Friday, April 30, 2010

Wild Weekend II: In Transit

Ethan and Alex headed off for San Francisco Airport, on their way to Ann Arbor, MI; I headed for BART and Oakland Airport, on my way to Los Angeles. Down in the BART station, my phone rang. It was a bot call from Southwest, bearing the news that my 3 p.m. flight had been canceled. Oh, dread! I phoned Donna to say, don't know what I'm doing but maybe we can have lunch together. Phoned Southwest, planning to ask for a flight from either SFO or Oakland. They put me on the next plane out of Oakland. Phoned Donna, who met me at BART. Emailed and then phoned Brian from Out West Arts, who had very kindly offered to pick me up at LAX, to see if the change of plans would work for him. Ate lunch with Donna at an excellent taqueria near Fruitvale BART. Went to the airport. Arrived very early! Got on the plane. Landed in LA - man, that long, low approach gives you quite a view of the valley and Los Angeles. Met Brian and his partner. Dinner near the Chandler Pavilion and WDCH, where Brian was headed for Golijov's Pasion Segun San Marco. (The pickings are still very slim around there!) Walked to the Dot. Found that a prediction of mine from years back is coming true: Disney Hall needs seriously meticulous maintenance to keep that beautiful skin looking great, and it isn't quite getting it.

That tongue of metal? It appears to have slipped out of place.

Rainwater seems to be draining through the skin and leaving stains.

Wild Weekend I: Noise Tour with Alex Ross and Ethan Iverson

Alex Ross, someone I didn't recognize (but should have), and Ethan Iverson

The recap: last Friday, April 23, I didn't manage to see Magnifcat's Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, owing to tiredness and lack of patience with the parking situation at St. Patrick's Seminary. (Sorry, Warren - I really did want to hear it.) The critics were divided, with Anna Carol Dudley enthused but a little vague in San Francisco Classical Voice, while the Chron's Joshua Kosman found the performance "drab and dutiful."

I woke up Saturday morning and had breakfast; my partner and I got into the car so she could take me to BART. There was no traffic at all and so she offered to drive me to San Francisco. Off we went, arriving rather earlier than I'd planned. Bought my ticket, got some (not very good) coffee, spent some time chatting with Terri Stuart of the Wagner Society of Northern California.

The show was great fun. Alex read from the book, Ethan played. The program is here. You really have not lived until you hear Alex's impersonation of Mrs. Downes, mother of the critic Olin Downes, in a sort of Victor-Borge-meets-Julia-Child voice. I liked Ethan's playing very much. The Ives, Webern, Sibelius, and Ligeti were especially good; see Ethan's utterly fascinating blog posting about the works and the composers' pianism.

Afterward, a long chat-cum-catch-up with Sid Chen, whom I hadn't seen since the week we saw each other one night at a tremendous Trittico performance, then stood more or less together the next night through what we both found a dispiriting Trovatore. (Neither of us stood for the Noise Tour.) I missed Opera Tattler in the crowd, but did see a co-worker and hear some interesting news from him.

Sid and I stood in line to say hello to Alex and Ethan; we were at the very end of the line, so we may have gotten a bit more of their time than others. A man I didn't recognize asked to have his picture taken with the performers; Sid obligingly took some photos with Alex's camera and that of the gent who'd made the request. I pulled out my own camera for the heck of it, with the result you see at the head of this posting: Alex is in red, Ethan is in white, and, in the middle, the mystery man, who turned out to be the great Marc-Andre Hamelin, in town to play Mendelssohn with the San Francisco Symphony.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Berklee College of Music (Boston) Blogs

I got email a day or so ago asking me to post a link to a particular posting on a particular blog at the Berklee College of Music. I couldn't for the life of me see why this particular posting, because it wasn't an obvious follow-on or follow-up to anything I've posted about.

But I did follow the link and was interested to see that Berklee (which I keep typoing to Berkeley, I wonder why...) has got a network of blogs written by faculty members on a wide range of subjects of possible interest: the music business, Future of Music (sorry, Greg!), orchestration, notation software, and...other stuff.

There's a page that aggregates all blog postings into one big blog. If you click the header of any particular posting or an author's name, you see the author's individual blog. If you look in the right-hand sidebar, you'll see a listing of all blogs in the network. There are sixteen (16) different blogs, quite a large and diverse group! Have fun with them.

Officially on the Blogroll

I've been reading composer Daniel Wolf's blog Renewable Music for, um, months? a couple of years? via Google Reader, and somehow managed not to put him on the blog roll. Serious oversight, as he is a smart and thoughtful guy.

