Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ensemble Parallele's Wozzeck

I'll try to get a longer commentary up on Emsemble Parallele's reduced-orchestra Wozzeck posted at some point, but, briefly, it's a splendid and gripping production. The second performance is today at 2, and I bet there are a few tickets left. Details are here. Be there or be square.

Friday, January 29, 2010

When in New York, II

I'll be arriving Monday, Feb. 1, in the late afternoon; departing Sunday, Feb. 21, in the afternoon. Thanks to the excellent Bruce Hodges, I'm already booked for the JACK Quartet, AXIOM Ensemble, Orpheus, NYPO, else. :) Hoping to catch Ariadne and probably Simon Boccanegra. Debating Sequentia at the Morgan, ICE elsewhere, the Faure Quartet, maybe an organ recital or two (where should I go for that...?). Oh, and the museums, of course.

Suggestions welcome, plus, I'm happy to meet up for coffee/cupcakes/dinner/lunch/drinks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

LA Opera Season, 2010-11

Highlights include Placido Domingo as Pablo Neruda (!) in Daniel Catan's Il Postino, Ben Heppner, Soile Isokoski, Dolora Zajick (!!), James Johnson, and Kristinn Sigmundsson in Lohengrin, Palo Gavanelli in Turco in Italia (I figured him for the title role in Rigoletto, but no), and Patricia Racette (!) as the Governess in The Turn of the Screw. Nozze di Figaro rounds out the opera season.

There will be recitals by Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Jonas Kaufmann, and Rene Pape. The Kaufmann recital is adjacent to the Britten. Road trip!

Full details here.

Retiring from the Met

Calogero Antonio Caruso, better known to a few generations of opera lovers as Charles Anthony, is retiring after 57 years and 2,927 or so performances of dozens of comprimario and lead roles. He's 80 and he has pretty much seen it all since Rudolf Bing hired him. His first role was the Simpleton in Boris Godonov, on March 6, 1954 and he's singing Emperor Altoum in Turandot tomorrow for his last scheduled appearance. The City Room posting about Mr. Anthony includes a video interview of the tenor, conducted by Patricia Racette. Wish I'd been that close to debuting singers Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price!

Au revoir, and have a wonderful retirement, Charles Anthony!

Whale of a Relief

Back in October, I wrote about Dallas Opera's upcoming production of Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick, and noted my concern about the lack of a character named Ishmael. Here's the cast list released then by Dallas:
Ben Heppner (Captain Ahab); Morgan Smith (Starbuck); Stephen Costello (Greenhorn); Jonathan Lemalu (Queequeg); Allan Glassman (Flask); Robert Orth (Stubb); Talise Trevigne (Pip); and Jonathan Beyer (Captain Gardiner).
A new press release has the following:
Ben Heppner (Captain Ahab), Morgan Smith (Starbuck) Stephen Costello (Ishmael), Jonathan Lemalu (Queequeg), Allan Glassman (Flask), Robert Orth (Stubb), Talise Trevigne (Pip) and Jonathan Beyer (Captain Gardiner)
Uh, WHEW. No gimmicks! Or if gimmicks were originally planned, they've been canned.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recovered Voices Conference, Los Angeles

From the American Musicological Society's announcement list. Note that you can see Schreker's Die Gezeichneten at Los Angeles Opera on April 10, 18, 22, and 24, 2010.

Recovered Voices: Staging Suppressed Opera of the Early 20th Century

Sponsored by The OREL Foundation and The UCLA Center for Jewish Studies
Dates: April 7 and 8, 2010

The Nazi regime was not only responsible for the destruction of millions of lives, but also for the suppression of countless works of art, literature, and music. These works, grotesquely termed “degenerate art” by the Nazis, were banned, and the artists, Jewish and non-Jewish, were branded enemies of the state. Thousands were murdered, some went into hiding, and some escaped. But even many of the “fortunate” ones were ruined by the trauma. Although by now this is a well-known story, it continues to unfold in its tragic details, and we are only beginning to truly understand the enormity of the loss.

