Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Publicity

The Met PR machine rolls on: I have in hand a press release for the upcoming Ring HD broadcasts calling it a "cutting-edge production" and a "landmark production."

Noooooo. It's a conservative, traditional, production with some projections and an expensive, noisy, unit set.

 And Robert Lepage is called a "visionary." Noooo. Or if he is, he's not showing his vision very well.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Once in a Lifetime

I'm going to join in the chorus of Axel Feldheim and SF Mike to tell you that yes, you really do need to go see Abel Gance's Napoleon at the Paramount in Oakland this coming weekend. What a film: a mix of history, fiction, old-style acting, new-style cinematography.  Because it's a silent film, the narrative can't be moved forward by what people say to each other; it's fascinating to watch how Gance generates narrative without dialog. The acting is broad and stagey, as is the case in most silent films. Gance himself has a role, as St. Just, and carries it off nobly.

While the camera is often fixed in place, just as often it moves, often spectacularly, such as the sequence where you see Napoleon in his carriage, signing and handing off orders to subordinates on horses. Sometimes you're inside the carriage, sometimes outside, sometimes ahead of the horses watching them gallop towards you, sometimes to the side. And I can only say "holy cow!" to the long sequences after the film opens up from one screen to three.

You also get to listen to the Oakland East Bay Symphony playing its heart out for the entire five and a half hours of film. They're really good! And of course the Paramount is an absolutely wonderful theater.

UPDATE: Patrick points out that the program says he "created" the score, which I'll buy. From the reviews, I gather Davis composed lots of connective tissue, and that "creating" is the standard nomenclature for situations such as making the score for a silent film.

Now, I am curious about how Carl Davis gets credit for "composing" the score. As far as I can tell, he "assembled" the score, from larger works written by Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Haydn, and others. I heard a whole lot from the Eroica, from the Eroica's source material, the incidental music to The Creatures of Prometheus; from Beethoven's 7th and 8th symphonies (and maybe one of the earlier); from a late Haydn symphony; from Le Nozze di Figaro, and what else? Presumably Mr. Davis wrote some connecting material and did a whole lot of arranging and orchestrating. He did a fine job of conducting a long score and keeping it tracked properly with the movie. But composing? Maybe not.

Contest Reactions, Here and There

Time to start tracking the reactions around the blogosphere (watch this posting for updates):

This Week in the Death of Classical Music

Alex Ross reports that classical music is so dead that The Rest is Noise is now available in eleven (11) languages, with five more translations on the way.

Okay, I put words in his mouth. Congratulations, Alex, in any event!

Machine Repurposed?

La Cieca hears that Robert Lepage may be directing Messiaen's St. Francois d'Assisse at the Met in a couple of seasons! Perhaps we'll see an old familiar friend on stage again! Perhaps he can duplicate the Forest Bird from his Met Siegfried for the Sermon to the Birds?

Entry of the Gladiators

 The entrants in the Spring for Music's Great Blogger Contest are final!

There are 36 of them. I am personally subscribed to about 70 culture blogs, a fraction of what I might be reading, given the 500-odd classical music blogs alone that are out there. I'll be taking a look at the entrants with which I'm not familiar, and I expect to wind up reading some of them regularly.

And no, I'm not voting.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Switchboard Music Festival

The annual Switchboard Music Festival is on Sunday, April 1, 2 to 10 p.m., at San Francisco's Brava Theater. I can't get there, but it should be plenty of fun.  Here's the blurb from the Other Minds newsletter:
The Switchboard Music Festival, an 8-hour mixed genre marathon, has reached its fifth year, and will again showcase a mostly-local lineup of creative musicians. Finding its groove zone in "the gap between art and popular music," this year's showcase features chamber choir Volti (OM 12) and Oakland's theatrical "songtellers" Faun Fables. Eleven other acts round out the day: local performers Jeff Anderle, Beep, Cornelius Boots, Dan Cantrell, Grains, Danny Holt, the Hurd Ensemble, Dominique Leone, The Living Earth Show, Mercury Falls, Nonsemble 6, Ramon & Jessica, and the San Francisco Conservatory Guitar Ensemble, plus music composed by works by Hauschka, Ryan Brown, Caleb Burhans, Anna Clyne, Robin Estrada, Jonathan Russell, and more.

