Sunday, February 28, 2010

The fact of a picture frame.

Earlier this month, Chloe Veltman lamented the lost art of the picture frame. On my visit to NYC, with her comments in mind, I took some photos of picture frames at the Metropolitan Museum.

I love picture frames. I love the way they create space, and I love the detail they add to the picture within. I love the owner or framer's choice of a frame: plain or ornate? What color paint, if any? Gilded?

The frames in the photos are Dutch and Italian, if I'm remembering correctly.

No no no no no no no.

On her upcoming "rock" album, Renee Fleming will take on Leonard Cohen's greatest song, "Hallelujah."

Friday, February 26, 2010

I Just Don't See What's So Implausible About This.

In his new book about how the wonderful CIA is "keeping us safe" from terrorism, Marc A. Thiessen makes the claim that waterboarding is supported by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic intellectuals from all over the political spectrum are recoiling in horror, because not one of them agrees with him.

Of course Thiessen's right, if you go back to the Malleus Maleficarum.

My Favorite Glissando

Alex Ross posts a peachy list of his top ten glissandos today, an end to Xenakis week at Unquiet Thoughts. Check them out!

(I've got a recording of Die Seejungfrau, though not Chailly's, and I will have to pull it.)

My favorite didn't make the list: the mysteriously sliding strings that open Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Click the first link of samples ("Introduction"), which unfortunately doesn't contain the full intro. My second favorite? The clarinet glissandos somewhere in the middle of Magnus Lindberg's Clarinet Concerto.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Coming Up: Bay Area Choral Edition

It's time for the spring choral car pile up! Note the unfortunate three-way conflict between SFRV, SFCA, and Cal Bach, for example.


The great new-music chorus sings a program called Asian and Latin Influences; it includes three premiers and the participation of the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir.

February 26, 2010, 8:00PM
St. Mark's Episcopal Church
2300 Bancroft Way, Berkeley

February 27, 2010, 8:00PM
St. Mark's Lutheran Church
1111 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco

February 28, 2010, 5:00PM
St. John's Episcopal Church
Corner of Lagunitas & Shady Lane, Ross

Individual tickets in San Francisco and Berkeley:
General: $25 in advance/$30 at the door
Seniors: (age 65 and up) $20 in advance/$25 at the door
Students: (age 21 and under) $20 in advance/$25 at the door

Individual tickets in Ross (same price in advance or at the door):
$15 General/$10 Senior/$5 children 12 and under

San Francisco Renaissance Voices

SFRV has an awesome three-concert series this spring; the first program is next weekend and the following weekend. It's called Songs of War & Peace and includes Tomaso Luis de Victoria's Missa pro victoria and shorter works by Jannequin, Dufay, and others.

March 6 - 7:30 pm
Seventh Avenue Performances, 1329 Seventh Avenue, San Francisco

March 7 - 4:00 pm
All Saints' Episcopal Church, 555 Waverley, Palo Alto

March 14 - 4:00 pm
First Presbyterian Church of Alameda, 2001 Santa Clara, Alameda

California Bach Society

It's the 400th birthday of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, so, Cal Bach has an imaginative program of madrigals, a beautiful secular complement to that work. Details:

Friday, March 12, 2010, 8pm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church,
1111 O’ Farrell Street (at Franklin), San Francisco

Saturday, March 13, 2010, 8pm at All Saints Episcopal Church,
555 Waverley Street (at Hamilton), Palo Alto

Sunday, March 14, 2010, 4pm at First Congregational Church (not St. Mark's)
2345 Channing Way (enter on Dana, near Durant), Berkeley

Doors open 30 minutes prior to each performance
Advance purchase tickets until 5pm, March 11: General $25 / Senior $18 / Student $10
Tickets at the door: General $30 / Senior $22 / Student $10
(415) 262-0272

S.F. Choral Artists

The same weekend Cal Bach sings Monteverdi, S. F. Choral Artists performs a program of Debussy, Hindemith, Britten, RVW, Carter, Ives, Poulenc, and Webern. I'll drink to that, though i have no idea whether I can get to the program.

