Friday, February 28, 2014

CUNY Scores Big!

Paul Krugman is retiring from Princeton at the end of academic year 2014-15, moving to Manhattan, and taking a job at CUNY.

He went to them to ask if they had room for him to be "affiliated" with the Luxembourg Income Study. CUNY - I can imagine the cheering and champagne corks popping when they heard from him - not only said yes, they offered him a teaching position.

I can also imagine the weeping and wailing, and the rending of sackcloth, at Princeton. Well, I wouldn't want to say goodbye to the world's highest-profile economist either.

As a native New Yorker, I daydream about retiring to NYC myself, although, unlike Dr. PK, I'm unlikely to be able to afford living in Manhattan. Whatever: congratulations to Dr. Krugman on this auspicious next step.

Kristian Bezuidenhout

Alex Ross saw Kristian Bezuidenhout in concert this week and was mightily impressed. After listening to the video Alex embeds and some Mozart with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, I am too.

The good news: Bezuidenhout is coming to the Bay Area in June for the Berkeley [Early Music] Festival and Exhibition.

The bad news: tickets don't go on sale for a while! (He's also playing at St. Mark's Episcopal on Bancroft, which has the most uncomfortable pews in the East Bay - oh well!)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Alice Herz-Sommer

The pianist and teacher Alice Herz-Sommer died last week, after a remarkable and remarkably long life.

Born to middle-class parents in Prague, she began piano lessons at age 5, graduated from conservatory, and had a performing career while still quite young. Because of the circles in which her parents moved, she met both Mahler and Kafka in her youth.

On the brink of World War II, she stayed in Prague to care for her mother. In 1942, Mrs. Herz was deported to Terezin; in 1943, Herz-Sommer, her husband Leopold, and their young son were also deported. Her mother was killed in a death camp and, eventually, so was her husband. Herz-Sommer and her son lived on in Terezin because of the musical performances she had given, and both survived the war. Her son, the cellist Raphael Sommer, died in 2001.

In recent years, Herz-Sommer was profiled in biographies and a short documentary that is up for an Academy Award. She was 110 at her death, and very likely the oldest Holocaust survivor.

Real Estate Matters, or, A Tale of Two Concert Halls


Every time I'm in Davies Symphony Hall, I'm reminded of its inadequacies, both those I personally experience and those I've only read about.
  • The tiny, ugly, low-ceilinged entry area, which is shared with the box office. You feel like you're walking into a BART station, not a concert hall. It's a mean little space with no sense of grandeur.
  • The confusing layout. Ever tried to find your way to the terrace seating?
  • The blank corner of Grove & Van Ness.
  • The inadequate bathrooms. Lines out the door of the women's, especially.
  • The small elevators, which are heavily used and will be more so as the baby boomers age.
  • The uncomfortable seats, which aren't all the same size, many of which are too damn small.
  • The small and mediocre gift shop, which has hardly any CDs or books about music.
  • The parking lot occupying space that could be used for musical or administrative purposes.
  • The lack of a restaurant (and even a decent assortment of sandwiches). (Even the 80+ year old opera house has a restaurant!)
  • The inadequate space for administrative offices.
  • The godawful amplification system they use, when they (usually wrongly) amplify something
  • And worst of all, the still-mediocre acoustics, despite renovations.
Honestly, it's time to find a rich donor, tear it down, and start over.

And every time I'm at the War Memorial Opera House, I'm reminded of its inadequacies.
  • The really awful seats: in the orchestra, they're big enough, but about two inches off the ground, making them tough to get in and out of if you are old enough to have the money to pay for orchestra seats. In the upper reaches, the seats get tinier and tinier and the leg room gets worse and worse. [New since 2014: the seat replacement project will make a huge difference here.]
  • The tiny press room, which always overflows at a primo
  • The lack of adequate rehearsal space. Did you know that there's a big rehearsal space in Davies that is used by the opera?
  • The lack of adequate storage space for sets and other stuff. When three operas are going, it's common to see parts of sets stored outside on Grove near Franklin.
  • The inadequate theatrical systems. Even with the many upgrades when the renovations were done following the earthquake, the systems could use more upgrades.
  • The size of the pit. Even after being enlarged in the 90s, there wasn't room for the full St. Francois orchestra, and forget about using the full complement called for by the Frau and Elektra orchestras.
  • No alternative performance space, a problem that's being solved with the renovation of the Veterans Building, which will include a small theater.
  • I'm just assuming that the backstage facilities such as dressing rooms could be improved.
  • The administrative offices are...a little jammed.
  • [Added in 2020] The uncertain, uneven acoustics and many dead spots.
At least the opera house sounds good, has a restaurant, and has public spaces that have some sense of grandeur, well, at least until you get up to balcony level. And the 90s renovations provided more or less adequate bathrooms as well.