The work of the historian is not only to document this loss; we can also make some small contribution to undoing this terrible story: forgotten artists and composers can be brought back to public attention, lost masterpieces can be retrieved. And great music can be heard again and enter into its rightful place as part of the repertory.

This conference, organized by UCLA Professor Kenneth Reinhard, is co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and The OREL Foundation and is inspired by the work of James Conlon and Los Angeles Opera’s “Recovered Voices” project, an ongoing commitment to stage masterpieces of 20th-century European opera that were suppressed by the Third Reich. LA Opera's project has richly demonstrated that an enormous amount of this music--much of it by composers little known or unknown in America--is not only worthy of retrieval from the abyss of historical circumstances, but, by any standard, is great and capable of speaking to us urgently and eloquently today.

The conference will feature two days of talks and presentations by major scholars from the US and Europe. Scholars such as David Levin, Christopher Hailey, Albrecht Dümling, Ryan Minor, Peter Franklin, Mladen Dolar, Michael Beckerman, Michael Haas and Slavoj Zizek (among others) will present lectures on various aspects of the cultural history and musical importance of composers such as Franz Schreker, Viktor Ullmann, Erwin Schulhoff, and Alexander Zemlinsky. The music and circumstances of other composers, whose names are more familiar to us - ­Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, for example - ­will also be examined.

To register, and for information concerning housing, meals, etc, as well as detailed program information, visit The OREL Foundation web site and click on the conference link on the home page.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Coming Up This Week

Two outstanding programs:

Ensemble Parallele's Wozzeck

A chamber-orchestra presentation of Berg's great opera, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Saturday, Jan. 30, 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 31, 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $85.

A Sweeter Music

Sarah Cahill plays a program from her commissioning project as a benefit for the American Friends Service Committee. She's played some of the works on the program in the Bay Area before (including those by composers Terry Riley, Jerome Kitzke, Kyle Gann, and others) but I believe some are new, including a piece by Pauline Oliveros. Details:

8 pm this Saturday, January 30
San Francisco Conservatory Concert Hall
50 Oak Street, San Francisco (near Civic Center BART)
$25-50 (all proceeds go to the American Friends Service Committee)
for more information please call Julia Parish at AFSC, (415) 565-0201 ext 16

Warren Stewart on Alessandro Grandi

Warren Stewart is THE most passionate advocate for the music he's performing:
I've wanted to a whole concert of Grandi's music for several seasons and the opportunity to present the modern premieres of some of his cantatas makes it even more exciting. He's a terrific composer, who unfortunately suffered the historical misfortune of laboring in the shadow of Monteverdi and then dying too young in the plague of 1630. He was a colleague (and rival) of his "boss" at San Marco in Venice and they influenced each others music considerably. He influenced many other composers as well and his strophic variation approach to solo song was immediately imitated by many, including Monteverdi, in the 1620s.
I will (sob) be out of town when the Grandi concerts take place, but you should try to go! Again:

Friday, February 12 - 8:00 PM
Pre-concert lecture: 7:15 PM
First Lutheran Church, 600 Homer, Palo Alto CA 94301

Saturday, February 13, 2010 - 8:00 PM
Pre-concert lecture: 7:15 PM
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Sunday, February 14, 2010 - 4:00 PM
Pre-concert lecture: 3:15 PM
St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1111 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

Tickets are $35 (general), $24 (senior), $12 (student).
For more information, see Magnficat's web site.

Question from a Reader: Airplane Music of a Sort

Reader Lorin Alexander asks:
Anyone know of classical music (either historical or contemporary) that imitates sounds of airplane--either take-off or ambient sound inside plane?

I am looking for acoustic, or if electronic, having an acoustic component also. I am familiar with several train simulations treated classically (Honegger's 'Pacific 231', Villa Lobos 'The Little Train of the Caipira' , Steve Reich's 'Different Trains') but have not come across any plane music.

