Thursday, January 31, 2013

Poppea and West Edge Opera

West Edge Opera is performing L'incoronazione di Poppea this weekend, which I've been looking forward to for quite some time. After all, I'm on record saying that I think it's one of the greatest operas, the equal in scope and power of Le Nozze di Figaro, which practically everyone thinks is the most perfect or greatest of all operas.

Last week's SFCV Music News column had the following from Mark Streshinsky, who has just been named WEO's General Director:
[We are] reducing the personnel involved and bringing the opera down to its core plot line, removing unimportant characters and focusing the piece. Gilbert is creating a performing chamber arrangement, utilizing nine instrumentalists, to be lead by himself at one of two harpsichords. 
Our intention is to create a documented piece that can be done economically, not just by us, but by small companies and schools throughout the country. As with our 2010 performances of Xerxes, the production will make use of purely Baroque period instruments. 
While the orchestra will be period, the production most definitely will not be. It is my intention to bring across to the audience the consequences of a leader gone wrong. Emperor Nero betrayed his people and his country and we will use projections and modern plot devices to create a production that resonates this theme. Our lighting designer, Lucas Krech, will use video and still imagery to create an immersive performance environment in which to place this fascinating and hauntingly beautiful work.
I think that creating short versions of lengthy works to make them financially possible for smaller companies is a perfectly reasonable goal. WEO has previously performed, though they did not create, the four-hour Legend of the Ring, which I thought mostly successful. (I bet Jonathan Khuner could have cut down the Ring as effectively, though, if he had time. Some of the omissions from Legend are glaring and unnecessary.) After all, the SF Opera Poppea production of 1975 and 1981 had 16 named characters; the brilliant 1998 production had twenty-three (23). Most small companies would fall over trying to rehearse, and pay for, such a vast work.

But I've got a few bones to pick with the rest of Streshinsky's comments. If he thinks there are unimportant characters in Poppea, I'd like him to get to know the opera better. While it is a huge piece and full of plot lines, they all contribute to what we know about the Rome of the opera; they all give context and power to the Nero/Poppea/Ottavia part of the story. Those "unimportant" characters are vital to the world-creating aspects of the opera.

Also, modern plot devices? What? I'm fine with updating, but I think as a justification "It is my intention to bring across to the audience the consequences of a leader gone wrong" is not necessary. The characters and their situations are pretty darned timeless, and with Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Nixon and George W. Bush all in living memory, I don't think the audience really needs a lot of topical reminders of the consequences of a leader gone wrong.

A. M. Rosenthal & the Truth About Kitty Genovese

The Times has an interesting article that, loosely speaking, is about whether publishers and authors have an obligation to update nonfiction works, perhaps with a new preface, when the book is reissued and new information has come to light about the subject.

Now, my personal preference is authors and publishers keep works as current as possible. People go on reading books such as Centuries of Childhood (Aries) and The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (Murray) for decades after they are published, with no hint of the problems and subsequent scholarship on those subjects.

A.M. Rosenthal had a chance to update and correct his own reputation-making book on the Kitty Genovese murder, and he decided not to. Here's what's in the Times article:
Anyway, it is doubtful that Mr. Rosenthal, who died in 2006, would have wanted any addendum attached that acknowledges the challenges to his conclusions. When the journalist reporting the 2004 Times article approached him with the skeptics’ claims, he was resolute. 
“In a story that gets a lot of attention, there’s always somebody who’s saying, ‘Well, that’s not really what it’s supposed to be,’ “ Mr. Rosenthal is quoted as saying. “There may have been 38, there may have been 39, but the whole picture, as I saw it, was very affecting.”
Earlier in the article, other experts say this about the number of witnesses to Genovese's killing:
But over time the basic facts were called into question. As early as 1984 The Daily News published an article pointing to flaws in the reporting. In 2004 The Times did its own summation of the critical research, showing that since Ms. Genovese crawled around to the back of the building after she was stabbed the first time (her assailant fled and returned) very few people would have seen anything. 
The article quoted among others Charles E. Skoller, the former Queens assistant district attorney who helped prosecute the case and who also has written a book on it. “I don’t think 38 people witnessed it,” said Mr. Skoller, who had retired by the time of the interview. “I don’t know where that came from, the 38. I didn’t count 38. We only found half a dozen that saw what was going on, that we could use.” There were other mitigating factors as well; it was a cold night, and most people had their windows closed. 
“Maybe only five people were in the position to hear her calls, if even that,” said Kevin Cook, an author who is currently researching the case for a book of his own and trying to determine exactly who knew what. 
Just to make this clear, journalist and influential Times editor A.M. Rosenthal wasn't interested in presenting correct information about this case. If he weren't dead, I'd be writing letter to the editor suggesting that he should be fired, or lose his Times pension.

