Friday, November 30, 2012

Balance Exercises Class

I'm teaching a simple balance exercises class next month and have two spaces open in it. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Studio 12 (next door to Berkeley Tool Lending Library)
Sawtooth Building
8th St. at Dwight Way
$20 (no one turned away for lack of funds)
Let me know if you'd like to attend. No special equipment required.

Found in the Obits

In the obituary for guitarist Mickey Baker:

In the early 1960s, he moved to France, first to Paris and later to Toulouse, and he rarely returned to the United States.
He studied composition and theory with the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, among other teachers, and experimented on his own, playing and writing in a variety of forms, including classical music; he wrote a series of fugues and inventions for guitar and a concerto, “The Blues Suite,” for guitar and orchestra.
An opera buff, he built a personal collection of record albums that numbered more than 200,000, his daughter, Heath Kern Gibson, said.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Maybe They'll Get It Right This Time

Third time's a charm (we hope): Avery Fisher Hall to get yet another makeover.

NYPO is already thinking about where they might perform during the two years the hall is unavailable. New York State Theater? Park Avenue Armory?

Carnegie Hall?

Some high school auditoriums?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Grawemeyer to van der Aa

Michel van der Aa wins the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Musical Composition, for his Up-Close, which evidently hasn't been played in the US yet. Has it been recorded?

WQXR's Q2 branch sends a weekly newletter, and this week they say that van der Aa is the second consecutive Dutch composer to win this prize. Oh, people, please copy-edit and fact-check these statements a little more carefully. Here are the last three winners:

2013 - Michel van der Aa
2012 - Esa-Pekka Salonen
2011 - Louis Andriessen

I know why this happened; the Grawemeyer web page lists winners from 2011 backwards and apparently hasn't updated to include Salonen's prize. But that means Q2 didn't notice the gap from 2011 to 2013.

Update: Fixed typo in the 2011 winner's name; h/t Zwölftöner for catching the error. See the comments for other interesting remarks. Also, Q2's story has been corrected on line.

Social Media Stupidity

As I'm sure you have all noticed, not all organizations are clued in about how to use social media effectively. San Francisco Opera has an eye-roller today on its Facebook page: a photo of martial arts great Bruce Lee and the following text:
This day in 1940 Bruce Lee was born. We can't help considering the incomparable martial arts star as part of our opera family. He was born right here in San Francisco while his father--Cantonese opera star Lee Hoi-Chuen--was on tour.
For heaven's sake. Could the connection be more tenuous? 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tanglewood 2013

I have the BSO's press release for Tanglewood 2013 in hand. More details later this week, but here are a few items of interest.

  • Women don't conduct at Tanglewood.
  • Women don't appear as soloists, either. Oh wait, there's Anne Sophie von Otter, and there's BSO principal flutist Elizabeth Rowe. And Christine Schaffer. And Erin Wall and Audra MacDonald. Okay, lots of stuff you can't do without women singing!
  • Women don't write music that's performed at Tanglewood. The contemporary music festival will focus on five composers, four of whom are living, one of whom is recently deceased, all of whom are male.
Honestly, the long parade of male names is pretty appalling. 

The King of Nerds

Nate Silver, the King of Nerds, came to Nerdistan today; he's signing copies of The Signal and the Noise in the photo above. I wish we'd had an even bigger tech talk room for him, because the room was completely filled and into videoconferencing overflow by 15 minutes before the talk. His book also sold out, though I think there is some way for me to order a discounted copy.

He didn't exactly give a talk; he answered questions from Googlers and from chief economist Hal Varian, who moderated. Nobody asked for Nate's hand in marriage, which surprised me a bit. He discussed bias in polls, and among other things said that Rasumussen's model for making money apparently includes being Republican leaning, while Gallup is just doing things wrong in various ways.  I hope this event will go up on YouTube (probably it will).

