Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Son Io!

A character in a bel canto opera confesses to a crime. Minutes later the character, who is part of a complicated romantic triangle, is executed for that crime.

You've heard this before, and you know that I'm talking about Bellini's great masterpiece Norma. Except, in this case, I am not: I am talking about Donizetti's Poliuto, which was composed in 1838, seven years after Norma.

The Donizetti work is based on Corneille's 1642 play Polyeucte. A plot summary indicates that Cammarano's libretto follows the play closely, but one certainly does have to wonder whether the play was chosen to capitalize on the popularity of Norma. You've got religion, though it's Christianity versus the Roman gods in Poliuto; you've got your love triangle, with Poliuto's wife Paolina caught between her husband and her first love, the Roman general Severo, whom she thought dead. In other words:

Poliuto = Norma
Paolina = Pollione
Severo = Adalgisa

Poliuto isn't performed very often, and after seeing West Edge Opera's semi-staged/mostly-concert version, I can understand why. For the length of the opera, about two hours, there are an awful lot of expensive scene changes, and the exotic location, 3rd c. Armenia, would call for an attempt at the spectacular. The libretto is flimsy, as well; you can read a plot summary on Wikipedia.

HOWEVER, the music is beautiful, with a couple of serious showpieces for Paolina, a great ensemble ending Act II (which here was in the middle of Part II), and excellent trios and duets. The format chosen by West Edge, with the opera divided into two parts rather than three acts (I think the third act of the original must be about 20 minutes long), worked reasonably well, though the big ensemble was obviously an act finale.

But really, the reason you go to hear a piece like this is the singers and the singing. And West Edge Opera had a terrific, fully committed group of soloists. Even reading from their scores, they went at the piece as though their lives depended on it, with thrilling results.

Michael Desnoyers, whom I heard just a couple of weeks ago as the travesty nurse in La Cleopatra, sang Poliuto with heroic spirit and a sweet, well-projected lyric tenor. Another veteran of the same performance, bass-baritone Anders Froelich, made a warlike and passionate Severo. Tenor Michael Jankosky was a fine Nearco, the confidante who brings Poliuto to Christianity. John Bischoff was the sonorous, scheming high priest Callistene, who sets up the final disaster; Sigmund Seigel sang Paolina's father Felice.

And Elizabeth Zharoff was simply spectacular as Paolina, singing in a dark, colorful soprano with hall-filling power and ample flexibility, not to mention a beautifully expressive line.

Jonathan Khuner led the tiny band (a couple of strings and a clarinet) from the piano, with plenty of rubato and spirit.

One performance remains, at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage on Wednesday, April 1. Get your tickets now; you'll really want to hear this.

Oh, "Son io!"? That's Poliuto confessing that he is a Christian, shortly before he and Paolina are taken to the arena where lions will tear them to pieces.

Reviews Update:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Is This Some Kind of a Joke?

I made the mistake of turning on the radio this morning for my short drive to the shuttle stop, and what should KDFC decide to play but Richard Strauss's Aus Italien?

I had never heard this before, and after just a few minutes, I found myself trying to decide whether to fall over laughing or experience an epistemological crisis. I settled for a mild state of confusion, as my poor tired brain tried to reconcile hearing Funiculi, Funicula set in the style of Die Frau ohne Schatten.

Yes, it is that bad. Or maybe I mean that kitschy. Or perhaps Herr Strauss was having a little fun with us??

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dudamel Contract Extended at LAPO

A story in the Los Angeles Times discloses that Gustavo Dudamel's LAPO contract, which originally was set to expire at the end of the 2018-19 season, has been extended through 2021-22. I personally did not think he would leave for either NY or Berlin; this makes it definite.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Berkeley DZR is Relocating!

That's both physically and temporally:

New address:
7512 Fairmount
El Cerrito, CA
This is across the street from Fat Apple's restaurant, up the hill from El Cerrito Plaza BART, El Cerrito Plaza, and San Pablo Ave.

New class times, starting Tuesday, April 7:
Tuesdays & Thursdays
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Contact info: 510-842-6243 / lhirsch@gmail.com

There are still openings for my intro to jujitsu class, which will be in the Sawtooth Building in Berkeley.

London Friday Photo

Identifying Plaque, London, May 2014

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Laid to Rest

King Richard III, last Plantagenet king of England, has been laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral, not far from the car park where his remains spent the last 520 years or so.

All Publicity is Not Good Publicity

The Italian-American Museum in NYC owns several buildings on Mulberry Street in the area still called Little Italy - even though there are hardly any Italian Americans living there. Like the rest of Manhattan, it is gentrified and apartments are extremely expensive.

One of the few remaining is 85-year-old Adele Sarno, who has lived in the same apartment since the mid-1960s. She was born in the area and has lived there for most of her life.

The museum is trying to evict her so that they can raise the rate from the current rent of $820/mo to market rent, which would be $3500 to $4500. The apartment isn't subject to rent control or rent stabilization laws.