SAN FRANCISCO: Sunday, Mar 14, 4 PM (Buy online)
St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell St.

PENINSULA: Friday, Mar 19, 8 PM (Buy online)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado, Palo Alto.

MARIN: Saturday, Mar 20, 8 PM (Buy online)
St. John's Episcopal Church, 14 Lagunitas, Ross.

EAST BAY: Sunday, Mar 21, 4 PM (Buy online)
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 114 Montecito, Oakland.

Tickets are $23/$19/$14.

Sanford Dole Ensemble

In four weeks, the Sanford Dole Ensemble presents a program called "Last Words: Music of Remembrance." Three big works are on this program: James MacMillan's Seven Last Words from the Cross, Arvo Part's Berliner Messe and Tarik O'Reagan's Triptych. You have just one shot at hearing this:

Sunday, March 28, 2010, 5 p.m.
St. Gregory of Nyssa

Coming Up on this Blog

So, yeah, three weeks in NYC, and I owe you reviews of five concerts, in addition to the opera review I just posted.
  • Jack Quartet in the complete Xenakis quartets
  • Orpheus Ensemble in a mixed program ranging from the Baroque to Peter Maxwell Davies
  • New York Wind Quintet, mostly in Elliott Carter, including a couple of premiers
  • Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall
  • Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony at Carnegie Hall
Hold on. I promise they're coming.

The Greatest Tenor Role Verdi Never Wrote

No, I am not talking about a role from the never-written Re Lear (you know Lear would have been a bass, anyway). I am talking about the title role of Simon Boccanegra. Written for a baritone, and sung by a long line of legendary singing actors, it has recently been sung here, there, and everywhere by the world's most multitasking tenor, who added demi-baritone to singer, conductor, and opera company general manager. I saw him on February 2 at the Metropolitan.

Here's what I think of Domingo-as-baritone.
  • Those clowns on opera-l who've claimed for years that he was never a tenor, despite 45 years of singing the most strenuous tenor roles in the repertory, were, as you already knew, wrong wrong wrong.
  • I'd really prefer a baritone in the role.
  • He was still more musically and dramatically persuasive than baritones Nikolai Putilin and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
  • After 45 years of singing the most strenuous tenor roles in the repertory, Domingo sounds damn good. And how many 69-year-olds can you say that about?
  • Yeah, it's a stunt of sorts (see the above, though), but hey - having Domingo in the title role has sold out this opera, which has a famously convoluted and gloomy plot in which the romantic leads are a lot less interesting and important than the political machinations. I've long considered Boccanegra the great unknown Verdi opera, and I'm sure lots of people have gone to see it just for Domingo. Maybe they'll love the opera for its own self now.
The rest was a mixed bag, with James Morris getting off to a wobbly, worn start in "Il lacerato spirito" (it was embarrassingly bad) but gaining steadily in authority if not beauty to a magisterial scene with Domingo at the end. Marcello Giordani is inconsistent and squeezes an awful lot; I find him coarse and noisy at best. Marcus Haddock sang the role better in SF, and I don't understand why the Met audience gave Giordani such a big hand.

Adrienne Pieczonka was Morris-like in having a terribly time in her entrance aria, off pitch in various directions and sounding just plain uncomfortable about the phrasing. Then she pulled together and was very good, sometimes better than that, from the recognition scene to the end, with beautiful trills in the Council Chamber scene. What is it about that aria?? Nobody seems able to bring it off well; Barbara Frittoli also had problems with it in SF in 2008, and we won't discuss Carol Vaness in the previous SFO revival.

I do not have in front of me the name of the singer who sang Paolo; he was a last-minute substitute and sang very well, with plenty of evil but no exaggeration, which can be tough to pull off.

I found the Giancarlo del Monaco production bland; generic city square followed by generic Mediterranean palace, the sort of thing you'd find on the Pacific coast but with a lot more brick and stone than would be prudent in this earthquake-prone area. The council chamber set does look like a 14th c. Italian room, and the director made good use of it in the Fiesco/Boccanegra scene in the last act. Morris entered and sat down on the Doge's throne. He has spent the last 25 years projecting authority, and despite the wear on his voice, this scene was absolutely hair-raising, two master singers making great drama together.

