Saturday, May 30, 2009

OT, Meet Sakurako

A blogger who paints cupcake operas might enjoy this.


George W. Bush spent something like 1/3 of the first year of his presidency in Crawford, and the Republicans are up in arms about the Obamas spending a night on the town in NYC? C'mon. Find something real to complain about.

The Pastreich Papers

Joshua Kosman notes, quite correctly, that I was on a bit of a tear the other week about Peter Pastreich's new position at Philharmonia Baroque and also about Josh's reporting on same. While I wouldn't expect the San Francisco Symphony strike to be the first thing discussed in an article about current events, I wouldn't expect it to be completely absent, either. When an administrator has a long and distinguished career running an orchestra and it ends with a bitter labor dispute, that is relevant to his subsequent career and to any discussion of his past career. The episode doesn't need to be in every article, but it needs to be in the first. After that, sure, focus on PBO's schedule, fundraising, and programming.

While Joshua may have been namby-pamby in the 1997 article, his blog posting spells out Pastreich's errors in the labor dispute quite clearly. Some of that belonged in the Chron article about Pastreich joining PBO.

As far as the Honolulu Symphony goes, here are a couple of links relevant to the "unsourced" Music News item (there are plenty more out there):
Consultants are typically hired to find problems and identify solutions. "Here's the problem - oh, and you could make me the solution" looks just a bit like self-dealing.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pretty Please?

Won't you let me play the bass drum in your upcoming performance of the Verdi Requiem? Just once? For a rehearsal, maybe? I'll even pay to play it.

(Full review of tonight's performance at SF Opera coming up tomorrow.)

Dawn to Twlight I

Don't believe everything The Opera Tattler and Civic Center have to say about Wednesday night's Schubert/Berg program and San Francisco Symphony - or maybe you should believe that it sounded very different in the second tier, where I sat, from on the floor, where I'm presuming they were.
Yes, I heard some roughness, but it was in sloppily attacked wind chords in the last movement of Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra. At the first performance of such a challenging program, no harm, no foul, at least when I'm not officially reviewing.

No, I would not describe Michelle DeYoung's voice as "silvery;" it has darkened considerably since I first heard her more than a decade ago in the Seattle Tristan. I last heard the Seven Early Songs performed three years ago at the Berkeley Symphony by another veteran of that production, soprano Jane Eaglen, who mangled the work.

DeYoung, by contrast, was a marvel, singing with a gorgeously-sustained line, exquisite shading, good enunciation, and plenty of specificity. I was struck by how close the songs were to the sound-world and emotional tone of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, despite the vast difference in orchestral forces, Berg's chamber orchestra neatly achieving sonorities his teacher needed 110 players for. Oh, and she really did look fantastic; see the photos at Civic Center.

As for the Schubert, I liked the opening Rosamunde overture just fine, and MTT's style with the composer suits me better than it does sfMike. I hadn't heard the Unfinished more than a few times in the last 20 years, after playing it to death in college, and I'd never before heard it live.

Hoo boy. That is one scary piece, which I mean in a good way: terrifying, awesome, powerful....MTT definitely played it for drama, and succeeded in bringing a Brahmsian grandeur and intensity to the piece. I would have taken the second movement slower, but, honestly, I can't complain about any performance that leaves me holding my breath that way. Kudos to the winds and horns for magnificent playing in that movement, especially Carey Bell, William Bennett, and Robert Ward.

My only complaint was that after the sublime Unfinished, MTT just had to pick up the microphone and tell us, incoherently, all about the Berg. Way to break the spell, fella.

Evaluating Judges

A headline in the Times reads:

Sotomayor's Sharp Tongue Raises Questions of Temperament

The article leads off with a negative anecdote, which is followed by the usual back and forth about whether her tough questioning is appropriate. On the first page of the web store, you find her called "difficult" and "nasty," and you also find Justice Antonin Scalia's questioning called "acerbic." But the money graf is on the second page:
Judge Guido Calabresi, a former dean of Yale Law School who taught Ms. Sotomayor there and now sits with her on the Second Circuit, said complaints that she had been unduly caustic had no basis. For a time, Judge Calabresi said, he kept track of the questions posed by Judge Sotomayor and other members of the 12-member court. “Her behavior was identical,” he said.
“Some lawyers just don’t like to be questioned by a woman,” Judge Calabresi added. “It was sexist, plain and simple.”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

SF Opera Press Release Brings Bad News, Good News

Racette OUT, Melton IN for tomorrow's Verdi Requiem!

