Sunday, May 26, 2013

He's Really Gone.

Elliott Cook Carter, Jr., December 11, 1908 - November 5, 2012, who will not be forgotten during my lifetime.

Alex Ross posts the evidence.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

End of the World

Jane  Eaglen comes in for a lot of stick around the operatic blogosphere, mostly from people who've forgotten that she could really sing. Here she is with the Immolation at the Levine 25th anniversary gala in 1996.

Greatest performance of this I've ever heard? No, that would be one of the Flagstag/Furtwangler performances, but damn good.

IOC's June Program

The International Orange Chorale has a program of a capella music by women coming up in June. It includes  the West Coast premiere of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s opus “Unremembered” as well as new music by Mari Esabel Valverde, Elizabeth Kimble, Elizabeth Lim, Eleanor Aversa, Abbie Betinis, and Malin Bång.

Berkeley Concert:
Sunday June 2nd 2013 @ 6PM
David Brower Center
2150 Allston Way, Berkeley CA
Happy Hour Concert (in SF):
Friday June 7th 2013 @ 5PM
Solarium Atrium
55 Second Street, SF CA
SF Evening Concert:
St Matthew’s Lutheran Church
Saturday June 8th 2013 @ 7:30PM
3281 16th Street, SF CA
(Some day I will hear this chorus, but their dates and locations tend not to work for me.)

And If You Are In Seattle Today

Seattle Opera celebrates with a Wagner Sing-Along!

It's free! They'd like you to pre-register.

O heilige Goetter!

Lauritz Melchior, Helen Traubel, and Arturo Toscanini set Carnegie Hall on fire in the Goetterdaemmerung dawn duet.

Heil Dir, Sonne!

Greeting the sun for the first time this day in Leipzig, May 22, 1813, Wilhelm Richard Wagner.

Astrid Varnay greets the sun and is soon joined by Wolfgang Windgassen:

Watch this space; more later.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

NCCO Season Announcement

Last, but not least, New Century Chamber Orchestra announces its 2013-14 season.

The most interesting program, from my perspective, is the February program, which includes Donizetti's one-act opera Rita, though the first half of the program is string arrangements of various non-Wagnerian bleeding chunks. Curious how the Salome Dance of the Seven Veils will sound with a small string orchestra.

The featured composer this year is Michael Daugherty, a popular, easy-listening, blandish, competent composer. The first program is all Daugherty except for Josef Suk's Serenade, Op. 6.  Clarice Assad's Dreamscape makes its return, on a program that includes the premier of a new violin concerto by Daugherty. There's a concert with Chanticleer, repertoire TBA. Well, there's work by a female composer on the season.

Full details after the cut. Update: Fixed the dates, because all of the 2013-14 season concerts are not in 2013. :) (The detailed listing was correct, just not the headers, for the 2014 programs.)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Harold Shapero

Photo: Gordon Parks for Life

I logged on to Twitter a while ago to tell Alex Ross that we won't have much Wagner in SF on the 22nd either, but before I could get that tweet off, I saw Alex's For Harold Shapero link, and knew what had happened. The composer died last night in his sleep, peacefully, from complications of pneumonia, at 93.

Harold Shapero was one of my professors at Brandeis in the 1970s. (If you didn't already know my approximate age, you do now.) When I started, he was some years into what we thought was a major-league composer's block. Over at Sequenza 21, where there's a statement up from the Shapero family, Christian Hertzog notes in the comments that Mr. Shapero "retreated from composing after being attacked by some of his peers in the late 1940s/50s."

I don't personally have any information about why Mr. Shapero stopped composing, but given the quality of his early work, that retreat, or block, or whatever it was, was a sad thing. He was a good teacher; I took electronic music and analysis with him. If you ever hear me refer to the later variations of Beethoven's Op. 111 piano sonata as "the heavenly raindrops," I'm quoting Mr. Shapero. And I think he must have been great to study composition with.

