Sunday, March 31, 2013

Strike Up the Band!

Good news from Davies: there's a tentative agreement between the musicians and management. I'll turn the rest of this posting over to Oliver Thiel of SFS, whose press release reads as follows:


Concerts will resume Tuesday, April 2 with free performance for SF schoolchildren
All concerts this week to go on as scheduled

SAN FRANCISCO, March 31, 2013 – San Francisco Symphony (SFS) administration and musicians, as represented by Musicians Union of San Francisco, Local No. 6, American Federation of Musicians, have reached a tentative agreement for a new 26-month contract, subject to ratification by the full Orchestra and approval by the Board of Governors. No details of the agreement will be discussed or released until the new contract is ratified in the next several days.

SFS musicians will return to the stage of Davies Symphony Hall Tuesday April 2 at 11:30am in the first of a weeklong series of free concerts for San Francisco’s elementary schoolchildren.  The entire week of concerts for 1st and 2nd grade students will offer performances for more than 10,000 of San Francisco’s public elementary schoolchildren and their teachers as part of the Symphony’s Adventures in Music education program.

All SFS concerts scheduled this week will take place as planned: Bernard Labadie conducts the Orchestra, SFS Chorus, and guest soprano Lydia Teuscher and tenor Nicholas Phan in a program of Mozart and Handel April 4 and 5; SFS Resident Conductor Donato Cabrera leads a Music for Families concert April 6; and Orchestra musicians perform chamber music on April 7. The San Francisco Symphony’s Community of Music Makers instrumental workshop for amateur musicians will also take place as scheduled on April 7.

Tickets for all SF Symphony concerts are available at, by phone at (415) 864-6000, and at the San Francisco Symphony Box Office on Grove Street between Franklin Street and Van Ness Avenue. Patrons with tickets to cancelled or rescheduled concerts for the week of March 14-17, March 29, or March 30 may exchange them for an upcoming concert, donate their tickets, or receive a refund.  The San Francisco Symphony Box Office is open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and two hours prior to concerts on Sundays.

[Watch this space for the details.]

Stucky & Bruckner at Berkeley Symphony

Steven Stucky
(Hobermann Studio photo)

To Berkeley Symphony this past Thursday night, to a program that fooled me: I thought there was a third piece on the program, undoubtedly because I was thinking of the orchestra's last two programs, which featured works by Ligeti and Lutoslawski. Silly me, because most of this program, timewise, was given over to Bruckner.

Obviously there's a dilemma of some kind when you're programming a 60-minute or longer work as the centerpiece of a concert. You want a work or works that complement the big piece well. At the same time, you have to be canny about rehearsal time.

SFS has solved this problem in various satisfactory and unsatisfactory ways. A performance of Mahler's gigantic 7th symphony was preceded by MTT and Alexander Barantschik playing a Mozart piano & violin sonata. Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle got a Liszt piano concerto for company. Robin Holloway's Fourth Concerto for Orchestra had the Brahms Violin Concerto, which got a blazing and overlooked performance by Christian Tetzlaff.

Berkeley Symphony has a long and admirable history of playing difficult 20th c. music and an equally admirable history of commissions. So Bruckner's Fourth had The Stars and Roses, a new work by Steven Stucky, a 15-minute, three-movement setting of poems by Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, who lived in the US and taught at UC Berkeley for many years.

Before the performance, Berkeley Symphony's executive director came out to talk a bit about next season (it has just been announced) and to dedicate the evening's concert to a recently-deceased supporter. The the composer and conductor Joana Carneiro came out and talked about the piece. I am not really a fan of talking program notes, so I squirmed a lot. It was all very community-oriented and also seemed a bit like what would happen at a high school program.

The Stucky is quite a nice piece, beautifully orchestrated, tuneful with a little dissonance thrown in for spice. He knows his Britten; the string writing immediately put me in the world of Les Illuminations, not a bad model or inspiration at all. But the vocal line was curiously characterless, mostly long, soaring lines with fairly long note values, and not much variety. This made me wonder how much experience Stucky has in writing for the voice, which can do so much more than he asks for in this piece. The vocal writing put me in mind of RVW's Serenade to Music, a work I dislike because it's a poor setting of the poetry. Stucky's is better, and yet I do feel he could have done a great deal more with the poems. My partner's response was that she liked the orchestral aspects of the work better than the vocal, and I think I have to agree; I don't think the settings particularly illuminate the poetry.

Tenor Noah Stewart, a former Adler Fellow, was the featured vocalist, and my, there've been some changes since I last heard him, in Festival Opera's Il Trovatore and in the 2005 world premiere of Appomattox. His voice has darkened and become weightier, larger, and more richly hued than the voice I recall. He had a score for The Stars and Roses, but hardly looked at it that I noticed. I wish his enunciation had been clearer, but the musical lines came across well.

Then there was a surprise. After the bows and applause and bouquets for Stucky and Stewart (and Carneiro?), came an encore, "Una furtiva lagrima," from Donizetti's Elisir d'Amore.

It was gorgeously sung, with beautiful style, tenderness, and sterling dynamic control.

It also obliterated what we'd just heard. I wish they'd repeated some of the Stucky, or had given Stewart a couple of arias before the Stucky. I'm not convinced that an encore is appropriate after the premiere of a new work, unless it's from the new work. Various friends are arguing with me about this in email. I hear that Joshua Kosman agrees with me, or I agree with him, but his review is premium content at, so I will have to read it on paper. (If you're a Chron digital subscriber, click the "his review" link and you'll be able to read it.)

As for the Bruckner, it got what I think was a good performance, to the extent that I can judge. I really cannot fathom what is going on in Bruckner, whose symphonies sound like this to me:

Idea. Idea. Idea. Idea. Idea. New idea. Idea.

There's not much development of any of those ideas, though there is some repetition, and over the course of an hour, well, this is the last time I plan to sit through a Bruckner symphony live. (Now I'm wondering if I have a ticket to an upcoming SFS program with Bruckner on it. Oh joy.)

Thomas May's program notes talk about how Bruckner's "spaciousness" is paramount over other compositional elements, that he's a symphonic radical with a different focus from the core Romantic composers. Fair enough, but give me Schumann's energy and thrust, Brahms's intensity and counterpoint, Wagner's motivic development, anything but Bruckner.

Okay, I'll own that the second movement is extremely beautiful and well-organized. But that's it for me. Even the Furtwangler recordings haven't managed to convert me.