Thursday Miscellany

Berkeley Playhouse (at the Julia Morgan Theater) has two weekends of performances of The Pirates of Penzance left, and the show sure looks like fun: "Not your traditional Pirates"....On Sunday, March 25, at the Italian Academy in NYC, Emmanuele Arciuli plays a recital that includes the US premiere of a work by Marcello Panni, Scelsi's Ka: Suite No. 10, Alban Berg's First Piano Sonata, and LvB Op. 110, aka, piano sonata No. 31.....This summer, the NY Philharmonic resumes its Concerts in the Park series, which I believe Alan Gilbert promised last year that they'd do. Dates are July 11 through 17 throughout the boroughs. Details are in this annoying PDF (guys, 1) PDFs are bad 2) having to comb through all that text to figure out where and when...can't you just put a nice block of concert info at the top?)....Matthias Goerne and Leif Ove Andsnes perform Mahler and Shostakovich at SF Performances on April 23. Still wondering whether my travel schedule will let me attend....Tickets have just gone on sale for the 2012 Oregon Bach Festival, which takes place in Oregon, but I'm not actually sure whether it's in Eugene or Portland. Oh, wait: the reason I can't tell is that events are in Eugene, Portland, and five other cities. Okay! Dates are June 29 - July 15, 2012, in any case....The LA Jewish Symphony celebrates its 18th (Chai - Life) birthday with several concerts...


San Francisco Opera sold something like 98% of its tickets for the 2011 Ring cycles on subscriptions. The Met, apparently not:

I took a look around, and a shocking number of seats - not cheap seats - are still available.

Back in the Spotlight

My 2008 article for NewMusicBox, "Lend Me a Pick Ax," is getting some attention this week, following publication of Amy Beth Kirsten's "The 'Woman Composer' is Dead" and the ensuing peppy discussion. (It's apparent that she is not dead.)

Also check out the discussion with Linda Dusman, whom I interviewed for that article.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NY Times RSS Feed

Did it go crazy for anyone else a couple of hours ago and re-push ten days of articles for all Times blogs you subscribe to???


A couple more points about the Spring for Music contest -

Douglas McLennan's comments really do make it sound as though the authors of the contest threw the idea together in a tearing hurry. I'm wondering now about a few more issues.

  • How have they gotten the word out to the thousands of culture bloggers out there? How many people even know this is happening?
  • Have they thought through how the judges will cope if they find themselves with, say, 500 entries to read next week?
  • How is it going to look if only 20 bloggers enter? :)
  • Does the voting mechanism have safeguards against cheating, for example, multiple votes from the same IP address?

Response to Response

Over on ArtsJournal, founder and editor Douglas McLennan has a response to postings by me, Patrick, Brian, and Anne about the Spring for Music best culture blogger contest. I have a response of my own - and also two additional concerns.

The implications of "best English-language culture blogger in North America" took some time to sink in. North America encompasses bilingual Canada, multilingual (but officially English monolingual) United States, and mostly Spanish-speaking Mexico. (Mexico is a multilingual country as well; about 6% of Mexicans speak an indigenous language.) So, about 112 million Mexicans and the 23% of Canadians who are French speakers are effectively excluded - and English-language bloggers elsewhere are also excluded. So much for culture bloggers in the United Kingdom, or those blogging in English but living in Milan or Vienna.

I'm also curious whether there are conflict-of-interest rules for the judges. ArtsJournal blogs are not excluded; one of the judges is the founder and editor of ArtsJournal.

I'm going to bullet-point my objections from the original posting:

  • The impossibility of choosing a "best culture blogger" from the thousands of bloggers who are out there.
  • Utter lack of eligibility rules and categories, beyond "North American, English-language, culture blogger," meaning everyone from junior high school students to professional culture writers can enter and would be competing with each other. This undermines the credibility of the contest.
  • The premise of the first question: zzzzzzz.
  • Popularity-contest aspects: encouragement of campaigns, entries not judged anonymously. 
  • Concerns about what, exactly, I would get from entering. Would it make me more credible with the arts organizations I write about or review?
I own that I summarized it all as "either you take us seriously or you don't." But the more important point might be the extremely mixed signals sent by the contest.

