Friday, March 28, 2014

The Best Program in the World

Not opera, but I would pay - and pay a lot - to see this program:
  • Boulez, sur Incises
  • Birtwistle, Moth Requiem
  • Stravinsky, Les Noces
Conducted by Le Maitre himself, of course. I was lucky enough to see him conduct sur Incises just about three years ago. I hope I never forget the beauty of the work sounding through Disney Hall.

H/T Boulezian for suggesting that Les Noces would go well with the other two!

You Win Some, You Lose Some 3

And that's true even when the someone is Marc-Andre Hamelin, one of the best and most interesting pianists working today.

He played a program with the Pacifica Quartet back in November, a Monday night at SF JAZZ the day after I got home from my trip to NYC. It was awesome in every way: the Pacifica led off with an intense performance of Shostakovich 7, and Hamelin joined them for the Leo Ornstein and Dvorak piano quintets. The Dvorak was lovely, with a nice Czech spicing, and I'm afraid at this remove I can't get any more specific than that.

The Ornstein was a horse of an entirely different color, a weird and wonderful work, around an hour long. It is about as discursive as a piece can get and still hang together, and indeed it did. It has what sounds like an impossibly difficult piano part, and of course the combination of weird and impossibly difficult means it's catnip for Hamelin, who has the weirdest recorded repertory of any living pianist.

The five of them gave it bang-up performance; it's a good enough piece that I'd say it deserves to be, at least, on the edges of the standard repertory.

By the way, this was my first time at SF JAZZ. Fabulous sight-lines, comfortable seats (for me), and hoo boy, a very clear, dry acoustic, making it a bit like hearing an x-ray of a program. A little more resonance wouldn't have hurt.

Here's what a couple of other reviewers thought of this program:

Then there was Hamelin's solo recital at the Nourse Auditorium, which left me scratching my head. He led off with his own Barcarolle, a misty Debussyan exercise that is, perhaps, a bit longer than it needs to be.

Then came the centerpiece of the recital, Medtner's Sonata in E minor, "Night Wind," Op. 25, No. 2. Um. Around and around and around it went, getting absolutely nowhere. Nice try, Marc-Andre, but leave it for the recording studio. Even you couldn't persuade me to hear this thing again - and I've heard and liked more Medtner than most. See Joshua Kosman's review of a different Hamelin recital; that's exactly how I felt.

After the intermission, he played the four Schubert Impromptus, D935, and, again, these just never took off. They lacked spring and vibrancy; only the last finally had the kind of momentum and energy I expect of both performer and composer. The encores were lovely, especially Hamelin's own hilarious version of Chopin's "Minute" Waltz.

Zachary Woolfe heard this program in NYC a few days before I did and liked it a lot. (I don't know about the pianist's alleged reputation; I must have missed that memo.) I'll chalk up what I heard to an off night on MAH's part, knowing we all have them (or maybe I just didn't like what he was doing with this particular repertory).

Tell Us What You Really Think, Mark!

Boulezian takes down John Adams's Shaker Loops, in a review worthy of A Lexicon of Musical Invective.

I know a fair amount of Adams, but can't remember whether I've heard Shaker Loops or not; will check the CDs I own later today. I can imagine that Adams might not sound as good as he can be in the company of Carter and Birtwistle; the compositional goals and techniques are too different. Regardless, go read that review, which had me laughing out loud at a bus stop before 8 a.m. this morning.

(Regular readers know that I'm a fan of Adams and adore some of his music. Still!)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Diana Damrau Live Stream (Soon!)

Diana Damrau and pianist Craig Rutenberg at Le Poisson Rouge:

Works:         Music from her new album Forever (songs from musicals, operetta and movies)
Day/Date:   Thursday, March 27th, 2014
Time:          7:30 PM EST / 4:30 PM PST
Location:     Gloriously Livestreamed to all of the interwebs

The charming soprano will be singing music from her new album Forever, songs from musicals, operetta and movies.  Event info is here:

(I have no idea how she is in this repertory, but hey, she has been delightful every time I've seen her.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why Good Publicity Matters

In the last couple of weeks, I've posted a lot of complaints about publicity materials I have received from various Bay Area musical organizations, to the point where one of my readers complained about the complaints. I want to go into some detail about why good publicity is important and why it is a bad thing when organizations don't get what they're paying for.

The job of a publicist is to get attention for your organization, its performers, its music director (if there is one), and for the performances put on by the organization. Publicists communicate on your behalf with journalists, publications, bloggers, and members of the public. I suspect they might give advice to an organization on how to run an effective advertising campaign.

When a publicist does the job effectively, the organization gets timely, accurate publicity; the information distributed by the publicist reaches the people who need it when they need it. Journalists write advances or reviews; bloggers put up blurbs and say "this looks interesting, I'm going."