It is true that the orchestra sounded exceptionally good; either they've twiddled the Meyer Sound dials to better settings or rearranged the orchestra or I was just sitting close enough that I was within the nimbus of decent sound in Zellerbach. Special kudos to Alex Camphouse for knife-edge handling of the exceptionally difficult principal horn part. And Joana Carneiro did a good job of moving the thing forward and giving it appropriate weight and proportion. I mean, most of the time I'd blame the conductor when a work doesn't come across. But in this case, I'm pretty sure it's the composer.

P. S. Berkeley Symphony, why do you remove all traces of past concerts from your web site? There used to be an archive page, but damned if I can find it. Please put it back up. This is important historical information....and three days after a concert is way, way too soon to take material down.

P. P. S. House management at Zellerbach really leaves something to be desired. This concert started late. So did The Secret Garden a month ago. And when the lights came down for Act II of Secret Garden, at least 50 to 75 audience members were still wandering the aisles trying to find their seats, including people using walkers. Safety issue, folks. Risk the overtime, don't risk the patrons' safety.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

More on The Secret Garden

Back when I reviewed The Secret Garden - this seems like a lifetime ago - I promised follow-up remarks, which mostly consist of commentary on where the libretto went wrong.

Here's what I said in the my published review:
Harrison’s libretto hews closely to the story line of the original, though some of the changes are unnecessary and perhaps damaging to the effectiveness of the opera, by shifting some weight from the children to the adults. The invalid Colin Craven’s distant father Archibald is somewhat more present in the opera than the novel. Colin’s moral recovery and increasing physical strength don’t happen gradually over the course of the opera, but are instead timed with his father’s return from traveling, perhaps the most serious issue. 
The entire Sowerby family, originally poor Yorkshire cottagers, seems to have gotten an economic upgrade, softening the stark class differences that are so obvious in Burnett. And the gruff gardener Ben Weatherstaff, whose greatest significance is his connection to Colin’s dead mother and her garden, here becomes the opera’s comic relief. 
The most problematic issue with the libretto, however, is that it is cast almost entirely as conversation, with just one short aria, one brief duet, and a single ensemble, all falling late in the opera. 
Well, that's the least of it. A playwright friend of mine and I exchanged email a couple of weeks after the primo, and I listed a few more issues, divergences of emphasis that overall softened the message of the book and resulted in a much blunter opera than it could have been. Owing to space and time constraints, I really couldn't rip the libretto to the extent that it deserves. And here we go with the rest of the problems.

In the book, Mary is a sullen, bossy, and sour child. Physically, she is sallow, has limp hair, and is borderline ugly. Little of this came across in the music, direction, or her costuming and makeup, and it's crucial to her transformation to adequately present how she starts. Really, she is an extraordinarily unappealing child. And I hated the opening, with Mary bouncing around and being obnoxious. In the book, it is apparent that one reason she is so unattractive is that she is enervated. She has no energy; it is sapped by the heat of the Indian sun.

Parallel to this, you don't get quite enough sense of what a pill Colin is. You never see him throw one of his spectacular temper tantrums. 

Mary, Colin, and Dickon don't spend nearly enough time in the garden, and as a result, you get no sense of Mary and Colin's gradual transformation from near-invalid to healthy, bright-eyed English children. Making Colin's transformation a sudden thing at the end, so that it happens in front of his father, undercuts the Power of Nature theme that is central to the book. So does the elimination of the doctor, who represents man-made medicine. Medicine and the slightly evil doctor fail to cure Colin, but Nature does; if this sounds like Christian Science propaganda to you, why, that's exactly what it is. Frances Hodgson Burnett dabbled in Christian Science and Theosophy, she lost a beloved child at a young age, and this book is surely part of how she worked out her grief at her son's death.

I mentioned that the Sowerby family is middle class, more or less, in the opera. Dickon wears tweeds - so appropriate for a country boy!  But in the book, they are dirt-poor, with a dozen children, mother baking bread daily to keep everyone fed, and very little money. Dickon is the poor-kid equivalent of a "magic Negro," if you know the term: he can befriend any animal, communicate with it, tame it, make gardens grow from nothing. He is the leader of the healing-through-nature effort; he knows, without book learning, that nature is better than medicine. Making him and his family middle class also takes away some of the pathos of the book, as when Martha Sowerby brings fresh bread (or is it milk?) to the invalids and we, the readers, know perfectly well that her family just can't afford this - and of course the rich Craven family can afford anything.

One last point: Jeff Dunn report to me that the children sitting near him were extremely attentive, and he asked them how they liked the opera. They all liked it. My playwright friend reports the opposite: kids near her were restless and told her they didn't like it at all. So, the opinion of the youth is divided.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Listening

Parsifal excerpts, of course.

 Act I Transformation music, Kna, Bayreuth 1964:


Toscanini, Prelude & Good Friday music (uh...yeah, it's a little stiff compared to Kna's miraculous flow):

Furtwangler, Good Friday Music:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I Told You So.

Today's SFCV Music News has a report from Jeff Dunn about SF Opera's Plan a Season workshop. He confirms that my own take on this subject was 100% correct: the governing factor in the US is money, in all its forms. SFS took an interesting tack by providing a list of works that more or less had to be programmed with some periodicity, a list of composers you had to rotate through, and a couple of free-for-all spots, then assigning point values rather than dollar values to determine what you could afford to perform. Well, their formula was pretty much my formula too.

Monday, March 25, 2013

For Bela Bartok

Bela Bartok was a great human, a liberal opponent of Fascism, and one of the greatest and most influential composers of the last century. He was born on this day in 1881.

Here he is playing the Allegro Barbaro:

A playlist of Bartok playing a wide range of music, including the Kreutzer Sonata with Josef Szigeti (you may have to click through to YouTube for the full playlist):


Filippo Lippi, National Gallery, London

Both the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Artwork of the Day and Patrick remind me that today is the feast of the Annunciation. This is the day that the Angel Gabriel turned up on a young woman's doorstep with some overwhelming news.

I have a minor obsession with Annunciation imagery. It's been a fruitful subject for artists for a good long time, and the constraints have produced some magnificent paintings. Nearly every Annunciation painting contains Gabriel, Mary, and a lily. Usually Mary has a book in her hand or is otherwise reading. Sometimes Gabriel's words are reified in the painting. Sometimes God the Father is in the background someplace.

Herewith links to some Annunciation paintings.

A Solution to More than One Problem

In today's Times, Dorothy Samuels quite properly savages Associate Justice Antonin Scalia,  for his vile remarks on gay marriage, but mentioning his equally vile remarks terming the Voting Rights Act a "perpetuation of racial entitlement." Apparently we've got a Supreme Court Justice whose memory is so short that he doesn't remember a time when black people were actively kept from the polls, and by less subtle methods than the underprovision of voting machines.