Also adding DO THE MATH, by pianist Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus, Alex Ross's Noise Tour co-conspirator. Read his comments about the works he performed and especially about the composers.

Happening Soon

As usual, I could go to 20 events, okay, maybe five to ten, in the next week or so. Here's a list. I am NOT providing full details for all, but I'll link to relevant web sites.

California Bach Society, St. John Passion; San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Berkeley performances, April 30 to May 2.

San Francisco Symphony, Christoph Eschenbach, Zemlinsky Lyric Symphony and Schumann 4th, April 29 to May 1.

Sarah Cahill, piano, 8 p.m., Saturday, May 1, 2121 Allston Way, Berkeley - a typically wide-ranging program of new and recent music. This is part of the Berkeley Arts Festival.

I am Love, Tilda Swinton's new film, is evidently built around a John Adams score in some interesting way. There's a special showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival this Sunday at the Castro Theater, San Francisco, 3:30 p.m.

And there are other films of musical interest at the SFIFF: Janos Gereben tells you the story in his SFCV Music News column this week. I have heard good things about Pianomania, especially.

So Much to Catch Up On

I have fallen rather behind in my blogging! Coming soon, though: an account of my mad weekend, and a list of upcoming events.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Luisi Named Principal Guest Conductor of the Met

Fabio Luisi has been named principal guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, effective with the 2010-11 season. He has a three-year contract and will spend two to three months per season in NY.

Dan Wakin Times article here.
Possibly temporary Met News Flash here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Goerne OUT, Johnson In at SFS

Matthias Goerne is ill and has withdrawn from this week's performances of Alexander Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony at San Francisco Symphony. Dammit.

He's being replaced by the excellent James Johnson, who has been singing in Die Gezeichneten in Los Angeles for the last few weeks.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Well, that didn't quite work out as intended.

Had dinner at work.
Drove to Menlo Park.
Tooled around St. Patrick's Seminary for 20 minutes unsure of where exactly it was legal to park (around that big oval right in front of the main building? probably. spaces marked "reserved for Dr. X"? probably not.)
Realized I was dog tired.
Headed home.

Crazy Weekend

Friday, 8 p.m. - Magnificat, Monteverdi Vespers, St. Patrick's Seminary, Menlo Park. You should go to one of their performances!

Saturday, 10 a.m. - Alex Ross and Ethan Iverson, Herbst Theater, S.F. Assuming tickets are still available, of course.

Saturday, 3 p.m. - Oakland Airport

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. - Die Gezeichneten, LA Opera

Sunday, 1 p.m. - Goetterdaemmerung, LA Opera

Sunday, 9:15 p.m. - LAX

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Constitutes Aesthetic Banality?

In the comment section of a previous posting (Aaron Copland is the Most Overrated Composer of the 20th Century), there's a lively discussion going on about some other contenders. One commenter has called Alan Hovhaness "a prolific craftsman of musical tofu" and adds Gorecki. Another terms them both "banal," a third disagrees with that assessment.

So, tell me, which composers do YOU consider aesthetically banal and/or intellectually empty, and why?

I'll propose a painter of astonishing banality, vapidity, etc., just to provide an aesthetic parallel: Thomas Kinkade, self-labeled "Painter of Light." Anyone going to argue with that?

Jennifer Higdon in the Times

Nice article in today's NY Times about Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon. One quibble: why, oh, why, is Vivien Schweitzer describing as "experimental touches" such mainstream techniques as using knitting needles (or any other unusual object) as percussion mallets and muting piano strings with your hands? Those might have been experimental techniques in 1950, but they're surely not now. They're just part of the standard arsenal of coloristic effects an orchestral composer can use.
Okay, I admit to some eye-rolling over the comments about accessibility, etc. I'm fine with composers working in their own style, whatever it might be, but I wish everybody would keep in mind that there are lots of listeners who love the kind of complex music that is evidently considered "inaccessible."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bolcom, Barber, and Copland at NCCO

New Century Chamber Orchestra closes out their 2009-10 season with an appealing program that features a violin concerto written for music director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg by American composer William Bolcom. Here's what they're playing -

Barber, Adagio for Strings
Bolcom, Romanza (NCCO commission and world premier; read more about it at SFCV.)
Copland, Appalachian Spring in original 13-player chamber version
Copland, "Hoedown," from Rodeo

You can hear this program at the following dates, times, and venues. Tickets are $32-54, with discounts for patrons under 30.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

#Operaplot 2010

The Omniscient Mussel's Twittered opera plot contest returns, with truly great prizes! It's fairly simple: set up a Twitter account. Cleverly reduce an opera plot to a Twitterable 140 characters. Tweet the plot reduction. Have your plot judged by a panel of one: fab tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Possibly win a prize!

