Monday, November 30, 2015

San Francisco Opera Cast Change Annoucements: Summer, 2016

And the run of withdrawals and cancellations continues at the War Memorial Opera House!

There are no changes to Jenufa.

For Carmen, Nadine Sierra has withdrawn from her scheduled engagement as Micaela. Ellie Dehn replaces her in the opening night cast. In the alternate cast, Maxim Aksenov replaces Riccardo Massi as Don Jose. Massi and Sierra are both withdrawing for personal reasons.

Further, resident conductor Jordi Bernacer replaces Carlo Montanaro for the final Carmen performance.

For Don Carlo, Krassimira Stoyanova has withdrawn, owing to ongoing health concerns that prevent her from traveling long distances. (And that is a bummer.) Ana Maria Martinez replaces her as Elisbetta di Valois. And I must admit, Martinez is a very classy replacement.

Ferruccio Furlanetto will replace Rene Pape as Filippo II in the very last performance of Don Carlo, owing to a scheduling conflict on Pape's part. As I said about Martinez....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Triifonov to Join NYPO Board of Directors?

The question mark shouldn't be in my post title, of course. The NY Philharmonic announced the other day that the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, who was recently featured in a series of Rachmaninov concerts, is joining the organization's Board of Directors. My choice of punctuation reflects the look on my face when I think about the appointment.

What, exactly, does Trifonov have to offer the NYPO and its board that it doesn't already have? Well, the board already includes three famous performers, all older than Trifonov: pianist Yefim Bronfman and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.

Here's what the press release says:
“Daniil Trifonov will be an outstanding addition to the New York Philharmonic Board of Directors,” said Chairman Oscar S. Schafer. “He is a brilliant pianist who, since his debut in 2012, has thrilled our audiences and established a strong rapport with our musicians that critics and audiences have noticed. His insights as a young musician who travels the world will bring an immensely valuable perspective to the Board at a time of growth and expansion for the Orchestra.”
I won't dispute that he's an outstanding young pianist; he has strong technique and has engagements all over the world, both as a recitalist and orchestral player. But think about what the NYPO chairman thinks: he'll have valuable perspective as a young musician who travels the world.

I am stymied. Trifonov certainly will be traveling the world: his upcoming engagements are in Stockholm, Munich, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Rome, Cologne, Barcelona, London, and Los Angeles, with multiple concerts in some of those cities, not always on consecutive days.

Those are the locations for his concerts from December 8 to the end of February. He has from 1 to 10 days between cities, usually 2 or 3, meaning he gets to town, rehearses or tries out the piano, performs, and leaves in a fairly short time frame.

So what is it that the NYPO Board imagines he will do for them? Do they imagine, with his concert schedule, that he will even be able to attend most board meetings? I suppose he can Skype in, but that doesn't exactly get you in touch with the pulse of what's going on in NYC.

Here are some reasons people are invited to join arts organization boards:
  • They're wealthy donors and they'd like to participate in organizational decision making.
  • They know rich people and they're good at using their rainmaking skills to bring large donations to the organization.
  • They're civic-minded and they've got business or arts experience that is useful to the organization in practical ways. (Remember my comment that Ruth Felt would be getting lots of board invitations because of her success at running SF Performances for 36 years?)
  • They're famous people who are genuine fans of the organization or the art that the organization promulgates. (Note the presence of Alec Baldwin on the NYPO Board, and, of course, Bronfman and Perlman.)
  • Take a look at this document, from the Association of California Orchestras.
I can't imagine that Trifonov is going to somehow become part of the NYPO branding. That should consist of the following:

New York Philharmonic, est. 1842
American's Oldest Professional Orchestra
Alan Gilbert, Music Director
Esa-Pekka Salonen, Composer in Residence

Or see the graphic at the top of this post!

A friend suggested, on Twitter, than Trifonov would have insight into young people and what they want. I dispute this. People who grow up to win international piano competitions have usually spent most of their lives from a young age practicing, as in, playing the piano 4 to 8 hours a day. They have to do schoolwork, but their social lives are usually impaired by all that practing. Trifonov went to a conservatory and spent his college years practicing and preparing for competitions. 

