible that the long-range cause of last week's back pain was standing through Daughter of the Regiment, and I'm under orders not to stand for a while, so that's out.

I'm not going tonight and next Wednesday is effectively sold out, with only a few box seats and one seat somewhere else in the house available.

But Sunday's matinee has around 170 seats available, all $190 and up. That's over my limit for anything short of Bayreuth or the reincarnation of Conchita Supervia or, more appropriately for this work, Giovanni Martinelli.

It's a nice chunk of change at full price, more than $32,000. When does it make sense for an arts organization to decide to make them available to all comers at a steep discount, or on a rush basis for seniors, students, and military personnel? Is there a point where it makes sense to auction off the tickets? I would happily participate in an auction.

Is there an economist in the house?

End of Music? C'mon

Composer and guitarist Glenn Branca has an opinion piece on the Times Opinionator blog that you might consider reading. I'm on my second go-round, and this time I wondered if the whole thing is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. I've concluded that no, he's seriously trying to make some kind of a case for the end of music. I wish I could conclude that he was making a joke, because he doesn't come close to persuading me that music is ending. He trots out the economic problems of orchestras (yes, some musical institutions might collapse but it's a mistake to equate that with "the death of music") and the straw man argument that there's so much music already, why bother making more?

Say what? That's a silly argument to make, the sort of thing where a composer should speak only for him or herself. If he has nothing more to say as a composer, fine and dandy, but it's his problem and doesn't address general issues of music at all.

It's also ridiculous to make a statement like "For more than half a century, we've seen incredible advances in sound technology but very little if any advance in the quality of music." What? How do you measure an "advance in the quality of music"? Does Branca know how to measure the advance in the quality of music from, say, Bach to Mozart? How about Brahms to Schoenberg? I would say there are always changes in style and technique, but quality? Are we supposed to believe there were changes in "quality" from Power to Dufay to Josquin?

Not to mention, brief article that mentions that some orchestras are in financial hot water but neglects the vibrant new concert music scene in, for example, New York City is in no way addressing the real state of new music.

FYI, my comments on Times blogs are under my own name about 95% of the time. The exceptions are extremely rare comments on high-tech business articles, where I am cautious for obvious reasons, and anything to do with my family, where I am cautious for different obvious reasons.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Ask 5 to give classical music a try"

That's the subject line of email I received today from Classical Music Broadcast, a web site that broadcasts classical music 24 hours a day, has short composer bios on its web site, and a page called "classical music history" that is, well, a little on the shallow side. The history page has a short list of recommended videos, and they're strictly middle of the road: a little Beethoven, a little Dvorak (with the well-known Ma and Perlman), Luciano Pavarotti, etc.

I tried out the station briefly, coming in someplace in the middle of a cello concerto I didn't recognize. That finished and the next piece was the last movement of one of the Saint-Saens piano concertos. That, I think is enough for me; not only do I have the gigantic EMI RVW and Britten boxes sitting here, I'd rather listen to Cesky Rohzlas.

But let's consider that business of asking five of my friends to give classical music a try. "Classical music" generally means concert music written between, say, 1100 and today. That's a lot of ground. A friend who can't bear Wagner might love Messiaen. A friend who can't bear Messiaen might love Bach. Just asking people to give it a try isn't enough; there's so much repertory and so much of it is good, and it's not all that predictable who will like what.

Not only that, if I'm asking friends to give a particular repertory a try, I buy them tickets to live performances. There's no substitute for being there, especially if you're taking someone to the opera or symphony. The impact of a voice or instrument or ensemble in the house is a big part of the experience.

So, no, I'm not asking five friends to give it a try by listening to Classical Music Broadcast.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

He's Back!

Last June, Mark Adamo discussed a redesign for his web site and blog - but he also sounded as if maybe he was going to stop blogging for good. That's what I assumed, anyway.

So imagine my surprise and pleasure when he resumed blogging on November 4. Welcome back, Mark! And how did the European premiere of Little Women go?

P. S. Of local interest: "I'm ahead of schedule for San Francisco." Woo hoo!

Recent Lack of Postings

The comparatively lack of posting recently hasn't been because I lack subjects. The causes include a lot of work to do, the annual tech writer gathering for which I was the lead organizer, being sick off and on for a couple of weeks, and, most recently, sore back. I have a pretty big backlog of postings about the opera and various concerts I've been to. I plan to spend some time in the next couple of weeks catching up and maybe trying to deal with the 2008 and 2009 opera performances I never wrote up.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One Good Thing About Being a Blogger

You can rag on the local symphony's conductor and not worry about being removed from reviewing that orchestra.

Yeah, you're right. I couldn't resist a good one-liner. Seriously, though - Brian at Out West Arts sees about a zillion performances a year, in the LA area and across the country, including whatever looks interesting to him at San Francisco Opera. He and I agreed about the SFO Salome; disagreed about the local Trittico. (Yes, I am about two months behind in blogging Trittico, which I saw three times, yes, three. It was that good.) His skepticism about Dudamel is a fine thing in light of both the hyype surrounding Dudamel and the riskiness of hiring him in the first place. And it makes me quite curious to finally hear Dudamel in a substantive program.

