Thursday, February 26, 2015

San Francisco Opera Cast Changes, 2014-15 and 2015-16 Seasons

Well, that was fast: only six weeks after the season announcement, we've got the first cast change announcement from San Francisco Opera:
  • Ukranian baritone Vitaliy Bilyy will sing Miller in next season's Luisa Miller, replacing Thomas Hampson, who has decided "after careful consideration" not to add the role to his repertory. Good decision, Tom.* 
  • Elizabeth Futral will sing the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd. This fills a TBA.
  • Dimitri Pittas replaces Stephen Costello in Marco Tutino's La Ciocciara. Costello has stepped out of the role for personal reasons. This will be in June, 2015.
As I said last month: "Hampson, really? Still not convinced he's a Verdi baritone, but this is a lighter role than Anckarstrom."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Search Party

Over on Facebook - I can't quite believe I am writing this - there's an interesting discussion of open or soon-to-be-open orchestral posts. The discussion started when Anne Midgette posted a link to her article about Christoph Eschenbach's two-years-out departure from the NSO.

Here are the openings or openings-to-be, and I'm not even including the possibility that James Levine will eventually step down as MD of the Met, largely because I believe he only leave in a box. It is quite a remarkable list of more and less prominent orchestras around the world:
  • New York Philharmonic, with Alan Gilbert leaving
  • National Symphony Orchestra, with Eschenbach leaving
  • City of Birmingham SO, because Andris Nelsons just can't be MD here and in Boston. Evan Tucker thinks Edward Gardiner will take the job, but there has not been an announcement of this.
  • Berlin Philharmonic, with Simon Rattle leaving
  • LSO, coming vacant; Rattle may be angling for this job and many consider him the best candidate
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, where Donald Runnicles's tenure is coming to an end
  • Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Mariss Jansons is ensconced here but his continued tenure depends on his health.
  • Milwaukee Symphony, where Edo de Waart is departing
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Orchestra de Paris
  • Orchestra Nationale de France
  • Vienna Staatsoper / VPO, with the departure of FW-M
That's a lot of orchestras. Take a look at the Facebook discussion and name your candidates.

Update: Added the two French orchestra that are or will be looking around, 2/23/15 and also the VSO/VPO.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Michael Powell's Bluebeard's Castle

Actually Herzog Blaubart's Burg, and sung in German, this is a rather odd, and yet oddly appropriate, film made for German television in 1963.  If you have a Chromecast or other setup for watching it on your TV, go to this URL. Otherwise, here it is:

The conducting is uncertain at times, and so is the orchestra. The soprano seems a little light to me, though she is expressive, and, uh, she has no C. In fact the Fifth Door is a visual failure, though I am open to explanations as to why it takes so long for there to be a visual response to the most overwhelming moment in the score.

Eschenbach Leaving NSO

Christoph Eschenbach, the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, will become conductor laureate at the end of the 2016-17 season. A search committee has been formed to determine who his successor will be.

Anne Midgette has a fine article about Eschenbach's tenure that pulls no punches. His salary has been higher than MTT's, but the orchestra hasn't particularly improved under him. And ouch:
While the orchestra is sounding better in some areas, it still has not overcome some of its basic technical problems — such as a difficulty in playing together. 
It’s not that Eschenbach’s tenure has been an unmitigated failure. And he reportedly has a generally warm relationship with the orchestra’s musicians. When the players learned Tuesday that he was leaving, Shapiro said, “It was very quiet.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

To Laura Parker, with whom I Was in a Bidding War for those Shields

Dear Laura:

I need the shields from San Francisco Opera for, essentially, a one-time project later this year, and probably won't need all 16. We can make a deal. I am happy to lend them if you need them for a nondestructive project of some kind. I'd contact you by Twitter or email if I knew how.


Lisa Hirsch

Metropolitan Opera 2015-16

Short version: new productions of Otello, Elektra, Lulu, Manon Lescaut, Pearl Fishers, and Roberto Devereaux. HD broadcasts of all six new productions plus Il Trovatore, Tannhaeuser, Turandot, and Madama Butterfly. Additional revivals of Anna Bolena, Barber of Seville, Boheme, Cav/Pag, Don Pasquale, La Donna del Lago, Elisir, Entfuehrung, Fledermaus, Maria Stuarda, Nozze, Rigoletto, Simon Boccanegra, and Tosca.

Oddities: the multiple appearances of Turandot during the season, with Christine Goerke, Lise Lindstrom, Jennifer Wilson, and Nina Stemme. Whoever is singing on January 30 gets the broadcast. Stemme gets two broadcasts, because she is also singing the title role in Elektra.