Now, Mr. McLennan asks how you promote arts blogging and help bloggers find larger readerships. I have a few ideas!
  • High-profile sites such as ArtsJournal and individual bloggers such as [boldface name here] can spotlight or link to other culture bloggers both as a regular feature and in the course of normal writing. Does ArtsJournal have a blog dedicated to finding and linking to worthwhile bloggers? This could be the equivalent of Twitter's #ff.
  • Individual bloggers can write about how they promote their blogs and what they've done to increase readership.
  • Make the various directories and blog lists out there better known. I'm thinking of Colin Eatlock's Big List of Classical Bloggers, for example. There must be similar directories for film, TV, jazz, rock, pop, hip-hop, soul, [music style here ad infinitum], food, art, theater, and dance bloggers.
  • If you have to have a competition, consider making it fully adjudicated and a short-list, long-list sort of a competition. I suppose the rounds of 16/8/4 have some of that effect, but the popularity-contest aspects of the S4M contest make me queasy.

Napoleon in Oakland

If you're thinking of seeing Abel Gance's Napoleon this weekend or next and don't have a ticket, there are discount tickets now available even if you're not a member of the SF Silent Film Fest. (The ticket I was selling is gone, gone, gone.)

Go to this URL

Choose the performance you want to attend.

When you pick a seat, use the code ELBA1.

$20 off $122 tickets
$15 off $92 tickets
$10 off $72 tickets
$10 off $57 tickets
$5 off $42 tickets
Discount limited to 2 tickets per person.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Little Match Girl Passion

Back when David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion was performed at Carnegie Hall, and won the Pulitzer Prize, a recording was posted for a time on Carnegie's web site. The link I can find is dead, alas, but the composer's own web site has a recording. I remember how much I liked the spare beauty and directness of the piece, and also my deep respect for the performers. It is not an easy thing to sing a cappella, one on a part, for an hour.  I hoped I'd get to hear it live one day.

Through an exceptionally happy combination of circumstances, Little Match Girl Passion is being performed this weekend by the resurrected San Francisco Lyric Opera. Barnaby Palmer conducts; Chip Grant, the genius behind Urban Opera's Dido and Aeneas and Witch of Endor, directs a splendid quartet of singers (Ann Moss, Celeste Winant, Eric Maggay Tuan, and Eugene Brancoveanu).

Full details are here, but performances are March 23, 24, and 25 at ODC Theater in SF. Be there or be square, and may this be the first of many more productions from a great team.

The Culture Games

You have to admit, Spring for Music picked the perfect week to announce their contest! Now, where did I leave my bow and arrows?

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Contest

Everything in my last post plays into my reaction earlier today to the Spring for Music contest: evidently that organization is also trying to figure out what to do with us. If you can have a contest to choose the best of something - complete with voting! and campaigns! - you're not treating culture bloggers like professionals or as legitimate members of the media. You're treating us like we're...well, what? Amateurs trying to break into the big time, where only one will be good enough to win? You're treating us like we're contestants, in a contest where the general public's opinion is getting a whole lot of weight.

That's a popularity contest. Yeah, there's a distinguished panel of judges, but so? What's the point of putting us in competition with each other?

What's the point of putting 200 music bloggers, 100 food bloggers, and an unknown number of film bloggers in the same category ("culture bloggers")?

It's just not an effective way to call attention to blogs or the best of the blogosphere. There are thousands of interesting, talented people putting up interested, well-written blog postings every day. Crowning one of them the best English-speaking culture blogger in North American is not doing blogging or the blogsophere any good.

Bloggers, Critics, and Presenters

At the heart of the current discussions of the Spring for Music blogger contest lies the fact that all too many presenters, publicists, and musical organizations are still trying to figure out what the heck to do with bloggers.

The media landscape has shifted enormously in the last ten years. In the US, newspapers no longer have a staff of music critics - except the Times (and any other paper?) - and it seems most papers don't even have one any more. There are two full-time classical music critics left in California, if I'm not mistaken. Bloggers aren't exactly making up the journalism gap, but we're trying.
Many or most bloggers aren't credentialed; that is, many of us are writing about subjects in which we don't have a degree or professional experience or some other imprimatur of respectability. We're not writing for an official organization, whether that's a newspaper or magazine an online journal such as SFCV or NewMusicBox or Salon or the HuffPost.

We're not professionals who are getting paid for what we do, though I was getting paid for reviews by SFCV before I started blogging, and at least one blogger has vaulted into the pages of the NY Post.

