Wednesday, March 31, 2010


The New York Times article on "The Rising Stars of Gossip Blogs" omitted our own La Cieca, star of This can mean only that she is the highest star in the firmament.

Mattila Out of Several Met Tosca Performances...

....but they found one classy replacement: Patricia Racette!

She'll be singing Floria Tosca in the April 14, 17, 20, and 24 performances.

A Tribute to Maynard Solomon

The Greater New York Chapter of the American Musicological Society is having a symposium in honor of Maynard Solomon's 80th birthday. From the notice to the AMS announcement mailing list; it looks great:

On Saturday, May 8th, the AMSGNY will host a tribute to Maynard Solomon in honor of his 80th birthday at the Juilliard School in Lincoln Center. In addition to presentations by noted scholars, there will be a special exhibit of items from the Juilliard Manuscript Collection.


9:30 Welcoming remarks. Joseph Polisi, President, The Juilliard School

Joseph Kerman. A Puccini Pastoral. To be distributed in written form with the program

9:45 Robert Marshall. Bach at Mid-Life: The Christmas Oratorio and the Search for New Paths
10:30 James Webster. Did Haydn Have a 'Late' Style?
11:15 Robert Winter. WoO 83 and the Classical Performing Tradition
12:00 Lewis Lockwood. Beethoven as Sir Davison: Another Look at his Relationship to the Archduke Rudolph


1:45 Richard Kramer. Anagnorisis: Euripides, Gluck and the Theater of Recognition
2:30 Elaine Sisman. Sunrise, Sunset: Music of Darkness and Light
3:15 Kristina Muxfeldt. Liberty in the Theater, or the Emancipation of Words:
Mozart, Beethoven, Tieck, Schubert
4:00 Leo Treitler. Why We Need 'The Image in Form' Today

(I here note that I made it about 8 pages into his Beethoven bio before throwing it against the wall. Why? Beethoven's mother, married to an abusive alcoholic, advised a young woman not to get married. The bio attributed this to hating men or something equally silly. Everybody else loves this book, so maybe I ought to try it again, but let's just say that the quality of that first analysis didn't make me look forward to the rest.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Jeremy Eichler had a thoughful piece in the Globe last week about James Levine's health and absences and their effect on the BSO. Food for thought, for sure, about the impact of a music director who isn't able to fully lead the orchestra because of his health.

I have no beefs with the article, which is well worth reading. But the thrust of some of the comments shocked me. Okay, okay, I know: I should never be shocked by what I find in comments to a newspaper article. Still.

First, a number of commenters referred to Levine's age as if he were old. Well, he is 66 years old - but that is late middle age and hardly old for a conductor. Take a look around: Pierre Boulez, 85; Herbert Blomstedt, 83; Claudio Abbado, 78; Riccardo Muti 69; Michael Tilson Thomas, 65; Christoff Eschenbach, 70; Christoph von Dohnanyi, 80; Charles Mackerras, 84; Lorin Maazel, 80.

At 66, Levine is at the low end of this particular group, and it's true that about half of these conductors aren't currently music directors of an orchestra, let alone music directors of an orchestra and a major opera company. Donald Runnicles, age 55, and Frankly, er, Franz Welser-Most, 49, both have dual appointments, though FW-M's Vienna State Opera appointment doesn't commence until this fall. Other currently-active U.S. orchestral and operatic music directors are younger than Levine: Alan Gilbert, 43; Gustavo Dudamel, 29; Nicola Luisotti, 49; James Conlon, 60.

Moral of this particular story: Levine's age isn't the issue here. It's his health problems and absences.

Second...I was extremely surprised by how many people missed Seiji Ozawa. Ozawa was music director of the BSO for more than 30 years; by the end of his tenure, the orchestra's morale was extremely poor and it was clear he'd overstayed his welcome by quite a bit. Anthony Tommasini wrote about these issues in a 1993 Times article, and there was plenty about these problems in the press when Ozawa finally retired. (Note Tommasini's passing mention of the warhorse listener vs. the adventurous listener. The more things change...) Chacun a son gout, but preferring Ozawa to Levine?

Dear Apple:

I just switched from a Windows laptop to a Macintosh laptop (15" MacBook Pro) at work, and I have a few complaints.