I am sure that they are legally within their rights. They're still assholes, or they come off as such. Making the Times in this particular way is very likely to cost them patrons and money.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Oleg Bryjak and Maria Radner, RIP

Bass-baritone Oleg Bryjak and contralto Maria Radner died in today's GermanWings plane wreck in France. The two had just sung Alberich and Erda, respectively, in the Gran Teatro Liceu's Siegfried production, according to tweets sent by the opera house.

Update, Wednesday: The NY Times follow-up on the crash contains the following:
The baritone sang at the prestigious Bayreuth Festival last year and was expected to perform there again in August. 
Ms. Radner, a rising star of Wagnerian opera, made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in “Götterdämmerung” in January 2012, and at La Scala in Milan in “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” in March 2012. She had been expected to perform at Bayreuth this summer in “Das Rheingold” and “Götterdämmerung,” according to a biography on her management company’s website. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Compare & Contrast 31: Boulez Wows the Critics

I missed Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich's all-Boulez program in Berkeley, for which I will forever kick myself, especially given the rave reviews:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Intro to Jujitsu: Sign Up Now!

My intro to Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu class is starting on April 4. Sign up soon!

Here's my original posting:

Class covers rolling & falling, hand arts, basic kicks & strikes, pins,
and even a couple of throws (but not the advanced throw pictured above!).

Taught by Lisa Hirsch, a second-degree black belt with 20+ years of teaching experience.

Eight Saturdays, April 4 to May 23, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m
Convenient Berkeley location - suitable for age 16 and up.
$200 per student; open to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Any questions? Contact Lisa: Lhirsch@gmail.com / 510-842-6243

Friday, March 20, 2015

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Proof-Reading Redux

I got asked a while back about my "obsession" with typos and so on. Well, sometimes typos have expensive consequences: here are a few examples at Mental Floss. I have a memory, but cannot run it down, of legal papers settling a dispute that were filed and finalized with a typo that reduced a very large award by 90%, as well.

It's also true that I have a strong professional interest in accuracy. I really don't want some piece of expensive equipment damaged or a software installation hosed because I screwed up in a document.

Here's a comparatively minor example from the Times, an error in the obit for trainer Allen Jerkens:
Although known to fans as the Giant Killer, Mr. Jerkens, not given to hyperbole, preferred the more simple tag Chief, as he was called by track insiders. His horses won more than 3,800 races and garnered nearly $1.3 million in purses.
So I would hope that those numbers would raise the eyebrows of anyone who knows something about horse racing: 1.3 million divided by 3,800 = $342 and change. That won't keep a racehorse in oats and a barn for a week, and I sent email to the author alerting him to the issue. It's now been corrected, and Jerkens's horses' correct winnings are actually around $104 million, a much more impressive number.

I give the Times a break on this kind of thing; it is impossible to be 100% accurate in a fast-paced production environment where you publish a small book's worth of material on a daily basis. It's harder to give breaks to, for example, an opera company whose professionally written and produced program notes identify Liu, the seconda donna in Turandot, as a mezzo-soprano role.*

Updated: I fixed a typo.
Update 2: I added some snark.

* I'm looking at you, San Francisco Opera. This was a couple of bring-ups ago.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

They're Here!

Now if only the Festival would announce who is singing this year.

Castrovillari's La Cleopatra in San Francisco

I first heard about Ars Minerva just a few months ago, at the end of November, when intriguing email whispered to me that a new opera company would be staging an unknown work, La Cleopatra, which had been written in the 17th century for the Venetian carnival season. Well, the combination of 17th century, Venice, and unknown is completely irresistible, so this past Sunday, March 15, I took myself to Marine's Memorial Theater for the second of two shows.

If you weren't there, or at the Saturday show, darlings, you missed a huge treat. La Cleopatra, with music by Daniele da Castrovillari, to a libretto by Giacomo dall'Angelo, hasn't been heard since it was performed back in 1662 at Venice's Teatro San Angelo. Celine Ricci, the moving force behind Ars Minerva, found a microfilm of the score at the UC Berkeley Library, if I have this correctly, and was able to obtain rights to perform it.

La Cleopatra's libretto is a hoot and a half. It takes the romance between Antony and Cleopatra, makes Antony's wife Octavia a major character, throws in another suitor or two of Cleopatra's (and the lover of one of the suitors), a timid assassin, and a travesty nurse. Oh, did I mention that it's a comedy? Spoiler alert: at the end, everybody is still alive and most are paired up.

The production was billed as semi-staged, which is fair enough, though I would have guessed it was fully staged. There isn't that much action; characters come on, sing a solo or duet, and leave. Celine Ricci was responsible for the imaginative mise-en-espace, doing a lot with very little in the way of props, in front of projections that provided the only scenery. Each character (except the travesty nurse, I believe) wore plain black, with a crown or circlet or other jewelry.

The tiny orchestra, which played beautifully - with spirit, rhythmic point, and good tuning - was visible on stage throughout the three acts. A big hand to harpsichordist/conductor Derek Tam, Adam Cockerham on theorbo and...vilhuela?, Gretchen Claasen on cello, and violinists Natalie Carducci and Laura Rubenstein-Salzedo; you all played like champs.

