Sunday, November 29, 2009

Music of Kyle Bartlett

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

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

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

Both concerts are free.

Program highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ojai Music Festival, June 10-13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jèsus

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

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

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

Indian Ragas
Purcell: Fantazias for viols

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

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

All concerts are held at Libbey Bowl.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Your Local Food Bank, 2009

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

Things We Should Be Ashamed Of

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

C'mon, You Guys

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

Political Blogs

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What to Do With Expensive Unsold Seats

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

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

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

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

Is there an economist in the house?

End of Music? C'mon

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Ask 5 to give classical music a try"

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

He's Back!

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

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

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

Recent Lack of Postings

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One Good Thing About Being a Blogger

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

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

Met Broadcast Season

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

2009-10 Toll Brothers Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/6 Sat 1:00 TBA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Publicity Basics Updated

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fifty Years Hence

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Choral Car Pile-Up Time!

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

The NY Times on From the House of the Dead

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

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

Thursday, November 05, 2009

More on Health Care Reform

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

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

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

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

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

In Fernem Land

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

Other Minds Does Henry Cowell

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

Here's the basic information:

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

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

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

Full details are here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Prokofiev Project

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

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

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

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Upcoming in Berkeley

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

Mike Jones, violin
John Burke, piano

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

8:00 pm Saturday, November 21st

Trinity Episcopal Church
corner of Dana and Durant, Berkeley

details, directions etc. at

Republican Schism

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