Part of a publicist's job is to make it easy for concert information to be published. Journalists are busy and have publication schedules to deal with. That's why it's counterproductive to the organization paying the publicist when:
  • Information arrives too late to be useful; for example, a week before the performance. A newspaper (or SFCV) needs some lead time to do an advance or to schedule a review.
  • Information is tough to dig out of a press release. It's just not that hard to structure a press release so it can easily be scanned and the necessary information copied and pasted.
Every critic who isn't kept somewhat happy is a critic who might not be writing about a musical organization.

Organizations shoot themselves in the foot in various ways, with or without the help of a publicist when:
  • Their audience communications are hard to read. This discourages the audience from attending or telling friends about the program. My favorite example of this would be a brochure featuring 6 point red type on a white background. I mean, really? It was so pretty until I tried to read it.
  • Their web site or audience communications provide an email address...but the organization doesn't reply. This certainly discourages an audience member (or potential audience member) who has taken the time to write an email, but is then (apparently) ignored by the organizations.
  • Their web site makes you click and click and click to find basic concert information. Alex Ross, among others, has been quietly imploring orchestras to PLEASE have a single web page that lists each program, with conductor, works, soloists, dates, times, and locations without any clicking at all. 
It's just not that hard to get this stuff right. I've got pages of web site basics and publicity basics that are intended to help small organizations, the kind that can't afford a paid publicist, manage their web sites and publicity well enough. (And believe me, getting less-than-pro publicity from a small chorus is a whole lot less painful than getting it from an organization that has a staff publicist or a hired outside publicist.)

Every potential audience member who can't read your brochures, or who doesn't get a response from your organization, is a person who is less likely to attend a concert...or make a donation. That's why organizations pay attention to the quality of their publicity: publicity affects the bottom line, for better or for worse.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

And Lastly....


Here's the information block I want to see (FOR EXAMPLE) in every press release or email I receive:

Performers: Kansas City G&S Players
Works:         The Gondoliers
Day/Date:   Monday, April 14, 2014
Time:          7:30 PM
Location:     Elmer Gantry High School
                    1912 Anderson Way
                    Kansas City, MO




Sorry for shouting. No, actually, I'm not sorry at all.

Updated, March 22: Added a line for works to be performed. I like to know that, too.

Dear Beloved Bay Area Baroque Band

PLEASE don't send a two thousand word season announcement structured like this:
  • Highlight list
  • More extensive blurbs about each of your six programs, apparently including what will be played, all in running text. You give the month, but not the dates.
  • Bullet list of your venues
  • Long blurb/history of the organization
  • Blurb about your MD
  • Schedule, which has dates, times, and locations BUT NOTHING ABOUT REPERTORY
Folks, what I want, what I think everybody wants, is to have the schedule information, performers, and repertory together in one place. I don't want to scroll back and forth in your very long email to see whether I want to and am able to attend any of your concerts. I can't even do a copy & paste into my blog, which, you know, is a convenient way for me to give your programs a boost.

A Note to Nonprofits

If you're an organization whose primary purpose is fund-raising for a Good Cause, your web site had better tell me exactly where the money goes, or you're not getting a cent out of me. The following isn't good enough, for example:
[Organization name deleted] raises money for breast cancer research, treatment, and educational programs.  
Your web site doesn't say anything about where the money you raise goes. This is a serious governance issue and a problem of transparency.

There are breast cancer (and general cancer) organizations I actively avoid (Susan G. Komen, ACS) and organizations I donate to (Breast Cancer Action, Women's Cancer Resource Center). Because I have no idea what [organization name] does with money it takes in, I'm not donating.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Could It Happen Here?

San Diego Opera had balanced its budget for 28 consecutive years, a model of financial rectitude. Could San Francisco Opera be looking at a similar fate?

Yes, it could be. Take a look at Janos Gereben's SFCV report on the SFO annual meeting for some terrifying numbers about SF Opera's budget, subscribers, and ticket sales over a 30 year period.

San Diego Opera to Fold

After decades of balanced budgets, San Diego Opera says they can't raise enough money to continue, so they are winding up the company rather than go on and risking bankruptcy.

Minnesota Update

Some big news this week from Minnesota and a recap of something important that I haven't adequately reported on.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

And Don't Do This, Either

Do not put an informational email address on your web site or in printed materials unless you intend to reply to email sent to that address.

I am looking at you, Classical North Voice America, and you, Sacred & Profane Chamber Chorus.

Don't Do This

Dear Soli Deo Gloria:

About that card I received from about the program you sang last weekend?  It just about guaranteed that I wouldn't attend.

