Thursday, June 30, 2011

Also on the Blogroll

As a big fan of MoRunnicles, of course I had to add the UK blogger Tam Pollard, whose blog is called Where's Runnicles? (I wonder about that too.) Also adding The Back Deck, the new blog of Santa Fe Opera, Notes from Valhalla, San Francisco Opera's Ring blog, and the Seattle Opera Blog, which is called just that.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New to the Blogroll

Beloved reader C.K. Dexter Haven takes up the pen, er, keyboard with his new blog All is Yar. Go forth and read!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Missa Monstra

San Francisco Symphony put on Beethoven's Missa Solemnis the other day (last performance is this afternoon, if you can brave the Pride Parade crowds), and I reviewed the concert for SFCV. Herewith some further thoughts.

I'm willing to bet that I'm the only person reviewing this week's concert who has sung the thing; not only that, but I was an assistant conductor of the chorus I sang it with, so the score I leafed through while writing the review is a full orchestral score.

I tell you, it is a frighting piece to look at, let alone sing. Remember the great Wagnerian soprano Lilli Lehmann's line? The one about how she'd rather sing all three Bruennhildes than one Norma? I feel that way about the Missa. It's like singing the choral finale of the Ninth Symphony three times, only worse. The Missa contains multiple fugues, all complex and instrumental; the rhetorical tone changes often; it's long; it's high; it's loud. It's a monster.

A couple of weeks ago, SFCV founder Robert Commanday said that one of the choruses he'd prepared to sing the Missa had learned it in six or seven rehearsals. Wow. That must have been one fantastic group, because the Stony Brook Chamber Singers worked on it off and on for a year without feeling completely secure about it.

My review came close to describing Thursday's performance as a near train-wreck, and it was, but I hate to use such linguistic shorthand to describe complex circumstances. I hear from the grapevine that the symphony and chorus had a full rehearsal Thursday during the day, meaning everyone sang it twice that day. On one hand, they probably needed it. On the other, that would be exhausting.

I hear from elsewhere on the grapevine that MTT has been working on and thinking about the Missa for a couple of years, and that the performances, including that of Christine Brewer and Gregory Kunde, have improved since Thursday night. That's all good. I wonder seriously what it would have been like had Ragnar Bohlin, chorusmaster of the Symphony Chorus, been at the helm, just because it is so tough for the chorus.

Other reviews:

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bargains: Hoisted from the Comments

Over on my Stage Directions posting, Joe Barron is asking about bargains in Ring recordings. Here are some suggested methods for locating deals, but because what's available where at good price points shifts madly, I can't really point to many specific offers.
  1. LPs. If you've got a turntable and you're willing to frequent garage sales, look at Craig's List, eBay, opera-l, and used record stores, you can find some great bargains. I picked up 120 opera recordings in the 1990s from a fellow opera-l reader who had replaced his LPs with CDs and wanted as many as possible to go to good homes. My finds including most of the Janacek operas, a number of rarities (Der Vampyr, anyone?), and copies of the Goodall and Solti Rings.
  2. Berkshire Record Outlet.Check frequently; do searches on "Ring des Nibelungen," know what you're looking for, ask questions of the knowledgeable. At the moment, they've got the 1952 Bayreuth Ring for $48 on Melodram (Keilberth); the 1950 La Scala Ring for $28 on Opera d'Oro (Furtwangler); and the 1953 Bayreuth Ring for $52 (Krauss). Those are all mono, and none of them are official issues, meaning I can't vouch for the sound quality. Note that the 1952 with Keilberth is not the first stereo Ring, which is the 1955 Bayreuth recording available only on Testament at a much higher price.
  3. MDT. MDT has frequent big sales organized by label. They once had the Goodall on CD for 60 pounds, far and away the cheapest price I've ever seen for it, considering that the individual operas can run $60 apiece. Watch the shipping because MDT is in England. Right now, they have Furtwangler's RAI Ring for $38, Krauss for $67 (on Orfeo, which is supposed to have the best sound for this set), Barenboim for $43 (a mixed bag that I know by reputation only...), Keilberth 1955 for $114.
  4. eBay. Used and new! Again, know what you're looking for, set alerts, be ready to pounce. Watch those shipping costs, especially for LPs. At the moment "Ring des Nibelungen" returns 198 results, including Levine on DVD for under $70, the Solti on LP for $45, the stereo Keilberth for $70, Furtwangler's RAI Ring for $60, etc.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Stage Directions

My Ring review cites Wagner's stage directions for the end of Goetterdaemmerung, noting that there's no reason to invent action for the orchestral coda. Realizing that not everybody has the libretto handy, here they are, forthwith, with bits of the Immolation text as guideposts.