Season Announcement: Dallas Symphony

Dallas Symphony has announced its 2013-14 season; read the full-season calendar here. My highlights would be:

  • The Czech program that is less than inevitable, with the Dvorak Te Deum and 8th, and a piece by Suk.
  • The JFK memorial program; works by young Conrad Tao and Milhaud, Sibelius violin concerto (Bell), and the Eroica
  • Matthias Goerne in Des Knaben Wunderhorn (also some Britten & Brahms 4, but Goerne is the highlight here)
  • There's a program mysteriously called Brahms & Chopin, and while there is a work by each of them on the program, I'd rather hear the balance: Dvorak's Water Goblin and the fabulous Janacek Sinfonietta, a work that can't be played too often for me. (Sorry! I know it's expensive to put on, but so worth it!)
And that's about it! There's a lot of Beethoven because of a season-ending Beethoven festival. There's one work written after about 1965, the Tao premier. 

There are no works composed by women. No women conduct. There are several women who are instrumental soloists.

Question from the Comments

In the comments to Erlkoening II, Zwölftöner asks:
On a related topic, I'd be interested to hear any thoughts on Ernst's Grand Caprice, which seems to me a hell of a risk without much musical payoff even when it does go vaguely right. It flares up as an encore from time to time and I wonder if anyone here has had a positive experience and if so, with which violinists. 
I don't know this piece. Anyone have thoughts?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Erlkoening II

Comments and email from various people prompt me to post a few more versions of  Schubert's Erlkoenig.

Here's Marian Anderson, who has a fabulously dark voice for the father, dropping into her contralto range.

Overall, I find Anderson somewhat less dramatic than those singers with more stage experience, and the last line, with the tiny sob, isn't as effective as other singers'.

Here's Ian Bostridge with Julius Drake; a genuinely otherworldly sound for the Erlkoening.

And a bit of a curiosity, Anne-Sofie von Otter with Claudio Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe; very very dramatic.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Der Erlkoenig

Patrick Vaz discusses Sir Walter Scott's vivid English translation of the famous Goethe poem today, and mentions the musical settings of the original German. Here's the German poem and a few performances of Schubert's great setting, plus a bonus.

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

"Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?" –
"Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif?" –
"Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif."

"Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir;
Manch' bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand." –

"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?" –
"Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind." –

"Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehen?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn,
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein." –

"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?" –
"Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau. –"

"Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt." –
"Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!" –

Dem Vater grauset's, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Müh' und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

We might as well start with a few of the best. Here's the great bass Alexander Kipnis, in 1939, with slightly eccentric German, but who cares?

And here's Frida Leider in 1941, a few years past her retirement from the stage, but still in beautiful voice and dramatically terrifying. She was a superlative Bruennhilde and Isolde, after all. I particularly love the singer and pianist's willingness to play with the tempo; there are some huge ritards that, trust me, no singer today would make.

Speaking of things a modern singer would never do, here's Lilli Lehman in 1906. She was far past her prime (you can really tell this), but still formidable. I love the portamento at "mit seinem Kind."

Here is the French dramatic soprano Germain Lubin, whose Erlkoenig voice is marvelously ethereal until the very end, and whose child is increasingly frightened. A great performance that builds with remarkable power.

Putting this together, I listened to a number of recordings of this song. DF-D is of course excellent but dull compared to the earlier singers, at least in the take I heard. He is too mannerly. (There must be many D-FD renditions of this song around, of course.)

Then there's Thomas Quasthoff: dominated by a robotic pianist. Honestly, this needs to sound like there's a driven horse, desperate father, and panicky child on stage, not a machine. Give it a listen; then go back and listen to what Leider and Kipnis's pianists do.

And for a change, here's the wonderful Gerald Finley in Loewe's setting of the poem.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mary Jane Phillips-Matz

Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, Verdi biographer par excellence, has died, age 86. Her Verdi: A Biography, provides an intricate and complex portrait of a great composer.

Class Warfare, Republican Style

I wrote about Ta-Nehisi Coates and hidden racism the other day. At the end of the posting, I mentioned a movement to eliminate the income tax in Kansas.