Oh, and while we're at it: a swift and sure recovery to Placido Domingo, who is currently hospitalized and having surgery for an unknown ailment. Long may he sing!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Last Staged at the Met in 1897...

...and there's a reason Amboise Thomas's Hamlet hasn't been heard there in 113 years: it's just not a very good opera.

I know. I've seen it, and with a cast that included Thomas Hampson, Ruth Ann Swenson, Judith Forst, and Robert Lloyd. It has three pretty good scenes: Hamlet's mad scene, Ophelia's mad scene, and Hamlet's drinking song. Other than that, forget it; the balance is filler. It's one of those operas, like Faust and Manon, that's best served by being done as excerpts on a concert program.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Annals of Human Stupidity

Those of you who track my movements probably know that I've been in NYC on business for almost three weeks. I'm staying in corporate housing run by Marriott, in a two-bedroom apartment that has somewhat more personality than George Clooney's midwestern studio in Up in the Air.

There's one laundry room, on the ground floor. Even though I bought more clothing than I needed, I've had to do laundry twice in three weeks.

So, to do laundry here, you have to purchase a little debit card. You put a $10 bill - no more, no less, no other way to pay - into a machine and it gives you a card with $5 on it. That's right. You pay $5 for the card. If you need more money than that to do laundry - and trust me, you do - you reinsert the card, then put a $5, $10, or $20 bill into the same machine. OR, you can put the card into the adjacent machine and add laundry money to it using your debit or credit card. But you can't buy the card and the initial deposit using a debit or credit card, because the machine that takes plastic doesn't dispense cards. It only adds money to them.

That's right. It's 2010, and the designers of these machines couldn't figure out a way to combine their functions. Or to allow people to use coinage in them. Or to give change back from a $20 bill.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Just Waiting.... hear the reaction of Brian at Out West Arts to the Los Angeles Philharmonic's season announcement. That's one great-looking season even if he does decide to skip the Brahms Unbound series - which I wouldn't do myself because every program has something new and interesting on it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Saariaho Wins Sonning Music Prize

Kaija Saariaho has been awarded the Leonie Sonning Music Prize, a Danish award whose first recipient was Igor Stravinsky.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Where I've Been

Well, I made it to NYC safely, and I did get in to see the world's most multitasking tenor...and then I got sick. I spent last Friday, Thursday, and most of Wednesday at my NYC apartment with a fever and griping stomach, but having to work anyway (groan). My fever came down steadily on Friday, and since then I've been to two concerts, thanks to the excellent Bruce Hodges, and two museums. Full reports eventually!

ASO Season Announcement

As usual, the American Symphony Orchestra has a great season of works you'll never hear anywhere else. How I wish we had a similarly adventurous group in the Bay Area.

Private to LB: program Granville Bantock's Omar Khhayam one of these years and I'm good for a donation. Also, you're going to perform Reyer's Sigurd some day, I bet.

Cut & pasted from the season announcement; these concerts are all at Carnegie Hall.

James Joyce
Wednesday, October 6, 2010, 8 p.m.

Music played a significant if understated role in the consciousness of James Joyce. Joyce deeply admired some of the composers of his time such as George Antheil and Othmar Schoeck, and the subtle music in Joyce’s own work was not lost on these composers either. Based on perhaps the most iconic novel of the last century, the Ulysses cantata of Mátyás Seiber receives its U.S premiere.

George Antheil (1900-59): Ballet Mécanique (1953)

Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957): Lebendig Begraben, Op. 40 (1926) (U.S. premiere)

Mátyás Seiber (1905-60): Ulysses (1947) (U.S. premiere)

Music and the Bible
Tuesday, November 2, 2010, 8 p.m.