And getting to the heart of the matter: the music is extremely beautiful, in that austere, 17th c. Italian style. If you've heard any of the Monteverdi operas, well, you have some familiarity with what La Cleopatra sounds like. I counted three separate rage arias, which might be some kind of record, not to mention love duets, quite a bit of hilarious flirtiness from the nurse, and a gorgeous lament from Cleopatra.

I liked all of the singers a great deal! Ricci herself sang Cleopatra in a rich, dark, almost contralto mezzo-soprano, which made a fine contrast with countertenor Randall Scotting's Antony. He has an exceptionally fine strong voice, with plenty of character. Nell Snaidas was an appealing Ottavia, Jennifer Ellis Kampani a spirited Coriaspe and one of my favorites in the cast. Molly Mahoney sang a touching Arsinoe, Coriaspe's paramour. Tenor Mike Desnoyers clearly had a great time with Filenia, the nurse; baritone Igor Vieira played the other comic role, the timid assassin Clisterno. Both were hilarious and sang with character and verve.

Spencer Dodd, baritone, ably sang both Dollabela and Arante, and baritone Anders Froelich ultimately settled everything as Augustus. Lastly, a singer to watch: the young and handsome tenor James Hogan as Domitio, who sang gorgeously in a very tiny part.

I'm looking forward to hearing more of each singer, and especially to Ars Minerva's next productions. It's important for lesser-known operas to be staged: we need to know the context for the greatest composers and the eras in which they worked. Can you name any late 18th c. opera composers other than Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart? That's the point. The more we know about their contemporaries, the better we can understand them. Similarly, we can't fully understand 17th c. Venetian opera if the only composer we know is Monteverdi. And you never know what gems are lurking in manuscripts untouched for 300 years.

Lučić Withdraws

Says the Met:
Željko Lučić has withdrawn from his spring Met engagements due to illness. In his place, George Gagnidze will sing Alfio in the new production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. Gagnidze, who will also sing Tonio in Pagliacci as originally scheduled, will join Marcelo Álvarez in performing in both halves of the evening’s double bill; Álvarez sings both Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci.  
Mark Delavan will replace Lučić as Amonasro in this April’s performances of Verdi’s Aida.
This seems to apply to performances from April 9 to May 8.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

NYPO Suggestions & Speculation from the NY Times

Well, this isn't either surprising or particularly interesting: the Times classical music critics put forth some thinking about who should lead the NY Phil. Michael Cooper, who wrote the introductory section, tactfully refers to the "sometimes willfull" musicians, who have long had a reputation for being ornery, stubborn, resistant, and generally a difficult bunch to corral and direct. Whether that reputation is deserved or current, I do not know.

So who comes to mind?
  • Tommasini: Esa-Pekka Salonen (Note the photo placement, which has Ludovic Morlot's photo next to Tommasini's section)
  • Fonseca-Wollheim: Tells you who not to hire, in rather broad strokes, with hidden references to real events. I believe that was Jaap van Zweden who demoted a musician right before a performance. The Revolutionary sounds an awful lot like Pierre Boulez, who left the orchestra decades ago: the tip-off is "Who needs seats?" which might be a reference to Boulez's legendary rug concerts. Look, it was the 1970s and an attempt at informality. How does that differ from today's SoundBox and Poisson Rouge concerts? I attended one and it was a lot of fun! Anyway, stop fighting old battles, please.
  • Woolfe: Vote No. 2 for Esa-Pekka Salonen, but he does come up with some additional interesting names, Morlot, Susanna Malkki, James Gaffigan, and Daniel Harding.
  • Allen: "Perhaps" Salonen, perhaps Pablo Heras-Casado or Malkki, but if we're looking for someone more traditional, Manfred Honeck, currently MD of the Pittsburgh Symphony.
  • Schweitzer: A lot of blather and a mention without antecedent of "Mr. Robertson" that makes me suspect an editing error.
About what you might expect, plus Tommasini lauds the appointment of Alan Gilbert. The critics are united in nominating conductors under age 60, though there's no one under 30 listed. 

Adès/SFS Media Roundup

Monday, March 09, 2015


Thomas Adès made his San Francisco Symphony conducting debut last week, and led what might be the most interesting program of the entire season.

It opened with Ives's The Unanswered Question, and I am deeply embarrassed to say that I have obviously never heard it before, because, you know, I would have remember a work consisting of offstage strings, four flutes, and one trumpet. The string ensemble was positioned somewhere at the back of Davies at orchestra level, perhaps in the little air lock between the lobby and the hall itself: I know this because I chatted briefly with one of the double-bass players before the program started, admiring the instruments themselves. (What I didn't say: on stage, the double-bass players and their instruments all look eight feet tall. They are actually typical heights and the instruments are big but not enormous.) You can guess that the playing was gorgeous, with the solemn hymnlike strings the most conventionally beautiful, Mark Inouye out front, all alone with his lyrical trumpet, and the chattering flutes at the back of the stage. Adès conducted the flutes, Inouye conducted himself (without music), and Christian Baldini conducted the strings.