Here's the program information you provided, in full. On the front:
In old Vienna, composers reserved the delicate accompaniment of two violins and continuo for their most intimate sacred works.
On the back:
Enjoy short masses by Mozart and Schubert and explore the roots of this tradition in the works of Bach and other Baroque composers. 
The card also has the dates, times, locations, prices, and soloist names. It's a really big card and I know there was room, somehow, for you to list the works you're performing. I care more about that than the soloist names.

That the front of the card is ugly and hard to read, because of the terrible contrast between the print colors and the background, is unfortunate. That the information you provide is insufficient is worse than that.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

But Wait!

Here's the rest of the story. Yeah, I just had to get the rimshot out there.
The Met approached Goerne, who was in New York performing at Carnegie Hall, yesterday evening when the company’s artistic staff learned of Hampson’s withdrawal. Goerne sang a solo recital at Carnegie Hall and then considered the offer overnight before agreeing. He is currently en route to the Met where he will rehearse with Maestro James Levine and the company’s staff directors. In a serendipitous twist, Goerne attended Monday morning’s dress rehearsal of Wozzeck as a guest, allowing him a chance to see the production in advance.
This performance will be Goerne’s first time singing Wozzeck at the Met. He has given acclaimed performances in the role with other companies, including the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and the Vienna State Opera, with whom he sang the role last Friday evening in a concert staging at Carnegie Hall. The German baritone made his Met debut in 1998 as Papageno in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and reprised the role with the company in 2005. This season, he sings numerous roles at the Vienna State Opera, including the title role in a staged production of Wozzeck later this month, Kurwenal in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and Amfortas in Wagner’s Parsifal.

Cast Change Advisory

From the Met:
Matthias Goerne is stepping into the title role in tonight’s opening night performance of Berg’s Wozzeck, replacing Thomas Hampson, who has withdrawn due to illness.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Tuesday Miscellany

Jessica Duchen chatted with John (Coolidge) Adams and published an interview in the Independent, but honestly, I think that the more interesting Q&A is what she posted on her blog....I bet you will be shocked, shocked, to hear that Paul Krugman is rolling his eyes at Paul Ryan's latest pronouncements about poverty; it certainly doesn't help that Ryan omits or misrepresents data that would undermine his positions....At the Geek Feminism blog, Coral Sheldon-Hess talks about why women in technology groups are important....In the course of discussing ticket fees, Drew McManus links to a whole bunch of my past complaints about them; be sure to read the sane and intelligent comments....And lastly, Harold Shapero talks about studying with Nadia Boulanger after he graduated from Harvard. He didn't have to go to Paris, because she was sitting out the war in Cambridge, MA.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Nicholas Lemann on Kitty Genovese

More than a year ago, I blogged about A.M. Rosenthal's role in distorting the facts of the Kitty Genovese murder and the impact of that distortion on accounts of the killing over the last fifty years. Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker has written an article that further fleshes out the story. Money quote:
Rosenthal’s convictions about the crime were so powerful that he was impervious to the details of what actually happened.
And at the end of Lemann's article:
The real Kitty Genovese syndrome has to do with our susceptibility to narratives that echo our preconceptions and anxieties. So the lesson of the story isn’t that journalists should trust their gut, the way Abe Rosenthal did. Better to use your head.  

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Anonymity on the Internet

Jessica Duchen's blog turns 10 years old today, a milestone that this blog and others will reach later this year. Her celebratory blog posting is a worth a read. She has good comments on the problems created by trying to make everything low-cost or free (also see Dennis Tobinski's New Music Box article Fair Trade for Sheet Music).

She has a good point, also, about the potential damage done by anonymous reviews, but there are excellent political and social reasons to allow and support anonymity and pseudonymity on the Internet. I'm going to defer to the Geek Feminism wiki on this; the stalwart contributors put together some excellent stuff during the Google+ real names debates a couple of years back.
And read some of the links to supporting articles and commentary.

I also support anonymity/pseudonymity because of Proper Discord. Remember, when Andy Doe was working for Apple, he wrote that blog without his name attached.

Lastly, blogging platforms allow a variety of comment settings. I currently have this blog set so that it allows pseudonymous, but not anonymous, commenting, so you have to have a consistent identity to post here; that identity just doesn't have to be the name on your legal ID. In addition, I have comment moderation enabled. 

Those settings eliminate spam postings and allow me to spike seriously problematic comments - which I have done exactly twice. My view is that unless you're Alex Ross or Tony Tommasini (who doesn't have a blog), you should have comments turned on, but moderated, with a clearly-stated moderation policy. Yeah, there might be trolls, but more likely there will be people making intelligent contributions to the conversation.

