Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last of the Year Lookback

Not a great year for the number of concerts I got to, owing to jujitsu at inconvenient times and the couple of months of either being sick or taking care of my injured partner (or both). Still, many great things among what I did see. In no particular order:

  • Birtwistle at 80 festival at the Barbican Centre in London, with special thumbs up for Gawain and the rarely-seen Yan Tan Tethera.
  • Peter Grimes at San Francisco Symphony, one of the greatest opera performances I've ever seen.
  • Herbert Blomsted at SFS, conducting the Nieslsen clarinet concerto and Schubert's Great C Major Symphony, a program that showed the usually-boring Schubert for the great piece it really is. Don't ask me how he did it.
  • Norma at San Francisco Opera. Pretty great singing, there.
  • West Edge Opera's summer season, with a truly funny and touching Boheme and bang-up performances of Hydrogen Jukebox and The End of the Affair. (The latter is not a very good opera, but the performance was first-rate.)
  • Juliana Di Giacomo in Ballo at SF Opera, though I'm certainly sorry not to have heard Krassimira Stoyanova.
  • Lianna Haroutounian in Tosca at SF Opera. A major voice comes to town.

Heroes of the Year 1: Osmo Vanska, Robert Spano, and our man Donald Runnicles, for standing with the musicians during the lockouts as Minnesota and Atlanta.

Anti-Heroes of the Year 1: The executives at Minnesota and Atlanta, for locking out those on whom their own jobs should rightly depend, and for not understanding that the business of orchestras is to play music.

Heroes of the Year 2: Everybody in San Diego who pulled together to keep SD Opera from going dark.

Anti-Heroes of the Year 2: The clowns at SD Opera who thought they just couldn't go on and tried to close the company down.

Eye-Rolling of the Year: Peter Gelb's threats to lock out the Met. 

Cowardice of the Year: Also to Peter Gelb, for caving to donors and various people who'd never seen the opera and canceling the HD broadcast of The Death of Klinghoffer.

Those Who've Left Us: I'm of course missing a few, but click this link for my obituaries. Ave atque vale to the dead, with a special nod to the great sopranos Licia Albanese and Magda Olivero, and to tenor Carlo Bergonzi.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Baritone Swap at the Met, Continued

Ludovic Tézier is still ill, and has ceded all of his remaining scheduled Met performances as Giogio Germont to Quinn Kelsey (January 14) and Alexei Markov (January 17, 21, and 24). Wishing Mr. Tézier a swift recovery!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Irving Fine, Here and There

At Brandeis University, where I went to college, we heard the name Irving Fine pretty regularly, because he'd been an important early member of the music department and because of the annual concert in his memory. I therefore have absolutely no idea of how well-known he was and is elsewhere in the musical world, although in ten years of peering at offerings from local music organizations, I can't remember seeing anything of his on a program. Certainly his marvelous Alice in Wonderland songs live on, but the rest?

It seems there is a revival of interest. Recently, the NY Times published a terrific Will Robin* article on Fine. (It also discusses Harold Shapero and Arthur Burger, fellow members of the Brandeis music department, both of whom I took classes from.) Ethan Iverson has a long discussion of Fine and his music at Do the Math. Read 'em both, and then pick up some recordings of Fine's music.

Update: Will Robin himself tells me that the Boston Modern Orchestra Project is recording all of Fine's orchestral works. The CD can be pre-ordered and will be published in January, 2015.

* I interrupt myself to report that search at the NY Times is so fucked up that a search for William Robin returns Robin Williams first. NO. But that's what I get for not putting his name in quotation marks.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Paul Renzi

Paul Renzi, longtime principal flutist of the San Francisco Symphony, died on December 6 at 88. He had a remarkable career: appointed to the principal seat by Pierre Monteux at age 18, played with Toscanini in the NBC Symphony, came back to SFS, and retired a decade ago. I'm intrigued by the quotations in Joshua Kosman's excellent obituary from Tim Day, Renzi's successor, and associate principal Robin McKee. I wonder if either of them would be willing to expand on their remarks.

I myself didn't know Renzi's playing well; he retired just as I started to become a regular at SFS, alas.

The Life Alice Herz-Sommer Led

The pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, who died earlier this year at 110, is in the NY Times's annual The Lives They Led issue of the Magazine.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve (and Gigli)

While all of you are busily listening to J.S. Bach or G.F. Handel (and yes, that really is Jon Vickers not quite cleanly negotiating "Every Valley," but it certainly is impressive to hear a sound like that in Handel), I put on my own favorite, very, very secular, Christmas Eve music: the first two acts of Puccini's La Boheme. Once again, it was Gigli and Albanese warming up that garret in Paris.

