Thursday, September 29, 2011

Conductors Yakking

A press release from San Francisco Symphony brings the news that, as part of the American Orchestras series, we'll get to hear directly from some of the music directors.

Oh, joy. We've heard a variety of from-the-podium yakking from MTT over the years - and by variety, I mean, sometimes good, sometimes not - and at one panel at the San Francisco meeting of the music critics' association, he was in outer space somewhere. Most of the time, I'd just as soon music directors stuck to conducting.

Still, what SFS is proposing is interesting: a dialog about the orchestra in the 21st century. Now, it seems to me that it should be self-evident that "playing the music of our time" should be a major goal of any major orchestra: championing the living and recently-deceased, introducing new works into the repetory, commission new works. 

But we should not look to whatever people say as making that kind of commitment. Here's what the press release has to say about the first three speakers, Gustavo Dudamel, MTT, and Alan Gilbert:
Gustavo Dudamel’s keynote conversation Sunday, October 23, “Talking About Community,” kicks off a two-concert residency of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Davies Symphony Hall October 23 and 24. Michael Tilson Thomas and Assink open a discussion of creativity on Saturday, March 17, 2012, in conjunction with San Francisco Symphony’s month-long American Mavericks festival of adventurous American music. Alan Gilbert initiates a discussion on the role of live music in a world of changing audience habits Sunday, May 13, and leads the New York Philharmonic for two concerts May 13 and 14. Composers John Adams and Mason Bates take part in a conversation and discussion following the MTT keynote during the American Mavericks festival event March 17. 
Dudamel will talk about El Sistema;  MTT will talk about the not-very-mavericky, mostly-dead composers featured in American Mavericks; Gilbert will talk about stuff we've been kicking around in the blogosphere for the last 7 years. I hope he hasn't been talking to Greg Sandow too much.

Okay, I'm joking. I'll put the full details about these appearances after the cut; they're more interesting than I suggest above because of the context. But I am imagining a talk by Franz Welser-Most with a Q&A session. How many times could we work the name "Don Rosenberg" into our questions, I wonder?

A Farewell and Some Welcomes

San Francisco Symphony opens the 2011-12 Centennial Season with some changes to the roster.

John Van Winkle retired as Principle Librarian at the end of last season. For 2011-12, Margo Kieser assumes the post of Orchestra Librarian. (If you're unaware of this critical post - the orchestra simply could not function musically without its librarians - take a look at the blog From the Orchestra Library.)

In Sun Jang joins the first violins permanently after after a year as a substitute, and Jeff Biancalana is appointed third trumpet after a period as acting third trumpet. Congratulations to the new full-time members of the orchestra!

Stephanie Fong joins the violas for a year and Micah Wilkinson will be acting second trumpet for the coming season. Best of luck to them both!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

BluePrint New Music Series

What a great season; the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall is at the SF Conservatory of Music, conveniently located on Van Ness Avenue near Davies and the Opera House:

Nicole Paiement, artistic director/conductor

North and South
Saturday, October 22, 8 p.m.                                                                                          Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall
Pre-concert talk at 7:15 p.m.
  • John Harbison North and South; Great Gatsby (excerpt)
  • Kurt Rohde Violin Concertino with Axel Strauss, violin
  • Erwin Schulhoff Concert for Piano and Small Orchestra with Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano

Musical Humors: Discover Philippe Hersant                                                             Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall
Saturday, November 19, 8 p.m.
Pre-concert talk at 7:15 p.m.
  • Philippe Hersant Musical Humors with Jodi Levitz, viola (American premiere)
  • Philippe Hersant Songlines
  • Philippe Hersant Psaume 130 and Wanderung with Conservatory Chamber Choir, Ragnar Bohlin, director
  • Philippe Hersant Sonate pour violoncello with Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello
  • Philippe Hersant 11 Caprices with Tom Stone and Cecily Ward of the Cypress String Quartet

SPECIAL EVENT: John Harbison The Great Gatsby                                              Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Friday-Saturday, February 10-11,  8 p.m.; Sunday, February 12, 2 p.m.
  • Ensemble Paralléle presents John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby (premiere of re-orchestration for chamber ensemble by Jacques Desjardins)

Anosmia                                                                                                                               Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall
Saturday, March 3, 8 p.m.
Pre-concert talk at 7:15 p.m.
  • Neil Rolnick Anosmia (Hoefer Prize winner)
  • Stefan Cwik Eight Miniatures for Chamber Ensemble
  • Philip Glass Harpsichord Concerto featuring Christopher Lewis

Monday, September 26, 2011

West Edge Opera Announces a Repertoire Change

Out: Ezra Laderman's Marilyn, which I was deeply looking forward to, owing to budgetary constraints and difficulties in casting the title character. Ezra Laderman lived in Teaneck when I was growing up, and one of his kid was a buddy of mine back in the day, so I was looking forward to this.

