Friday, September 30, 2016

Germany Friday Photo

Downtown Bayreuth, August, 2015
German parents: less worried than their American counterparts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Generational Change at San Francisco Musical Institutions

Here's a shocker: Brent Assink, long-time Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony, has decided to step down from that post at the end of March, 2017. By then, he will have held the position for 18 years. Prior to that, he was ED (or ED-equivalent) of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra...which he joined after several years in a management position at SFS under Peter Pastreich. He is widely respected in the music business and is rumored to have been courted by the New York Philharmonic when they were looking for a new ED a few years ago.

Assink is 61, more than a decade younger than David Gockley on his retirement. (I almost gave this post the title "Have Assink and Gockley been meeting secretly?") Still, he has been at SFS for a long time. 

He has also done an excellent job as ED. The orchestra's finances have been stable, and Assink led a campaign for $100 million in fundraising around the centennial that ultimately raised $140 million, quite an astonishing accomplishment. The orchestra has mostly had labor peace, as well, the short strike three years ago being the puzzling exception.

The orchestra has also done the following:
  • Established its own recording label
  • Recorded the Keeping Score series of educational programs
  • Begun the SoundBox series
  • Commissioned 41 works
  • Expanded its touring schedule
  • And plenty more
There's already a search on for a successor. Assink's boots will be very tough to fill.

Further reading:

The Italian Girl in Switzerland

Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong has withdrawn on account of illness from her scheduled performances as Isabella in the Met's L'Italiana in Algeri this fall. (Sorry to hear this; feel better soon!)

The ramifications are as follows, all quoted from the Met press release:
Marianna Pizzolato will make her Met debut as Isabella, the title character in L’Italiana in Algeri, which she now sings in all performances of Rossini’s comedy at the Met this season. The Italian mezzo-soprano replaces Elizabeth DeShong, who has withdrawn from the run due to illness.
Maria Zifchak will replace Ms. Pizzolato as Hedwige in the first four performances of the new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, which are October 18, 21, 25, and 29 matinee. Pizzolato will sing the role as scheduled in the final four performances of the run, on November 2, 5, 9, and 12 matinee.
Artist Biographies
Marianna Pizzolato has recently sung the role of Isabella at Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole, Florence’s Opera di Firenze, Liège’s Opéra Royal de Wallonie, and Bologna’s Teatro Comunale. Her other recent performances have included Emma in Rossini’s Zelmira at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and Opéra Lyon; Fenena in Verdi’s Nabucco at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Elisabetta in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at the Gran Teatre del Liceu; and the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Opéra National de Paris, and Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza.
Maria Zifchak has sung more than 300 Met performances over the course of her 18-year career with the company. Her numerous other roles at the Met this season will include the Old Shepherdess in Janáček’s Jenůfa, the Slave in Strauss’s Salome, Third Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Giovanna in Verdi’s Rigoletto, and Annina in Verdi’s La Traviata. Her other recent appearances with the company have included Ines in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Hannah in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, and Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, a role she has sung 83 times at the Met.
Casting and Performance Dates
L’Italiana in Algeri, conducted by the Met’s Music Director Emeritus, James Levine, will also star René Barbera in his Met debut as Lindoro, Nicola Alaimo as Taddeo, and Ildar Abdrazakov as Mustafà. The revival opens October 4 and continues on October 7, 12, 15, 20, 22, 26, and 29.
The new production of Guillaume Tell will be conducted by Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi and directed by Pierre Audi. Gerald Finley sings the title role, with Marina Rebeka as Mathilde, Janai Brugger as Jemmy, Bryan Hymel as Arnold, Marco Spotti in his Met debut as Walter Furst, Kwangchul Youn as Melcthal, and John Relyea as Gesler. Guillaume Tell opens October 18, with additional performances on October 21, 25, 29 matinee, November 2, 5, 9, and 12 matinee.
Well, that's quite a good cast for the Rossini; René Barbara would be worth the price of admission along. (Levine conducting Rossini? Okay.) Of course Guillaume Tell is one of the greatest operas in the repertory and hasn't been done at the Met in 85 years. I'm astonished it isn't getting an HD broadcast.

