Friday, January 30, 2009

Opera Orchestra of New York

The gossips at Parterre Box were more or less right the other day; OONY's upcoming Rienzi and Medea have been postponed to future seasons and Feruccio Furlanetto's scheduled recital is cancelled. There's still no press release posted (PEOPLE), but at least their home page has been updated

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Further Update to Don't Be Stupid

Just wanted to add two more bullet points, these for performing arts organizations:
  • DO keep your web site up to date. It does not inspire confidence when I visit the News page on your web site and find that you haven't updated it since the fall of 2007.
  • DO answer email sent to the Contact Us address in some reasonable amount of time. The same day you receive the mail would be best. Let it go more than 36 hours and you start to look unprofessional. (Note: Guilty as charged. I have an embarrassing mail queue.)


Tim Mangan of the Orange County Register reports on a visit by our local band:
The San Francisco Symphony, sometimes considered second-tier, doesn't have a particularly distinctive tone. Wednesday, the string section performed with a nice unity and sheen, even a kind of mellowness. It is not a heavy sound, and sometimes it lacked a little bite. The healthy brass section could sometimes overwhelm it, and Tilson Thomas allowed it to.
And here I've been blaming Davies for most of the balance problems.

See, Renovations Can Work!

You should go hear for yourself - I certainly haven't, not yet - but it seems the renovation of Alice Tully Hall is a success. Davies Symphony Hall, take note.

Change I Can Believe In

Further to my previous posting, today President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear. Not long before she retired, someone there slipped her a pay schedule showing that male colleagues in the same position were making lots more money than she was. She sued and won at the state level; the case made its way to the Supreme Court, where the court ruled 5-4 that she had to have sued within 180 days of the first time she was paid on a discriminatory basis.

I'm sure you all know that corporate pay just isn't discussed much among workers. You can get fired for doing so. And you're not going to find companies posting their pay schedules, though you might be able to find out the scale for a particular job. Practically speaking, there is no way for workers to conform to that 180 day requirement.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act takes explicit action to fix this injustice: the 180 day period will get reset every time a worker receives a paycheck. In other words, if you discover discrimination that started five years before, and you're still working for the company, you can still seek restitution.

Congress tried to pass this bill during the Bush Administration, and of course it failed. The times, they are a-changin'!

News of the Day

Odd ends of political and economic news:
  • Nobel-Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, patron saint of free-marketers everywhere, was sure that companies wouldn't knowingly produce dangerous goods, because it would be bad for their reputation and bad for business. Oh, really? Milton, meet the Peanut Corporation of America, which violated the law in various ways by shipping salmonella-infected peanut products, causing several deaths.
  • Wall Street had its worst year since the Great Depression, very likely, given all that happened in 2008, with the fallout of the subprime crisis causing mergers, bankruptcies, and suicides in the US and Europe. That didn't keep financial firms from awarding $18.4 billion in bonuses. Hello? Earth to Wall Street! Who did anything deserving a bonus last year?? NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is urging the Obama administration to examine whether any taxpayer-provided bailout money went into the bonuses. Update: The President said he found the size of the bonuses a disgrace.
  • The Obama stimulus plan passed the House yesterday, in a nearly straight party-line vote (a few blue-dog Dems voted against the plan). The public is behind a stimulus package, the Republicans are sinking in popularity, and none of them could get behind the plan? Sheesh. As Paul Krugman said, too bad Obama included tax cuts in a spirit of bipartisanship. The Republicans aren't playing that game; to them, bipartisanship means Democrats voting the way Republicans want them to, not anything like compromise.
  • Too bad about the tax cuts, but President Obama has done a few things that make me darned happy in his first week in office: started process of closing Guantanamo, ordered an end to torture, told the CIA to close its network of foreign prisons, gotten the ball rolling on approvals for the new California emissions standards, sent George Mitchell to knock a few heads together talk to everyone in the Middle East, started the process of getting higher fuel efficiency standards in place faster (the automakers object; as someone in the administration said "They've known this was coming for years and had plenty of time to plan for it"), started our military on figuring out the Iraq exit plan. Keep up the good work, Mr. President.
  • You probably joined me in rolling your eyes at the toy company that plans to bring out dolls resembling Malia and Sasha Obama, the President's daughters. Here's thoughtful commentary on the power of dolls from Body Impolitic, the body-image blog.
  • Buried in this feature about the White House dress code under the former and current presidents is a nice bit about how happy the President is to be living under the same roof as the rest of his family, after years of commuting between his job in Washington and his family in Chicago. He has breakfast with his daughters in the morning and helps get them off to school. Now there's a dream guy for you: he's President of the United States and he does the daily work of being a parent.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pocket Opera

Donald Pippin's marvelous Pocket Opera has announced its new season. It doesn't look like the economy is especially affecting them. They'll be performing the usual range of works, Handel, Rossini, Offenbach, Donizetti, Bizet, Moniuszko...oh, you say you've never heard of Moniuszko? He was a mid-19th century Polish composer, somewhat in the bel canto style, but samples I've heard are more interesting than that. Pocket Opera is performing The Haunted Manor, of which there is a commercial recording. Clips I've heard are intriguing, and Opera News liked the recording; it's been on my to-buy list for years. I doubt it's been performed in the United States. Viewed with a reverence second only to Chopin? I am so there!