But I had a thought I wish I'd had a month ago, about a way to get Scalia off the court and into what might be the only job he'd resign from the court to take. Don't you think he would have made an excellent replacement for Pope Benedict 666, er, XVI?

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Stupidest Responses So Far

The SFS strike isn't bringing out the best in everybody. In some cases, it's bringing out the worst:
  • Manuela Hoelterhoff, who might know better after years of covering the music business, writing a book or two, and winning a Pulitzer for criticism, instead publishes an insanely ignorant piece of crap. The comments quite rightly tear her to pieces.
  • Anthony Alfidi, who admits to knowing nothing about music, suggests firing all the striking SFS musicians, claims they're worth only $85,000/year, and says that any talented high school player could do what the SFS players do. This is all so stupid as to be deeply sad; thank goodness he admits to knowing nothing about music. He certainly demonstrates that. And hey, I bet that the orchestra doesn't take him up on his offer to play cymbals or triangle as a substitute percussionist. Hint: not as easy as he thinks it looks, especially if you don't read music.
Thanks of a sort to conductor & pianist Bill Eddins for the links. Read what he has to say, because unlike the two clowns above, he knows what he's talking about. And composer Mark Winges also sent me the Hoelterhoff link.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

From the Horse's Mouth

Well, well, well, San Francisco Opera has a new tactic for getting people to renew their subscriptions. (Pssst: I just haven't gotten around to doing it, because I need to do one of those nifty pre-season swaps.) They're telling us well in advance about some upcoming productions and singers.

Here's what the letter says.

New productions:
  • Norma
  • Susannah
  • Les Troyens (guys, hate to tell you, this was the world's worst-kept secret)
  • Elektra
  • Jenufa
  • Meistersinger (ditto; it's the Glyndebourne production)
  • Partenope
And "an important revival of Don Carlo." That would be nice, considering that the last two productions of this great opera more or less sucked.

The letter also mentions a bunch of singers: Radvanovsky, Vargas, Hampson, Stoyanova, Zajick, Pisaroni, D'Arcangelo, Graham, Antonacci, Hymel, Fabiano, Kwiecien, Mattila, Monastryska, Alagna, Crocetto, Finley, Jovanovich, "and a host of others." Let's try to map them to some of the above operas.

We already know from personal reports and program bios that Graham and Antonacci will be in Troyens. Let's guess that the tenor will be Hymel, who took the last few performances at the Met and seems to have the right kind of voice for the heroic French repertory. So much for my guess that it would be Brandon J! But we can slot him into a couple of the above operas: He could be Pollione in Norma, or Walther in Meistersingeri, or, hey, either of the tenor roles in Jenufa. Speaking of those operas, Jenufa and Eva are both in Mattila's repertory, though at 50+, who knows whether they still are? Gerald Finley sang Sachs at Glyndebourne, if I'm not mistaken, but that's a house half the size of SF. Vargas, Hampson, Stoyanova, and Zajick might make a good chunk of a Don Carlo cast, though maybe Alagna is expected to be the tenor there. Monastryska got raves for her Aida in NY, so maybe she is Elisabetta di Valois.

S. Rad. is about to take on the Druid priestess, and we know that Zajick is a powerhouse Adalgisa. Or perhaps we just know she is a powerhouse. I'd be happy to see her in anything because she sings better and sounds better than mezzos 20 years her junior. Or maybe SFO is doing the right thing and casting a young soprano as Adalgisa; that could be Leah Crocetto. Or maybe she is in Partenope. Pisaroni could be in Partenope. Susannah is likely to star a couple of the host of others, local fav Patricia Racette and Stuart Skelton.

Anyone else have guesses? I don't see obvious roles above for Kwiecien or Fabiano, who will both be welcome returnees.

Monday, March 18, 2013

SFS Strike: The Musicians Speak?

Picking up where I left off, the SFS musicians are still on strike, and today they put up a release? statement? cri de coeur? 

I have no idea what to make of it. It certainly hints that there is more going on than either side has discussed in public ("concede work rule changes that would set back by decades the protections in the Musicians’ contract designed to ensure artistic excellence"), but it also says that management has asked for wage cuts. Information proffered by management indicates that the current offer includes an increase in base pay, so color me puzzled. 

I am also puzzled by the complaint about what SFS spent on the Centennial season. What, the musicians don't want great programming and challenging repertory that shows off just how great the orchestra is? To me, management's willingness to spend real money on a fantastic season is management's vote of confidence in MTT and the orchestra. If they really pulled in $32 million in new fundraising, why, the money spent on programming was well worth it.

I will own that I wouldn't mind seeing more financial detail from SFS, especially given that "operational deficit" is a weasel word, but it has always been their practice to release only audited financial information. That is prudent.

I am pro-labor, and I believe that musicians should be paid as the consummate pros that they are. However, an opaque and accusatory statement like this doesn't do the cause any good. I don't know who is editing these statements or advising the musicians, but people, you need better advice than you are getting on your written communications - unless, of course, you are trying to throw fat on the fire. Please don't do that; it reduces your credibility and makes you look bad to the public, whose sympathy I believe you want to earn. It is important to keep in mind that to the general public, being the third-most-highly-paid orchestra in the country looks pretty darned good, especially given how well-managed and financially strong SFS is.

Read the statement for yourself. Then read John Marcher's wicked dissection of the statement. Yeah, I'd say there's a problem when he and N***** L******* are in agreement. 


Oberon, aka Hunny Bunny, HLA, Evil O
June (?) 1996 - March 16, 2013
Photo taken some years ago.

Our evil cat Oberon died Saturday morning at the vet's, after some months of slow decline and a more precipitous recent decline. He was a horrible cat in many ways, but he was our horrible cat and we miss him terribly.

I found him one day in 1996 on my way home from jujitsu class. A tiny ball of fluff came running across the street and up to some people who were talking with each other. They kicked him aside. I picked him up, and, assuming he lived on that street, found what looked like a safe place to leave him, behind a small apartment complex and off the street. I got home a few minutes later, and when I told Donna about him, she started to cry. So I retrieved the kitten and brought him home. We put up signs around the neighborhood; no one claimed a missing black kitten, and so he stayed.

Introducing him to the household was certainly interesting. Our senior cat Mina was phlegmatic about him - "oh, it's a kitten.' Our junior cat, Nero, who was maybe 2 or so years old, quickly fell in love with Oberon. The two of them played constantly and were adorable together, tiny kitten and sleek adult.

