Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Long Overdue

A hearty welcome to Anne Midgette, who finally joined the classical music blogosphere yesterday. What a relief to see her say that whatever she has said about the death of classical music, music itself is thriving and it's some of our institutions that are in trouble.

Frances Blaisdell

I checked the Times on line this morning and found an obituary for Frances Blaisdell, termed "Girl Flutist," who died a couple of weeks ago at 97.

I started playing the flute comparatively late, at 14. My first instructor was the man who taught woodwinds in the Teaneck Public School at that time; I remember what he looked like and sounded like, but not his name. (This might swim up in my memory, or might not.) I switched to private lessons within a year. I believe that my parents asked around about good teachers and were told "Paige Brook, Julius Baker, Frances Blaisdell." Brook wasn't accepting new students, and I doubt they tried to get in touch with Baker, who was then the principle flutist of the NY Philharmonic and an instructor at Juilliard.

They called Miss Blaisdell, who also did not have openings, but she directed my parents to her student Judy Liederman, who taught at her parents' in Teaneck, where I lived. This lasted a year, until Judy moved away. (I believe she both married and got a job out of town. We met again when I was a student at Stony Brook, where she was the music librarian.)

My second teacher was BeverlyRadin, who gave me the best advice I ever got. Beverly had studied with Miss Blaisdell at the Manhattan School of Music. By the time I applied to college, Miss Blaisdell had moved west to teach at Stanford, and my parents wouldn't let me go to school that far from home.

I cannot for the life of me remember if I ever met Miss Blaisdell; if I did, it was briefly and in passing. I think she may have been involved with my search for a better instrument after my first flute, a Gemeinhardt, fell apart, because my parents were able to find a used Haynes with amazing speed.

In any event, the Times obituary told me a great deal about Miss Blaisdell's career, about which it seems I knew almost nothing: being taught by her father, her pioneering career in the New York area, starting in the 1930s, her studies with Barrerre, Moyse, and Kincaid, and so on.

Farewell, Miss Blaisdell, and thank you, for your whole marvelous career and for two excellent teachers.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Friends more looped in than me tell me that 1) Christine Brewer has had knee problems in the past (and the Schenk Ring is staged on an uneven, raked surface) 2) She is a consummate pro; we can't imagine her turning up without knowing a role.

OTOH, I hear from another source that she didn't have the role memorized by the start of the rehearsals, and La Cieca has a relevant posting.

I have no idea who to believe.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sigh. Big Sigh.

At least I didn't move mountains to get tickets to the last staging of the Schenk Ring at the Met: Christine Brewer, Opera News cover girl of the month, has withdrawn from her two scheduled cycles singing Bruennhilde, owing to a knee injury. The three cycles now assign the role to Irene Theorin, Linda Watson, and Katarina Dalayman.

Via La Cieca; I cannot find the news on the Met web site, but I trust La Cieca.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace was Lord Byron's daughter, a mathematician (to the extent that a woman could be one in early 19th c. England), and one of the inventors of computer programming. She worked with Charles Babbage on various projects related to his calculating machines; she saw that some day machines would be able to perform a wide range of calculations.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and I promised to write a blog posting about a woman in technology. My subject is Miriam Liskin.

Back in the 1980s, in the comparatively early days of the desktop computer revolution, dBASE II and dBASE III were the basis for many, many custom business programs. If you were a dBASE programmer, it's likely that you owned one of Miriam's books. She wrote a number of huge books about programming in the dBASE environment. These books didn't just teach syntax. They walked you through the whole process of interviewing the end users, developing requirements documents, design docs, and UI docs.

She also had widely-read columns in more than one publication, a consulting business in the Berkeley/Oakland area, and taught programming classes.

I took a dBASE class from her around 1987 or 88. I learned enough from her to work as a dBASE programmer for a couple of years. (Free-lancing was never my thing, really.) Her class and her books were the best possible entry into the world of IT.

She profoundly influenced how I think about users and their needs. As a technical writer, I follow her principles every day: keep the users' needs first and foremost. Talk to the end users whenever you can, meaning the people doing the data entry, not their bosses. (In my current line of work, this means talk to administrators rather than data entry workers, but you see the drift.)

