Friday, June 29, 2012

Non-Musical Annoyances

I've written before about the ways that non-musical events can affect my reactions to a musical program. The other night's Magic Flute, well, it was one of those nights.

For a mid-week evening, the shuttle took an unusually long time to get from Mountain View to SF; it seemed like forever even though I napped for part of it. It was around 6:35 when I disembarked, and the curtain was at 7:30, meaning I really could not do much other than grab a sandwich someplace. I picked the opera house to do this rather than stopping by the Market St. Starbucks, and I'd already decided that a dash up to Arlequin was out of the question.

In the future, if I'm worried about this, I'll get myself a sandwich or something else at work. My impression is that Patina's selection has gotten worse and worse over the years. At the moment, they have maybe four sandwiches, a chicken caesar salad, and an antipasto plate. The sandwiches are not all that appealing, owing to the particular combinations of ingredients. The antipasto plate looks boring and overpriced. So I had the salad.

I realize that certain persons strongly prefer starting times earlier than 8 p.m. If you're coming from anywhere farther than SF, Oakland, or Berkeley and you need to eat before the program, well....let's say that the extra half hour would have been very welcome this week.

Here we get into The Seating Problem. There aren't that many tables downstairs outside the main dining area, which is reserved for restaurant patrons. (Anyone ever eaten there? Is the food any good? I last ate at the buffet in the 1980s some time.) So I went up to Dress Circle level. There are tables, but they're mostly for two or four people, and I don't like to either keep larger parties from using them or to share. There are chairs without tables and I sat at one of those. Yeah, it's awkward for eating a salad, but at least I got to be alone. (Thanks to the nice person who offered a spot at her table, but....I really wanted to be alone.)

I think that there is a solution to this problem: someplace in the house, there has got to be a wall with room to install a 12- or 18-inch-deep shelf where individuals could pull up a chair or stand and eat. (Or pairs could sit or stand next to each other.) And I am also sure that Patina could figure out some better/more interesting sandwiches than the ones they're currently serving.

Then there was my seat. I haven't been in the upper reaches of the opera house since last fall, and haven't sat in the Dress Circle in a long time, and....while the view is better, the particular seat I was in was about as jammed as the Balcony Rear seat I've had the last couple of years. Maybe I should have renewed my subscription in the orchestra instead of Dress Circle? I supposed I can trade up on a case-by-case basis.

The audience the other day was unusually chatty. People talked over the overture and whispered to each other during the performance. I shushed them more than I have in years; it was pretty distracting. Also, I saw and heard more water bottles and food packages....what are the current rules? I know that food in the auditorium is completely out, but is the opera currently allowing water bottles?

Lastly, I will simply note that if you are a patron with mobility limitations, it is best to sit in the last, more-accessible rows of the orchestra or Dress Circle than elsewhere. Those stairs are treacherous, there are no handrails, and you could take a nasty fall. It is really not good to have patrons climbing from the row in front of their seats because you cannot get up to let them in, and no one should have to ask you to please move your cane so that they don't trip and fall while trying to get past you at intermission time.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Short Version

Annoying night at the opera:
  • Conducting crude (at least in Act I)
  • Translation jokey in dumb ways
  • Projections distracting
  • Shrader over-hyped
  • Gunn overparted. (Eugene B. was better at W.E.O.)
  • Sigmundsson aged
  • Shagimuratova pitchy
  • Audience chatty
Of the leading principals, Stober was best, though not really distinctive; among the smaller roles, Pittsinger was so good he should have been bumped up to Sarastro (really) and Fedderly was good. Sierra: adorable. The Three Ladies were fine and so were the Three Spirits.

The ACA Stands

By 5-4, with Chief Justice Roberts in the majority.

Still waiting for details, since the Times headline says "largely," but it sounds as though the mandate will stand. I am crying from relief - I was sure it would be struck down. I am also amused that Roberts quoted Ben Franklin on death & taxes.

Evidently the basis they picked for upholding the law is that the penalty is through the tax system.