This has a familiar sound; something by Varese? Anyone else have ideas? If so, please post in the comments.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The City of Oakland's Financial Priorities

The NY Times has a review today of the Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill, a new restaurant gracing the shores of Lake Merritt, a body of water sitting squarely in the midst of my fair city.

The restaurant sounds okay, not great; the gorgeous surroundings are evidently intended to make up for an inconsistent menu.

What caught my eye, though, was the price tag on the building it's in: the city laid out the greater part of $22 million to refurbish the century-old lakeside pumping station now inhabited by the restaurant.

God help me. This is a badly mismanaged city with a celebrated absentee mayor and a terrible school system that was in state receivership for some years. $22 million would make a real impact on the schools, in terms of physical plant improvements or, say, arts education.

Why, oh, why, can't we have a decent decision-making process here?

Earl Wild P.S.

There's plenty of the great pianist on YouTube.

And you can download the Rach concertos at the Chandos web site.

Earl Wild

Earl Wild has died at age 94. The great pianist made me a fan of Rachmaninov, thanks to his marvelously extroverted recordings of the concertos and the Rhapsody with Jascha Horenstein. (They're readily available, on Chandos and, in audiophile pressings, Chessky.)

He had a remarkable pianistic pedigree: he studied with Selmar Jansen (a student of D'Albert and Schwarkenka, both Liszt students), Paul Doguereux (a student of Paderewski), and Egon Petri. Whew.

He was the first pianist to give a televised recital - in 1939! - and he toured with Eleanor Roosevelt, playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before her speeches. He played both 19th c. virtuoso music and new music. His discography includes 35 concertos, 26 chamber music recordings, and a staggering 700 solo works. And watch for his memoirs, to be published this year by Carnegie Mellon Press.

Ave ateque vale!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Phèdre, at A.C.T.

Phèdre (Seana McKenna) prays to Venus, the goddess that torments her. Photo by Erik Tomasson.

Guest blogger Janos Gereben reviews A.C.T.'s Phedre:

Jean Racine has always been respected and performed in Europe, but he is virtually nonexistent in contemporary American theater. I was schooled "over there" and Racine has always been in my blood, but never in my heart. Until tonight.

Carey Perloff and the American Conservatory Theater have made Racine's 1677 "Phèdre" ( into a colorful, beautifully shaded, surprising, and altogether glorious show. Show, not a molding classic. Gripping, entertaining, memorable theater.

Surprises just keep coming:
  • Instead of a one-note downer about a tragic queen, this is an amazing "soap," with occasional laughter, frequent smiles, and yet the majestic drama comes through.
  • Forget the original's Alexandrine verses and rhymed couplets, the translation/adaptation by Timberlake Wertenbaker is simple, easy to understand; the language serves the drama, does not loom between the stage and the audience.
  • If you expect to be lost in a French interpretation of complex Greek mythology about the founder-king of Athens (Theseus) and his divine and mortal relations, fear not. Thanks to Wertenbaker, Perloff's direction, and the magnificent cast, it all makes sense, the story unfolds with great simplicity.
  • In stunning contrast with A.C.T.'s sorry record of never having produced decent Shakespeare in either traditional or "updated" manner, here's a classic that maintains its integrity and yet speaks our language.
Perloff herself appreciates the impossible task, quoting an early response by Seana McKenna, who plays the title role: "Where are we? Our characters pray to Greek gods, but we're wearing 17th century French costumes while speaking the text in modern translation underscored with music by an experimental American composer (David Lang)."

The wonder of it all is that it all comes together, virtually seamlessly. There are only a few moments when the suspension of disbelief isn't complete (the manner, not the story, of Theseus' arrival back from the dead is one), and almost every one of the production's 105 minutes (without intermission) is in the flow.