Here are a few choice quotations, as best I caught them:
It's an honor for me to be here, because you're just about the smartest company around as far as using data and statistics.
Five thirty eight is about making journalism smarter.
The food in the NY Times cafeteria is not as good as the food in the Google cafeterias.
There was a point where Gingrich looked pike he might be the candidate and that is where he became a pinata for the other candidates. Obama vs Gingrich would not have gotten a better outcome for the Republicans.
He also said at some point that it's problem for the Republicans that they are now the anti-empiricist party.

Rolling Jubilee

Want to help out Americans in need?

Rolling Jubilee buys up debt at debt-collector rates, five cents on the dollar....and then forgives the debt. Even $5 or $10 helps. Take a look and donate what you can.

Isaiah Sheffer

Isaiah Sheffer, founder and guiding light of Symphony Space, died earlier this month; his NY Times obit is here. There's a memorial on December 17, 5-7 p.m. at, yes, Symphony Space.

Symphony Space is home to all sorts of musical performances, and of course the annual reading of Ulysses. In the days before it became positively trendy to perform in unusual locations, Symphony Space must have looked like a huge gamble.

Rest in peace; Symphony Space lives on and prospers, the best possible memorial.

The Dialogue

You can see the responses to the save-classical-music Invitation to a Dialogue in the NY Times here. As I predicted, there is nothing new or unexpected in the responses. I wish that just one person had questioned the whole notion that classical music is dying. Yes, some institutions are in a bad way because of bad management and the recession, but remember: a few years ago, Alex Ross counted 50 new music ensembles in NYC, where in the 1970s there had been 2. 

To the guy who apparently stopped attending classical concerts because of one stupid question from a fellow audience member, come to San Francisco Symphony, where khakis and a polo shirt will make you more formally dressed than about half the audience. If you like the music, buy tickets, ignore the dopes, and enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

So Much to be Thankful For

For my excellent partner and our happy, peaceful, home; our creatures (as horrible as they sometimes are); for work I like and care about at an endlessly fascinating company; for Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu and my students, who are coming to class and don't seem to care that I'm short, fat, and creaky; for those of you who read me and those of you I read; for Patrick for our endlessly interesting and amusing correspondence; for MTT & SFS (and especially the incredibly centenary season); for SF Opera and the great singers who've appeared there; for John Adams and Mark Adamo; for GRRM, P.C. Hodgell, and Hilary Mantel; for Anthony Trollope and Robertson Davies; for Paul Krugman, Nate Silver, Barack Obama (and the team that got the president re-elected); for Janos Gereben and Joshua Kosman; for Carpana Antico, Hendricks, and the Balvanie; for so much more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


H/T Intermezzo for the pointer to this possibly-recognizable tune:

Wouldn't you know? Marc-Andre Hamelin has also recorded Isoldina.


JDD in Concert and on Record

Joyce DiDonato is giving a concert tonight at Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, and how I wish I could be there, given her stellar performance in I Capuleti and her jaw-dropping virtuosity at the Flicka Gala a year ago.

If you can't be there, consider picking up a copy of Drama Queens, a juicy and satisfying CD of arias from sundry Baroque operas, some by composers you've never heard of. She is just wonderful.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Marianne Cherkasskaya

My icon here and there is a Russian soprano named Marianne Cherkasskaya. I got the image from eBay I don't know how many years ago.

Cherkasskaya made some recordings, I've found! Here they are. She's good.

From Ruslan:

 From Queen of Spades:

Invitation to a Dialogue?


The NY Times has a more or less weekly feature called Invitation to a Dialogue. They pick out a letter to the editor on some subject of interest and invite interested readers to respond; the original letter writer then gets to write a response to the responses.

This week, former Met Opera Orchestra violinist Les Dreyer, who gets letters published in the Times with remarkably frequency, has a letter discussing how to save classical music.

Well, it's not even clear to me that classical music needs saving. I won't say much about why, but I've written about the subject plenty over the years. Mr. Dreyer doesn't come close to defining all of the issues and problems facing classical music. After all, you could write a book about this - and indeed, a few people have or are trying to (hi, Greg!).