I'm sorry she's sick, because it is always a pleasure to hear Patricia Racette - but I will see her in The Letter at Santa Fe, and in Il Trittico and Faust here. And I'm about as happy as can be with her replacement, the spectacular third-year Adler Fellow Heidi Melton.

A Conflicting Opinion

Drew McManus reproduces email from an orchestra board member, and suggests that others in the business chat with orchestra members after a concert. Start by asking the performer how s/he thought the performance went, is the orchestra board member's idea.

Well, you know, speaking as a member of an amateur performing group, I'm not so sure about this.

For one thing, I am highly self-critical, and I remember every damn mistake I make. I also notice the mistakes people around me make and the mistakes whole sections on the other sie of the stage make, from off-pitch entries, to which singers have voices that stick out, to the time the whole tenor section held a note for two beats after everyone else had correctly stopped singing. I was not in a good mood after that concert, no, I was not.

Do I think most of the audience noticed? No, I do not. Is it a good idea for a member of a performing arts organization to recount errors the group made to a happy audience member? No, it is not. Should a performer say something like "Gosh, I thought it was not anywhere near the best we could have done"? or worse? Maybe not! And I am not so good at being diplomatic about these things.

I've seen the following from the musicians at recent San Francisco Symphony concerts:
  • Enthusiastic acknowledgement, tapping of bows, applause, smiles at Martha Argerich
  • Enthusiastic acknowledgement, tapping of bows, applause, directed at MTT and at the solo chairs - this was just last night, at the first of the Schubert/Berg concerts
  • Blank faces and hardly any acknowledgement of Vladimir Ashkenazy
Let's just say that the musicians' reactions mirrored my own.

I don't know whether or how much professional orchestra musicians are coached in public relations and what it's okay to say to members of the audience (and press). It's easy to imagine a situation where a player gets in trouble for being...a little too honest and a little too explicit. Do you think they like every conductor or soloist who comes through? And do you think it's wise for a player to be honest with a board member about these things? If players are unhappy with a music director or guest conductor for good reasons, sometimes it's best to have the union deal with the issues. I myself would hesitate to say anything other than platitudes in the situation the board member describes in his letter to Drew.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Split Goddamn It Decision

Prop. 8 upheld; validity of 18,000 existing marriages upheld. At least this provides the basis for an equal-protection challenge, but where does it go next? The U.S. Supreme Court? Anyone think they'll strike down Prop. 8?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Haunted Manor

A few years ago, Opera News reviewed, and rather liked, a recording of Stanislaw Moniuszko's Straszny Dwor (The Haunted Manor). The title stuck in my head, as did a few excerpts I heard on line, which sounded cheery and charming, and more interesting than, say, Donizetti. I stuck the recording, by the Polish National Opera, on my to-buy list, but it never did float to the top.

Two weeks ago, I caught the sole East Bay performance of The Haunted Manor, staged by Donald Pippin's Pocket Opera. The Haunted Manor turns out to be an extremely slight piece, with a comic plot so thin it makes L'Elisir d'Amore look like Hamlet: Two brothers, lately in the army, vow never to marry so that they'll be perpetually available to defend Poland. They visit with a member of the hometown gentry, where there's mutual attraction between the brothers and the landowner's two daughters. The brothers are challenged to spend a night in the supposedly haunted tower of the manor. The sisters play various tricks on the brothers and their servant. By  morning, the brothers are ready to declare their love and marry the sisters.

Now, I certainly see some potential in this plot. A skilled composer and librettist could have a lot of fun with a haunted house and purported ghosts. 

When I mentioned this to Patrick, his one-word response was "Ruddigore." Sadly, while the lyrics of Pippin's adaptation of The Haunted Manor sound something like cut-rate Gilbert, the Polish opera doesn't come close to the comedic genius that Gilbert & Sullivan were able to achieve in their operettas. Nothing much happens; the libretto just doesn't take advantage of the possibilities inherent in the plot. It's not scary or comically scary. The characters don't have much personality; if only the brothers and sisters were sharply differentiated from each other, if only the servant took on a real life of his own...well, see Cosi fan tutte

And Pocket Opera's presentation made it tough to evaluate the music. They perform with a few strings, a couple of winds, and a piano for the orchestra, to start with. The piano is just plain too dominant; it homogenizes the sound so that the rest of the musicians add a bit of color more than substance. It needn't be this way; Berkeley Opera has had some fine successes with reduced orchestras, as in The Legend of the Ring. And Pippin's trademark from-the-stage narrations had the effect of interrupting whatever dramatic momentum there is in The Haunted Manor. I know that it's part of Pocket's presentation style, but in this case, it didn't serve the music well.