Locally, how bloggers get treated by musical organizations varies quite a bit, depending on the attitudes and knowledge of their press departments, paid publicists, and/or the organization members running publicity on a volunteer basis. Here's some of what I know:

  • A few medium-sized professional organizations regularly send me ticket offers.
  • These organizations are somewhat haphazard about who they do offer tickets to.
  • A number of small organizations have me on their press lists, but don't send ticket offers.
  • One small organization that I know of has been making ticket offers to bloggers, among other reviewers, since last spring.
  • I don't get offers from SFS, though from the number of bloggers I see there, I think they give tickets on request to bloggers.
  • SF Opera doesn't make offers to bloggers (or at least not to me). They have been known to refuse to put bloggers on their press-release mailing list, which I simply don't understand. I do get their press releases, presumably because I've reviewed them many times for SFCV.
Here's what I think musical organizations and presenters should do: make up your minds about your policies, let bloggers know what they are, and be consistent. 

This is especially important for small organizations. As a matter of your own survival, I think it behooves you to make comps available to bloggers. We all know that Joshua Kosman can't be in more than one place a night or three or four places each week. Even SFCV can't cover the onslaught of performances; they have limits of their own. 

You want coverage, we're your best source. At the organization size I'm thinking of, wider coverage from bloggers might even make a difference in attendance and in general awareness of your group.

It's not a survival issue for SFS and SFO, or, I imagine, for presenters such as SF Performances and Cal Performances. They've got the big bucks donors, which small choruses, new music groups, and other small organizations simply don't.

Here's hoping that Bay Area music organizations figure out blogging and bloggers.

Statistics and a Note

Colin Eatock has been tracking English-language classical music blogs at weebly. If you don't want to click through, he has so far found 529. Yes, five hundred and twenty-nine. I here note that membership in the Music Critics Association of North American is much, much closer to 100 than to 500.

The press release I received from Amanda Ameer includes "For more information about the contest, or to request press tickets to Spring For Music, please contact," followed by Amanda's contact info and that of another publicist. So perhaps that means I could request press tickets! 

Or maybe not. What if all 529 English-languages bloggers made such a request? Stern Auditorium, the main stage at Carnegie, has a seating capacity of around 2800. I doubt they'd let 1/6 of the tickets go to members of the press. It would make an interesting experiment.

No Contest

Dear Spring for Music:

You are a great organization, and I admire the orchestral programming that has come out of your sponsorship. But....really? Finding the best arts blogger in North America? You have got to be kidding...well, okay, the $2500 prize suggests that you are not.

But you should think about this a little more. Because the more I think about it, the higher my blood pressure gets, for so many reasons.

Let's start with the idea that it is somehow possible to name the best arts blogger in North American, or even in the classical music blogosphere. I currently read or link to a rather large number of music blogs; see link list just to the right of this posting. I know of dozens more that are undoubtedly worth reading; see Alex Ross's ginormous link list. I'm going to guess that there are at least 250 classical music blogs worth reading. Multiply that by the number of good blogs on rock/pop/folk music, jazz, theater, modern dance, ballet, film, sculpture, painting, literature, and we're talking about a minimum of 2500 arts blogs worth reading.

If you think you can name one of those the best with any credibility at all, and based on just four essays written to your specifications, you're wrong. You can't.

Bloggers get credibility by posting intelligently and with some kind of consistency over a period of months or years. I've been at this for seven years; my blog postings have ranged from one sentence to almost-essay-length. I don't write on a schedule, and because I am a full-time professional writer - not in the arts - I value the freedom to write or not write, as time and energy allow. Entering your contest, and even winning it, wouldn't do much for my credibility.

And let's look at who the entrants will be competing against. Why, they could be competing against Alex Ross and Terry Teachout - because your rules do not exclude bloggers who have full-time gigs writing about the arts.

Now, I don't think either Terry or Alex will be entering. They have jobs and book contracts and little to gain by entering. $2500 is a nice chunk of change, but not next to the royalties on books that sell well....or a MacArthur Fellowship. And they're right there in NYC...and if they call you up, you'll give them comps! I mean, you're not going to refuse comps to The New Yorker's classical music writer  or the author of several arts biographies, are you? (If I just showed up in NYC, on my own dime and with no paid review lined up, would you give me comps?)

They're probably not the kinds of entrants you have in mind. You probably also don't have in mind musicologist Jonathan Bellman or John Adams. You probably have in mind people like me: yeah, I have a degree in music, yeah, I get paid for writing a small number of reviews a year for SFCV, but I'm not a full time pro. What you're doing is asking me to compete against my friends, people like Mr. CKDH at All is Yar, or Patrick at The Reverberate Hills, or Zerbinetta at Likely Impossibilities, or Brian at Out West Arts.

Really? I would not hold myself up in any circumstances as a better blogger than those four, and you know, what I really want is for all of us to have bigger readerships.