The electronic music class was a lot of fun. Brandeis had a Buchla and a Moog, and Mr. Shapero wouldn't let us touch the Moog. "You will just be writing for keyboard if you use the Moog. Go play with the Buchla." So I learned a little about what a sequencer could do. I still have the resulting tape, my only extended composition ever. It's right over there in a bookcase, and has not been played since the 1970s. And I have a '70s era music department brochure that has a photo of me sitting in the electronic music studio in front of the Buchla. (The brochure also stars David Urrows's boots.)

I was last in touch with Mr. Shapero about ten years ago, following Arthur Berger's death, and he was much as he had been in the 70s: warm, funny, sharp. That correspondence was in an old email account; it's still active, but it seems I deleted most email from 2003 at some point, owing to storage limits. He remembered me (though not what I looked like), and we had an entertaining exchange. In one of the lost emails from him, he lamented the loss of a beloved cat and said he and his wife were not getting a new cat more because he couldn't stand to lose another. He was also composing again and had been for some time, a good thing.

I pitched an interview with him a few years ago and was turned down; I should really have pitched harder. It would have been good to have a few extended conversations with him.

Hail and farewell, Harold Shapero, and condolences to his wife and daughter, who survive him. You will be missed.

Updated May 19 with links and some more comments.
Updated May 23 with more links.

Defending the Indefensible

The Times has a puff piece on the dismantling of The Machine, that nasty unit set used for the Met's current Ring production, which is going into storage for the nonce. Ho hum, except for the quotations from Peter Gelb, who inserts his foot farther into his digestive system with every comment:
Mr. Gelb suggested that the machine had become a scapegoat. “One of the reasons the ‘Ring’ has been criticized so much is people disagree with his approach, not the machine,” he said, referring to Mr. Lepage. “The machine is a victim, not entirely innocent because of its creakiness, but, you know, every production at the Met makes some noise.” 
He said he had not lost his enthusiasm for the machine. “It worked far more times than it didn’t work, and when it didn’t work sometimes, the machine was blamed when it wasn’t its fault.” He mentioned a moment in “Das Rheingold” last month when a jam on a separate “track-and-trolley” device prevented acrobats from zooming over the stage. Still, that problem forced the crew to stop the machine. 
He added that while it had delayed that 2011 “Die Walküre,” it had never interrupted a performance. “I’ve been to Broadway shows where the performance was stopped and the audience sat with the house lights on because things weren’t working,” he said. “That never happened to us.”

Yeah, that 45-minute delay to reboot the thing for Die Walkuere, who cares?
Nobody believes a word Peter Gelb says about the production at this point; actually, people disagree with the approach (brainless) and The Machine (worthless, dull). I'd suggest that he cut his losses by keeping his mouth shut.

On the Air

James Levine's return to the podium is tomorrow, and the concert will be broadcast on the web. Details from the Met press release:

The Sirius XM Radio broadcast of this Sunday afternoon’s MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall concert—Met Music Director James Levine’s first public performance in more than two years—will be simulcast on the Met’s Web site.  The broadcast can be heard live on Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS XM Channel 74 and streamed live at beginning at 2:55 p.m. on Sunday. The concert begins at 3 p.m. this Sunday, May 19. The program will include the prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin; Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major with soloist Evgeny Kissin; and Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, “Great.”
A pretty tame program for Levine: no Carter, Webern, etc.

Note: 3 p.m. eastern time. That's noon for us here on the west coast.  Good luck, Jimmy, and don't fall off the scooter.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Curious Flights Celebrates Britten

Direct from clarinetist Brenden Guy comes an update on the upcoming Curious Flights concert. It is a fabulous program of little-heard works by Benjamin Britten:

A Britten Celebration
Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 8 p.m.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall, 50 Oak Street, San Francisco

Britten – Wind Sextet                                                                                      
            Valinor Winds
Britten – Phantasy Quintet in F minor                                                             
            Friction Quartet & Jason Pyszkowski
Britten – Canticle III, Op. 55: Still Falls the Rain
            Brian Thorsett, tenor
            Kevin Rivard, horn
            Ulysses Loken, piano
Britten, Matthews – Movements for a Clarinet Concerto                                                 
            Curious Flights Symphony Orchestra
            Alasdair Neale, conductor
            Brenden Guy, clarinet

I heard Brian Thorsett and Kevin Rivard in the Britten Serenade at NCCO a couple of years back and they were great. It's a wonderful program all around!