Met Broadcast Season

Here's the full Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast season. The times are East Coast, United States; add or subtract for your time zone. Note especially the historic broadcast of Vanessa with Mitropoulos conducting, the opening Trittico for more of that Racette-Puccini goodness, Damrau & Florez in Fille (with Kiri!?), the Shostakovich, Lulu, Armida, and the delayed broadcast of the currently-running From the House of the Dead. I plan to skip the tenor attempting the baritone role, much as I love the opera; the outtakes from Europe were not reassuring. I've seen Hamlet and that was enough.

2009-10 Toll Brothers Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network Schedule

12/12 Sat 12:30 Puccini: Il Trittico
Ranzani; Racette, Murphy, Blythe, Licitra, Pirgu, Lučić, Corbelli

12/19 Sat 1:00 Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Levine; Kim, Netrebko, Gubanova, Lindsey, Calleja, Held

12/26 Sat 1:00 Strauss: Elektra
Luisi; Bullock, Voigt, Palmer, Schmidt, Nikitin

1/2 Sat 1:00 Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel
Davis; Persson, Kirchschlager, Plowright, Langridge, Croft

1/9 Sat 1:00 Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
De Waart; Fleming, Graham, Schäfer, Cutler, Allen, Sigmundsson

1/16 Sat 1:00 Bizet: Carmen
Nézet-Séguin; Frittoli, Garanča, Alagna, Kwiecien

1/23 Sat 1:00 Barber: Vanessa Archive Broadcast February 1, 1958
Mitropoulos; Steber, Elias, Resnik, Gedda, Tozzi

1/30 Sat 1:00 Verdi: Stiffelio
Domingo; Radvanovsky, Cura, Dobber, Ens

2/6 Sat 1:00 Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
Levine; Pieczonka, Giordani, Domingo, Morris

2/13 Sat 1:00 Donizetti: La Fille du Régiment
Armiliato; Damrau, Palmer, Te Kanawa, Flórez, Muraro

2/20 Sat 1:00 Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos
Petrenko; Stemme, Kurzak, Connolly, Ryan, Schmeckenbecher

2/27 Sat 1:00 Puccini: La Bohème
Armiliato; Netrebko, Cabell, Beczala, Finley, Cavalletti, Gradus, Plishka

3/6 Sat 1:00 TBA

3/13 Sat 1:00 Shostakovich: The Nose
Gergiev; Popov, Gietz, Szot

3/20 Sat 1:00 Janáček:: From the House of the Dead (performance from Fall 2009)
Salonen; Margita, Streit, Hoare, Mattei, White

3/27 Sat 1:00 Thomas: Hamlet
Langrée; Dessay, Larmore, Spence, Keenlyside, Morris

4/3 Sat 1:00 Verdi: Aida
Carignani; Papian, Zajick, Licitra, Guelfi, Colombara, Kocán

4/10 Sat 1:00 Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
Fischer; Kleiter, Shagimuratova, Polenzani, Gunn, Pittsinger, König

4/17 Sat 1:00 Verdi: La Traviata
Slatkin; Gheorghiu, Valenti, Hampson

4/24 Sat 1:00 Puccini: Tosca
Levine; Mattila, Kaufmann, Terfel, Del Carlo

5/1 Sat 1:00 Rossini: Armida
Frizza; Fleming, Brownlee, Ford, Zapata, Banks, van Rensburg

5/8 Sat 1:00 Berg: Lulu
Levine; Petersen, von Otter, Lehman, Schade, Pittsinger, Morris