What a marvelous and enigmatic work! I don't have the answer, either.

Next came Darius Milhaud's famous jazz/classical mashup, La Creation du Monde. Someone forgot to tell me how Klezmery it sounds, but since Milhaud was Jewish, why was I surprised? I sound the performance slower and a little duller than I was expecting; it sounded closer to 20 than 16 minutes, but I was not timing it, either. There were some balance issues, which may have been the fault of the enormous hall, but maybe it's just not reasonable to expect to hear the tiny number of strings over the sax, brass, and piano. Again, fabulous performance from all involved.

Sibelius's Luonnotar got its first SFS performances, with Dawn Upshaw taking the soprano solo. It's only ten minutes long, an extremely beautiful and expressive ten minutes. I wish they'd played it again, because when will we ever hear it again? The vocal line swoops around a lot and has lots of little appogiaturas; Upshaw sang very expressively, her voice sounding both bigger and quite a bit darker than when I last heard her years ago. It also seems to have some late-career loosening of the vibrato, alas. I chatted briefly with my seat neighbor during intermission, and he said he'd heard it (on record, I think), with Karita Mattila, who would be absolutely perfect for it.

The entire second half of the program was devoted to Adès's newish piano concerto, In Seven Days, with the solo played by Kirill Gerstein.

The first thing we do, let's kill all the videographers: this is fifth time I've seen classical works accompanied by video, and of the several hours of video involved, I thought about 1/5th in any way enhanced the music.

In this case, Tal Rosner's videos were simpleminded, obvious, and hugely distracting. The trendlet toward doing video with music must be some kind of an attempt to meet the real or imagined desire of younger people for visual stimulation to go with the music. I wound up closing my eyes for quite a bit of the piece, in any event, because the music was a hell of a lot more interesting than the videos. I had exactly the same opinion of Tal Rosner's video the last time his work accompanied a piece by Adès, so again: just stop.

(Or if you have to continue, get the artists who did the video and camera work for last month's SoundBox, because that stuff really worked and was just artistically far superior to what I saw on Friday.)

I wish I had taken notes during In Seven Days, because it is a big piece, around 35 minutes long, and there is a whole lot going on. It sort of has movements, or at least, the composer has assigned names to the different sections, but there are no pauses or breaks, just connections and continuations. The opening, called "Chaos - Light - Dark" was anything but chaotic, to my ear; it was lightly scored with upper strings and, I think, a flute or two, polyphonic, and delicate. I suppose I should not base my expectations on Haydn's extremes, eh?

After that, I more or less lost track of the sections, between the complexity and density of the piece and having my eyes closed. I liked what I heard, which was imaginative and colorful and, at times, overloaded enough that I think the central sections might benefit from a little pruning of the orchestration: fairly typical Adès, in other words. Gerstein had quite a long and difficult part and played beautifully throughout. But, you know, Tom, that sonority with the crotales and high piano? I know exactly where you stole it from and I can't be the only one. (Stravinsky's placement was better, by the way.)

And speaking of the composer, he conducted very well; I can't tell whether the issues I sort of heard with the Milhaud could be more attributed to the piece, Davies, or his conducting. Everything else seemed fine.

Here are the program notes for In Seven Days, which I plan to read.

Tattling: Perhaps a number of audience members lost track of the fact that this was a 6:30 program. There were quite a few empty seats for the Ives, including the four or five to the left of me in Row M. Between the Ives and Milhaud, several young women sat down there, but I can't say they were very attentive: during the Sibelius, as I was debating a chat with an usher during intermission, my neighbor to the right very quietly asked them to please put away their phones. They did so - and then did not come back for In Seven Days.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Thursday, March 05, 2015

James Feddeck Replaces Semyon Bychkov at SFS

I bought a ticket for the SFS performances of Bruckner's 8 exclusively to hear what Semyon Bychkov could do with a composer I don't really care for much. A press release from SFS brings bad news:
SAN FRANCISCO, March 5 – Conductor James Feddeck will replace Semyon Bychkov in concerts with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) performing Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, March 25-27 at Davies Symphony Hall. Maestro Bychkov recently underwent hip replacement surgery and while he is recovering well, his doctors have advised him to delay long distance travel for a short time. These concerts provide a rare opportunity to hear Bruckner’s final completed symphony—it was most recently performed by the SFS in 2005 led by Herbert Blomstedt. A work of complexity and magnitude, Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 uses an expanded instrumentation, complete with eight horns, four doubling on Wagner tubas. It is approximately 80 minutes long and will be performed with no intermission. This will be Feddeck’s conducting debut with the SFS.
If you have heard Maestro Feddeck, I'd like to hear your opinion of him. 

Hillary Clinton's Email Problem

I have been working in the high-tech business for nearly 20 years. When you sign up, you are told in no uncertain terms that company business is to be conducted only on the company's email system. You are not to send or receive work-related email on your personal account.

