Monday, November 29, 2010

Not Quite Heaven-Storming

Reviewing the San Francisco Symphony: Brahms/Yefim Bronfman, Berg, MTT.

Elsewhere, Joshua Kosman tries to make a case for Bronfman's approach, noting some conflicts between the approach taken by Bronfman and that of the orchestra and mentioning that the Berg's second movement sounded under-rehearsed to him. Maybe the whole thing was under-rehearsed. Suffice it to say, I'm not convinced that Bronfman's approach worked; maybe in a less cavernous hall than Davies? It just didn't work for me. But that line about the Academic Festival Overture redeems all.

John Marcher at A Beast in a Jungle agrees with Joshua.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Will Make You Feel Safer, I'm Sure

Adam Savage of Mythbusters got on a plane. The TSA got a look at his anatomy but missed the 12" steel razor blades he had packed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

This Could Be Fun

From the American Musicological Society announcement mailing list:

Call for Papers

“After the End of Music History”
An international conference in honor of Richard Taruskin

10-12 February 2012

Princeton University

After the End of Music History is a three-day international conference assessing the state
of musical research, with three central concerns of Richard Taruskin’s scholarship as
points of departure: musical censorship and canon formation; nationalism, neoclassicism,
and serialism in the twentieth century; and modernism in the early music movement.
Additional issues such as the purported demise of the notated tradition, the rise of
vernacular and world musics as subjects of academic study, and the transformative
effects of digital technologies will be addressed by keynote speakers and invited

The conference will feature three related performances. First will be a stage adaptation
of Alexander Pushkin’s novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
with incidental music by Sergey Prokofiev, banned by the Soviets in 1936 and never
subsequently performed. A chamber music concert will reconsider the phenomenon
of “PhD music” and the broader legacy of serial composition in America, including a
world premiere piece by Steve Mackey. There will also be an informal cabaret night of
remixed music from classical repertoire to global pop.

The conference organizers invite the submission of individual papers on the themes of
the conference and its performances or the general state of music research. Graduate
students and scholars in the early stages of their careers are especially encouraged to
apply. Presenters will receive an honorarium and travel expenses.

Please email abstracts in PDF or Word format to aemh2012 at Abstracts
should not exceed 300 words and must be received by February 28, 2011. Notification of
accepted papers will be sent by March 31, 2011.

My only question: will there be fisticuffs? I mean, "the end of music history"?? But I'm putting it on my calendar now!

Friday, November 19, 2010

"You know that if he were alive today, he would totally be a blogger."

Mark Twain, that is. His autobiography, which he authorized for publication a century after his death, is flying off the shelves. The U.C. Press cautiously anticipated an initial print run of 7,500 copies of the $35 volume, the first of a projected three. Then they decided, oh, they could sell 50,000.

They've now printed 275,000 copies, and that has not come close to meeting the full demand for the book. Their printer is turning out 30,000 more each week.

It couldn't have happened to a better guy.

Most Beautiful and All o' That

Not that I really expect A. C. Douglas to be paying much attention to individual singers, especially those singing primarily non-German music, but if you can say with a straight face that Renee Fleming "for pure beauty of sound has got to have the most beautiful voice ever to have graced the opera stage," you need to get out a little more.  Pretty the Fleming voice is, but also anonymous and without much spin or projection. I once heard her and Ruth Ann Swenson on the same gala program, and there was no question who had the more beautiful voice: Swenson by a mile, and she also had a substantially bigger voice with way more life and shine to it.