In the 19th century, Europe experienced a wave of religious resurgence. This program explores the re-emergence of the sacred oratorio and how the tradition of communal singing aided religion in binding a community plagued by economic turmoil and epidemic disease. This is a rare opportunity to experience major works by Fanny Mendelssohn (sister of Felix), and Louis Spohr, thought by his contemporaries to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mozart and Beethoven.

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-47): Musik für die Toten der Cholera-Epidemie (1831)

Louis Spohr (1784-1859) Die letzten Dinge (1826)

Albéric Magnard: Bérénice
Sunday, January 30, 2011, 2 p.m.

ASO continues its series of great 19th-century French operas with the last opera of Albéric Magnard, considered by many to be the best of the French Wagnerian operas. Bérénice tells the story of the tragic love affair between the Queen of Judea and Titus, heir to the Roman Empire. A study in contrasts between East and West, romantic and classic, passion and rationalism, woman and man, Bérénice is a dramatic tour de force that was far ahead of its time; indeed, its musical innovations have been said to anticipate Berg’s Wozzeck.

Albéric Magnard (1865-1914): Bérénice (1909)

Before and After the Spanish Civil War
Friday, February 25, 2011, 8 p.m.

The Spanish Civil War was the defining event for Spain during the last century, and for some it was “the last great cause”. From 1936 to 1939, nations watched with foreboding and sympathized with both sides in a bloody conflict that heralded World War II that was soon to follow. This program gives listeners the chance to explore through the music of Spanish composers writing before and after the war the impact of Spain's devastating transition from the freedoms of the Second Republic to the fascism of dictator Francisco Franco.

JOAQUÍN TURINA (1882-1949): Sinfonía sevillana, Op. 23. (1920)

ROBERTO GERHARD (1896-1970): Don Quixote (1940-41, 1947-49)

MANUEL DE FALLA (1876-1946): Homenajes (1941)

ROBERTO GERHARD: Pedrelliana (En memoria) (1941) and Symphony No. 4, “New York” (1967/68)

American Harmonies: The Music of Walter Piston
Tuesday, March 29, 2011, 8 p.m.

Walter Piston had a profound impact on 20th-century American music, with his seminal textbooks on harmony and orchestration still in use today. Although his influence can be heard in the works of the generation of composers he trained, Piston’s own music is too rarely found on the concert stage. The ASO offers a unique chance to hear the work of this largely self-taught “composer’s composer” in a program that features – among other works – two of his award-winning symphonies.

WALTER PISTON (1894-1976):

Toccata (1948)
Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1937); Blair McMillen, piano

Symphony No. 2 (1943)
Violin Concerto No. 1 (1939); Miranda Cuckson, violin
Symphony No. 4 (1950)

Passover in Exile
Thursday, April 21, 2011, 8 p.m.

The Haggadah is the sacred text recounting the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt and their wanderings in the desert. For centuries, the reading of the Haggadah at Passover has been a poignant reminder of the Jewish Diaspora—the dispersal of Jews around the world. The text was particularly meaningful for the German Jewish composer Paul Dessau. He wrote his grand choral work Haggadah shel Pesach in 1935, while in exile in Paris. Suppressed for decades, this amazing work will be given its U.S. premiere.

Paul Dessau (1894-1979): Haggadah shel Pesach (1934/61) (U.S. premiere)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Make it Easy for People to Buy Tickets

Dear Metropolitan Opera:

I've complained about this before, and I'm going to complain about it again.

I really hate those additional fees over and above the cost of the ticket. And yours are the highest of all.

San Francisco Opera dings me for $9 per order. But you seem to have a $7.50 per ticket charge plus a $2.50 "facility service" fee.

I just bought a $15 standing room ticket for tonight. I nearly canceled it when I saw the $10 (ten dollars) in additional charges.

You want people to come to the opera, true? It's 2010, the economy is in the pits, and revenues are being affected by the economic conditions, true? It would be nice if you weren't tacking ten dollars in extra charges on to the price of each ticket.

I bought the ticket anyway. I mean, I don't get to NYC often, and I don't expect another opportunity to see the world's most multitasking tenor playing baritone-for-a-day. So I'll be there tonight. But I'm annoyed.