Broadcast schedule:
The 2015-16 season of The Met: Live in HD will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning series with live transmissions of 10 Saturday matinees to movie theaters around the world. The HD season opens on October 3 with Il Trovatore and continues withOtello (October 17), Tannhäuser (October 31), Lulu (November 21); Les Pêcheurs de Perles(January 16); Turandot (January 30); Manon Lescaut (March 5); Madama Butterfly (April 2);Roberto Devereux (April 16); and Elektra (April 30).
More later when I get the formatting right on the whole press release.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Compare & Contrast 30: Rotterdam Philharmonic

Yannick Nezet-Seguin brought the Rotterdam Philharmonic to California this week, along with pianist Helene Grimaud.

Joshua and Tim were at the same concert, 350 miles apart.

Monday, February 16, 2015


The SoundBox audience at intermission.
(photo by me)

SoundBox is SFS's recent initiative to create an alternative space for performances of repertory that the full orchestra doesn't usually play, in a less formal environment. I was skeptical, on grounds of "I am not the intended audience."

So here I am, eating my words after attending the performance of Friday, February 13. It was an all-percussion program, and I was lured in, among other things, by the presence of Steven Schick (SFCMP artistic director) on the program. And also by Jacob Nissly, SFS principal percussionist, and the program.

About that 9 p.m. start time. If you're attending, you should get there at or before 8, because that is how you get a comfortable seat. There are two types of seating: tall bar stools at waist-high tables, and low ottomans. And there was a line from the corner of Hayes and Gough practically to Grove at 8 p.m. because of the festival seating.

I probably would have had no problem getting a seat, even as the 80th or so person in line, if I hadn't stopped to look at the percussion display in the pit. (Yes, pit: SoundBox is in a space that for much of the year is used as rehearsal space by San Francisco Opera. It is configured with a pit, a proscenium, and an area the size of the War Memorial Opera House stage.) Some of the percussion was hands-off, including the bass drum, wind machine, and thunder sheet, but you could play with sleigh bells, wood blocks, claves, maracas, and other hand-held instruments. And who doesn't like to make a nice loud noise???

In any event, the space and lighting are industrial; that is, there's plenty of space, a very high ceiling, and fairly dim lighting. The "stage" area is used for the performance and the audience. There are three stages for the performers, one dead center, one against a long wall of the room (where the proscenium is) and one against a short wall. There's a bar on the other short wall. (And the specialty cocktail I had was excellent, better than the Tom Collins I had with dinner.)

The two side stages have screens for projections, and the visuals during the show were entertaining, appropriate, and not at all distracting. I especially liked the straight-overhead camera feed of the gongs and the percussionists' hands and sticks during Wenjing Guo’s Parade (Xiang); it was a real thrill having two visual perspectives on the piece. You could just understand what was going on (and how remarkable the Rootstock percussion trio is) much better from the close-up perspective, because you could see every last strike on the gongs.

Rootstock, during Parade (Xiang)
Kristen Loken, courtesy San Francisco Symphony

And on to the music, a terrific program. Jacob Nissly opened with his own transcription of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint. This was written for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny; Nissly transcribed it for marimba and vibes. Parts were pre-recorded, and how the recordings interacted with the live instruments was part of the fun. Very beautiful and beautifully played. This was followed by Mark Applebaum's wonderful Aphasia, performed by Steven Schick. The performer makes no sounds during this; instead, his role is to perform a repertory of gestures to seemly control or respond to a pre-recorded vocal and electronic track. I've seen Schick do this before; he is brilliant, just unbelievably physical and funny. Part of the score was projected on stage, and a pair of spotlights shone up at Schick from foot level, projecting him, shadow-puppet-like, on the screen behind him.

Steven Schick performing Aphasia
Kristen Loken, courtesy San Francisco Symphony

After an intermission came Lei Liang's Trans, played and conducted by Schick. What was he conducting? The audience. He instructed us to pick up a large and small stone from the stones scattered on tables, or in piles, all over the space, and told us how exactly to play them to obtain the collective sound of gently falling rain; he told us what his conducting gestures would mean. The piece was beautiful colored - and with not a lot of instruments, either - and I gotta say, audience participation in the music is just genius, a fabulous thing to have on a program such as this.

Then came Parade (Xisang), played on six Chinese gongs that looked to be flat on a table. Wonderful piece, in that you could practically see the movements of the parade in front of you; I would swear I could have spotted the lion dance, too. I loved the projections, seeing the work unfold and the interactions among the players from a great vantage point. 