I think it is a little silly to talk about "most beautiful voice," because people have different ears. But here are a few candidates for pure beauty of sound; I'll put the sopranos first.
  • Leontyne Price. For my money, the great LP had the most beautiful soprano voice evah, though there's plenty of competition.
  • Rosa Ponselle
  • Edith Mason. If you've never heard of her, it's probably because her career was mostly conducted in Chicago, where she was greatly loved and where her six marriages, two of them to the same husband, must have been an extremely entertaining scandal. You can find her recordings on an out-of-print Romophone CD.
  • Montserrat Caballe
  • Zinka Milanov
  • Ebe Stignani
  • Margarete Arndt-Ober
  • Jussi Bjoerling
  • Beniamino Gigli. Ignore the sobbing and other stylistic nasties, and avoid that recording of "Il mio tesoro."
  • Giuseppe DiStefano, before he decided that a great Alfredo and Edgardo should be singing roles like Calaf and Manrico
  • Fritz Wunderlich
  • Robert Merrill
  • Joseph Schwartz. You've probably never heard of him either. German, among the great Verdi baritones of the 20th c., died young of alcoholism.
  • Ezio Pinza
  • Alexander Kipnis
Your candidates? Yeah, Swenson, probably the most beautiful voice I've ever heard live. I probably ought to add Frida Leider and Christine Brewer to the list above.

E-PS Gets It Right

Yes, it certainly is the best C major chord all music, even when Judit bags the high C. *

Although, you know, the one at "And ... there was LIGHT," in The Creation is pretty good too.

*The link is to the great - and I mean great - 1950 recording conducted by Janos Ferencsik, with Mihaly Szekely and Klara Palankay, inferior sound and all. Unfortunately, I cannot find this moment with Christa Ludwig, who could take your head off with a fantastic C.

Timely Reminder: Chora Nova, Nov. 20, 2010

Our all-Haydn program, in which we'll perform the Harmoniemesse (Wind-Band Mass), the Te Deum in Bb for Empress Marie-Therese, and Der Sturm, a dramatic part song. Everything sounded really good at our regular rehearsal, and I hear the orchestra is terrific.

Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010
8 p.m.
$20 / $18 / $10
First Presbyterian Church
Dana and Durant
Berkeley, CA

(This is NOT First Congregational, where we usually perform. First Pres. is diagonally across the intersection.)

Note that there's a Cal basketball game tomorrow night and parking in the area will be harder than usual.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I am not not not the Lisa Hirsch who is writing for Entertainment Tonight News.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Berkeley West Edge Opera

Completely forgot - Handel's Xerxes opens tonight at Berkeley West Edge Opera; additional performances on Nov. 19 and 21, at the El Cerrito High theater. Baroque scholar Alan Curtis conducts. I have tickets for tonight and hope to report back.

The Makropulos Review

Vec Makropulos at San Francisco Opera. There's  more editorializing than I usually indulge in, but whatever. If it's not clear, Mattila is simply amazing. If you heard reports that her voice was frayed from all those Salomes, forget it. She sounded fantastic, fresh and glorious with plenty of bloom and easy, unforced volume.

I didn't get into a discussion of the fact that Vec Makropulos doesn't easily translate to either The Makropulos Case or The Makropulos Affair,  which are the usual titles in English. Apparently it means something more like "the Makropulos thing," and probably refers to the formula.

Lastly, Patricia Racette told me last year that EM is among the roles she'd like to sing. I'd love to hear that. All I can tell you is that it would be different from what Mattila is doing with it. I have already heard both of them in another iconic Janacek role, Jenufa, in which Racette was heartbreakingly perfect. Mattila sang beautifully but could not shed her glamor to truly become Jenufa.

Saturday Miscellany

Catching up on lots of upcoming concerts. We're at saturation point here, that time when so much is going on that hard choices need to be made.


New Century Chamber Orchestra has concerts with composer and violinist Mark O'Connor this week, in sundry locations. O'Connor plays a variety of styles and leads some great music ed. programs for kids around the country....Pamela Z performs in a private home in Pacific Heights on December 2; limited seating, sliding scale donation. She is a fantastic performer/composer and seeing her up close is a treat....Chalice Consort, under new director Davitt Moroney, has concerts this weekend (starting last night...sorry!) of music by Simone Molinaro...International Orange Chorale's November program includes Milton Babbitt's "Music for the Mass," and if ONLY their concerts weren't opposite the Chora Nova dress rehearsal and concert, I would so be there. They perform on November 19 at 5 p.m. at 55 Second St. in San Francisco, November 20 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Mark's Lutheran, S.F.....Bryn Terfel sings at Cal Performances on Nov. 20, yet another program I'll be missing.