Also, I see that the essays/blog postings won't be anonymous! Are you telling me that your judges and the voters - the anonymous hordes of the internet - don't already have favorites? That there aren't thousands of opera lovers ready to vote for Parterre Box, if La Cieca chooses to enter?

And you're actually encouraging campaigns on behalf of different bloggers? HONESTLY. That is so junior high! Are you also encouraging campaigns to try to decide the best classical music critic in North America? Maybe not, because, sadly, there are so few paid full-time critic positions left. And anyway - they're pros! They don't need this!

Seriously - either you take bloggers serious as critics and writers, or you don't. Dear Spring for Music, you are sending mighty mixed signals. And I'm not gonna play.



P. S. That first round question? Seriously, why would I even want to discuss the subject, in the absolute and given the ridiculous way you frame the non-issue?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

This Weekend

UPDATES: What was I thinking? No electronica in Ameriques!

Some other concerts worth seeing:

San Francisco Renaissance Voices performs a program called The Legend of Hercules, consisting of music from the court of Ferrara, Sunday in Alameda. Details:
Sunday, March 18 - 5:00 pm
First Presbyterian, 2001 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
Tickets at the door or CLICK HERE to buy now!
The program repeats the following weekend:
Sunday, March 25 - 4:00 pm
All Saints' Episcopal, 555 Waverley St, Palo Alto

San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents a chamber music festival in collaboration with the Shanghai Conservatory. The first performance was last night (sob), second is tonight and looks great. Music of Armer, Shostakovich, Hartmann, Tchakowsky, and Zhou.

Clarinetist Brenden Guy and friends put on a concert by local composers; looks fantastic: Conte, Adams (John Coolidge), Pavkovic, Stillwell, Pike, Becker, Bloch. Okay, Bloch is not local. Sarah Cahill, Barnaby Palmer, Kevin Rogers, and Valinor Winds are also on the program. First Unitarian Church, SF, Sunday, March 18 at 4:30 p.m. Free; donations requested, which will go to the Winter Homeless Shelter Fund.

Lots going on, only one program of which I'll get to because of my Los Angeles road trip:

California Bach Society performs German, French, English, and Italian madrigals in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Berkeley on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday respectively. Amy Stuart Hunn conducts; program notes are here. Tickets are $25/$18/$10, one of the best bargains around.

The Afiara String Quartet plays Sibelius, Nielsen, and Haydn at the Kohl Mansion at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 18. Tickets are $45.

At San Francisco Symphony, American Mavericks continues with their last orchestral program, March 15-17, and closes with a chamber music program on the 18th. Mason Bates (Mass Transmission) and John (Coolidge) Adams (Absolute Jest, for string quartet & orchestra) have world premiers. I'm looking forward equally to Morton Feldman's Piano and Orchestra, with Manny Ax (whose name I got to type twice this morning) and Varese's Amerique, an early electronic-music classic. The chamber program has works by Meredith Monk and others.

(If you missed any of the Mavericks programs, WQXR in NYC will broadcast the happenings from Carnegie Hall. Details are here.)

San Francisco Choral Artists, under Magen Solomon, sings of Prophets, Kings and Klezmer (and needs a serial comma...) on the 17th and 18.

There may be updates to this posting later!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Radio Silence

I realize that it's not unusual for me to go a couple of days without posting, but what happened is that I got locked out of my Gmail account, meaning my whole Google account, owing to user stupidity, my own, in reinstalling Google Authenticator on my phone. I inadvertently and incompletely enabled 2-step verification for this account, which hosed me completely: I had no way to generate a one-time password, either on the phone or to receive via SMS.

If that's all Greek to you, believe me, you don't want more details. Anyway, I'm back, with a few postings to get up, about this weekend, American Mavericks, and the whole notion of a contest for Best Culture Blogger.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Season Announcement Season: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra announced their 2012-13 season this week, and it's a wow. Manny Ax playing Beethoven 4....on a foretepiano! All-Purcell program! Handel's Teseo! And more. Who could resist?

Here are the details (and by the way, their upcoming Alexander's Feast looks great):

Wednesday 3 October          The Center for Performing Arts, Atherton (8 PM)
Friday 5 October                  Herbst Theatre, San Francisco (8 PM)
Saturday 6 October              First Congregational Church, Berkeley (8 PM)
Sunday 7 October                 First Congregational Church, Berkeley (7:30 PM)

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director
Clifton Massey, countertenor

Soloists from the Philharmonia Chorale
PURCELL: Come Ye Sons of Art, Z. 323
PURCELL: Dioclesian, Z. 627

Pre-concert talk begins 45 minutes prior to each concert.