You know how Apple partisans like to tell you how much easier and more intuitive the Macintosh UI is than Windows? Maybe that was true 20 years ago - though my 1980s and 90s encounters with the Mac confused me more than DOS or Windows - but not any more. It turns out that a computer is a computer; there are some differences between the two interfaces, but they seem to have been converging over the years. I'm not having any significant issues in switching over, though I really wish I could figure out the keyboard combo that would italicize or boldface text. And that menu bar at the top with the menus for only one application visible at a time? I prefer the Windows way, where there ISN'T a fixed menu bar. It's convenient to have the stuff that's in the lower right of the Windows interface up on top, though.

But it's the physical stuff that right now is making me want to have a talk with Steve Jobs. You see, Apple doesn't believe in docking stations. They don't make docks for their laptops and I'm told the third-party docks can break the machines - not good.

But here's what that means for people who use a laptop as their primary computer, which is the story for most people where I work.

First of all, I've got a goddamn pile of cables snaking around my desk. Coming out of the left side of the computer: power cable, Ethernet cable, monitor cable, mouse cable, headphones cable. On the right side of the computer, a Kensington cable lock.

Technically, I could work without most of these. I don't listen to music all the time. The Mac will run on battery power for maybe three hours, meaning maybe 50% longer than the Lenovo ThinkPad I abandoned the other week. The Mac has a fan, but it's rarely on, and I bet that's why it has such good battery life. We have wireless everywhere at work, so I don't really have to have the Ethernet cable, but it is faster, a lot faster, than wireless. If you really love the Mac touchpad - which is programmable and nicely designed - you might not need the mouse. Depending on your eyes, you might be able to live with the screen on the laptop instead of the 24" monitor sitting in front of me.

But I can't. I have terrible eyes and an unusually strong prescription for progressive lenses. The glasses are not set up for use with a laptop. It would destroy my neck to rely on the laptop screen for more than a couple of hours a day. Ergonomically, I find the mouse (and preferably a larger keyboard than the Mac has) to work better for me than the touchpad.

And that cable lock? Because of the location of its keyhole, it gets in the way of using a mouse and it gets in the way of sliding CDs in and out of the oh-so-beautifully-integrated CD/DVD player.

Last complaint: the Lenovo case was made out of plastic, and the edge where you wrists would be was rounded and sloped slightly, but the Mac's edges are aluminum and make nice sharp right angles that dig into my wrists. I'm not sure there's an ergonomic way around this other than using an external keyboard, giving me MORE crap on the desk.

For crying out loud. So much for the belief that Apple is so careful and thoughtful about design issues.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Coming Up: Fun Stuff

So I managed to miss both the Sanford Dole Ensemble's program of recent settings of "Seven Last Words," and the Switchboard Music Festival this weekend. There's plenty of good stuff coming up, and Patrick lays some of it out for you. (He and I were not, by the way, in NYC at the same time, but we independently photographed a number of the same things, hence the photographic commentary on each other's blog postings.)

Here are a couple of additions.

Alex Ross, blogger, New Yorker notational music critic, and prize-winning author, comes to Herbst on a tour with pianist Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus. Together, they'll perform The Rest is Noise. This I have to see! 10 a.m., Saturday, April 24. $36 and $24.

This month, LA Opera presents Goetterdaemmerung and Franz Schreker's Die Gezeichneten. Click the link above for dates, times, and prices for both. Hint: the weekend of April 23 to 25, you can see the Schreker Saturday night and the Wagner Sunday afternoon. I may be off to the airport immediately following Alex's event.

Images of Christ

Metropolitan Museum, February, 2010

Metropolitan Museum, February, 2010

The Cloisters, February, 2010. See also Patrick's photo.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Charming Tale of Obsession

The Times has a thoroughly delightful story today about a guy who built a 1909 Maxwell from scavenged and reconstructed parts. It took six years and about a hundred grand. The results? Lovely - photos here. The goal? His daughter to drive the Maxwell across the country in commemoration of Alice Ramsey's 1909 cross-country drive in the same Maxwell model.