(alone in the center [of the stage]; after remaining long absorbed in contemplation of Siegfried's face, first with profound shock, then with almost overwhelming despair, she turns to the men and women in solemn exaltation. To the vassals:)

Starke Scheite
schichtet mir dort
Vollbringt Bruennhildes Wunsch!

(During the following, the younger men raise a huge funeral pyre of logs before the hall, near the bank of the Rhein: women decorate this with coverings on which they strew plants and flowers. Bruennhilde becomes again absorbed in contemplation of Siegfried's body. Her features become increasingly transfigured with tenderness.)

Wie Sonne lauter
strahlt mir sein Licht;
Wisst ihr, wie das ward?

(looking upward [and addressing Wotan])

O ihr, der Eide
Heilige Hueter!

Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott!

(She gives a sign to the vassals to bear Siegfried's body on to the pyre; at the same time, she draws the Ring from Siegfried's finger and gazes at it thoughtfully.)

Mein Erbe nun
nehm ich zu eigen

Ihr in der Flute
loeset ihn auf,
und lauter bewahrt
das lichte Gold
das euch zum Unheil getaubt.

(She has placed the Ring on her finger, and now turns to the pile of logs on which Siegfried's body is laid. She seizes a great fire-brand from one of the vassals and gestures towards the back.)

Fliegt heim, ihr Raben!
in Wahlhalls Prangende Burg.

(She flings the brand on the pyre, which quickly breaks out in bright flames. Two ravens fly up from the rocks on the shore and diappear in the background. Bruennhilde sees her horse, which has been led in by two young men. She hasten towards it, takes hold of it and quickly removes the bridle; then she leans over it confidingly.)

Grane, mein Ross!
Selig gruesst dich dein Weib!

(She has mounted the horse and leaps with a single bound into the blazing fire. The flames immediately blaze up so that they fill the whole space in front of [Gibichung Hall], and appear to seize on the building itself. The men and women press to the extreme front in terror. When the whole space of the stage seems filled with fire, the glow suddenly subsides, and only a cloud of smoke remains; this drifts to the background and lies there on the horizon as a dark bank of cloud. At the same time, the Rhein overflows its banks in a mighty flood which pours over the fire. On the waves the three Rheinmaidens wim forward and now appear above the pyre. Hagen, who since the incident of the ring has observed Bruennhilde's behavior with increasing anxiety, is seized with great alarm at the appearance of the Rheinmiaidens. He hastily throws aside spear, shield, and helmet and rushes like a madman into the flood.)


Zurueck vom Ring!

(Woglinde and Wellgunde twine their arms around his neck and draw him with them into the depths as they swim away. Flosshilde, swimming in front of the others toward the back, joyously holds up on high the regained ring. Through the cloudbank, which has settled on the horizon, a red glow breaks out with increasing brightness. By its light, the three Rheinmaidens are seen, swimming in circles, merrily playing with the ring on the calmer waters of the Rhein, which has gradually returned to its bed. From the ruins of the fall hall, the men and women, in great agitation, watch the growing firelight in the heavens. When this reaches its greatest brightness, the hall of Valhalla is seen, in whcih gods and heroes sit assembled, just as Waltraute described in the first act. Bright flames rise on the hall of the gods. When the gods are entirely hidden by the flames, the curtain falls.)

Now, I own that there is a shortage of sopranos willing to ride a horse onto a flaming funeral pyre, not the mention animal welfare laws and fire marshalls that frown on such behavior. What Wagner has prescribed would be tough to stage even for Cirque du Soleil, with its shows set in giant tanks of water. But film technology makes it eminently do-able after Bruennhilde sings her last and vanishes from the stage, horse or not.

The Wadsworth Ring, most of which I saw in Seattle in 2001, came close to realizing the instructions - though again, the gods in Valhalla looked like a family reunion rather than the end of the world: too much Kumbaya for me.

