Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Just How Flooded is Lincoln Center?

The New York Philharmonic has just issued a press release noting that the concert they have scheduled for 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday evening, at Avery Fisher, has been cancelled:

Due to the continuing ramifications of Hurricane Sandy, the New York Philharmonic has cancelled the Rush Hour concert scheduled for Wednesday, October 31, at 6:45pm, at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.  This decision has been made in the interest of the safety and well-being of the Musicians of the Orchestra, our audience, and additional personnel associated with the concert presentation.

Ticket holders can exchange their tickets any time within the next week for any other New York Philharmonic subscription during the 2012-13 season.  They can make the exchange online at nyphil.org, via telephone by calling 212-875-5656, or in person at the Avery Fisher Hall Box Office.  They can also request a refund online at customerservice@nyphil.org, by calling Customer Relations at 212-875-5656, or in person at Avery Fisher Hall. 
However, the Met's home page says that while today's scheduled Turandot is cancelled, tomorrow's performance of The Tempest will go on as planned.

The state of Lincoln Center (and the safety of the Met's personnel) aside, as far as I can tell, the buses and subways won't be running as usual tomorrow, so I'm wondering just how the Met audience is expected to get to the opera house. Gondola, perhaps?

Google on Windows 8

You may have seen indicators that the Windows 8 user interface is vastly different from anything that has come before it. It looks sort of like the periodic table of the elements:

Apparently this buries Google services. On Windows 8, setting Google as your preferred search engine or changing the default browser now take many more steps.

Google has set up a web site to help. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thar She Blows!

San Francisco Opera was a co-commissioner of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's Moby-Dick, an adaptation of Herman Melville's towering saga, and two years after its Dallas premiere, the opera arrived a couple of weeks ago at the War Memorial Opera House. The production and cast, with one exception, were those of the premiere.

The exception, of course, was that sometime during the rehearsal period, Ben Heppner, who created Ahab, dropped out for personal reasons, with Jay Hunter Morris taking all of the performances rather than the two he'd originally been scheduled for. You can bet I've spent some time pondering whether "personal reasons" means a family member having surgery, or that Heppner wasn't sounding good enough, or that he wasn't looking good enough - not that I think Ahab has any particular look, but Heppner is a big guy and this production is being recorded for eventual TV broadcast.

In any event, I think you could say that Moby-Dick both exceeded and met my expectations. Heggie has grown enormously as a composer since Dead Man Walking. I found the latter almost completely forgettable, with the exception of Susan Graham's radiant singing of a spiritual and Frederica von Stade's brilliant and anguished scene as the mother of the condemned man.

By contrast, Moby-Dick is a feast for the ears, one beautiful orchestral moment succeeding another, mixing arias, duets, and ensembles deftly, and flowing beautifully along. The orchestration is layered on richly, and there's no sense that he's marking time with infinite ostinato, which was a big problem with Dead Man Walking. I was happy with Patrick Summers's conducting, though I think the piece could have moved along more urgently a few times.

The staging is spectacular, matching the music: the deck of the Pequod and below decks are shown using a couple of different stage levels; projections show some of the ship's movements, and, well, it's all quite lovely. There's just one failure, and it's big and obvious: if you didn't know the story going in, you could never guess that Moby-Dick stoves in and sinks the Pequod. This is fixable, and it's rather surprising that it hasn't been fixed yet.

The cast is just about flawless in their execution. Jonathan Lemalu, whom I disliked in El Nino a couple of years ago, is exactly right as Queequeg, his gravely, hefty baritone well suited for the part. (If anyone is thinking of changing him out, try Quinn Kelsey; he is also an islander, from Hawaii, and has a much more beautiful voice.) Stephen Costello, as Greenhorn, sings sweetly and affectingly; Talise Trevigne makes a convincing young Pip and has one of the best solos in the piece, which she sings high above the stage on a wire after Pip goes overboard and nearly drowns. Morgan Smith is a sonorous Starbuck, joining Brian Mulligan and Kelsey among the talented young baritones we've been seeing lately in SF. Robert Orth and Matthew O'Neill are excellent as Stubb and Flask.