Also new this year: performances at the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley! That will make it much easier for me to attend. I love the theater in the Palace of the Legion of Honor (where high costs drove out SF Lyric Opera last year), but it's a schlep for me, as is the Napa Valley Opera House.

Here's the full schedule, yes, most of the press release:

La Belle Helene – Offenbach

The inside story, somehow overlooked by Homer, of how, with the help of that capriciously relentless goddess of love, Venus, Prince Paris of Troy succeeded in seducing beautiful Helen.

Cast - Helene: Megan Stetson, Oreste: Rose Frazier, Calchas: Nicolas Aliga (also directs this production)

Feb 21, Sat. Julia Morgan Theater
March 1, Sun. Legion of Honor
March 8, Sun. Legion of Honor

March 15th, Sun. Napa Valley Opera House

La Favorita – Donizetti

Donizetti soars to lyrical heights in this powerful Spanish-tinged story of love thwarted. What starts with betrayal, ends in triumph. Affirmed by no less a critic then George Bernard Shaw as “a masterpiece”.

Cast - Leonora: Rachel Michelberg, Ferdinand: Brian Thorsett, Inez: Heidi Moss, King Alfonso: Lee Strawn

March 29, Sun. Legion of Honor
April 4, Sat. Legion of Honor
April 5, Sun. Julia Morgan Theater

The Haunted Manor – Moniuszko

A buoyant and colorful comedy, by a composer revered in Poland as second only to Chopin, begins in a burst of patriotic fervor when two young soldiers who are brothers, vow to remain single in order to be instantly available to answer the summons of duty – a not unlikely possibility in their perennially besieged homeland. Their determination shifts radically after an eventful night spent in a reputedly haunted house, as plotted by two lively and somewhat mischievous ladies.

Cast - Anna: Patrycja Poluchowicz, Frederich: Todd Donovan, Clotilda: Meghan Dibble, Damazy: Michael Mendelsohn, Georgina: Heidi Waterman

April 19, Sun. Legion of Honor
April 26, Sun. Legion of Honor
May 9, Sat. Julia Morgan Theater

Alcina – Handel (In Italian)

Alcina, the beautiful, powerful and malevolent sorceress who turns her cast off lovers into wild beasts, loses her magical powers when she fails passionately, helplessly in love.

Cast – Alcina: Marcelle Dronkers, Oronte: Brian Thorsett, Ruggiero: Elspeth Franks, Bradamante: Heidi Waterman, Morgana: Ayelet Cohen

May 3, Sun. Legion of Honor

The Barber of Seville – Rossini

The first chapter of The Marriage of Figaro. Aided by the ever resourceful Figaro, young impassioned Count Almaviva sets out to rescue lovely Rosina from the tightened clutches of irascible old Doctor Bartola.

Cast - Rosina: Kindra Scharich, Count Almaviva: Brian Thorsett, Dr. Bartolo: Lee Strawn

June 6, Sat. Legion of Honor
June 7, Sun. Julia Morgan Theater
June 14, Sun Legion of Honor
June 21, Sun, Napa Valley Opera House

Carmen – Bizet

Don Jose catches a flower by a hypnotically seductive gypsy named Carmen and his fate is sealed, Surrendering to passion he abandons all, only to be abandoned in turn when Carmentseeks new excitement in the arms of a dashing bullfighter.

Cast - Carmen: Kathleen Moss, Don Jose: Adam Flowers, Michaela: Nancy Cooke Munn, Escamillo: Sascha Joggerst
July 12, Sun. Legion of Honor
July 18, Sat. Legion of Honor
July 19, Sun. Legion of Honor
July 26, Sun. Napa Valley Opera House

TICKETS or 415-972-8930


Legion of Honor, 34th Ave and Lincoln Park, San Francisco

Napa Valley Opera House, 1030 Main Street, Napa

Julia Morgan Center for the Arts,2640 College Ave, Berkeley

The Economy and the Arts

An assortment of news, mostly bad, about the arts and the economy:
  • parterre box says that the Opera Orchestra of New York (OONY) will be canceling its scheduled performances of Rienzi and Medea. You can't tell from their web site, though, because the last press release posted was the announcement of the 2007-08 season. (PEOPLE. More new media advice: Keep your web site up to date!)
  • Los Angeles Opera is laying off 17 people, amounting to 17% of its workers.
  • Lyric Opera of Chicago finished 2008 in the black, according to a comment in the parterre box posting linked to above. Thank goodness for some good news.
  • A couple of days ago, I received email from Jehuda Reinhartz, president of Brandeis University, my alma mater, saying that the board of trustees had decided to close the Rose Art Museum and sell off its collection, owing to a big decline in the value of Brandeis's endowment. This made the Times in short order. Today, there's a report that the Massachusettes state attorney general will be looking at the proposal. There's dismay all around about this plan, because the collection is large and significant.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Compare and Contrast 12

Reviews of A Sweeter Music:
  • Joshua Kosman, in the Chronicle: "There were also less persuasive offerings by Yoko Ono and the Residents."
  • Yours truly, in SFCV, on Ono's contribution: "The piece is simpleminded in the extreme..."
  • SF Civic Center, who said nothing about Ono, but agreed with me and Joshua about how good Jerome Kitzke's piece was.