Friday, March 26, 2010

One Reason to Become a Catholic Priest

Today the Times has an article containing a big smoking gun pointed directly at Pope Benedict and his knowledge of a child-molesting German priest. There was another, earlier in the week, about an American priest who molested hundreds of Deaf boys in the midwest over a period from the 1950s through the 1980s; it seems likely that then-Cardinal Ratzinger had personal knowledge of this.

But what caught my eye was the photo in today's Times. Look at how the Pope and the other cleric in the photo are dressed. Benedict is in white robes with that extremely fancy red-with-gold brocade cope over it. (I think it's a cope, but I'm doing research, you bet.)

And look at the other cleric, who isn't identified in the photo: black robe with hot pink trim, belt (it must have a real name...) and yarmulke. Okay, he probably thinks of it as a skullcap. Plus, that little capelike thing on his shoulders.

You won't catch them calling their robes "dresses," but, honestly, that's what they are. Dresses for men. As Patrick once remarked to me, certain religious clothes, including priestly vestments and nuns' habits, are among the few remaining vestiges of medieval clothing in the Western world. (Another? Academic robes. It's a joy to watch a graduation parade, with its riot of robes, caps, and draperies.) I mean, in modern Europe and North American grown men do not get to run around in dresses unless they're priests, you know? And the mock nuns' habits of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence aren't that far off what nuns have worn in various times and places.

And I'll take that black and hot pink outfit for $100, Monty. Those colors suit me very well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wanted: Conductor, Must Know Mahler 7th and Harbison Double Concerto

James Levine has withdrawn from three weeks of concerts at the BSO, owing to back troubles. Jayce Ogren takes over a program that includes the world premiere of a new song cycle by Peter Lieberson; Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos takes over performances of Elijah in Boston and at Carnegie Hall.

But the conductor for Mahler's 7th and John Harbison's Double Concerto for Violin and Cello has yet to be determined.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


And a Republican motion to recommit the bill (i.e. send it back to committee) failed. Unbelievably, someone on the floor of the House yelled "Baby killer" at Bart Stupak, who is thoroughly pro-life, when Stupak asked for the defeat of the motion to recommit.

There's about to be a vote on the fix-it bill. It's another electronic vote and CNN is watching the votes come in. This is the reconciliation bill. Evidently it goes to the Senate for an up-or-down vote after that. It'll pass because this is a majority vote.

Watch your local TV. President Obama will have something to say after it's all over.

In Important News More Appropriate to this Blog's Alleged Topic

Wolfgang Wagner, son of Siegfried Wagner, grandson of Richard Wagner, who revived the Bayreuth Festival after World War II with his brother Wieland, has died, age 90, according to Sounds & Fury.

Alea Jacta Est...

....sayeth Brad DeLong, and he's right, because President Obama has committed to an executive order on abortion funding, and Rep. Bart Stupak and his anti-abortion gang will vote for the bill. They were just on TV crowing about what a pro-life bill it is.

It sucks that a pro-choice president is further throwing women under the train but I want the damn bill to pass anyway. And I can't quarrel with some of the provisions about maternal and child health that the Stupak gang mentioned, only with their religion-based beliefs about abortion.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

From the House of the Dead

The Met broadcast starts in just a few minutes. If your local radio station - bitter laughter - doesn't carry it, go to OperaCast's Met broadcasts page and pick an Internet station.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Major Miniatures

Reviewing Thomas Adès, March 16, 2010.

Joshua Kosman was more critical of Adès's playing than I was. He also snuck in "gnomic," which I meant to but forgot.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Whoops, sorry about the churn on the previous posting! The moral of the story is, read the whole damn press release before you click Publish Post.

Garanca Out, Coote In

Another bad news, good news announcement: mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča has withdrawn from the upcoming San Francisco Opera production of Werther. She will be replaced by the brilliant British mezzo Alice Coote, last seen here in Handel's Alcina Mozart's Idomeneo.

Garanča cites personal reasons for withdrawing. However, the press release includes this:
Regarding Ms. Garanča, Mr. Gockley commented, “It pains me greatly to announce that Ms. Garanča has chosen not to appear in next season’s Werther as promised. She is a glamorous young star who has created a stir in Europe and at the Metropolitan Opera, and I was looking forward to presenting her West Coast debut. However, after extensive discussions with her management and having filed a grievance through the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), I am satisfied that the financial settlement we have reached disposes of the matter.” A series of European concerts has been recently announced on Ms. Garanča’s website during the Werther performance schedule.