As for the performers, the sisters and the lower-voiced singers all fared better than the tenors; Patrycja Poluchowicz was exceptionally impressive as Anna, the soprano sister (her mezzo sibling, played by Dalyte Kodzis, had much less music).

Bay Area Composers and New Music Ensembles

Do you have video or audio of your work on line, whether at YouTube or a profession or personal or organizational web site? If so, please send me pointers; I'm planning a series of postings parallel to Terry Teachout's Wednesday culture videos, with a focus on Bay Area composers and performers.

Friday, May 22, 2009

San Francisco Renaissance Voices 2009-10 Season

Todd Jolley, the director of San Francisco Renaissance Voices, puts together great programs. Take a look at their upcoming season, which includes Josquin's L'homme arme mass:

Annual Halloween Weekend Concert
Shakespeare Ode (Thomas Linley, the younger - 1756-1778)
October 30, 31 & November 1, 2009 - concerts in San Francisco & Berkeley

March 6, 7 & 14, 2010
- concerts in San Francisco, Berkeley & other Bay Area venues
Music of war and peace from the Renaissance and early Baroque featuring Tomas de Luis Victoria's Missa pro Victoria (based on Janequin's Le Guerre) as well as Guillaume Dufay's Lamentio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae, Gallus' Les Heroes, Te Deums from the Franco-Flemish Renaissance, selections from Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, and troubador songs from the Crusades.

Missa L'homme Arme' Super Voces Musicales (Josquin de Prez - c1450-1521)
May 15, 16 & 23, 2010
July 31, August 1 & 8, 2010
- concerts in San Francisco, Alameda & other Bay Area venues
This concert is 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).

Tickets available approximately 8 weeks before each concert at the SFRV web site.


Joshua Kosman's story on Peter Pastreich and the PBO completely ducks the points he made back in 1997 about the San Francisco Symphony strike.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Changes at PBO

No, Nic McGegan is not stepping down. But Peter Pastreich is joining the orchestra as executive director. Here's what the PBO press release had to say about him:
Peter Pastreich served as executive director of the San Francisco Symphony during its period of most dramatic growth, from April 1978 to April 1999 – a tenure of 21 years marked by numerous historic accomplishments and working partnerships with music directors Michael Tilson Thomas, Herbert Blomstedt and Edo De Waart. He represented the San Francisco Symphony in the planning and construction of Davies Symphony Hall, which opened in September 1980, and in the successful acoustical and architectural renovation of the hall in 1992. Under his leadership, the orchestra dramatically increased its budget, income from ticket sales and endowment, resulting in an unprecedented sixteen consecutive years of balanced budgets. Highlights of his tenure include the founding of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, the launch of the Symphony’s acclaimed Adventures in Music education program, numerous recording contracts and the release of forty recordings, syndicated radio broadcasts on over 450 stations across the country, and a significant touring program throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.
What the long quotation above doesn't mention is the nine-week strike that took place toward the end of Pastreich's tenure at SFS.

Here's what Joshua Kosman said about the 1996-97 strike after it finally ended:
Not even Willie Brown could make sense of this dispute -- after two negotiating sessions, the mayor told The Chronicle that he couldn't figure out what the issues were and was washing his hands of the mess.

That's because the health package, the pension payments and all the rest of it were merely symptoms of a deeper problem.

What really caused the strike -- and what will cause another one three years from now if it isn't addressed immediately -- is the atmosphere of distrust and lack of communication that has grown between the musicians and management, particularly Executive Director Peter Pastreich.

Both sides know it, too. Throughout the strike, musicians' spokesman Paul Shinoff repeatedly said that the real story behind the strike wasn't the ostensible contract issues so much as management's lordly attitude toward orchestra members. In a radio commercial during the strike, the musicians compared management's style to that of 17th century aristocrats.

Read the whole thing here. And, if you're not already concerned, a 2005 item in San Francisco Classical Voice details what happened when Pastreich, who was consulting with the troubled Honolulu Symphony, suggested himself as interim president: three board members and the CEO resigned. He wasn't appointed.

Now, it's not likely that PBO, a much smaller organization than SFS, with a shorter season and different labor arrangements, will run into these kinds of issues. But you never know. I just hope there's no rerun at PBO of what happened at SFS.