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, is up to the same thing. Paul Krugman has his number: moving away from income taxes toward a larger sales tax means huge tax cuts for the rich and tax increases for the non-rich.

He Got This One Right

I have raked Zachary Woolfe over the coals from time to time for ridiculous things he has said in the Times - Margaret isn't killing opera any time soon - but here's something he got right: what the Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil production of KA should have, could have, told the Metropolitan Opera about Robert Lepage. In a word, everything. Everything they needed to know about his style, production values, and priorities.

How do I know this? I was in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago for a short visit with relatives. My uncle, who knows everybody in the theatrical world, got us comp tickets for KA. This made sense because we were staying in the MGM Grand, where the show runs, many times each week, in a purpose-built theater.

First off, the show is a complete and total embarrassment, for many reasons. There's the embarrassing, cringe-inducing, enraging, and racist use of African American performers, many of whom come out of the theatrical woodwork at the beginning of the show, faces and upper bodies brightly painted, to swing around the theater making jungle noises. God help me; it's the 21st century and we haven't gotten to the point where we consistently write meaningful theatrical roles for African Americans.

Yeah, I know it's a spectacle. So?

Second, the scale of the thing is insane, in many directions. The theater is vast, the stage makes that of the Metropolitan Opera look small. And the middle of the vastness, you've got people doing acts that were invented about 700 years ago and would look great in a medieval village square done from the back of a horse-drawn cart, with the audience within 15 feet of the performer. They look like they're about 250 feet away in that gigantic theater. Did no one notice this?

Third, there's the stage itself, which goes up and down, swivels, rotates in various planes, turns around, goes upright, and, for all I know, flips over. It behaves remarkably like the Ring set that the Met paid a fortune, and not a small one, for.

I can't claim to know its full range of tricks because the show itself is so boring that I left after about 45 minutes. There's not a semblance of plot; you're so far from the action, even in good seats, that you have no connection with the performers. Acts move on and off stage; the performers don't really interact. And you've seen most of the tricks before.

As theater, this show is a shambles. There's not a bit of Personregie or any kind of human interest, although I think Cirque does have the nerve to claim that there is a plot. No there is not.

Had anyone from the Met bothered to attend this mess, which opened in 2005, they would have known exactly what they were getting in the way of a Ring director: a guy who likes to play with toys and has no real sense of theater. And maybe they wouldn't have signed him on.

String Quartet at Other Change of Hobbit, Berkeley

From librettist and playwright David Scott Marley:

 Surprise string quartet at The Other Change of Hobbit bookstore today
 (Sunday) at 1:00 pm.

 Chung-Pei Ma and Sue Soong, violins
 Felicity McCarthy, viola
 Leslie Ifshin, cello

 Come hear music, chat, and support a great bookstore!

(Other Change of Hobbit specializes in science fiction & fantasy and has had a rough time during the recession.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

This Was Predictable

Last April, in a communication from SF Opera:

Looking Ahead to the 2012–13 Season

The astonishing 
Natalie Dessay displays her remarkable versatility in The Tales of Hoffmann by portraying all four women who capture the poet Hoffmann's heart. 

Today, in a press release:

Antonia                                                 Natalie Dessay   
Olympia                                                Hye Jung Lee    
Giulietta                                                Irene Roberts*                 
Stella                                                    Jennifer Cherest*   

I wonder who's on deck for Antonia.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Season Announcements: Women Who Compose

A new feature: I'll be taking note of works composed by women and programs conducted by women on each of the season announcements. I am considering whether to try to count soloists, but probably not; I can tell you off the top of my head that the only female piano soloist at NYPO in the coming season is Yuja Wang (in the Chinese New Year program!), though there are several women appearing as violin soloists. There are something like 7 or 8 male pianists; the total number of piano soloists might be larger if Yefim Bronfman weren't on so many programs.

NYPO Season 2013-14

The press release links finally landed in my in-box last night. I don't understand why the NYPO sends out links to either their web site or to PDFs, rather than dropping their press releases into the email itself - and they haven't responded to inquiries about this - although, sure, the email that goes out is nicely decorative. Note: I and many other journalists care more about being able to read the content easily than we do about decorations.

Anyway, the press release is here; the season is a mixture of not-so-interesting standards (I already mentioned Bronfman playing the LvB concertos and the Tchaikovsky 1, right?) with some nice new music, though there's not so much of interesting 20th c. music. (Please let me know if the press release link doesn't work, as it looks a little odd in my browser.)