I haven't seen Miriam since the late '80s or early '90s. She moved out of the Bay Area some years ago and is now at Tradition Software in Sacramento. Her books are readily available used, and still make a good introduction to basic programming structures, how to go about designing an application, and so on, even though languages such as dBASE have been eclipsed by object-oriented languages such as C++ and Java.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Coming Up

In the near and distant future:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Various & sundry:
  • Nazzareno de Angelis Vol. 2, on Preiser. One of the great bass voices on record, an absolutely solid, deep, dark, magnificent voice. The recordings on this set are all from 1907, when the singer was in his mid-20s, and they are of varying artistic skill, but the voice is a marvel throughout. There's plenty of him on YouTube if you want to check him out. Try this Italian recording of Wotan's Farewell, for example. "Addio, mia figlia!" indeed.
  • Ignace Tiegerman, on YouTube. A great, little-known pianist, he fled Europe during the 1930s and settled in Cairo. Alan Evans had some fabulous stories about how he ran down some of Tiegerman's performances for an Arbiter CD devoted to the pianist.
  • Raoul Koczalski, Polish pianist, student of Karl Mikuli, who'd studied with Chopin; an extremely beautiful player, with gorgeous tone and true 19th century rubato, also on YouTube.
  • Béla Bartók on piano. I presume he needs no introduction; the composer was also a great pianist - he wrote the first two piano concertos for himself - and his recordings of his own and others' music are well worth seeking out. Again, he's on YouTube.

Compare and Contrast 15

Sarah Cahill brings A Sweeter Music to NYC, providing the rare opportunity for Steve Smith to review a program nearly identical to the one I reviewed in Berkeley. It looks as though she swapped out the dreadful Yoko Ono piece for what must be a superior Kyle Gann work.
Note that the Times, a print rag, imposes space constraints to which I'm not subject. I always wish Steve's elegant and evocative reviews were given more space, but typical Times reviews run only 350 to 400 words. SFCV asks for 600 to 800, which, erm, I exceed on a regular basis.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mind the Remix

Over at Molly Sheridan's excellent blog Mind the Gap, several bloggers, including me, are starting to talk about Lawrence Lessig's recent book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Lessig inventive the Creative Commons license. He's a law professor and understands technology and art reasonably well.

Molly, Matthew (Soho the Dog) Guerrieri, and Marc (Deceptively Simply) Geelhoed have posted their initial comments. I'll have something up today or tomorrow.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chora Nova: Kodaly and Mendelssohn

Next weekend, we're performing a program of Kodaly's Missa Brevis and some of the composer's secular works. Also on the program is a gorgeous eight-part setting of Ave Maria by Felix Mendelssohn, in celebration of that composer's 200th birthday.

There's only one chance to hear this choice program:

Date: Sunday, March 22, 2009
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: First Congregational Church, Dana & Durant, Berkeley
Tickets: $20/$18/$10, available at the door, or in advance from me or over the internet at http://choranova.org/concerts.htm

I hope to see you there!


San Francisco Renaissance Voices also has a great program coming up (yes, it's chorus-concert season!):

The All Allegri Concert - March 28, 29 & April 5

Join us for this concert featuring the music of one of the most popular composers of the Late Renaissance, Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652). For contemporary audiences, Allegri is primarily known for his legendary Miserere but during his life time he was a prolific composer writing numerous masses, motets and other works. In addition to the Miserere, other music he composed for use by the Vatican during Holy Week including his Missa che fa oggi il mio sole, a parody mass based on the madrigal of the same name by Luca Marenzio, his Lamentations of Jeremiah and several motets will be performed.

March 28 - 7:30 pm
Seventh Avenue Performances
1329 Seventh Avenue
San Francisco

March 29
- 7:30 pm
All Saints Episcopal
555 Waverley Street
Palo Alto

April 5 - 4:00 pm
St. John's Presbyterian
2727 College Avenue

For tickets, visit http://www.sfrv.org/credits.html.

Mostly Motets

Between Cal Bach this week (listening) and Chora Nova next week (singing), I'm likely to miss this great-sounding Mostly Motets program, but you don't have to. I would go next Saturday, except that by then I will have had three rehearsals during the week and will want a break:

An Early Sacred Music Concert

Tallis, Byrd, Victoria, Desprez, Dufay, Frye, Gregorian chant, Medieval polyphony

3:00 p.m. Sunday March 15

First Congregational Church

2345 Channing Way

Berkeley, CA 94704

7:00 p.m. Saturday March 21

St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church

500 De Haro Street

San Francisco, CA 94107

3:00 p.m. Sunday March 22

Mercy Center Chapel

2300 Adeline Drive

Burlingame, CA 94010


(800) 838-3006

Buy tickets online throught this link



Friday, March 13, 2009

Cal Bach: Biber Requiem and Steffani Stabat Mater

Cal Bach has an amazing program this weekend, of music you get few opportunities to hear: Heinrich Biber's Requiem and Agostino Steffani's Stabat Mater. If you don't know Biber, you should: he was among the greats in the generation of German composers just before J.S. Bach, and a marvel. Look for his violin music, played by Andrew Manze, all mad filigree and deranged harmonies. I love it.

I've heard some of Biber's choral music as well, a performance of Missa Christi Resurgentis by Manze and the English Consort. Hoo boy!

You can hear Cal Bach in three excellent venues; tickets are $25/18/10:

Fri, Mar 13, 2009, 8pm at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco
Sat, Mar 14, 2009, 8pm at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Palo Alto
Sun, Mar 15, 2009, 4pm at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Doing the Impossible

Murray Perahia demonstrates on his new CD that it's possible to make Beethoven boring. I swear I fell asleep halfway through the first movement of Op. 26, the first sonata on the set. I sampled a few other tracks, including most of the "Pastoral," Op. 28, but no go.