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Publicity Basics Updated

Earlier this year, I put up a couple of postings about publicity etiquette. Here's a consolidated, updated version:
  • DO make the subject line something meaningful. I almost trashed email once that had the subject line "YOU GO GIRL!!" because it looked like spam to me. I stopped to take a look and found that it contained important news. "ICE Founder and Flutist Claire Chase Wins Important Competition" would have gotten my attention real fast.
  • DO put the most critical information (dates, times, works, performers, ticket prices, venue) someplace easy to locate. Right at the top is good; if you send out many press releases, put this information in the same place every time, whether at the top or bottom. Just make it easy to find.
  • DO use blind carbon copy. That is, don't open-copy your mailing list. Many people, especially high-profile individuals, do not want their personal email addresses circulated by others.
  • DON'T write a fake personal note as part of the email. You know what I mean: "Hey...I was just reading your blog and thought this might interest you." I can't stand those, and while I might be more sensitive than most to fakery, or email that looks fake, I assure you that being professionally impersonal is much, much better than anything with a whiff of the fake about it. "Dear Media Professional" is fine; no cover note at all is fine. Fake friendliness is out, because you don't know who will be rubbed the wrong way by it.
  • DO paste the full text of the press release into the email or provide a link to a web page.
  • Conversely, DO NOT attach Word or PDF documents. You don't know who has Acrobat Reader or the right Word version installed, and the current Word format is not backward compatible with older versions.
  • DO include the full cast if there's an opera in your announcement or the singers' names if it's an orchestral work with vocal parts. I once received a Spoleto Festival USA announcement that mentions performances of Louise with only the soprano's name, and performances of Das Lied von der Erde without either of the singers' names. I am certain that the Festival had singers under contract for performances that were taking place six months after the mailing.
  • DO consider writing informal, entertaining, or humorous press releases, but be extremely careful with your tone. Humor varies around the world, and be especially careful if you're addressing the press release to individuals in different countries.
  • DO get the details right when the email is personalized. I once received email that included "I know you're in Germany, but your readership is probably international." The sentiment is a good one; the mistake was an honest one, but I stopped reading right there. I roll my eyes slightly, but I read on, when I get email with salutations to Linda or Laura. (I'm Lisa.)
  • DO make sure the press release is relevant to the people you're emailing. I am happy to read press releases for events all over the world, but not everyone is. On the other hand, I rarely read pop music press releases. That is, know your audience.
  • DO proofread what you're sending out. Make sure performer names, dates, times, locations, and ticket prices are correct and easy to find. Use that spelling checker. Have someone check your grammar if it's not your strong suit.
  • DO use 10 or 12 point type. Twenty-odd years into the digital age, I feel like I shouldn't have to say this any more, but since I recently received a print document where the point size went down to 6 and maybe 4 point type.... That's unreadable without a magnifying glass.
  • DO make it easy for people to find the information they want. This means, DON'T use an overly complicated or fussy layout, or more than 2 fonts in one document. This is a particular hazard if you're emailing HTML copied directly from your organization's web site. Again, 20 years into the digital age...just don't do anything that reduces readability or findability.
  • DON'T even think about posting press releases in the comments section of a blog. I've seen this happen a few times, on my blog and others' blogs. I immediately delete such comments as spam. For one thing, they're almost always irrelevant to the blog entry where they've been posted. For another, it's rude and random behavior. For yet another, the press release will be seen ONLY by people subscribed to comments to that blog entry. Lastly, it pisses people off, which doesn't do your client any good. If you've managed to find my blog, look for the Email Me link and use that mailing address.
  • DON'T make people click through to your web site to find information that you omitted from the press release.
  • DO include contact information, and make it an email address. What if your media contact has a question or wants more information or is thinking of writing a story? Make it easy for the press release recipient to contact the right person at your organization.
To summarize: Make it easy for people to find the important information in your email announcement or press release. Get the facts right and include everything useful. Plain text is better than something pretty but fussy.

To close with a couple of positives: whether you're a PR pro or an amateur like me (I've handled publicity for a couple of small organizations), you'll find tons of useful information at Amanda Ameer's blog, Life's a Pitch. And if you want to see a few examples of really good press releases, try those issued by San Francisco Opera or by publicist Louise Barder, who does a great job of providing the right information the right way at the right time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fifty Years Hence

Over at Slipped Disc, Norman Lebrecht has been taking a poll over the last few days about which composers who are alive today will be played fifty years from now. In essence, he's asking about repertory formation and about our powers of prediction. It'd be nice if he'd focus on particular genres. Do we mean composers of big orchestral works? of opera, which has special challenges? composers who focus on chamber music or choral music?

It might be interesting to look at which composers were alive fifty years ago who are still played today. Let's start with the biggest gun of all, Igor Stravinsky. Alive in 1959? Check. Still being played today? Boy howdy. Dmitri Shostakovich? Alive in 1959, played all over today, Shostakovich might be the most recent composer to enter what I'd call the standard repertory.

How about Benjamin Britten? Yep. Ralph Vaughan Williams? Ooops, died in '57. Aaron Copland? Still played today. Leonard Bernstein? Oh, yeah. Pierre Boulez? Yep, people are still playing him. He's one of the old guard of Modernism now. Elliott Carter? Still alive and still composing at nearly 101. I'm willing to bet that string quartets looking for depth and challenge will be playing Carter fifty years from now, too.

Can anyone come up with a nice list of composers who were played 50 years ago and are not played today? Mr. Soho, this seems up your alley.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Choral Car Pile-Up Time!

It's that time of year, when every chorus in the world puts on their fall concerts. I hope to get to many of these, but there are only so many hours in a day:
You do all realize that you're splitting up your audience? Spread those concerts over more weekends and attendance will go up. I mean, how many concerts can I attend the first weekend in December? Three max, or four if I am insane, but I'm booked elsewhere Friday night, so very likely I will make life easy for myself and see Cal Bach and Magnificat despite the tasty S&P Spanish concert and the chance to hear the rare Respighi.

The NY Times on From the House of the Dead

The Times has what amounts to an enormous, in-depth preview of Janacek's From the House of the Dead, which premieres at the Metropolitan Opera tomorrow. Anthony Tommasini and James Oesterreich (appearing as "Tony" and "Jim") discuss the music; Charles Isherwood discusses director Patrice Chereau's style; Dwight Garner talks about...some other stuff.