Unions, Classical Music, and All o' That

A couple of weeks ago, Greg Sandow was quoted in The Australian as follows:
Sandow says that if the Philadelphia Orchestra were to suddenly discharge all its musicians and replace them with young players on contract, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up for in pizazz.
"I wonder if that wouldn't be more exciting to hear," he says. "It might really surprise people."
Sigh. I wish people would stop and think before they say things like that. He'd just throw out an enormous body of accumulated knowledge and playing experience to reduce costs and possibly gain "pizzazz."

Is there any evidence that the Philadelphia Orchestra lacks, um, pizzazz or excitement? Has Greg heard the orchestra play in the last few years? Does he understand what goes into orchestra building?

But getting back to the idea that a reasonable way to reduce costs is to break unions (as, perhaps, NYCO is about to try) or to talk the musicians into taking enormous cuts or to generally blame union and musician wages for the financial difficulties faced by some arts organizations today (see Detroit, see Philadelphia, see NYCO, see the quiet threats emanating from David Gockley's office at San Francisco Opera).

First, let's remember the division of labor at opera companies and symphonies:
  • The musicians and singers are paid to put on concerts and operas.
  • The nonmusician union members are paid to make costumes and sets and wigs and move stuff around the stage.
  • The administrators are paid to raise enough money to pay for putting on concerts and operas, and to perform myriad administrative tasks with some degree of smarts.
If an opera company or symphony orchestra finds itself in financial trouble, it's rarely because the musicians can't play and the costumers have forgotten how to sew. (If you know of such a case, please provide details in the comments.) It's invariably because the administration has failed in some way or there has been a major economic downturn. They haven't raised enough money, there's been some kind of major leadership failure, they have incurred new costs for some reason - and so on. And it's important to keep in mind that the administrators were involved in union negotiations, and signed the contracts with their eyes open.

We are currently in a serious economic downturn, and coming out of it very slowly - read Paul Krugman's column and blog at the NY Times, if you need more information about that. Or keep an eye on the unemployment numbers. This has affected every arts organization in the country.

NYCO and the Philadelphia Orchestra are poster children for weak or incompetent administration. At NYCO, the board made at least two terrible mistakes: the appointment of Gerard Mortier, evidently without due diligence about what kind of budget he would want, and the renovation of the NY State Theater at Mortier's request, which left the company with their usual bills to pay, no place to perform, and no income. Mortier skedaddled without ever coming to NY or staging a production, leaving the board scrambling to find a new director. They wound up with George Steel, who had about as much experience running an opera company as do: several months at Dallas, which was preceded by great success as the concert presenter at the Miller Theater. Maybe Steel is the third big mistake; hard to say at this point. He's in a terrible position, where he'll get blamed for mistakes other people made. Honestly, you'd have to be a miracle worker to pull them out of the current skid.

Oh, I forgot about the way NYCO has run through its endowment. Once valued at $55 million, presumably at the height of the boom, the endowment is down to $9 million. That's the fourth terrible mistake. They've also got an inexperienced board president, appointed just a few months ago, who says things about not disclosing their finances. As a non-profit, hello, you are legally required to release financial information to the public. Don't talk about keeping things under your hat. It only makes you look bad. So, let's call this the fifth mistake.

The Philadelphia Orchestra has been having various problems since the 1990s, when they stopped contributing to the musicians' pension plan. I'd call that a long-term governance issue. They've had music director issues, with Christoph Eschenbach coming and going rather quickly; a successor has been found, but he is not in place yet. So there's been weak, or no, musical leadership. I understand there have been problems with the administrative leadership as well, with Alison Vulgamore appointed after a chaotic period with no general director. (Oh...and it is not good that she is taking a big pay raise when the orchestra has just declared bankruptcy.)

Guess what? The Philadelphia Orchestra could try to lower its costs by firing all its musicians, and it would still have the higher costs of the Kimmel Center over the Academy of Music, the low ticket sales, the problems in their administrative leadership. And they would have a gigantic public relations failure on their hands too. I bet most of their audience would flip out if the orchestra replaced 100% of its musicians with recent conservatory graduates. The loss of good will would be immense. I myself would never set foot in their hall or give a penny to an organization that had done such a thing, and I know that I am not alone in that.