I've also noticed that I can't send email directly to my various Congresscritters. I have to use a form on each Senator or Representative's web site, and those sites are in the senate.gov and house.gov domains.

So color me aghast that nobody in Hillary Clinton's circle of advisors told her that she shouldn't conduct business for the Department of State from her personal email domain.  And equally aghast that nobody at the Department of State told her this.

People. I can't tell you how unlikely it is that her ISP or system administrator had sufficient security in place to provide adequate protection for email coming from the Secretary of State.

Yes, that is the sound of me banging my head against the nearest wall, especially when I read the crap coming out of the mouths of people defending her. IMO, this amounted to a security breech on the part of the Secretary of State. The Secretary's work email belongs on mail servers owned, supervised, and supported by the Federal government.

News From Here and There

Conductor Kenneth Woods has some comments on Sir Simon Rattle's appointment to the LSO and on the possibility of a new concert hall in London. Read the comments and also the links....Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts to revive a festival closely resembling the late lamented Spring for Music...Jose Maria Condemi appointed Director of Opera at the SF Conservatory of Music. He will direct Elisir d'Amore in April....Bard SummerScape 2015 to be Carlos Chavez and His World. They will also be staging Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers (and I may have to go; that is well before my trip to Germany)....Baritone Quinn Kelsey has received the 10th annual Beverly Sills Award....The Leon Levy Digital Archives at the NYPO have release a fourth enormous batch of material. You can now peruse 13,300 programs from the orchestra's history on line....Eric Gibson has a superb op-ed piece in the WSJ saying that the destruction of cultural heritage should be a war crime (I agree).

How to Not Get My Business

I'm investigating postering services to get flyers posted for my jujitsu classes. My students and plastered various parts of Oakland and Berkeley with flyers in December, and frankly, it was exhausting and unsustainable: we probably put 10 or 12 hours into this total.

Here's the email explaining why one organization isn't getting my business:

Thank you for the quotation. I decline, for these reasons:

1. Your quotation is incomplete: it does not include the date by which you would post the flyers.

2. Your quotation assumes that I will give you an image to be copied and presumably includes copying costs. I have already copied the flyer, as my email above clearly states.

3. Your quotation is incorrect. I requested a quotation based on 100 flyers.

4. The cost is far over my budget. 

5. I completed your form on Saturday or Sunday and it took until today (four or five days) before you replied.

Thanks again.

-- Lisa

Ruskin on Meistersinger

Of all the bete, clumsy, blundering, boggling, baboon-headed stuff I ever saw on a human stage that thing last night -- as far as the story and acting went and of all the affected, sapless, soulless, beginningless, endless, topless, bottomless, topsiturviest, tuneless, scrannel-pipiest, tongs and boniest doggrel of sounds I ever endured the deadliness of, that eternity of nothing was the deadliest as far as its sound went. I never was so relieved, so far as I can remember, in my life by the stopping of any sound, not excepting railroad whistles as I was by the cessation of the cobbler's bellowing; even the serenadcr's caricatured twangle was a rest after. As for the great 'Lied' I never made out where it began or where it ended except by the fellow's coming off the horse block.
It is my least favorite of the mature Wagner operas; still I like Meistersinger more than Ruskin did. Even so, how I wish I'd written that.

No Way, Jose.

I knew this was coming: Jonas Kaufmann, still sick, has cancelled this Saturday's appearance as Don Jose in Carmen, and will again be replaced by Yonghoon Lee.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Intro to Dan Zan Ryu Jujitsu

Class covers rolling & falling, hand arts, basic kicks & strikes, pins,
and even a couple of throws (but not the advanced throw pictured above!).

Taught by Lisa Hirsch, a second-degree black belt with 20+ years of teaching experience.

Eight Saturdays, April 4 to May 23, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m
Convenient Berkeley location - suitable for age 16 and up.
$200 per student; open to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Any questions? Contact Lisa: Lhirsch@gmail.com / 510-842-6243

The Hall Previously Known as Avery Fisher

David Geffen has donated $100 million to the "transformation" of the "iconic" concert hall in Lincoln center, so it will be renamed David Geffen Hall. (Do they mean "iconically bad," or what? I'd consider the Met to the be the iconic representative of Lincoln Center, especially when the Chagalls are on display, or maybe the fountain.)

Here's most of the press release:


Performing Arts Building, Long Known as Avery Fisher Hall, Will be Renamed David Geffen Hall
When the New York Philharmonic’s 2015-2016 Season Begins in September

NEW YORK, NY (March 4, 2015) – Music and media executive and philanthropist David Geffen has given a $100 million gift to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to lead the complete transformation of its largest concert hall, it was announced today by Katherine Farley, Chair of Lincoln Center. The renowned performing arts building will be renamed David Geffen Hall in September 2015 at the start of the New York Philharmonic’s 2015-2016 season.