While you're at it, read Nicholas Kristof's column about the presidential candidates.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

More Nixon Reviews

Two more Nixon in China reviews:
My previous review summary is here

Indiana University, You Have Something to Answer For

Joshua Bell, interviewed in the NY Times:
I just passed the 1,000-page mark in Ken Follett’s “World Without End,” the follow-up to his “Pillars of the Earth,” one of my all-time favorites. I am fascinated with his depiction of the Middle Ages. Classical music history really started with the Renaissance and then the Baroque period, so I know those eras and the music, but I always wondered what the heck happened before.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Turing Centenary

You might find today's Google logo a little cryptic, at least until you mouse over it:

It's the 100th birthday of Alan Turing. He saved Great Britain and won WWII for the Allies through his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park. He was a vastly important computing pioneer; do a web search on Turing test, or just check out the Wikipedia entry for Turing. That computer you're reading this on might not exist without his work.

Alan Turing was driven to his death by the British legal system. In the 1950s, homosexuality was still illegal there. Turing was arrested and sentenced to a "cure" of hormonal treatment. He committed suicide at the age of 42. Who knows what he might have done if he'd lived out his natural lifespan? Bigotry kills, in more ways than one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why We Need the Blogosphere, Part the Nth

You may have noticed that there wasn't a whole lot of coverage of Ojai North in the area's major music news outlets: SFCV and the Mercury News covered only John Luther Adams's Inuksuit and the Chron covered Inuksuit and Thursday's concerts. (There's also a review in the Financial Times, explaining Allan Ulrich's presence beyond his general interest.) It's a big damn schlep for Richard Scheinin to get the Berkeley and both he and Joshua Kosman really do have a good excuse for missing Tuesday and Wednesday: SF Opera happened to put the openings of The Magic Flute and Attila opposite the first two full programs.

It's traditional for opera opening nights to be covered, and on one hand, I understand why: it's traditional, the buzz is good, etc. On the other hand, for one-critic papers, it means making nasty choices, and we all know that some shows are better after the first performance. (I've always wondered if that lackluster opening Fidelio got any better, for example.)

The ideal solution to this would obviously be to have more than one classical music critic, which would allow better coverage all around. SFCV's review budget is at an end-of-season ebb, so they missed reviewing a series of fascinating programs.

Thank goodness for the blogosphere. I was there (and plan to get up a review of the Thursday programs); John Marcher was there; Cedric was there; OT was there; Charles Shere was there. We'll fill in the gaps as best we can.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Plus Ca Change

A few minutes ago, the weekly email from San Francisco Symphony landed in my mailbox. Besides urging us to buy tickets to Bluebeard's Castle, there's the news that Compose Your Own subscriptions are available as of today.

You know what's coming, right? Yes, another complaint about the deficiencies of the SFS ticketing system. Because it seems to be set up pretty much the way it was set up last year, which is to say, the only way to buy a Compose Your Own right now is to pick the number of tickets, the concerts, and the sections you want.

I will have to wait until later in the year, I guess, to do what I want, unless I can bring myself to go to the ticketing window at Davies some Saturday. I'd really rather not. It's a big chunk of time out of my day; I'd rather do it on line; I'm not the most patient person in the world, and why should a perfectly nice person at SFS suffer because of me? Better I should get annoyed at the software.

The thing you need to know is that Tessitura, SFS's ticketing system, can be programmed to do whatever they damn well please. It just takes some cash. If the ticketing system doesn't do this, it's because a decision someone made, whether because they think what they have is good enough or because they're not willing to write the check.

Also, this is a big, big mistake:

See the button that says GET STARTED and the button that says CONTINUE?

They do the same thing. Way to confuse your customers!

A bit further down the page is a flip book, which is a slow and clumsy way to let people flip through a booklike representation of a brochure or book. I can't tell you how much I hate them, not to mention, they're Flash-drive and completely inaccessible to people who use screen readers.