So, given all of this....I have a plan. 

If you tore down both buildings - hold on, I know you love the opera house, but think about the issues - and used the plots occupied by both, plus Grove Street, you could build one hell of an adequate multi-use facility. You'd have to route Grove under the house, but it could be done, and of course there could be more parking (especially for disabled people) on site.

Just think of it: Lake Louise could be built over and the new building could be an extra couple of stories high, to accommodate more and better rehearsal, administrative, and function space. The opera house could be more physically comfortable and the concert hall could, uh, sound good. Of course you'd hire Yasuhisa Toyota to design the acoustics of all of the performing spaces.  (He designed Disney and Bing Halls, a superb track record more or less locally.) There could be a couple of smaller / alternative performance spaces. David Herbert would stop complaining about inadequate timpani practice space. You'd be able to sit down for a nice dinner before a concert. You could use the rest rooms without risking missing the Act II curtain. The opera's administrative offices could have a few more windows.

Maybe the Ballet could have its own performance space, so that the Opera could go year-round, but I don't think that there would be enough room for this unless we also take down the Veterans Building. (Well, that's a thought!)

Staging this plan would be tough and expensive: for the Davies demolition phase, SFS would have to go back to performing in the opera house, and they'd have to rent space elsewhere for the administrative offices. When the Opera House came down, everybody would have to find performance and administrative alternatives. (We know bad things happen when a company just stops performing for a year.) Moreover, construction would not be fast; it would take a couple of years to construct and furnish the building. It would take a lot of money ($500 million to $750 million, is my guess.) 

Years of run-outs? Oy. Maybe not. But I can dream.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Playing Catch-Up

I am way, way behind on covering season announcements, more than a month behind, in fact. SF Opera announced in mid-January, SFS announced today, and several other major US orchestras announced in between. I hope to catch up this week, but we'll see.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Who's Next?

The New York Philharmonic is about to lose its principal clarinet - again.

Let's take a look at the sad story of that seat in the last few years:

Perhaps the NYPO should check out Burt Hara, late of the Minnesota Orchestra, currently with the LAPO, though sunny LA might be more appealing, or perhaps Mr. Hara plans on a return to Minnesota. But as I've said before, keep your hands off Carey Bell.


A few years ago, the NY Times ran a story about a company where employees sign an "agreement to values" form that forbids gossip. The human resources manager is quoted saying the following to an employee when that employee interviewed at the firm:
There’s no back-stabbing here, and no office politics. Gossiping and talking behind someone’s back are not tolerated.
I can tell you that my blood ran cold at the article, especially the quotation above. The company doesn't exist where there are no office politics. It happens everywhere.

What this company has is an effective means of keeping employees from obtaining independent information from each other about what goes on at the company. If you're not allowed to talk to each other, you don't know who the office creep is. You know, the one who commits sexual harassment. If someone leaves, the company can tell you whatever it wants, and you have no way to tell whether it's the truth or they are lying through their teeth to protect themselves.

The woman interviewed says this:
At my last job, gossip was rampant. So many people had negative attitudes. Workers would become frustrated if one person was slacking off, so they’d vent about it.
I once worked in a group which had a notable slacker, and believe me, I'm glad we were able to talk to each other about it. Managers don't always know what's going on; in this case, because we talked about how we were affected by the slacker, well, eventually the person didn't work for our company any more. If you don't talk to each other, how do you know that management expectations are fair, and that people are being treated fairly?

It sounds as though the company discussed in the article does have a culture where individuals are encouraged to call out problems, and of course that is a good thing. Still, I would worry about what isn't being discussed and what is being concealed.

Okay, enough ranting about a company I don't work for. But now you understand my view of the value of gossip.  If you're wondering what this has to do with my usual beat, I don't have a direct connection.