San Francisco Opera on the Radio

SF Opera just announced the schedule of upcoming radio broadcasts on KDFC. These are not, of course, live, nor are they at a time when I'm usually sitting around listening to opera - the Saturday Met broadcasts have trained me well.

Sunday, June 7 at 8 p.m. – The Bonesetter’s Daughter (music by Stewart Wallace; libretto by Amy Tan, based on her novel; commissioned by San Francisco Opera)

Sunday, July 5 at 8 p.m. – Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love (apparently L'Elisir d'Amore is too hard to understand)

Sunday, August 2 at 8 p.m. – Mozart’s Idomeneo

Sunday, September 6 at 8 p.m. – Puccini’s Tosca

Sunday, October 4 at 8 p.m. – San Francisco Chronicle Presents San Francisco Opera in the Park

Sunday, November 1 at 8 p.m. – The November San Francisco Opera broadcast will be announced at a later date.

Sunday, December 6 at 8 p.m. – Verdi’s La Traviata ;San Francisco Opera Music Director Donald Runnicles, conductor; Marta Domingo, director.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Please Visit the Bay Area. Please.

ICE, that is, the International Contemporary Ensemble. Look at what a press release tells me they're performing in the near future, in theaters a couple of thousand miles from me:

In New York:

ICE returns to the one-and-only Performance Space 122 this week with Near-Death Experiences & Other Live Acts, featuring world-premiere pieces from four of New York's brilliant young composer-performers. Following new pieces from Nathan Davis, Steve Lehman, and Mario Diaz de León, the sensational composer & vocalist Corey Dargel will join ICE for the world premiere of his art-pop song cycle "Thirteen Near Death Experiences," where symptom checklists and medical diagnoses masquerade as love songs with a mix of humor, tenderness, and pathos. Check out Dargel's blog about the piece's genesis

Friday, May 22 & Saturday, May 23
8 p.m.
Performance Space 122
Tickets are going fast, so reserve now at the PS 122 website!

In Chicago:

Then on June 4 ICE launches an aural assault on Chicago, as master percussionist and conductor Steve Schick leads fifteen ICE musicians in an animalistic thrash-fest: the music of Iannis Xenakis, which Schick guarantees will "hit you right where it counts."

MCA Chicago.
June 4, 2009
Tickets are going fast: or 312.397.4010

You'll hear it.


Tracing Xenakis: A Podcast. A closer look at the life and music of this singular musical figure, featuring interviews with DJ Spooky, Steve Schick, Madame Françoise Xenakis, and many others.

Xi/blog: A forum for all things X. Read posts by ICE members and musical luminaries; explore the life, the music and the politics; share your thoughts... dive in.



Monday, May 18, 2009

Kay Stern at the Freight

Kay Stern, concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, performs tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 19, at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, in their Classical at the Freight series. 8 p.m., $9.50 at the door ($8.50 in advance), for an evening with one of the Bay Area's best violinists. The announcement I have doesn't say a darned thing about what she's performing, but, trust me, it hardly matters.

1111 Addision, Berkeley, CA, 8 p.m. Be there, or be square.

Every Mistake Imaginable

I first heard EMI called Every Mistake Imaginable back when they issued a live Tristan und Isolde purportedly conducted by Sir. Thomas Beecham. In actuality, the set mixed up performances by Beecham and Fritz Reiner. Sure, Melchior and Flagstad sounded a lot like Melchior and Flagstad, but could no one tell Sabine Kalter and Margarete Klose apart??
In any event, a friend emailed me this morning with a pointer to the newish Lamenti, a recording of a number of 17th c. laments, conducted by Emmanuelle Haim. EMI has track listings with, tantalizingly, little icons indicating that you can listen to the tracks.

Well, no. You have to join some kind of Listening Club to hear the tracks.