I haven't gotten far enough into the ticket purchase flow to see whether there are any further UX errors like this, but I bet there are.

Last but not least, this is the 2,000th posting published to Iron Tongue of Midnight. If you're reading this, whether you've read 3, 10, 300, or every last one, you have my deepest thanks and gratitude for your time, thought, and comments.

Is it Autumn in Los Angeles?

In the last 24 hours, I've received the following email:
  • From LA Opera, information about Don Giovanni, which opens September 22 and runs through October 14
  • From the Los Angeles Philharmonic, information about Aaron Neville's Christmas show, which will be presented at Disney Hall on December 18
Guys, I believe in planning ahead, so thank you....on the other hand, WTF?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sources of Madama Butterfly

Fascinating NY Times article by musicologist W. Anthony Sheppard about Chinese tunes (yes, Chinese) incorporated into Butterfly. Now I'd like to read his book, Revealing Masks: Exotic Influences and Ritualized Performance in Modernist Music Theater.

Nixon in San Francisco

The reviews are going up, and I'll be accumulating links here.

[Earlier: Note that mine is filed but not yet on line; it may not be up until tomorrow. I'll spoil it by saying that when Joshua and Rich use words like "dazzling," well, I'm right there with them.] My review is up now:
Seriously, get yourself a ticket. Go twice. It's a wonderful piece and you don't get to hear it every day.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Judit on Bluebeard

Georgia Rowe interviewed Michelle DeYoung about what it's like to perform Bartok's great one-act opera / psychodrama A kékszakállú herceg vára; the fascinating results are here. Learning the Hungarian text the way she did: brave. But she's right that it's a sexy language. 

Email from SF Opera the other day had some details about a discount offer for Bluebeard, but the link has been broken all day today.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ojai North! Tattling

  • A cell phone went off during the Schnittke Piano Quintet, I believe between movements or near the end of a movement. The performers waited to resume until the phone was silenced.
  • That was me dropping my program, also on Tuesday, when I picked up my binoculars to take a closer look at something. Sorry!
  • The crowd on Thursday wasn't that big, but somehow I missed Opera Tattler, perhaps because two of the four of us chatting between concerts were engaged in a minor display of historical novel one-upmanship. Okay, that's not really fair, but we did leave the two onlookers wondering what we were talking about. 
  • Nota bene: Patricia Finney's books are in print and readily available through my local bookseller or the Oakland Public Library. And nobody can figure out everything going on in Dorothy Dunnett's novels, but they're worth reading anyway.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Think Before Clicking Send

I bow to no one in my love of Bluebeard's Castle, and it remains to be seen just how many performances of it I will attend next week. But San Francisco Symphony might consider the message they're conveying with their suggested Father's Day present:

Father's Day Gift to the Symphony:

MTT conducts Bartók's
Duke Bluebeard's Castle

Dear Ms. Hirsch,

Give your dad a Father's Day gift he'll remember—an evening of music, food, and thrills at the San Francisco Symphony's performance of Duke Bluebeard's Castle! Before (or after) the performance enjoy acomplimentary appetizer or glass of wine* at 03 Bistro and Lounge, then head over to Davies Symphony Hall, just two blocks away, for the thrilling semi-staged performance of Duke Bluebeard's Castle.

Buy a full price ticket to the concert, then present your ticket at 03 Bistro and Lounge to recieve a complimentary glass of wine with purchase of an appetizer, or a complimentary appetizer with purchase of an entrée. Afterwards, head over to Davies Symphony Hall, just two blocks away, for the thrilling semi-staged performance of Duke Bluebeard's Castle.

The mysterious, psychological drama takes audiences on an eerie journey of the human subconscious. Specially designed multi-media projections, staging, and English captions help tell the tale of Duke Bluebeard's inquisitive new wife Judith, as she searches behind the seven doors of Bluebeard's castle to find hidden chambers, bloody weapons, and, eventually, Bluebeard's former wives! Watch a video on the making of the innovative set for the semi-staged performances.

