Sunday, August 28, 2016

"Because I Will Not Be Tied Up in Bavaria Next Summer..."

No, actually, that is not what the BSO press release says, but most of us can read between the lines when Andris Nelsons announces to the Tanglewood audience that he'll be there for four weeks and ten concerts next summer.

From the press release:

Today at 2:30 p.m., Music Director Andris Nelsons leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in its final concert of the 2016 Tanglewood season, featuring the orchestra’s traditional season-closing performance of Beethoven’s overwhelming and uplifting Symphony No. 9, a work that never fails to inspire awe at the power of music. This is Maestro Nelsons’ first time leading the BSO in Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” Symphony.

At the start of today's Boston Symphony season-ending performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons will announce to the audience some details about his commitment to the 2017 Tanglewood season; he will spend four weeks and conduct ten concerts, his longest commitment to Tanglewood since becoming BSO Music Director in 2014.

Announced today: Written statement from Andris Nelsons about his commitment to the 2017 Tanglewood season:

“As we complete the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s season at Tanglewood with one of music’s most glorious masterpieces, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I am absolutely thrilled to announce that I will be spending four weeks and leading ten concerts during the 2017 Tanglewood season, beginning with the BSO’s opening night program of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 on July 7.  In addition to conducting the traditional season-ending  Beethoven's Ninth Symphony again in 2017 and a program with the talented young musicians of the Tanglewood Music Center, I am also very excited to announce that I will be leading two opera programs, one of them a complete concert performance of a major work. Though we are still in the process of making final programming decisions for the 2017 Tanglewood season, we look forward to sharing the full season announcement about these and other programs this fall. 

Tanglewood's rich 79-year tradition—highlighted each summer by so many significant musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries—is breathtaking in its scope and impact, thanks to its founder Serge Koussevitzky. This tradition, along with incredibly loyal patrons and donors—all so fervently dedicated to their music festival, and the exquisite physical beauty of the grounds and surrounding Berkshire Hills—most definitely adds up to an extraordinary embarrassment of riches.  I feel so blessed to be part of such a passionate musical community, all of whom are welcome members of the BSO's wonderful extended family!”

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The General Director's Office

Matthew Shilvock gives a tour of his office and its contents. Somehow, I thought it would be a little less Spartan; at least, my mental image of David Gockley's office involved an enormous walnut desk, bookshelves behind him, and a Persian rug. So much for my fantasies!

But this tour is quite charming, and seriously, for the company centennial or the centennial of the opera house itself, print the tickets to look like that beautiful 1932 ticket.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thursday Miscellaney

Too many things make a post, or, why do I have 34 open tabs in my phone's browser? No, I am not putting 34 items in this blog post.
  • Gilbert Kaplan died in January at 74; he was a Wall Street millionaire who got rich by starting a magazine, Institutional Investor. He had an obsession: Mahler's Second Symphony. The headlines when he died called him a conductor, but, well, that was all he conducted.  Margalit Fox's NY Times obituary for him is here; The Telegraph has an obit here.
  • Also deceased, the great choral conductor Sir David Willcocks, last September at 95 (yeah, I'm behind a little!). Guardian obit here; Times here, also by Margalit Fox.
  • "The Broken Musican," about injury and disability among musicians. Note especially the remarks about James Levine.
  • Ivan Hewett reviews a new biography of Bela Bartok, by David Cooper, published by Yale University Press.
  • "Margin Notes," a very amusing blog post at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra about what you find in musicians' orchestral parts.
  • Scott Chamberlain at Mask of the Flower Prince goes into great and gory detail about the myriad problems with Terry Teachout's article several months ago claiming that the cost disease was what's killing the Met. Let's just say that he is a lot more thorough than I was.
  • Composer Kevin Volans gave a speech so muddled that I can't quite figure out what he is talking about. (I do agree with him that grants and awards shouldn't all be tied to the age of the composer because composers improve over time.) Joshua Kosman helpfully explains while taking the opportunity to wallop Volans and critic Philip Clark, who had published an equally muddled lament over the lack of great composers these days.
  • Anne Midgette thoughtfully discusses HD broadcasts, and her conclusions all make sense to me. Speight Jenkins, former general director of Seattle, a post he held for decades, says some very silly things, like HD broadcasts aren't opera. Um. I wish Anne had asked him how he feels about recordings and DVDs. I also wish she had not used the word "purist." More to the point, opera administrators should think about Peter Gelb's admission that the HD broadcasts are, or might be, cannibalizing the live audience. I'll hazard a guess about why: cheap tickets, parking close by, comfortable seats, popcorn, camaraderie. (Think about where your local opera company stands on those issues. I am aware of no company that allows popcorn except for the SFO ballpark broadcast) I do find it interesting that David Gockley says there's no money in HD when the Met is making about $18 million/year. He means, for US companies other than the Met.
  • Changing the Narrative: Why "Getting New Audiences" Isn't the Answer The California Symphony goes into quite a bit of detail about how they approached the question of audience growth. Their strategy involved identifying and, well, befriending single ticket buyers, many of whom started buying more tickets or subscribing. They rewarded ticket purchases, personalized offerings, etc. This worked brilliantly. They're a small organization that puts on a small number of concerts; I don't know how this would scale for an organization such as SFS or SFO that has a lot more performances and tickets to sell, but it made an awful lot of sense to me.
  • David Allen writes about new works that are responses to older masterpieces. I wish he'd squeezed in something about John (Coolidge) Adams's "Absolute Jest;" he did not, he tells me, because it wasn't commissioned specifically to be a response. So? The work does feel like part of the trend, and the revised version is a damn good piece.
Okay, enough for now. I'm down to 20 open tabs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Early Notice