Monday, September 26, 2016

SF Opera 2018 Ring Announcement

No time until later for a full discussion and comparison with my predictions, but here are some of the leading roles.

What was known
Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Wotan: Greer Grimsley
Brünnhilde: Evelyn Herlitzius (I was hoping against hope that this would change.)
Loge: Stefan Margita

What wasn't known
Alberich: Falk Struckmann (who was way off my radar for this and who is....a veteran, let's say)
Fricka: Jamie Barton! (one of my guesses)
Siegmund (& Froh): Brandon Jovanovich (one of my guesses)
Sieglinde: KARITA!!!! (I had no idea but I'm happy. Probably you will be too.)
Siegfried: Daniel Brenna
Hunding / Fafner: Raymond Aceto
Gunther (& Donner): Brian Mulligan (Casting that had NOT occurred to me)
Fasolt and Hagen: Andrea Silvestrelli
Mime: David Cangelosi

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra

Thanks to an alert that I never canceled after the Minnesota Orchestra lockout ended and the orchestra carried on, I received a link the other day to an article by Terry Blain in the Minnesota Star Tribute. It's called "Should the Minnesota Orchestra be looking for Osmo Vänskä's successor?"

It's quite good, and more or less says they should, both because his contract runs only through August, 2019, and because orchestras always need to have an eye on who might be next if something unexpected happens to your current music director. When you don't, and when you're timid, you get situations such as the BSO's two years of guest conductors before Andris Nelsons came on board, and the Met's years with James Levine limited by his health problems.

The article also takes note of Vänskä's well-known strengths and areas he has neglected, very sensibly. But it omits one factor that could keep Vänskä in Minnesota for a good long time: the nasty two-body problem that would have to be solved if he were to decamp. He is married to Erin Keefe, the orchestra's concertmaster. If he leaves, either they default to a commuter marriage, or they need to find an orchestra that needs a music director and a concertmaster. I don't think such double openings come up very often. And I'm surprised that such a well-researched article doesn't at least mention this.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fall Tenor Swaps, San Francisco Opera

The first cast change of the San Francisco Opera's fall season was Nian Wang leaving the cast of Dream of the Red Chamber, with Irene Roberts joining. Now we've got two more, and one is, well, an eyebrow-raiser.

The first is that Scott Quinn has withdrawn for personal reasons from Vec Makropulos, where he was to make his role debut as Albert Gregor. The opera opens in around three and a half weeks, so likely rehearsals are under way. Who knows what "personal reasons" means, in this case?

Charles Workman will sing Gregor instead. Workman is American, but he is active primarily in Europe and has a most interesting repertory, according to Operabase. He has sung roles ranging from Tito in Clemenza to Nobile in Thomas Adès's The Exterminating Angel, which was staged for the first time just a few weeks ago. Here's what the press release says about him:
American artist Charles Workman is a versatile artist whose early career saw him in the forefront of Rossini and Mozart tenors while also being highly-regarded in early music, French repertory and 20th-century and contemporary music. Following initial debuts at the Metropolitan Opera, Workman moved to Europe in 1995 where he has performed to great success with the leading opera companies and orchestras including the Paris Opéra, London’s Royal Opera, Milan’s La Scala, Moscow’s Bolshoi, Madrid’s Teatro Real, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the companies of Geneva, Zurich, Lyon, Munich and Prague. Upcoming engagements include The Drum Major in Wozzeck for Geneva; Nobile in Thomas Adès’ The Exterminating Angel for the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Edmund in Lear for Salzburg Festival and various roles in Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher in Madrid.
Welcome to San Francisco, Mr. Workman!

Meanwhile, later in the season, Maxim Aksenov has withdrawn from the role of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, and this is the eyebrow-raiser, because Mr. Aksenov withdrew from June's run of Carmen performances "for personal reasons" as well. Any number of things could be going on here, including family issues, or an ongoing illness that the singer prefers not to disclose (and if so, he is completely entitled to privacy). In any event, one wishes him well.