Oberon was an annoying kitten, the kind who climbed up your pants leg and got into everything. He grew up to be an extraordinarily beautiful cat with thick fur like a mink and a purr you could hear across the room.

And he was, as I said, horrible. He bullied poor Nero when Nero went into a decline made inevitable by having both FIV and FLV. (Nero was my Best Cat Ever, a cat with a great personality with whom I had a particularly loving relationship.) He bullied Cricket, who joined the household ten years ago. (Cricket obviously wanted to be friends, sigh. More photos of both cats here.) He was almost completely unaffectionate with humans for his first 7 or 8 years, a period during which he would snuggle up to us only in bed and only for a few minutes. He would sprawl on his back, inviting you to rub his stomach, and when you rubbed his stomach, he would attack your hand. He would bite unpredictably if you petted him the wrong way on the wrong day. And he peed in all the wrong places way too often.

As a young cat, he was a great mouser and an absolutely fearless climber. Not only did he go up trees, he made it onto some neighborhood roofs. While this was alarming at first, he never got stuck up there and never got hurt coming down. When we brought the late great Molly B. home in 1999, he was initially absolutely terrified and wouldn't go near her. (Mina was completely phlegmatic about dogs, while Nero hated Molly and chased her around, getting her completely under his tiny thumbs.) But over time, Obi and Molly became great friends. They played together sometimes the way a small dog and large dog do, and Oberon eventually learned that if he rubbed up against her enough, she would groom him. They would lay about the floor and were adorable together.

For that matter, before Nero got sick, the two cats were surprisingly companionable. One night, neither of them came in, and by morning they still hadn't shown up at the back door, alarming us tremendously. I went around the block calling for them with no success. Donna and I were out on the back porch when I looked up and, two houses away, saw a little black face peering out of a neighbor's garage window. Both the cats had gotten locked in overnight, so obviously they had been a marauding band of black cats. The garage was locked and the family was at church, so we left them a note and had the cats back in a hour or so. They did not rush into our arms with gratitude, but we were sure glad they were safe.

As he aged, Oberon got more interested in people and spent more waking time hanging around with us. He gained quite a bit of weight, up to 18 pounds, and I no longer ran into him around the block when I walked the dog. When Lila the Werewolf came home, he was enormously helpful in training her in how to live with cats, because years of living with Molly B. had taught him how to live with a dog. He could be put in a crate near her kennel, he could be wandering around while she was in her crate or exercise pen, and not get scared or panicky by her presence. He made friends with her, though not to the extent he had been friendly with Molly. (She never got the point about grooming him when he rubbed up against her.)

He was a horrible cat, but we miss him tremendously. Good-bye, Obi; we loved you a lot.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

SFS Strike Continues; Tour Canceled

The federal mediator suggested a cooling-off period, with the musicians going back to work and talks continuing; the musicians voted against this. The East Coast tour scheduled for this week is canceled.

Full text of the SFS press release after the break, but it does seem as though there has been movement on the part of management in the direction the musicians want. The most recent offer raised the minimum base pay to $145,979; more details in the press release.

UPDATE: I'm also putting the musicians' update after the break.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sundry Views of the SFS Strike

People have different views, you might say, of different aspects of the strike.

Here's Kalimac, on the one hand, relieved he's not reviewing the Mahler 9, on the other hand, supportive of the players on principle. I'm pro-labor myself, and I believe musicians should be compensated like the highly-skilled pros they are. (In answer to his questions, yes, I do know what Brent Assink and MTT make.) But striking over what looks like a few thousand a year (see Janos's article today) when the orchestra is in great shape financially, playing well, etc. just seems....counterproductive. I have some comments elsewhere on this blog about why the practice space issue might not be easy to solve. I do agree that all things considered, orchestras should make every effort to accommodate musicians who can't just take their instruments home on MUNI.

Over at A Beast in a Jungle, John Marcher was copied on an entertaining rant. The line about Mark Inouye made me laugh.

David Herbert Speaks

The SFS musicians have circulated a letter by principal timpanist David Herbert about his decision to take the same spot at the CSO:
For eighteen years I have had the incredible opportunity and privilege to serve as Principal Timpani of the San Francisco Symphony. These years have been the best years of my musical life. As a member of this world class orchestra I have shared with my colleagues the honor of winning multiple Grammy Awards. We have benefited from daring and visionary projects brought to life under the leadership of our Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, and we have had the enduring support of our great audience, a strong donor base, and a generous and enthusiastic Board of Governors. 
Unfortunately there has grown, over time, a cultural disconnect between the San Francisco Symphony Management and the musicians of the orchestra who make the music come to life. The increased divide between my colleagues’ service to the music and the failure of the San Francisco Symphony Management to recognize such commitment has been disheartening.
In contrast, the Management of the Chicago Symphony has worked and committed resources to growing a culture and philosophy that puts the music and the musician first. They are making that fact very clear by their commitment to me economically and artistically. As a result, my ongoing pursuit of excellence as Principal Timpani of that great orchestra will be allowed to flourish.
The work ethic required from every member of the orchestra is enormous and our practice away from the stage is integral to that excellence. Every musician in the San Francisco Symphony spends at least as much time in our personal practice and preparation as we spend with our colleagues in rehearsal and concerts. As Principal Tympani, the arrangements, organization and support needed to arrange on site access to instruments and space in which to practice is a necessity. The management of the Chicago Symphony has recognized this as a given and have done nothing to impede my abilities to perform at the absolute highest level by offering ease and unrestricted access to instruments and consistently reliable space in which to practice at Orchestra Hall.
Again, in sad contrast this has not been the case with the Management of the San Francisco Symphony. While I have had support and as much encouragement from our stage technicians as they could provide under difficult conditions, I have had no cooperation from our management and instead have encountered only a negative attitude with little or no attempts at problem solving. This has exacerbated an already impossibly challenging and unmanageable workplace. I was eventually forced to rent, at my own expense, practice space at another location and to purchase additional instruments. 
I will always admire and respect the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony and our Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, but as an artist and as an employee I want to be in a workplace where I am valued and supported by management, and where I am considered an asset rather than an inconvenience.

SFS Musicians Fleeing?

The musicians raise the specter of more losses such as David Herbert, with orchestra members fleeing to other bands. Does anyone seriously think this will happen over the few thousand dollars difference between SFS salaries and those of Chicago and New York?