I am grieved that I can't be at Curious Flights (jujitsu class in Berkeley Tuesday nights), but I hope you can be. Tickets are a bargain at $10 (students) and $15 (general); buy from Brown Paper Tickets or at the door.

White Smoke over the Back Bay: It's Nelsons


Andris Nelsons has been appointed Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. For the 2013-14 season, he has the title Music Director Designate. After that, he's the MD.

The photos in the press release include one of Nelsons with his wife, soprano Kristine Opolais. Presumably this appointment means she will be more available to companies in the US, although of course she presumably also has a schedule going out five years or so.

I've read a lot about Nelsons in the last few years, but haven't heard a note of his work. Anyone?

Update: Joshua Kosman has heard Nelsons, with the BSO, no less, in Mahler, and wound up scratching his head.

Monday, May 13, 2013


San Francisco Opera's Tales of Hoffman takes a couple more hits:
  • Alice Coote has withdrawn "for personal reasons," and is replaced by American mezzo Angela Brower.
  • Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino replaces Jennifer Cherest as Stella.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What Was He Thinking?

While we were on the east coast, I took my mother to the New York City Ballet. My uncle Sonny, who has more connections than I can describe in the theatrical community, had offered to get Met tickets for me, but the schedule for the last 12 days was all operas I had seen and had no particular desire to see again, plus I was concerned about accessibility issues for my mom. So, no opera, but the Jerome Robbins program at NYCB looked promising.

Well, I liked it about as much as I usually like ballet, which is to say, I'm fascinated by the freakish things the dancers can do with their bodies but prone to getting bored. This particular program was more interesting than most, perhaps because the middle work was Fancy Free, which has a great Bernstein score, a story of sorts, and a whole lot of style, even though the 40s sexism gets tiresome quickly.

The last piece on the program was a huge problem, though. It's a ballet called I'm Old-Fashioned, which is also the title of a Kern & Mercer song. The ballet, to music of Morton Gould, is a set of variations on the dance that Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth do in the following film sequence:

Gould's music is a set of variations on the Kern song, without singer, naturally.

First off, I'd say the ballet is about 30% longer than it should be, even accounting for my own comparative disinterest in ballet. I mean, the music overstayed its welcome, though there's a suitably amusing fugue with pseudo-Baroque choreography.

But the bigger problem is the structure of the ballet. It starts with the film sequence projected on the stage backdrop, then the ballet dancers come out and do their thing for, I dunno, 20 minutes? Longer? I didn't check my phone for start & end times, since it was turned off, and I'm not going to dig up the program.

Then, for the last variation....god help me, the film is projected again and about 20 or 30 NYCB dancers are on stage doing a variation (I think) of what Astaire and Hayworth are doing, 40 feet tall, behind them.


Fred Astaire was one of the greatest and most famous dancers of the 20th century. The man was a genius, poetry in motion, a dancer with the kind of eye-drawing power that I have seen only in the greatest of opera singers. Think Rysanek, LHL, Chris Merritt (that is not a mistake) in his last two SFO appearances. You could not take their eyes off them and you hardly noticed anyone else on stage.

Those poor NYCB dancers, set up as miniature Astaires and looking, ah, stylistically a good distance from him. Ballet is a highly artificial and stylized style, while what Astaire is doing looks completely natural and easy even though only a handful of dancers could possibly do what he did. And Astaire had about four times the charisma of the NYCB dancers.

It was not fair. I felt so sorry for the ballet dancers. It's not right to create a ballet that makes your dancers look so totally outclassed.

Hiatus Explained

I was out of town on the east coast starting on May 1, mostly taking my mother around to see friends and relatives. She moved to the Bay Area in 2006 and hadn't visited the east since 2010; in the last couple of years, it's definitely gotten to the point where it's best for me to travel with her. So, there you have it. I missed the Beethoven weird-stuff programs (and the repeat of the Missa), which I regret deeply, and gave my Goerne Winterreise ticket to a friend because I was at my wit's end the last weekend in April.

I'm back now and resuming blogging.