I'd settle for short samples. But I'm not joining EMI's Listening Club. Way to get my business, EMI! Welcome to the 21st century, where putting obstacles in people's way doesn't make you friends any more than DRM on CDs does.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Found in My In-Box

  • The Czech record label Indies Scope Records is home to a number of Central European artists; they're outside my usual area of interest, but maybe not yours. Check out their web site.
  • The Canadian group Epyllion has a MySpace page where you can hear its music. High-energy rock music, not quite my thing, but maybe yours.
  • More down my alley, check out Classical TV, which has both free and pay-to-view offerings of orchestra, opera, and ballet on the net.
  • Composer Eric Lebigot describes his music as contemporary classical, and it can be heard at his station on

Saturday, May 16, 2009


It dawned on me a few weeks ago that small musical organizations in the Bay Area must conduct site search - where can we give our concerts? - on a regular basis. Some venues are well-known and busy (St. Gregory of Nyssa in SF, First Congregational in Berkeley), others are less known.
There must be a tremendous duplication of effort involved in these site searches. Does anyone maintain an up-to-date database with venue information? Such a database would be in the interests of venues AND performing arts organizations.

In a perfect world, the database would include the following:
  • Location
  • Contact information (address, email address, web site, contact person, if any)
  • Audience capacity
  • Parking capacity
  • Nearby public transit routes
  • Cost for a performance (and length of time covered by the fee)
  • Cost for a rehearsal (and length of time covered by the fee)
  • Does the site have an organ? What kind of condition is it in?
  • Does the site have a piano? Is it kept tuned?
  • How big a chorus can be accommodated
  • How much space is there for an orchestra or other instrumental ensemble?
  • Whether the site has a green room and whether there's any additional cost for that
  • Whether the site has rooms for soloists and whether there's any additional cost for that
  • Whether the site has a room for a conductor and whether there's any additional cost for that
Question for the reader: Do you know of such a database? Please post in the comments if you do.

Friday, May 15, 2009

St. John's Presbyterian, Berkeley, Organ Series

St. John's on College Ave, near the Julia Morgan Theater, has an organ recital series, and here's what's scheduled for the balance of 2009:

Sunday, June 7, 4 PM: David Hunsberger
works by Bull, Bach and Mendelssohn

Sunday, Sept. 20, 4 PM: Katie Ann McCarty
All-American program: works by Akerley, Locklair, Paulus, Bolcom, Burkhardt and Ives

Sunday, Nov. 22, 4 PM: Sandra Soderlund
Baroque and neo-Baroque music by Buxtehude, Bach, Hugo Distler

All performances at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Avenue in Berkeley (Free parking available)

TICKETS: $20 gen/ $10 students w/ ID avaiable at the door, online at, or at The Musical Offering (2430 Bancroft Way in Berkeley)

MORE INFO: (510)684-7563; (under construction)

San Francisco Opera Summer Season

The SF Opera summer season is coming up fast:
  • Verdi Requiem, one performance only, in celebration of Donald Runnicles's tenure as music director, with Patricia Racette, Stephanie Blythe, Stefano Secco, and Andrea Silvestrelli. Friday, May 29, 8 p.m.
  • Tosca, June 2-26; Adrianne Pieczonka, Carlo Ventre, Lado Ataneli; Marco Armiliato
  • Porgy and Bess (or, The Gershwins' (R) Porgy and Bess (SM)), June 9-27; Eric Owens, Laquita Mitchell, Lester Lynch, Chauncy Packer, Angel Blue, Eric Greene, Karen Slack, Alteouise deVaughn; John DeMain
  • La Traviata, June 13-July 5; Anna Netrebko/Elizabeth Futral/Ailyn Perez, Charles Castronuovo/David Lomeli, Dwayne Croft/Stephen Powell. (My tickets are for Futral/Lomeli/Powell.); Donald Runnicles
Some dates are already sold out, so buy fast. But you can always get in to the free ballpark broadcast of Tosca on Friday, June 5; love, death, and garlic fries!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Music at the Gardner

Who knew? The famously eccentric Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has podcasts and performances on its web site, and mentions, in email telling me about this, that they are pioneering the use of "flexible copyright," which turns out to be a license based on the Creative Commons license. Good for them!  And they've had a million downloads.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Volti's 30th anniversary season continues on May 15-17, with a concert called Ecstatically Impromptu. I don't think this means they're making it up as they go along, but it is sure to be an interesting and beautifully-sung program. You can read program notes and and hear sound samples at Volti's Facebook site.


Join the 20-voice Volti ensemble, led by Founder/Artistic Director Robert Geary, on a musical and spiritual journey to unexpected places, from the mountains of Tuva to the hills of San Francisco. World premieres of Volti commissions by composers Donald Crockett & Robert Paterson, plus works by Kirke Mechem, Aaron Jay Kernis & Sungji Hong.