After the second intermission - during which I got that cocktail - came Steve Reich's Clapping Music, which would have made a great audience participation piece if the whole audience had the ability to read music. Wonderful stuff; you can so clearly hear the parts go in and out of phase. Schick, Tom Hemphill, Raymond Froelich, and Loren Mach performed this one.

Then Jacob Nissly (marimba) and cellist Sebastien Gingras played Osvaldo Golijov's Mariel. Pretty and insubstantial. The program closed with John Cage's Third Construction, played by Hemphill, Froelich, Mach, and Nissly, on many and varied instruments.

All and all, it was a whole lot of fun, and you bet I'll be back on March 6 or 7 for the next program.


1. The audience, by far the youngest I've seen at an SFS program of any kind (though not lacking for gray heads here and there!), was fantastic: obviously excited by the music, putting out a lot of great energy, and totally attentive and quite.

2. The MCs (Nissly, Schick, and Hemphill) apparently loved have a mike in their hands.

3. The Meyer Constellation system is completely unobtrusive; the sound natural.

5. And here is Giacomo Fiore's. (It's dated February 16, the concert was on the 13th, so much for the 24-hour deadline on SFCV reviews.)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Dear Mills College:

1. I hope you will figure out how to do publicity for your musical events. It is embarrassing when one of the world's greatest living pianists turns up to perform at Mills and your beautiful 450-seat concert hall is half empty.

2. That piano is also an embarrassment.

3. Spot the error in this sentence, found in the program:
The Andante Sostenuto in C-sharp minor is a movement comparable in style to the slow movement ot the great String Quartet in C, D. 956, composed during the same period.
I admit, the above might be in notes provide by M-AH's management, but doesn't anybody bother to proofread this stuff?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dream of the Red Chamber Update, SF Opera

Bright Sheng's forthcoming opera, Dream of the Red Chamber, with libretto by David Henry Hwang, will be conducted by George Manahan and directed by Stan Lai.

MTT 70th Birthday Gala

Yes, it was a month ago, but hey - I'm behind in so much.

Michael Tilson Thomas turned 70 in December, and this year is his 20th anniversary as music director as SFS. The double anniversary provided the occasion for a gala concert. It wasn't advertised as such, but the ticket prices and the conductor's remarks made it clear that it was, indeed, a gala. The particular good cause seems to be The Michael Tilson Thomas 70th Birthday Fund, supporting the acquisition of fine stringed instruments for use by members of the Orchestra, and the program and press release named a number of generous donors to this fund. Rich Scheinin reported in the Mercury News that the guest soloists also donated their fees to the orchestra's community outreach and education funds.

Davies was decked out with blue and white balloons, and attendees were invited to wear a touch of blue, MTT's favorite color. The program opened with a completely charming slide show of the conductor from toddlerhood to adulthood; through the miracle of software, his face morphed continuously from one to the next. Face it: he has always been a cutie with a great smile. Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Scott Pingel (SFS principal bass), and Jacob Nissly (SFS principal percussionist) played Gershwin's "Sweet and Lowdown" while the photos rolled, and proved that they can swing pretty darned well.

The program was really a little bit nuts, a lot of fun with nothing especially deep; on the other hand, it was a gala, and it will be a long time before you hear Liszt's Hexameron again, or have MTT, Yuja Wang, Emmanuel Ax, Jeremy Denk, Thibaudet, and Marc-Andre Hamelin on stage together again.

A bit of Bizet opened the orchestral portion, followed by four of the guest pianists playing solo bits from his or her characteristic repertory. Wang played the Scherzo from Litolff's Concerto Symphonique No. 4, which I found a boring performance of a flashy, overly-long movement from a truly terrible piece of music. (Yes, dear reader, about a decade ago I spent $17.95 to find that out. There are very good reasons that Litolff's music never appears on concerts any more.) Ax played the Andante from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467. Thibaudet and Denk played Schubert's Marche caractéristique, Op. 121, No. 1, with MTT looking over their shoulder and occasionally helping with page turns. That was a lot of fun, if also a bit frenetic. Best of all was the first of these solos, Hamelin playing the third movement of Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto. Hoo boy!

The big surprise of the evening came right before the intermission: I had wondered about the drum kit sitting on stage throughout the first half, and out came Elvis Costello, Boz Scaggs, Phil Lesh, and others to serenade MTT with the Beatles' "Birthday."

After the intermission - during which there was cake and champagne for all - came Hexameron, a crazy piece where, if I have this right, Liszt wrote the intro and connective tissue and a bunch of famous pianists contributed individual sections. Holy cow! No wonder you never hear this often; evidently the original is lost and what we heard was a reconstruction. It was all a lot of fun, and for me the best variation was that played by Jeremy Denk: I kept looking around to see who else was playing, because I could have sworn there were two pianos or four hands going. Nope, it was all Denk all the way.