In: A tasty double bill called Sin City, consisting of Weil's Mahagonny Singspiel and Daron Hagen's Vera of Los Angeles. I don't know a thing about the latter, but it's a promising program!

Kudos to West Edge Opera for honesty, for getting the word out early, and for imaginative repertory. I hope y'all can put on the Laderman some day. And I'm looking forward to Ariadne.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Using Internet Explorer? Upgrade Now

Browers: gotta use one these days, or you can't read your favorite blogs and news sites, buy from Amazon, or easily order opera tickets from a company on the other side of the country.

Internet Explorer still has a large market share, despite the presence of several faster, better-designed browsers. Lots of people are still using it, because it's installed on every Windows computer (and probably Windows is configured with IE as the default browser). It's just easier to use what's there than to find and install one of IE's competitors.

IF you are using IE, check the version. If you're on IE 6 or 7, upgrade to IE 8 or 9. Seriously. The more recent IE versions have technical improvements that are not available on old or patched versions, mostly in security areas. Moreover, Microsoft itself no longer supports IE6.

If you're switching browsers, Firefox, Chrome, Safari (which does, indeed, exist for Windows), and Opera are all faster than recent IE versions. (Opera is supposed to be the fastest of all, but OH GOD the interface is horrible.) They run just fine on older computers - which I know because I use both Firefox and Chrome on a Dell I purchased in 2003. Windows XP, half gig of RAM only, slow processor.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dear HP Employees:

I hope you're having fun playing Buzzword Bingo with this gem from Ray Lane, who has just been promoted from nonexcutive chairman of the HP Board to executive chairman:
“We are at a critical moment and we need renewed leadership to successfully implement our strategy and take advantage of the market opportunities ahead,” Mr. Lane said in a statement. “Meg is a technology visionary with a proven track record of execution. She is a strong communicator who is customer-focused with deep leadership capabilities. Furthermore, as a member of H.P.’s board of directors for the past eight months, Meg has a solid understanding of our products and markets.”
(Meg Whitman has been on the HP Board since January, just a few months longer than Leo Apotheker was chief executive.)

Code Words

The conductor Kurt Sanderling died a few days ago, just short of his 99th birthday. He earned obituaries in the NY Times, the LA Times, and the Telegraph (UK), among others. We need to compare and contrast a bit:
  • Telegraph: "Forced out of Germany by the Nazis, he made his career in Russia until, in 1960, he returned to what was then East Germany....Educated privately, he began his career at the age of 18 as a répétiteur at the Berlin Städtische Oper, assisting Klemperer, Erich Kleiber and Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 1936 he left Germany for Moscow. After making his debut with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra shortly after his arrival..."
  • BBC News: "German Conductor Kurt Sanderling, who fled Nazi Germany for Moscow in 1936, has died in Berlin at the age of 98."
  • Guardian: "After working for the Jewish Cultural Foundation, he was forced to leave Germany."
  • LA Times: "When the Nazis rose to power in Germany in 1933, Sanderling was dismissed from his position because he was Jewish. Two years later he fled the country."
  • NY Times: "Kurt Sanderling, an often acclaimed German-born conductor who spent most of his career in the Communist world after finding refuge from the Nazis there during World War II, died on Saturday in Berlin. He was 98....Mr. Sanderling’s budding career with the Berlin State Opera was cut short when the Nazis came to power and removed him from his post because he was Jewish. He fled to Moscow in 1935...."
Can someone explain to me the reluctance of the British media to say outright that Sanderling was Jewish? Even the Guardian hints without stating it outright.

I Suffer So That You Don't Have To

Now I understand why the San Francisco Symphony web site doesn't have full instructions for ordering tickets so that you can choose your own dates, locations, and ticket quantities. From a public relations / competence standpoint, this would be embarrassing to say in public:

  1. Start at the Compose Your Own Subscription URL and buy tickets to at least three (3) concerts.
  2. Wait overnight for a batch job to update your account so that when you log in you always see subscriber prices.
  3. Log in and use the single ticket system to buy the balance of your tickets.
  4. When the tickets arrive for the programs you bought using Compose Your Own, phone or go to the box office to swap the crappy undesirable seats you were assigned by Tessitura.
This is not the database design I would have chosen. I documented any number of enterprise software systems running on top of databases when I worked for Documentum; modern database have extremely large transactional capacity even when they're not running on seriously badass servers. I remember the results of a few tests of object creation speed that were mighty impressive, back in the day. Of course, I have no idea what iron SFS runs its systems on, but I feel confident in saying that real-time database updates such as setting a single field (Subscriber:TRUE) just aren't very expensive.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Email to San Francisco Symphony (Continuing Ticket Purchase Fail)

Having been told that what I need to do is buy three or more seats using Compose You Own, and then my account will be a subscriber account and I'll get the subscriber discount using the single ticket system, I went and dropped $300 on seats to four concerts. Two of them are crappy seats that I will have to exchange, but them's the risks when you can't pick your own seat.