LA Opera

Competely forgot to blog this last week: LA Opera has announced its 2009-10 season. I'm not going to do the song-and-dance analysis I do for San Francisco, just list the operas to be performed - though I will note that Placido Domingo is singing in Tamerlano as well as Die Walkuere. If I ever figure out how cut tags work on Blogger...

  • L'Elisir d'Amore (The Elixir of Love) (Revival)
  • Siegfried (Company Premiere)
  • Tamerlano (Company Premiere)
  • Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) (Production New to LA Opera)
  • Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods) (Company Premiere)
  • Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized) (U.S. and Company Premiere)
  • Das Rheingold (Revival, as Part of Ring Cycle)
  • Die Walküre (Revival, as Part of Ring Cycle)
  • Recitals by Thomas Hampson and Renee Fleming

Sweet Future

Reviewing A Sweeter Music, a recital by pianist Sarah Cahill featuring music she commissioned.

I'm also in the new Season Ahead feature.

San Francisco Opera 2009-10 Season

San Francisco Opera announced the 2009-10 season yesterday, at a press conference held in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House. David Gockley, who did most of the talking, also discussed some details of future seasons. Nicola Luisotti, the incoming music director, had a few things to say, as did board member and major donor John Gunn.

Like other opera companies and major arts organizations, SFO is facing significant financial challenges. So far, ticket sales and donations have not slipped much, but the endowment has taken a major hit, which in turn reduces income to the opera. Currently, the opera's budget for the year (and I'm not sure if this is for 2009 or for the 2009-10 season) is $67 million, but they're looking to cut another few million off that number. They were able to get to this level by canceling hoped-for new productions of Peter Grimes and La Boheme, then canceling performances with the existing Grimes production altogether. This clearly pained Gockley a great deal. Oh, and there won't be a repeat of Boheme either, but that is less of a loss than Grimes. They've also trimmed the number of performances of those operas that are scheduled.

Ticket prices have crept up a bit, but the opera will continue to offer the kinds of discounts offered this past season, with some half-price tickets when they were available.

All that said, it's a season with plenty of meat, though most of the meat is Italian; it is the announced intention of the company to "move back to its Italian opera roots" after many years of less emphasis on Italian opera. They're going about it the right way, with Luisotti in charge of several Italian operas each season and very strong casting. And the two Puccini operas are the two mature works of his that I've never heard. Here's the season, with debuts given an asterisk, just so you can see how many singers are new to SFO:

  • Il Trovatore, Radvanovsky*, Blythe* (stage debut; she will be in the Verdi Requiem that DR conducts in May), Hvorostovsky, Berti*/Luisotti. An alternate mezzo takes Azucena for two performances.
  • Il Trittico, which SFO hasn't performed since...uh...before I was born. Racette, Gavanelli, Jovanavich, Glenn, Cook, Silvestrelli; Racette, Podles* (FINALLY), Arwady* (former Merola Fellow making good all over), Cook; Racette, Gavanelli, Lomelli, Silvestrelli, Cook/Summers. The modern production looks entertaining, Summers (dull in the Met Salome) not so much.
  • Abduction from the Seraglio, Dunleavy, Christy, Polenzani, Bidlack, Rose/Meister*. Zzzz, but good singers, anyway, though Peter Rose as Osmin? I'm not so convinced.
  • Daughter of the Regiment, Damrau*, Florez, Pratico*, Arwady, Nadler/Mariotti*. ZZZZZZ. I've heard and liked Damrau, though in very different music, as the Fiakermili in Arabella. She was charming in an annoying role. The question is whether I'll break my no-Donizetti-ever-again rule for her and Florez.
  • Salome, Michael*, Mishura, Begley, Grimsley, Sorenson*, DeShong*/Luisotti!!! Yeah, this one looks like a big winner, though, you know, I was hoping for KM
  • Otello, Botha*, Vassileva*, Vratogna*, Gibson*, Tatum*, Halvorson/Luisotti. Note the row of asterisks. I know only Botha (on record, not live), who has a gorgeous voice and will be an interesting and lyrical Moor. If the rest of the cast is as good, hoo boy. Luisotti was born to conduct this opera, so I am drooling with anticipation, especially given the disastrous last run of Otello, with poor Patricia Racette singing gloriously but surrounded by a rotating cast of Otellos, the ghastly-sounding Sergei Leiferkus, and the lackluster Runnicles, who was in the midst of a parallel run of St. Francois.
  • Faust, Racette, Secco*, Relyea, Cook, Mack/Benini. Triple ZZZZZ, but the cast is intruiging, and I last saw a real production of this around 1972 at NYCO. Gockley said "...perhaps the first of a series of demonic roles for Relyea," leading me to wonder if that means we'll get Boito's Mefistofoles soon.
  • La Fanciulla del West, Voigt, Licetra*, Frontalli/Luisotti. Woo hoo!
  • Die Walkuere, Delavan, Stemme, Ventris, Westbroek*, Aceto, Baechle*/Runnicles, but you knew that, right? No one asked why Jennifer Larmore, who was a fine Fricka in last year's Rheingold, won't be taking this run of Walkuere.
Forgot to mention: I'd heard a rumor that SFO might not fund The Ring, which Washington Opera has decided they can't afford to produce in full. John and Cynthia Fry Gunn to the rescue: we will have the full Ring in June, 2011.

Gockley also talked about new operas that are on the boards and one or two other plans for upcoming seasons.