Whether you read the previews or not, you should go see this production if you can. It's Janacek; can't enough of him. The cast and conductor are something: Esa-Pekka Salonen, in his Met debut; Stefan Margita (the magnificent Loge of the in-progress Ring in SF), Kurt Streit, Peter Mattei, Willard White, and Peter Hoare.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

More on Health Care Reform

Nicholas Kristoff has a great column today on why the U.S. health care system has worse outcomes than just about every other industrialized nation. Note the graceful apology to his readers in Slovenia. :)

The Times Prescriptions blog has excellent coverage of an anti-reform rally going on right now in D.C. I quote the following:
Ms. Garloch, who has a combination of Medicare and private coverage, said insurance should be sold across state lines to increase competition.

But Ms. Garloch, like many in the crowd who while visibly angry. could not articulate the main problems in the health care system or how they should be solved.

Some of the same people warning of too much government spending also complained that Medicare does not provide sufficient coverage.

Ms. Garloch dismissed suggestions that some hospitals, like the Cleveland Clinic in her home state, had figured out ways to provide higher-quality medical outcomes at lower cost, indicating that there might be ways to cut costs without sacrificing patient care.
This is typical of the grass-roots opposition to health-care reform. Ms. Garloch is a Medicare beneficiary (that's government-provided, single-payer health insurance); she apparently doesn't understand what is wrong with the current system; she hasn't read enough about the Cleveland Clinic to understand how that excellent institution works and achieves better results with lower costs than almost any other hospital in the country. I am sure she knows the slogans, and I wish she would read more and move past the slogans.

In Fernem Land

All the Lohengrin you could want, with an amazing range of voices taking on the great aria "In fernem Land," from Klaus Florian Vogt and Jussi Bjoerling to Lauritz Melchior.

Other Minds Does Henry Cowell

The indispensable Other Minds is putting on a mini-festival next week devoted to the visionary American composer Henry Cowell. A pair of concerts, a panel discussion, and a couple of receptions await anyone lucky enough to be free. The performers include Sarah Cahill, Wendy Hillhouse, the Colorado String Quartet, organist Sandra Soderlund, and the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio. What a lineup! I probably cannot go; I have multiple conflicts that include a two-day work event of which I am an organizer. But maybe you can go!

Here's the basic information:

Thursday, November 12, 2009
7pm Reception, 8pm Concert
Valley Presbyterian Church
945 Portola Road, Portola Valley

Friday, November 13, 2009
7pm Panel Discussion, 8pm Concert, Reception to follow
Presidio Chapel
Building 130, Fisher Loop, San Francisco

Thursday, November 12: $20 / $15 students & seniors
Friday, November 13: $25 / $20 students & seniors
Two-Concert Pass: $40 / $30 students & seniors
Order (800) 838-3006 or through Brown Paper Tickets.

Full details are here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Prokofiev Project

Stanford Lively Arts is presenting what looks to be a fascinating four day event called "The Prokofiev Project," which is similar to last year's "Stravinsky Project." Joseph Horowitz curates the event, which will include concerts of orchestral and piano music. Pianists Alexander Toradze, George Barth, and Kumaran Arul are among the performers. The puppet artist Robin Walsh also participates. There are sundry talks, including an evening that will include historic recordings and film.

The dates for this extravaganza are November 12-15, at Stanford, in Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Campbell Recital Hall, and Tresidder Union. Some events are free. For full details, see the press release (a PDF) or SLA's web site. Please note that Simon Morrison's event has been canceled.

I'd like to go to some of these but I may have conflicts, alas.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Upcoming in Berkeley

A friend is the pianist in what looks like a perfectly lovely program. "Mystery Composer" - who could resist?

Mike Jones, violin
John Burke, piano

Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Ravel, Richard Strauss, and a Mystery Composer

8:00 pm Saturday, November 21st

Trinity Episcopal Church
corner of Dana and Durant, Berkeley

details, directions etc. at

Republican Schism

Dede Scozzafava endorses her former Democratic rival. And see Brad DeLong on Hoffman, the Conservative Party nominee. Just in case you thought I wasn't serious about a schism. H/T to rootlesscosmo on the DeLong posting.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Now We are Five

It's been a great five years.

The Coming Republican Schism

I can see it now: the far-right-wing's insistence on running far-right-wing candidates will either further marginalize the Republican Party or lead to a split. You can see this dynamic at work in NY-23, the congressional district that had been represented by moderate Republican John McHugh, whom President Obama has named to the post of Secretary of the Army.

The Republican Party leadership nominated state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava as the Republican candidate to replace McHugh; meanwhile, the state Conservative Party nominated Douglas Hoffman, who is far to right of the Republican candidate.

Hoffman's been getting support from out-of-state Republicans like Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, who both have aspirations to higher office. Scozzafava, you see, is an old-fashioned, northeast Republican: socially liberal (pro-abortion rights, pro-gay marriage), fiscally conservative, pro-business. That's just not acceptable to the "Republican base;" i.e. the farthest-right wing. Today, Scozzafava withdrew from the race, because she's losing support, not raising enough money, and she and Hoffman are in a dead draw.

Of all people. Newt Gingrich is troubled by this dynamic. Here's how he's quoted in today's Times:
“This makes life more complicated from the standpoint of this: If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make Pelosi speaker for life and guarantee Obama’s re-election.”
I can see how that prospect might bother a few Republicans. Will they push themselves even further from the center, or split entirely? Read the whole story in today's Times.

