Saturday, December 31, 2011

Memorable Music

Okay, not quite done.

I'm not going to do a standard 10-best. I'm just going to try to list some of the best or most memorable performances I attended, whether concert or opera.

Chamber Music

Pavel Haas Quartet. I never posted a review of this, but the young Czech group was absolutely splendid in their Bay Area debut early this year. They played an idiosyncratically beautiful rendition of the Debussy quartet; rather than the usual airy transparent sound that quartets seem to aim for, they played with dark mahogany tone. Gorgeous and very different. The program also included quartets by Haas and Schulhoff, which got great performances as well.

Fleischmann Memorial Concert. Okay, the chorus piece, Stravinsky's Renard (with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting) and the Donatoni piece were all fine, but the star work was Pierre Boulez's sur Incises, led by the Maitre himself. What a gorgeous piece! Three pianos, three harps, three percussionists; a half-hour of bliss.

Ades/Calder Quartet. Mostly Ades, all great.


Ring Cycle, San Francisco. The full rollout of the Zambello Ring, intelligently and thoughtfully directed - okay, with a few lapses! - and a host of fine performances. Stefan Margita's brilliantly sung and acted Loge; Elizabeth Bishop's not-a-shrew Fricka; Andrea Silvestrelli's Fasolt and Hagen (why he didn't get Hunding and Fafner instead of Fasolt, I'll never know); Jay Hunter Morris's lyrical and charming Siegfried - bet you've never heard him called charming before; and of course Nina Stemme's Brunnhilde and the great conducting of Donald Runnicles.

Turn of the Screw, LA Opera. My first live production of Britten's masterpiece. Patricia Racette's first Governess; superb performances from all, especially young Michael Kepler Meo as Miles and William Burden's terrifying Quint.

Ariadne auf Naxos, West Edge Opera. Great direction of Strauss's postmodern opera and mostly terrific singing.

Le Comte Ory, Met HD broadcast. Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau, Joyce Di Donato. What's not to like? I thought the play-within-a-play framing unnecessary and distracting; the great singing and acting made up for a lot. JDD: hot hot hot.

Nixon in China, Met HD broadcast. The great American opera, up there with Porgy & Bess. Peter Sellars keeping the lid on it reasonably well, with a mostly excellent cast and the composer conducting.


Mahler 2 and Mahler 3 at SFS/MTT. Splendid and moving performances of each; I didn't notice until it was all over that the 3rd lasted a good 15 minutes longer than a typical performance.

RVW London Symphony, SFS/Vanska. Too bad about Barantshchik's overly understated Mendelssohn violin concerto on the same program. The RVW was truly great.

Verdi Requiem and Shostakovich 14, Conlon/SFS. Holy cow. Two great, great performances of very different pieces. Death-haunted Shostakovich, terrifying Verdi. Yeah, I did skip Pictures at an Exhibition. Seriously, it would be a pygmy next to the great Shostakovich.

Sibelius, Salonen, Wagner, SFS/Salonen. Esa-Pekka Salonen's own violin concerto paired with the gorgeous Pohjola's Daughter and excerpts from Götterdämmerung, with the great Christine Brewer in the Immolation scene.

Last of the Year?

Honestly, I should have just announced a hiatus. I have a bunch of concerts I'd like to write up, and goodness knows there's been some time to do so in the last week or so, since I have been off work most days since a week ago Friday. But mostly I've been puttering around the house and reading, and also setting up this new iMac, which arrived Thursday, a week early.

Big thanks to people on the Well and Google+ who gave me some excellent advice, such as "iPhoto plays nicely with Flickr," which is my photo site of choice, and "why, yes, that iMac can read your Windows-formatted external hard drive, so forget about Migration Assistant."

That would the Migration Assistant software that took 12 hours to hang without migrating any data from my soon-to-be-retired Dell. Apple, maker of intuitive and easy to use products, has known it was buggy for at least six months and has not bothered to fix the problems. I think it took a half-hour at most to read 10,000 photos and 1200 other files off the portable hard drive. There is probably a support note somewhere on that tells you to just plug in your Windows-formatted backup drive and read everything onto the iMac, but it's not the first thing that comes up when you search for data migration info.

As long as I'm complaining about Apple, is there any damn reason the iMac stand is adjustable as to angle but not height? Did St. Steve think it would be aesthetically displeasing to have an adjustable stand??