Perloff brought her production and most of the cast from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (so the claim of "world premiere" is wrong), and a remarkable cast it is.

McKenna doesn't portray the tragic queen you'd expect. She is human and believable in her suffering of the uncontrollable, illicit love for her stepson, Hippolytus (Jonathan Goad), while fully realizing how wrong it is. As she goes and back and forth between passion and reason, the moments when morality overcomes obsession become etched in the viewer's memory.

Phèdre (Seana McKenna) finally tells her stepson Hippolytus (Jonathan Goad) that she loves him. Photo by Erik Tomasson.

Phèdre's servant (and the culprit in the play's central human-caused disaster) is Roberta Maxwell; hers is a starring performance of a supporting role. Claire Lautier as Aricie (the object of Hippolytus' affections, to Phèdre's undoing) at first appears not quite up to the high standard of the rest of the cast, but in her climactic scene with Theseus, she is all the stronger and more effective against the initial impression.

Christina Poddubiuk's costumes and - especially - scenery are outstanding. The stark, overwhelming unit set of metal columns, in James F. Ingalls' lighting, is exactly right.

Congratulations, A.C.T. This could be a good time to start on a long-range project to bring Shakespeare to life too.

Krugman Today: A Headline I Wish I'd Thought Of


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Solo, Duo, Trio, Quartet

Reviewing the San Francisco Symphony Chamber Music Concert, Sunday, January 17, 2010. Music of Debussy, Benjamin, and Britten.

My first review in six months!

A couple of things I didn't say: Davies is too damn big for chamber music, even with a small shell behind the players. And why did it seem that Jonathan Vinocour and Yun Jie Liu put out a larger volume of sound than the string quartet did? Because they were standing and closer to the shell?

Coming Up, Bay Area Edition

Fun stuff I may or may not get to:

California Bach Society Annual Benefit Concert

Sunday, January 24, 2010
4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
All Saints' Church, Palo Alto
Bach Arias, Duets, and Choruses

Lots of wonderful music on this all-Bach program, including organ works and some excerpts from CBS's upcoming performances of the St. John Passion.

Magnificat Performs Works of Alessandro Grandi

The concert includes three cantatas, some motets, and some instrumental pieces. This is a particular exciting concert because the what was thought to be the sole manuscript containing Grandi's works was lost during World War II; however, a copy has come to light in Spain. These are very probably the first performances of the works since the 17th century.

Friday, February 12 - 8:00 PM
Pre-concert lecture: 7:15 PM
First Lutheran Church, 600 Homer, Palo Alto CA 94301

Saturday, February 13, 2010 - 8:00 PM
Pre-concert lecture: 7:15 PM
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Sunday, February 14, 2010 - 4:00 PM
Pre-concert lecture: 3:15 PM
St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1111 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

Tickets are $35 (general), $24 (senior), $12 (student).
For more information, see Magnficat's web site.

Pamela Z Performs All Over the Place

Too much to summarize briefly beyond, she's in Illinois, she's at SF MOMA, she's in NY and Italy. Take a look at PZ Gazetta for lots more detail.

sfSound at the SF Conservatory of Music

Ten new works (by Nick Bacchetto, Dan Becker (OM 13), David Coll, Tom Dambly, Heather Frasch, Canner MEFE (Zeek Sheck), Maggi Payne, Mauricio Rodriguez, Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), and Theresa Wong) plus Ligeti's Chamber Concerto!

H/T Other Minds for alerting me to this one.

Saturday, January 23, 2010
Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St.
8 p.m.
$15/$8 underemployed (I like that a lot.)

See the web site for the event (argh, white and purple on black!) for even more info.

Other Minds Festival of New Music 15

March 4-6, 2010, San Francisco
I think it's at the Jewish Community Center.
Tickets to all three concerts are $74 for JCC members, $79 for the general public, $60 for students.

(On dates when I will be out of town, dammit.)