And then there's Jay Hunter Morris, limping around on a pegleg (and consequently rather limited in the scenery-chewing department), glaring a lot, singing well, and unfortunately not coming across very strongly as the crazed and demonic Ahab.

A friend who saw the primo in Dallas tells me that Heppner was a good deal more effective, and I can believe that: I've seen Heppner's Tristan, and boy howdy was his Act III searing. But I think the major problem is the music itself and the organization of the libretto.

Now, I think the libretto is pretty damned impressive. Scheer took an enormous novel and devised a libretto that does a good job of portraying both life at sea and the intricate relationships among the characters. But it's a compact libretto and opera and what's missing is Ahab's insanity and his obsessive and fanatical desire to Get That Whale. I seriously wonder whether they were deliberately trying to bring the opera in at no more than three hours and whether that limited what they put on stage.

More to the point, the music is so beautiful that it simply fails to portray Ahab's obsessions with any power. If you closed your eyes, you'd hear a lot of beautiful music and have little idea of how nuts he is. Putting it another way, Heggie taps into Rosenkavalier when he needed to mine the Elektra vein. Now there's someone obsessed, and there's a musical language that can portray rage and insanity and hatred. Stop trying to be so accessible, Jake, and let the craziness rip.

Sing Along with SFRV

San Francisco Renaissance Voices has a fund-raising singalong this Wednesday, Halloween. It should be great fun!

Cut & paste from their email:

October 31 - 7:30 pm  
7th Avenue Presbyterian Church
1329-7th Avenue (between Irving & Judah Streets), San Francisco

Ever wonder what it would be like to sing with
San Francisco Renaissance Voices? Well, here's your chance!!  Join us and our host as Artists-in-Residence, Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church, on Halloween for a All Saints/All Souls Days Sing-a-Long of Tomás Luis de Victoria's Misa O Quam Gloriosum and Quam Gloriosum motet with readings of remembrance for the dead.  Then event should last just over an hour so there's still plenty of time to hit the streets for trick or treating and all of your Halloween parties; and be sure not to be late - our guest conductor Don Scott Carpenter has promised us a prelude of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor to start the event!
A limited number of both scores will be available at the event for $20; however we recommend you print a free score of both the motet and mass (motet is about a third of the way down the page and the mass about two-thirds down the page; mass is separated by sections so be sure to print all of them) by CLICKING HERE.
This is no trick!  Entrance to the event is free, however a free-will offering will be taken; and we hope you will treat us with a donation at the concert that benefits San Francisco Renaissance Voices and the music programs at Seventh Avenue. 


What I expected:
  • Kristin Sigmundsson to sound awful, based on June's Magic Flute
  • Brian Mulligan to be a very good King's Herald
  • Gerd Grochowski to know how the music should go but lack enough voice to do what he wanted to do with it
  • Petra Lang to be a pretty good Ortrud, based on her Venus in 2007
  • Camilla Nylund to be a good Elsa, based on reports from a friend
  • Brandon Jovanovich to shout a lot, based on last year's Siegmund
  • Nicola Luisotti to be dubious. I hated his Salome.
What I got:
  • Sigmundsson was a completely respectable, at times much better than that, King Henry. Sure, he is audibly approaching retirement, but I have heard much, much worse, from him and other contemporaries.
  • Yep,  Mulligan was a very good King's Herald. Okay, better than that: I'll take him up to excellent.
  • Grochowski was exactly what I expected. He's a good singer, but Wagner? Not enough voice. His bio in the program says he is slated for some Wotans. No way, no how, unless they're in a 900 seat theater someplace.
  • Lang absolutely sucked. Hooty, pushed, glottal attacks in about every other phrase, and just plain unpleasant to listen to most of the time. One of the worst performances in a major role that I have heard. Too bad!
  • Nylund was good, not great; not as good as I thought she'd be, but definitely respectable. She had the requisite fragility and vulnerability, not much of the silvery float you hope for in Elsa.
  • BJo hit the role out of the park, just a terrific performance. Okay, I'll cop to some crooning, or anyway a whole lot of head mixed into his usual tone, in that first entrance. But vocally it was extremely beautiful, with not a bit of shouting. He maintained a fine line throughout, high notes were easy, the middle and lower part beautiful. Impeccable, really, good enough that I'd consider a return trip.
  • Except for a weirdly draggy first-act Prelude and a lack of urgency a couple of times further on (Elsa & Lohengrin's Act III duet, for instance), Luisotti was fine. I can't complain.
And the production? Sometimes quite good - the lightbox with flowers and garlands for their bedroom worked very well - sometimes failing a bit (why on earth was the crowd not looking at Lohengrin during his approach??) - mostly reasonably consistent and dramatic enough. The planned contrast between the uniformed forces and the partisans? resistance? didn't come off, but the production did not get in the way.