Layla Claire has withdrawn from her scheduled performances of Pamina (Magic Flute) at the Met in December and January, owing to pregnancy.

She will be replaced by Janai Brugger in the December 20, 23, 26, 30 matinee, January 2 and 5 performances. Caitlin Lynch sings the December 29 matinee, which Brugger was originally scheduled for.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Do You Embody the Fiery Spirit of the French Revolution?

If so, San Francisco Opera might have a job for you:



SAN FRANCISCO (August 19, 2016)—Do you embody the fiery spirit of the French Revolution? San Francisco Opera is holding a public casting call seeking men between the ages of 18 and 45 to fill non-speaking and non-singing supernumerary and extra roles for the Company’s season-opening production of Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier.

An open casting call will be held on Tuesday, August 23 at the War Memorial Opera House at 5 p.m. No experience is required and there is no fee to audition. Stipends will be provided to those cast in this production.

Supernumeraries, also known as supers, act as extras (in costume and make-up) on the stage in non-speaking, non-singing roles. Supers have the unparalleled opportunity to work alongside some of the most talented and acclaimed artists in the world, and help bring San Francisco Opera’s dazzling, large-scale productions to life on the stage of the historic War Memorial Opera House.

WHAT:  Open audition for men ages 18 to 45 to appear as supers/extras (as historical figures of the French Revolution) in San Francisco Opera’s Andrea Chénier

WHEN:  Tuesday, August 23, 2016 beginning at 5:00 p.m.

WHERE:  War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, 94102

Interested parties should contact to receive more information and reserve a spot for this exciting opportunity!

One of My Tweeps is Under Arrest

Oh, dear:

The person in question is Roland Scahill, who has been an entertaining person to follow, and exchange tweets with, on Twitter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


C'mon, Merola - a $12 fee on top of a $25 ticket? That's just wrong.

The Occasional Tomato Report

We harvested the first tomatoes a few days ago. Above are one small Stupice (red) and three very small Gold Nuggets. After tasting the Gold Nuggets, I have regrets that I didn't plant a Sungold or Sweet 100 instead.

We've got a fair number of tomatoes on the plants, but 75-80 days after we planted them, few are ripe, even the short-season Stupice.

Unfortunately, the plants themselves aren't looking so good. My friend the horticulturist is taking a look at them tomorrow.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Not a Minimalist Troyens

Graphic from Lyric Opera web site. I hope there will be a t-shirt.