Why We Need the New and Unfamiliar

A friend, a well-known author of both nonfiction and fiction, was musing about the state of publishing and wrote this the other day:
We are both disheartened by the homogeneity of mainstream publishing--the whole vampire phenomenon is symbolic of it--and I suggested that one reason books are no longer an electric topic of discussion among intelligent people is because the mainstream "gatekeepers" have kept out some of the best and most provocative books. Many other reasons too, of course, but the lack of provocative books is front and center.
Substitute "classical music" for books and "concert presenters" or "orchestras" for "publishing" and you'll see why we need to keep the new and the unfamiliar central to concert music. There's a constant demand for new ballet, theater, movies, and pop music, and there's no reason the same can't be true in our field.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

P. S.

The Canadian Opera Company presents seven operas in their next season, and managed to program two written within my lifetime, unlike San Francisco Opera, where the most recently composed opera on the 2010-11 schedule is from 1936 and undoubtedly sounds like 1890.

Now We Know

San Francisco Opera unveiled its 2010-11 season yesterday - well, the part we didn't know about, since the Summer 2011 Ring cycles are in no way a secret - and now we know the real reason they canceled the press conference: to keep me from falling on the floor and wailing in public.

Honestly, I understand that we're in the middle of a terrible economic situation and that everyone is consequently petrified about ticket sales, but David Gockley and Nicola Luisotti apparently think they can
only sell tickets to warhorses. I don't buy that for a second. For one thing, people like me, who've seen the warhorses enough times, already, are going to stay away in droves.

Here's the lineup, with the number of performances of each opera.

Aida: 12 performances (two conductors, two casts)

Butterfly: 12 performances (title role split between Svetla Vassileva and Daniela Dessi)

Ring cycle: 3 cycles plus one freestanding performance each of Siegfried and Goetterdaemmerung (that's 14 performances total).

Nozze: 9 performances. (Luca Pisaroni, Lucas Meachan, Danielle de Niese, Ellie Dehn, and various other people)

Werther: 6 performances. (Vargas, Garanca)

Makropoulos Case: 6 performances. (Mattila, Dvorsky)

Cyrano de Bergerac: 7 performances (Domingo)

It's apparent that significant savings can be achieved by having more performances of fewer operas - that's why more than a third of the season is devoted to Aida and the ever-present Butterfly. Twenty-four performances of the two of them! Those performances could have been split up some other way (8 of each plus 8 of some third opera), but then there would be the additional rehearsal time, cost of director, production, etc., etc.

Of these, I'm willing to buy tickets to Makropoulos, Cyrano, and Werther, but that's about it. If Aida gets good reviews, I'll pick up a single or go standing room; the previous two SFO productions were not well sung.

I didn't put in for the Ring because of the extortionate required donations. Not that I'd get seats, anyway because I haven't subscribed to the opera in several years. (No one from the opera has ever asked me why!) Oh, well. Maybe I'll catch the controversial Los Angeles Ring instead. Or save my pennies for a trip to Bayreuth.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Paul Flight on VoiceBox!

Chloe Veltman and Paul Flight, director of Chora Nova and California Bach Society, talk about community choruses tonight on Chloe's show, VoiceBox. You can hear them on KALW, 91.7, at 10 p.m.

More on the Overcommitted Tenor

Anne Midgette links to Tim Smith's blog and an LA Weekly piece by Joseph Mailander. Short version: hardly anyone is willing to be quoted on record saying anything that's not positive. Martin Bernheimer opines that perhaps PD is overextended.

Somebody should really ask David Gockley how many opera companies he'd be willing to run at once. He has spent more than 35 years running one at a time, very successfully. I doubt he'd answer on the record.

And I'm deeply amused by Jens Laurson's comment that Domingo is worth his million-dollar salary because he must bring in three times that. Look, David Gockley has hauled in two enormous donations since his arrival in San Francisco: $35 million from Jeannik Littlefield, followed two years later by $40 million from John and Cynthia Fry Gunn. Now that's fund-raising.