Don't miss out on this exclusive San Francisco Symphony and 03 Bistro and Lounge offer. Buy now.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ojai North!

Okay, four concerts down, two to go, and I'd say it deserves that exclamation point. All of you who went to the Attila and Magic Flute openings or who have Nixon or Yuja tix tomorrow: ur doin it rong. Swap them right now and come in for the last Ojai programs, which are tomorrow at Hertz Hall at UC Berkeley. I grant a dispensation if you're on stage at the Opera, of course.

Here's where we are.

Tuesday, 7 p.m.

A program of two works I've never heard and one I know rather well, albeit in a vastly different version. Mezzo Christianne Stotijn and Leif Ove Andsnes led off with a gripping and extremely intense performance of Shostakovich's 1973 Six Poems of Marina Tavetaeva. Whoa: if you heard Andsnes and Goerne perform some of the composer's Michaelangelo settings in April, this was in that class and of that musical intensity. I'd say the settings and presentation were more operatic than than what I heard in April, which might be the works or the performers' disparate styles. No matter; Stotijn has a gorgeous rich mezzo and was magnificent in these works. Andsnes was right there with her, a marvelous performing partner. I especially loved the last setting, of a poem to Anna Akhmatova, the great Russian poet.

After this, four members of the Norwegian Chamber Ensemble and Andsnes played Schnittke's 1976 Piano Quintet. I believe I have two recordings of this and have not yet heard either of them (yes, it was an accident).  I'll be remedying that real soon. The piece is simply fantastic, quirky and almost a contest between the pianist and the quartet. It is somewhat episodic, very intense, sardonic, and deeply moving.

Second half of the program, Marc-André Hamelin joined Andsnes for a savage and rousing performance of The Rite of Spring, using Stravinsky's piano-four-hands version but modifying it for two pianos by adding details that weren't possible to execute in the four-hands version. This version sounds almost alien, the orchestration is so closely tied to my knowledge of the piece. It was rather like seeing the skeleton of Le Sacre without any flesh on its bones. Their encore was Stravinsky's witty Circus Polka for a Young Elephant, about as far in tone from Le Sacre as they could have gotten.

Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.

A performance of Janacek's String Quartet No. 1, "Kreutzer Sonata," arranged for the Norwegian String Orchestra and with actor Teodor Janson reading selections from the Tolstoy story that provided the emotional basis for the work. It certainly was interesting to hear the story, or its outline, along side the quartet; I am just not sure whether it added that much to the experience. The work is tremendous and was played with great focus and intensity....that got interrupted every five or ten minutes for more reading.

I wish the actor hadn't been amplified. I would have found it easier to understand what he was saying without it. And on the whole, I think I would have preferred to hear the quartet uninterrupted.

Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Here we got the other Janacek quartet, No. 2, "Intimate Letters," one of the musical results of Janacek's obsessive passion for Kamila Stosslova. Again, an arrangement for the strings of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra; again, played with matchless intensity by the conductorless orchestra, this time with no artificial interruptions.

I am still chewing over the second half of the concert, and undoubtedly will for the next week or so; I expect it will be the only controversial work on the program. It's the Dutch composer Reinbart De Leeuw's Im wunderschoenen Monat Mai, from 2003, and if that sounds familiar, it's because you know Schumann's song cycle Dichterliebe. What De Leeuw has done is to take 21 songs from Dichterliebe, Schubert's Winterreise, and other Schubert lieder and arranged them for two violins, viola, two cellos, double bass, piano, horn, bassoon, alto clarinet, clarinet, English horn, oboe, flute, harp, and speaker (Sprecher). The 21 songs are arranged in 3 sections of 7 songs each, and if that sounds familiar, Schoenberg used the same numerical grouping in Pierrot Lunaire.

De Leeuw's arrangements are absolutely gorgeous, an enrichment of the lieder that works beautifully, and enriches the works. They're the opposite of the two-piano version of Sacre du Printemps, which strips that work down to its rhythmic and harmonic essentials, taking away color.