Politics This Week

I guess Rahm Emmanuel paid a little visit to recalcitrant members of the House this week, because Dennis Kucinich has agreed to vote Yes on the Senate health insurance reform bill, after taking a stance against it, and Dale Kildee has agreed that the abortion restrictions in the Senate bill are sufficient (argh, sigh, damn, but he'll vote Yes).

And in news from the other side of the aisle, eleven Republican Senators voted with the Democrats on the hiring incentives job bill. I don't think it'll really do much, but at least it appears that some Republicans are noticing that there are unemployed people in their jurisdictions.

Yes, I am on the edge of my seat over health insurance reform.

Hot Times

Herbst Theater felt like a Turkish bath last night, with the heating system apparently under the impression that it was protecting concert-goers from Arctic temperatures. Thomas Ades had to mop himself off about every five minutes, but he burned up the keyboard anyway, earning bravos for a brilliantly programmed and subtly played program of Janacek, Liszt/Wagner, Prokofiev, Schubert, Ades, and Beethoven. My full review will be in SFCV, but if he's playing this program anywhere near you, buy a ticket right now.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When in England...

I can't get to this, but maybe you can. It sounds great; the wonderful New Queen's Hall Orchestra, which aims for the sound of a British orchestra c. 1900, with the Wimbeldon Choral Society, in Elgar's The Kingdom.

May 27, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
Guildford Cathedral

Tickets: £20 (Front Nave)
£15 (Back Nave & West Gallery)
£10 (Students)
Box Office: 01483 444789 (Electric Theatre)
For bookings of parties over 10 people please telephone 020 8605 2266

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Love of Don Perlimplin, by Conrad Susa

Composer Conrad Susa's opera, The Love of Don Perlimplin, will be performed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music this Saturday, March 13, at 8 p.m. The performance is being billed as the world premiere of the revised final edition of the opera, and it will be performed by the Conservatory's new music ensemble, BluePrint, under the baton of the brilliant Nicole Paiement. The opera is based on a Garcia Lorca play and sounds like a lot of fun. Tickets are $20/$15, making it a great bargain as well.

Coming Up: New Music Edition

Here's what's happening in new music in the near future. Unfortunate conflict between Switchboard Music Festival and Sanford Dole Ensemble, but fortunately you can wander in and out at Switchboard.

Thomas Ades

The English composer, also a virtuoso pianist, plays a richly varied program of Janacek, Liszt/Wagner, Prokofiev, Schubert, Beethoven, and, yes, Ades (Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face). Herbst Theater, Tuesday, March 16, 8 p.m.

Switchboard Music Festival

Our local one-day new-music extravaganza returns. Sunday, March 28, 2010 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10 to $40 (sliding scale - yay, Switchboard!) and you can wander in and out to your heart's content over the eight hours of music. The program includes performances by (deep breath) Thorny Brocky, Strike Gently (Kate Campbell, solo piano), Teslim, Sqwonk, Sabbaticus Rex, Real Vocal String Quartet, Billygoat, Matt Small Chamber Ensemble, Zoë Keating, miRthkon; and music composed by Gerard Beljon, Cornelius Boots, Ryan Brown, Luciano Chessa, Ruby Fulton, Missy Mazzoli, Marc Mellits, Aaron Novik, Belinda Reynolds, and Jonathan Russell.

Sanford Dole Ensemble

The Sanford Dole Ensemble sings a concert of "Last Words: Modern Music of Remembrance" for Christianity's Holy Week. It's a great program: James Macmillan's setting of Seven Last Words from the Cross, Arvo Part's Berliner Messe, and Tarik O'Reagan's Triptych. One performance only, at St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco, Sunday, March 28, at 5 p.m. $30.

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble

The new music orchestra presents Audible Visions, described as a program celebrating the connection between the eye and the ear. They'll be performing works by Faure, Saariaho, Kolb, Melinda Wagner, and Barnson. April 1, 2010, 142 Throckmorton Theater, Mill Valley, 8 p.m.; Monday, April 5, 2010, Green Room, Herbst Theater, S.F., 8 p.m. $20/$15.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Philip Langridge

The British tenor Philip Langridge has died, age 70; while the obit I'm linking to says "after a short illness," an acquaintance says Langridge had been ill for some time and his passing was not a surprise.