The comprehensive renovation and reimagination of the concert hall will be undertaken in close collaboration between Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic. The project is on track to begin construction in 2019 at an expected cost of approximately $500 million. In addition to its primary purpose as the home for the New York Philharmonic, which has performed there since it opened in 1962, the redesigned concert hall will also feature the new Lincoln Center Hall of Fame, a first-of-its-kind institution celebrating all aspects of the performing arts and film.

“As a native New Yorker, I recognize that Lincoln Center is a beacon to artists and musicians around the world,” said Mr. Geffen. “To be involved with such a beloved and iconic institution is deeply satisfying.”

“We are extremely grateful that David has chosen to focus his generosity on the transformation of this venerable concert hall for a new era,” said Farley. “His gift provides the critical impetus for the project’s fundraising campaign. David has devoted much of his remarkable career to fostering young artists and musicians. His passion for the arts will be realized every day in the new David Geffen Hall.”

“This remarkable gift by David Geffen allows Lincoln Center to move forward with the transformation of our concert hall, and ensures that it will continue to be a world-class home for the Philharmonic and a wide variety of other artists and live performances,” said Jed Bernstein, President of Lincoln Center. “The new David Geffen Hall will be a superb venue for classical music and a place that will inspire innovations in how audiences enjoy music for years to come.”

“We applaud David Geffen for making possible the creation of a dynamic, new home for the New York Philharmonic here at Lincoln Center, something so paramount in helping us achieve our vision of an Orchestra for the 21st Century,” said Matthew VanBesien, president of the New York Philharmonic. “We look forward to working together with Lincoln Center to create a revitalized hall that will allow us to imagine new possibilities, reflecting the way in which our art form and audiences are evolving, and that will inspire the great legacy of musicians and artists who will grace its stage.”

One of the most respected and influential executives in the entertainment industry, David Geffen has made an indelible mark on the arenas of film, theater and, most notably, music over the course of his distinguished career. Geffen’s professional successes enable him to generously support charitable organizations important to him. His record setting 2002 donation to the UCLA School of Medicine, now the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was the single largest donation of its kind to a U.S. medical school. A decade later, he once again made history with the creation of The David Geffen Medical Scholarship; this scholarship provides four-year financial support to outstanding students entering the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Geffen's total philanthropic support to UCLA exceeds $300 million. Geffen has been an industry leader in the fight against AIDS, rallying community support and making substantial contributions since the early years of the epidemic. He has been a major benefactor to AIDS Project Los Angeles, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, amfAR, God’s Love We Deliver, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and Project Angel Food, among others.

As a patron of the arts, David Geffen has made substantial gifts to the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Spelman and Morehouse College arts education programs, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and the USC’s School of Cinema-Television. In early 2013 he contributed to The Academy of Motion Pictures for the creation of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Numerous other charities receive significant funding from his foundation, including the Motion Picture Television Fund, the Young Eisner Scholars, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Civil Liberties Union, National Public Radio, the Bridge School, Human Rights Watch, the Children’s Diabetes Foundation, Survivors of the SHOAH Visual History Foundation, The American Society for Yad Vashem, and Save the Children.

The symphonic concert hall, designed by Max Abramovitz, was the first building to open on the Lincoln Center campus. Originally known as Philharmonic Hall, it has been home to storied performances by the New York Philharmonic, as well as other renowned orchestras and soloists, for more than five decades. In 1973, it was renamed for the late audio pioneer Avery Fisher, a New York Philharmonic board member. Last November, in a landmark philanthropic gesture, the children of Avery Fisher entered into an agreement with Lincoln Center to enable the renaming of Avery Fisher Hall.

[I would personally be embarrassed to have a concert hall or museum or opera house named after me. If I had donated that $100 million, the name would have reverted to Philharmonic Hall or I would have asked for it to be named for one of the NYPO's former conductors.]

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Who's Next?


Photo by me, June, 2006

Last fall, David Gockley officially announced that he'd be leaving San Francisco Opera at the end of the 2015-16 season, that is, in about 18 months. A few weeks ago, Joshua Kosman wrote about the search process and what the search committee might look for in a new general director. It is a really good article, covering the major issues locally and nationally and including the artistic and administrative aspects of running a big company. 

I agree with him that Francesca Zambello looks like the presumptive front-runner, but I'll be the first to go out on a limb and speculate that she won't be the next general director. The search committee may well try to find a candidate who already has the financial, fund-raising, and administrative expertise that Gockley brought to the job, given the difficulties of keeping an opera company on a sound financial footing. 

I believe that would put Zambello out of the running. Glimmerglass is a much smaller operation, with four summer productions and an annual budget of around $8 million. Very likely she would have to give up her positions at Glimmerglass and at Washington National Opera (WNO), where she is artistic director. Leading a big company such as SFO would certainly limit her ability to direct as well. It is a full-time job, or job-and-a-half.

I'm doubtful that Patrick Summers would be considered for the job; he has operated strictly on the artistic side and I can't see the board entrusting the whole megillah to him.