See also:

Not Sure Where These Belong...

DON'T make someone who wants to join your organization's mailing list provide their street address and phone number.

DON'T send an annoying solicitation every month in your print newsletter AND in every monthly email. I recently took myself off all mailing lists of an organization to which I gave $400 last year, to give you an idea. Maybe I'll remember to donate to them, maybe I won't, but they sure made it easy for me to skip reading anything from them ever again.

Das Ende: Reviewing Der Ring des Nibelungen at San Francisco Opera

My review of SF Opera's new Ring production is up at San Francisco Classical Voice. It's an overview of the production and performances, and as such can't get into the deep details of either the work or the performances. I had intended to write individual reviews of each opera; that didn't happen. But since I have a lot to say that didn't make it into the review...there'll be some miscellaneous rambling here.

I'm relieved to see that Joshua Kosman reached the same conclusions I did, with more flair and in many fewer words. I'll be looking over the rest of the recent coverage soon; I rarely read reviews of performances I'm covering until I've written my own.

Garden of Memory, Today!

I'm late posting this, but I also only got the notice about Garden of Memory two days ago. If you're not at War Memorial Opera House seeing Das Rheingold tonight, you can have a great time at Garden of Memory, the annual Summer Solstice new music program at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland. The music covers every possible style, the location is a marvel.

Date: Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Time: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Location: Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA
Tickets: $15 general, $10 student/senior, $5 kids under 12. Available at the door or at Brown Paper Tickets.
Parking: tight; public transportation or car pooling is recommended.

Musicians Don't Comment?

Over at Classical Life, critic Tim Mangan's blog, Tim has picked up on a point from my Blogging Basics page. An interesting discussion has ensued, with a range of readers weighing in, including the illustrious Martin Bernheimer.

My own experience is that classical music bloggers will, eventually, hear from performers. I certainly have, and I listed some of those I've heard from in my comment at Tim's. I should note that to my knowledge I've never reviewed one of flutist Tod Brody's performances; I've reviewed many SFS and SFO performances in which Carey Bell played. (Some day I'll catch up with them both at SFCMP.)

I'm reasonably sure that in part it's the informality of the medium, in part because some performers who wouldn't necessarily write to, say, Anthony Tommasini or Joshua Kosman with a complaint are perfectly willing to write to a blogger or comment on a blog. We're not always regarded as legitimate reviewers. I had one intense email exchange with a performer in which the performer asked me about my credentials - and then dropped the discussion.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blogging Basics

You'll notice - well, you probably won't, which is why I'm posting this - a new item in the sidebar, a page called Blogging Basics. This goes with Web Site Basics and Publicity Basics. It's based on a short presentation I gave at the annual conference of the Music Critics Association of North America. Nothing complicated, just some nuts and bolts advice about running a blog and attracting an audience.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers

I've gotten email from University of Rochester Press about a new entry in their Eastman Studies in Music Series: Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers, by Bálint András Varga. Looks like an interesting book; the questions are:
Do today's composers draw inspiration from life experiences or from, say, the natural world?
What influences, past and present, have influenced recent composers?
How essential is it for a composer to develop a personal style, and when does this degenerate into self-repetition? 
The composers queried include Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Alberto Ginastera, Sofia Gubaidulina, Hans Werner Henze, Helmut Lachenmann, György Ligeti, Witold Lutoslawski, Luigi Nono, Krzysztof Penderecki, Wolfgang Rihm, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Toru Takemitsu, and Iannis Xenakis. I hope Gudaidulina isn't the only female composer included. $49.95 from UR press.

Monday, June 13, 2011



O heilige Götter!
Hehre Geschlechter!
Weidet eu'r Aug'
an dem weihvollen Paar!
Getrennt - wer will es scheiden?
Geschieden - trennt es sich nie!


Heil dir, Brünnhilde,
prangender Stern!
Heil, strahlende Liebe!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ring Recordings II: Solti

The most-mentioned, everybody's-favorite set among Ring sets is, of course, the famous Solti/VPO recording, made with a starry cast between 1958 and 1965.  It is not my favorite, and I consider it both a great recording and an overrated recording.