Christopher Rouse is the composer-in-residence, and the orchestra will be performing several of his works:
  • Symphony No. 4 (World Premier)
  • Requiem (NY Premier)
  • Oboe Concerto (NY Premier)
  • Rapture
Some other points of interest:
  • A series of works featuring retiring concertmaster Glenn Dicterow
  • Mark-Anthony Turnage, Frieze (US Premier, NYPO Co-Commission)
  • Osvaldo Golijov, Azul with Yo-Yo Ma, Last Round
  • Shostakovich 11 (Bychkov)
  • Penderecki, Concerto Grosso with three solo cellists (Dutoit; Brey, Weilerstein, Mueller-Schott)
  • Salonen, Violin Concerto (Salonen; Josefowicz - but you knew that, right?)
  • Britten, Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings; Spring Symphony (Gilbert; Appleby, Royal, Cook; Philip Myers, horn)
  • Poulenc chamber music with Jeffrey Kahane, piano
  • Ades, Three Studies from Couperin (Zinman)
  • Handel, Messiah (Manze)
  • Lindberg, Piano concerto no. 2 (Gilbert; Bronfman)
  • Zemlinsky, The Mermaid (Boryeko)
  • Nielsen 1 and 5 plus Helios Overture (Gilbert)
  • Dudamel conducts Vivier's Orion and Bruckner 9
  • Heras-Casado conducts Britten, Bartok, Shostakovich
  • Andrew Davis conducts a new piece by Julian Anderson and the Franck Symphony Variations with the fleet-fingered Marc-Andre Hamelin
  • Bernard Haitink has two good programs; Webern, Berg violin concerto (Kavakos), Beethoven 3; Mahler 3 (Bernarda Fink!)
  • Vladimir Jurowski conducts Stravinsky, Szymanowski, and Prokofiev
  • Anthony Cheung, new work
  • Sam Shepherd, new work
No works by women have been announced (the Unsuk Chin piece I previously mentioned is in this season).  I did not see any women conducting during the season.

UPDATED to correct egregious errors, with thanks to reader Eric G.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an editor and blogger at The Atlantic; he writes about media, politics, what it's like to be African American in this day and age, learning French, being a father, being a writer, football, and all manner of other things. His series on slave narratives - biographical works by former slaves - has been fantastic, and shows both the desire of the enslaved people to establish families and the efforts of slave owners to destroy black families.

He has written a great deal about hidden racism and how it affects African Americans. By "hidden racism," I mean the ways that previously-obvious white supremacy has gone underground and turned into something else. In a posting a day or so ago, he wrote about efforts to apportion electoral votes in Virginia according to a gerrymandered scheme that will favor white, rural counties over the more diverse and more populous urban counties in that state. Such an apportionment would have given the state to Mitt Romney even though President Obama won more than 50% of the vote. (Gerrymandering is also why the Republicans hold a House majority in Congress even though more than 50% of votes nationwide are going to Democrats.)

I'll also suggest a look at his posting called The American Case Against a Black Middle Class, which is about all the institutionalized ways that we have structured laws to keep black people from getting ahead in the ways that generations of immigrants have been able to get ahead. He doesn't mention that after WWII, during the great housing boom and the great entry of people into college because of the GI Bill, it was a lot harder for black people to get mortgages and a lot harder for black people to get into school. That was a result of institutionalized racism in housing and college admissions.

After you've read those postings, think about the anti-tax movement, which arose within a decade or so of the passage of the big civil rights bills of the 1960s and started having serious effects in 1978 with the passage of the evil Prop. 13 in California. And think about the Republicans in Kansas who are trying to eliminate the income tax there altogether.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

NYPO Season Announcement

Well, the NYPO had a season announcement this morning; I got an invitation to the webcast, which I could not attend. Their Newsroom doesn't have a press release yet. The web site has a highlights page that covers a fraction of their performances. It is apparently possible to click through the calendar to see what is on each concert, but WTF? I am not going to do that, though I looked at one concert and saw that Beethoven 9 will be paired with a work by Mark-Anthony Turnage.

This isn't the kind of information orchestras usually hide, so color me puzzled.