But...but...I have some reservations about the Sprecher. The melodies are arranged as cabaret songs, in the Pierrot style or the style a 1920s singer. The speaker occasionally sings, but more often recites in Sprechstimme, while wandering around the stage and sometimes acting the action of the songs or obviously responding directly to what she's singing. She's also amplified, so the vocal lines don't sound quite the way you'd expect because the Speaker uses microphone rather than classical technique.

I dunno. The style is not really my thing and the ways the texts were transformed or shortened didn't usually appeal to me. Lucy Shelton, a last-minute replacement for the creator of the speaking/singing part, and did fine with it, but I had a mild sense of vertigo throughout. The songs were and were not the songs I know, so deeply were they transformed. Apparently I was more or less alone in this; the work got a standing ovation.

Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.

Marc-André Hamelin plays the Concord Sonata. Incredible playing and he hardly broke a sweat. Need I say more?

Brian at Out West Arts has a few things to say about the SoCal performances of these programs. More tomorrow, when there's Beethoven, Bolcolm, Kurtag, Berg, Hallgrimson, Sorensen, Debussy, and Grieg. If you've forgotten that tickets are $20 or $10, here's a reminder.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Inuksuit at Ojai North

Just a reminder that you'll have a rare opportunity to hear John Luther Adams's Inuksuit on Monday, June 11 - that's tomorrow - at 5 p.m. in the Faculty Glade near Hertz Hall on the UC Campus in Berkeley. It's free, and from the accounts of last Thursday's performance in Ojai, it should be wonderful.

Whether you can go or not, here's a discussion of Inuksuit with percussionist and conductor Steven Schick, and here's the Inuksuit Resource Guide, compiled by percussionist Dave Gerhart.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Hillside Club

Berkeley's Hillside Club has a fine concert series, mixing jazz, classical chamber music, and opera on a small scale. Their Cedar St. location is lovely, the hall charming, with fine acoustics and a good piano. SF Symphony players have been know to appear there in various configurations. If you'd like to get on their mailing list, click here.

Patti Smith Has Good Taste

Her five favorite operas:
  • Parsifal
  • Tristan und Isolde
  • Madama Butterfly
  • La Traviata
  • Tosca
Who said Wagner and Puccini don't go together?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

This Week in Elliott Carter

Tomorrow night, the NY Phil, under David Robertson, premiers Elliott Carter's new work Two Controversies and a Conversation. Here's a video of Mr. Carter talking about Two Controversies. Wish I could be there, hope I get to hear the piece at some point. (Robertson brings Carter's Variations for Orchestra to SFS next season, yay!)

And the other day, Bloomberg published a nice interview with Mr. Carter. Congrats on the Legion of Honor!

It's Prime Time in the USA

And tomorrow Nixon in China, a 20th c. masterpiece, is finally getting its long overdue premier at San Francisco Opera. I caught the Met HD broadcast during the 2010-11 season and fell over, it was so great. Very seriously, Nixon and Porgy and Bess are the two great American operas, taking in vastly different parts of the American experience and turning them into great music.

All that talk in the 1980s about how Nixon was a CNN opera was just silly and a major misunderstanding of Nixon. It's the composer and librettist's fantasy about what might have been going on in the hearts and minds of the characters. We never see the evil Richard Nixon, though we see the ambitious diplomat hoping for a place in history. We also see the tender husband. As a second-generation Nixon hater, it wouldn't have occurred to me that this side of him even existed.

Read SF Mike's preview. Go see it. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Many Ways to Give

A correspondent asked me about San Francisco Opera's recent fundraising letter, signed (and quite possibly written) by Frederica von Stade, raising money for the company's Great Singers Fund. Here's what I replied.

All arts organizations have to raise money and they all have different ways to do that. San Francisco Symphony, for example, has a new music fund and a visiting conductor fund, among others. If a donor has a particular interest in those areas, she might direct her annual donations there rather than to the general fund. 