As to why I bought an iMac rather than another Dell, once I did an apples-to-apples machine comparison, the Apple premium was maybe $200. I decided I'd go with the nice hardware and excellent software integration, plus, I am a Mac user at work, so I have only one platform to think about now. (Except that the work machine is on Leopard and the iMac is on Lion....)

As to what this year was like for me, lots of good music but not enough vacation time; more upheavals at work, all of which worked out well for me (I work in a great tech pubs group that is on important and interesting project, and I am very happy with the people we report up through). We lost our beloved Molly B. and now have a lovely still-newish dog, Lila the Werewolf. My mother is recovering well from a broken hip suffered about a month ago. My partner is busily writing grant proposals. We swear we are taking a real vacation this year, as soon as possible.

In any event, I hope your 2011 was good and that your 2012 is as good or better.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Funding Best Music Writing

The excellent series Best Music Writing of the Year has been dropped by the Da Capo Press. Bad news, indeed, but the good news is that series editor Daphne Carr is launching a music-writing indie press of which Best Music Writing will be "the flagship publication." You can donate to this excellent cause right here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Times Does It Again

Or rather, they don't.

Once again, their year-end audio feature The Music They Made includes no one from the realm of the classical, and precious few from the jazz world. Montserrat Figueras, Sena Jurinac, and Salvatore Licitra, Lee Hoiby, Daniel Catan, and Peter Lieberson, Robert Tear, Eugene Fodor, Milton Babbitt, and many I didn't memorialize didn't rate a mention or a clip.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Crowd Cheered

The U.S. armed forces join the rest of the armies of the western world in allowing LGB people to serve openly. Not only don't planes fall out of the sky or ships sink, but a lesbian couple got the first-kiss honor when one of their ships docked, and the crowd cheered. Read about it here.

Reactions to the Record 3: April 12-14, 2012

I knew this was coming, and here it is: the third Reactions to the Record symposium at Stanford University, April 12-14, 2012.

The 2009 and 2007 symposia were utterly fascinating, for anyone who is interested in performance styles, how they change, and what we can learn from old recordings. The attendees and speakers range from academics (some quite famous) to performers to impressarios to interested amateurs (that'd be me). There have also always been great concerts associated with R2R.

The presenters for next year are:
  • Richard Taruskin
  • Daniel Leech-Wilkinson
  • Kenneth Slowick
  • Jonathan Bellman
  • José Bowen
  • Clive Brown
  • David Milsom
  • Edward Herbst
  • Anna Schultz
  • Allan Evans

Operatic Miscellany

I didn't like Clark Suprynowicz's Caliban Dreams earlier this year at Berkeley Opera, but his upcoming MACHINE, to be presented by The Crucible, here in Oakland near W. Oakland BART, might just get me out the door. Tickets are $45 to $65 except for the closing night gala, when they're $150. Performances are on January 11-14 and 18-21, 2012. That's next month, if you've lost track....Farther afield in both time and space, The Industry, a Los Angeles organization that "produces new interdisciplinary work that merges music, visual arts, and performance to expand the traditional definition of opera," presents Crescent City, a new opera, from May 10 to 27, 2012. I am so there:
Crescent City is a hyperopera by composer Anne LeBaron, widely recognized for her work in instrumental, electronic, and performance realms, and librettist Douglas Kearney, a poet, performer and recipient of the Whiting Writer’s Award. The opera, which incorporates installations by six contemporary LA-based artists, tells the epic story of a mythical city, decimated by one hurricane and on the verge of being wiped off the face of the earth by another, and the voodoo priestess determined to save it. A roving band of revelers spreads chaos throughout the streets of the city, capturing the action of the opera with live video along the way. 
Their second production will be Gordon Beeferman's The Rat Land.....On the other side of the country, Opera Manhattan has proclaimed December 23 Hansel & Gretel Day. I'll drink to that; Humperdinck's great opera is among my favorites. Go see it soon, at Opera Manhattan or, if you want to pay a lot more for a seat much farther from the stage, at the Met, where you can see Richard Jones's wonderful Welsh National Opera production.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Decline of Copy-Editing

You have to wonder:
  • China Mieville's novel Kraken uses it's where its is clearly meant, just a few pages in. GROAN.
  • Mary Roach's Packing for Mars apparently never got a full read-through from someone who was paying attention, including the copy editor she thanks in the acknowledgements. There's a person who is introduced 2/3 of the way through the book, then again maybe 50 pages later. I caught it, but no one else did. Perhaps if there had been an index??
  • Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies is written rather breathlessly, works much too hard for dubious analogies (just state the facts, doc!), and in several places seems to repeat itself within a page or two. What?