I never heard Langridge live, and reading various reminiscences, I'm sorry about that. It's apparent that he was one of those singers who in the theater could grab you by the throat, and whose art was far more than his voice. The obit I link to above includes phrasing like "successor to Pears" and "[his voice] could not be described as heroic or beautiful," which tell the story of art beyond voice.

On broadcasts, where I did catch him once or twice, all you get is the voice, and given the contrast between in the house and over the air with the current Met broadcasts, there's no way that what I heard represented him adequately.

Rest in peace, Philip Langridge, and condolences to your family and friends.

Things You Should Get To If You Can

I'll have a full review of New Century Chamber Orchestra's current program in to SFCV later today; I should have posted immediately Thursday night to encourage readers to get to the program if they can. It is all excellent except for the Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, which is stunningly great. Go see it, really. They're playing at Herbst in SF tonight and at the Osher Marin JCC tomorrow afternoon.

Also, Other Minds' last day is tonight at the SF JCC.

Lastly, SF Renaissance Voices, 7:30 tonight at Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, beginning a great run of spring and summer programs.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

World Premieres, U.S. Orchestras, 2010-11

Here's the world premiere score card for orchestras I'm tracking:

New York Philharmonic (Gilbert): 7

Los Angeles Philharmonic (Dudamel): 9

San Francisco Symphony (Thomas): 1.5 (the .5 was expected this season, will be performed next)

Atlanta Symphony (Spano): 5

Chicago Symphony (Muti): 4 (but you really have to dig through the press release to figure this out)

Cleveland Orchestra (Walser-Most): Has not announced 2010-11 season yet

Boston Symphony Orchestra (Levine): Has not announced 2010-11 season, excepting their Carnegie Hall appearances, which will include a new violin concerto by Harrison Birtwistle, which Christian Tetzlaff will perform.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up, NY State Democrat Division

As if Eliot Spitzer's resignation two years wasn't bad enough, now his successor, David Paterson, is in hot water on two fronts:
  • His involvement in protecting an aide from abuse or assault charges.
  • His violation of state ethics rules by seeking and accepting free tickets to the World Series.
Shouldn't be long before the great state of New York has its third governor in just over two years. Richard Ravitch, maybe you can do better.

Ticket to Met Premiere of Shostakovich's The Nose

A friend knows of a ticket available to Friday's Metropolitan Opera premiere of Shostakovich's The Nose. (Read about The Nose on the Met web site.) The ticket price is $120. If you're interested, please email me and I will put you in touch with the friend.

Diane Ravitch Comes to Her Senses

For the last twenty-odd years, education historian Diane Ravitch has been a conservative voice favoring school choice, charter schools, and standardized testing as a means to improve public schools.

Now she's figured out that those methods don't work. Here's the best quotation from the Times article I'm linking to:
“Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We’re on the wrong track.”
Well, duh. You don't need a doctorate in history to figure these things out. It's been obvious to me from the start that free-market methods aren't the right way to improve the public schools, which are a civic virtue, not a profit-making enterprise. No Child Left Behind has always looked to me like a way to eventually define every public school as failing, as a way to destroy public education.

If we paid teachers the salaries we pay software engineers, if we provided appropriate support and mentoring for new teachers, if we didn't isolate teachers from each other, if we paid for good buildings, good textbooks, and enough supplies, if we provided teachers' aids and reading specialists (California once did this, back in the days when we had the best public schools in the country)....well, we could have great schools everywhere. But take a look at the size of the defense budget and Americans' current views of taxation, and you'll see why we don't.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Will the Other Republicans Please Stand Up?

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, has stood up in favor of another extension of unemployment benefits. At the moment, the vile Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, is single-handedly blocking the extension. What caught my eye in Senator Collins's remarks is that she says her effort is being made
on behalf of numerous members of the Republican caucus who have expressed concerns to me
Well, you bunch of cowards: stand up and be counted, for crying out loud. Are you just afraid to back a Democratic effort on behalf of your constituents?