Ax, Hamelin, Denk, and Thibaudet then played an arrangement for four pianists at two pianos of the Galop from the William Tell Overture. Wish they'd played the whole overture! And the concert closed with a mostly-conductorless Candide Overture.....after which members of the SFS Chorus came down the aisles of Davies, armed with more balloons, and everybody sang Happy Birthday to the maestro.

[That's right, completely forgot about the very beautifully played Tchaikowsky, not my favorite music.]

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Maybe This Will Get Their Attention

Or, How to Lose a Donor: A redacted version of a letter I'm sending to an organization I have supported for many years.

Dear [Executive Director]:

Back in November, I received an email from [your organization] telling me about your new web site and inviting comments. I emailed comments back that day.

I never received any kind of reply. In December, I sent you a letter (copy enclosed) mentioning this, and also enclosing a donation of $250, which my company will match.

I never received a reply to that, either, other than the standard “thank you for your donation” letter.

If a donor takes the time to send you comments - twice - you really owe her a personal reply. It would not take very long to send an email saying “Thank you for taking the time to look over the web site and send your comments. We appreciate this and will take them into consideration.” Alternatively, don’t solicit comments unless you’re prepared to respond to them; I have to assume that the expectation was that you would get cheers for the new design, not serious feedback.

This letter is just to let you know that inaction has consequences: I will not be donating to [your organization] again.

Very truly yours,

Lisa R. Hirsch

This isn't the only time an organization has failed to reply to reasonable communications from me. There's the web publication that I emailed twice? three times? to ask whether they'd made any efforts to publicize their site to the hundreds of people currently blogging about classical music. There's the chorus with an info@ email that I contacted twice about their unreadable season brochure (8 pt red type in a very pretty font on glossy white paper - no kidding).

Seriously, don't solicit comments and don't have an email address on your web site unless you are going to respond to correspondence you receive.

Coming Up: MIddlemarch in Spring, by Allen Shearer

Yes, we are in the midst of a boom of new and unusual old opera in the Bay Area. I haven't even mentioned Opera San Jose's Where Angels Fear to Tread, playing through February 22. Also coming up soon soon soon is composer Allen Shearer's Middlemarch in Spring, based on the great 19th c. novel Middlemarch, by George Elliott. It will be performed March 19-22, Thursday-Saturday 8pm; Sunday 2pm, at Z Space in San Francisco. There's a very fine cast, and Jonathan Khuner conducts:
 Sara Duchovnay, Daniel Curran, Philip Skinner, Eugene Brancoveanu, Tonia D'Amelio, and Michael Mendelsohn. The cast is accompanied by a chamber orchestra that surprisingly joins the action in one outrageous scene.  Jonathan Khuner will conduct and Philip Lowery will direct, with scenic design by Matthew Antaky and costume design by Christine Crook.
Ticket information:

General Admission $30
Students, seniors, disabled persons, and groups of 8 or more, $25
Buy tickets online through the Z Space Box Office at:
Walk-up tickets on sale at Z Space box office one hour prior to show times 

And Simultaneously....

The New York Philharmonic reports that baritone Mark Stone will replace Simon Keenlyside in performances of Thomas Ades's Totentanz in March.

Burning Friendship

Simon Keenlyside has withdrawn from this season's run of Don Carlo performances owing to illness. (This is a bit worrisome, considering that the performances don't start until March 30, so rehearsals are probably not starting until March 7, a month out. Wishing Mr. Keenlyside a swift recovery, in any event.)

Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Luca Salsi will Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa instead, with Hvorostovsky taking the March 30, April 2, 6, 11, 18, and 25. Salsi sings on April 15 and 22. These are Salsi's first performances of Posa.

Also from the press release:
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts this season’s performances of Don Carlo, which also star Yonghoon Lee and Ricardo Tamura in the title role, Barbara Frittoli and Lianna Haroutounian (in her Met debut) as Elisabeth de Valois, Ekaterina Gubanova and Nadia Krasteva (in her Met debut) as Eboli, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II, and James Morris as the Grand Inquisitor.
I am telling you to go see Lianna Haroutounian, who will sing rings around Frittoli. I also want to hear reports about Krasteva, who will be Eboli in the June, 2016, performances of Don Carlo in San Francisco. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Andrew Patner

Music writer and critic Andrew Patner died on February 3, 2015 following a brief illness, a bacterial infection.