Gigli's a tenor who gets a lot of sneers, over his unabashed sentimentality and, truth be told, sometimes less than immaculate singing. Oh, yes, there's aspiration, and he's not really the guy for Mozart.

But on this recording, and in some other roles, he approaches perfection. Listen to his liveliness in the opening scene, and how responsive he is to Mimi when Albanese makes her entrance. He drains the color from his voice as he observes how pale and ill she looks, he's kindness itself as he gives her a glass of wine, and he flirts shamelessly while they hunt for the key. He stays deeply in character throughout; you can hear his misery and shame in Act III and how badly he misses Mimi in Act IV. His Rodolfo is certainly one of the most carefully created characterizations on record, and oh that golden voice.

And don't forget the Gustavo/Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera. I'm sorry to tell you that you'll have to put up with a truly awful performance by Maria Caniglia as Amelia; you can only wish they'd gotten anyone else to record the role. But again, he has exactly the right touch for the King: joyous, spontaneous, a bit of a clown and trickster. And he is on his best vocal behavior, singing magnificently. Whether it's because of Tullio Serafin or the music, it's impossible to know, but, again, it's a performance you really ought to hear.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I Was Hoping for a Slightly Weirder Program...

SFS finally announces (most of) the full program for the MTT 70th Birthday Bash. There's Lizst's Hexameron, which Teddy Abrams will conduct, with MTT, Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax, Jeremy Denk, Marc-Andre Hamelin, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, plus:
In addition to Hexameron, each of the five guest pianists take solo turns with the orchestra during the performance: Jean-Yves Thibaudet performs Gershwin’s Sweet and Low Down with SFS Principal Bass Scott Pingel and Principal Percussion Jacob Nissly; Thibaudet also joins Jeremy Denk in Schubert’s Marche caractéristique; Marc-André Hamelin performs the third movement of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2; Emanuel Ax plays the Andante of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21; and Yuja Wang joins the Orchestra in Litolff’s Scherzo from Concerto symphonique No. 4, a work she also performs on the SF Symphony’s Masterpieces in Miniature recording, recently released on the Symphony’s own SFS Media label. The program also includes works by Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Rossini and Bernstein, and the audience will be treated to special appearances by Beach Blanket Babylon and other surprise guests. 

Michael Tilson Thomas conductor
Teddy Abrams conductor
Emanuel Ax, Jeremy Denk, Marc-André Hamelin, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yuja Wang, piano
Scott Pingel bass
Jacob Nissly drums
San Francisco Symphony

Gershwin                     Sweet and Lowdown [Thibaudet, Pingel, Nissly] 
Farandole from L'Arlésienne Suite
Shostakovich               Mvt. 3 Allegro from Piano Concerto No. 2 [Hamelin]
Mozart                          Andante from Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K.467 [Ax]
Schubert                      Marche caractéristique, Op. 121, No. 1 [Denk, Thibaudet]
Litolff                           Scherzo from Concerto symphonique No. 4 [Wang]
Tchaikovsky                 Three movements from Swan Lake
Neapolitan Dance
Russian Dance
Liszt                            Hexameron for Six Pianos and Orchestra [Abrams conducting]
Rossini (arr. Wrede)     Galop from Overture to William Tell for Piano 8 Hands
Bernstein                     Candide Overture

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

United States Comes to Its Senses

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 minutes off the American coast.
It took long enough. Cuba has never been a threat to the US in any way. (That was the Soviet Union with the missiles.) 

Monday, December 15, 2014

When You're a Very Big Company... have a very big number of cast change announcements. The Met press office tells us:

  • Johannes Martin Kränzle is sick and won't be singing Beckmesser in Wednesday's Meistersinger. Martin Gantner steps into the role, and Ryan McKinney sings Kothner, the role Gantner was to sing.
  • Lusa Salsi will sing Enrico in all performances of the upcoming run of Lucia di Lammermoor, replacing Fabio Capitanucci, who has withdrawn for personal reasons. The performances are scheduled for March and April, 2015.

Winter is Coming....

...and with it, season announcement season for 2015 summer music festivals and the 2015-16 season. I know this, because San Francisco Opera just emailed subscribers to say that we would have our subscription packages on January 13, 2015. Season information will be released to the press for publication on January 8.

I also know of another company that will have an exciting season announcement at some point.