Nixon in China is coming! He did not identify the singers, saying only that they will be from the "new generation" of singers. (I'm hoping for Gerald Finley, yes, I am.) Asked whether Adams would conduct, he said that he'd spoken to the composer, who had recommended a "conductor with whom he has had a recent very good experience. This conductor is not yet under contract, though we are having discussions, and so I cannot identify the individual." You can fill in the blanks, right? It's either Alan Gilbert, who conducted Doctor Atomic at the Met, or Marin Alsop, who had a sort of Adams fest in her first season at Baltimore.

The new operas leave me with a mixture of hope and dread. I expect the new Mark Adamo opera to be terrific, based on seeing Lysistrata at NYCO in 2006, and I expect it to be picketed, considering that the working title is The Gospel According to St. Mary Magdalen. That'll be fun!

Jennifer Higdon gets to write her first opera, on the recommendation of Donald Runnicles. I have reasonable hopes for this.

On the dread side, I've already made known what I think of Jake Heggie writing an opera on Moby-Dick. Wrong source material and a composer who is unlikely to meet the challenge. Christopher Theofanidis will write an opera on the subject of heroism and September 11, to be premiered on (you guessed this) Septembe 11, 2011. Dread, yes.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Simple-Minded Gifts

I was not going to blog further about John Williams's inaugural music, written for the same ensemble as Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. Given yesterday's development....

I stopped listening to the piece as soon as it turned into "Simple Gifts." Regular readers are aware that I am not a fan of Copland in Americana mode, and I have heard the damn tune too many times already in Appalachian Spring. Friends tell me that President Obama likes Copland - that's a plus in a president, regardless of what I think of Copland - and that there was a specific request from him for "Simple Gifts." Okay, all right, in that context, it does seem an appropriate choice, though you still can't make me like it. And aren't there better American composers available than John Williams? Not that anyone would have liked to sit in the freezing cold through a 45-minute version by Philip Glass, mind you.

The latest news, though, leaves me mad: what we heard was not what we saw. Those musicians sawing away in the cold were synching to a recording made two days earlier. Itzhak Perlman put it this way in a talk with Daniel J. Wakin of the Times:
"It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way," he said Thursday in a telephone interview. This occasion's got to be perfect. You can't have any slip-ups."
Like the administration of the oath of office, you mean?

The synching business bugs me because President Obama has been very clear that he wants his to be as transparent an administration as possible. His actions this week have followed his words; among other actions, he has cancelled a Bush II executive order giving former presidents an unreasonable degree of control over the fate of their presidential papers. He has ordered government officials to release more rather than less information.

It's a shame that the inaugural committee didn't follow suit. They could have handled the problem in two ways that would have been truthful before the fact: announce that because of the cold a recording would be used, then play a full audio/video recording, or they could have put the quartet indoors and video-relayed their performance to the crowd. The claim that the synching act was necessary is just plain wrong.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Los Angeles Ring Tickets Offered

A friend has tickets he won't be able to use to Das Rheingold on March 1, 2009, and to Die Walkuere on April 19. Both are matinee performances. I haven't got ticket prices yet. If you're interested in these, let me know and I will pass the information on to my friend.

Where Others Fear to Tread

Leon Botstein has yet another fabulous season programmed for the American Symphony Orchestra. I realize that this kind of programming is simply not possible for an orchestra that puts on 25 to 30 programs and up to 120 performances, annually; I just wish one of my local orchestras were performing these rarely-heard works (okay, the Beethoven symphonies are not rarely-heard). The main schedule is for Lincoln Center:

Vincent d’Indy’s Fervaal (Oct 14, 2009), composed in 1893, is a rare masterpiece from the golden age of French Romantic opera. Fervaal continues ASO’s remarkable series of such operas in recent seasons, which have included Dukas’s Ariane et Barbe-bleue, Chausson’s Le roi Arthus, and Lalo’s Le roi d’Ys. Like his contemporary French composers, d’Indy was inspired by Wagner, but both Debussy and Dukas considered Fervaal even better than Wagner’s epics. After ASO’s performance in 2008-09 of Lalo’s Le roi d’Ys, Opera News wrote: “Leon Botstein once again enriched New York’s concert-opera scene.

The Remains of Romanticism” (Nov 15, 2009) will present proof positive that the presumed death of Romantic music through the advent of modernism at the turn of the 20th century was a myth. Although it seemed in danger of becoming obsolete, music by many serious and successful composers saved it from extinction. Some of the greatest of the age tried to revive Romanticism through formal innovation, others by connecting it to a narrative or programmatic scheme. Hear the unexpected results of their efforts in these great works by composers like Robert Fuchs and Richard Strauss, some of which have never been heard before in the United States.

“An American Biography: The Music of Henry Cowell” (Jan 29, 2010) paints a portrait of the spiky and unique west-coast master (1897-1965), whose prodigious and eclectic output mirrors the energy and optimism of America in his day, and the countless traditions, customs, and conventions that make up the nation’s rich culture. Cowell experimented with everything from Japanese instruments to electronic music, and was a legendary influence on American composers from George Gershwin to John Cage and even many of today’s most adventurous composers. Virgil Thomson, Cowell’s contemporary, noted, “His experiments begun three decades ago in rhythm, in harmony, and in instrumental sonorities were considered then by many to be wild. Today they are the Bible of the young and still, to the conservatives, ‘advanced.’”