San Francisco Choral Artists, under Megan Solomon, perform on Dec. 4, 5, 11, and 12 at various locations and times; the program spans the centuries and takes in a whole bunch of countries and styles. Should be lots of fun!..That same weekend, California Bach Society performs Rosenmuller's Weihnachtshistorie, choral music telling the Nativity story, on December 3, 4, and 5, in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Berkeley. The Whole Noyse joins them; the music in the polychoral Venetian style and should be thrilling....Also thrilling, Magnificat performs Charpentier's Messe de Minuit, December 17, 18, and 19, in Menlo Park, Berkeley, and San Francisco.

I know there's more happening that first weekend in December, in the way of recitals and other concerts; will possibly catch up at some point.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More Mak Misc

Yes, indeed, left a couple of things out.

The Met premier of this great opera waited until 1996, amazingly. They'd managed to stage Jenufa in the 1920s, with the glamorous Maria Jeritza in the title role. What an EM she would have been!

But the Met premier of Makropulos was dogged by fate. At the first performance, tenor Richard Versailles, singing Vitek, climbed the ladder in Kolanaty's office, sang a few lines, then fell to the stage, dead of a heart attack. The second performance got snowed out. The performances after that were a triumph for Jessye Norman and the rest of the cast.

The Met performed Makropulos in English, and I have to say, it's a tough choice. The opera is mighty talky, to the point where the supertitles are really a distraction from what's on stage. But the opera is firmly tied to the rhythm and snap of Czech, and there would be losses going either way.

Another surprise about this opera, or maybe I shouldn't be surprised: there is only one video available. It is a well conducted production from Glyndbourne, led by Andrew Davis in non-sluggish mode. The cast is extremely strong, with Kim Begley a superb Gregor, Victor Braun a suave and smooth Prus, Andrew Shore as Kolanaty, and the young Christopher Ventris as Janek. But...and this is a big's the theatrically-vivid, vocally-threadbare Anja Silja as EM. She is a trial to the ears.

So I see an opportunity for San Francisco Opera: put out a competing DVD with the magnificent Mattila.

The Vaz Perspective

You may or may not know that Patrick Vaz likes to sit close to the action. Really close, in the first three or so rows of whatever performance he's attending. Me, I shy away from this for various reasons, especially following the unfortunate choice of a seat in the second row for a performance of Turangalila. My god but that was loud. I decided to be more careful in the future.

So this past weekend, I turned up around fifteen minutes before the Ensemble Zellig concert at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, expecting to be able to get a seat without any difficulties. To my surprise, I got a $20 community rush seat, when I'd been expecting to pay $42. More to my surprise, the seat was in the front row not too far off center, two seats from Patrick, who'd actually bought a ticket two days earlier.

I thought about moving, in part because I don't like to have my turned for the duration of a performance, but then figured I might as well experiment. Because of the small forces on the program (piano, cello, clarinet, flute), there was little risk of a Turangalila-style sonic overload.

"Little risk" turned out not to mean "no risk." One of the works on the program was pretty darned loud, giving me that head-between-the-speakers feeling. It was cool to be so close to the flute player for the solo flute work that opened the program - and just how did she make a plucking sound on a flute in one of the other pieces?? - but I'm not going to try this again.

I missed the lack of hall perspective and having an easy view of the whole stage. I would have been a lot happier someplace in the center toward the back of the hall; it's not as though there is ever a problem with hearing what's going at Hertz. So for now I'll consider this a one-time experiment that I'm unlikely to repeat.