The Damrau Effect

Maybe it's Diana Damrau's fault.

Five years ago, in June, 2004, I attended a performance of Arabella at Covent Garden. I had seen the opera once before, with Janice Watson, Franz Grundhaber, and Tracy Dahl as the annoying Fiakermili. Donald Runnicles probably conducted; I cannot for the life of me remember who sang Zdenka or Matteo. I intensely disliked it despite some lovely music.

So why did I buy a ticket to the London performance? Get this cast and conductor: Mattila, Bonney, Hampson, Very, Damrau/Dohnanyi. They were near perfect, and I became a fan. I still remember the beautiful clarity and balance of the orchestra, the thrust of Mattila's voice, echoed on a smaller scale by Bonney's, Hampson's humanity, the rightness of the production and direction.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I'm a bel-canto skeptic. Sure, I'd be happy to take in a well-cast Norma or Lucia once in a while, and I'd run to get tickets to William Tell. But I've walked out on La Favorite and Elisir and avoid Rossini comedies like the plague.

That means that I missed the hotshot tenor Juan Diego Florez's first two appearances in San Francisco, which were in Barber of Seville and Cenerentola. So when the much-touted and well-traveled Laurent Pelly production of La Fille du Regiment came around, with Florez in the tenor lead and Damrau as Marie, I gulped and dragged myself to the balcony standing room area of the War Memorial Opera House, concerned about both the music and the 80-minute first act.

I'm going to have to eat my words about Donizetti: I liked the production a great deal and loved the music. You've probably heard "Pour mon ame,"* the famous tenor cavatina with the nine (9) high Cs, and while it's certainly the opera's biggest show-stopper, it's just one of the many beautiful, imaginative, and delightful arias and ensembles.

See, the focus of the publicity materials on the tenor's vocal gymnastics obscures a few things. The soprano lead is not only three times the length of the tenor role, it has a much wider emotional range, from the very extroverted and athletic to the wistful. And those ensembles! There are several excellent choral pieces and some great trios; the music is more harmonically adventurous than what I remember of the other Donizetti operas I've seen.

The singing was mostly terrific. I loved both Damrau and Florez. She has the range and flexibility for the role, and a lovely voice, bigger than I remembered from Arabella, though not as luscious as Ruth Ann Swenson's. She's an excellent singer and was as good in the slow music as the fast. Florez sounds much warmer and more human in the hall than on record, where he sounds brilliant to the point of hardness. The 9 high Cs? Yep, they were great, but for me the most impressive thing about the aria is that he is so charming and sings with such a good line. Not to mention, the Cs were easy and it sounded as though he had headroom and could have gone to a D or even higher.

The production, set in or around WWI, is a little on the manic side, especially for Marie, who has to haul around laundry and tubs of potatoes, jump all over the stage, sing while being carried off stage, etc., etc. I can't imagine Joan Sutherland putting herself through these particular paces, though Sills and possibly Swenson could have. Some of the schtick, esp. for the Duchess of Krackenthorp, is broad and a little dumb, but the role and the opera are like that. It's not exactly subtle, and of course the plot is about as thin and silly as opera plots get.** The rushing around didn't feel overdone. My colleague Jerry said he thought it was staged like a Broadway show. I think he's right, and I think it worked quite well. There IS dialog, of course.

Meredeith Arwady, heard here in Il Trittico as the Mother Superior and Zita, was back, as the Marquise of Berkenfeld. She sounds like a young Podles, though I find the width of her vibrato worrying. She's funny and has lots of presence. I remember her as an awkward and seemingly terrified Merola fellow who looked out of place on stage, so her current authoritative performances give me great pleasure. I can't explain the schtick very well, but at one point she sings about half a verse of "Mon coer s'ouvre a ta voix" and it was really good! Sheila Nadler, as the Duchess, must be in her mid-60s, and it sounds as though she can still sing, in the three lines of music she had.

Bruno Pratico, as Sulpice, is okay (in tune, funny) but sounds worn and vocally unattractive.

This production also benefits from really superb conducting by Andriy Yurkevych. He has a great feel for the ebb and flow of Italian music, and did NOT conducting everything at a firm moderato, which is one of my standard complaints about bel canto performances. He conducted as though he took the music seriously - good for him! Which reminds me that the conductor of Swenson's Lucia - which I think of as Swenson's Lucia with Vargas's Edgardo - was Richard Bonnyng, who was at best a competent bore.

So, do I blame Damrau, or not? Two operas I had every reason to think I'd hate, two great performances that made me a fan.

*If you've been under a rock for the last couple of years, here are Luciano Pavarotti in 1972 and Juan Diego Florez in the Pelly production, filmed at Covent Garden and available commercially. Florez sounds even better live, with a warmer sound that's bigger than you might think from the voice's lightness. And what I heard was better than Pav in '72. Really.

** A regiment of French soldiers inherits an infant and raises her collectively as their daughter. Some years later, she's in love with a young Swiss hayseed. The soldiers will only allow her to marry a member of the regiment, so he joins up, just as she discovers she is the neice - actually the daughter - of a Marquise. The Marquise thinks a young hayseed/soldier isn't exactly good enough for her either. This is a comic opera, so they wind up engaged instead of dead.