SFS and SFO and every other orchestra and symphony raise money to endow player chairs. An endowed chair is essentially paid for in perpetuity because the endowment interest pays a large part or all of the salary and benefits of the player occupying the chair. The BSO has managed to endow almost all of their chairs; this greatly increases their financial stability and frees up donated money for other uses. It also means they're very, very unlikely to wind up like various orchestras (Cleveland, Philly) that are in financial hot water.

SFO has a great singer fund and a fund in support of Italian opera, and various other specialized funds. They have these funds because there are people willing to give to them.David Gockley has made it a priority to bring the best singers to SFO, and I do not find that objectionable: the quality of the singing during the Mansouri and Rosenberg years was pretty variable. 

The singer fund makes sense to have because 1) SFO's singer fees for principals just caught up with the rest of the world, and it makes sense to be competitive 2) We are at the far end of the world for singers who live in Europe. Anyone wanting to see Jonas Kaufmann sing at SFO (perhaps in the scheduledTroyens?) can increase the chances of him turning up here by throwing a little cash at that fund. 

As far as Flicka goes, they asked her to front this particular campaign because she's a great singer and is well known to be the nicest person in the world. A personal appeal from her has meaning and goes a long way. (She also has raised goodness knows how much money for St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Oakland, which serves a low-income population and has a great music program in part because of her support.)

I am not personally perturbed by any of this, and goodness knows, I'm always ready to make fun of an organization that I think has blundered in some way. Whether I donate to this fund is beside the point, but I think the opera is smart to find as many potential ways as they can for donors to feel good about where their donations go.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Season Announcement: Stanford Live

I spent the greater part of yesterday afternoon at Stanford, first attending the season announcement for what used to be Stanford Lively Arts, then touring the still-under-construction Bing Concert Hall.

Stanford Lively Arts has a new name: Stanford Live. I'm happy that there's no Yahoo!-like exclamation point at the end, unhappy about the change. Stanford Lively Arts means something. Stanford Live could be anything at all: a radio show, an online class, you name it. And its proximity to Bing Concert Hall made me put together some associations that are surely unintended:
Windows Live - Bing Search Engine
Stanford Live - Bing Concert Hall
Microsoft just killed the Windows Live brand. The Times article I link to says that nobody had any idea what it meant. Ditto Stanford Live. NOTE: Bing Concert Hall has nothing to do with Microsoft. It's named for the donors, Peter and Helen Bing.

The organization very kindly presented attendees with some nice schwag: a 2 GB thumb drive containing PDFs of the season brochure. Here's a photo (weird, I do not remember taking it upside down):

Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to plug thumb drives into my work laptop unless they're company-issued, so just now I don't have access to the season brochure, just to the press releases.

I am dismayed by the opening season: there's a smattering of new music and some interesting programs, but the season calling card is 14 programs focussed on...............Beethoven. Music professor Stephen Hinton listed a few benefits to the campus of this focus, saying that it will be a model of integrated programming. They will link to other events and classes:
  •   Freshman seminar
  •   Reactions to the Record 2014 
  •   George Barth in the music dept will teach a related seminar
  •   Continuging Ed class
  •   Research Seminar: Enlightenment and Revolution; Heroism in the Age of Beethoven
During the Q&A period, I asked Stanford's personnel to elaborate on their ideas for new audience development, and also asked how the focus on Beethoven would further audience development. Stephen Hinton handed this off to Wiley Hausam, the recently-appointed managing director of Bing Concert Hall. His answer included "The integration of Beethoven into Stanford's curriculum, student-driven programming, getting students into a concert setting who may not have heard classical music in such a setting, friends and family of students, ongoing exploration; the awakening of those things we feel when we hear such masterpieces."

In the press release, Stanford Symphony conductor Jindong Cai is quoted saying   “The opening of Bing Concert Hall will change the landscape of music-making on the Stanford campus. In keeping with the magnitude of this change, the Beethoven Project will represent a signature endeavor for the Department of Music and the perfect series of events with which to begin our residency in the hall.” Color me skeptical. What this looks like from the outside is a play-it-safe season.