I never met Andrew, but read his blog (and tweets) with interest. He was a significant part of the arts journalism ecosystem in Chicago. It's a huge shock that he's gone without any warning and at the young age of 55. RIP, Andrew; deepest condolences to his partner Tom Bachtell, his mother Irene Patner, and to all who knew and loved him.

Obits and remembrances, more or less in the order I found them:
Updated a number of times since Andrew died; re-posted at top of blog.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Coming Up: Death with Interruptions, by Kurt Rohde, March 19 & 21, 2015

If you think we're seeing a lot of new opera (and new old opera) these days, you're right. And Kurt Rohde, terrific composer, first-class violist, local, Rome Prize winner, etc., has a new opera being produced next month by Left Coast Chamber Ensemble.

It'll be performed on Thursday, March 19 and Saturday, March 21, at ODC Dance Theater in San Francisco.

From the press release:
Based on Nobel Prize winner José Saramago's novel, Death with Interruptions recounts the story of what happens when death, who lives in an unnamed Iberian country with her taciturn scythe, falls in love with the principal cellist of a local orchestra and fails to claim his life. Music becomes the transformative force that gradually changes death from a spectral entity into an idealized woman, unfamiliar with human emotion and perplexed by the intricacies of decisions based on the desire to be loved and unalone.
“In this re-imagined tale of the Orpheus myth, it is death that rises to the land of the living, passing through the music of mankind, becoming more and more human as she fulfills her journey,” explains composer Kurt Rohde. “As desire takes hold, death decides to love, which means she has to become human and relinquish her authority. Things get messy when living the lives we do, subconsciously operating on the premise that death will take us someday, suddenly we get a new book of rules to work with and no one knows exactly what to do next. Not even death.” 
Death with Interruptions, the first LCCE opera production, is written for three solo singers (death, cellist, and scythe/dog/narrator); a chamber ensemble of solo cello, piano, percussion, offstage string quartet, and electronics; and a chamber choir of 16 voices. Soprano Nikki Einfeld, performing the role of death, is joined by baritone Daniel Cilli, tenor Joe Dan Harper, and noted Bay Area vocal ensemble Volti San Francisco, along with Left Coast Chamber Ensemble musicians featuring cellist Leighton Fong. Matilda Hofman will conduct; the director is Majel Connery.
The program opens with a contrasting take on the imagined embodiment of death––Franz Schubert's famousAndante con moto from String Quartet No.14 in D Minor, D.810, Death and the Maiden. 
This sounds pretty great to me, and I love what I've heard of Kurt Rohde's music.

Tickets are $30 General Admission / $15 Under Age 35 and can be purchased online at

(I'm deeply chagrined to see that I missed a performance by LCCE this week, and it included the Quartet for the End of Time, which I love and have never heard live.)

Coming Up: La Cleopatra, March 14 & 15, 2015

There's a new group in town, Ars Minerva, which will be presenting Ventian music of the 17th and 18th centuries; they're calling this the Carnival Series.

Their first performances are in about a month. They'll be performing La Cleopatra, which they're calling a modern world premiere. It probably is!

It's by Daniele da Castrovillari, with the libretto by Giacomo dall'Angelo, and was first performed in1662 at Venice's Teatro San Angelo. Here are the performance details:

March 14th at 7.30 PM  
March 15th at 2:00 PM

Marines' Memorial Theater
609 Sutter St., San Francisco

For tickets, phone 415-392-4400 or get them directly from City Box Office. Note that they are $55, $96, and $250. The latter price includes a $120 tax-deductible contribution to Ars Minerva and a toast backstage with the cast after the performance.

(That weekend is tough for me - annual jujitsu convention, fortunately in San Ramon - but I plan to be at the Sunday performance.)

Friday, February 06, 2015

Alan Gilbert Media Roundup

Might as well!

Next Question: Who's in the Running?

Well, your guesses are as good as mine, and guesses they are. Will Robin (@seatedovation) has a running list:
  • Matthias Pintscher (on the Bernstein->Boulez theory)
  • Gaffigan
  • Bychkov
  • van Zweden
  • Morlot
  • Valcuha
  • Mena 
  • Honeck
  • Robertson
My candidates:
  • Susanna Malkki
  • Vladimir Jurowski
Anne Midgette mentions Malkki and Simone Young, also Sakari Oramo. And James Conlon!

Mentioned elsewhere to general nodding of heads: Heras-Casado.

Considered not in the running: Nelsons, Dudamel, Nezet-Seguin, all comparatively recently appointed to their jobs.

Unlikely to be interested: Runnicles.

What about the older generation? Any chance of a couple of years from Dutoit, Jansons, etc? My thought is probably not, though who knows.

I'll continue to update this posting with my own and others' speculation and candidates.