However, I do have a few things to say about House of Cards, Netflix's hit made-for-Netflix TV show, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as a Congressman and his wife, who works in the nonprofit NGO sector.

The show is beautifully produced, well-directed, well-written, looks great, snappy cinematography, everything you'd expect of a well-funded TV series. It has one huge gaping problem, though: Congressman Francis Underwood gets away with an amazing amount of double-timing, betrayal, back-stabbing, breaking promises, etc., etc. And I just don't believe this could happen. He is the House majority whip, and his behavior, and everyone's failure to notice it, would be possible only in an environment where nobody talks to each other. It is not possible that in Washington, DC, senators and representatives don't talk to each; their staffs don't talk to each other; reporters and bloggers and Congress-watchers don't speculate or talk to each other.

Just not possible. Gossip is everywhere, and Frank Underwood could never get away over years with the kinds of manipulations you see in the show without getting caught at it and winding up on the front page of the Washington Post and NY Times and Daily Kos and HuffPost and.....

Friday Miscellany

John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer will be staged by Long Beach Opera next month at Long Beach's Terrace Theater, with performances on Sunday, March 16 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 22 at 2 p.m. Details here; I have a ticket for the Saturday performance.....Robert Rattray of the London artist management company Askonas Holt has been named Assistant General Manager for Artistic Affairs at the Metropolitan Opera, replacing the retiring Sarah Billingburst. Rattray will have major responsibilities in the casting, scheduling, and "liasing" areas. For plenty of snark about what this means, see Parterre Box....Bard SummerScape 2014 will focus on Schubert & His World this year. Among other things, the festival will feature the first US performance of Weber's Euryanthe in a century or so, as well as Schubert's Fierrabras. The festival takes place June 27 to August 17....Berkeley Festival (of Early Music) announces its schedule; June 1-8, 2014, with main stage concerts by Ensemble Vox Luminis, Ars Lyrica Houston, the Philharmonia Chamber Players, with guest soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Magnificat, Hopkinson Smith, and other groups. Bezuidenhout also presents a solo recital. As usual, the Fringe will have numerous performances...The all-day Hot Air Music Festival is back, on Sunday, March 2, from 12:30 to 9 p.m. at the SF Conservatory of Music. As usual, the lineup is delicious.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mortier Speaks

Anthony Tommasini chatted with Gerard Mortier the other week, and boy, is it ever interesting. Here's the money quote:

Mr. Mortier repeated a point he had made in 2011: It was a miscalculation on both sides, his and the board’s, to assume that fund-raising would spike once he arrived, since he was little known to New York arts patrons and had spent his career running state-subsidized European institutions. It seems inexplicable that the board of a major New York opera company and one of the most experienced arts administrators in Europe did not understand how the finances worked in their different domains.
Is that the understatement of the year or what? And is it really inexplicable?? As it happens, it's apparent that the NYCO board had no idea of how to run the company, which you can tell just by reading a few articles about the company's demise: the board couldn't do the math to figure out that the year with no performances would be a financial disaster, they ran through the endowment as though it didn't matter, and, well, bankruptcy, you know?

Not only that, NYCO had the example of what happened in San Francisco when Pamela Rosenberg, an experienced arts administrator in Europe, came west from Germany, but evidently the board didn't read the papers any more than they did the addition. Rosenberg hated fundraising, she spent money like there was no tomorrow, working conditions resulted in a number of serious injuries on stage, she alienated the union workers, and she headed back to Europe before her contract was up. There were any number of artistic highs during her tenure, but she failed at ensuring the financial health of the company. That got left to David Gockley, who has done a sterling job of solidifying SFO's finances.

Meanwhile, Mortier claims credit for the acoustic renovation: does he deserve this? I really don't know, but I wish Tommasini had addressed this point in the article. Who persuaded the vile David Koch to pony up for the renovation? Mortier also says planning was well under way for his first NYCO season, and also that a great deal had been negotiated for new offices. Can any of this be verified?

I'm also suspicious about blaming the board except for Susan Baker, who was of course the big Mortier advocate, and reputed to have more than her share of responsibility for the disaster.