He'll be replaced by Vincenzo  Costanzo, about whom the press release says:
In November and December, tenor Vincenzo Costanzo will sing the role of Lt. B. F. Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. A native of Naples, Italy, Costanzo has had a fast rising international career and has worked with such distinguished conductors and directors as Daniel Oren, Myung-whun Chung, Franco Zeffirelli and Liliana Cavani. He recently performed to great success the role of Pinkerton in Milan with La Verdi Orchestra, Florence, Piacenza and Venice; Verdi’s Macbeth at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam; the role of Rodolfo in Luisa Miller at Madrid’s Teatro Real; Nabucco at the Reggia di Caserta; and also sang Alfredo in La Traviata at the AIDS Gala at Deutsche Oper Berlin. Costanzo’s future engagements include Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera in Piacenza and Modena; Madama Butterfly in Madrid and Venice; La Rondine in Berlin; Macbeth in Palermo; Simon Boccanegra in Liège and La Bohème in Salzburg.
He's making his SFO and United States opera debut. Welcome!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Not Quite the First of the Season

From the Met comes news of a cast change for an upcoming opera; Rolando Villazon withdraws from Don Giovanni performances, to be replaced by Paul Appleby:
Paul Appleby will sing the role of Don Ottavio in this season’s September and October performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, replacing Rolando Villazón, who has withdrawn due to illness. In addition to the October 15 matinee, which Appleby was already scheduled to sing, the American tenor will now perform the role on September 27, October 1 matinee, 5, 8, 11, 19, and 22 matinee.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

I Would Have Sworn That the NY Times Had Editors.

But maybe I'm wrong, because it's hard to see how this got past them:
The story is heavy on melodrama. After an appealing choral scene for the contented Gypsies, an old man (here the stentorian bass Kevin Thompson) tells a somber tale of a woman he once loved who ran off with a man from another camp. Aleko (the sturdy bass Stefan Szkafarowsky), who is married to the winsome young Zemfira (the dark-toned soprano Inna Dukach), says he would never put up with such a betrayal. But Zemfira has fallen for a dashing young lover (the bright tenor Jason Karn) and flaunts her affair in Aleko’s face. After an anguished aria of despair, a highlight of the score, Aleko kills the young lovers and is banished from the camp.
If I need to tell you who wrote that, you haven't been paying attention.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Germany Friday Photo

Conceptual Painting for Parsifal Set
Haus Wahnfried
Bayreuth, August 2015

Photo of Festspielhaus with Parsifal Set
Haus Wahnfried
Bayreuth, August 2015

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Johan Botha

Johan Botha in the title role of Verdi's Otello
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Shocked and saddened this morning to learn that South African tenor Johan Botha has died at the age of 51, apparently of cancer. I knew he'd canceled some appearances this summer, but that's not unusual for a singer.

I saw him in person only twice, in the title role of Otello in San Francisco and as Siegmund in Die Walküre last year at Bayreuth. He was not much of an actor but oh, that voice! A beautiful bright tenor instrument with clarion power. He was seemingly tireless and was a solid, tasteful musician. I don't expect to hear Otello's part in the love duet sung better, and the Siegmund was extremely beautifully sung. He and his Sieglinde, the wonderful Anya Kampe, got one of the great rounds of applause during the 2015 festival.

I will note that mezzo Karen Cargill tweeted that he had a wicked sense of humor and brought many a cast to their knees with laughter. Many other singer tweets this morning mourn his passing.

I'm sorry never to have seen him in concert, though I have an off-the-air recording of Gurrelieder with him, and I'm especially sorry never to have seen him as the Kaiser in Frau, a role he was born to sing. Condolences to his wife and children and all his colleagues; he'll be greatly missed.

Updated: 2:47 p.m. San Francisco Opera has issued a press release about Botha. I've added a photo from their press center.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Bay Area Rainbow Symphony Wants You!

From the press release:


Alasdair Neale will be our guest conductor. Alasdair Neale is the music director of the Marin Symphony and Sun Valley Summer Symphony. He was the former Principal Guest Conductor of the New World Symphony (Miami), and the former Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. For many years, he was also the music director of the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra, and the conductor for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra.