Just as Long as They Keep Their Hands off Carey Bell

The New York Philharmonic hasn't found a replacement for the recently-retired Stanley Drucker yet. The current strategy is to invite a series of guest clarinetists to sit in with the orchestra for some period of time to see how they fit in. For some reason, they're refusing to identify each individual during their guest stints. I can't say I understand this; given the intertubes, how long is it going to take a critic with a phone cam - not that I know any of those - to get a line on the identity of any clarinetist good enough to audition for the NYPO??

That said, good luck! Except, see my headline. No poaching allowed!

Update, January 15: Dan Wakin has a longer follow-up to the ArtsBeat piece. Personal to Dan: San Francisco Symphony has been quite forthcoming about the identities of musicians sitting in with the orchestra for a try-out period. I saw Assistant Principal Violist Katie Kadarauch and Associate Principal Horn Nicole Cash when they sat in with the orchestra, and the press office was happy to tell me their names.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When in New York City....

...what would you go see next month, besides Stiffelio or Attila at the Met, depending on when I arrive? I expect I'll be in town for two or three weeks, on business.

His Other Opera Company

A few weeks ago, when Los Angeles Opera announced that they were borrowing $14 million from Los Angeles County, I suggested that perhaps part of the problem was the world-famous tenor who is at least nominally the director of the company. Someone I know expressed the opinion that with email, phones, and fax, the company could be run fine from afar.

Me, I'm not convinced. If you're conducting and singing at the Met, in Vienna, at La Scala, and generally all over Europe, you might have a few distractions. Running an opera company is a full-time job; running two opera companies is at least two full-time jobs.

Today in the WashPost, Anne Midgette nails the problems at the WNO: an absentee general director (aka the world's greatest living tenor), the lack of day-to-day leadership, and the lack of real artistic vision. Read responses to the column on her blog. (Oh, and Christina Scheppelmann? I was unimpressed with her casting choices at San Francisco during her tenure here.)

The upcoming WNO season will be a short and conservative: Un ballo in maschera, Salome, Don Pasquale, Madama Butterfly, and Iphegenie en Tauride. Of those, I've never seen Don Pasquale (but I'm not that likely to like it); I'd be curious about Deborah Voigt's performance in Salome; of course I am a big Racette fangirl and would love to see what she'll do with Iphegenie. After her Butterfly here in 2007, I don't need to see someone else's in DC, and Ballo? I'm not a fan.

Update: Daniel Wakin picks up the story in the Times.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

WNO Season Announcement: Where's the Copy-Editor?

What kind of season announcement doesn't tell you who's singing Suzuki in Madama Butterfly? or Ernesto in Don Pasquale? (PDF alert, by the way.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

San Francisco Symphony, January 10, 2010

I picked up three nosebleed section tickets last Thursday to the week's San Francisco Symphony concert, which is the first of a pair that will showcase the works of British composer George Benjamin. The third member of party bowed out on grounds of a bad cough - I shouldn't have bought the ticket without checking how she was doing - and when my partner and I showed up at the box office to pick up the tickets and turn in the third for a deduction, we got upgraded to seats in the orchestra section. I am not quite sure why, and I had no idea orchestras ever did this, but the gent at the box office did say something about "frequent buyers and subscribers, not everyone" I thanked him and said that my big January ticket buy was coming up soon.

We got into the hall and I started to understand why. The concert was a rare Sunday matinee, and the hall looked about 1/3 empty. It's too bad; yesterday was chilly and unpleasant outdoors and there was fine music to be heard. And how could you go wrong with David Robertson conducting a program of mostly-20th-century music?

I will first dispatch the least-interest work on the program, orchestrations of three Debussy etudes. Why, oh, why? They were pretty but didn't in any way deepen my understand of the works, and the arranger was hard-pressed to deal adequately with the more percussive sections of these piano works.