Miscellaneous Musings on Makropulos

To start with, get a ticket. I'll have a review up at SFCV sometime in the next 24 hours, and will hold off on more extensive comments about the primo, except: get a ticket. Or two....I called the SF Opera box office Tuesday to ask about senior rushes, since we were thinking of taking my mother. They said there would be a limited number, so be there at 11 when they go on sale. Well, there was no way that was happening; my mother can't travel to SF on her own at this point, and neither Donna nor I could swing by with her. They're not sold over the phone or on the web, either. So imagine my reaction to the dozens of empty seats in the orchestra section....Janacek was rarely performed outside Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe in the 1950s, but I cannot help daydreaming about what Maria Callas would have done with EM....Tattling: a shocking amount of chatter after the music started from the adults within hearing distance of me. The children who sit next to my subscription seats in the balcony are a whole lot quieter (and kudos to their parents for taking them to the opera and for teaching them to be considerate opera-goers).....Speaking of adults around me...oh, wait, maybe I will email Leah Garchick with a tidbit.


So, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has decided to jump on the HD broadcast bandwagon, sendingseveral programs led by Gustavo Dudamel to a few hundred theaters around the U.S. I sit amazed, because I see very little value in what they're doing, given the choices made for the first three programs.

People are attending the Met and other opera HD performances in droves because opera is hugely expensive, there are a limited number of companies that can do full-scale professional opera, some singers will never appear in, say, Seattle or Iowa, the repertory being broadcast is sometimes hard to find outside major opera companies, and the Met has a long, long season. Opera in HD has more appeal for me from January to May when the ballet is on in SF, for example.

Take a look at the repertory that the LAPO has picked for their first three HD broadcasts: Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms. Why, oh, why?

There are plenty of good, no, great, performances of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms on CD and DVD and it's easy to find local orchestras at all levels (major, regional, local) who do at least a good job with those composers live. Why would I want to see a young and comparatively unproven conductor in that repertory on HD when I can have Furtwangler (or Toscanini, or Mravinsky) at home, or Michael Morgan a few miles from my house, or Michael Tilson Thomas a few miles farther away? 

And if I wanted to hear the LAPO, why would I pick an HD broadcast? The broadcasts I've seen uniformly use a tremendous amount of dynamic compression, robbing broadcasts of the full dynamic range of the music and distorting the music and the sound of the orchestra. The LAPO performs in one of the great halls in the world, with superb acoustics. Why would I want to see the LAPO in reduced circumstances, as it were? 

I might go for unusual repertory, a great conductor, or a unique experience of some kind. Gustavo Dudamel in Beethoven? No way. I can see the underrated Marek Janowski live at SFS this season. Esa-Pekka Salonen in Bluebeard's Castle or something by Kaija Saariaho? Sure. Alan Gilbert and the NYPO? Sure - they're not a one-hour flight (or long, but do-able, drive) from me. Dudamel conducting a work completely new to me? Well, maybe!

The LAPO says that this program offers those who do not have opportunities to see a live orchestra the chance to do so. Really? I took a look at the list of venues for the Beethoven program, and I'd bet that 70% of them are within 50 miles of a symphony orchestra. That's certainly true of the California venues, anyway. Anyone have the chops to put their venues and the location of symphony orchestras on the same Google Map? (Hmmm, the Maps API is pretty easy to use if you know some JavaScript...)

Now, I realize that the price of a ticket to one of these broadcasts will still be within the financial reach of more people than tickets to one of the majors - the LAPO's price structure at Disney is pretty high. But the Redwood Symphony, for example, a local community orchestra is ambitious enough to have performed quite a bit of Mahler, charges $25 for single tickets, and $65 for a season subscription....and you can bring a friend for free. They play a more interesting repertory than the LAPO programs, as well.

So I sit here scratching my head over the LAPO HD broadcast program. The Met, with 1,500 venues and lots of sellouts, appears to be making a nice chunk of change on their broadcasts. I wish the LAPO well, but they'll do better with more interesting programming. 