Here's what's great: the playing of the VPO, the sound, some of the individual performances, and the depth of the casting. You'll see that people list Gwyneth Jones and Helga Dernesch as participants. Well, Jones is a Rheinmaiden (!) and Dernesch is a Valkyrie. Can you tell the Valkyries apart or even follow any of their individual lines without a score in front of you? I believe it makes a difference to get the best singers you can find for the smaller roles - this was audible, for example, in the recent Met Boris, where you didn't just have strong singers at the top of the cast, but into the small roles. Nearly everyone came from the first rank of Russian singers, in fact. At San Francisco, we get the Adler Fellows in most small roles; our Rheinmaidens are all prominent singers, but many of the Valkyries are Adlers.

The Solti Ring was and remains a landmark because of the care taken with the sound quality and the many sound effects Wagner calls for. In truth, they're not all great - these days, we're so used to fancy sound in movies that fall of Gibichung Hall sounds like a pile of Legos collapsing. Still, the six harps in Das Rheingold, the mystery of who is singing Siegfried in the horrific scene where he steals Brunnhilde from her rock, and the general gorgeousness hold up beautifully a half-century later.

However, there's a big caveat about the sound: the CD transfers of the Solti are uniformly mediocre. They do not accurately reflect what's on those LPs. The first release was fairly early in the days of CDs and it is harsh and overly bright, which is not how the LPs sound at all. For the fancy second release, the one in the nice cardboard box, it seems they didn't do much to mitigate that, if anything. A friend who has both and the LPs guessed that the original tapes were damaged and/or London/Decca wasn't willing to do a full new transfer. Honestly, this set should be on SACD, not regular CD. But it's not.

How you feel about the set as a whole might depend on how you feel about the individual singers, or about Solti. Now, Solti has his moments, and sometimes they last for a whole opera. Rheingold and Goetterdaemmerung are both (mostly) splendidly conducted, though he falls down and lets things slacken in some of the contemplative moments. Die Walkuere is sadly studio-bound and unspontaneous sounding. Siegfried is excellent.

About the principals. Well, Hans Hotter, a stupendous Wotan in the 1950s, was past his best; by the time Walkuere was recorded. It was the last of the set, he was in his mid-50s, and he had developed a noticeable wobble. If you want to hear him at his best, get Keilberth's 1955 Bayreuth Ring or Kna's from 1956 or Krauss's from 1953.

Me, I am not a big fan of Nilsson. She didn't record well, and far too often sounds to me steely in tone, vague in pitch, watery in her middle and low register, and unnuanced in her approach to the text. I am not the only person with these doubts about her; see, for instance, John Steane's The Grand Tradition.

Then there's the Rheingold cast. Culshaw was hot to have some continuity with the past generation of Wagnerians, and he also wanted a younger-sounding Wotan than Hotter. So we get Kirsten Flagstad, who was then age 63, and George London, who was in his brief prime. And in general, if you read about this set, Flagstad is highly praised, with people talking about the miraculous preservation of her voice.

PEOPLE. Are you using your ears? Flagstad sounds nothing at all like her gleaming, golden, younger self. The great voice sounds thick and immobile and decidedly aged; if you want to hear the true glory of Flagstad, go to her 1930s and early 40s recordings, especially the many live Isoldes that are out there. The effect isn't at all what Culshaw wanted: she sounds like London's mother, not his wife.It's too bad they were so keen on finding a role for Flagstad, for the set would otherwise feature Ira Malaniuk, a superb Wagner mezzo who can be heard in numerous roles on several 1950s Ring sets.

So the set starts out with a few big strikes against it. I'm fine with Wolfgang Windgassen's Siegfried (and of course there's the famous story of how Solti and Culshaw wanted a hot young tenor who just didn't work out because he couldn't or wouldn't learn the part) and many of the other principals are tremendous - Ludwig's Fricka, Neidlinger's Alberich (one of MANY), and so on. But it's not the greatest thing since sliced bread, and it's not my first choice to listen to.

Ring Recordings, Part I: Overview

Over at SFCV, there's a roundup of favorite Ring recordings, curated by Janos Gereben, with contributions by the high and mighty (David Gockley, Martin Bernheimer, David Littlejohn) and the less-than-high-and-mighty, including me. Why on earth this ran in June, a week or so before the opening of Cycle 1, I do not understand. I would have published it in May, so people would have a chance to buy and listen for more than ten minutes..