Then I went to the single-ticket system, which will now know that I'm a subscriber, to order the other 26 tickets I want. I have just sent the following email to a nice person in Patron Services:

I just purchased several tickets through the Compose-Your-Own area of the web site.

I'd now like to order some single tickets, starting with tomorrow's Mahler 3.

However, although I just charged $416, including a $100 donation, to my credit card, I'm still getting the same old message that my account does not qualify for the subscriber discount.

How long does this take to update? Overnight?

I'm hoping that the seat I have my eye on is still available tomorrow!

Thanks very much -

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nice Try, Now Try Again

Musical examples on your splashy new Ring web site: good.
Musical examples that start playing as soon as you click through to a particular opera: bad.

Winds of Something

Reviewing the Quinteto Latino.

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing: listening to their Piazzolla was like listening to the Pacifica Quartet trying to get the Czech rhythms right in the Smetena String Quartet No.1, but the Pacifica came a lot closer to nailing the style.


I have donated back my ticket to Heart of a Soldier. I find it nauseating and exploitive that anyone would think it's appropriate to have an opera about September 11, 2001, only ten years after that event. I'm aghast at the playing of the national anthem before each performance, as well.

Ticketing Post-Script

The reason you never read about the hassles of buying tickets in the Chron, the Times, SFCV, etc., is that critics get comped tickets and don't need to go through this. I wish the big-league critics would occasionally put themselves through what non-ink-stained wretches go through so that they can see what it's like. It is amazingly unprofessional of SFS for their box office to provide patrons with wildly incorrect information about the ticket-ordering process, and in fact it's amazing that the online ticket purchasing process is so Baroque.

In these times, with so much competition for time and money, arts organizations should make it easy for patrons to give them money. But here I am, trying to buy tickets to 26 concerts, and I still haven't succeeded. I'm just about at the point of printing out seating charts for Davies and phoning the box office.

SFS Ticket Ordering Fiasco Continues

So, last week I wrote a frustrated two-page letter to the manager of Patron Services and the manager of IT at SF Symphony, noting that I'd gotten two different stories from the box office in the course of three phone calls, several emails, and a visit to the box office. I asked which story was correct and asked that they put complete and correct information on their web site. I was trying to find out how you can pick your own seats and dates AND get the subscriber price.

The two stories I got were these:
  • You can only get subscriber prices by ordering from the Compose-Your-Own URL, which doesn't allow you to pick the exact seats and doesn't allow you to vary quantities in a single pass. (That is, you compose 2 different subscriptions if you want 2 tickets to 4 shows and 1 ticket to 15.)
  • You get the subscriber price through the single-ticket system as soon as you buy tickets to three or more concerts.
What I was told in email was that neither of these is correct. To do what I'd like to do is a two-step process: 1. Order tickets to three concerts via Compose Your Own. This would get me flagged as a subscriber in Tessitura. 2. Then I'd get subscriber prices through the single-ticket system.

Facepalm. Needless to say, this isn't explicitly stated anywhere on the SFS web site. It's not obvious at all.

If you phone them, or you go to the box office, you will of course get the subscriber price when you hit three concerts, and you won't have to worry about taking the right path on the web site. But I can't possibly be the only person who'd like to be able to do this on line.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Yep, It's Conlon...

...replacing Fabio Luisi in performances of the Verdi Requiem at San Francisco Symphony, October 19-22. Honestly, this one was a slam dunk.

".... the SFS acknowledges the cooperation of the LA Opera and UCLA in making Mr. Conlon’s schedule available to conduct the Orchestra." Thanks from here too!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Carla Rees Collection Fund

The British flutist Carla Rees, who is a prominent performer and commissioner of new music, suffered tremendous losses when her flat burned in the London disturbances last month: ten flutes, 600 unpublished scores, many with comments by their composers, almost all of her other belongings, and her two cats.