Wednesday 7 November       Mondavi Center, Davis (8 PM)
Thursday 8 November          The Center for Performing Arts, Atherton (8 PM)
Friday 9 November               Herbst Theatre, San Francisco (8 PM)
Saturday 10 November         First Congregational Church, Berkeley (8 PM)
Sunday 11 November           First Congregational Church, Berkeley (7:30 PM)

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Emanuel Ax, fortepiano

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
BEETHOVEN: Twelve Contredanses for Orchestra, WoO 14
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60

Pre-concert talk begins 45 minutes prior to each concert.

Saturday 8 December           First Congregational Church, Berkeley (7 PM)

Masaaki Suzuki, conductor
Sherezade Panthaki, soprano
Fabiana Gonzálezmezzo-soprano
Dann Coakwell, tenor
Dashon Burton, bass-baritone
Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, Director

HANDEL: Messiah
Presented by Cal Performances

Sunday 9 December             Green Music Center, Rohnert Park (3 PM)

Masaaki Suzuki, conductor
Sherezade Panthaki, soprano
Fabiana Gonzálezmezzo-soprano
Dann Coakwell, tenor
Dashon Burton, bass-baritone
Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, Director
HANDEL: Messiah
Presented by Sonoma State University

Thursday 13 December        The Center for Performing Arts, Atherton (8 PM)
Friday 14 December             Herbst Theatre, San Francisco (8 PM)
Saturday 15 December         First Congregational Church, Berkeley (8 PM)
Sunday 16 December           First Congregational Church, Berkeley (7:30 PM)

Masaaki Suzuki, conductor
Soloists from Yale University’s Institute of Sacred Music
Sherezade Panthaki, soprano
Fabiana Gonzálezmezzo-soprano
Dann Coakwell, tenor
Dashon Burton, bass-baritone
Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, Director

BACH: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
BACH: Cantata No. 63 Christen, äzet diesen Tag, BWV 63
BACH: Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a

Pre-concert talk begins 45 minutes prior to each concert.

Saturday 12 January                        MCASD Sherwood Auditorium, La Jolla (8 PM)

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin

CORELLI: Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 7 in D major
PERGOLESI: Sinfonia in F major
VIVALDI: Le quattro stagioni [The Four Seasons]
LOCATELLI: Concerto Grosso Op. 7, No. 6 in E-flat major, “Il pianto d’Arianna”
DURANTE: Concerto No. 5 in A major
Presented by La Jolla Music Society

Sunday 13 January                           Sunset Center, Carmel (8 PM)

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin
CORELLI: Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 7 in D major
PERGOLESI: Sinfonia in F major
VIVALDI: Le quattro stagioni [The Four Seasons]
LOCATELLI: Concerto Grosso Op. 7, No. 6 in E-flat major, “Il pianto d’Arianna”
DURANTE: Concerto No. 5 in A major
Presented by Carmel Music Society

Wednesday 16 January                       Bing Concert Hall, Stanford (8 PM)

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin

CORELLI: Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 7 in D major
PERGOLESI: Sinfonia in F major
VIVALDI: Le quattro stagioni [The Four Seasons]
LOCATELLI: Concerto Grosso Op. 7, No. 6 in E-flat major, “Il pianto d’Arianna”
DURANTE: Concerto No. 5 in A major
Presented by Stanford University

Wednesday 13 February      Bing Concert Hall, Stanford (8 PM)
Friday 15 February              Herbst Theatre, San Francisco (8 PM)
Saturday 16 February          First Congregational Church, Berkeley (8 PM)
Sunday 17 February            First Congregational Church, Berkeley (7:30 PM)

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Marc Schachman, oboe
Danny Bond, bassoon

HAYDN: Symphony No. 44 in E minor “Trauer”
J.C. BACH: Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe and Bassoon in F major, T. 287/2
J.C. BACH: Symphony Op. 6, No. 6 in G minor, T. 265/7
MOZART: Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201

Pre-concert talk begins 45 minutes prior to each concert.