St. Mark's Episcopal Church
2300 Bancroft Way, Berkeley

St. Gregory of Nyssa Church
500 De Haro Street, San Francisco

All Saints' Episcopal Church
555 Waverley Street, Palo Alto

Visit or call (415) 771-3352. Learn more and hear sound clips

Turning Points: Rose Art Museum Honors Michael Rush

A symposium at the Rose to honor Michael Rush and discuss the future of the museum. Details:

Rose Art Museum
May 12, 2009, 2:00-4:30 p.m.

The Rose Art Museum currently faces one of the most extraordinary, and puzzling, moments in its history. After months of uncertainty over the fate of the Museum itself, the Brandeis University administration has declared that the Museum will stay open as a public art museum. However, the fate of the collection and the curatorial and educational missions of the museum remain unclear. We gather to celebrate and reflect upon the extraordinary accomplishments of the Rose Art Museum team under the leadership of Michael Rush, including a series of distinguished exhibitions, public programs, and publications. We also gather to discuss the future of the Museum; how can we work together to honor and carry on the remarkable legacies associated with this remarkable, precious institution?

Reception to Follow

Speakers include:
Margaret Evangeline (artist)

  • Jane Farver, Director, MIT List Visual Arts Center
  • Margaret Evangeline (artist)
  • Steve Miller (artist)
  • Ellen Schattschneider (faculty, Anthropology)
  • Joe Wardwell (faculty, Fine Arts)
  • Mary Baine Campbell (faculty, English)
  • Dirck Roosevelt (faculty, Education)
  • Andreas Teuber (faculty, Philosophy)
  • Mark Auslander (faculty, Anthroplogy)
  • Nancy Scott (faculty, Fine Arts)
  • Ramie Targoff (faculty, English)
  • Pennie Taylor (graduate student, Cultural Production)
  • Aly Young, Yael-Rooks Rapport, Sonja Gandert, Aubrey Knox (Rose Interns)

For full schedule see:

What Were They Thinking?

The new logo for New York City Opera is a giant black dot, a friend tells me. I have to assume that it represents the giant black hole that has swallowed their endowment.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Conversation Among Friends

MC: two two two posts in one...

IT: hahah, yeah. I went on at very great length about this a day or two ago.

OT: It is just boggling to watch arts organizations try to embrace "new" technology. I'm always wondering who is in charge of these things!

MC: people who have "meet with consultant to strategize about how to talk to young people (MyBlog? YouTweet?)" on their to-do list

IT: You ARE planning to send some tweets from the stage the next time you're singing, right?

MC: ru kidding, next show there's no singing, only room full of people looking at iphones watching people on stage tweet at each other about what they'd think about if they were singing.

IT: ohgodohgodohgod i am out of luck i have the wrong kind of phone is my android phone good enough i am so uncool it's amazing anyone replies to my email

OT: I'm so entirely pained right now, I can hardly make a coherent sentence.

Friday, May 08, 2009

What Will They Think of Next?

Seattle Opera, which has a blog and first-timer's guide on its web site, is going one step further: the company is developing a video reality show, called "Confessions of a First-Time Opera Goer." Here's what their web site says about the project:
Calling All Ring Rookies!
Seattle Opera Wants YOU!

If you are between the ages of 18-30, know a little bit about opera but don’t consider yourself a total opera geek, and have never before seen Wagner’s Ring cycle, then Seattle Opera wants YOU! This summer, Seattle Opera is creating a new video series chronicling the “Confessions of a First-time Operagoer,” and we’re seeking a young adult to star as the host. The selected host will experience Seattle Opera from the inside out, participating in exclusive backstage tours and events and conversations with the artists, crew, and General Director Speight Jenkins, all of which culminates in attending the Mt. Everest of all operas: Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. If you want an amazing opportunity to peek behind the scenes, meet the cast and crew that make opera happen, and ultimately star in a video series recording your experiences along the way, then apply today!
Hmmm, "don't consider yourself a total opera geek" rules me out, especially since I own more Ring recordings than Speight Jenkins, not to mention the age range.

There's a live casting call, starting at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 15, in McCaw Hall. More details on the whole project at the Confessions web page. Be there or be square? Seriously, this could be pretty funny. I just wish they'd let me take a peek back stage at the Ring.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Among the members of the SFS social network:
  • Ann Moller Caen
  • Bill Leuth (they'll need a special moderator to protect him)
  • Edwin Outwater
  • yuja, who names as her favorite musician Alfred Cortot. Nice to know that one of today's hottest young pianists has superb taste in the departed.

How Many Social Networks Do You Need?