I felt this way about his Mozart piano concerto series back in the 1980s, too. I really don't understand how he does it. I admire the tone and touch on the Beethoven CD, and I can hear that he's trying for some interesting phrasing, but....zzzzzzzzzzz. He just can't hold my attention. How does he do it?

I need a good stiff dose of Kovacevich now. Or St. Artur, or Eric Heidieck, or Yves Nat or Bruno Gelber or Annie Fischer or....you get the point.

It's Here!

The new and improved San Francisco Classical Voice web site launched today - in the last couple of hours, in fact. It looks great, and there are all sorts of useful new features (written and functional).

You should be aware that archived content hasn't been migrated to the new content management system, and all the links to SFCV articles and reviews in my sidebar are now broken (sigh). But here's the URL to my Takacs Quartet review. And I'm quoted in Chelsea Spangler's article on choral singing. Just guessing, but I assume I'm the black belt mentioned in the teaser.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Church of the Schubert C-Major Quintet

Here's something I'm not going to be disputing any time soon:
It is my belief -- a belief undimmed by its obvious foolishness -- that this is the single greatest piece of music ever written, by anyone, ever.
That's Joshua Kosman, in the comments to a posting on The Standing Room. At the point when I first read his comment, I had not yet heard the quintet. When I did, I fell over. No, not really, but close enough.

Yes, I guess it is foolish to deem any particular work the single greatest piece of music ever written, by anyone, ever....but I challenge you to hear the Schubert Quintet live, in any reasonably competent performance, and not reach the same conclusion. Me, I've been lucky enough to hear two much-better-than-competent live performances.

Tristan und Isolde! you say. And so do I, at least after seeing it performed. But the Schubert...transcendence in forty-five minutes. Truly, there is nothing better.

Thank Goodness for IMSLP...

....because while I was writing my review of the Takacs Quartet, I could look at the score of the Schubert string quintet. (I'll have the review URL later today.)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Still One of Those Weeks

Not to mention, what sounds like an excellent concert, "Music of the Chapel Royal," by the male chamber chorus Clerestory, on March 7 at 8 p.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal on Bancroft Way, Berkeley, and March 8 at 5 p.m. at St. Mark's Lutheran on O'Farrell, San Francisco.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

One of Those Weeks

Too many possibilities:
I can't go to all of these. I'm reviewing the Takacs, which'll be fun. Debating whether to get myself down to Palo Alto for the Dresher, which is likely to be stupendous. Would love to see Other Minds - there's a Kagel piece on one program, among other tasty works.


Compare and Contrast 14

The Rose Art Museum discussions continue, in the press and blogosphere. I have still more self-serving bullshit email from Jehuda Reinharz.
  • January 26, 2009: " I am writing to tell you that the Board of Trustees met today and voted to close the Rose Art Museum."
  • Later in the January 26 email: "Today's decision will set in motion a long-term plan to sell the art collection and convert the professional art facility to a teaching, studio, and gallery space for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty."
  • February 26: "Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of misinformation circulating in the media regarding the Rose. The facts are: 1. The Rose is NOT going to close. The Board of Trustees voted to keep the Rose open as a teaching and exhibition gallery that is even more fully integrated into University life and the academic enterprise. 2. The Board of Trustees voted to authorize Brandeis to sell a limited number of pieces in the collection -- if the need arises in the future. Nothing will be sold into the currently depressed art market."
Misinformation in the press? You mean the press and everybody who read the January 26 email somehow made a mistake by thinking "...the Board of Trustees met today and voted to close the Rose Art Museum" means "we're closing the Rose Art Museum"? How does turning the building into an art studio constitute anything other than closing the museum?

President Reinharz, spare us the crap. The Board voted to close the museum; it's not going to be functioning as a museum, so just stop. We all know how to read, and we all have your past email to refer to. Stop pretending the press got it wrong.

Compare and Contrast 13

The Met's new production of Bellini's La Sonnambula opened the other day, by Mary Zimmerman and starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez. The reviews are in entertaining contrast to one another:
  • Martin Bernheimer is displeased.
  • Anthony Tommasini is skeptical about the concept, vague about how good the vocal performances were (but I agree with him in general about Florez), and hilarious on one aspect of the updating: "When the villagers in Bellini’s opera discover Amina asleep in the count’s room, they are scandalized. But why would Amina’s colleagues be so shocked by a little backstage hanky-panky? What kind of urban opera company is this?"
  • Jonathan Wellsung had a great time.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Youtube Symphony 2

Apparently the auditions and voting are over and the experts have chosen the orchestra members. Details at the YouTube Symphony web site. (That's as far as I have gotten and about as far as I expect to get.)