The orchestra played well; the brass was spectacular; the chorus absolutely heroic and gorgeous.

(Right. Lohengrin, San Francisco Opera, October 28, 2012.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Einstein on the Beach

My SFCV review of Einstein on the Beach went up around 1 p.m. today, just as the Lohengrin prelude started. I think I did not quite succeed in putting over just how much I liked it; I was somewhat surprised by just how likable a work it is, and how engrossing. I seriously expected to be driven slightly mad by it - you might remember that I fled Davies 3/4 of the way through Music in Twelve Parts - and I can now confess that I had along a couple of squares of chocolate, two ginger cookies, a thermos of tea, and a flask of very good single malt Scotch. I did not have to resort to the Scotch. Well, okay, I took a sip on my personal intermission. And a couple of sections were loud enough that I'm extremely glad that Robert Rossney mentioned earplugs when we chatted Friday afternoon.

My personal intermission ended around when Philip Glass's started. I know this because he was sitting across the aisle from me; you bet that I regret not grabbing him while the lights were up and getting his autograph. I can also report that he came back from his break just after 9, and I know this because I saw the time when he checked his smartphone, which has a large and very bright screen. I think it was too darned big to be an iPhone, so, presumably: Android.

If you're at all interested in Einstein, try to see it on this tour. It's just not going to get done very often, between the intensity of rehearsal that it needs and the expense of the actors, dancers, singers, and musicians. And it is well worth seeing.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hans Werner Henze

Composer Hans Werner Henze has died, age 86. Obituaries are starting to appear in English:

No Lysistrata

Jacques Desjardins writes to tell me that Opera Parallel felt that after producing The Great Gatsby, it would be premature to stage Lysistrata, which is postponed to a future time.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ensemble > Opera Parallel

Ensemble Parallel has changed its name to Opera Parallel and announced a full season of opera:
  • February 15, 16, and 17: Golijav's Ainadamar at YBCA
  • April 26, 27, and 28: Barber's A Hand of Bridge and a re-orchestrated version of Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti at ZSpace
  • June 7: a reading of Dante de Silva's Gesualdo, Prince of Darkness Madness at SF Conservatory of Music
Missing from the announcement is any mention of the previously-announced February, 2013 performances of Mark Adamo's Lysistrata. I have various inquiries out, but no responses yet.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Corporate Governance and the Return of James Levine

Last week, the Met released information about James Levine's long-awaited return to the podium; at the same time, the Times posted an exclusive story that included remarks from Levine himself about everything that's been going on. Responses have been pleased but also muted and skeptical; read Anne Midgette and Alex Ross's blog postings, and also my own. In a review of the Met Orchestra's concert this week, Anthony Tommasini mentioned reality checks.

The long silence, followed by news of the extent of Levine's injuries and confirmation that he has benign Parkinson's reminds me all too much of the period when Steve Jobs looked ill, but nobody at Apple was saying anything. Eventually, it came out that Jobs had liver cancer and had had a liver transplant. As we know, Jobs eventually died of his illness.

Apple is a publicly traded company and has a legal responsibility under securities law to make known material information that could affect its earnings. If it were not enormously profitable, with new and updated products rolling out over the last few years, you can bet that stockholders would have been asking questions about the company's failure to inform regulators and the public of the specifics of Jobs's illness. In the long run, his death will surely affect Apple; can anyone imagine him letting the new Apple Maps product out the door in its current condition?