Found on the Lyric Opera of Chicago web site, some statistics, which I quote directly:
  • More than 225 acclaimed singers, dancers. and musicians performing. 
  • Almost three years of design, development and construction of more than 80,000 pounds of scenery, hundreds of costumes, and countless wigs. 
  • An army of theater professionals and craftspeople working behind the scenes to coordinate more than 30 automation motors during more than 100 hours of technical rehearsals.
  • Running time of four hours and 55 minutes, with two intermissions, about the same time as last year's SF production, suggesting that any cuts are small.
It's the 80,000 pounds of scenery that really caught my eye: the set for the ROH / La Scala / SFO / Vienna production weighs only about 65,000 pounds. Of course, I think I forgot to ask what our steampunk, fire-breathing Trojan horse weighed.

Leipzig Cantata Project: Late Notice (My Bad)

An excellent group of musicians is trying out a slightly different concert format.

No, not quite right. The concert format won't really be different, but some of the details are:

  • German Baroque music, in this case Bach cantatas BWV 5, 43, 90
  • Cheap tickets ($20)
  • German snacks, from Gaumenkitzel in Berkeley, an excellent German restaurant
  • German wine
The concert is at 8 p.m. tomorrow night, August 16, at Calvary Presbyterian Church. Full details can be found here. And here's the program with German cantata names:
  • Bach Cantata 5: Wo soll ich fliehen hin (Where shall I flee)
  • Bach Cantata 90: Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende (A horrible end will carry you off)
  • Bach Cantata 43: Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen (God goes up with jubilation)

Pure Speculation Ahead of the Official Announcement

San Francisco Opera will announce the full cast of the 2018 Ring in September, or so I was told a while back. Herewith some unadulterated speculation.

Known, because David Gockley said so at a member event:

: Donald Runnicles
Wotan: Greer Grimsley
Brünnhilde: Evelyn Herlitzius

Likely, Because it's On His Web Site:

: Stefan Margita (or if not, local fav William Burden, who sang the role in DC)

My Guesses, and That is What They Are; Nobody Has Told Me Anything; I Know Nothing, Jon Snow:

Alberich:  Gordon Hawkins or Eric Owens
Rheinmaidens: Your guess is as good as mine. Could be Adler Fellows, could be good local singers
Fricka: Elizabeth Bishop, who has sung the role in this production, or Jamie Barton, or Ekaterina Semenchuk, whom SFO seems to like
Freia: Melissa Citro
Donner: Christian Van Horn, because he's so good on Rattle's Rheingold
Froh: Brian Jagde
Fafner: Stephen Milling, because I can dream, even though he hasn't sung on the West Coast in more than ten years
Fasolt: Andrea Silvestrelli
Mime: David Cangelosi
Erda: Ronnita Miller

Sieglinde: Anja Kampe or Heidi Melton or maybe even Rachel Willis-Sorensen
Siegmund: Brandon Jovanovich or Brian Jagde or Stuart Skelton, unless there's a miracle and they've hired JK
Hunding: Stephen Milling or Andrea Silvestrelli
Valkyries: Generally a flock of Adler Fellows and singers from smaller roles in the Ring

Siegfried: Jay Hunter Morris and quite possibly an additional tenor
Forest Bird: Stacy Tappan

First Norn: Ronnita Miller (or the contralto singing Erda)
Second Norn: The mezzo singing Waltraute
Third Norn: Your guess is as good as mine
Waltraute: Jamie Barton or Elizabeth Bishop
Gunther: Christian Van Horn
Hagen: Andrea Silvestrelli or Stephen Milling
Gutrune: Melissa Citro

Steve Smith to National Sawdust

Steve Smith (@nightafternight; Night After Night), formerly of Time Out, formerly a superb freelancer at the NY Times, and lately an editor at the Boston Globe, is moving on, to become the director of a new publication, The Log, at National Sawdust.

Here's a statement from Steve about The Log.

Congratulations to Steve, who is a great writer and a journalist of vision, and to National Sawdust, which is extremely lucky to have him on board.

I'm happy for Steve, and I must also say that his departure leaves me concerned about the Globe's commitment to music criticism, especially given the recent shedding of freelance work.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Germany Friday Photo

Blutzwurz Bitters
 Viktuelienmarkt, Munich
August, 2015

I bought an airplane-sized bottle of this, which Donna and I opened in September some time. It was surprisingly good, but best to remember that we have a nice collection of bitters and probably enjoy some flavors you don't.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Surveys and Their Discontents

Just this morning, a new survey from San Francisco Symphony popped into my inbox. Even though the email said it would take 20 minutes, I was game.