If you're able to help out with replacing what she has lost, consider a donation of any size to the Carla Rees Collection Fund. PayPal only at this time.

(The Fund is set up as a charitable organization in the UK; check with your tax advisor to see whether donations are tax-deductible in the US.)

Separated at Birth?

Thich Nhat Hanh:

Max Shreck as Nosferatu:

Yes, I am mean.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Prize Season

The Nobel Prizes will be announced in a few weeks, starting on October 3. I see that the date for the prize in Literature has not been set, but it will be soon. This sets off both a round of head-banging and a round of speculation in my house and with various friends.

The headbanging is a combination of head-scratching over certain past prize winners and frustration over those who didn't win. While I really can't comment on the virtues of writers such as Sully Prudhomme (1901), Halldor Laxness (1955), and Grazia Deledda (1926), I can certainly roll my eyes over the prizes awarded to Pearl Buck (1938), John Steinbeck (1962), and Herman Hesse (1946 - oh, the angsty teenage readers of The Glass Bead Game and Siddhartha). One might wonder about John Galsworthy (1932; surely popular rather than literary? yes, I know, a dangerous distinction) and Eugene O'Neill (1936), who has not aged well. I have no doubts about the greatness of T.S. Eliot (1948), William Faulkner (1949), Thomas Mann (1929), George Bernard Shaw (1925), and William Butler Yeats (1923).

But then there are the great absences, those who never won. Leo Tolstoy, who lived until 1910. James Joyce. Vladimir Nabokov. Italo Calvino. W. H. Auden. Borges. Chehkov. Henry James. Joseph Conrad. D.H. Lawrence. Virginia Woolf. Edith Wharton. Thomas Hardy. Isak Dinesen and Robertson Davies. (Yes, this is heavily tilted toward English-language writers.) Please do nominate your favorite non-winners.

And the speculation: who are the living writers mostly likely to be awarded the big one (and who haven't already won)? I mostly know English-language writers, and my candidates among them would be Tom Stoppard, A. S. Byatt, and Salman Rushdie, in no particular order. Perhaps Ian McEwan?And you?

Still Failing at the Symphony

Three phone calls, several emails, several attempts to buy on line, one box office visit later and I still don't have a definitive answer as to whether you can get a subscriber prices after buying tickets to a certain number of performances using the single-ticket online purchasing system.

I've gotten two different answers from the box office in my several contacts with them. Wish I knew which is correct! Because the web site doesn't say (FAIL) and I got different answers from the box office (FAIL).

So I'm sending snail mail to the people who presumably know. I hope I get this straightened out in time to buy tickets to the Mahler Third.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Not Exactly a Moment of Silence

Ten years ago, the phone rang around 7 a.m. It was a friend calling from far northern California telling Donna to go turn on the TV. She got up with a hand over her mouth, looking nauseated. I asked what was up and she said she couldn't tell me. I followed her into the living room and we spent most of the day glued to the TV.

My mother was staying with us, having broken her wrist a few weeks earlier in Seattle. She was recovering from surgery and sleeping a lot. (She would head back to NJ in late October.) When she woke up around 10, we turned off the TV and suggested she sit down because we had some bad news.

I'm not at all happy about the media orgies and the widespread beating of breasts today. What happened on September 11 was an immense and horrifying tragedy, a crime of great proportions. What happened as a result - the US's destruction of all the good will we had, the two worthless wars, the surveillance, the torture, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the laws giving the government more rights to invade our privacy, the trillions spent on the wars - has all been bad. Paul Krugman sums it up. Elsewhere in the classical music blogosphere, Matthew Guerrieri has a long and thoughtful posting up and Alex Ross has a nearly wordless posting up. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Artwork of the Day is sadly appropriate.

Me, I'm trying to figure out whether to attend Heart of a Soldier. Rick Rescorla was a genuine hero; he foresaw an air attack on the WTC, he did his job well, and thousands survived as a result - though they were not the only survivors of the fall of the towers, by any means. It is just too soon to be writing operas about September 11, 2001.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Terry Riley at Berkeley Art Museum, Friday, September 9

Received from pianist Sarah Cahill -

Dear friends- This coming Friday, September 9th, the extraordinary composer-pianist Terry Riley returns to the Berkeley Art Museum's galleries for a special solo concert on piano and synthesizer.  For the third year in a row, Terry Riley's performance opens the new season of the museum's popular L@TE series, with music, film, art, and various creative happenings every Friday night. Feel free to bring pillows or blankets so you can stretch out on the gallery floor or on BAMscape during the performance.  A limited number of chairs will be available.