As a non-profit arts organization, the Met has no such legal responsibilities, and Levine is not mortally ill, but the situation with him raises issues similar to those at Apple:
  • Who takes Levine's responsibilities at the Met during his absence and recovery?
  • What happens if Levine can't come back full time?
  • What plans does the Met Board of Directors have for succession?
James Levine has been at the Met since 1971 and has been music director since 1976, a remarkable tenure by any measure. (I'm curious about conductors who've been with one institution for so long; please post numbers in the comments. Yes, there's Ozawa's 29 years at the BSO.) One can hardly exaggerate Levine's importance and influence - but (all current health issues aside) he's not going to live forever.

It's the Board's responsibility, first and foremost, to take care of the institution, but it looks as though their primary concern right now is taking care of James Levine. I understand their desire to have him as active as possible in an organization he has helped shape for so long. But their evident reluctance to contemplate life without Levine is a serious concern. It is not good for the Met to be so dependent on one individual.

Look at the schedule for his return: he is current attending to administrative and some musical duties, after being away for well over a year. He will conduct one concert in May, 2013, and appears scheduled for perhaps 20 performances in the 2013-14 season. This is appropriately cautious, considering the severity of his injuries and the uncertainties inherent in recovering from them. Still, for comparison, in the 1990-91 season, he appears to have conducted 57 performances, based on a search of the Met archive. When will he be able to take on a heavier workload? At the earliest, two seasons from now.

Even if he comes back as currently scheduled, he'll be 70 by next season. For how many more years does the board think a 70-year-old with a history of serious health problems can run an institution the size of the Met?  Levine is one fall (or car accident) away from another catastrophe. The Met's planning needs to include that as a possibility.

Alex Ross's blog posting, to which I linked above, noted that "...the Met seems lost without him." That points to a lack of leadership depth and poor planning on the Met's part. We know how well this works out by looking at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, now in its second season of guest conductors.

I believe that the Met is making a mistake by letting Levine's recovery and return drag out over such a long period of time. It is an enormous gamble. Except, perhaps, for Apple, no responsible for-profit corporation would let this kind of leadership vacuum develop.

For the sake of the Met, the board's best path might very well be naming Levine Music Director Emeritus, letting him conduct and work with singers as much as he's able, and naming a younger and healthier conductor to the post of Music Director. Who this might be remains to be seen. Fabio Luisi told the Times this week that he cannot cover for Levine next season, and it certainly doesn't sound as though he is in line to succeed Levine. I've seen only one rumor in the last year or so about a possible replacement ("former music director of a large US opera company," on Parterre Box some months ago). This week's article also says that the Met has "not yet addressed" who would cover for Levine in 2013-14.

Really? There is no guarantee that any performer will be on stage for any future commitment. Levine's recent history means the Met must have covers in place for those performances.

This year or last, during Levine's absence and recovery, would have made a good transition period. If he attempts to return and can't do it, it will be that much more difficult, unless the Met has a secret transition plan and secret music director candidate up its sleeve.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How We Do It

Today, Google is revealing more about our data centers than we ever have before. The Official Google Blog has the basic story, with links to a nifty web site that has gorgeous photos of a number of the data centers. Steven Levy's Wired article goes into some detail about the Lenoir data center, where I spent a couple of days myself in August. Here it is at night, viewed from a nearby hill, in fact:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

And a Very Happy Birthday

The great composer Kaija Saariaho is 60 today, October 14, 2012. Here's her Fall, for harp and electronics.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Future Seasons

I've put up a Future Seasons page for San Francisco Opera: information found on the web, blabbed by singers, etc.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tickets Offered (Not by Me)

A friend writes:
Speaking of Moby Dick, I have a ticket for the performance on the 30th, but won't be back by then. We'll be underway down the east coast then. It's for "Orchestra Premium E 106". I'd like to get some cash for it, but that's not essential. 
I also have Berkeley Rep and ACT tickets for that time frame. 
If you're interested, let me know and I'll put you in touch with Doug.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Now We Know

A press release from the Met announces some upcoming conducting engagements for Music Director James Levine, starting next spring. The details make it rather clear why the Met has been so closed-mouthed about Levine's health. That fall in August, 2011? It left him partially paralyzed.