More on the San Francisco Symphony 2010-11 Season

First of all, you'll have a better chance of understanding my frustration with the just-announced SFS 2010-11 season if you take a look at the summary press release and at Joshua Kosman's article on the season.

Note the language in the press release: "trademark mix of engaging and adventurous programs," "exciting and innovative brand of music making," "a 33-week season of exciting programming reaching audiences in new and creative ways."

Then you take a look at the season and....there's a lot of Beethoven. The only living composer by whom we hear more than one work is John Adams, and none of those is new. Adams is, obviously, well-known in these parts, unlike Sofia Gubaidulina and George Benjamin, so it's hard to see what might be innovative or exciting about two weeks of repeats of big works by him.

Don't get me wrong. I like Adams and his music, but he's become the default representative of new music at SFS, and there are plenty of other worthy composers in the Bay Area, in California, and in the United States. SFS managed to observe big Mendelssohn and Handel anniversaries, and of course we will be hearing an awful lot of Mahler in the next couple of seasons, as in the past few, but couldn't they take note of Elliott Carter, still writing important and interesting music at the astounding age of 101?

Here's the money quote from Joshua's article:
"Sometimes, what we need to react to is the interest that exists outside of the city and internationally," Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas said in an interview. "The rest of the world is playing catch-up to what we've already done, but people here still want to share in those things."
Seriously, what exactly does that mean? I don't think I could say that with a straight face, it's so confusing. It seems to mean, everybody else is now trying to be innovative, so we can do something more conservative, but maybe not. Maybe it means, everybody wants to hear Mahler! Maybe one of my readers can explain it to me.

I note also that a friend reports that MTT apparently said at the press conference that there's only one work he's conducting next year that he has never done before, Feldman's Rothko Chapel. The previous sentence, now crossed out, was incorrect. Evidently there are a couple more works - total, three - that MTT has not conducted before. That still strikes me as odd.

So my frustration has three parts:
  • The conservatism of the season
  • The claims of innovation and excitement when five minutes of looking at the season make it clear that it's a conservative season full of greatest hits, with very little new music
  • The much more interesting and innovative seasons announced a couple of weeks ago by the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Now, I don't expect any orchestra in the world to program what I'd really like to hear, because what interests me most is music I've never heard before, or never heard live, whether it's new or very old or somewhere in between. This is why I'm excited by, of all things, Kurt Masur's upcoming Mendelssohn program: I love both the Italian Symphony and the incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I think I've never heard either live.

Summing this all up, SFS is putting on what I'd call a very safe season but calling it something entirely different. We're being told that blue is yellow, and so I'm having one of those cognitive-dissonance moments. At least S.F. Opera was honest about why they're doing a season with twelve performances each of Madama Butterfly and Aida. If what MTT wants to do is revisit old favorites, maybe he could say why, and what he intends to do that'll be new or interesting with those old favorites. Maybe they could say a lot more about how they put together a season.

And on to a comment I must reply to assertion by assertion.
First of all, there can never be too much Beethoven and I for one am happy not to see him shuttled out to the "My Favorite..." summer schmaltz this time around but given the prominence he merits.
I believe there can be too much of any composer, however central to repertory or to musical history. Regular repetition has a number of bad effects: the players and conductor can get tired of the music and fall into routine performances. It's lazy program-making to keep playing the same composers over and over. The audience can become persuaded that the composers who are most repeated - and you know who they are - are the only ones worth listening to. The audience can become unwilling to be challenged or to be open to other worthy composers. The constant repeats crowd out other good music.

I would be less critical of all the Beethoven if the works were being paired with works by other composers in some interesting way. In his first season at the BSO, for example, Levine paired Beethoven with Schoenberg, and those programs were both a critical and audience success. But nothing like that is being done here.

And, seriously? Taking a ten-year break from listening to the Beethoven symphonies was one of the best things I ever did for myself musically. I heard a lot of other music, and when I tried them out again, they were newly fresh.
True, it may not be the most adventurous season, and no one will think Salonen has taken over as Music Director, but really, what is the use of all this carping when the SFS is offering the rest of its season at half price and begging people to buy tickets?
The half-price sale is over and since this was the fourth time they've done it, it's now an annual event. Having such a sale isn't the only way to sell more tickets, of course. They could look at their overall pricing policy, their programming, their scheduling, and so on.