Understandable space limitations mean contributors can't natter on; instead, they have to make a complex case rather concisely. Herein I get chatty about the Ring recordings I know, because there are tradeoffs of one kind or another with most sets. Surprise - none are perfect, and if you're only going to buy one or two of these sets, you need to figure out what is important to you.

I consider Wagner recordings along several dimensions:  the conducting, the singing, the sound quality, orchestral quality, and the completeness. For example, when you're looking at recordings of Tristan und Isolde, a surprising number of the available performances take the "big cut," also called the "Metropolitan cut," in Act II. Thus, to my knowledge, there's no recording of Melchior or Traubel or Leider singing the "Tag und Nacht" section. To hear Flagstad in that music, you have to turn to Furtwangler's 1952 studio recording, which finds her past her prime.

With Ring sets, completeness isn't much of an issue; the studio sets and all of the Bayreuth live sets are complete, as far as I know. The incomplete Ring sets I know of that are worth hearing are Bodanzky's Met Ring of the 1930s - which is heavily cut - and the HMV "Potted" Ring, which was never intended to be complete. Bodanzky was a fiery Wagnerian and worth hearing, despite crazy cuts that, for example, shorten Goetterdaemmerung to three CDs. You need that particular recording because it's the only live Melchior Gotterdaemmerung around.

The "Potted" Ring was recorded between 1927 and 1932, using three conductors, two orchestras, two locations, and a plethora of singers - some of who disappear and reappear in the same act. The sound is good electric-era mono and some of the singing is spectacular. The performers include Frida Leider, Lauritz Melchior, Florence Austral, Walter Widdop, Gota Ljungberg, Friedrich Schorr, and many other good and great singers of the day. I note that John Culshaw spends a page or two disparging this set in Ring Resounding, as part of the reasoning about why he needed to make the Solti Ring. He shouldn't have.

Next, we've got the general issues of sound and orchestral quality. Every set since Solti's is in stereo. Of the great 1950s live Rings, and there are around a half-dozen, only the Keilberth is in stereo. For a first recording, you probably want stereo, to get the full depth of detail and perspective.

Me, I am not so sensitive to sound issues. I listen to the Mapleson cylinders and Julius Block cylinders for fun. Good 50s mono is fine for me, and some of the Bayreuth sets sound great even in mono. Your ears may vary.

The orchestral playing on the available Ring sets varies tremendously. At the top of the scale, you've got the mighty Vienna Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, and sundry other elite orchestras; in the middle, the excellent orchestras on the live Bayreuth sets. At the bottom, there's the unidiomatic playing of the Scala and RAI orchestra and the scrawny Sadler's Wells orchestra of the 1970s. These latter three are paired with excellent casts and tremendous conducting and deserve to be heard.

Ah, yes, the conductors. You will hear a vast range of conductorial approaches to the Ring, from the classic wall-of-sound to the transparent chamber approach; the swift to the weighty to the eccentrically slow. The great conductors all bring something special to their Wagner, and it's worth opening your ears to them all.

The problem boils down to this: if you're only buying one or two Ring recordings, you'll have to figure out your priorities. If you're not counting, then do what I do, and get your hands on every recording that you can. Wagner performances vary more in terms of approach than those of most other composers; the music can accommodate them all.

That said, my personal take follows on some of the sets discussed in the SFCV article. I'll discuss a bunch of sets, and barely discuss the the important sets that I don't own and haven't heard in full, those by Herbert von Karajan, Clemens Krauss, and James Levine.

Cal Bach Choral Workshop

California Bach Society is presenting its sixth annual choral workshop. This year's workshop will cover the opening choruses of five Bach cantatas:

Cantata 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden
Cantata 6, Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden
Cantata 21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis
Cantata 75, Die Elenden sollen essen
Cantata 78, Jesu, der du meine Seele

Cal Bach's artistic director Paul Flight, who also leads Chora Nova, conducts. He's great to work with, a terrific all-around musician and exceptional chorus director.

The workshop is on Saturday, August 20, 2011, from 10:30 to 3:30, in Palo Alto (presumably at the church where Cal Bach rehearses). The cost is $50, which includes music and food. Details and online registration are at

Speaking of the Balenciaga Show...