I've had an online presence since December, 1990, when, late one night, I used a PCs Ltd. 286 and a 2400 baud modem to call a phone number in Sausalito, CA and sign up for an account on The Well. I'd heard about the Well a few years before while hanging around at The Other Change of Hobbitt bookstore in Berkeley, when Mike Farren told me there were a lot of good discussions there on different subjects of interest to me.

The Well was not the first online community; both CompuServe and The Source predated it, and in the late 80s and early 90s there were plenty of local bulletin boards running on no-name computers in people's living rooms, reachable by dial-up modem.

The Well was - and is - a general-purpose discussion system organized around conferences, which have focus areas such as Books, Politics, Legal, etc., etc. Within each conference, there are topics. Anyone can open or post in a topic. The Well, unlike a lot of what you see now, doesn't allow anonymity. You have to sign up using your real name, with very rare exceptions, and you can't conceal who you are when you post. A brief experiment, the Anonymous conference, died very quickly because, well, too many people decided to make fun of a few target individuals. The Well has had plenty of flame wars and scandals; people have married; others have gotten ill and died, including a few who were early adopters; members' children have been born, grown up, and graduated from college. That six-year-old I remember from a long-ago Well office party? She graduated from Stanford and we're now co-workers.

I still hang around on the Well, even though the World Wide Web has, in many senses, left it in the dust. It uses an antiquated command-line conferencing system called PicoSpan, which while not fancy or loaded with graphics is fast, flexible, and highly searchable. The conversation is superb, the members a varied and literate group. It's not the huge adventure it was in 1990, but the Well is still the first place I go for the answers to particular types of questions. Yes, there's Google, but sometimes I want information filtered through human opinion. Google can tell me the location of every car repair place in the Oakland/Berkeley area, but the Well can tell me who gives good service. And I've known most members for so long that I can calibrate their credibility easily enough. You could think of this aspect of Well membership as Yelp 1.0.

About a decade ago, when the Web had reached sufficient critical mass that businesses were taking it seriously, and it wasn't just hobbyists putting up static web pages about their own obsessions, there was a period when "online community" was a big thing. Every darn business launched its own 'community," whether it made sense or not, trying to replicate the kind of energy and sense of place that arose on the Well. I spent a couple of months moderating forums part-time for a prescription drug site called Planet Rx. The forums were health-related and a bunch of people I knew had been recruited to moderate, many of them from the Well.

I wound up resigning from the moderator position pretty quickly, for reasons having to do with management at Planet Rx. The original version of this posting said it didn't last, but I just checked, and what do you know? It's still in business, which surprises me. You might remember WebVan and the online site for buying pet food, businesses that couldn't make it on the web.

At the moment, it seems like everybody and their brothers are trying to jump on the Web 2.0 bandwagon, whether it makes sense for their business or not. Social networking sites are blooming all over the place, all hoping to either be the next Facebook or Twitter, or to pull in more interest in their business. San Francisco Classical Voice, for which I review, has launched its own discussion forums, and says on the site that it aims to be "the go-to place for classical music in the Bay Area." I bet there are discussion boards at KDFC, the immensely-popular, piss-poor classical-pops station we have to make do with around here.

So this morning's email brings word that San Francisco Symphony has started its own social networking site. You can see it at I strolled over and took a look, and it's about what you'd expect: places to post videos, discussion forums, Ask a Musician, Alexander Barantschik talks about his famous violin, the David, etc. There aren't too many comments up in the discussion forums, and I recognize the names of pretty much everyone who has commented. (Note to SFS: get some audience members to post before the director of public relations.)

I'm just not sure what use single-organization social networking sites. In the arts world, I can see organizing around a high-passion art form like opera more readily than around a particular opera company or symphony orchestra. (See parterre box, for example, with its heady mix of technical discussion, diva-worship, and lurid gossip.)

Does SFS think that hundreds or thousands of its audience members have the time and energy to post in its forums and consume the content on the site? Will the social-networking site increase ticket sales? Does it make more sense to just have a major presence on Facebook or MySpace? Do organizations have any idea how much moderation is likely to be necessary to keep discussions focussed and nonlibelous? What breadth of commentary will be allowed? Has anyone bothered to look at the comments at the NY Times web site? They vary from smart at Paul Krugman's blog to compassionate and experience-based at The New Old Age blog to ghastly in other political commentary or whenever the words autism and vaccination appear.