Me, I do not, for a number of reasons.
  1. There just aren't that many openings in orchestras. This is especially true for wind and brass players.
  2. There's an immense amount of competition for those seats that are open.
  3. SFS is still in better financial shape than almost any other orchestra in the country, with a long record of good seasons and strong fundraising. SFS has the second-largest endowment in the country, with only the BSO ahead. 
  4. Lots of other orchestras have big problems: they're in terrible financial shape, or have/have had labor problems (Philly, Detroit, Minnesota, etc.), or have terrible concert halls (NYPO), or are in artistic trouble (BSO - will they name a new MD this year?) or have terrible weather. Okay, the weather is not their fault.
  5. Most other orchestras still pay worse than SFS. Of course, housing costs in Houston, Cleveland, Detroit, etc. are still lower than in SF, but....then you're in Houston, Cleveland, or Detroit.
  6. SFS has several openings: One or two in the oboe section, depending on what Jonathan Fischer does; associate principal trumpet; principal percussion; possibly principal timpani, if David Herbert stays in Chicago. There's at least one other nameless player whose retirement would not surprise me a bit. I would expect players in various troubled orchestras to be eyeing those spots hungrily.
  7. The defections I'd be most likely to worry about? Well, the LAPO has had an ongoing fiasco with replacing their principal flute, though I suppose commuting from SF to LA could be tough. Update:And the NYPO is having principal clarinet problems. Actually, the NYPO finally filled that chair. And now there's an opening in Chicago, where David Herbert is headed.

More on the SFS Situation and Especially David Herbert

Janos Gereben has a story up in SFCV that you'll want to read; it's an excellent and fair-minded look at the frustrating situation that has developed. Drew McManus also takes a look at what's going on, characterizing the issues as "a bunch of deserving winners snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."

It's hard to disagree with that characterization, so I am not going to try. Drew spells out accurately the fact that we have a great orchestra, with the right conductor, and a chief executive who has kept the orchestra in good financial shape, with a huge and increasing endowment, through tough economic times.

The one thing I might conjecture is that everybody - and I mean everybody - is likely still off-balance and upset following Bill Bennett's collapse and death only a couple of weeks ago. The tour seems to have set off the musicians (note Dave Gaudry's remarks about "never going on tour without a contract"), and I wish everyone had just decided to wait until after the tour (which would undoubtedly result in accolades) and until there was some time to adjust to losing Bennett.

SF Mike's great posting on the strike shows Alexander Barantschik among the picketers. He has a great job and makes $518,000 annually, not the usual salary class of people you find on picket lines. It is a little difficult for me to feel sorry for him.

As for David Herbert (deep breath)...sorta the same. It is a big surprise that management released his salary figure ($214,000) and the fact that he gets an additional six weeks of paid vacation over the standard ten, for a total of sixteen (16). Note that the orchestra offered him a bonus and a salary increase during negotiations; Herbert has decided to head for Chicago anyway.

Now, Herbert's letter talks about access to practice space and the expense he incurred by having to rent his own studio and buy a set of instruments. I am sympathetic about this; Tim Day & Robin McKee, and Peter Wyrick & Amy Hiraga can soundproof studios in their houses, but timpani are big and noisy, plus there are specialized timpani such as Kraft timpani and 18th-century style timpani. This is an additional burden, indeed. (I can't tell you a thing about the cost of buying these except to guess that the Kraft instruments have got to be custom order and the old-style instruments aren't used by every orchestra in the world. It's also true that string players routinely spend hundreds of thousands on their instruments, though if you're Christian Tetzlaff, you're playing an instrument that cost as much as a loaded Prius, rather than a Rolls.)

The question does arise as to what SFS has done or is doing to give Herbert adequate access to the Symphony's instruments. Is there an adequate practice room? When is it open? When does he prefer to practice? What is access like? Does it need to be pre-arranged? Does it increase the orchestra's security costs? I have no answers, and I have no idea what is standard among orchestras. I have no idea what the discussions with Herbert have been like. I'm just damn sorry he is leaving.

SFS Talks Continue, Strike Not Over Yet

"Labor Negotiations Move Forward" sounds hopeful to me. However, tonight's concert is cancelled. Press release from SFS:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / March 15, 2013                                        


SAN FRANCISCO, March 15, 2013 – Due to the labor stoppage at the San Francisco Symphony, the concert scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Friday, March 15 has been cancelled and will not be rescheduled.  Talks are moving forward after a 13-hour negotiation session that continued into the early morning hours, and more talks are scheduled for Friday. No further concert cancellations have been announced at this time.

Patrons with tickets to the March 15 concert may exchange them for an upcoming concert, donate their tickets, or receive a refund.  Patrons can obtain information on concerts, ticket exchanges and customer service by calling the Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000 (between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from noon-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday) and on the Orchestra’s website at

An update for the Saturday, March 16 8:00 p.m. concert will be issued Saturday morning, and an update for the Sunday, March 17 2:00 p.m. concert will be issued by Saturday night, March 16. Ticket holders for these concerts with email addresses or phone numbers will receive direct notification from the Symphony. All news will also be posted at

The Musicians Union of San Francisco, Local 6, American Federation of Musicians, representing musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, and the orchestra administration are working toward a new three-year contract.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

SFS Musicians Go on Strike

I am a day late in blogging about this, largely owing to wall-to-wall meetings yesterday and the white smoke, so you may have seen the news elsewhere.

San Francisco Symphony's musicians came to their rehearsal yesterday, took a vote, and walked out. Today's 2 p.m. Mahler 9 concert has been cancelled.

The issues seem to come down to money (salaries), health insurance, and working conditions. (See the next blog posting, about timpanist David Herbert's decision to take the same job at the Chicago Symphony.)

Both the musicians and management have set up informational web sites, of which the musician site contains more apparent information and opinion:

My current belief is that the musicians are making a mistake here, that they're unlikely to get much public sympathy when the base salary is $141,000/year. Only a couple of orchestras have a higher base. While there are concerns that other orchestras will lure SFS musicians, it's important to keep in mind that orchestral openings are few and far between, especially for wind and brass players, and SFS itself has several principal and associate principal openings at the moment.

I really wish they'd continued with play & talk.

Alternatives to Google Reader

As you may have read this morning, Google is killing Reader on July 1. Like many of you, I find Reader enormously useful, though less useful since the social features were ripped out a couple of years back.