The inaugural program at Bing Hall has been announced, and there's no new work, though we will get to hear works by "maverick" composers John (Coolidge) Adams and Lou Harrison.

New music during the season will include works by Laurie Anderson, a John Luther Adams commission, the US premier of a work by Steve Reich (on an all-Reich program performed by the composer and alarm will sound), and two short operas by Stanford composer Jonathan Berger (to be performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the male ensemble NY Polyphony, and others).

Kaiser Stanford?

Then we decamped for a visit to under-construction Bing Concert Hall. It's very much a construction site; the exterior glass is installed, but within you see mostly concrete and cinder block, with Romex all over the place and occasional wallboard. The sails and cloud, part of the hall's acoustical design, are installed, but not the interior wood, seats, stage, etc.

I am sure the hall will sound great, considering that the acoustics are designed by Yasuhisa Toyota of Walt Disney Concert Hall fame, and the interior design seems lovely. Excellent storage and practice spaces are provided, and fine amenities for performers as well as visitors. I sincerely hope that the seats will be roomy and comfortable.

The exterior is projected to look like this:

(Screen capture from Stanford Live's web site)

Here's what it currently looks like, from the rear of the building, in a photo I took yesterday:

The turquoise stuff will be gone, but the entire building is that uniform ochre color. I think it is ugly and monolithic, and makes the building look remarkably like a current-generation Kaiser Permanente medical office building. Perhaps there will be decorative elements breaking up the mass of light adobe; perhaps it will look better in different life. Perhaps it's intended to match older stone buildings on campus. Perhaps it will look better from other angles.

But...what counts most is how it sounds and how it functions as a concert hall. We'll find all of that out in January.


Stephen Hinton and Jenny Bilfield were extremely enthused about the effect on Stanford of having Bing Hall. I heard the phrase "game-changer" more than once. I heard about the "community, harmony, and intimacy" that would be created by the seating arrangement in the hall, with the audience arrayed around the stage and the "orchestra" section audience level with the stage.

Well - I'm not sure how Stanford is measuring the effects of Bing Hall to tell whether it develops community and changes the game. Certainly having a new facility with great rehearsal spaces can provide new opportunities to students and faculty alike. There was some mention of community organizations using the hall. I asked whether rental rates would be set to make use of Bing Hall affordable by community groups (remember the giant rental rate increases at the Legion of Honor, which chased a few groups out?), and got some hemming and hawing. They hope so, but they're thinking of community organizations working in collaboration with Stanford organizations and departments. That could be a way to exclude community organizations that don't meet the standard of "collaboration." I hope that's not the case.

Separated at Birth Redux

San Francisco Opera logo:

LA Opera logo:

Stanford Live (sic) logo:

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Other Mary Magdalen

The one that wasn't commissioned by San Francisco Opera, that is. Reviews of the new John Adams / Peter Sellars oratorio are starting to trickle in; I will update this as more become available:
  • Joshua Kosman in the Chron, quotation corrected ("resourceful and sprawlingly dynamic score," "fitting counterpart [to El Nino]")
  • Tim Mangan in San Francisco Classical Voice ("...a rather grueling evening of music....perhaps less would have been more")
  • Zachary Woolfe in the NY Times ("big and ambitious, churning but ultimately limp, with moments of beauty among the longeurs")
  • Mark Swed in the LA Times, who notes that Adams's 90-minute commission turned into 135. I'm having problems parsing this review, because Swed calls it a masterpiece but doesn't say why.
  • Alex Ross does not have a full review yet, but on his blog says "some of the strongest - and also some of the strangest - music of the composer's career."
  • Mr. CKDH at All is Yar ("...despite its many charms...ultimately a ponderous, disjointed work that falls apart under its own weight")
  • Brian Lauritzen of On the Air ("big and important")
  • Robert D. Thomas at Class Act ("very important, stunningly performed")
  • Brian at Out West Arts ("After two hearings, I'm still not sure if the piece is utter genius or something decidedly less memorable. But I do feel certain that this is a major step in a new direction for Adams.)
Okay, despite Mark Adamo's generous comments on his blog, the libretto sounds like an eclectic mess. I'm curious about the piece, but considering that I hated El Nino last time it was performed at SFS, maybe I'll give it a pass when it's fully staged next year.