I can't imagine the resulting letters will saying anything that hasn't been said at great length and with more detail than we've already seen in the last few years.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Elections, Vote Suppression, and Vote "Fraud"

Some months ago, I asked a knowledgable friend about resources related to voting issues such as vote suppression and vote fraud. He suggested the following:
  • Rick Hasen, The Voting Wars
  • Andrew Gumbel, Steal This Vote
  • Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote
  • Joseph Harris, Election Administration in the United States, possibly available at the Federal Elections Commission's web site
  • Web search on the names John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky, academic advocates for more restrictions on voting
Hoping to get to them by 2016.....

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Carter Obituaries & Blog Postings

There'll be more.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Let Me Count the Ways 2

No, actually, the goofs are uncountable in this "review" of Philharmonia Baroque at the Mondavi Center in Davis. Megan Ihnen, whom I follow on Twitter, pointed us to it, terming it the worst review ever.

She might be right. The "reviewer" thinks you use sticks on a bassoon - maybe in some 20th c. piece, but not in Beethoven, you don't - confuses "base" with "bass," doesn't know what a fortepiano is (I bet the program notes said something about this...), and thinks Nic McGegan referred to Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto as a Baroque work. I, uh, can't imagine circumstances in which Nic would say such a thing.

If you ever find yourself wondering why it's important that music critics know something about music, just re-read this travesty.

You Be the Judge.

Hot and cold running Toscas, from San Francisco Opera:

I feel sure you can tell which is which, even with your eyes closed.

Anti-Abortion Laws Kill Adult Women

Terrifying and tragic story from Ireland: a woman in the midst of miscarriage, 17 weeks into her pregnancy, was denied a swift termination of the pregnancy and died several days later of septicemia.

That's right, she was miscarrying, but the doctors would not perform an abortion, which would have saved her life.

I'm linking above to a blog at the Irish Times. There've been protests and vigils both in and outside Ireland. The Indian ambassador to Ireland is going to pay a call on the Irish PM: this is turning into an international incident, because Savita Halappanavar was an Indian citizen.

It is a disgrace, a criminal act. When you hear the phrase "war on women," think of Savita Halappanavar's death.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Drama at the War Memorial

Act II of tonight's opening Tosca was delayed when Angela Gheorghiu was taken ill and went to the hospital. Melody Moore stepped in and, according to a tweet from Richard Scheinin, burned the house down in Act II.

Can't wait to see the reviews and am rather sorry I turned down a review opportunity!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Change of Name

The SF Opera Future Seasons page is a little more general now, given some interesting information found on Stefan Margita's web site.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Revenge of the Nerds

One thing about the election season just past: the nerds got it right. Andy Tanenbaum at, Nate Silver at the Times, Sam Wang at Princeton, and Scott Elliott at all the nailed or came close to nailing the electoral vote.

That's because these guys looked hard at the numbers and weren't swayed by ideology. Andy and Nate are left-leaning, Scott is right-leaning, don't know about Sam. But out there, as Frank Rich points out, most of the Republican party was living in Fantasyland, where the polls were all skewed and their feelings, or desire, that Romney would win were facts. No, they're not, and it turns out that the Romney campaign drank the Kool-Aid on this, unskewing public and their own polls to match "reality." They were surprised that Romney lost, despite months of polling data showing him behind Obama.

Next time around, I suggest paying attention to the facts, not your daydreams.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Early SF Opera Announcement

The season announcement for 2013-14 is scheduled for Monday, December 3. The last few years, it's always been in mid/late January. No idea why it's been pushed up. Also, there's a press conference. The last two or three years, we've gotten a press release, and that's it.

Here's what we know already, based on singer and conductor bios, blabbing, overheard in the house, etc:
  • Flying Dutchman; Patrick Summers conducts, Greer Grimsley in the title role.
  • Falstaff, Bryn Terfel in the title role. Assume Luisotti is conducting.
  • Dolores Claibourne by Tobias Picker; announced by the company for the fall.
  • Show Boat
If it's an eight or nine opera season, I wonder what else is on the schedule. They've cycled through most of the major Mozart operas in the last few years and just about all of the Puccini. Something unusual in the way of Verdi? What about Corsaro?

Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking

The inevitable "how did Romney and the Republicans lose" articles are being published, and there's lots of speculation about it. Here's what I think.

  • Romney blew off half the electorate as unimportant mooches.
  • Ryan wants to privatize Medicare and Social Security. These are unpopular views with people over the age of 65, many of whom are deeply dependent on those programs.
  • Romney's tax returns. Yep, I'd love to know what's in them.
  • Romney had no plan.
  • Aiken, Mourdock, and other Republicans pooh-poohing rape in various ways pissed off an awful lot of women.
  • Perhaps people are coming to realize that cutting taxes doesn't do much for the economy.
  • Yeah, pissing off a growing demographic such as Latinos isn't a good idea either.
  • Mitt Romney is a tough guy to get enthused about.
  • Urbanized liberals will continue being able to outvote rural conservatives. There are more of us.
I love that some analysts are saying the Republicans need to be even more conservative. Nope. Not gonna work.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Now That THAT'S Over....!

It's not much of a surprise to me that and (a right-leaning poll analysis site) went down for the count early on. Andy Tannenbaum had posted that was getting a thousand queries per second and he was trying to keep the servers up, but....The bigger surprise is that the NY Times's servers fell over a couple of times during the evening. I would have thought 1) that they would have done accurate projections of demand and 2) lined up enough server capacity.

Apparently not. I wasn't the only person I know who lost touch with the Times occasionally.

If I were trying to keep a site up during brief periods of extremely high demand, I'd go with a provider that could rapidly release capacity to me. Practically speaking, I think that probably means Amazon's web/cloud services or Google Cloud Services or maybe MSFT Azure. I've heard that it's not hard to get applications running on App Engine. And goodness knows - we have, uh, CAPACITY.

Hitting Refresh

It's that time of the decade, and one can only hope that the election will be decided tonight, and not in a recount or the courts. It was all over by 8:30 in 2008, of course.

I'll be in jujitsu class from 8 to 9:30 tonight, which will be good for me, unless my students don't show up. In the meantime, here are the sites I'm watching.

  •, but it has not refreshed in the last 10 minutes, and I'm thinking Andy Tannenbaum may have underestimated how much additional server capacity he would need tonight. He reported 1,000 QPS an hour ago, after all. Update: He is reporting that the servers are totally overloaded. "I am not giving up, but I'm not hopeful."
  • NY Times live update page, where they've already called Indiana and Kentucky for Romney (duh) and Vermont for Obama
  • Google Election Results page
Don't worry too much about the early returns from Florida. It's a big state and has a history of messy elections.

Monday, November 05, 2012


Yep, go vote tomorrow, if you haven't already!

And if you are of my political persuasion, note the following:


You can't live forever, but I thought Elliott Carter just might. Alas, bowing to the inevitable, the great composer died today at 103, just a few weeks short of his 104rd birthday.

In recent years, I was lucky enough to hear the Pacifica Quartet play all of his string quartets in one astounding program, Ursula Oppens play (almost) the complete piano music the next day, Elizabeth Rowe and the BSO in his gorgeous Flute Concerto, and the premier of a wind piece in NYC. Mr. Carter, frail but still lively - and still composing - was at that program.

Mr. Carter may be gone, but there's more of his music to come: his page at Boosey & Hawkes mentions a premier at the Seattle Symphony in 2013.

There's a ton of Carter on YouTube; listen to Night Fantasies or the Piano Sonata or the Flute Concerto or anything else, and hoist a drink to a life well lived.

Chora Nova Fall Concert: Handel and Hummel

Chora Nova, with which I sang for several years between 2006 and 2011, has a great program coming up. A Hummel mass?? When did you last see one of those programmed? Of interest to all lovers of choral music and the transition from the classical to romantic periods.