Lastly, who is currently running an opera house who might be lured to San Francisco? Not Peter Gelb (I fall over and laugh at the thought; I don't believe the board would want him). Not Anthony Freund of Chicago. Not the folks running LA, Seattle, Houston, or Dallas. Probably not someone from Europe, who might run into the same problems Pamela Rosenberg had.

So I'm going to agree with what Joshua's article says:
But the likelier scenario, according to one well-placed Opera employee, would find the board moving in an unexpected direction, selecting a dark-horse candidate who is not on the radar of observers. 
If so, the board’s choice would be more than simply a hiring decision. It would also be an implicit prediction of where opera in San Francisco is headed — and who is best equipped to face the coming challenges.

P. S. to SFS

And while you're looking around for a soprano to sing "Ozean!" on Edwin Outwater's program, I see that you're performing all of the Schumann symphonies.

C'mon, can't you fit the Konzertstück for Four Horns in there someplace? Pleeeeease??

One Reason We'll Miss David Gockley

San Francisco Opera has announced its audited financial results for FY2014, the 2013-14 season, they are excellent: there was a deficit of $348,244 on an operating budget of $74,119,493, which is such a small deficit (about one-half of one percent) that it amounts to breaking even.

Further details, from the press release:
Total operating revenue for FY14 rose from $30,808,345 to $37,013,042 with income from ticket sales for FY14 at $22,674,340 compared to the prior season (FY13) at $19,785,866. The increase in earned income was due in part to the popularity of the season repertory including Show Boat, La Traviata, Madama Butterfly and Mefistofele. Contributions to the FY14 Annual Fund reflected a slight decrease of less than 1% from the previous year, coming to $36,758,207 in financial support from approximately 7,600 donors. At the close of FY14 on July 31, 2014, the Company’s endowment was valued at $164,698,210 reflecting an increase of 11.5% over the previous year’s balance of $147,754,431 as of July 31, 2013.
Note some other reasons we'll miss Mr. Gockley:

  • Income from ticket sales went up by nearly $3 million over the previous year
  • The endowment increased by $17 million, or 11.5% 


Rattle to LSO

The London Symphony Orchestra has announced that yes, indeed: Sir Simon Rattle, who is leaving the Berlin Philharmonic, will become the LSO's music director in September, 2017. Press release and remarks from Rattle at the link.

I'm going to update the list below of orchestras seeking music directors as appointments are made.
  • New York Philharmonic
  • National Symphony Orchestra
  • City of Birmingham SO
  • Berlin Philharmonic
  • LSO: Simon Rattle appointed, 3/2/2015
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
  • Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Orchestra de Paris
  • Orchestra Nationale de France
  • Vienna Staatsoper / VPO

Monday, March 02, 2015

Compare & Contrast: LAPO and SFS Programming

Speaking of tweets, I tweeted earlier today that regardless of what the season looked liked, at some point in the next year, Anthony Tommasini would surely refer to SFS and MTT's innovative programming. 

Put this in your pipe and smoke it, Tony:
  • MTT & SFS: 3 commissions, 6 living composers on the 2015-16 season
  • Gustavo Dudamel & LAPO: 12 commissions, 42 living composers of 107 composers on the season (not all male, either)
So much for MTT and SFS's risk-taking and innovation.

H/T @SpiritManager (Lucy Mattingly) for the numbers.

San Francisco Symphony 2015-16

The press release and season calendar for SFS's 2015-16 season appeared around noon, as expected. I've been through the calendar twice and, well, it feels like a scattershot season, with little new or recent music.

There's no season-ending festival, though there are two vague focal points: Schumann (we will hear all four symphonies*) and Sibelius (violin concerto, some of the symphonies, other odd ends). Probably it's because the Sibelius orchestral music - he turns 150 - is parceled out among MTT, Susanna Malkki, and Alan Gilbert. And also Leif Ove Andsnes, who has an eye-catching recital at Davies.

Note that I because I love both Schumann and Sibelius, I will definitely be going to all most of those concerts.  (Not to the one that's Copland plus Schumann, I won't.)

There are two three other alleged themes, and again, they are just kinda...what?

One is music from rarely-heard operas, in this case Mussorgsky's Kovanshchina, Weber's Oberon, Pfitzner's Palestrina, Busoni's Turandot (I am not making this up, and you can get a copy of the recording on Capriccio if you don't believe me), and some Rameau. Well....yeah, but it's all orchestral music! Not one aria is scheduled! I mean, isn't there a dramatic soprano out there who is willing to turn up and sing "Ocean, thou mighty monster" from Oberon??? Maybe if that program were the week before or after Christine Brewer's recital with Paul Jacobs?

Sigh, I know, I know: it's too late to move those concerts around.

The second? Conductors playing music from their native countries!

Sheesh. That's....pretty easy. I mean, Stephane Deneve's strengths certainly do include French music! And we've got the great Marek Janowski conducting Beethoven.

Third is 20th c. violin concertos, including possibly the most popular, the Sibelius, with Leonidas Kavakos. Also: Gidon Kremer in the Bartok 1st, Nikolaj Znaider in the Nielsen, Christian Tetzlaff in Shostakovich 1st.