The two George Benjamin works, both new to the Symphony, were Jubilation and Dance Figures. He's also a composer new to me, but one I'll be following closely. Jubilation featured the participation of the Crowden School Allegro Choir, a chorus of under-12-year-olds, I'd guess, from Berkeley's Crowden School of Music. They were a fabulously self-possessed group of children, about 50 or so strong and put very much on the spot by Jubilation, which opened with one of the children clicking a pair of claves together, metronome-like. It took me a moment to even locate the sound, because Robertson was just standing there at attention watching the kids intently. He picked up his baton eventually, as other kids joined in with their own claves. Then the orchestra entered, and off it went.

Benjamin's work is beautiful and interesting, sometimes sounding very much like an analog to color-field painting. Notes are held for long durations, during which instruments exit or enter. The timbre changes slowly over time. But then the pace quickens, the music picks up, and the organization starts to sound less as though it's built entirely around timbre.

Yes, the kids did eventually get to sing, though I couldn't tell what exactly they were singing. The program notes indicate that the work premiered with a children's chorus of 100, so I wonder if the piece wouldn't have sounded even better with more kids.

Dance Figures is something of an orchestral dance suite, with several contrasting movements, in the structure, if not style, of a Baroque suite. There's more of the color-field style, but also a movement with rocking energy that made me think of Petroushka. That would explain why a friend who'd heard some Benjamin said the music sounded Russian to him. Chords moving in parallel and a big orchestra with plenty of wind outbursts! And I loved the pounding percussion at the end of the "Hammers" movement.

The second half of the program was given over to a rousing and nicely-paced rendition of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony, which I'd never heard live. Robertson took little or no time between movements, an interesting interpretive choice which is what's in the score (oops; see comments). I wish he'd milked the first movement rather more - it cries out for a highly romantic treatment with lots of rubato - but overall it was a fine and affectionate performance. Hat tip to Carey Bell for the great clarinet solo; if you know the piece, you know which one I mean.

Update: Patrick Vaz has written a funny account of what transpired at Friday's 6.5 concert. And now you know why I avoid those like the plague; I can't bear the thought of as much talk as music for the first half of a concert. Patrick is so right that most of the time you're better off letting the music speak for itself.

Update 2:
If you want to hear some George Benjamin, try this week's SFS program (two Ravel works, two Benjamin works, one Messiaen, all conducted by Benjamin) or the SFS Chamber Music program next Sunday afternoon (Debussy Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp; Benjamin, Viola, Viola, and Britten's Second String Quartet).

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Why Welfare "Reform" Was a Crappy Idea

It's easy to think, during an economic expansion, that people won't need cash assistance during hard times. That there will always be some kind of job. That people who have kids will be always be able to get a job that pays for child care as well as paying the rent.

Take a look at today's Times story on people whose only income is food stamps, and weep. And think about the deterioration of the social safety net over the last 20-odd years.

P. S. Personal to Rep. Linder: a $300/month food stamp benefit in no way risks creating a class of people who are "comfortable getting by living off the government." I suggest you give it a try for a while and see if you feel like you're being "paid to sit around and not work."

Friday, January 01, 2010

Looking Forward, and Back, from the First of the Year

So 2009 was a good blogging year for me. I had a secret goal at the start of the year, which was to post daily, or at least publish an average of one posting per day. I met that, with 387 postings from January 1 to December 31. I wish there had been more meat over the course of the year, more in-depth reviews and thought pieces, fewer "here's what's happening" pieces. I wish there weren't several opera performances and a bunch of concerts I still haven't posted about. (I meant to get some of this done while on vacation from Dec. 24 to this Sunday, but wound up spending a lot of time fretting and running around on house-renovation errands.)