P. S. I have no idea what Jessica is talking about in this section:
But the most worrying thing at present is the reduction in freedom of expression that results from this bizarre climate of mass hysteria and free-for-all, line-toeing mudslinging, encouraged by the tabloids and a few bloggers who like high ratings. Such a climate has never happened before in my lifetime.
A look at newspapers in the 19th century might be useful for a look at free-for-all mudslinging. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

And Speaking of David Gockley

UPDATE: Whoops. This is his next-to-last season.

If 2014-15 is really his last season, either the Board has selected his successor already or they are nearing a decision. There does need to be some kind of transition period when the outgoing and incoming general directors are in regular communication and working together.

I'm just curious when the announcement will be made. Also curious who his successor might be. It's easy to rule out a few possible candidates (Joe Volpe! George Steel! Pamela Rosenberg! Peter Gelb!) and a lot more difficult to determine who is able to take such a job and do it competently. Depending on his successor's current position and availability, it's not impossible that his contract could be extended by a year.

Out with a Bang

The 2014-15 is currently scheduled to be David Gockley's next-to-last as general manager of San Francisco Opera, and he has pulled out a few stops for it. We also know that he is doing at least some of the planning and casting for the next couple of seasons; subscribers got that letter last year mentioning Elektra, Don Carlo(s), Jenufa, and some singers expected to appear in future seasons.

Anyway, it's a good, well-balanced season, with ten operas, though short on German opera, which is represented only by Le Nozze di Figaro and, well, Handel's Partenope of which there is none, though there are works by a couple of Italian-opera-writing German-speaking guys. Maybe that take the season out of the realm of the well balanced. I hope this won't go on for too many seasons.

The big-gun, big-ticket item is Berlioz's monumental Les Troyens, which is so long that the non-matinee performances start at 6 p.m. Troyens is also the only opera not sung in Italian or English.
  • Norma, with Sondra Radvanovsky, Marco Berti (sigh), Davida Karnas, Christian Van Horn (Luisotti; Kevin Newbury)
  • Susannah, with Patricia Racette, Brandon Jovanovich, Raymond Aceto, and a cast of thousands (Karen Kamensek)
  • Un Ballo in Maschera, with Krassimira Stoyanova/Juliana di Giacomo, Ramon Vargas, Thomas Hampson (!), /Brian Mulligan, Heidi Stober, Dolora Zajick. 
  • Partenope, with Danielle de Niese, Daniela Mack, Alek Shrader, Philippe Sly, and dueling countertenors Anthony Roth Costanza and David Daniels.
  • Tosca (yawn), with Lianna Haroutounian, Brian Jagde, and Mark Delevan. 
  • La Cenerentola, with Karine Deshayes and Rene Barbera.
  • La Boheme, in a new production, with two casts (Sonya Yoncheva, Michael Fabiano, Nadine Sierra, and Alexei Markov alternating with Leah Crocetto, Giorgio Berrugi, Ellie Dehn, and Brian Mulligan). Christian Van Horn, Dale Travis, and Philippe Sly round out the cast, with no breaks. Giuseppe Finzi conducts.
  • Les Troyens, with Donald Runnicles conducting (thank goodness). Susan Graham, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Brian Hymel, Sasha Cooke, Brian Mulligan, Christian Van Horn, and Rene Barbera.
  • Two Women (La Ciocioara), a new opera by Marco Tutino, with Anna Caterina Antonacci, Stephen Costello, Mark Delevan, and Sara Shaffer. Nicola Luisotti conducts.
  • Le Nozze di Figaro, with a cast good enough to get me back to see this again. Philippe Sly as Figaro, Luca Pisaroni as the Count, Lisette Oropesa as Susanna, Nadine Sierra as the Countess (okay, that I don't quite grok), Kate Lindsay and Angela Brouwer as Cherubino. Patrick Summers conducts.  Unfortunately the same 35-year-old productions....
Here is the real oddity in the season. If you thought Patricia Racette's four appearances in the current season was unusual, take a look at Christian Van Horn's 2014-15 season:
  • Oroveso, Norma
  • Alidoro, La Cenerentola
  • Count Horn, Un Ballo in Maschera
  • Colline, La Bohème
  • Narbal, Les Troyens
  • A tweet from Mr. Van Horn tells me that he is also in La Ciociara!
In other words, he appears in 39 performances of five operas 44 performances of six operas! That must be some kind of a record for a singer in leading roles. He might as well rent an apartment for the year.

(He is an excellent singer and I am happy to hear him in multiple roles, but it is surprising that SFO is hiring one individual for so many parts. There is no reported world shortage of bass-baritones, which makes me suspect that perhaps there were some cancelations by other singers - but who knows?)

Updated: Owing to a good point made by Mr. JK; see the comments.
Updated again: Owing to the tweet from Christian Van Horn.
AND AGAIN: Gockley's next-to-last season.