The tech press got a whole bunch of articles up very fast about Reader alternatives. I'll list some of those below, but let me note the major difference between types of alternatives: magazine-style readers such as Pulse, which are graphically-oriented and have lots of photos, and text-style readers, such as The Old Reader. After looking around a bit, I'm pretty sure I will go to The Old Reader, but you should know that right now they are experiencing heavy loads and won't be able to import your feeds from Reader.

Plenty more articles like the above out there. Let me know what you think of other feed readers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

White Smoke Rises...

....over the Vatican, but they're busy running marching bands around St. Peter's Square, so we don't know who it is yet.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How to Plan an Opera Season

Or, why my fantasy opera seasons are possibly only if you have all the money in the world at your disposal.

San Francisco Opera had a workshop yesterday about opera season planning. I had Tai Chi class, and anyway, I know the basics. If you think about it, it's all fairly obvious. Here's what you have to take into consideration:
  • Available funds. Above all, is there money for it? Are donations coming in? Are times tight? Is there a patron who wants to graduate to production sponsor, and who will toss in a million bucks toward the production of his or her dreams? Is there a community that might do some special fundraising (Arshak II) or which might turn out for a production connected to one of its own (Arshak II, The Bonesetter's Daughter), Harvey Milk?
  • Cash cows versus pie-in-the-sky productions. Every general director and music director has a list of dream productions, operas they'd stage if only they could. Maybe it's Saint Francois, maybe it's From the House of the Dead. Maybe it's an early Verdi opera, or Die Frau ohne Schatten. (My pie-in-the-sky has all the makings of a hit: Swanda Dudak.) For every one of these, where there's no way to predict ticket sales in advance, or where you're pretty sure it's not going to sell that brilliantly on its own, you need a cash cow or two on the season. Look at the last couple of SF Opera seasons to see how this works: long runs of crowd-pleasing standards, double-cast, to support the rest of the season, even though I wouldn't say there were any truly radical operas on those seasons.
  • MD's input/what does he want to conduct. See the above. I bet we would not have had Don Giovanni, Cosi, and Nozze so close together if Nicola Luisotti didn't want to get cozy with them. And that Attila? He conducted the same production in Italy.
  • Trying for some kind of balance. Among German, Italian, French, Russian & English operas; among Mozart, bel canto, 19th c., verismo, and 20th c., etc. No all-Rossini seasons! Cash cow vs. pie-in-the-sky is also finding balance.
  • Available productions / directors / whole package of designers. Who can we get? What do they offer? New production? Existing productions are cheaper and can often be revived by an assistant director rather than the original, expensive director. (I am conjecturing a bit about costs here.)
  • Available singers. "Oh, god, Renee is booked, who else is there who can sing Arabella/the Marschallin/Rusalka? No, they're not in Pat's repertory and we already have her booked for a couple of roles that season!" It's not just availability, but, to some extent, compatibility. Do we think this tenor and this soprano will be good together? Does the mezzo hate the conductor? Can the tenor stand the part? 
  • Available guest conductors. Even in a house with a fairly short season, the music director can't handle everything. He might have engagements elsewhere, he might not have an affinity for everything on the season. So who you gonna call? At SF, for bel canto we've had Riccardo Frizza for a couple of seasons, and he's been quite good. Since Luisotti came on board, there hasn't been all that much German opera, and the biggest chunk - the Ring - was taken by former MD Runnicles. (Wish he were coming back for something.) 

Once you have a single season, start thinking about the four years after that. You need to worry about the same things: money, balance, money, the MD's preferences, money, available productions, money, available see the point. 

I can almost make up an algorithm for how often Tosca/Butterfly/Boheme will come around, leaving the other Puccini operas in the dust; similarly, take the big/easy to stage Verdi and sprinkle lightly with everything else (Traviata and Rigoletto are the easiest to cast; I've seen Trovatore and Don Carlo three times each, etc.). Throw in some Donizetti or Bellini or verismo. Make sure the Mozart big 4 come around regularly, but not too regularly. (Yes, Magic Flute, you have worn out your welcome with me.)

Once you have those, fill in with Wagner, 20th c. classics, commissions, and oddities, uh, rarities as needed.

This Must Count as Parody

But put down your drink, swallow, and check out my new favorite web site before the Times forces a takedown.

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Favorite Puccini Tenor Aria


My favorite is Rinuccio's aria from Gianni Schicchi, "Firenze e un albero fiorito." Now Schicchi is the funniest hour of opera ever written (really).  This aria, which is lovely on its own, makes a whole lot more sense in context. In any event, here are some performances by the great and not so great.

The young Placido Domingo, 40 years ago; listen to the style and authority:

And Giuseppe di Stefano, at the Met in 1949:

Antonio Cortis in 1924, not very long after the 1918 premier:

Juan Diego Florez is light for Rinuccio, but with great technique and a beautiful voice he can still sing this well:

Here is the great Sonya Konya, a little covered on top, and with a very odd accent; still, what vigor and what a gorgeous voice:

I beat up on Saimir Pirgu last year following his SF Opera debut. Here's some evidence of why; note the strain, grainy voice, and poor legato, then go back and listen to one of the previous tenors:

For a serious oddity, I once stumbled on a performance of this aria, in English, by....Jon Vickers. I am sure it's still there someplace. Oh, wait! Here it is:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Miscellaney

In penance for scarce posting the last couple of weeks:

If you are at all interested in English history and environmental studies, take a look at Jason Peters's site Posthumous Plans. He started life as a landscape designer and became interested in the intersection of the natural landscape, history, and our environment today. He has reconstructed the extent and other characteristics of the historical English forests and environment and is offering maps showing these things...The New Music for Treble Voices Festival 2013 will feature a number of choruses, including the Peninsula Women's Chorus, Vancouver's Elektra and Musae....The Cypress Quartet and the lovely soprano Christine Brandes, last seen in drag as Nerone in Poppea at West Edge Opera, premiere a new work by Jennifer Higdon at Herbst Theater, SF, on Friday, April 19....San Francisco Renaissance Voices had a Renaissance dance workshop yesterday that I forgot to blog and would have loved to attend. If you also missed that, they have a Baroque dance workshop coming up on Saturday, March 16....The St. Lawrence String Quartet has a free performance on Good Friday, March 29, at 5 p.m. at Stanford's Memorial Church. They'll be performing Haydn's Seven Last Words...

News from Celeste Winant

The excellent alto Celeste Winant sends news about some performances she is in. St. Mary the Virgin is an absolutely gorgeous little church whose pastor has the most wonderful speaking voice; if you are Episcopal, you might want to try services there.