The concert theme “After the Thaw” (Feb 24, 2010) refers not to the weather but rather the thaw in the Soviet Union’s artistic scene after Josef Stalin’s death in 1953. It resulted in a blossoming of new musical life in the Soviet Union, and a flow of compositions full of ideas and innovations that only a short while before would have caused a one-way ticket to Siberia for the “offender”. ASO’s 2008 program of Russian Futurists presented composers who thrived briefly just before Stalin rose to power, and this season’s “After the Thaw” will demonstrate – with works by Alexander Lokshin, Boris Tchaikovsky, and Boris Tishchenko – what went on in the Soviet music scene after “Uncle Joe’s” iron grip on the USSR was finally released.

With “Schumann’s Scenes from Goethe’s Faust” (April 9, 2010), ASO completes Robert Schumann’s great trilogy of oratorios (after Manfred and Das Paradies und die Peri). The greatest poetic retelling of the enduring story of a man selling his soul to the devil – Goethe’s Faust – is set to music by a Romantic composer who knew all too well what it was like to be haunted by demons. For the bicentennial of Robert Schumann’s birth, ASO performs the third of Schumann’s great dramatic oratorios, composed on selections from Goethe’s two-part Faust.

The theme of “Apollo and Dionysus” (May 9, 2010) contrasts the rational with the emotional. Philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche used these eternally opposed mythological figures to represent human nature at war with itself. It’s the struggle of those torn between reason, discipline, and formal beauty on the one hand, and sensuality, earthly pleasure, and desire on the other. Find out which side you’re on with this concert of music inspired by the Greek gods of enlightenment and wine. Compositions by four European talents of the 20th century – England’s Arthur Bliss, Italy’s Luigi Dallapiccola, Germany’s Hans Werner Henze, and France’s Albert Roussel – make up the program.


In addition to the above schedule, the orchestra will continue its popular “Classics Declassified” series, now at Symphony Space and expanded to six concerts in the new season, on Sundays at 4 pm and Tuesdays at 7 pm. The concerts, preceded by illuminating lectures, will include five Beethoven Symphonies and provide a definitive look at these key works of the symphonic canon. “Classics Declassified” kicks off on October 18, and full details will be announced separately. Up at the Richard B. Fisher Center, the ASO can also be seen performing in the venue’s Winter Series.

Day 2: Reactions to the Record II

After that first day, we went from about 8:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. for three days; exhausting and exhilarating all at once. Here's what happened, more or less, on Day 2.

Jonathan Bellman, one of the proprietors of Dial "M" for Musicology, led off, with a discussion of improvisation in 19th century music, primarily in that of Liszt and Chopin. I'm happy to report that he started his talk with what sounded like three paragraphs of explanatory material and careful qualifiers, making it clear that knows very well the pitfalls of such research. When I mentioned this to my partner the public health researcher, she said "Oh, he had a limitations section; that's important for the validity of any study." He provided plenty of musical examples, and the short version of his talk might be that improvisations fall into roughly two categories: flashy, flying-fingers additions, and additions that fit seamlessly with the underlying style of the piece. He played some gorgeous examples by the Polish pianist Raoul Koczalski; hold that name for future reference. He also had practical suggestions about how modern pianists could go about developing a stylistic vocabulary to apply to improvisations on 19th century music.

Following Jonathan came English violinist and musicologist David Milsom, who was equipped with recordings of Joseph Joachim, Arnold Rosé , and other violinists trained in what's usually called the German school. This was the lecture session of what amounted to a lecture-demo on Joachim's style and what we might gain from examining it and trying to play like the great violinist. Interspersed with this were many quotations from the pedagogue Carl Flesch about different schools of violin playing, again, with appropriate cautions and qualifications.

Here I have to admit to a personal failing: while I like nearly every old recording I've ever heard, across a range of styles, I've now heard excerpts from Joachim's recordings at both Reactions to the Record symposia, and I don't get his style at all. I hear a bloodless tone, bowing with no guts, and uncertain intonation. Maybe it was his age, maybe it was the recording technology, maybe I'm just not ever going to like such a nearly-no-vibrato playing style. (Though see my forth coming report on Allen Evans's talk at R2RII.)

The morning sessions closed with a long discussion by Robert Philip, author of the marvelous Performing Music in the Age of Recording, on recorded performances of Brahms's Third. His main thesis was that performances of this piece have become slower, heavier, less dynamic, more massive as the century progressed, and he played a number of fascinating excerpts to support this, including Bruno Walter's famous and propulsive 1960s performance, a surprisingly similar Walter recording from 1936 with the VPO, and Clemens Krauss's 1930 VPO recording. (Both of these recordings were made while Arnold Rosé was the concertmaster of the VPO, a position he had held since 1881 - meaning he played in the premier of the Brahms Third in 1883.)

Later examples, some made with chamber orchestra, included Charles Mackerras, Paavo Jarvi, Claudio Abbado, and others. He discussed the evidence for performing Brahms's orchestral music with a chamber orchestra and concluded that what Brahms really cared about was how carefully an orchestra was prepared, not its size - but also that good balances are extremely hard to achieve in a chamber orchestra recording without help at the production level.