Spring for Music Programs

Spring for Music 2013's six orchestras include two conducted by women, the Baltimore Symphony (Marin Alsop) and Buffalo Philharmonic (JoAnn Faletta). Baltimore is the only orchestra performing music composed by a woman; they've got works of Jennifer Higdon. [Embarrassing error removed; see comments.]

Spring for Music 2014, the fourth and last of the series, has no women among the composers or conductors.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Moved Reviews

I've moved the list of my reviews from the right-hand sidebar to a new page that's listed in the sidebar. This will make upkeep easier - SFCV keeps changing its URL format - and give the main blog page a less cluttered look.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Peer Gynt Media Roundup

Almost everyone has weighed in:
An addition: I made a serious error in not calling out the beautiful singing of Joelle Harvey. Mea culpa, mea culpa: you were gorgeous, wish there had been more.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I'll Have to Read the Play.

San Francisco Symphony is evidently going to be presenting a music/theater mix of some kind on an annual basis, given what's in the program notes for this week's Peer Gynt. They should think twice, or be extremely careful about which works they perform. Last year's Le martyr de Saint Sebastien was a brilliant success, because of the beauty and coherence of Debussy's score, the great vocal and choral work, and the suitably mysterious presentation.

This year's Peer Gynt? Not so much. I nearly walked out after five minutes.

Like the complete Martyr, Ibsen's play is long, long, long (about the length of Goetterdaemmerung). It's not performed often in the United States, though evidently ACT mounted a production in the 1970s some time, and is best known here through Edvard Grieg's two suites of incidental music.

SFS's production cuts the play down to a series of short and disjunct scenes. Musically, it's similarly disjunct, using a subset of Grieg's incidental music and adding in portions of Schnittke's ballet music and a gigantic interlude (?), Ocean Voyage, by Robin Holloway.

The Holloway was out of scale and out of place. Here we are, listening to fragments of the play and short stretches of incidental music, among which Holloway's 25-minute piece felt like a clumsy and repetitive intruder. Too long in context, and possibly just plain too long, it's entertaining in its way but not on this program.

The Schnittke, though, is another story. How I'd love to see the Peer Gynt ballet for which he wrote it; it's marvelously atmospheric, threatening and intense, and made a fine counterpoint to Grieg's mostly-familiar music.

Which I say because mostly you don't hear "In the Hall of the Mountain King" performed with the chorus, which makes it something quite different. Anyway, the Grieg and Schnittke were wonderful to hear; I just wish I'd caught Herbert Blomstedt's 1988 traversal of the complete, 26-part incidental score.

Why, then, did I nearly flee the hall? The goddamned amplification.

SFS should know better. Every musical presenter in the Bay Area should know better. But they don't.

When audiences have to lean forward a bit to listen hard to an unamplified performer, they're drawn in and the performance becomes intimate. Their concentration goes up.

When the sound goes straight to your ear, all nuance is lost. An orchestra plays, and the next voice you hear is louder than the orchestra. The aural scale is distorted, directionality is lost, everything sounds the same.

Stop doing this to your audience. Trust the actors to do their jobs; if they really can't overcome the Davies acoustics, minimize the amplification as much as possible. And warn the audience in advance.

Updated because it is not the actors' fault that the Symphony or the director made bad decisions about amplification.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

HGO Season Announcement: Good One

Houston Grand Opera's season-announcement press release for 2013-14 hit the inbox this morning, and, well, there's some stuff to be excited about.

The company's Ring cycle will be the production by La Fura dels Baus, which can be seen on DVD with Zubin Mehta conducting. The singers include Ian Patterson as Wotan, Stefan Margita as Loge, and Jamie Barton as Fricka.

The season also sees the North American premier of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's The Passenger and the world premier of Ricky Ian Gordon's A Coffin in Egypt, a monologue starring none other than the great Frederica von Stade. It's based on a play by Horton Foote.

Also scheduled are Aida, Rigoletto, Die Fledermaus, A Little Night Music, and Carmen, each with interesting casting, though I am looking cross-eyed at Gilda: TBA (Huh? late drop-out? under negotiation?). Details after the cut.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Houston Symphony Appoints Andres Orozco-Estrada as Next MD

The post title says it all: the next music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra will be Columbian conductor Andres Orozco-Estrada. More about the announcement here.

Update: And here's an article with interesting information about how the new music director was chosen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Postscript to the Previous

You should understand that I have nothing against Mozart, a great and subtle composer who is vastly overexposed in general and badly used by stations such as KDFC. And if you want to hear what Q2 is really good at, why, this week they are streaming the complete symphonies of Lutoslawski, in the recording by friend-of-the-new Esa-Pekka Salonen and his old band, the Los Angeles Philharmonic.