CNN's announcers don't seem to understand that those poor people getting soaked on top of the London Philharmonic's barge on the Thames are not the London Philharmonic, they are a bunch of singers. The orchestra members may be freezing, but they're safely glassed in and dry.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Palazzo Bardi

The NY Times Real Estate section runs lots of articles about high-end real estate. Often, these apartments or houses are situated in New York City, which of course has some of the most expensive real estate in the world - but there's a whole section, Great Homes & Destinations, that covers high-end real estate internationally.

This week, Great Homes has an article about the Palazzo Bardi, where, in the late 16th century, the Florentine Camerata met to try to recreate Greek drama. What they actually did was to invent opera.

The Palazzo is now divided into apartments, and the space that housed the theater is now someone's home. The Times article says that the family wanted to preserve the open space of the theater, but it doesn't sound as though they really did, since they built a big structure within the old theater. And this makes me sad.

The Fall of Higher Education in California

Here we've got a NY Times article talking about the current state of the California public higher education system. Drastic budget cuts over the last decade and much higher fees & tuition have not only greatly limited who could obtain a college education, they're now very, very obviously affecting the quality of what's offered. Note the quotations from a guy from the Harold Jarvis Taxpayers' Association, who wants lower taxes regardless of the effect, but who is hiding behind seemingly-reasonable comments about demand. Look, it's hard to get a job, any job, these days without college. And an increasingly complex world needs more, not fewer, well-educated people.

How does this bear on an arts blog? Well, if UC is thinking about cutting departments and programs, we know based on what has happened in the public schools that music and art will be the first to go - because how many jobs are there in those fields? UCLA might not need that music school, and UC Berkeley might not need those doctoral programs in musicology and composition.

Much of the future of the university system rests on tax increases that are on the ballot for voter approval next fall. This is a fruit of century-ago populism, where direct democracy was considered a good counterweight to corrupt public officials. Guess what? Public officials aren't much cleaner....and the proposition system has brought us disastrous laws such as Prop. 13 (which severely limits tax increases unless there's a supermajority for the increase) and three strikes.

The California public schools - K-12 - have also suffered greatly because of Prop. 13. Real estate taxes are now based less on the value of your house than on how long you've owned it. Low taxe rates can be inherited from your parents. It's a crazy system. The California schools were the pride of the nation, as my late boss Marty O'Brien used to say in the 1980s. Prop. 13 wrecked that: out went music and art classes, out went reading specialists and teachers' aides in every classroom, class sizes increased, out went school nurses and phys ed, and on and on. Yes, I consider this to be part of the ongoing Republican war on spending money on things that, you know, help people.

Vote for the tax increase. We need it if this state isn't going to further collapse.

Judith Nelson

Soprano Judith Nelson, long a bright light of the early music revival nationally and in the Bay Area, has died at 72 of Alzheimer's disease. I heard her beautiful voice live a few times long ago; she made many recordings.

Friday, June 01, 2012

One of Us! One of Us!

Paul Krugman and Robin Wells are fans of Jordi Savall.

Ojai North!

Email from Cal Performances the other day mentions that all Ojai North! tickets are now priced at $10 and $20 each. All performances are at Hertz Hall (with one exception) on June 12-14, and, you know, it's an all-star lineup of great music and performers. Take a look.

John Luther Adams's Inuksuit, which is being performed at 5 p.m. on Monday, June 11, is free; it's also (sob) the only concert I can't get to. But I'm planning to be at the rest.