He's scheduled to conduct:
  • A Met Orchestra concert on May 19, 2013, at Carnegie
  • Falstaff new production in 2013-14
  • Cosi fan tutte revival in 2013-14
  • Wozzeck revival in 2013-14
 Despite his condition, his doctors "expressed uniform optimism about his ability to resume conducting," but:
While his upper body strength has returned and he is progressing with his rehabilitation, the injuries have left him temporarily unable to walk. For the time being, he will conduct from a motorized wheelchair, which he also uses to move about. In anticipation of his return, the Met’s technical department is designing customized, elevating podiums that will be utilized on the Carnegie Hall stage and in the Met’s orchestra pit.
I saw a rumor at Parterre Box that Levine was seen in a wheelchair there recently. If he was there, well, yep.

Then there's this:
Dr. Stanley Fahn, the H. Houston Merritt Professor of Neurology at Columbia University, has been treating Levine for the disease in recent years. He said, “Since 1994, Maestro Levine has shown symptoms of Parkinson disease. They mainly affected his legs and also caused a mild tremor in his left hand. Fortunately, the symptoms have changed little over the years and have been suppressed with medication. This lack of progression indicates a benign form of Parkinson’s, rather than the more typical form, in which symptoms steadily worsen. In the past, Maestro Levine’s symptoms were aggravated by the stress of severe back pain. Now that he is pain-free, his mild Parkinsonism should have little impact on his quality of life and his return to conducting. His upper body strength and dexterity are quite remarkable.”
Hoo boy. I will admit to some skepticism about the extent of his involvement in the Met going forward. I suspect there's a photo of Otto Klemperer on his desk these days.

Dan Wakin interviewed Levine yesterday and has a story on the Times front page right now.

Full press release after the cut.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

SFO Moby-Dick Video


SFO has a video posted on YouTube with excerpts from Moby-Dick. At the end of the video, you see the fully-lighted interior of the theater and see and hear a cheering crowd.

The implication: Moby-Dick is a great success! Everybody loves it!

The actuality: the show is opening tonight. No audiences have yet applauded Moby in San Francisco.

Please don't do this kind of thing. It's a form of lying to your audience.

San Francisco Symphony Chamber Music Lineup

SFS has announced their chamber music series for the 2012-13 season, and it's a first-class mix of the familiar and unfamiliar. Updating to put the schedule after the cut.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Separated at Birth?

On one side, we have I Capuleti at San Franciso Opera and the Bavarian State Opera, on the other side, Phantom of the Opera someplace or other. Which is which?

Monday, October 08, 2012

NCCO, Britten & Bartok

I had originally decided not to attend NCCO's first program, then had a change of plans and Patrick had an available ticket. So off to Herbst, where we were in the fourth row.

That's too close for me, and it created some problems. I don't like the music to go over my head, and I like some hall perspective. This didn't much affect Britten's Simple Symphony much (it is a charmer) or the Bartok Divertimento, which got a fine performance.

But I was way too close to soprano Melody Moore, who sang Britten's Les Illuminations, close enough to be annoyed by a couple of extra-musical and a couple of musical issues. She was dressed...vaguely informally, in a way I did not like: her jacket wasn't the same black as her pants, and her hair was informally disheveled. And during the performance, I thought there was an excessive amount of what amounted to nudge-nudge, wink-wink with NCCO's leader, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. There were so many knowing looks between them that it was like watching a bunch of in-jokes happening on stage.

So that was annoying. On the musical side - well, I was too close for much perspective, so I can't say much about balances and so on. I can say that when I reviewed Moore in this same music a few years back, with NCCO during Axel Strauss's audition concert, I complained about her French. I'm sorry to say that it hasn't improved, and boy, was that distracting. To the extent that I remember that program and this, I would also say that the orchestra in the earlier performance was crisper than it was this year.

Monday, October 01, 2012

MacArthur Fellows 2012

The fellowships have been announced! Several are musicians or closely connected to music:

  • Claire Chase, brilliant flutist and founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)
  • Benoit Rolland, bow maker
  • Chris Thil, mandolinist
(The David Finkel who won a fellowship is not David Finckel the cellist.)