Friday 15 March                   Herbst Theatre, San Francisco (8 PM)
Saturday 16 March              First Congregational Church, Berkeley (8 PM)
Sunday 17 March                 First Congregational Church, Berkeley (7:30 PM)
Wednesday 20 March          Bing Concert Hall, Stanford (8 PM)
Rachel Podger, violin and leader

CORELLI: Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 1 in D major
VIVALDI: Concerto for Violin Op. 9, No. 6 in A major “La cetra”
MOSSI: Concerto for Four Violins Op. 4, No. 12 in G minor
VIVALDI: Concerto for Two Violins Op. 3, No. 5 in A major, RV 519
PERGOLESI: Concerto for Violin in B-flat major
LOCATELLI: Concerto for Four Violins in F major, Op. 4, No. 12

Pre-concert talk begins 45 minutes prior to each concert.

Wednesday 10 April             The Center for Performing Arts, Atherton (7:30 PM)
Thursday 11 April                Herbst Theatre, San Francisco (7:30 PM)
Saturday 13 April                 First Congregational Church, Berkeley (7:30 PM)
Sunday 14 April                    First Congregational Church, Berkeley (4 PM)

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Amanda Forsythe, soprano (Teseo)
Dominique Labelle, soprano (Medea)
Amy Freston, soprano (Agilea)
Céline Ricci, soprano (Clizia)
Robin Blaze, countertenor (Arcane)
Drew Minter, countertenor (Egeo)


Pre-concert talk begins 45 minutes prior to each concert.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Sometimes I think I know everybody in the world, but in reality, it's just that I belong to a very wide range of social circles.
  • People who grew up in Teaneck (during a certain era) and attended Teaneck High
  • People who went to Brandeis
  • Old-recording fans
  • People who worked at Documentum
  • People who work at Google (I was at lunch with the man who invented the Internet the other day, and no, I don't mean Al Gore.)
  • Bay Area choral singers
  • Crazy opera people 
  • People who do Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu
  • Classical music and opera bloggers
  • Members of the Music Critics Association of North America (Yes, that's me on a panel with Anne Midgette, Anthony Tommasini, John Rockwell, and others.)
  • Science fiction fans (I once had lunch with Ursula Le Guin. Elizabeth A. Lynn is a good friend. I knew Patrick and Teresa before Making Light. Etc.)
  • People who are or were on the Well
  • People who were in the Society for Creative Anachronism during a certain era
  • Bay Area contra-dancers/folkies
  • Through my partner, people in public health
A couple of Facebook incidents call this to mind:
  • Joshua Kosman (readers of this blog know who he is) knows Wes Nichols (with whom I went to high school...and played flute....and read plays) from attending music camp together when they were teenagers.
  • David Urrows (with whom I went to high school...and college) knows Jonathan Bellman (whom I know from Dial M for Musicology and Reactions to the Record) from musicology circles.
And then there were Amanda Walker's photos from the 2011 Pennsic War on Google+.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

American Mavericks I

Last night's performance of the first American Mavericks orchestral program can be summed up briefly and easily:

  • Copland, Orchestral Variations. Even in MTT's own expanded version of Copland's orchestration of his seminal Piano Variations, its origins show. A great work for piano, it doesn't work so well as an orchestral piece.
  • Harrison, Concerto for Organ with Percussion Orchestra. Amiable, entertaining, fun, well-performed, and not his best.
  • Ives/Brant, A Concord Symphony. Wow. Staggering; a brilliantly done orchestration of a gigantic, thorny, wonderful piece. Such a great orchestration that you cannot tell it started as a piano piece.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Manga Flute, West Edge Opera

I went to the first performance of West Edge Opera's The Manga Flute, an adaptation of The Magic Flute with a new English libretto by David Scott Marley. Marley has written several adaptations for West Edge (former Berkeley) Opera, including the extremely funny Riot Grrrl on Mars and Bat Out of Hell. If they are ever revived, you should go see them. (I here disclose that I've known Scott for 20-odd years and am not quite sure how to refer to him in this write-up. As Marley? As Scott? As "the librettist"? So take pity on me just a bit as I fumble around.)

This particular adaptation takes the familiar story of The Magic Flute and reimagines it in the Japanese manga/anime style. The sets are simple: a few props moved around by the characters, and projections on screens behind the stage, mostly onto vertical panels on the left that resemble Japanese scrolls, but also onto a freestanding oval to the right. The projections are in manga style and beautifully done, by artist Megan Willis. Some are static scenery, but there's a story told in a series of projections at the beginning.

The new libretto reframes the story to remove the Masonic elements (or most of them, anyway) and to take the religious and sexist loading off the conflict between Sarastro and the Queen of the Night. A few characters are renamed, too. The Three Boys become the Three Raccoons; played by three teenage girls, they move and act a lot like the masked thieves, and are completely charming.