(updated for clarity, 4/21/2010)

OPERAPLOT 2010 - The Lowdown

Dates: 9am EST Monday 26th April to midnight EST Friday 30th April.
Judge: Jonas Kaufmann
Headlining House: Opera Theatre Company based in Dublin is offering two tickets to their Marriage of Figaro production in May, 3 nights hotel stay and up to 1000€ towards flights.

Other participating houses (full details here - updated as new houses join)

Atlanta Opera, Edmonton Opera, Fort Worth Opera Festival, Opera Australia, Opera San Jose, Portland Opera, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Scottish Opera, Seattle Opera, Vancouver Opera,

Other prizes
Universal has put CD and DVD sets of Wagner, Haydn and Mozart into the pool. In addition to be fantastic in their own right, these prizes help solve the problem of opera houses not being especially portable....a bit of a snag in a global competition. Tickets for the Vancouver aren't very useful to a winner living in Atlanta.

How it works (full rules and FAQ here)
  • Anyone can enter. Contestants must have a Twitter account.
  • The idea is to summarize the plot of an opera in 140 characters- the Twitter maximum - or less.
  • Each tweet must carry the #operaplot tag, so everyone can follow along.
  • Contestants can enter up to 10 times.
  • 5 winners will be chosen by Jonas. They will each get to choose a prize out of the pool in a randomly selected order.

A few facts about last year (the whole story can be found here)
  • 32 opera houses in 4 countries
  • Over 500 entries
  • Danielle DeNiese judged the comp
  • It ended up with Priscilla Barrow, an inner city school music teacher in DC, getting an Opera Ball fairy tale courtesy of the Washington National Opera and #operaplot winner Stephen Llewellyn
  • Compressing the plot wasn't enough of a challenge for some. By the end, people were writing haiku, limericks and even doing the whole Ring cycle in one tweet.
Top 5 from 2009
  • @leboyfriend – There was a young lady called Fricka Who . . . who . . . *snore* 'Wake up -- it's over.' It's good, I just wish it were quicka. [The Ring]
  • @wordsmusic – Here's my castle. Are you afraid? No, I'm going to open all those damn doors! Are you afraid? No, let me in! Who's that? Oh shit. [Bluebeard]
  • @musicbizkid – Let me get this straight: unfathomable treasure if I betroth my loopy daughter to a ghost? Deal. She'll meet you by the fjord. [The Flying Dutchman]
  • @DrGeoduck – Who wants to live forever? Me! No, wait, i changed my mind. *dies* [The Makropolus Case]
  • @voxdixit – Monk: Repent, courtesan! (Meditation) Courtesan: Okay! Monk: Wait, there is no God after all! Courtesan: Too late, I'm dead! [Thais]

A bit about me
A freelance classical music journalist and ghostwriter from Toronto. I write a lot of books on business as well as arts journalism for the Toronto Star, the CBC and Sony. Online, I am Miss Mussel of I'm doing this mostly because it's really fun. Opera fan are usually pretty nerdy and love to play games, so #operaplot is a really good fit.

Press Contacts
Jonas' publicist -
Opera Theatre Company - Sorcha Carroll -
Marcia Adair - // +1 519 341 3138 (EST)

Bard Music Festival 2010: Berg and His World

Drool, slobber: once again, Leon Botstein knocks the programming out of the park. I loved last year's SFS Schubert/Berg mini-festival; the Bard Fest programming is unbelievably great. For those unfamiliar with the Bard Music Festival, it's in NYC in August. Dates and schedule below.

Festival home page: Berg and His World

Here's the schedule, which speaks for itself; note, especially, the extremely rare chance to hear a full performance of Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln.