Hell Week

What I did during Hell Week:
  • Flicka Gala, Dec. 3 (still need to blog)
  • BSO, Dec. 6 7& 7
  • SFS (Salonen program; still need to blog), Dec. 10
I'm soooo glad I didn't try to squeeze in more....because around midnight or 1 a.m. Sunday night / Monday morning, my mother fell and broke her hip. I arrived at Summit at 1:45, somehow beating the ambulance there. She had surgery Monday evening, squeezed into the orthopedic surgeon's schedule (same excellent doc who fixed her broken wrist a decade ago). She is now in skilled nursing at her retirement residence, doing fine, etc.

So in addition to working T - F, I ran to the hospital multiple times on the 5th and every morning or evening for the rest of the week, then dashed off to work. You could say this was a little wearing. My partner came back from seeing her family on Dec. 8 and promptly got sick. I have been laid up since Wednesday with the same thing she had. Three days of a mild fever, what fun.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent Calendars

Two of my favorite blogs (Entartete Music and IanVists) are running their blogs as Advent Calendars this month. (I note that Ian mentions from time to time that he is not a Christian.)
  • Entartete Music's calendar walks you through the story and music of The Nutcracker. Start here, where blog author Gavin Plumly explains.
  • IanVisits gives you a tour of Victorian Christmas advertisements. Start here.
  • Also: Angry Birds Seasons is rolling out one new level of Wreck the Halls daily. Still waiting for a paid Android version so I never have to see the ads again!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Plain Speaking

Via Adaptistration -

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Stand Corrected

Turns out you CAN do a shell swap on a MacBook Pro - that is, swapping the hard drive into a new shell, same as with a Lenovo. I wuz wrong.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Also Sprach Salonen

E-PS tweets:

Back with Mahler6. Form can be annoyingly labyrinthine, directionless, orchestration always beyond reproach. Sibelius is the exact opposite.

Think of Beethoven 1st: all proportions perfect. In Mahler the poetry of geometry is replaced by a narrative. A powerful one for sure.

Sibelius had a gift for organism-like musical forms. His orchestral technique was never completely reliable Most of my colleagues agree.

[I am a fan of Salonen's Sibelius; would pay folding money to hear him conduct Mahler....or anyone else, for that matter.]


I rewrote and added a couple of bits to my previous posting, owing to having implied something I didn't intend to imply.

Further to Previous

So I ragged on Greg Sandow for his Methode-is-Mac, Dawn-is-PC tweet. His reply tweet said the Methode worked fine for him, how had it failed me?

Well, Dawn is far, far superior to Methode at removing grease. I have to wonder just what Greg washes if he's not aware of this.

Spelling it out a bit more, he prefers the prettiness of the Methode bottle to the actual functionality of Dawn, which comes in a plainer container.

The Mac/Windows comparison he's making is exactly has some parallels here. I know, because I use both platforms. I'll tell you, the MacBook Pro I use for work sure is beautiful - and fragile, unlike the Lenovo I had for work up until 18 months ago. I have a couple of dents in the MBP, which has a shell like an old person's skin. I swear you could run a Lenovo over with a truck and it would still work: I once accidentally spilled water on mine, and it took the techs three minutes to remove the hard drive and pop it into a new shell. No data loss, no reconstruction necessary, no loss of work time.

UPDATE: Try that with a MacBook Pro and you'll find yourself with an expensive paperweight. I know this because I spilled coffee on my first MBP. Turns out you can do a shell swap on an MBP. Who knew?

Yeah, the MBP is beautiful, and silent (no fan! Offensive to Jobs!), and more thoughtfully designed. Is the beautiful (and fragile) design worth the hundreds more it costs over an equivalent Lenovo?

As to the software, if you've been using Macs for 20 years because you couldn't stand working on a command line (I could) or you hated the Windows 3.1 (okay, it really wasn't great), then you're not aware that GUIs won and Windows XP and 7 look and act a lot like OS X.