I got 75% into the survey before I quit. I quite because the survey is focussed on everything except the music. There are approximately ten or so questions asking you about the "experience" you want before, during, and after the concert.

There is absolutely nothing about the music.

Folks, I go to concerts to hear interesting repertory played by good to great performers. That's about it. I don't care about the lectures before or after, I don't care about special food options, I don't care about personalized offerings, I don't care about digital and interactive exhibits in the lobbies (which are so jammed I have no idea where there is room for such exhibits), I don't care about ride shares, I don't care about lounges.

Just give me good programming and performers. That's it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Last Tango at Cabrillo

It's Marin Alsop's last season at Cabrillo, capping 25 years of leading the festival. I'm going to make this the media roundup and random comment post.

I need to poke around the Cabrillo web site and see whether the handy chronological performance archive they used to have is still there; I printed it out one year just to count how many works composed by women had been performed. (The answer: not many.) Among other things, I'm curious about how much that might have changed under Alsop, and I'd like to know how many composers' works she performed.

My general sense of her tenure, based on admittedly inconsistent attendance over the last decade, is that there is a post-minimalist, high-energy style that she favors. It's crowd-pleasing and not too too dissonant. My own taste is more varied than that: yes, I like Adams, and Norman, and Puts, and a fair number of the other composers she has championed over the years, but I also like Birtwistle and Carter and serialist composers. I'm less of a Bates and Daugherty fan than Alsop. I would have liked to hear more Adès, but this is where I first heard his violin concerto, Concentric Paths. If I were programming the festival....well, things would have been different, but you could say that about anyone programming a festival.

What's next for Cabrillo? Well, Alsop announced her retirement from the festival last year, and it's entirely possible that the music director search started before that. Presumably there will an announcement soon. We don't know whether the Cabrillo board has chosen or will choose someone similar to Alsop, that is, with her taste, or someone different. My preference would be for a change.

What I'd most like to see, after a great conductor: a better venue. The acoustics of the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium suck, not to put too fine a point on it. There is almost no resonance in the room. Also, the seating is awkward and uncomfortable - I mean, you're sitting in basketball bleachers built goodness knows how long ago.

Okay, enough of that. The reviews:
I swear that there was no discussion of Alsop or the Saturday concert between myself and Joshua Kosman, and I wrote this post before I read his review, but we are thinking along similar lines.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Missed Opportunity

It occurred to me a couple of weeks back that the little Janacek festival we've had recently represented an opportunity for San Francisco Opera and West Edge Opera to piggyback on each other's successes. In the US, it's just not often that you can see Jenufa, Cunning Little Vixen, and Vec Makropulos in close geographical and temporal proximity.

Believe it or not, this would be most to the advantage of SFO: they simply have a lot more tickets to sell than WEO does. For comparison's sake, the Oakland train station seats about 500. The War Memorial Opera House approaches 3200. Selling 1500 tickets to three performances represents a huge success for WEO, but for SFO to sell out three performances, they've got to move nearly 10,000 tickets.

SFO may also assume that everyone who goes to WEO knows what's up across the bay and that no additional outreach is necessary. It wouldn't be hard to test; they would have just had to place an ad in the WEO program with a special discount code for Makropulos.

Too late now, but maybe another year.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Gay, Gay, Gay

You knew this was coming, right?
  • Harvey Milk, Wallace
  • Fellow Travelers, Spears
  • Patience and Sarah, Kimper
  • Lulu, Berg
  • Death in Venice, Britten
  • Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss
  • As One, Kamisky (because we are counting LGBTQI in all its expressions)
  • King Roger, Szymanowski (h/t mountmccabe for reminding me of this and the Charpentier)
  • David et Jonathas, Charpentier
  • Don Carlo(s), Verdi
  • Champion, Blanchard (h/t Tod Brody, who was ED of Opera Parallele when they staged it, for reminding me)
  • Brokeback Mountain, Wuorinen (h/t Mary Jane Leach for reminding me of this one)
  • Norma, Bellini (Face it - the best relationship in the opera is between Norma and Adalgisa. Somebody needs to write an alternate ending where the two of them burn Pollione)
  • La Gioconda, Ponchielli, because it is the campiest opera of them all.
General hat tip to Patrick Vaz, because we talked about this on the way back from Cabrillo last night.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Religion Will Get You Into Trouble

Today's Twitter activity brought a request for more themed opera seasons, so here's the first that occurred to me.