Q2 Music, the new music stream of WQXR in NYC, sent email that included a link to a survey. I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, so, sure, why not.

Well, I had to fake the answers to a couple of the questions that were so stupid they didn't belong on a real survey ("If Q2 were a city, which would it be?"). But I was seriously alarmed to see that they were asking questions about whether you listen to their stream to relax.

Look, if I want to relax, I'll take a hot bath or a vacation. Music isn't a sedative and radio stations shouldn't treat it like one. Even thinking about this is the road to playing more Mozart and Telemann, and less of the complex and interesting music Q2 has been presenting.

Sarah Cahill in Concert

The dynamic pianist Sarah Cahill has a few really interesting programs coming up; here's the email I just got from her:

This coming Saturday, January 19 at 8 pm, I’ll play a classical program including Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in G minor, Beethoven’s Sonata in E major opus 109, Brahms’ Four Pieces opus 119, and Debussy’s Pour le piano.  
At 8 pm on Friday, February 8, I’ll perform Andrew Lovett’s Four Preludes, sharing an evening with author and scholar Philippa Kelly, who will discuss  Across the Atlantic, Across the Pacific: Conversations About Diaspora, exploring the sense of loss and shame in the cultures of both colonial and Aboriginal Australians. British-born composer Andrew Lovett wrote his preludes as a gift for a young friend who was learning piano and had a strong penchant for the music of JS Bach.  He is a visiting composer at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford. 
At 8 pm on Saturday, February 16 will be the U.S. premiere of Intenso, a seventy-minute meditative piece by Spanish-German composer Maria de Alvear.  Alcohol and cookies will be served.   
8 pm Saturday, March 9- An evening of minimalism and postminimalism, combining: Imaginary Dances by William Duckworth (1943-2012) with selections from Glass Houses by Ann Southam (1937-2010).  
All these concerts are at the Berkeley Arts Festival space at 2133 University Avenue, between Shattuck and Oxford, in Berkeley.$10-20 admission (sliding scale)

Heard on the Radio

Diane Nicolini at KDFC:
That was the Tchaikowsky violin concerto, one of the most technically difficult concertos, played absolutely perfectly by Hilary Hahn!!
Diane, honey: a raft of first-class violinists can play the Tchaikowsky very well indeed, and if you haven't noticed, recordings are edited within an inch of their lives so that they are always perfect.

And this, my friends, is an example of why I won't be contributing to KDFC's current (or any) pledge drive. They're doing extra fund-raising to retire the $7.5 million outstanding of the $18 million borrowed when they lost 102.1 and had to purchase the rights to other frequencies.

The day I'll donate is the day that KDFC acts like the non-profit educational institution its tax designation makes it out to be. When I can hear Machaut, Dufay, Josquin, Schuetz, Carter, Boulez, Janacek and others among the Mozart and Vivaldi; when they play lieder and chanson without apologies; when their announcers provide information rather than trivia, well, then I'll reconsider.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Just What the NJSO Needs

Another governance scandal, as its newly-installed president, Richard Dare, resigns after only nine days on the job.

It seems he probably lied about his professional history. (Shades of former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson.) And: he is a convicted sex offender, having been caught naked in 1996 with a 15-year-old girl who was a student at a school he had founded. He was then 32.

They went on to get married the minute she turned 18 and are still married; however willing she was, that does not change the fact that he broke the law and showed genuinely terrible judgment about appropriate interactions with a teenager who was his student.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

LA Opera Announces 2013-14 Season

No Wagner, but they do have Britten and Verdi; also, a second chance to see Einstein on the Beach:
  • Carmen
  • Falstaff
  • Magic Flute
  • Lucia di Lammermoor
  • Thais
  • Billy Budd
  • Einstein on the Beach (!!!!)
  • Jonah and the Whate (new piece "inspired by" Britten's Noye's Fludde)
  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky in concert
  • Audra McDonald in concert
Well, I've never Thais. Maybe something interesting will be on at LAPO or LACMA or LBO when it's playing.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Reading List

Some articles you might want to look at:

Relativity Roundup

Einstein on the Beach Bay Area reviews:

Out of town:
More to come. Watch this space.

Updated January 6, 2013.

Wow. Just....Wow.