Putting it another way, the Mac certainly does win on prettiness and polish. On pure functionality, the two platforms are close to equivalent. If you find the Mac easier to use than a Windows machine, it's most likely because it's what you're used to.

Clarified and added to because kalimac thought I was saying "Macs suck," which I did not say and did not mean to imply. (Sandow, by the way, was a Windows user until recently, so not in the class of people who find the Mac easier to use because it's all they've used for the last 20 years.)

Carter 103

Elliott Carter turns 103 today. The birthday party for him at the 92nd St. Y the other day included several works he wrote in the last year, two from just last month. And this week I was lucky enough to hear the marvelous Elizabeth Rowe and the Boston Symphony in his Flute Concerto, a masterpiece and a superb addition to the flute repertory. Read Joe Barron's lovely tribute to the composer here.

Happy birthday, Mr. Carter! Looking forward to whatever is coming from your pen in your 104th year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The BSO Comes to Town

I saw both BSO programs this week, and my review is now posted at SFCV. I liked them a lot, as you can see. Opinions around town were somewhat divided -
  • Joshua Kosman wasn't too happy, though he liked some of the performances. I'll note that the BSO programs were announced before Levine's resignation. As Joshua has noted on his own blog, the BSO was way behind in figuring out that Levine needed to be eased out and a search committee formed, but they knew a year ago what would be performed in SF. He's right that there were some ensemble problems, especially in the first movement of the Mahler, but overall, I was mightily impressed by the playing. More below.
  • SFMike was mightily impressed.
  • John Marcher was too.
  • kalimac is in Joshua's corner.
  • Janos Gereben (no link) was thrilled by the Bartok and Ravel. He told me so, anyway!
About that huge ensemble that Mike mentions. Well, the Wednesday concert was an all-hands-on-deck affair. I noticed on Tuesday that the BSO strings were a whole lot  more present, with a fuller sound, than the SFS strings tend to be. My companion Wednesday evening thought it was a bigger orchestra than SFS. Just for the heck of it, I counted the string sections of each orchestra as listed in the programs. They're essentially the same size. SFS lists three more violins total, but the BSO has two violinists on leave; same number of cellos and violas; Boston has one more bass.

So the difference in sound has to do with the absolutely quality of the string sections or with the music directors' respective demands or with the historical sound of the orchestra. I'm doubtful about the matter of absolute quality, for the simple reason that it is so damn hard to get a job playing in an orchestra. Everybody who auditions has first-class technical skills. Historically, I've no idea what these two orchestras sounded like; I barely went to SFS before the mid-90s and really have only been a regular since 2004.

I was also interested in the variation in wind sound. The BSO winds, which I describe as characterful and kalimac calls pungent, are indeed less blended than the SFS sound. You either like it or you don't. Again speaking historically, the blended sound is more modern. Listening to pre-WWII orchestras, you get more distinctive wind and brass sounds.

The BSO's principal clarinet and oboe both have bigger, somewhat fuller sounds than their SFS counterparts; Elizabeth Rowe's sound is somewhat more complex than Tim Day's silvery purity. They're both great players; I wouldn't tap one over the other.

As for the brass, well, I'll take ours, which seem to have ascended into the stratosphere over the last couple of years.

If Only I had $700 Million Sitting Around

...and I were an extremely experienced and clever real estate developer, I'd buy the Battersea Power Station, London.

Friday, December 09, 2011

This Exchange Says Something About Greg Sandow

Greg Sandow
Was using Methode dish soap, in elegant bottle. Bought Dawn -- bottle is squat, ugly. Feel like I've devolved from a Mac back to a PC!
Lisa Hirsch
But Greg - Dawn gets the job done better than that Methode stuff.

Coming to an Opera House Near (Some of) You

From a press release about Christine Brewer's schedule:
A week after her Carnegie Hall appearance, the soprano will make her much-anticipated Los Angeles Opera debut (March 14 & 17), starring in the hit Santa Fe Opera production of Albert Herring, which she headlined last season. 
Road trip!

The Press Release

Alex Ross comments on Twitter about the strangeness and sadness of the Levine press release today. "How can he remain music director of the Met if he cannot conduct until Fall, 2013, at the earliest?"