A Shocker From NY: Gilbert to Leave NYPO in 2017

I did not see this one coming, and from the flurry of tweets I'm seeing, it seems nobody else did. Michael Cooper has the story, above the fold at the digital NY Times. Short version: the renovation of Avery Fisher (sic) Hall will not start before 2019 and won't be completed before 2021. That is longer than Gilbert had intended to stay, and he feels it's best for a new music director to have time to establish rapport with the audience before the renovation starts. Implicit in this is that he would have been leaving somewhere between 2017 and 2021 in any event.

You've got to hand it to him for thinking ahead, and very seriously, about this. The Board has a lot of time to establish a search committee, thanks to the early notice, and make a decision before Gilbert leaves.

I'm sorry to see him go. He's done a world of good for the orchestra's programming, between the residencies, the commissions, the new music biennial, the semi-staged operas, and, well, what they've played on a day to day basis. I have only heard them under him one, but oh boy it was a memorable concert, at Carnegie Hall. I admire his foresight in thinking through the orchestra's needs and his own in such a clearminded fashion.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Composers You Might Want to Hear

The WQXR follow-ons have me listening to composers I know (Fibich, Zelenka) and some new to me.

Today it was Hubert Parry. Now, I'm sure I've heard some of his choral music and occasional pieces, but his piece in the WQXR follow-on list is the Symphonic Variations of 1897. It is a fine, fine piece, beautiful and beautifully structured. So I went to Google Play Music, where I heard his Symphony No. 3, English, and will be hearing No. 4. Excellent music; beautiful, vigorous, rather Brahmsian (and I mean that as a compliment).

You might also want to check out Dame Ethel Smyth. I listened to some of her music last year, and it is wild, beautiful and often abandoned. I've never heard her opera The Wreckers but if it's as good as her orchestral works, it was a good choice. I hope to hear it live some day!

Update: Also, US orchestras looking for something novel that audiences will like: check out these composers too.

Two More Years!

Rendering of the Elbphilharmonie

That's when Herzog & De Meuron's Elbphilharmonie, the new Hamburg concert hall, is expected to be done: in 2017. When construction started in 2007, the anticipated completion date was 2010. And if you think that is bad, the initial cost was estimated at 77 million Euros. That has blown up to around 790 million Euros. (Don't they have Microsoft Project in Germany?)

Update: There's mention in the article I link to of the "4,000 square meter building." Ahem. That is the size of a public plaza that is part of the building, not the square meterage of the building itself.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

I'll Be There.

Willy Decker won't be directing the new Met Tristan und Isolde after all; he has withdrawn owing to health problems. (Wishing him the best with whatever the specific issues are.)

Instead, Mariusz Trelinski, whose double bill of Iolanta and Bluebeard's Castle is currently on stage at the Met, will be in charge.

But let's get to the reasons I'll be in NYC during September or October of 2016: they're named Stuart Skelton, Nina Stemme, and Simon Rattle. I'm honestly flabbergasted that James Levine is yielding opening night and a Wagnerian plum to Rattle, but hey, fine by me.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

New Contract Signed by San Francisco Symphony and Musicians

Davies Symphony Hall, no picket lines this year!

Good news and congratulations all around: the Board and Musicians agreed to a new contract this week. The old contract, signed about two years after after the inexplicable three-week strike, would have expired in a week. It took about three months to reach the agreement, given that the negotiations began in early November.

I'd be especially curious about how the health insurance issues were resolved. 

Here's the press release in full:


SAN FRANCISCO, February 2, 2015 – The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) announced today that the Board of Governors and Musicians of the Orchestra have approved and ratified a new three-year, ten-month collective bargaining agreement. The new agreement runs through November 24, 2018 and was reached one week prior to the expiration of the existing contract. 

The new agreement provides for a new weekly base minimum salary of $2,892 increasing to $3,200 in the final year of the contract. In addition to changes in pension, seniority, media payments, leave provisions, and parking contributions, the agreement also includes a plan to address the rising costs of health care with a collaborative approach to reduce and manage organizational health expenses.

“I commend all those who worked so very hard to strengthen our ability to be an artistically vibrant and financially stable community partner for many years to come,” said Sakurako Fisher, SFS President. “This agreement reflects the Musicians’ incredible artistry and recognizes their contributions to shaping and enriching the fabric of our community.  It is also a path forward in full alignment with our long term financial forecasts adopted by the Board of Governors. It allows the San Francisco Symphony to pursue its most vital mission, to make music of the highest level and reach a broad and diverse audience, and do so from a position of strength.”