I'm sorry to read of Mortier's illness, and I wish him well, but it's a little hard to tell what's real and what's smoke-blowing in this interview.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I'm Looking at You, Other Minds


Yes, I'm looking at you, Other Minds. You sent me email telling me that OM 19 is coming up fast. You mentioned SFJAZZ and Don Buchla, both good things.

You did not provide dates or concert times.


You Are My Hero, Andy Doe

Read his comeback to the "but classical music is dying" crowd, and also Anne Midgette.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Gone Again: Anonymous Commenting

I've just disabled anonymous commenting again, after a rather long experiment. You need to have a verifiable identity. You can log in with a Google account or with various OpenID accounts. If you have a problem posting, email me (lhirsch at - that's not literal, but I was an early Gmail adopter...) and I'll see what I can do.

Steven Schick at the SFJCC

This concert alert is local to the Bay Area!

If you are not busy Friday night, that would be February 14, here's a concert you really ought to attend: the great percussionist Steven Schick gives his first Bay Area solo recital in many years, in celebration of his 60th birthday. Drool over the program, then go buy tickets:


Gustavo Aguilar: Wendell’s History Pt. 1 (2008)
Karlheinz Stockhausen: Nr. 9 Zyklus (1959)
Morton Feldman: The King of Denmark (1964)
Vinko Globokar: Toucher (1972)
Iannis Xenakis: Rebonds (1989)


Brian Ferneyhough: Bone Alphabet (1992)
Alvin Lucier: Silvers Streetcar for the Orchestra (1982)
Mark Applebaum: Aphasia (2010)
Iannis Xenakis: Psappha (1975)
Gustavo Aguilar: Wendell’s History Pt. 2 (2008)

8 p.m.
San Francisco JCC

NYC Piano Recital, Italian Academy at Columbia University

A great program played by pianist Emanuele Arciuli, tomorrow night, February 12, 7 p.m. at Columbia's Italian Academy:

Variations in f minor - Haydn

Out of Doors - Bartók

Hymne à la Nuit - Liszt

Ishi's Song - Martin Bresnick (b. 1946)

Earth-Preserving Chant - Kyle Gann (b. 1955)

Phrygian Gates - John Adams (b. 1947)

The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America

1161 Amsterdam Avenue
(between 116th & 118th Streets)

New York, NY 10027

The concert is free and open to the public

Sunday, February 09, 2014

K. Lamar Alsop and Ruth Alsop

A NY Times obituary for violinist K. Lamar Alsop, former concertmaster of the New York City Ballet orchestra, also reports on the death of his wife Ruth, a cellist for 50 years in the same orchestra. Mr. Alsop died this past Monday of complications of progressive supranuclear palsy. Mrs. Alsop died on January 23 of lung cancer.

Deepest condolences to their daughter, Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Orchestra, for this double loss.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Contract Talks, 2014

Putting on opera, especially at the international level, is expensive. Think about it all: you have to pay singers, instrumentalists, conductors, prompters, lighting techs, stagehands, dressers, makeup artists, costumers, costume designers, lighting designers, directors, set designers, front of house staff, ticketing staff, the marketing, artistic, and administration departments, and very likely some people I am forgetting. Oh, and you have to pay for space for all of that.

Some years ago, a friend and I started to add up what it would cost to run an opera company if you had permanent singer and orchestral staff and paid the singers a salary rather than on a per-performance basis.  We got to $7 million and quit, and believe me, we had left lots out.

So the contract talks for a big opera company are necessarily complex. A large percentage of those who work to put opera on stage are represented by unions. Labor unrest can affect institutions in the worst ways.

Public pronouncements by those who will be involved with contract talks should always be taken with a large grain of salt. A few years ago, David Gockley of San Francisco Opera rattled his saber very, very loudly in his column in the programs. From what he said, you could tell that there were significant cost issues and that he felt opera could be produced more efficiently / cheaply if certain conditions were met. (I believe he was hinting at a move to stagione system from a repertory system: instead of running two or three opera sin rotation, with sets switched on a constant basis, just one opera would play for its full run, greatly reducing the need for stagehand time between performances.)

This scared a number of people, but, honestly, I thought it was pre-negotiation noisemaking, a strategic attempt to influence public opinion in case of a bad outcome of the talks, i.e. a strike by one or more of the unionized professions.