Really, he's not in any way representative of young people. He's had a very unusual life. What can the NYPO get from him that they can't get by talking to a few hundred New York area young people? Or surveying a few thousand NY area young people?

Updated and slightly reworded on November 30 to include Joshua Bell.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Alice at 150

Time for some Irving Fine in honor of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

"The Lobster Quadrille"

"Lullaby of the Duchess"

"Father William"

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

West Edge Opera 2016 Festival

Hoo boy, great news from West Edge Opera about their 2016 summer festival. They'll be performing three operas, all in the old Oakland Wood St. train station, which was a wonderfully atmospheric location for this past summer's magnificent Lulu:

  • Handel, Agrippina
  • Adès, Powder Her Face
  • Janáček, The Cunning Little Vixen
Wow. Exact casting and dates to be announced later, and don't forget the 2016 Opera Medium Rare operas (Paisiello's Barber of Seville and Leoncavallo's La Bohème).

Friday, November 20, 2015

London Friday Photo

London Fruit & Wool Exchange
May, 2014
Now demolished or soon to be demolished as a result of redevelopment on Brushfield St.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Madama Butterfly Cast Change Announcement

Worrying news from the Met: owing to illness, Massimo Giordani has withdrawn from upcoming performances of Madama Butterfly that are scheduled for February 19 - March 5. This is an old production, and it's hard to believe that he'd have to show up before February 1, more than two months out. Wishing the tenor the best.

Roberto De Blasio and Gwyn Hughes Jones will sing those performances; De Blasio was already scheduled for some performances, as is Roberto Alagna.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

UPDATED:No, I Do Not Grant You Permission or a License to Use My Image.

Sign at Davies, November 13, 2015

UPDATE: The SFS communications department saw my tweet and sent me email about the sign. It turns out that the signs were posted in error. They are old signs from when Keeping Score was being recorded and filmed and audience members would have in the TV broadcasts and DVDs. The Friday program was being recorded for CD release in the upcoming Schumann series. The signs should have been a different set that just warned the audience about the CD recording. The signs we saw last week will be retired. 

I should have been less outraged, I own it! And I'm glad I never showed the sign to Mike (Godwin's Law) Godwin, whom I've known for many years.


I'm absolutely certain that San Francisco Symphony's lawyers wrote or approved this particular sign, which I saw in a couple of locations before this evening's concert. That approval doesn't make it a good idea. Let me count the ways.
  1. It's just plain rude to spring this on patrons with no warning.
  2. It's especially rude to do when you've already taken their money.
  3. That's because you're making a material change to the conditions under which the patrons are attending. You give people a choice between losing their money and compromising, if they object to granting blanket permission by simply stepping into the auditorium.
  4. There's this thing called a "photo release." Journalists, photographers, and lawyers know all about them. It's better to get releases than to pull this crap.
  5. Some people don't want their photos circulating for good reasons; for example, they've been the victim of a stalker or an abusive ex. SFS shouldn't do anything to put these people in danger, such as photographing them and using those photos in publicity materials.
  6. On the other hand, SFS could do what SFO has: put up a selfie corner and invite patrons to voluntarily send along their photos to SFS, individually or in groups.
I am going to forward the photo above to a lawyer friend - and write an irate letter to patron services, marketing, and Brent Assinck. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Allons Enfants de la Patrie

San Francisco City Hall
November 13, 2015

And Parterre Box reports that the Metropolitan Opera will play La Marseilliase before today's Tosca performance.