Happenings at the Opera

So, any reports on last night's Salome? I've heard Nadja Michael was out and that the last-minute substitute, flown in from Arizona, was very good. You could say I'm surprised there wasn't a cover in town, but what do I know?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Making the Ultimate Sacrificium: A Virtual Archeological Dig

Well, if you're Cecilia Bartoli, you don't need any anatomical alterations to sing the 18th c. castrato repertory! And here's the question of the day, which just happens to be Clue 9:

Sacrificium focuses on the composer and teacher Nicola Porpora. In which Italian city was he based?

Go to the Bartoli puzzle page and post your answer in the Answer Nine field.

Read the previous clue at Nico's Twitter feed. Read the next clue (which is really the first clue) chez La Cieca, who has returned from exile.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For Sale

I'm not going to make it to the San Francisco Opera costume sale this weekend, alas, but Opera Tattler went and has the story. I was fascinated to read that one of Precious Auntie's costumes from The Bonesetter's Daughter is up for grabs. That certainly says something about the chances of a Bonesetter revival, now, doesn't it.

Rebranding America

The rock musician and do-gooder Bono had an op-ed piece in the NY Times recently, called "Rebranding America," and today's Times has reader responses in the Letters to the Editor. One reader says the following, in part:
What distinguishes the American Idea from the superstitions, stifling traditions and the various forms of collectivism that have historically cursed humanity is its confidence in individual freedom. Without that freedom, opportunity is a mirage and “responsibility to your fellow man” is simply a slogan used to justify harnessing the populace to serve those in power.
Another says, in part:
Yes, we have the freedoms of choice and speech, but we are an individualistic and self-sufficient people. We believe that people should take care of themselves and carry their own water.

I’m not responsible for my fellow man. The fellow man should take care of himself, and so on.
I'm sure these fellow citizens, who so value individualism and dislike collectivism, will turn down Social Security and Medicare at age 65, aren't you? After all, people should take care of themselves.

Den Kopf des Jokanaan

Contrary to my usual current practice - standing room - I bought a ticket to see Salome last night at San Francisco Opera, owing to a slightly sore ankle and the knowledge that I am standing through the sold-out Daughter of the Regiment today.

I thought the staging was fine and the sets and lighting okay; not problematic but not outstanding. Nothing struck me as very decadent about the court, so it was hard to tell just what bothered Jokanaan so much except, well, that business with Herodes, her first husband, and her second husband. Perhaps it was the general lack of on-stage dementia, except, of course, Salome herself.

I did not like Garrett Sorenson's Narraboth; he sobbed like Gigli and that's just wrong in Strauss, even if you're the Italian Singer in Rosenkavalier. I did like Elizabeth DeShong's Page. Irina Mishura sounded slightly blowsy from where I was sitting and I wish she'd been more physically crazed. She seemed too polite, even when urging Salome on late in the opera. Ildiko Komlosi in last year's Met broadcast was plenty nuts, or maybe it was that there were plenty of close-ups of her with a drink in her hand and a soused look on her face.

I've never much cared for Greer Grimsley: all that wool in his voice! He's like a latter-day Leonard Warren. Oh, maybe not that bad.

Nadja Michael was very effective physically, and definitely looks and moves like a dancer. But she seems to have been hired for her physical rather than vocal abilities, and she had serious vocal drawbacks. Sometimes I couldn't hear her; sometimes she couldn't hit the notes; her phrasing didn't have much insight or variety. I liked the staging of the dance very much.

Kim Begley was the best of the singers and as far as I'm concerned more or less stole the show, or would have if he'd been dancing instead of watching the dance. Weirdly, he is a dead ring for Paolo Gavanelli, but they're definitely not the same person.

The big problem of the night, really, was Luisotti. I don't care, much, that he drowned everyone out once in a while. He was so languid I felt like there was never much musical momentum or tension, no sense of the structure of the piece or of how the music hurtles toward destruction. He needs another year or two with the score - and maybe all the German music should still be conducted by The Donald.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Possibly-Familiar Superrnumeraries in DC's Ariadne

Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia, that is, will once again be supers in Washington National Opera's production of Ariadne auf Naxos, or so I hear. Wish I could join them!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Adler Fellows, Past and Present, at LAPO

The solo quartet for the November 5 to 8 Verdi Requiem performances at the Los Angeles Philharmonic includes Leah Crocetto, David Lomeli, and John Relyea. Go, team!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One CD I Won't Be Buying

Alex Ross saved me $17 by posting the first cut from Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis's new recording of Winterreise. Padmore's voice hasn't got much body and becomes tremulous under pressure, which seems to mean anything above about mezzo-piano. "Gute Nacht" is subdued, and I really, really don't want to hear what happens when Padmore sings "Die Wetterfahne" or "Rückblick" or any of the songs that require some power.

P. S. Maybe it makes a difference if you're not listening on headphones, but...

J. Karla Lemon

J. Karla Lemon, who conducted at Stanford and with many new music ensembles nationwide, died on October 15 at age 55. She had a catastrophic stroke during surgery intended to correct a congenital heart defect. The full SFCV obituary is here.