Special thanks to the Piedmont Piano Company and Meyer Sound

7:30 pm Friday, September 9
(Doors 5 p.m., DJ Citizen Zain 6:30 p.m.

admission: seven dollars ($7)
free for BAM/PFA members and UC faculty, students, and staff
Berkeley Art Museum
2626 Bancroft Way (below College Avenue), Berkeley

Coming up in the L@TE series:

Friday, October 14: Robin Cox Ensemble

Friday, November 11: Ellen Fullman

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

I'm Betting on Conlon

He knows the piece, his responsibilities at LA Opera end for the fall around Oct. 8, and he's conducting SFS the week before Luisi was scheduled.

Levine Cancels Fall Season; Luisi Cancels SFS Appearance

Perhaps I should have used the headline "City Boys Should Stay Out of the Country:" James Levine, recovering well from back surgeries in May and July, was expected to start rehearsals for the Met's fall season this week. But last Thursday, he underwent emergency surgery in NYC after a vertebra-damaging fall he took while on vacation in Vermont.

The local angle? Fabio Luisi is taking over most of Levine's fall performances at the Met, which meant cancelling his own appearances elsewhere, including San Francisco, where he was on to conduct the Verdi Requiem next month. I was looking forward to that one.

Wishing Levine the very best, but wondering how he can possibly conduct full Ring cycles next spring.

The full press release is after the cut.

Monday, September 05, 2011

San Francisco Opera Blog

San Francisco Opera has a new blog, Backstage. It a bit buried, on the About link, but currently there's also a link on the home page.

Upcoming Free Events in the Bay Area

Four biggies:
  • San Francisco Symphony's 100th Birthday Bash free concert! Thursday, September 8; 11:30 a.m., Civic Center Plaza. MTT, Lang Lang, and the whole orchestra.
  • Opera in the Park, by San Francisco Opera, September 11, 2 p.m. This year it's the Mozart Requiem and "inspirational music," commemorating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and I'll pass on the whole thing.
  • Cal Performances' second Fall Free For All, a full day of free performances at several venues on the UC Berkeley Campus. Sunday, September 25, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. I can't even begin to describe the riches, which range from dance companies to countertenors to sing-alongs to NCCO to ABS to....
  • San Francisco Opera's annual telecast to the ballpark. This year, it's Puccini's last, unfinished opera, Turandot, a glittering grand opera with truly fabulous music. Irene Theorin stars as the Chinese Princess; Marco Berti, last heard locally as a not-very-good Manrico, is her suitor Calaf; local favorite and Adler Fellow Leah Crocetto is Liu. Unfortunately this is opposite the Fall Free for All, on Sunday, September 25, 2 p.m. Get your tickets here.

Labor Day 2011

As I said last year:

If you have a 40-hour work week, if you get overtime, if you have employer-provided health insurance, if you have worker's compensation insurance, if you are protected by occupational health and safety laws - why, organized labor got those things for you, and a few more things besides.

Salvatore Licitra

The Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra died today at 43, nine days after a traffic accident in which he lost control of a Vespa scooter and crashed. He wasn't wearing a helmet at the time, but reports I've seen say he may have suffered a cerebral hemorrhage before the accident.

His career was not very long; he started singing on the late side and rocketed to prominence after replacing Luciano Pavarotti at the last minute in a Met Tosca in 2002. He got quite a few mixed reviews and was considered inconsistent. However, the one time I saw him live, in last year's SF Opera Fanciulla del West, he was in good voice and sang very well.

RIP, Salvatore Licitra; you should have been around for 20 more years.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Kosman on Wagner, Noon Today on KALW

Or, more accurately, fellow sometime-blogger and Chron music critic Joshua Kosman is on a panel called "Wagner Through a Jewish Lens—The Enigma of Wagner’s Genius and Anti-Semitism." Listen to the broadcast on KALW's web site or over the air. I'm wondering if he was the moderator (and also wondering why he's not plugging this on his own blog).
With Deborah Lipstadt, Randy Cohen and Joshua Kosman
Broadcast date September 1, 2011
Record date May 26, 2011

Richard Wagner composed music of astounding beauty. He was also a virulent anti-Semite. Hitler so closely identified with Wagner that he played his operas at Nazi rallies and throughout the death camps.

Is Wagner’s music inherently anti-Semitic? And can it be separated from the man?
(My personal opinion: many, many great artists, composers, and writers were absolutely vile humans, whether of the anti-Semitic, racist, colonialist, or sexist variety. Lots of others were ordinarily rotten humans; bad parents, adulterous spouses, liars, or cheaters. You will go mad if you don't separate the art from the imperfect people who created it.)