I rather think that what we're seeing is the second wave of the web, and it will shake out just like the Web 1.0 flurry of community sites did. Some social networking sites with take off and thrive; most will collapse or be abandoned or semi-abandoned. Organizations will invest tons of money but won't necessarily see a lot of return. For one thing, they're a little late to the party, and many heavy web users are already overloaded. I can't keep up with reading all the worthwhile classical music blogs; I haven't touched Twitter; and I certainly haven't got time to read social networking sites for every arts organization I care about.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Hello, Arlen, Perhaps It's Time to Say Goodbye

Arlen Specter supports Norm Coleman in Minnesota, on the following dubious grounds:
Deborah Solomon: With your departure from the Republican Party, there are no more Jewish Republicans in the Senate. Do you care about that?
Arlen Specter: I sure do. There’s still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner.
Personal to Senator Specter: the winner is the candidate with the most votes.

Update: The Times reports that Specter has "retracted" his support for Norm Coleman. I'm glad we've got that cleared up now, but...

Morning Miscellany

Bookings are open for the fall season at the English National Opera, and an uncommonly good season it is: Rigoletto, Turandot, The Turn of the Screw, Le Grand Macabre, and a double bill of Duke Bluebeard's Castle and The Rite of Spring. I wonder if it's the same production I saw in 1993, when Bluebeard was paired with semi-staged Monteverdi madrigals. I do have one small quarrel with the email I received: "poingnant" isn't the first descriptive term that comes to mind for Bartok's expressionist masterpiece.
If you're thinking of a trip to England, and none of those operas appeals, ENO is performing Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin in early July.

At Brandeis University, the Rose Art Museum saga continues, with the official committee for the Rose's future issuing an interim report supporting the university administration and board of trustees. Big surprise, the hand-picked committee likes the pickers. Here's a choice paragraph from a story at ArtInfo:
"It reminds me of something like a Stalinesque show committee," said the chairman of Rose's board of directors, Jonathan Lee. Andspeaking to ARTINFO, Meryl Rose, a member of both the museum board and the family that founded the institution, called it "just a sham."
Fan of Flicka? Well, who isn't? She is one of the singers appearing in a recital of songs by Jake Heggie (the composer will be at the piano) on Monday, May 11, at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco. Goldstar has a discount on this one even though full price is still only $25.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Time of the Season

For season announcements, of course. 

The Cal Performances 2009-10 season has many continuing favorites, including Mark Morris, Merce Cunningham, Wynton Marsalis, the Takacs Quartet, and the Tallis Scholars. My favorite programs include the Swedish Radio Choir (really), led by guest conductor Ragnar Bohlin, the Swede currently making beautiful music with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus; the program includes Martin's Mass for Double Choir and works by Mahler, Bach, and Rorem and Hesperion XXI, led by Jordi Savall.

San Francisco Performances has quite a few bang-up programs scheduled as well. Thomas Ades is back, playing Brahms, Beethoven, Janacek, and Prokofiev; also on the piano series are Angela Hewitt, Richard Goode, Marc-Andrew Hamelin, and Yuja Wang. The Alexander Quartet repeats their Mendelssohn cycle in Berkeley and plays a Dvorak series at Herbst. The Kuss and Juilliard Quartets are on the schedule too.  The vocal series is especially tasty: Nathan Gunn, Joyce DiDonato, Alice Coote, and Thomas Hampson in recital. Bartione Eugene Brancoveaunu is on the Young Master series. Mario Formenti plays two incredible piano recitals; one of them is Messiaen's Vingt Regards, so if you missed Christopher Taylor's performances....And that's not all: did I mention the King's Singers and Anonymous Four?

Stanford Lively Arts has similarly got a great lineup. Anonymous Four performs a completely different program from the one presented by San Francisco Performances; Joseph Horowitz curates a Prokofiev series; the Kronos, Emerson, Orion, and St. Lawrence quartets make appearances; there's plenty of dance and theater.

The Merola Opera Program presents L'Amico Fritz and Cosi fan tutte.

Friday, May 01, 2009

All the English Choral Music You Want

It must be something in the stars:
  • California Bach Society performs From Tallis to Tavener, May 1, 8 p.m. at St. Gregory of Nyssa, SF; May 2, 8 p.m., at All Saints in Palo Alto; May 3, 4 p.m. at St. Mark's in Berkeley.
  • Pacific Collegium and the Pacific Boychoir sing Music of the Anglican Tradition, May 2, 7:00 p.m., St. Paul's Episcopal in Oakland.