Monostatos becomes Moss, loses his dark skin, and gains both a backstory and a crutch. The latter is not explicitly explained, though its origin can be inferred from the new backstory. While I am always glad when modern adapters and directors discard the ugly racist portrayal of the character, I was nonplussed by the crutch, a swap of one visible difference for another. It just didn't seem necessary or strongly motivated; it's not the most interesting change in the character, either, and was a bit of a distraction.

Tamino is now a young Japanese stockbroker; as the opera opens, he's being washed up on an unknown island after being blown off course during an afternoon sail. Pamina is...well, a bit of a teeny-bopper, wearing an outfit short of Japanese goth, but with blue hair.

The story is reframed, and some of the arias are shuffled around as a result, to reasonable effect. "In diesem heil'gen Hallen" comes rather later in the opera now, and "O Isis und Osiris" is gone completely. I was startled to hear the duet of the two armed men reframed as a duet for Tamino and Papageno, but in context it made perfect sense.

Not so sensible was the rewrite of "Ein Maedchen oder Weibchen," Papageno's aria, as a duet for him and Papagena. The old lady is unmasked rather early in their brief scene together, they sing the duet (and Papagena scolds him in it rather a lot), then she disappears. For me, this took away much of the charm and dramatic force of their ultimate reunion and union, because they've already spent so much time together. It works better when he has just that tiny glimpse of her.

I might as well admit that Papageno is my favorite character in the opera - isn't he everyone's? In the original, he's the human; everyone else is an archetype. Noble prince, kidnapped maiden, upstanding religious leader, fiery witch. Papageno is the working-class everyman. (And we all know what happened when Strauss & Hoffmansthal got their hands on this story, right? Perhaps West Edge Opera could do an adaptation that deals with all the offensive elements of....oh, maybe not.)

ANYWAY. West Edge's production is blessed with a genuinely wonderful Papageno, in the person of Eugene Brancoveanu. I haven't heard him in a couple of years, and after this week, I'm astonished that he isn't singing in the majors on a regular basis. A beautiful and brilliant lyric baritone, funny and charming presence, looks - he has it all, and he shone in this role. Heidi Moss Sali was a lovely Pamina, and caught the teen-aged angst and rebellion just right.

Darron Flagg has a good voice and negotiated Tamino's music reasonably well; he was a funny stockbroker and managed the transformation to Sarastro's acolyte convincingly. Elyse Nakajima made an impressive Queen Starfire; Clifton Romig acted well but was a bit wobbly-voiced as her estranged husband Sarastro. Keith Perry was a sympathetic Moss, Lori Schulman a delightful Papapapagena. George Killingsworth ably filled the mostly-speaking role of Foxclaw (the Sprecher). Melody King, Kathleen Moss (no relation to Heidi Moss Sali), and Rebecca Krouner were characterful as the Three Ladies. Charlotte Khuner,  Catherine Scanlon, and Sofia Chandler-Freed could not have been bettered as the charming and wiley Raccoons.

The staging and acting are excellent all around; big kudos to director Caroline Altman. I do wish the Queen of the Night didn't just stroll on stage: her entrance music demands something more impressive than that. I don't expect this company to fly her in, but given their level of ingenuity, I am sure they could do better. Jonathan Khuner's conducting was strong and sympathetic, as usual; I wish the company were using a different reduction, though, as Christopher Fecteau's winds-and-keyboard reduction loses too much timbal differentiation for me. Bring back the string section!

All in all, it was a lovely afternoon. This is going up too late for tonight's 8 p.m. performance, but if you're free Sunday afternoon, catch the 3 p.m. performance (and remember: daylight savings time starts Sunday at 2 a.m.! Spring forward!).

Get Married, Get Fired

Al Fischer and Charlie Robin have been a couple for 20 years. Mr. Fischer has taught at a Catholic school for some years and has also been the part-time music director of the church where the couple worships.

He told his colleagues that they planned to get married (they applauded), and he got fired the next day. There had been a diocese official in attendance. Then he lost the music director job.

You can read the whole story in today's Times.

Apparently, everybody, but everybody, knew Mr. Fischer and Mr. Robin are gay. The problem seems to be that by getting married, they admitted to being sexually active (or something). To the Catholic church, being homosexual isn't a problem; it's active homosexual behavior that's the issue.

Okay, as we all know, numerous bishops, archbishops, and cardinals of the Catholic church covered up child abuse over a period of decades. They weren't fired, were they?