Well, that is the $64,000 question, isn't it? Does administrative work, planning, and working with young artists make a music director?

But it's easy to understand why the Met would send out this particular press release, complete with Levine's personal statement (which tells us a few previously-unreleased details about just how bad his condition has been, like the three surgeries last spring and the three month stay in rehab this fall).

Levine would clearly like to return to the Met. We don't know the details of his contract and how those details deal with a situation like this. There may be required payments to Levine when he's on the disabled list; there may be particular conditions that have to be met before he can be said to be unable to meet the contract requirements (for example, an allowable period of disability might be set).

We can take as literally true the Met's need to sign conductors for next year without a huge scramble like the one the BSO undoubtedly had to make earlier this year when Levine resigned his job there. As it is, most conductors they'd want to step in for Levine already have work someplace else. 

The Met may or may not want Levine to return at this point, given his health over the last couple of years. The press release therefore has to support Levine while leaving open the possibility that he won't return. The Met does not want to let him go in a way that makes it look callous or unfeeling or unsupportive of Levine.

There are other factors at work. If Levine ultimately leaves, the Met needs breathing room to find a new music director. We don't know whether Luisi can just step in, because there's that contract he has in Zurich. Getting a new MD on board is not so easy, as um the Boston Symphony knows. And the Philadelphia Orchestra. Everybody with the requisite skills has a job already. (Unless the Met willing to go out on a limb by hiring someone young and inexperienced.)

So there's a lot of careful balancing of the words here, to allow for both Levine's return or resignation/replacement and for everyone to come out of it looking suitably professional. Strange and sad it is, but also doing its best to walk a very, very fine line.

James Levine

The conductor lives, but we won't see him on the podium for a while. A press release from the Met says that James Levine has withdrawn from all performances at the Met through the 2012-13 season.

I have been telling people that if Levine couldn't manage Götterdämmerung in January, he wouldn't be conducting full Ring cycles in April. Fabio Luisi is on the podium for those.

The full press release and a personal statement from Levine follow the cut. Levine is optimistic about a full recovery and hopes to resume his conducting responsibilities. However, if he is unable to continue or must retire, this smooths the way for such a withdrawal.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden Gets Something Everybody I Know Would Kill For

A mention and a link on Paul Krugman's blog.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Personal to SFS

Take out an option to hire Ludovic Morlot at some point in the future, eh? The contract at Seattle will keep the BSO from stealing him to replace Levine.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Floating Around My Head

On the shuttle back from work today, a couple of measures of music popped into my head, with the text "En hiver, la mort meurtriere." A quick web search told me right away that very likely I was hearing Hindemith's "Six Chansons" to texts of Rilke. Looking at the poems, the music came roaring back.

I swear I hadn't thought of this music in 25 or 30 years. I must have sung it at Stony Brook with Maggie Brooks; I'm sure I didn't sing it with Jim Olesen at Brandeis.

That got me looking up some Milhaud that I did sing at Brandeis. I'm reasonably sure I was thinking of Les Deux Cites.

Here's the lovely Hindemith:

DId You Miss Götterdämmerung at San Francisco Opera?

Catch it this Sunday night on KDFC at 8 p.m. From SFO's email:
Tune in to hear Götterdämmerung, the final installment in Wagner's epic masterpiece, The Ring of the Nibelung, recorded in summer 2011. With Nina Stemme, Ian Storey, Gerd Grochowski, Andrea Silvestrelli, Daveda Karanas, Melissa Citro, Gordon Hawkins, Ronnita Miller, Heidi Melton, Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese and Renée Tatum; conducted by Donald Runnicles. Hosted by KDFC's Dianne Nicolini.

Tune in to or your FM dial, 90.3 San Francisco; 89.9 North and East Bay; 89.7 Eureka; 92.5 Ukiah-Lakeport; or Comcast Cable 981. For more information on San Francisco Opera radio broadcasts, visit

Dear Drivers:

About half the cars I see on the road are silver, gray, slate blue, or some other color that can be difficult to see even in good driving conditions. When it's foggy out, as it was Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings, your damn cars are invisible. And I should know: I drive a silver 2000 Honda Accord. My previous car was slate blue.

So for the love of god, TURN ON YOUR HEADLIGHTS. In foggy conditions, they're not to help you see. They're to make you visible to others.

Thank you.