Some of the dresses at the Balenciaga show (DeYoung Museum, through July 4) suffer because they are hung on mannequins that are too small for the clothes. Too small as in too skinny, no hips, no bosom, no shoulders. They look strange, and it's ahistorical. Standards for models have changed in the last 50 years, and many of the dresses in the show were cut to the specifications of the women who bought them.

And there's evidence of this in the show itself: the video room has a looping show of films of Balenciaga's own models in his showroom. They look like average slender women....although one of them has proportions that make her look a bit stubby even for the 1950s. She's short-waisted in a way that would automatically disqualify her as a model these days. Not only that....she has real, visible musculature on her calfs.

I'll add that this show is sociologically fascinating because Balenciaga freely took fashion motifs from all over Spain: from regional clothing styles, from all classes (fish sellers and farmers), from the religious orders. And then he turned them into artworks. Yes, I almost did buy the catalog.

Pulp Fashion, Palace of the Legion of Honor

Patrick and his friend V. went to see the Isabelle de Borchgrave show at the Palace of the Legion of Honor the other week, and weren't so impressed. I agree with him that there are too many shows of rich women's clothing...but I'm one of the people who does get high fashion as art. Much of what's exhibited in these shows counts as historical fashion these days, too.

Donna and I went earlier and felt differently: Wow. Yes, it's true that some of the dresses fell short. But the workmanship is remarkable, and you really will have to restrain yourself not to pet the clothes. We thought the not-quite-sketchy painting appropriate, because the dresses are ephemeral, not intended to last for decades or centuries.

Our favorite room would have been the roomful of Fortuny gowns, including a paper reconstruction of a tent and its interior. If you like this kind of thing, try to get to the Lgion of Honor this weekend - and definitely go see the incredible Balenciaga show at the DeYoung.

Musical Logos

I don't see the Google home page on a daily basis, despite the gazillion web searches I perform. That's because I use the search bars in Chrome and Safari rather than searching from the home page. So occasionally I miss a special logo, plus many of the doodles are geographically limited.

The holiday logos live here, with links to each quarter. Recently there've been musical logos beyond the playable Les Paul doodle. Click the link in the previous sentence and look for these:

  • Emile Berliner's 160th Birthday (Germany, Austria, Switzerland only)
  • Dame Nellie Melba's 150th Birthday (Australia only - why?! she was a huge international star. Oh, and barely recognizable!)
  • Martha Graham's 117th Birthday
  • Prokofiev's 120th Birthday

Go back far enough and you can find Giuseppe Verdi's birthday, too. I'm hoping for really great logos for the Verdi and Wagner bicentenaries in two years.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Met HD Broadcast Encores

Starting next week and not all from the season just past, either:
  • Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (June 15). Racette.
  • Donizetti’s Don Pasquale (June 22).  Netrebko, Polenzani, Kwiecen, del Carlo/Levine.
  • Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra (June 29). Giancarlo del Monaco production (dull). World's most multitasking baritenor, Giordani, Pieczonka.
  • Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment (July 13). Laurent Pelly production. JDF, Dessay.
  • Puccini’s Tosca (July 20). Luc Bondy production; Mattila.
  • Verdi’s Don Carlo (July 27). Nicholas Hytner production; Alagna, Poplavskaya, etc.

Another Eyewitness Account

Composer Matthew Cmiel reports on the incident at the Royce Gallery concert the other day.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Amplification Redux

I saw Stephen Sondheim's great musical Assassins over the weekend, presented by Ray of Light Theater at the Eureka Playhouse. You should too - it's playing until the end of June and, with its extremely dark humor, there just aren't that many opportunities to see it. The performance was nearly flawless, with an eight-piece band and big cast cast of singers.

The one drawback? Despite the tiny size of the venue, each and every singer was amplified, for the spoken dialog as well as the songs. I'll tell you, it was disconcerting to see the singer on audience right but hear the sound from the loudspeaker closest to me, audience left. And, as usual, the amplification flattened the singing and sometimes distorted the performers' diction.

I've railed about amplification before and I know that I will do it again. I need to email the theater and the company to ask why on earth they did this.