Handel and Hummel

  • Handel:
    • Choruses from Solomon:
      • "Your harps and cymbals sound"
      • May no rash intruder disturb their soft hours"
      • "From the censer curling rise"
    • Te Deum for Queen Caroline
    • Zadok the Priest
  • Hummel:
    • Mass in D Minor


  • Jennifer Paulino, soprano
  • Christina Santschi, mezzo-soprano
  • Danielle Reutter-Harrah, alto
  • Mark Bonney, tenor
  • Paul Murray, bass

Details (NOTE 7 p.m. start time):

7PM Saturday, November 17, 2012

First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley

Corner of Dana & Channing

First Presbyterian is diagonally across Dana & Channing from First Congo.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

San Francisco Opera Open House, November 10, 2012

Here's an event that looks like great fun. I would go if it weren't for The Tempest in the morning and Wozzeck in the evening:

With Music Director Nicola Luisotti, soprano Melody Moore, tenor Brian Jagde and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Saturday, November 10, 10:30am–2:30pm
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue

JUST ANNOUNCED: Register today and be entered in a drawing to win complimentary tickets to the production of your choice! Choose between:
Join us for this unique experience to view onstage technical and musical demonstrations, participate in fun family activities and a screening of Carmen for Families—The Movie! and explore the historic War Memorial Opera House. Additionally, at the Open House, attendees can enter to win an exclusive same-day backstage tour! 

"As we celebrate San Francisco Opera's 90th Season, we invite everyone to the historic War Memorial Opera House for our free Community Open House. This anniversary is a testament to the extraordinary talents of all of the artists and individuals onstage and behind the scenes who have contributed to this Company's storied history, as well as a testament to this community's passion and support for the operatic art form. Please join us as we showcase the many facets of this great opera company and this beautiful opera house."

–General Director David Gockley

For more information and an activity schedule, please visit our Community Open House webpage. 

Melchior in Context

As Axel Feldheim discusses, I gave a talk to the Wagner Society of Northern California yesterday. Big thanks to Terri Stuart and the Society for their gracious welcome and for having me as a speaker; the talk was great fun to research and give. I'll get my playlist and sources posted later today. Suffice it to say, I came with about two hours of music in a giant playlist and we didn't get through it all. If I were doing it over, I might have fewer tenors in the first couple of numbers. In general, I'd go for more variety.

I can't post the whole talk because, while I had several pages written out, I also inserted a long section on the question of how Wagner should be sung right at the beginning, and that was delivered extemporaneously, based on some rough notes from my research.

I learned a few interesting things while putting the talk together, one of which I only realized fully in the middle of the talk itself.

I discussed something close to a dozen singers, all of whom were retired from staged opera by 1950 at the latest. Melchior's last stage performance was a Lohengrin in 1950 at the Met; Rudolf Bing gave him and Helen Traubel the boot that year. The circumstances remain, to me, a bit murky, and could have included a general house-cleaning, Bing's dislike of Wagner, Melchior's dislike of rehearsal, Melchior's age (he was 60 and not exactly a dashing figure at that point), and various other issues. In any event, Melchior concertized through the 50s and perhaps into the 60s; Traubel didn't sing much opera after that, as far as I know. The Corsican Cesar Vezzani retired as a result of ill health in 1948 and lived a few more years.

A few things really struck me.

Several of these tenors came from poor or working-class families and didn't have much formal education. Walter Widdop, the fine English tenor, left school at 12 to work in the mills, and didn't become a professional singer until age 30. Paul Franz and one of the other singers were railroad workers. Franz was also a late starter, again at age 30. Wealthy patrons played a role in the careers of several of the singers. So becoming an opera singer provided some economic and social mobility for these tenors.

Could that possibly happen today? We do not abound in wealthy people looking for poor singers to sponsor; since the 19th c. opera has been reframed, especially in the US, as an elite or aspirational art form, rather than an everyday form of entertainment. Youth who are thinking about music are far more likely to buy a guitar, which you can learn on your own, than to think about opera singing.