It's with this in mind that you should read statements coming from Alan Gordon of AGMA, which represents singers in the contract talks. He is warning about a potential lockout at the Met as contract negotiations commence, making claims that Peter Gelb is taking over negotiations from Joe Volpe (Gelb's predecessor) in order to "restructure labor relations at the Met" and pointing to the Met's declining ticket sales and income.

Anyone reading Gordon's comments should take them with about 20 pounds of salt. As a union representative, he's not in a position to put words into the mouth of the Met, and saying that members should expect a lockout (loss of income, etc.) is doing exactly that.

Whatever you think about Peter Gelb's handling of the artistic side of the Met, whatever you think about the HD broadcasts (boon to the bottom line? art-form breaker?), you can bet that he reads the same papers you do. He has seen the tremendous damage done to the Minnesota Orchestra by its lockout, from the complete loss of confidence in board and management to the financial hit they've taken through having no income from ticket sales for 18 months.

The Metropolitan Opera has the biggest budget of any performing arts organization in the world. Ticket sales, fundraising, and public support are crucial to its continued operations. Gelb will negotiate hard for union concessions, but he is not going to destroy the company with a lockout.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Google Takes a Stand

Here's a Google doodle for the Olympics, visible on right now:

As the Times says, it's a statement.

Frank Almond and the Lipinski Strad

I am way, way behind everyone else in the musical blogosphere in mentioning last week's post-concert assault on violinist Frank Almond and the theft of the Lipinski Strad, which had been on loan to Almond for several years. There have been arrests in the case, and today the Times is reporting that the violin may have been located. I believe I have read that Mr. Almond is recovering well from the assault; best wishes to him, and I hope the violin is safely returned to Mr. Almond and its owner.

Best Classical Music Scandal Since Joyce Hatto?

The NY Times reports that the deaf composer Mamoru Samuragochi is, evidently, neither:

  • The ghost composer, Takashi Niigaki, has stepped forward and says he was paid about $70,000 over a period of years for many works that evidently earned a nice living for Samuragochi.
  • Samuragochi can allegedly hear just fine, according to Niigaki.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Symposia at Stanford

Email from composer Jonathan Berger arrived with details about the annual Music & the Brain symposium:

Dear Friends,
I'm very pleased to announce this year's symposium on Music and the Brain.
This year's topic is 'Music, Transcendence and Spirituality'.
I hope you will join us for this extraordinary cross-disciplinary exploration.
The symposium is free and open to the public.
For details see:
Advance registration is NOT required - but spaces are available on a first-come-first-
serve basis.
All events take place on the CCRMA Stage. Tickets for the Tibetan music concert are
available from the Stanford Ticket Office.
With all best wishes -
- Jonathan

Jonathan Berger
The Denning Family Provostial Professor
Stanford University

And I was reminded that I should look up the not-annual Reactions to the Record symposium, which will indeed happen this year on the first weekend of April:


Reactions to the Record IV: Early Recordings, Musical Style, and the Future of Performance, April 3–5, 2014 at Stanford University explores scholarship and performance that engages the legacy of historical recordings with three days of presentations, concerts, panel discussions, demonstrations, and exhibits. The symposium is a dynamic forum combining research and practice with challenging perspectives on musical performance today.
Reactions to the Record highlights work in performance practice that engages historical recordings as vital source material. Central to this interest are performances inspired by historical models and efforts toward revival. Presentations in related areas include cultural studies in performance, methodologies of performance analysis, and performance in historical narrative.
The Stanford University Department of Music and Archive of Recorded Sound in conjunction with the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (now Stanford Arts Institute) convened the first Reactions to the Record symposium in 2007 as an interdisciplinary meeting of the world's finest scholars and performers interested in the legacy of historical recordings. The 2014 Reactions to the Record symposium will bring together presenters from a variety of institutions, including preeminent figures in performance scholarship.
Alas, I'll be doing jujitsu that weekend and can't attend, but you should!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Yet Another Set of Paganini Variations

Here's what happens when Marc-Andre Hamelin gets his hand on a famous theme:

Around 4:00, there is a riff on LvB op. 109. Around 5:45, he is quoting different Beethoven. Around 7:30, he is almost quoting one of Rachmaninov's variations. Something vaguely familiar is going on around 9:00.