  • Khovanshchina, Mussorgsky
  • Les Huguenots, Meyerbeer
  • La Juive, Halevy
  • St Francois d'Assisse, Messiaen
  • Le Martyr de St. Sebastien, Debussy (Yes, this is a little bit of a cheat, but oh, how I loved it at SFS during the centennial season)
  • Theodora, Handel
  • The Bassarids, Henze
  • Parsifal, Wagner
  • Moses and Aron, Schoenberg
  • Dialogs of the Carmelites, Poulenc
  • Palestrina, Pfitzner
  • Moses in Egypt, Rossini
  • Don Carlos, Verdi (and I mean that s at the end)
  • Susannah, Floyd
  • The Crucible, Ward
  • The Gospel According to the Other Mary, Adams
  • The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Adamo
  • Giovanna d'Arco, Verdi
  • Jeanne d'Arc au Bucher, Honneger
  • The Maid of Orleans, Tchaikowsky

Germany Friday Photo

German Equivalent of Boat Sushi
Munich, August, 2015

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Einojuhani Rautavaara

The Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara died on July 27, 2016. I should have posted something at the time....but I don't know much of his music. I have a smattering of choral music and I've seen the DVD of Rasputin, which is an excellent opera; some enterprising US opera company should pick it up. He wrote 9 operas, in fact; I bet there's more than one worth staging.

Here's Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim's obituary, which has an excellent correction:
Correction: August 4, 2016 
An earlier version of this obituary, using information from Mr. Rautavaara’s music publisher, erroneously included one composer among those who studied with him. Kaija Saariaho was never Mr. Rautavaara’s student.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

A Warm Welcome to Matthew Shilvock

Photo posted to Twitter by @matthewshilvock
"Same great company. First day in a new office. 
So excited for what lies ahead with my phenomenal colleagues @sfopera"

It's August, which means that Matthew Shilvock is now the General Director of San Francisco Opera, with David Gockley retired and taking the title General Director Emeritus.

I am sure there will be some changes around the opera house; for one thing, I am having considerable difficulty imaging David Gockley posting the photo above, or, in fact, posting to Twitter at all. It's not his style, and I do think that the difference in style is an indicator of generational change at the War Memorial Opera House.

There will be plenty of challenges ahead, because SFO faces the same problems every other large arts organization faces: declining subscription sales, competition from many different forms of the arts and entertainment, the decline of classical music and instrumental instruction in the public schools, the leveling of the cultural playing field, changing interests in philanthropy, and so on. SFO has its own special challenges, which include a grand old opera house that, for example, has essentially no flexible public spaces for audience interaction. And opera is expensive to stage; there's never enough money if you're producing opera at the international level.

On the other hand, there are opportunities. We've had very little German opera in the last few years, owing to the entire company swinging heavily back to Italian opera, between Mr. Gockley's preference for lyrical music, music director Nicola Luisotti's strengths, and, perhaps, donor influence. This is a loss in a company that has a long history of being the first US company to stage many important non-Italian works. And of course there is the huge opportunity represented by Mr. Luisotti's decision to leave the company when his contract expires in 2018. There may be generational change on the musical/artistic as well as administrative/artistic side.

The upcoming season was planned by Mr. Gockley, and I believe so was 2017-18, so it will be some time before Mr. Shilvock's artistic plans fully emerge. Given his musical background, which includes a special interest in the French Baroque, I am looking forward to them! 

Monday, August 01, 2016

Write Some Nice Puccini For Us

It's right there in today's press release from San Francisco Opera:
Gockley said, “Over twenty years ago in Houston, I worked with Bright Sheng on the creation of a new work and have followed his career ever since. Asking him to create this new opera seemed to me to be the logical and right choice. In conversations with Bright, I asked that Dream of the Red Chamber be composed in a beautifully lyrical style, nostalgic and retain aspects of a traditional Chinese soundscape. I’m very pleased to say that he has indeed succeeded in these efforts.” 
And it worked out so well with La Ciociara....