After lunch came the first midday concert, featuring student performers in Brahms, Copland, and Tchaikovsky. For me, the standout performances were the Brahms Op. 8 piano trio, in which Hotaik Sung played the piano part with melting tone and sweeping command, and Andrew Zhou's crackling and dramatic acount of the Copland Piano Variations.

The concert was followed by David Breckbill, who spoke on use of diction as a primary expressive feature in German singing around the turn of the last century. His examples included Schumann-Heink's great1930 rendition of Waltraute's narration, from Goetterdaemmerung and lieder recordings by Franz von Krauss. Here another confession: however clear Herr von Krauss's diction and intentions, and however much I like some freedom in performance, I could not stomach the fact that he was making up the rhythms and never seemed to be with the piano.

Reactions to the Record tends to focus on instrumental music; the last full afternoon session brought pianist/conductor/scholar/writer Will Crutchfield and soprano/musicologist Rebecca Plack giving a lecture/demo on their work in trying to adopt an older style of lieder singing. Crutchfield presented a bunch of recorded examples of early 20th c. recordings, which showed considerably more flexibility in tempo, rubato, and other expressive features than a typical post-war lieder singer would have allowed. While these early singers on record were using some of the same devices as in David Breckbill's talk, none were so extreme (or wayward) as Herr von Krauss, not even the famous Leo Slezak performance of Schubert's "Ungeduld," which was also a star of Reactions to the Record I.

Plack and Crutchfield then demonstrated how they'd attempted to get back to the older style. Plack talked her way through "Ungeduld," over Crutchfield's piano, to better follow the shape and rhythm of the words. She then sang the piece. After a couple of repetitions, she said, it started to feel more natural.

Milsom, Plack, and Crutchfield, with some questioning by Kumaran Arul, then had a short panel discussion about pedagogical problems in historical performance. What I remember best is that Milsom and Plack, who both teach children, report that youngsters have no difficulty in singing or playing in the older styles.

The evening concert was lengthy and interesting. Milsom and Arul played the Brahms Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 100, a grand and glorious work. There were problems: the nine-foot Steinway grand was open full stick, despite the comparatively quiet and non-penetrating tone of Milsom's gut-strung violin, and the balances were not good. I remain unconvinced by the Joachim-style approach, but perhaps with more familiarity? Pianist Jonathan Summers, who presented his own talk later in the symposium, performed Liszt's "Vallee d'Obermann," from the Annees de Pelerinage and his own arrangement of the Flower Song from Bizet's Carmen. Best of all was Arul's performance of the Chopin B minor Piano Sonata.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reactions to the Record II: Elsewhere on the Net

Here's what I can find about Reactions to the Record:
  • Presenter Jonathan Bellman discusses the symposium at Dial M for Musicology, where you should read the comments.
  • David Bratman's article at San Francisco Classical Voice.
  • David's LiveJournal entry, where you should read the comments. Yes, the commenter called Irontongue is me. I have a LiveJournal account so I can post comments to friends' blogs where an account is required. My own LJ has all of three entries.
  • Listening to the Past, a prospective article, at Metroactive. I will have a few things to say about Rosen's participation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The 44th President of the United States of America

That was some speech. A few notes on the day:
  • He took the oath of office with his full name, yay!
  • John Paul Stevens, who administered the oath to Vice President Biden, looks damn good for a man approaching 90. He can carry on or he can safely retire now.
  • My people were mentioned: that would be the Jews and the nonbelievers.
  • The ceremonies ran just a bit late, and evidently the White House web site switched over at noon, a few minutes in advance of his swearing in. "Change has come to," it says. You bet!
  • Mrs. Obama is wearing an outfit by Isabel Toledo, a designer I hadn't heard of before I read a very fine New Yorker profile of her in 2007.
  • I wish we'd gotten a few more glimpses of the President's adorable daughters.
  • DiFi, not my favorite politician, gave good MC.

A New Day

A brief interruption of my reports on Reactions to the Record II to ruminate on world events.

A year ago, I was a supporter of John Edwards, who, mercifully, dropped out before it became known that he'd had an affair between presidential election cycles. I honestly preferred his policies to those of the other Democratic candidates; he was the only one talking about poverty and single-payer health care. Moreover, I feared the nomination of Hilary Clinton because I could see the wingnuts rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of being able to go after her, beating her with the same sticks (lies) they'd used on President Clinton. I feared the nomination of Barack Obama because...well, I doubted whether we were ready to nominate and elect an African American citizen to the presidency, and I worried about his comparative lack of experience.

Suffice it to say that during the course of the campaign I became a big, big fan of the former junior Senator from Illinois. The focus and competence of his campaign gave me confidence in his abilities. Moreover, we could see the kind of man he is: A man of intellect, and of intellectual rigor; a decent man; a deeply thoughtful man; a man who talks to the American people with eloquence and respect; a man who is not afraid to talk about complex ideas and the hard times we're facing.

I remain thrilled that as a national, we have grown enough to elect to the presidency an African American man named Barack Hussain Obama. And I have been amazed and touched by the enthusiasm shown toward the President-elect, not only here, but abroad. At dinner Saturday, toward the end of Reactions to the Record, I was chatting with a British scholar who told me how frustrated he was that he had a vital meeting of his university department to attend during the inauguration, and how happy he is about Obama's election. Like me, he is moved to tears by this great event. I have loved the way so many people have adopted Obama as their own. You have probably seen one or the other incarnation of There's no one as Irish as Barack Obama, but did you know about Barack for Obama, from those crazy Hungarians?