"The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony celebrate the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement, which secures our place among the top orchestras of the world,” said David Gaudry, Chair of the Musicians’ Negotiating Committee. “We would like to express our appreciation to the Board and Administration for their willingness to take the necessary steps to support our musicians to continue to live and thrive as artists in this beautiful but very expensive city. We would especially like to acknowledge the respectful and collaborative tone of our bargaining sessions as well as the efforts from both parties to create an agreement that keeps us at the cutting edge of our industry. We look forward to many more years of uninterrupted music-making and continued striving toward excellence.”

“This new agreement clearly represents a shared long-term vision for the Orchestra among all of our key constituents,” said Brent Assink, Executive Director. “Since we began negotiating November 3, our process focused on engagement, open dialogue, and a shared approach to problem solving. I want to express my sincere thanks to Dave Gaudry, the musicians on the Committee, and their counsel, for their constructive and focused efforts. I also want to thank the Human Resources Committee of the SFS Board of Governors and our staff negotiating team. A great cooperative spirit was evident throughout our talks, setting us on a positive course as we address the future.  Above all, we look forward to serving the community with great music and even more opportunities for learning and engagement in the years ahead.”

The Orchestra’s negotiating committee was chaired by violist David Gaudry and included percussionist Tom Hemphill, violist David Kim, horn player Bruce Roberts, and violist Matthew Young.  Also participating was David Schoenbrun, President of Musicians’ Union Local No. 6 of the American Federation of Musicians. Susan Martin of Martin and Bonnett acted as counsel to the musicians.  Negotiating for the SFS administration were Executive Director Brent Assink, General Manager John Kieser, Human Resources Director Ann Allison-Marsh, Chief Financial Officer James Kirk, Orchestra Personnel Manager Rebecca Blum, Executive Assistant to the General Manager Jeanette Wong, and attorney Curt Kirschner of Jones Day. 

Merola Program, 2015

Merola himself

San Francisco Opera's Merola program announced its 2015 participants and schedule today.

They'll have several concerts, including the always-fun grand finale, and they're presenting Donizetti's Don Pasquale and a double bill of The Medium (Menotti) and Gianni Schicchi (Puccini). should be fun!

Thursday, July 9 at 7:30 pm
San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St., San Francisco
Merola Opera Program: Schwabacher Summer Concert
Program to be announced

Saturday, July 11 at 2 pm
Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission St. between 3rd and 4th Streets, San Francisco
Merola Opera Program: Schwabacher Summer Concert
FREE outdoor concert
Program to be announced

Thursday, July 23 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, July 25 at 2 pm
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
Merola Opera Program: The Medium (by Gian Carlo Menotti) and Gianni Schicchi (by Giacomo Puccini)
Double bill: Two one-hour operas, sung in English and Italian, respectively, with English supertitles. In The Medium, a séance goes terribly awry when a pseudo-seer and a mute boy get involved. The one-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi explores the grimly humorous and divisive greed that emerges on the death of a relative.

Thursday, August 6 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, August 8 at 2 pm
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
Merola Opera Program: Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti
(sung in Italian with English supertitles)
True love wins when the old skinflint Pasquale tries to force his nephew to marry for money -- and gets a lesson he’ll never forget.

Saturday, August 22 at 7:30 pm
War Memorial Opera House, 300 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco
Merola Opera Program: Merola Grand Finale and Reception
Program to be announced
Post-performance reception (10 pm) with the artists, Opera House Lower Level Café. For reception tickets, please call the San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330.


Kathryn Bowden, Glastonbury, Connecticut
Cree Carrico, Detroit, Michigan
Amina Edris, Christchurch, New Zealand
Madison Leonard, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Meredith Mecum, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Toni Marie Palmertree, Fleetwood, Pennsylvania

Raehann Bryce-Davis, Keene, Texas
Tara Curtis, Kansas City, Missouri
Ashley Dixon, Peachtree City, Georgia
Nicole Woodward, Quincy, Florida

Christopher Bozeka, Akron, Ohio
Alasdair Kent, Perth, Australia
Soonchan Kwon, Daejeon, South Korea
Michael Papincak, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Alex DeSocio, Wichita, Kansas
Sol Jin, Seoul, South Korea
Kihun Yoon, Seoul, South Korea

Zachary Elmassian, East Lansing, Michigan
James Ioelu, Auckland, New Zealand
Austin Siebert, Shelbyville, Indiana
Brad Walker, Lake Zurich, Illinois

Scott Russell, Roanoke, Virginia
Ming Zhao, Kaifeng, China

Apprentice Coaches
Edoardo Barsotti, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Robert Bosworth, Fort Worth, Texas
Aaron Breid, Del Mar, California
Samuel Emanuel, New Rochelle, New York
Kirill Kuzmin, Moscow, Russia

Apprentice Stage Director
Mo Zhou, Nanjing, China

Best Classical Music Blog?