Friday, November 13, 2015

London Friday Photo

The Gun Tavern, Spitalfields
May, 2014
Demolished or soon to be demolished as a result of redevelopment on Brushfield St.
The owners identified themselves as the last Jewish publicans in the East End. Spitalfields has historically been a neighborhood of immigrants: French Huguenots in the 17th century, Jewish immigrants from all over Europe in the 19th century, South Asians more recently. With rising housing prices in the East End, this will no longer be the case.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Thomas Adès and Gloria Cheng, pianists, performed the following concert at the newly-renovated Herbst Theater a couple of weeks ago:

GYÖRGY LIGETI: Sonatina (1950), for piano four-hands
NANCARROW, arr. ADÈS: Studies No. 6 & 7
ADÈS: Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face for Two Pianos
MESSIAEN: Visions de l’Amen

The program was not quite in the order above; they played the Ligeti between the two Nancarrow studies and the Concert Paraphrase. 

The Nancarrow study arrangements, by Adès himself, made these works, written for player piano, playable by mere humans. They really do need four virtuoso hands to play, and my recollection is that these are not remotely the most impossible of the studies for flesh and blood and bone, either. 

The studies are both charming and astonishing, and the two pianists brought them off with flair. The Ligeti might have been my favorite work on the program; the three movements are brief and characterful, and not very much like the composer's spiky works from later in his career.

I'm hoping to see Powder Her FaceAdès's notorious first opera, one of these days, but the fact is that the Concert Paraphrase is too damn long and meandering and too damn hard to follow unless you know the opera already. Hell, for all I know, you can't follow it even if you do know the opera!

Adès played the solo piano version of the piece on his first San Francisco Performances program in 2010; I was more impressed with it then. Oh, well - it's also possible that I was more awake.

Sigh; Friday night concerts. Even with a 7:30 start time, I was not at my most alert, and I think I dozed through about 1/3 of the Messiaen. Yeah, I know, I know, that stuff can be loud and some of it certainly was. 

That said, I decided to skip reading the movement titles and just listen to the music, and boy, that resulted in a few surprises. It is just more brutal at times than you would expect based on Messiaen's habit of incorporating fantastic birdsong and Catholic mysticism in his music. 

As for the playing, Cheng is really marvelous, with a great touch and great range. This time around I found Adès on the heavy-handed and unsubtle side, sometimes overpowering Cheng even when he was on the piano that was at half-stick rather than the piano with the lid removed entirely. Joshua Kosman noted in a Tweet that he had reservations about Adès's pianism in that 2010 recital. Well, he was right. (And here I must note that "postmodernist scrimshaw" is sheer genius, the kind of phrase that makes other reviewers jealous.)

Hmm, I see from Joshua's review that the Concert Paraphrase was 18 minutes long in 2015. I think it was 25 minutes this year.  Tom, you may have heard that brevity is soul of wit, and it applies in this case.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

End of an Era: Ruth Felt to Retire

Ruth Felt
Photo courtesy of SF Performances

Huge news just now from San Francisco Performances: a press release saying that Ruth Felt, who founded and has led the organization for an astonishing 36 years, will retire in the fall of 2016.

That's an amazing run for anyone in the arts. Starting a presenting organization is hard; keeping it going through thick and thin is harder. Think about the last few years, for example: the recession and its effects; the addition of new venues while Herbst was being renovated; the decline of the subscription model.

Felt has championed young and up-and-coming artists, including the Pavel Haas Quartet, Jonathan Biss, and many others. SFP presents the valuable Alexander Quartet surveys and famed performers such as Marc-Andre Hamelin, Anna Caterina Antonacci, and Anonymous 4. They've presented new music and old, all fearlessly.

The press release has lots of quotations from performers and others, and notes that the organization is in excellent financial condition, and that programming is largely planned for the next two seasons, as has been their practice. A search committee has been formed to find a new director of SFP.

Also, there will be a gala (and fund-raiser) in honor of Ruth Felt on September 30, 2016. I plan to be there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Rover, Shotgun Players

Dan Saski (Don Pedro), Caitlyn Louchard (Hellena), Jeremy Kahn (Willmore), foreground
Photo: Pak Han

We started subscribing to Shotgun Players after their fabulous production of Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia. It's a huge undertaking for any company, and Shotgun did a fantastic job with it in every way.