I was also struck by the trajectory of some of these careers. While Miguel Fleta burned out early and died young, and Isidoro Fagoaga fled the opera world under odd circumstances, the balance of the singers had long and distinguished careers of 25 to 40 years. That does not seem to be the norm these days, when 20 to 30 years is more typical. And these were singers in the most strenuous and difficult tenor repertory.

I was surprised by the fact that several made their debuts after just a couple of years of study, and several made their debuts at 25 or younger as Lohengrin. Few professional singers get on stage these days with so little formal study or in a helden role.

Also interesting: except for Melchior, who after a certain point sang Wagner 95% of the time, all of these singers sang a wide variety of German, French, and Italian music. The French tenors and the Russian Ivan Ershov had particularly wide repertories.

I had to wonder about at least one of the tracks I played. The Slezak recording of "Nothung! Nothung! Neidlisches Schwert!" has two serious flaws: significant blasting and distortion, and Slezak sings some obviously wrong notes. He was an enormously prolific recording artist. Why did this ever get released???

Lastly, Cesar Vezzani sang all over the French-speaking countries and North Africa, it seems, from the liner notes to the Marston sets, in houses I've never heard of. I would love to know if these houses had full opera seasons (like the Paris Opera or Opera Comique or Met) or whether he was singing at the equivalent of West Bay Opera and Festival Opera. Or was there just a much larger operatic ecology than now?

Friday, November 02, 2012

This Weekend and Next

There's a lot going, and what on earth will I get to?

November 2-4, Cal Performances and Other Minds put on Nancarrow at 100, three days of performances and talks about Conlon Nancarrow. You'll get to hear some of his famous player piano works, and more. Hertz Hall at UC Berkeley, the Berkeley Art Museum, and the Pacific Film Archive are the venues.

November 2 and 4, Euouae sings Ockeghem. Tickets in advance required. The Requiem of Johannes Ockeghem (15th c.), the oldest surviving musical setting of the Mass for the Dead, will be presented by the six voice Medieval vocal ensemble Euouae (Sven Edward Olbash, director) in a special All Souls Day performance on Friday, November 2nd, 2012 at 8:00 p.m. at The National Shrine of St. Francis and in an intimate candlelight concert at San Francisco's Swedenborgian Church on Sunday, November 4th, 2012 at 7:00 pm (note early start time).  Advance tickets required, available from  For more information, visit


Ockeghem: Requiem
Brumel: Lux aeterna
Du Caurroy: Psaumes
Josquin: Nymphes des bois
Chant from the Laon manuscript 


Friday, November 2nd, 2012 at 8:00 pm
National Shrine of St Francis
610 Vallejo
San Francisco

Sunday, November 4th, 2012 at 7:00 pm (note early start time)
Swedenborgian Church
2107 Lyon
San Francisco
November 9-11, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Three concerts: Salonen, Berlioz, Beethoven; Berg's Wozzeck; Mahler's 9th. All at Zellerbach, plus there's a composer portrait discussion of E-PS. Goldstar has tickets to these programs for $20.

The First Four Notes

Matthew Guerrieri/Soho the Dog's book The First Four Notes will be published on November 13, and he has a spiffy new blog devoted to the book. It's about the life and afterlife of the opening of, right, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

He has some east coast appearances scheduled. Go west, young man! Would love to see you talking about the book in the Bay Area.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

More on Sandy & the Music World

The Times has an article about visiting nurses and their service during times of great need. One of their patients is the famed countertenor Russell Oberlin, now 84, and, I'm sorry to read, suffering from cancerous tumors on one leg....The NY Phil has had some schedule changes because of Sandy; see their web page for details...A friend reports that Carnegie Hall is moving or canceling performances, not because the hall is flooded or damaged, but because of danger from the hanging crane on 57th Street. Again, see the Carnegie Hall home page for details....David Shengold has a guest post about The Tempest at The Rest is Noise in which he reports that Thomas Ades is haunted by the sinking of HMS Bounty. Me, too: one of the survivors is a friend of mine.