Weekend One, August 13—15: Berg and Vienna

Friday, August 13


Alban Berg: The Path of Expressive Intensity

Sosnoff Theater

7:30 pm Pre-concert talk: Leon Botstein

8:00 pm Performance: Daedalus Quartet; Jeremy Denk, piano; Danny Driver, piano; Alexander Fiterstein, clarinet; Lisa Saffer, soprano; Pei-Yao Wang, piano; Bard Festival Chamber Players

In memory of George Perle

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Seven Early Songs (1905–08)

Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1907–08)

Four Pieces, for clarinet and piano (1913)

Lyric Suite (1925–26)

Johann Strauss II (1825–99)

Wein, Weib, und Gesang, Op. 333 (1869, arr. Berg, 1921)

Tickets $20/35/45

Saturday, August 14


Berg: His Life and Career

Olin Hall

10:00 am—12 noon

Christopher H. Gibbs, moderator; Christopher Hailey; Douglas Jarman; and others

Free and open to the public


The Vienna of Berg’s Youth

Olin Hall

1:00 pm Pre-concert talk: Mark DeVoto

1:30 pm Performance: Alessio Bax, piano; Daedalus Quartet; Pei-Yao Wang, piano; and others

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Selections from early piano works and songs

Alexander Zemlinsky (1871–1942)

Fantasies on Poems by Richard Dehmel, Op. 9 (1898)

Five Songs (Dehmel) (1907)

Karl Weigl (1881–1949)

String Quartet No. 3 in A major (1909)

Anton Webern (1883–1945)

Piano Quintet (1907)

Joseph Marx (1882–1964)

Valse de Chopin (1909)

Tickets: $35


Mahler and Beyond

Sosnoff Theater

7:00 pm Pre-concert talk: Christopher H. Gibbs

8:00 pm Performance: Christiane Libor, soprano; Akiko Suwanai, violin; American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director; and others

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Fünf Orchesterlieder nach Ansichtskartentexten von Peter Altenberg, Op. 4 (1912)

Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 (1914–15)

Violin Concerto (1935)

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)

Adagio, from Symphony No. 10 (1910)

Hans Pfitzner (1869–1949)

“Abend” and “Nacht,” from Von deutscher Seele, Op. 28 (1921)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957)

Prelude and Carnival Music, from Violanta, Op. 8 (1914)

Tickets: $ 25/40/55

Sunday, August 15


Eros and Thanatos

Olin Hall

10:00 am Performance with commentary by Byron Adams

Works by Alban Berg (1885–1935), Johann Strauss II (1825–99), Richard Strauss (1864–1949), Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), Franz Schreker (1878–1934), Alma Mahler (1879–1964), Friedrich Hollaender (1896–1976), Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957)

Tickets: $30


Teachers and Apostles

Olin Hall

1:00 pm Pre-concert talk: Sherry D. Lee

1:30 pm Performance: Alessio Bax, piano; Marnie Breckenridge, soprano; Cygnus Ensemble; Daedalus Quartet; Danny Driver, piano; Soovin Kim, violin

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

String Quartet, Op. 3 (1910)

Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)

Six Piano Pieces, Op. 19 (1911)

Anton Webern (1883–1945)

Four Pieces, for violin and piano, Op. 7 (1910)

Egon Wellesz (1885–1974)

Three Piano Pieces, Op. 9 (1911)

Sandór Jemnitz (1890–1963)

Trio, for guitar, violin, and viola, Op. 33 (1932)

Viktor Ullmann (1898–1944)

Variations and Double-Fugue on a Piano Work by A. Schönberg, Op. 3a (1929)

Hans Erich Apostel (1901–72)

Variations from Lulu (1935)

Theodor W. Adorno (1903–69)

Six Bagatelles, Op. 6 (1923–42)

Tickets: $35


The Orchestra Reimagined

Sosnoff Theater

5:00 pm Pre-concert talk: Antony Beaumont

5:30 pm Performance: Jeremy Denk, piano; Soovin Kim, violin; members of the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Kammerkonzert (1923–25)

Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924)

Berceuse élégiaque, Op. 42 (1909; arr. Stein, 1920)

Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)

Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 (1905–06)

Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)

Kammermusik No. 1, Op. 24/1 (1921)

Tickets: $20/35/45

Weekend Two, August 20—22: Berg the European

Friday, August 20


Rethinking the Modern

Multipurpose room, Bertelsmann Campus Center

10:00 am—12 noon

1:30 pm—3:30 pm

Garry Hagberg, moderator

Free and open to the public


“No Critics Allowed”: The Society for Private Performances

Sosnoff Theater

7:30 pm Pre-concert talk: Tamara Levitz

8:00 pm Performance: Frederika Brillembourg, mezzo-soprano; Randolph Bowman, flute; Miranda Cuckson, violin; John Hancock, baritone; Blair McMillen, piano; Daniel Panner, viola; Anna Polonsky, piano; Orion Weiss, piano; Bard Festival Chamber Players