San Francisco Lyric Opera's "little match girl passion" open rehearsal
Tuesday March 12, 7 PM
St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church, 2325 Union Street at Steiner, SF
--please enter on Union Street
admission: Free

Karen Clark's Baroque Masterclass and Studio Recital
Works of Caldarra, Luzzaschi, Michel, Handel, JS Bach, Purcell, and others
Friday March 15, 6-9 PM, Masterclass
Sunday March 17, 3-5 PM, Studio Recital (+ reception from 5-6) (Note, start time is LATER than previously advertised)
Both events at the Berkeley Piano Club, 2724 Haste St., Berkeley CA
A suggested cash donation of $5-10 for each event, taken at the door.  No one turned away for lack of funds.

AVE: concerts for Holy Week
1. Sunday March 24, 4 PM
Noe Valley Chamber Music @ Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, 455 Fair Oaks, in San Francisco
General Admission: $22.50, Students & Senior: $18.00
Tickets & Information:
2. Tuesday March 26, 12:30 PM
Noontime Concerts at Old St. Mary's Cathedral, 660 California St. SF
Suggested donation: $5

Kickstarter Campaigns of Interest

Matt Parry writes to me about his campaign to get children listening to classical music, featuring Brian Blessed and Rory Bremner. Looks cute, features a cartoon, and a variety of approaches...Tuba player Stephanie Frye of Madison has raised enough money to record a CD of works for tuba composed by women. Very cool!

Rite of Sproing

I hardly ever go to classical ballet performances. This week, though, I did, because San Francisco Ballet has staged The Rite of Spring, with choreography by Yuri Possokhov. 

How the evening worked out reminded me of something John Marcher wrote on his blog last year:
There is a sizable contingent of Soviet émigrés where I work. For the most part they keep to themselves, but over they years I've infiltrated their group a bit, mostly because I frequently see them at concerts or the opera house. On the whole, it is safe to say they are much more knowledgeable about the arts, especially Classical music and ballet, than their American contemporaries.
When I see them at the opera house, it is always for opera, and never for the ballet. Repeatedly and consistently, they have told me they can't watch American ballet companies, even one as good as ours, having been raised on the Bolshoi and Kirov. They're adamant about it to an amusing extent. Want to get a rise out of a Russian? Start talking to them about ballet and tell them how much you like San Francisco's company. 
All of this was in the forefront of my mind as I stood in the lobby of Zellerbach Hall last Thursday night, watching the audience filter in to see the Mariinsky (formerly the Kirov) Ballet and Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. The émigrés, unsurprisingly, were out in force and I saw a few familiar faces. It was my first time seeing a Russian ballet company, and I was curious to see if they were really as superior as their former countrymen claim. 
They are.
I'm not going to compare the S.F. Ballet to any other ballet company, because I can't: I last saw another company back in the 1970s, I think. I have no way of knowing whether what I saw the other day is normal for all companies or normal for this company or would be considered substandard by, well, ballet standards.

I find that I am driven mad by the dancers' rhythmic disconnection from the music and each other. Two dancers, same movements, and if they are  1/16 of a beat off from each other, I notice. It is incredibly distracting from the absorbing experience I'd like to be having. Instrumentalists - see the San Francisco Symphony, for instance - can play the most complicated and difficult music together, but evidently dancers have limitations on how well they stay together, presumably because of their different bodies, time in motion, and so on.

I know that dance companies are INCREDIBLY PICKY about the bodies of their dancers, but do  they ever test for musicality? When the dancers are supposed stomp the floor at one point in Rite, and they are not stomping together, it is pretty damn noticeable. This seems like something they ought to be able to do.

The three dances on the program were "Guide to Strange Places," music by John Adams; "Beaux," choreography by Mark Morris, music by Martinu; and  Rite, with choreography by Yuri Possokhov.

I'm sorry to say that I got bored 2/3 of the way through both the first two pieces; the music was excellent and well-performed but the dances wore out their welcome. Too much repetition in the choreography, too much visible imprecision. I would have said "underrehearsed" for similar performances by an orchestra or chorus.

As for Rite, it is one of the greatest musical scores ever written, flattening all before it, and needs, deserves, great choreography to go with it. I have liked Possakhov in the past, but this was a big disappointment. The women looked and moved like teeny-boppers in short nighties, completely inappropriate and emotionally lightweight for the savage beauty of the score. The last 30 seconds were incoherent and anticlimactic, to the point that despite the mighty noise and closure in the orchestra, the audience was not sure it was over!!

I have to also note that while the orchestra is good, it's not SFS, which is stupendous in Rite, and Martin West, who conducted, is not MTT. As well, the orchestra is smaller and in a pit and so you do not get SMACKED DOWN by the orchestra.

All in all, not the experience I was hoping for.

Friday, March 08, 2013

SFS Labor Negotiations

Matier & Ross had an item about SFS's labor negotiations the other day (scroll down to find it). The musicians' contract expired some time ago; negotiations have been proceeding, but now there's some facing off, in the form of the Symphony's web site on the talks and the musicians' web site, where the relevant articles are called "Open the Books" and "Vote to Authorize a Strike."

Please keep in mind that a vote to authorize a strike doesn't mean the musicians are going on strike. There is a further day of negotiations scheduled for next week. SFS has a history of concluding negotiations peacefully since the 1997 strike. Most likely this will continue.

Update: I re-read the Matier & Ross item and noticed something I missed the first time: a reference to a half-billion dollar renovation of Davies. 1) I had no idea. 2) They should tear it down and start again, no, wait, start again, then tear it down. No, I have no idea where in the civic center area they'd find the real estate to put up a new symphony hall while continuing to play in the old one.

Monday, March 04, 2013

San Francisco Symphony 2013-14

The SFS centennial season 2011-12 was a once-a-century spectacle, the season that followed, lackluster. The press releases for next year hit my in-box at 10 a.m., and I am very happy to say that the 2013-14 season represents a return to form, with programming that approaches that of the centennial year.

Coming at the top of the list is the kind of performance that makes you scratch your head and wonder just how MTT talked the administration into funding it: complete semi-staged performances of Peter Grimes, with a spectacular cast headed by tenor Stuart Skelton and soprano Elza van den Heever (both former SFO Adler Fellows). Adding to the luster of the Britten centennial year - and thank goodness somebody is taking note of it - are performances of the War Requiem (Semyon Bychkov conducts), the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings (Toby Spence, and a great opportunity to hear our fabulous principal horn Robert Ward), excepts from The Prince of the Pagodas (MTT), separate performances of the Four Sea Interludes from Grimes (MTT, with video by Tal Rosner), and the Simple Symphony (Alexander Barantschik conducts, on a program that also includes Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Piazzola). The Kremerata Baltica's visit includes the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.