We will be performing:

Dove - Figures in the Garden: 1st movement Dancing in the Dark (2')
[immediately leading into]

Mozart - Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, arranged for Wind Octet (5')

Copland - Clarinet Concerto, soloist our very own Stephen Zielinski (18')


Barber - Medea's Dance of Vengeance (14')

Britten - Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes (17')

The concert will be on Saturday November 5th at Everett Middle School.

Dove and Mozart are for woodwind octet (2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bsn, 2 horns) We will rehearse these pieces in a separate room while the Copland is rehearsed.

Copland Clarinet Concerto strings, harp, piano

Barber Medea: 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, tom tom, triangle, cymbals, tam-tam, xylophone, whip, harp, piano, and strings.

Britten 4 Sea Interludes 2 flutes (2nd and 1st = piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (2nd = E-flat clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets (3rd = piccolo trumpet), 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, bells, cymbals, gong, snare drum, tam tam, tambourine, tenor drum, xylophone), harp, and strings.

Rehearsal Schedule:
Wednesdays September 7, 14 (string sectional),21, 28 (string sectional), Oct 5, 12, 19, 26, Nov 2, Sat Nov 5 afternoon dress rehearsal, evening concert.

General Info:

We welcome all orchestral instrumentalists. Some sections may be full, but we often have openings and we frequently need subs in all sections.

Our musicians and audiences recognize the high artistic quality and social atmosphere of the ensemble at our sold-out concerts. You're sure to enjoy our weekly rehearsals at SF State University on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 PM to 10:00 PM. We welcome LGBTQ and straight musicians (approximately 30% of our members and 40% of our audience identify as straight). We have musicians from all over the Bay Area and provide carpools. Professional level, advanced and intermediate players are welcome. Please RSVP in advance. Visit or email for more information about auditions. You can also fill out the form for new players on our website.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

San Francisco Opera Personnel Changes for 2016-17

Well, there's the biggie, Matthew Shilvock's move into the General Director's office, but that's not really what this is about. I do plan to write an assessment of David Gockley's tenure, where there's a great deal to admire and be grateful for despite some disappointments.

It seems the only new orchestra member is co-principal horn Mark Almond. Instead of a press release, I heard about this in my capacity as an audience member, in a new newsletter called Backstage with Matthew. I have now heard Mr. Shilvock speak enough times to say that if he's not writing or dictating them himself, he has the world's best speechwriter. He is quite droll and engaging, and here's what he has to say about Mr. Almond:
First, meet our new co-principal French horn, Mark Almond. Mark hails from the north of England and has played with almost all of the major UK orchestras. He is a spectacular musician but, if you can believe this, he is also a fully qualified physician specializing in respiratory and general internal medicine. While in the UK he would squeeze in hours between hospital shifts to take on jobs with groups like the London Symphony Orchestra, one of the most demanding orchestras in the world. And he has a young family as well! Mark isn’t planning on taking the medical boards here in California but, if we ever have to ask for a doctor in the house, we now need look no further than the pit!  
Mark is co-principal horn alongside our other incredible co-principal, Kevin Rivard. Why, you may ask, do we have two principal horns? The horn is one of the most demanding instruments there is to play, putting huge strain on the lips. Professional orchestras routinely have two principal horns, allowing the players to spread the workload and remain in peak form. I can empathize with that lip strain: I played French horn myself for a while before braces at 16 put a stop to that…

San Francisco Symphony Personnel Changes for 2016-17

Received today:

2nd Violin:    Helen Kim will begin her Audition Year as Associate Principal Second Violin.

Bass:              Lee Philip will fill the position of Acting Associate Principal Bass as a one-year sub.

Oboe:              Chris Gaudi will continue as Acting Associate Principal Oboe as a one-year sub.

Horn:               Jeff Garza will fill the position of Acting Utility Horn as a one-year sub.

Trumpet:          Doug Carlsen will fill the position of Acting Associate Principal Trumpet as a one-year sub.

Trombone:       Nick Platoff will begin his Audition Year as Associate Principal Trombone.

Timpani:          Ed Stephan will begin his Audition Year as Principal Timpani.

Library:            Dan Ferreira will begin his Probationary Year as Assistant Librarian.