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Four Songs, Op. 2 (1909–10)

Claude Debussy (1862–1918)

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1891–94; arr. Sachs, 1921)

Max Reger (1873–1916)

Serenade, for flute, violin, and viola, in G major, Op. 141a (1915)

Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)

La valse (1919–20, arr. 2 pianos)

Béla Bartók (1881–1945)

14 Bagatelles, Op. 6 (1908)

Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937)

Romance, for violin and piano, Op. 23 (1910)

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

Piano-Rag Music (1919)

Berceuses du chat (1915)

Josef Matthias Hauer (1883–1959)

Nomos, Op. 2 (1913)

Tickets: $20/35/45

Saturday, August 21


You Can’t Be Serious! Viennese Operetta and Popular Music

Olin Hall

10:00 am Performance with Commentary by Derek B. Scott

Works by Alban Berg (1885–1935), Johann Strauss II (1825–99); Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900); Franz Lehár (1870–1948), Emmerich Kálmán (1882–1953), and others

Tickets: $30


Composers Select: New Music in the 1920s

Olin Hall

1:00 pm Pre-concert talk: Marilyn McCoy

1:30 pm Performance: Paolo Bordignon, harpsichord; Miranda Cuckson, violin; Ilana Davidson, soprano; FLUX Quartet; Robert Martin, cello; Blair McMillen, piano; Orion Weiss, piano; Bard Festival Chamber Players; and others

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Adagio, from Kammerkonzert, arr. for piano trio (1923–25; arr. 1935)

Manuel De Falla (1876–1946)

Concerto, for harpsichord, flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, and cello (1923–26)

Alfredo Casella (1883–1947)

Sinfonia, for piano, cello, clarinet, and trumpet, Op. 53 (1932)

Ernst Toch (1887–1964)

Quartet for Strings No. 11, Op. 34 (1924)

Alois Hába (1893–1973)

Quartet for Strings No. 2, in the quarter-tone system, Op. 7 (1920)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957)

Four Little Caricatures for Children, Op. 19 (1926)

Hanns Eisler (1898–1962)

Tagebuch des Hanns Eisler, Op. 9 (1926)

George Gershwin (1898–1937)

Three Preludes for Piano (1926–26)

Tickets: $35


Modernism and Its Discontent

Sosnoff Theater

7:00 pm Pre-concert talk: Christopher Hailey

8:00 pm Performance: Christiane Libor, soprano; Frederika Brillembourg, mezzo-soprano; Thomas Cooley, tenor; James Taylor, tenor; Robert Pomakov, bass-baritone; Bard Festival Chorale, James Bagwell, choral director; American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Der Wein (1929)

Franz Schmidt (1874–1939)

Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln (1935–37)

Tickets: $25/40/55



Music and Morality

Olin Hall

10 am – 12 noon

Christopher Hailey, moderator; Leon Botstein; Klara Moricz; and others

Free and open to the public


Between Accommodation and Inner Emigration: The Composer’s Predicament

Olin Hall

1:00 pm Pre-concert talk: Richard Wilson

1:30 pm Performance: Ilana Davidson, soprano; John Hancock, baritone; Anna Polonsky, piano; Bard Festival Chamber Players

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Schliesse mir die Augen beide (1925)

Othmar Schoeck (1886–1957)

Notturno, Op. 47 (1931–33)

Ernst Krenek (1900–91)

Durch die Nacht, song cycle, Op. 67a (1930–31)

Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905–63)

Quartet for Strings No. 1, “Carillon” (1933)


Crimes and Passions

Sosnoff Theater

4:30 pm Pre-concert talk: Bryan Gilliam

5:30 pm Performance: Christiane Libor, soprano; Lisa Saffer, soprano; Frederika Brillembourg, mezzo-soprano; Brian Stucki, tenor; Philip Horst, bass-baritone; Bard Festival Chorale, James Bagwell, choral director; American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director; and others

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Three Fragments from Wozzeck (1924)

Lulu Suite (1934)

Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)

Sancta Susanna, Op. 21 (1921)

Kurt Weill (1900–50)

Royal Palace, Op. 17 (1925–26)

Tickets: $25/40/55

More on Copland

The Shame, the Shame

The Brandeis Justice, for which I once wrote reviews, issues a correction:

An article in Arts incorrectly identified the opera Madame Butterfly as a spin-off of the musical Miss Saigon. Miss Saigon is actually a spin-off of Madame Butterfly. (Apr. 13, p. 19)