But that's not all. Other highlights are:

  • Anthiel, Jazz Symphony; Barber Violin Concerto (James Ehnes); Gershwin, An American in Paris
  • Zosha di Castri, Lineage (SFS commission, world premier), on a program with Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky 1st PC (Bronfman)
  • Mahler Third Symphony (Sasha Cooke, mezzo; MTT - but you could have guessed that, right?)
  • A grab-bag headed by Manny Ax in the LvB Third Piano Concerto and also including music of Mahler, Copland, Debussy, Delius, Grieg, and Rachmaninov (MTT)
  • Pablo Herras-Casado conducts two weeks of tasty programs featuring Ades and Mendelssohn; works include scenes from Ades's The Tempest, with Audrey Luna, Charlotte Hellekant, and Rod Gilfrey and scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Andras Schiff is back with lots of Bach; he will also attempt the same feat I saw Jeffrey Kahane in a few years back: performing the Goldberg and Diabelli Variations on the same program. Good luck, Andras!
  • Yuja Wang is on several programs and is part of Project San Francisco. (Again?)
  • We hear more Mason Bates, whose music is paired with Beethoven's. Um.
  • Edwin Outwater conducts Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Dvorak Legends, and Prokofief.
  • There's a series where you get to hear one of the world's great orchestras play great film scores with the movie running. Films are Psycho, The Lodger, Vertigo, City Lights,  Fantasia (!), "Hitchcock's Greatest Hits."
  • Ragnar Bohlin conducts Messiah, with Katie van Kooten, Claudia Huckle, Sean Pannikar, and Joshua Hopkins
  • Osmo Vanska is back, with Sibelius (yay!), Rachmaninov, and Stravinsky; Daniil Trifonov plays the Rach Rhapsody, with that tune.
  • The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra visits, alas with Pinchas Zuckerman and an all-Beethoven program that includes the Fifth and the Violin Concerto
  • The Kremerata Baltica program looks great and includes Shostakovich.
  • The fabulous young conductor Lionel Bringuier guest-conducts here for the first time, in Brahms, Dutilleux, and Ravel
  • Ralphael Fruehbeck de Burgos conducts for the first time in I don't know how long; Haydn & Rimsky
  • Yuri Temirkanov brings the St. Petersburg Phil to town for two programs, with works by Kancheli, Rossini, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Rimskey, and Tchaik PC 1 (Denis Kozhukhin). The Rinsky is the Suite from The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia (Yes, I had to write out the whole thing.)
  • Julia Fischer is on the schedule playing a Prokofiev violin concerto; I'll believe it when I see it.
  • Gustavo Dudamel and the LAPO visit with two programs.
  • Herbert Blomstedt has a program of the Schubert Great C Major Symphony and Carey Bell in the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto! Yes!! (His second week is Bruckner & Mozart PC 21 with Garrick Ohlsson)
  • James Conlon has a great program that includes Schulhoff and Shostakovich, the latter with trumpet god Mark Inouye and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
  • Ton Koopman has two programs of JSB and CPEB.
  • Christian Tetzlaff has a solo Bach program and plays the Bartok 2nd violin concerto on a program that includes Sibelius & Brahms. (C'mon, Michael, forget Lemminkainen's Return and put Russ deLuna out front with The Swan of Tuonela.)
  • Having done such a great job with choral masterpieces last month, Charles Dutoit returns with Stravinsky, more Poulenc, and Faure. I hate the Faure Requiem but might stick around for it this time. His second week is Shostakovich and Beethoven (Kirill Gerstein).
  • That program with Prince of the Pagodas also has the Shostakovich first violin concerto with Janine Jansen.
There's also to-be-announced chamber music with members of SFS and soloists on Great Performers whom I have not mentioned. I'll just say, to close: it's a great season. And it even includes a new work composed by a woman. 

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Secret Garden Media Roundup

My review of Nolan Gasser's new opera, The Secret Garden, is posted at Chicago Classical Review. I will have a lot more to say about it but that has to wait a day or so. In the meantime, this posting will contain links to my and other reviews.
  • Lisa Hirsch, Chicago Classical Review. Sunk by the libretto and insufficiently varied music.
  • Opera Tattler
  • Richard Scheinin, Mercury News. Rich describes the musical issues in more detail than I did. I think the libretto causes many of the problems, but he's right on.
  • Joshua Kosman, Chron, likes it better than Rich and I did, finding the music more appealing and the libretto less of a problem.
  • Janos Gereben, SFCV, who is equivocal

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Reviewing Mozart and Bruckner at SFS

My review went up late today. SFCV is having some issues, and the URL isn't what's typical, so it might change in the next few days. Also, I've asked for the photo of Nadine Sierra to be replaced with something else. She was not the main event of this series of concerts.

Here's Joshua Kosman's review, with the same photo of Nadine Sierra; we were at the same concert. And here's his obituary for Bill Bennett.

Musical Chairs

With the tragic death of Principal Oboe William Bennett this week, San Francisco Symphony is left with a most unusual situation in its oboe section.
  • A vacancy in the principal chair.
  • A possible vacancy in the associate principal chair, because Jonathan Fischer is on leave this season, in Houston playing principal chair.
I started a blog posting about this last weekend, when we could still hope for Bill Bennett's recovery and possible return to SFS; at the time, I could not bring myself to finish or post it. 

Here's what's likely to happen.

1. MTT names an acting principal oboe.
2. He holds auditions for the principal oboe position within the year.
3. Chris Gaudi continues as acting associate principal until Jonathan Fischer comes back or stays in Houston.
4. If Fischer resigns from SFS, auditions are held for the associate principal chair.

In MTT's place, I'd be chatting with the principal oboes of orchestras currently in various kinds of death spiral or that recently experienced labor problems. Yes, I'm looking at you, Minnesota, Detroit, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia. Or even where there's leadership instability, where I'm looking at Boston and, uh, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. 

There's also the wild card of Fischer auditioning for, and winning, the principal oboe chair in SFS; certainly if he were not on leave, he'd likely be appointed acting principal.

Update: Something I left out is that MTT can be...uh...dilatory in filling open positions. Nadya Tichman was acting concertmaster for several years before Alexander Barantschik was appointed concertmaster; Robert Ward was acting principal horn for eight years, an astonishing length of time considering what a great player he is; Geraldine Walther's chair was open for four or five years before Jonathan Vinocour's appointment.