They might as well have said that Yuja Wang is a season focus. She is on five programs with two different orchestras: she appears with SFS and the Russian National Orchestra, playing Beethoven 4, Bartok 2, Tchaik 2, and Mozart 9. I...would like to hear a more varied roster of pianists playing concertos, please.

Deep breath: okay, enough of the complaining. You get the point (and you know that I do this most seasons, too). Now for some of the high points of the season:

  • Charles Dutoit conducts the Berlioz Requiem. 
  • MTT conducts the Sibelius violin concerto, The Swan of Tuonela, and the Schumann Rhenish Symphony.  I have been looking forward to hearing the Swan live since high school, and while the calendar doesn't mention who will play the solo English horn part, we know that it has to be the great Russ deLuna.
  • Leif Ove Andsnes's recital of works by Sibelius, Chopin, Debussy, and Beethoven (Op. 31, No. 3, known here and there as La Chasse)
  • MTT conducts Ives, Bartok, Mahler
  • Premier of Jorg Widmann's piano concerto, Trauermarch, with Yefim Bronfman, on an MTT program that includes symphonies by Brahms and CPE Bach
  • Premier of Ted Hearn's Dispatches, on a program that includes Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and the Pathetique.
  • Andras Schiff's last sonatas recital. Okay, I'd like to hear LvB Op. 111 and the Schubert Bb sonata, D. 960, on the same program.
  • Schiff conducts SFS in a program that includes Mozart's last piano concert and Haydn's Nelson Mass, a wonderful piece.
  • Susanna Malkki's programs are both great: Mussorgsky, Shos (Tetzlaff), Prokofiev & Tiensuu, Chopin (Trpceski), Sibelius
  • I'm curious about Mehta/Israeli Phil, which includes the Eroica and a work by a Georgian composer I don't know at all.
  • MTT/Strauss, Schumann, with Laura Claycomb singing a piece I'm sure I reviewed her in about ten years back.
  • Krzysztof Urbański gets the Polish beat, with a work (probably short) by Kilar, followed by Manny Ax in the Emperor concerto and Dvorak 9. 
  • Janowski's Beethoven, plus the Pfitzner
  • Edwin Outwater has a crazy program that I love on paper: Busoni, Weber, Saint-Saens (Egyptian concerto (oh, well) with Stephen Hough, who will be great), Hindemith
  • Stephane Deneve drew the Nielson violin concerto!
  • Herbert Blomstedt's programs: not a thrill but maybe I'll go?
  • MTT conducts the Schubert Unfinished and Mahler Das Lied von der Erde with Sasha Cooke and Simon O'Neill.
  • Heras-Casado has two good programs.
  • MTT: Stravinsky plus Adams The Wound-Dresser with Thomas Hampson. The Stravinsky includes the complete Petroushka, a score I love dearly.
  • MTT conducts Mahler 2, Resurrection, with Karina Gauvin and Kelly O'Connor
  • MTT conducts Bernstein, On the Town
I don't have a full count of works by living composers, but there are the 3 commissions (Bates, Hearn, Widmann), Adams, and the several composers I don't know. Maybe 8 or 10? There are no works by female composers. There is one woman conducting the orchestra. For comparison, the LAPO season, which I haven't discussed yet, has works by something like 27 (!!!) living composers.

* This might just have something to do with Joshua Kosman's tweet the other day about having more chances to hear the Spring Symphony. Perhaps he had an imbargoed press release in hand. 

Jonas is Sick!

The Met reports that Jonas Kaufmann, suffering from the flu, is unable to travel and had to cancel this Wednesday's appearance as Don Jose in Carmen. Yonghoon Lee will sing the tenor lead instead.

The Continuing Destruction of Arts Journalism: Mercury News Edition

The San Jose Mercury News has done its part to wreck arts journalism and marginalize classical music: they've assigned classical and jazz critic Richard Scheinin to Real Estate.

Rich is hugely knowledgeable about music and a great writer. He covers the San Jose to San Francisco area, and writes about performances that the Bay Area's sole remaining full-time critic, Joshua Kosman, can't get to, including those of Symphony Silicon Valley and events at Bing Hall and elsewhere on the peninsula and south bay.

The Merc has posted some happy-face doubletalk from Randy McMullen, Arts & Entertainment editor for the paper. Yes, your talented team of staff writers and freelancers: I should note that likely this includes Georgia Rowe, another great classical music critic who lost her own full-time position when BNG consolidated its classical coverage a few years back.

There is absolutely no comfort in what McMullen writes, and I cannot make any sense of the reassignment of a music critic to covering real estate. You wouldn't ask a science writer to cover music, most likely: these are specialist areas. (I'd argue that real estate is as well. Net present value, anyone?)

This leaves the entire state of California with three (3) full-time music critics: Joshua Kosman (Chron), Tim Mangan (OC Register - and you may remember Tim's exile to the celebrity entertainer beat), and Mark Swed (LA Times).  SFCV and music bloggers become ever more critical to the music-journalism mission.