"Audition year" means that you have passed the audition phase and are in what has mostly been called a "probationary year:" The orchestra and player are trying each other out, and the orchestra can let the player go at the end of the year. The player can also decide the orchestra is a poor fit and, if he or she is on leave from another orchestra, return to that orchestra.

You can expect to see another round of auditions coming up for those positions that currently have one-year substitutes.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Professor Betty (BJ) Maillette

Professor Betty Maillette, founder of the jujitsu school where I started my studies long ago, died on Monday, August 22, 2016. She was 92. You can read a bit about her life here, in her obituary, and here, at the American Judo & Jujitsu Federation web site.

I did not know Prof. Maillette well; she retired from jujitsu and turned her school over to one of her own students in 1980, two years before I started to practice. (I'm pretty sure that the 1982 date on the AJJF web site is incorrect.) I'm very sorry not to have seen her jujitsu when she was in her prime; her students say it was extraordinary.

She occasionally visited the school for a few years after her retirement, and even taught class a couple of times. She taught a class that I participated in at the American Judo & Jujitsu Federation's (AJJF)1986 convention. In 1997, she came to Oakland for an event honoring the 25th anniversary of the opening of The Dojo in 1972.

I always thought that it should have been a 35th anniversary party, honoring the anniversary of when Prof. Maillette started teaching at the downtown Oakland YMCA. She had been studying with Professor Ray Law, one of the founders of the AJJF, at his school on Grand Avenue* for several years and had received her shodan (first degree black belt) from him. He got a call from the Y asking about women's self-defense classes, and he sent his student, the future Prof. Maillette, to teach them. In one of those thoughts that occurs to you too late, I wonder whether anyone asked her how she developed that first class. How did she decide what to teach? She may well have spoken to Prof. Law about the class - what did he have to say? Lost history, alas.

At some point during her time at the Y, Prof. Maillette must have added jujitsu classes; I believe I have seen some photos taken there of jujitsu practice. She also developed a long and intricate self-defense curriculum, which covered just about every aspect of defending yourself against a physical attack, from using your voice to blocking, kicking, and striking, to escapes from common attacks to defending yourself on the ground. This included some techniques taken from the jujitsu Yawara board, some basic throws, a lot about the principles of jujitsu, and could take a year or more to complete.

In 1972, she opened a dojo at 3718 MacArthur Blvd., in the Laurel District. This school was called The Dojo and taught jujitsu and self-defense to women only. For many years, her own silkscreen business was next door, and I'm pretty sure that I still have a bandana she printed in her shop. During the 1970s and early 1980s, a number of her students became black belts, with two advancing to second-degree black belt. In 1980, having reached the rank of Rokudan (sixth-degree black belt), she turned the school over to one of her black belts, Mady Shumofsky, my first sensei.**

As I said, i didn't know Prof. Maillette well; she was largely retired from jujitsu by the time I started, and she moved to Fort Bragg before I got my black belt. Despite this, Prof. Maillette had an enormous influence on me and my life. I started out during the summer of 1981 in a six-week self-defense class that she designed and taught for many years; as I advanced in jujitsu, I learned to teach that class, and I teach it to this day. I started jujitsu for real in 1982, and completed her special self-defense class, and eventually earned my shodan and nidan in Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu. Much of what I teach my students today is what she taught, inherited, as one inherits in the martial arts, from my senseis and from her. Jujitsu is also very much the lens through which I see the world. 

Betty Maillette was prescient: she taught self-defense to women to strengthen and empower them, before the second wave of feminism, and she taught jujitsu to women at a time when many martial organizations didn't welcome women as members or students. She taught hundreds, if not thousands, of women. Several dojos were operated or founded by women in her jujitsu lineage, and we all carry on her teaching.

I did not know her well, but I owe her so much. A thousand thank yous, Professor Maillette: you and your teaching live on in the hearts and teaching of your students, and grand-students, and great grand-students. 

* For many years, the building housed the Country Furniture Store. It's now Camino Restaurant.
** I had five senseis by the time I got to shodan, all without changing dojos, although the name and management did change. It's a long story.