So here I am to tell you all to go see their current production, Aphra Behn's The Rover. This Restoration comedy is cleverly staged - there is almost no set, but you can still tell exactly where the actors are for every scene. Almost everyone is dressed in some combination of white, red, and black, so every scene makes a striking picture.

And the acting! Really, everyone is terrific, although I will say that the various accents and degrees of comfort with 17th c. English were sometimes a little confusing. Lauren Spencer's beautiful delivery seemed a head above everyone else's; she had the best grasp of the flow of the language and I looked forward greatly to her every appearance, every word.

Jeremy Kahn was hilarious, and rubber-bodied, and adorable, as Willmore, the rover himself; I loved Caitlyn Louchard's sharp and sexy Hellena, Willmore's gypsy, who eventually...well, go see for yourself.

The show has been extended through November 21; tickets are a very reasonable $5-30 (depending on date, your age, student/senior status, etc.), and there are no bad seats at the tiny Ashby Stage.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

International Orange Chorale

Another fine upcoming concert from IOC. The concerts are free; donations gratefully accepted.

From their press release:

All Souls Episcopal Parish, 2220 Cedar Street, Berkeley
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2015, 7:30 P.M.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2015, 7:30 P.M.

The concert features the world premiere of “Missa Brevis” by the eminent Swedish composer Fredrik Sixten, as well as sacred works by Jeremy Faust, Edvard Grieg, Georg Grün, Herbert Howells, Joshua Stoddard, Jon Washburn, and IOCSF’s inaugural Composer-in-Residence Nicholas Weininger. Several selections will feature our guest artist, baritone soloist Krassen Karagiozov, a resident principal artist at Opera San Jose. IOCSF’s fall program is headlined by Fredrik Sixten’s epic “Missa Brevis,” the most ambitious commissioned work the choir has yet undertaken. Sixten sets the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei texts in Latin interspersed with excerpts from the Psalms in English. His shimmering, brilliantly tonal yet dramatically adventurous music conveys the full range of deep emotions expressed in the Mass texts, from anguish to exaltation and from terror to serenity. Accompanying the Missa Brevis on the program is a selection of sacred settings illustrating the variety of styles and approaches that continue to make this ancient musical genre new. Jeremy Faust’s “Adam lay i-bowndyn” is a bright chorale on a Middle English paraphrase of Genesis 3, while Edvard Grieg’s “Fire Psalmer” (Four Psalms) set Swedish folk melodies in a sensitive Romantic style. “Veni,” by the Austrian composer Georg Grün, uses driving polyrhythms to convey the urgency of the sentiment “Veni creator spiritus” (Come, Holy Spirit). Two different translations of the German hymn “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” are featured: Jon Washburn takes the traditional “Lo, how a Rose” translation and hymn tune and creates a serenely flowing, languidly extended 5/4 variation on the theme, while Herbert Howells sets the alternate “A spotless Rose” version as a richly textured yet simple 20th century anthem. Josh Stoddard, a tenor in IOCSF, contributes his spare and thoughtful setting of Psalm 23, highlighting that text’s contrast of unease and assurance. The Grieg and Howells will feature baritone solos from guest artist Krassen Karagiozov. This season also marks the beginning of IOCSF’s annual Composer-in-Residence program. The 2015-2016 Composer-in-Residence is Nicholas Weininger, who has sung with IOCSF since 2007 and who has had several previous works premiered by IOCSF. For this season Weininger has composed “De profundis (A Song of Ascents)”, setting selected verses from Psalm 130 in English, Latin, and Hebrew, and combining the intricate counterpoint of a Renaissance motet with a modern cadential and tone-painting sensibility. “IOCSF is honored and delighted to premiere Fredrik Sixten’s extraordinary work,” said Zane Fiala, Artistic Director of IOCSF. “Having performed several of Sixten’s pieces before, we jumped at the chance to commission him for this season and could not be more pleased with the result. His Missa Brevis exemplifies the best of modern sacred music.”