In just a few hours, Barack Obama will take office. I'll be watching; my company is turning our largest meeting space into a theater for a couple of hours. I'll have lots of company, and lots of tissues with me, and I'll be very, very happy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Day 1: Reactions to the Record II

Reactions to the Record started with a student session, with four undergraduates presenting their research on early recordings from a new Stanford class taught by Profs. Arul and Barth. I almost did not go, because the session started at 4 p.m., but I left work early and missed only part of the first session. I must say, these students did a fabulous job working with a wide range of source material.

Cynthia He talked about "Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto and Horowitz's Authority;" Rachmaninov was a great and famous pianist in his own right, and Horowitz one of the great interpreters of the Third. Their interpretations were very different, but the composer admired Horowitz's style. What does this mean?

Kevin Koai discussed intention in the recordings of Josef Hoffmann; I very much liked a distinction he made between what performers know unconsciously and what they intend (if I'm remembering that correctly), but his terminology seemed inaccurate. I asked about it during the Q&A for his paper and he agreed, saying it was the best he could come up with. I want to contact him and chat about what terms might work better.

Justin Solomon gave a talk about the recorded history of the Elgar cello concerto, the variety of stylistic approaches, and how Jacqueline DuPre's recording had come to be regarded as definitive despite great recordings by Casals and others before hers. Fascinating, especially since we heard the very different style of Beatrice Harrison, the cellist who premiered the piece and recorded it twice.

Lastly, Andrew Zhou presented a paper on "Brechtian" performance in the political songs of Hanns Eisler. Great stuff and performances, especially the varied performances over many years by one singer of the same song.

In the evening, organist Robert Huw Morgan played improvisatory works by French composers. I cannot tell if it was his style or the style of the composers, but I wish they'd been played with a stronger metrical profile.

Reactions to the Record II

I am safely home from Reactions to the Record II, the second Stanford University Music Department symposium on early recordings, musical style, and the future of performance. I spent most of today doing nothing much, because my head is stuffed full of interesting and challenging information, recordings, people I met, etc. The symposium was again fabulous - all hail Kumaran Arul and George Barth, the organizers. I am again hoping that next time the publicity will be better; it seems that the word got out late, and I am sure there could have been a larger audience.

I never finished blogging the 2007 symposium, and so I am going to get started RIGHT NOW on the 2009 symposium.

To get the only bad news out of the way first, I am sure you will all be shocked, shocked, to hear that I have more CDs than when I left home. This time around, I picked up three sets from Arbiter (and check out that web site, as I did this morning, discovering a bunch more sets I want):Busoni and His Disciples (Buson, Ley, Petri); Oskar Fried: Mahler's Disciple; Huberman in recital, 1936-1944. I know, I shouldn't have, but I did. More about Arbiter and its mastermind, Allan Evans, later in my report.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Can Hear the Sound of Gnashing Teeth in Dallas

Former Miller Theater impressario George Steele, who only months ago became general manager of the Dallas Opera, is taking the NYCO job that Gerard Mortier finked out of abandoned left, reports Daniel J. Wakin.


Like just about everyone I know, I was and remain thrilled by the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, as I said to friends not long ago, he is going to do plenty that I won't like or approve of. At the very same time, I couldn't get all worked up about his selection of Rick Warren to give the benediction at the Inauguration; yes, Prop. 8 passed, but in the long run, it's a loser, because a majority of younger people favor marriage equality.

But there've been a few announcements, okay, one is a leak, about upcoming policy decisions, that are just the kind of thing I was hoping for from the President-elect:
  • Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson is giving the invocation at the Inauguration. You remember Bishop Robinson, I presume. The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion are in an uproar, quite possibly leading to schism, because Robinson is gay and lives openly with his male partner.
  • The Obama Administration plans to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the armed forces to serve openly.
  • The Obama Administration will close the Guantanamo prison, removing a giant blot on our international reputation.
This is all huge, and a huge change from the recent past. Add in the return of science to scientific policymaking, the depoliticization of the Justice Department, what Sen. Clinton said at her confirmation hearings, etc., etc. and I can see the way to undoing the damage done by the outgoing president and his evil minions.

Publicity Questions from a Fellow Blogger

In the comments to Don't Be Stupid, alto, physicist, and occasional PR person Celeste Winant asked some questions. I am going to theorize, but if the pros reading this blog have thoughts, please let us know!
Here's a question - I almost always offer recipients of press releases complimentary tickets when I want the reporter / outlet to consider promoting or covering us. I cannot usually send hardcopy tickets, and instead inform the recipient that their names (or organization's name) is on the press comp list. I rarely get any takers. Am I barking up the wrong tree? Is there a better way to approach this type of promotion?

I always paste the press release in the body, but I also attach a .pdf, thinking that the former serves to get the information out, but the latter makes it easier for the recipient to further distribute in a legitimizing (i.e. on official letterhead) format. Am I wrong? Is no attachment better than redundant attachment?

I also refrain from adding graphics to the press release, but provide a link to a high-res press photo on our group's press page (if available), which leaves the recipient the choice of further exploring. Again - is this wasted effort?
As far as the ticket question goes, sounds good to me. I've been offered tickets I wasn't able to use, even when I was not covering or publicizing a musical event. Mostly, I'm busy and can't get to an event.