Via Steve Smith, whose Times article links to Woolfe: Zachary Woolfe demonstrates that he has no soul, in commentary on Einstein on the Beach that makes it clear that he missed about half the point. The visuals and dance meant nothing to him; apparently he missed how they are connected to the music.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Berkeley Symphony, 12/6/2012

Oh yeah, I do know the concert was a month ago. I have, in fact, made a couple of postings related to the program already, but thought I would get a more explicit summary up.

The program was called The Rebels; the composers were Dylan Mattingly, Gyorgi Ligeti, and Robert Schumann.

I happened to review a Cabrillo program in August on which there appeared another orchestral work of Mattingly's, I Was a Stranger, which was commissioned by none other than John Coolidge Adams and Deborah O'Grady (Adams's wife). Adams, I gather, has been something of a mentor to Mattingly.

I feel like I've hit some kind of trifecta in hearing two works by this young composer:
  • In two acoustically crappy halls
  • Played by two superb part-time orchestras
  • Conducted by two women whose strengths include their work in new music
Everything I said about I Was a Stranger applies equally well to Invisible Skyline. Mattingly is certainly talented, and he gets some nice sounds out of a big orchestra. But I was twiddling my thumbs and restless about 2/3 of the way through each movement - excuse, me "act;" he subtitles it a work in three acts. He has figured out orchestration, but not form.

And I don't understand what this piece is doing on a program called The Rebels, a title that must have been dreamed up by Berkeley Symphony's PR Department. If you're 21 and your music sounds like a somewhat aimless version of music your famous mentor might have written 25 years ago, you are not a rebel. You are an imitator.

The thing is, it's totally appropriate for a 21-year-old to be writing music that is somewhat imitative. Not every composer has a distinctive and recognizable voice at that age. I think JCA was a Harvard student chafing under the thumb of serialism when he was 21, but I've never heard any of his works from that time. You can bet that I remember all of the serialist music written in the 70s by Brandeis grad students who were being trained by Martin Boykin and the other Brandeis serialists. (Considering how many young composers are writing serialist music these days, the "rebel" label would have been more appropriate if Invisible Skyline had been all tone rows and metrical modulation.)

I'm just not convinced that it's so helpful to give a not-yet-fully-formed composer quite as much of a platform as Mattingly is getting. I would give him more time to develop before his music is put on such prominent display.

As for the rest of the program, the Ligeti piano concerto got a bang-up performance from pianist Shai Wosner and a reduced ensemble. I do not have notes, and I can't go into much detail about the work or the performance, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. Same with the Schumann Second, which got a truly wonderful performance; graceful, well-balanced, energetic, and completely convincing, unlike the last time I heard it played by Berkeley Symphony, when Kent Nagano made a hash out of it. 

This concert was enough to make me a fan of Joana Carneiro. I wish she find a better performance space for her excellent band, but I'll come by again later this season.

Friday Music

Dudley Moore playing a piece you might recognize, or think you recognize:

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Wagner in 2013

I wound up deciding not to apply for Bayreuth tickets through the Wagner Society for this year, even though there will be an allotment and even though, obviously, it would be a very special year to attend the festival. But I do want to see some Wagner this year, and Flying Dutchman at SFO won't be enough.

I think I'd like to see Parsifal, since it has been nearly 10 years, and Tristan und Isolde. At the moment, I'm eyeing the Canadian Opera Company's run of Bill Viola and Peter Sellars's Tristan Project, with Ben Heppner/Michael Baba, Melanie Diener/Margaret Jane Wray, Davida Karnas,  Alan Held, and Franz-Josef Selig, conducted by Johannes Debus. (I am confused; there's a production someplace conducted by Jiri Belohlavek, who is great; Mr. Debus is unknown to me.) There's the Met Parsifal but that can be seen on HD broadcast. Not the same as being there, I know. I can manage a weekend dash to NYC if necessary.

I would also consider attending the right Ring, and, yeah, I am thinking about the not-yet-sold-out Seattle production, the last bring-up of the Wadsworth Ring. has schedules through the summer; most companies haven't announced their 2013-14 seasons yet. (Oops. Operabase thinks the Toronto production is conducted by Mr. Belohlavek.)

Comments? Suggestions?

Hers is Bigger than Mine

La Cieca posted 2012 blogstats today for Parterre Box. I have some catching up to do:

Big thanks to all of you who have been reading me! Post comments, send friends, and please keep reading.