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Chora Nova Haydn Program, Nov. 20, 2010

I'm singing with Chora Nova again this year, and our first program will be this great all-Haydn concert:

Harmoniemesse (WInd-Band Mass)
Der Sturm (dramatic part song)
Te Deum for Empress Marie-Therese

Paul Flight, conductor and music director
Kathryn Krasovec, soprano,  Lisa van der Ploeg, alto, Kevin Baum, tenor,
Paul Murray, baritone

First Presbyterian Church
2407 Dana Street, Berkeley, CA 94704

(NOTE: we are NOT at our usual venue, First Congo, for this program!)

Saturday, November 20,  2010, at 8 p.m.

$20 general
$18 senior
$10 students

Purchase on line at or at the door.
(Ignore deadline on web site of May 26, 2010, which is for a previous program)

Friday, November 05, 2010

KM as EM

Just a reminder that Vec Makropoulos (The Makropoulos Case or, in older translations, The Makropoulos Affair) opens this Wednesday, November 10, at San Francisco Opera. It's an early performance; curtain is at 7:30, and it's a short opera. Not to be missed!

Shirley Verrett

The great mezzo-soprano and soprano died today, age 79, of heart disease; the Times obituary is here.

In this YouTube video, she is in superb form, circa 1971, in a characteristic role:

And singing a great Liebestod a few years later in 1977:

Rest in peace, Miss Verrett; you were one of the greats.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Amount of money Meg Whitman spent running for governor of California: $163 million

Amount of the 2010 budget of the National Endowment for the Arts: $161.4 million

(via Alex, who got it from a Bryant Turnage tweet)

Wanted: Audiophile Mahler Fans, Must Own Turntable

You also need to have enough disposable income to drop $749 on an LP set - but it's not just any LP set.

It's a 22-LP set pressed on 180 gram virgin vinyl of the complete San Francisco Symphony Mahler cycle. It includes the completed symphonies, the Adagio from the unfinished Symphony No. 10, and all of the orchestral song cycles. You can hear Isabel Bayrakdarian, Laura Claycomb, Michelle DeYoung, Susan Graham, Anthony Dean Griffey, Thomas Hampson, Elza van den Heever, Katarina Karnéus, Quinn Kelsey, Sergei Leiferkus, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, James Morris, Thomas Moser, Yvonne Naef, Marina Shaguch, Stuart Skelton, and Erin Wall on the cycle.

Limited edition of 1,000, to be pressed only when pre-orders reach 600. Pre-ordering requires you to plunk down $75. For more information, visit the San Francisco Symphony web page about the release.

Music at Stanford

Just a reminder that if you're within hailing distance of Palo Alto, Stanford University offers many, many musical performances by a wide variety of performers. There's Stanford Lively Arts, which presents a wide variety of theater and music by internationally famous artists. The Stanford Music Department puts on faculty and student performances of solo and chamber music recitals, orchestral concerts, and choral programs, all at an extremely high level and all at bargain prices. Here are a couple of upcoming examples, plus some information about how you can find out what's going on at Stanford.

This is a tempting chorus concert, with a fascinating selection of composers:

Stanford Chamber Chorale: "Remember"
Saturday, Nov. 13, 8:00 pm
Memorial Church
Stephen M. Sano conducts this evening of a cappella choral repertoire
featuring the theme of memory, remembering, and remembrance, with works by
Farrant, Berger, Howells, Finzi, Pearsall, Delius, Barber, Moran,
Mantyjarvi, Chihara, Hamilton, Daley, and Chatman. | Stanford Ticket Office
General $10 | student $5 | senior $9.

You might know Scott St. John's name, because he is the second violinist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. George Barth teaches piano and does research into 19th century piano performance practice and history. He's a terrific player, and I'm sure this will be a great concert.

Scott St. John, violin, and George Barth, piano
Sunday, Nov. 14, 2:30 pm
Campbell Recital Hall
Two of the Department of Music¹s faculty collaborate in this recital, with
selections from Brahms, Busoni, and Ives. General $10 | student $5 | senior

For a complete list of Department of Music events and for tickets, please

To purchase tickets by phone please call the Stanford Ticket Office at

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