Knowing what I think about amplification, you can imagine my interest yesterday morning when I read Ken Woods's account of the extreme pain caused to him by the amplification of a speaker at a performance in which he was the cellist....which led me to Brian Rosen's blog posting about an incident the other night at a concert curated by composer/performer/artist Pamela Z....and eventually Elaine Fine had a few things to say, and so did Jessica Duchen. Read all of those postings, please, and especially the comments.

Publicity Basics Redux

Proper Discord makes a superb how-to contribution. Yep, yep, and yep - ignore at your peril.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Anthony Tommasini in San Francisco

Here's an event well worth attending next Thursday night between Ring operas. Tommasini, NY Times head classical music critic and the author of a high-regarded biography of Virgil Thomson, will both play some of the composer's works and speak about them at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. At $20, it's a steal.  Details:

The Poetry of Sound: The New York Times Music Critic Anthony Tommasini with
Bay Area Rainbow Symphony

Composer Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) was Gertrude Stein¹s closest music
collaborator, composing two operas to librettos by her, Four Saints in Three
Acts and The Mother of Us All. He also wrote ³musical portraits.² While
subjects sat silently before him, Thomson composed their musical portrait,
usually in one session.

In conjunction with the Museum¹s exhibition, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five
Stories, Anthony Tommasini, chief classical music critic for The New York
Times and a Thomson scholar, performs a selection of these musical portraits
including those of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Tommasini also offers
his commentary on how Thomson¹s relatively simple music reflects and
resonates with Stein's hermetic writing. He is joined by members of Bay Area
Rainbow Symphony (BARS), who perform some of Thomson¹s works that feature
words by Stein and the music of Erik Satie, one of Thomson¹s major

Thursday, June 16, 2011

7 PM

Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission Street (between Third and Fourth streets)
San Francisco, CA 94103

PURCHASE: <> ,>  or call 415.655.7800.

$20 general; discounts for Museum members

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Let Me Count the Dopes

How many jackasses hold or recently held elective office and are or were in trouble over their dicks? Let me count the dopes:

Presidents of the United States

Bill Clinton (D)
(We know now that lots of presidents had affairs while in office. They just didn't getting caught and impeached.)

  • John Ensign (R)
  • John Edwards (D)
  • Gary "Monkey Business" Hart (D)
  • Larry "Wide Stance" Craig (Note that I don't think he should have been busted) (R)
  • David Vitter (R)
  • Edward Kennedy (D)
  • Eliot Spitzer (D)
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)
  • Mark "Hiking the Appalachian Trail" Sanford (R)

  • Anthony Weiner (D)
  • Chris Lee (R)
  • Mark Foley (R)
  • Wilbur Mills (D)

Have I left anyone out?? (Thanks to those of you who refreshed my memory!) And can you think of a female politician who has gotten into comparable trouble??

Most of what these guys did was stupid, tawdry, and/or indiscreet, not illegal. Edwards was recently indicted (to think I once thought he'd be a good president - well, he was the only candidate in the 2008 election cycle talking about poverty); Ensign might get indicted; Spitzer did get indicted. Most of what they did you won't get blackmailed for these days - after all, you can always come clean.

Still, you have to wonder about their sense and ability to behave in an adult fashion. Do you really want to entrust state secrets to them? Not that there's any reason to think they are security risks, but holy moly. Guys, keep it zipped, hey?

Apologies and All That

Apologies for the virtual blogging hiatus. Nothing bad; I've just been working hard, plus I had some administrative responsibilities with regard to last week's Chora Nova concert. Which went extremely well, certainly the best we've given, in terms of ensemble, phrasing, etc.

There'll be some blog postings up this week. Among other things, wouldn't it be a good idea for me to finally post some comments about the American Ring Rheingold that I saw, um, two, no, three years ago? Considering that the big show opens a week from today?

Friday, June 03, 2011

I Would Have Had to Boycott My Own Graduation.

Brandeis awarded an honorary degree to commencement speaker David Brooks. Their article on the graduation ceremonies says that he is "renowned for centrist cultural commentary."

No he is not. He's a total shill for the Republicans and their various so-called values.

(Also pondering what it means that Yo-Yo Ma played a couple of numbers, but fellow honoree Paul Simon evidently did not.)