As regular readers know from my rantings a couple of years back when Spring For Music foolishly held a contest to find out the arts blog in the English-speaking world, I am skeptical of the entire concept of the best of anything. So I am duly skeptical about the news I received today: this blog is among a number that have been nominated by the staff at Forte - which makes a music notation software program - for the title of best classical music web site.

It's just silly. The nominees are all excellent in their own ways and I encourage you to read them all!

There's also the big problem of some of these things are not like the others. The nominated bloggers include critics and general music writers (me, Alex Ross, Jessica Duchen), group reviewing sites (Ionarts, I Care If You Listen), music business writers (Drew McManus, Greg Sandow), composer/critic/academics (Kyle Gann), general culture bloggers (Terry Teachout), opera sites (Parterre Box, Opera Today), and NPR Music.

Really, we are not all comparable, and an awful lot of great writers were omitted: Mark Berry (Boulezian), Jon Silpayamanant (Mae Mai, one of the best business-of-classical-music blogs around), Kenneth Woods, Likely Impossibilities, C.K. Dexter Haven, Dial "M" for Musicology, etc., etc.

So my thought is that you should vote for whomever you like, or not. Apparently the winner will get some software licenses to give out to friends and fans. I know nothing about this software and assume the contest is primarily an attention-getter.

Still Ill

From the Met:
Ilya Bannik will sing the role of King René in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta on February 3, 7, 10, and 14 matinee,replacing Alexei Tanovitski, who is ill.

Monday, February 02, 2015

North Star Vocal Artists: Contemporary Choral Music in the North Bay (& SF)

Here's a program you won't want to miss if you can possibly get there.

The North Star Vocal Artists are a new chamber chorus founded by Sanford Dole, whose work with the Sanford Dole Ensemble and several other choruses you might be familiar with. They've got their first series of concerts coming up.

The program includes Frank Martin's Mass for Double Chorus and works by British composers, Paul Mealor, Will Todd and Roxanna Panufnik, as well as  Giedrius Svilainis (Lithuania), Ola Gjeilo (Norway), and Americans Stephen Paulus, Donald Skirvin and Sanford Dole. That is, to say the least, quite in interesting and challenging lineup.

The program will be performed three times:

  • February 20, at 8:00pm, Saint Gregory of Nyssa Church, 500 DeHaro Street, San Francisco
  • Saturday, February 21, at 8pm, Petaluma Woman’s Club, 518 B Street, Petaluma
  • Sunday, February 22, at 4:00pm, Paul Mahder Gallery, 222 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg

Asking the Wrong Question

I'm not going to do a Women Composers 101 posting. There's plenty of information on the Internet about good to great works composed by women, and anyone reading this blog probably knows how to use Google. In fact, there are books about women who compose and the general history of female composers. So I leave it to "M. Kay" and his ilk to do their own research.

However, here's the question he asked, which is just plain the wrong question to be asking:
Is it on the level of Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner...?
Very little music composed by anyone is in that class, with the greatest of all. The right question is "Are women composing music that's worth hearing, on the level of other composers programmed at symphony, chamber, choral, and new music concerts?" And there, the answer is an unquestionable yes.

It's especially true in a situation such as the WQXR follow-ons, where some seriously obscure composers were chosen for follow-ons. Just take a look at the follow-on choices.

One example: I'd follow Moses und Aron with works by the modernist composers Ruth Crawford Seeger and Johanna Beyer. Or Miriam Gideon.

Seeking Alternative Follow-Ons: WQXR Misses an Opportunity

WQXR in NYC has an annual countdown of, I guess, most popular classical music works. In a nice twist, they asked a bunch of experts to nominate follow-ons: if you liked this piece, try listening to this lesser-known work.

They got interesting responses, including works by Suk, Fibich, Zelenka, van Maldere, Walker, Bridge, Palmgren, and others, some famous (Schoenberg, Mahler), some (Palmgren?) not so much.

But they really came through in one area, that of perpetuating stereotypes. Not one of the 30 follow-on works was composed by a woman. And that's from a group of experts that included three women, plus members of the WQXR staff itself.

I do note that there is one work composed by an African-American composer, George Walker, and one composed by....a collective of Chinese composers?

I'd like to offer yet another alternative list. If you know a work by a female composer that would make a good follow-on to either WQXR's originals or to their follow-ons, let me know in comments or by email, and I'll put up the list in a blog posting in a week or ten days.