Deepest condolences to her partner, soprano Christine Brandes, and other family members.

Monday, October 19, 2009

If I Were in NYC...

...I'd check out the Lincoln Center 50 exhibit at the Performing Arts Library. Details are here. The exhibit runs through January 16, 2010, and features 400 items, including photographs, posters, costumes, correspondence, miscellaneous ephemera, and video.

Note to the people who put together that nice on-line slideshow: there are no legends for the photos. I wish I could identify everyone in all of the photos, but I can't.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chill with ICE

Two ICE-related programs this week, complete with after-parties. Wish I could attend!
  • Saturday, Oct. 17, 8 p.m. Xenakis program at the Miller Theater, 116th & Broadway, NYC; after party at S I P, 998 Amsterdam at 110th.
  • Sunday, Oct. 17, flutist (& ICE executive director) Claire Chase plays Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleeker St., NYC. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; music at 7:30 p.m. After party at Madame X, 94 W. Houston.


A single concert doesn't normally inspire four postings from me, but here goes, with thanks to Patrick for reminding me of the one aspect of the last night's concert that I haven't yet gone ballistic overwritten about, with a nod to OT, who always notices.

The audience. What to say about last night's audience?

First of all, there were many kids in the crowd. I consider this a good thing, and by and large they behaved as well as the adults in the audience. I know there were some exceptions, because the woman behind us whispered to the two children with her at least twice while the orchestra was playing.

During the Gabriela Lena Frank piece, we heard what sounded like random claps - truly random, definitely not rhythmic - coming from someplace to our left, in the center of the hall. My first thought was that they were part of the music, but after the fourth or fifth occurrence, I leaned forward a bit to get some triangulation, and nope, the sound was not coming from the stage. The claps happened randomly for the next minute or so. Very strange.

I save my real frustration for those people who couldn't pay enough attention to the blinking house lights and the time to get back to their seats before the Bartok started. Yes, the house or stage manager should have noticed this, but adults should also be mindful enough not to worsen the concert experience for everyone else.

Programming Question

So what would you program with the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra?
Mike came up with the following: Dohnanyi's sly and wonderful Variations on a Nursery Rhyme plus Kodaly's Dances for Galanta or Liszt's Mephisto Waltz. I suggested swapping out the Liszt or Kodaly for a couple of Brahms Hungarian Dances. The Concerto might also work well with Petroushka or another Stravinsky orchestral work. Or some Debussy, though I am stumped as to exactly what. about the Janacek Sinfonietta?

I wonder, though, if the best companion to Bartok isn't more Bartok. If you were a little insane, you could start with the Concerto and put all three of the piano concertos on the second half; they fit neatly on one CD, so why not? Go ahead and hire more than one pianist, since even the Third is not exactly easy. Or conclude with A Kékszakállú Herceg Vára, better known in these parts as Duke Bluebeard's Castle. The openings of Bluebeard and the Concerto even sound alike.

House Problems 2

Still not Gregory House, M.D. This time, I'm talking about Zellerbach.
The next time I complain about Davies, please remind of this week's Berkeley Symphony concert, in which the dead acoustics of Zellerbach made Davies sound like Disney. I am not kidding: from our seats (row O on the side), the dynamic range of the orchestra was reduced to mp to mf; pianos disappeared completely; forte and above sounded like mf. Only a couple of the brass explosions in Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra made much impact.

The visceral impact of a performance is a big part of what pulls me into the music and makes it resonate for me, intellectually and emotionally. This is why I love the sonic-overload masterpieces, huge works like Mahler's Eighth, Stravinsky's ballets, Salonen's Wing on Wing, Messiaen's Turangalila. It's why I'm thrilled by the sound of an operatic voice filling a hall. Not that works on a smaller sonic scale don't overwhelm me too; a great string quartet performance can cut me to the quick.

But if I'm hearing a big orchestra performing, I want the rush and pull; I want to be conquered. And that was almost completely missing last night.

You can bet that I scratched my head throughout the performance over this. The last time I heard the Berkeley Symphony, William Eddins conducted, and from my reviewer's seat - closer to the front and closer to the center - the orchestra sounded absolutely fantastic. I cannot tell why they sounded so ordinary this time: the dial-twiddling behind the sound enhancement system? my location in the hall? conductor Joana Carneiro's sonic style?

The difference was so marked, and the music had so little impact that my mind wandered throughout the program. This is unusual for me, so my comments about the performances themselves will be brief. John Adams's The Chairman Dances, from the opera Nixon in China, sounded too mechanical and, as the superb pianist sitting in front of me said, would have benefited from "more of a narrative arc."

The program notes for Gabriela Lena Frank's Peregrinos annoyed the heck out of me; I don't, in fact, care very much about the particular incidents that inspired the individual movements, and in 20 years they'll be forgotten and irrelevant. The music struck me as surprisingly derivative. The first and last movements open with a violin solo that might as well have been a direct quotation from The Lark Ascending. The orchestral murmurings accompanying the solo were nothing like what's in RVW's tone poem, and involved quite a lot of string strumming, but once that RVW sounded was planted in my ear, it stayed there. The start of one of the subsequent movements made me want to stand up and sing "Ich hab'ein gluehend Messer" from Songs of a Wayfarer. Was a direct allusion intended? Who knows? I'd like to hear Peregrinos again, under conditions in which it's easier to evaluate the piece.