Still, here are the posting statistics for the life of this blog, which opened for business on October 31, 2004:

2004: 24
2005: 86
2006: 98
2007: 238
2008: 267
2009: 387

I'm posting a lot more now than I did back then. What I miss most from the first couple of years is heated discussions among the relatively small number of bloggers in the classical music blogosphere: since there were about 20 of us, we were all reading each other's blogs and making comments. As of now, I think some of us have given up on reading or attempting to comment on a few of our fellow bloggers; some arm-wrestling just is not worth it, and some of us think maybe the sky isn't falling quite as badly as others do.

What was this past year like for me in general? I worked my butt off in the first six months of the year, owing to a major software release for which I wrote three entirely new documents and revised about a third of the online help system for the Google Search Appliance. As soon as that was done, I had to completely revise and rearrange a different doc set for a release a month later.

I went to quite a few good programs at the SFS during the first half of the year; I like Yan Pascal Tortelier's program and conducting a great deal (I believe Matthew Guerrieri found him overly fussy in a BSO guest appearance), and though I remain not a fan of the conductor, it was great fun to hear Walton's crazy Belshazzar's Feast on Vladimir Ashkenazy's program, even though I thought John Relyea was going to burst a blood vessel from the tension in his head while he was singing.

The Dawn to Twilight Schubert/Berg programs, with MTT at the helm, were fabulous, including a great Berg violin concerto from Gil Shaham, the gigantic Schubert Eb major Mass, and a bravura performance of the Berg Chamber Concerto, with Julia Fischer and Yefim Bronfman in for the occasion. Great programming, great performing - what more could you ask?

Things fell apart for concert-going after June, though. I saw almost nothing over the summer despite my vows to get tickets to the summer festivals. This past fall also saw a much lower-than-usual level of concert-going: I saw everything at SF Opera, a feat considering that I bought no tickets in advance and most went standing room, and I saw a few choral and early music concerts (Cal Bach, AVE, Magnificat) but that's about it. You could say that I had a somewhat stressful fall, between two more software releases, organizing a small tech writers' conference, and the house project. I missed many programs I really wanted to see, including Marino Formenti and a bunch of recitals. I could have seen Christine Brewer if I'd dragged myself out of the house that day, but somehow I couldn't.

At least I did get to everything at the Opera; in the last few years, lacking a subscription, I've managed to miss at least work each fall season. The highlights were Il Trittico, which I saw three, yes, three times, thank you Pat!; Abduction from the Seraglio (except for Mary Dunleavy, sigh); and, a surprise treat, Daughter of the Regiment, which I wish I'd seen more than once. A special nod to Sondra Radvanovsky, whose magnificent, golden-age Leonora was the highlight of what I found a surprisingly blah Trovatore. Well, except for Nicola Luisotti, of course. I probably should not have gone to see Trovatore the day after my second Trittico. Oh, and I must mention the amazing Ewa Podles. MY GOD where did that voice come from???

I'm hoping things will look up in 2010. We're two months into the renovations, which, briefly, including foundation work, completing the bathroom renovation that started in 2006 and had to wait until the foundation work was done to be finished, and constructing a new back porch to replace the crumbling original. This was supposed to take eight to nine weeks, my contractor said, which I figured meant 10 to 12. Sure enough, it seems likely they'll be done by the end of January. At work, I have a few smallish pending projects (and maybe one big one) and hope the first part of the year won't be too too stressful.

I know I need to take a real vacation, following the incredible shrinking vacations of the last three years: in 2007, we went to the Olympic Peninsula for 10 days; in 2008, we went to Santa Fe for a week; this past year, I went to Santa Fe for four days. (This is why I currently have about a month of vacation in the queue.) I have the time, but could not spend much money on vacations while the renovations were pending. If I have any money left when they're done, I'll be taking a nice beach vacation somewhere, then thinking about a stimulating city vacation.

So, goodbye to 2009, hello to 2010. Thank you for reading this blog, whether you're a regular or occasional; thank you for the comments and email and invitations and press releases. I'll see you at a concert soon.