I'm also carping about next season, not this season, which has more programs that I like.
They're following the same path SFO has traveled, hoping for similar results. I would love to see a more adventurous season too, but for now, I'm happy we aren't reading about the imminent demise of SFF and stories about how thinly spread MTT is while the orchestra is about to go under.
You'll have to explain to me, then, why it is that the LAPO and NYPO have come up with considerably more interesting seasons, with many world premieres, interesting pairings (see Brahms Unbound at LA, and Salonen's Bartok, Ligeti, and Haydn series at NY), a performer in residence who is performing several of the world premieres, etc. The NY audience has long been regarded as impossibly conservative, and yet Alan Gilbert is forging ahead, and being cheered, for his programming.

SFS is very well managed and I think there is no danger at all of them going under; the situation is not remotely comparable to the current problems at the Philadelphia Orchestra or the LA Opera.
I believe sometimes it's appropriate that we look at organizations which are important to our community and deserving of our support with a bitten tongue once in awhile.
No arts organization, no institution that is important to a community benefits from journalists and bloggers muzzling themselves.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Tell Me Again How This is Innovative.

Highlights of the 2010-11 San Francisco Symphony season (read the press release PDF here):

  • There'll be a big focus on Beethoven. (A focus on Beethoven? Really? Very innovative! Just what we need!)
  • John Adams is Project San Francisco Composer-in-Residence, but we're not getting anything new or unfamiliar from him. We're getting repeats of El Nino and Harmonielehrer. Note that he's also new-music big guy at the LAPO.
  • Lots of Mahler, this time celebrating the anniversaries of his birth and death.
  • Yuja Wang is Artist in Residence. Compare what she'll be doing to what Ann-Sophie Mutter is doing at the NYPO, which will include playing several world premieres.
  • Rufus Wainwright will deliver the work he was originally contracted to deliver this season.
  • The real commission for the season is from Avner Dorman. David Robertson conducts, not MTT.
Works never performed before are:
  • Feldman, Rothko Chapel
  • Ellington, various songs
  • Revueltas, Sensemaya
  • Villa-Lobos, Ciranda das sete notas
  • Berg, Three Pieces from the Lyric Suite
  • Debussy, Fantasie for piano and orchestra
  • Shostakovich, Symphony No. 12
  • Kurtag, Grabstein fur Stephan
  • Weill, Symphony No. 2
  • Mozart, couple of piano concertos
  • Rouse, The Infernal Machine
  • Silvestrov, Elegy
  • Schnittke, Moz-Art ala Haydn
  • Khatchaturian, Violin Concerto
Highlights for me will include some of the above (I don't care about the Mozart juvenalia; I do care about Rothko Chapel), plus various works by Dutilleux, Mendelssohn (A Midsummer Night's Dream, evidently the complete incidental music), RVW's Second Symphony, and the Missa Solemnis.

Oh, well - sadly, I'll be missing Rothko Chapel. It's on a program with - this is very innovative - the Mozart Requiem, a piece I never want to hear again.

The European tour - but not SF - gets the great Christian Tetzlaff in the Berg violin concerto.

I finally found the season calendar, and I'm sorry to say that it looks like a damn dull season, especially when contrasted with the excitement and new works at both NY and LA.

One More Publicity Basic

An update to the ever-popular Publicity Basics posting -

The next time your organization is thinking of sending out a mass mailing, check what it looks like on a few popular mobile phones: iPhone, the Android model of your choice (in a browser AND the native Gmail client), Blackberry, etc.

If the user has to scroll all over the place to read your mail, change the format. This happens most commonly on my Android phone with HTML email that uses fixed-width columns for formatting.

If you're sending out Word documents or PDFs, your important news won't necessarily get read on a mobile phone. Most mobile phones have limited or no support for those formats.

Once again: plain text and rich text are the safest formats for emailing publicity info. Prettiness is less important than getting read. Don't make people open another application to read your press release; don't make them click a link to find vital information; don't make them scroll.

I'm going to add one more good reason for this: plain and rich text are friendly formats for people who use screen readers.