Janis Martin

From San Francisco Opera comes news that mezzo Janis Martin has died, age 75, of unknown causes. She was in the Merola Program in 1958 and '59, and sang with SFO from 1960 to 1990. Her roles ranged from small parts in her debut year to Elektra, Bruennhilde, Senta, Marie, Ortrud, Brangaene, Meg Page, Marina, Suzuki, the Composer, and Sieglinde. Her Met career lasted from 1962 to 1997 and embraced a similar wide range of roles.

Irene Dalis

The mezzo-soprano, who sang at San Francisco Opera from 1958 to 1973 and at the Met from 1957 to 1976, has died at 89 following a short illness. (Chron obituary by Joshua Kosman.) She had retired a year or two ago from Opera San Jose, which she founded 30 years ago and had led very ably. Her roles included Princess Eboli, Kundry, Amneris, Zita (Gianni Schicchi), the Nurse (Frau), Herodias, Klytemnestra, Azucena, Brangaene, Ortrud, and other dramatic soprano roles.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Torture by Any Other Name

Found in the NY Times, which has extensive reporting on the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA interrogations after 9/11:
WASHINGTON — John O. Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, defended the agency’s use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation tactics on Thursday, sidestepping questions about whether agency operatives tortured anyone.
Mr. Brennan, responding to an excoriating Senate report detailing years of brutal interrogation tactics in secret C.I.A. prisons, criticized only those officers who he said went “outside the bounds” of the guidelines established by the Justice Department. Those guidelines allowed for waterboarding, a week of sleep deprivation, shackling prisoners in painful positions, dousing them with water, and locking them in coffin-like boxes.
“I will leave to others how they might want to label those activities,” Mr. Brennan said.
Dude, if you would BOTHER TO READ INTERNATIONAL LAW, you'd find that those "guidelines" allowed what everybody else in the world considers to be torture. 

He then goes on to hope that we'll move past this debate. Fuck you: everybody who participated in or ordered this stuff should go to jail.

SFS Concert (December 11, 2014) Canceled on Account of Rain

The rain is worse in SF than in Oakland, I think:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / December 11, 2014


SAN FRANCISCO, CA (December 11, 2014) – The San Francisco Symphonyconcert with Burt Bacharach scheduled for 7:30 pm tonight at Davies Symphony Hall has been cancelled due to severe weather conditions.
Refunds and exchanges can be made beginning tomorrowTuesday, December 12 after 10:00 am by contacting the San Francisco Symphony Patron Services office at415-864-6000.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

West Edge Opera Medium-Rare

Following an excellent summer season, which I swear I will eventually blog, the always-enterprising West Edge Opera has a winter/fall season of rarities coming up, this year with two performances each, so I expect to be able to attend.

They note:

Each show is performed first as a 1pm matinée at the Rossmoor Event Center in Walnut Creek, and a few days later as an 8pm evening performance at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley. For performances at Rossmoor only, you can buy tickets to the three-opera series and save the cost of the on-line fee.
  • Rossini’s Zelmira February 15 & 17, 2015
  • Donizetti’s Poliuto March 28 & April 1, 2015
  • Verdi’s I due Foscari May 3 & 4, 2015

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Cough. Cough. Cough.

Owing to the continuing illness of Ludovic Tezier, Quinn Kelsey will be taking on Giorgio Germont in the Met's La Traviata on  December 22, 27 matinee, 30, January 7 and 10, in addition to the already-announced December 11, 16, and 19. Best wishes, again, to Mr. Tezier.

Monday, December 08, 2014

It's Izotov!

Eugene Izotov
Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Eugene Izotov has been appointed principal oboe of San Francisco Symphony, beginning with the 2015-16 season. He is leaving Chicago, where is currently principal, to accept this job. His previous positions were principal oboe of the Met orchestra and associate principal of SFS. (Yes, he is a returnee, and not the only one in the orchestra.) He succeeds the late William Bennett.

Here's a prediction: Jonathan Fischer will stay in Houston, where he was appointed principal oboe during the 2012-13 season, opening up the associate principal chair of SFS. (Another nod here to acting associate oboe Chris Gaudi, who subbed for Fischer during 2012-13, then stepped up to acting principal after Bennett died. He has done a fine job at both spots.)

Updated: I removed a really embarrassing error, in which I mistook Erik Behr for Izotov in Susanna Malkki's program. Behr did sound darned good, but I misidentified him.

Suzuki and O'Connor: Now on the Times Front Page!

The story has been up for a couple of days, but this morning it is on the front page. Excellent work by Michael Cooper makes Mark O'Connor look less than great; among other things, the violinist and pedagogue Alice Schoenfeld, who has taught at USC for more than 50 years, remembers her teacher Karl Klingler mentioning Suzuki to her.

P. S. Headline writer, go to your room without supper.