One thing I can say about both the Adams and the Frank works: neither is quite able to stand up for itself when on a program with the Bartok - even when the Bartok gets a less than fully successful performance. Suffice it to say that the Concerto sounded overly studied and cautiously performed, and, well, Bartok is not the native language of this orchestra. This is not so surprising considering that the Berkeley Symphony isn't a full-time orchestra. But this is one of the greatest and most popular 20th century orchestral pieces, with a long recorded history that makes comparisons to great performances all too easy. This one didn't get there for me; I hope the Berkeley Symphony gets another crack at it some day.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

House Problems

No, not Dr. Gregory House, the eponymous crank at the center of a popular TV show. The house management and ticketing systems of Zellerbach and Berkeley Symphony.

I went to the first program of Berkeley Symphony tonight, at the suggestion of my friend Mike, who thought it would be fun to check out Joana Carneiro, the new kid on the blockmusic director. We emerged from Naan 'n Curry 15 minutes before the concert, got to Zellerbach, and found a 40-person-long line for will call. Mike had in hand a printout with ticket numbers and bar codes on it, because he'd bought the tickets on line and the receipt was print-it-yourself. Being a couple of nerds, and knowing the scanner systems now in use at SFS and SFO, we thought maybe you could walk up to the front door, get the paper scanned, and be admitted.

No such luck. So we stood on line and the folks at will call handed him an envelope containing tickets. They did not scan the or do anything at all with the bar code printout. So, they're half-way to a good on-line ticketing service, in that they can generate a bar code for home printout, but it can't be read and used for admission at the concert venue, even though that would speed up admissions considerably.


As for the inside the house issues....almost everyone got seated on time, at the beginning of the program, though a few stragglers were admitted after the opening number, John Adams's The Chairman Dances. The real fiasco was after the intermission. The house lights came down while dozens of people were still being seated, and poor Joana Carneiro was sent out to the podium while most of those were still standing. WTF? No one is keeping an eye on whether the audience is still being seated? There is no reason the conductor should have to stand there for ninety seconds waiting for the audience to settle in and quiet down; it was an amazingly unprofessional and incompetent way to treat the audience, the orchestra, and the conductor.


I started this blog nearly five years ago, not long after discovering that Alex Ross of The New Yorker had a blog. I think I broke into a cold sweat the first time I read The Rest is Noise; if Alex Ross was blogging, I knew that blogs were going to be an important part of classical music journalism going forward. It's true that Alex said he'd started the blog to help him procrastinate, but the blog quickly took on a life of its own.

Now he's moving his current blogging activities to the web site of TNY, and I find myself surprising shocked and sad about this. Honestly, it feels a bit like the death of a friend.

Businesses that move their location have been known to lose customers; web site redesigns typically lose readers. (I quit reading Salon after their last redesign, for example.) I'm not sure it's a good idea to blog from your employer's web site rather than from your own stand-alone, highly-regarded blog; sure, Alex might work at TNY forever, but given the state of print journalism....would TNY be able to survive as a web-only publication? What if the web site disappears?

And I find TNY's web site crowded, messy, and not very pleasant to read. (Well, at least you can enlarge the font size easily by clicking a larger A on most pages.) I'd suggest using RSS and your favorite feed reader.

I'm leaving The Rest is Noise on my blogroll; Alex says it may be updated with book news and samples from time to time. His new blog, Unquiet Thoughts, joins the blogroll today.

Mr. President? Mr. PRESIDENT!

Another way to promote world peace: let people visit the U.S. unless there's a clear and compelling reason not to. From a press release:

American Symphony Orchestra Replaces Tenor for Season-Opening Concert on Wednesday, October 14 Because of Visa Snafu

Richard Crawley Will Now Sing Title Role in Opera-in-Concert Performance of D’Indy’s Fervaal at Avery Fisher Hall

Dwayne Jones, a noted Australian singer who resides in London, was unable to resolve a visa and passport snafu and consequently could not get clearance to travel to the United States in time for rehearsals with the American Symphony Orchestra. As a result, the tenor Richard Crawley has been brought in by the ASO to sing the title role in the orchestra’s season-opening opera-in-concert performance of D’Indy’s Fervaal at Lincoln Center. The performance will take place at Avery Fisher Hall on Wednesday, October 14 at 8 PM.

Jones becomes one of an increasing number of artists and performers who have been denied entry to the United States for reasons that are unclear.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yet Another Update.... Don't Be Stupid. One of my publicist bullet points was this:
DO put the most critical information (dates, times, works, performers, venue) someplace easy to locate. Right at the top is good; if you send out many press releases, put this information in the same place every time, whether at the top or bottom. Just make it easy to find.
To elaborate on this, put that information in the cover email. Don't make people download a PDF just to find out the date and location (i.e. the CITY) of the concert you're publicizing. And include the day of the week as well as the date.