About PDFs, I don't know. Pasting the press release in the body is definitely good. I am a crank on the subject of PDFs when they're the only way to read a document that is being distributed by email. I'm fine with long tech docs in PDF, for example. The answer might depend on whether any of your recipients are on dialup. Because the US is a third-world country where providing Internet services is concerned (rant deleted), it's possible, and waiting for even a 300K document to download is a real pain.

I like your solution to the high-resolution photo issue. It is what San Francisco Opera does on the press page of their web site. For example, take a look at the page for the recent production of La Boheme. The press release is linked; there's a page of photos and the high-resolution versions are both viewable on line and downloadable.

If you have opinions on these subjects, from any relevant viewpoint, please chime in!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chanticleer Sonoma Choral Workshop - Upcoming Deadline

The Chanticleer Sonoma Choral Workshop sounds like quite a lot of fun: five days of singing, coaching, and classes with members of the eminent men's chorus Chanticleer. The workshop is for experienced chamber chorus or other choral singers "at the university level and beyond," and takes place June 24-28, 2009 at Sonoma State University.

The deadline to apply is January 26, 2009, in a couple of weeks, and you need to submit a recorded audition and an application. For complete information, read the workshop's web site.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Harmonia Mundi

The record label Harmonia Mundi has just turned 50; listen to an interview on KUSC to hear how they did it. Brian Lauritzen interviews USA vice president & artistic director Robina Young and president Rene Goiffon.

Chalice Consort

The Chalice Consort is performing a tasty program next week that I can't attend (I'll be at Reactions to the Record II), but maybe you can:


Renaissance and Baroque era music for the season of Epiphany, featuring Gottfried Homilius' Magnificat in A – a Bay Area premiere.


San Francisco: 8 p.m., Saturday, January 17, 2009 – St. Monica Church, 470 24th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94121

Palo Alto : 4 p.m., Sunday, January 18, 2009 – St. Ann Chapel, 541 Melville Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301


Tickets are available at or at the door. General admission is $20, seniors $15, and students $10 at the door, or $2 discount for advance online purchase. For more information, call Rebekah Wu at (415) 875-9544. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Andsnes Future Release

A press release about upcoming concerts by Leif Ove Andsnes includes information about a splendid forthcoming CD, due in April:
In April 2009, EMI Classics will release Leif Ove Andsnes’s new recording of the piano concerto composed for him by Marc-André Dalbavie, which the artist performed for the first time at the 2006 BBC Proms, to enormous acclaim. It is coupled with Witold Lutoslawski’s 1988 piano concerto, composed for Krystian Zimerman, and solo works by Sorensen and Kurtág. The album’s title track, Shadows of Silence, is by Danish composer Bent Sorensen (b. 1958) and was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for performance by Andsnes in the venue’s 2004-05 “Perspectives” series. Rounding out the album are selections from Játékok (Games) by Hungarian composer György Kurtág. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst join Andsnes in the two piano concertos, both recorded live.
That San Francisco Performances program with Christian Tetzlaff I touted earlier this week will also be performed in other cities:

San Francisco, CA – Tues, Jan 27 (Herbst Theatre)

Vancouver, BC – Wed, Jan 28 (Chan Centre)

Los Angeles, CA – Thurs, Jan 29 (Walt Disney Concert Hall)

Boston, MA – Sat, Jan 31 (Jordan Hall)

Princeton, NJ – Sun, Feb 1 (McCarter Theatre)

New York, NY – Mon, Feb 2 (Carnegie Hall)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Proofreaders Wanted

Found in email from KDFC:
KDFC is the radio home of the San Francisco Opera with a broadcast on the first Sunday of every month at 8pm. The March choice is up to you. Pick from 10 productions that offer a virtual A-list of sopranos, including Natalie Dessay (pictured), Angela Gehorghiu, Susan Graham and Ruth Ann Swenson. Or is a Wagnerian voice-of-god bass more your style?
Susan Graham is a mezzo-soprano; Wotan is a baritone role.

Updates to Don't Be Stupid

I added a couple of points to a previous posting.

Also, read Drew McManus's related posting. (Poignant? :)


SF Performances has a concert coming up that I can't attend, but you should: Christian Tetzlaff, violin, and Leif Ove Andsnes, piano, at Herbst Theater, 8 p.m., January 27, 2009. The program? MY GOSH:
  • JANACEK: Sonata for Violin and Piano
  • BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Opus 108
  • MOZART: Sonata in F Major for Violin and Piano, K. 377
  • SCHUBERT: Rondo Brillant in B minor for Violin and Piano, D. 895

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Don't Be Stupid

I had an email discussion with Drew McManus recently about some of the...less effective email I've gotten from publicists over the last few months. He suggested putting together a list of do's and don'ts for publicists who are dealing with new media. My initial response was "don't be stupid," which really means "Be professional." The guidelines below are not really specific to new media; I believe they apply whether you're sending publicity to the NY Times or me.
  • DO make the subject line something meaningful. I almost trashed email recently 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, 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. Some high-profile individuals do not want their personal email addresses circulating.
  • 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. 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 just 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 has singers under contract for performances that are taking place in six months.
  • 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 recently 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 evidently an honest one, but I stopped reading right there.
  • 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.
  • 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. Again, 20 years into the digital age...just don't do anything that reduces readability.
  • 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.
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.