Friday, December 30, 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016

He'll Swivel His Hips...Or Not

Received from the Met, a change of conductor for the upcoming Carmen performances:
Asher Fisch will conduct performances of Bizet’s Carmen this season, replacing the originally announced Dan Ettinger, who has withdrawn due to illness. Fisch will conduct performances on January 19, 23, and 31; February 3, 7, and 11matinee. Derrick Inouye will conduct the performance on January 27. Louis Langrée will still conduct the final two performances of Carmen on February 15 and 18.
Fisch has conducted six productions at the Met, making his company debut leading Lehár’s The Merry Widow in 2000, followed by Verdi’s Rigoletto, Puccini’s La Bohème, Mozart's The Magic Flute, Wagner’s Parsifal, and earlier this season, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Maestro Fisch has conducted at the Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, La Scala, Paris Opera, and Royal Opera, Covent Garden. He is currently the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and previously, he was the Principal Guest Conductor at the Seattle Opera and Music Director of the Israel Opera and Vienna Volksoper. 
Carmen will star Maria Agresta and Janai Brugger as Micaëla, Sophie Koch and Clémentine Margaine as Carmen, Marcelo Álvarez as Don José, and Kyle Ketelsen and Michael Todd Simpson as Escamillo.
I did not see Sophie Koch in Les Troyens (she withdrew from the production), but I did catch the excellent Clémentine Margaine in Don Quichotte. A fine singer with an interesting and very French voice.

San Francisco Opera, Streaming Its Season Announcement

This came in subscriber email; if you want to see the SFO 2017-18 season announcement*, you can, from the comfort of your own home or desk.

2017–18 Season Announcement
Tuesday, January 17 at 12:30pm
Live stream via FacebookYouTubeInstagram and

With the new year brings the announcement of our next season, and we can’t wait to share the news with you! Join us on January 17 at 12:30pm for a live stream of our 2017–18 Season announcement with General Director Matthew Shilvock. Subscriptions go on sale on January 17—buy early to secure the best seats at the best prices!
* I need to mention that we already know five of the operas:
  • John Adams commission, Girls of the Golden West, fall, 2017
  • Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen, summer, 2018 (cast announced in September, 2016)
We don't know whether it's an 8, 9, or 10 opera season. There could be three, four, or five more operas announced next month.

Ethan Iverson Wins the Internet

An amazingly geeky dream putting together today's politics and music history. The composer Miriam Gideon was the first woman to serve on the committee for the Pulitzer Prize in music.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

More Evidence

Thomas May wrote an article for Strings Magazine about Alan Gilbert and his legacy at the New York Philharmonic. It's an excellent article, and definitely the kind that leaves me scratching my head and wondering, yet again, why the NYPO is letting Gilbert go. Read it and weep.

Monday, December 26, 2016

L'Amour de Loin HD Broadcast

Composer Kaija Saariaho and Librettist Amin Maalouf
July, 2008 Adriana Mater symposium, Santa Fe
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I couldn't go to the live HD broadcast of Kaija Saariaho and Amin Maalouf's L'Amour de Loin (Love from Afar) because I taught a self-defense class starting at noon that Saturday. I made it to the encore.

It's an amazingly beautiful score, and an opera in which almost nothing happens. Jaufré Rudel falls in love with his image of Clémence, Countess of Tripoli; the Pilgrim wanders between the two. Eventually, he takes ship and dies in Clémence's arms.

It is a seamless score, and in its way almost as static as the libretto. There is some musical drama, mostly toward the end. Or at least, after the intermission. I was shocked to see in the synopsis that there are five short acts. I like the entire score and really loved the sections where Saariaho is riffing on medieval musical styles. She does that brilliantly, with Spanish-Moorish motifs working their way into the score. Static or not, it is gorgeous and must sound even better in the theater.

Robert Lepage's set works much better than I would have thought, even on the broadcast. It looked good and I think it must have been more beautiful in person, without the camera and digitization intervening. But Lepage has to have a gimmick or two, and in this production, he has the strings of LED lights and the gantry from which Jaufré and Clémence sing.

Saariaho and Robert Lepage during rehearsals.
Jonathan Tichler / Metropolitan Opera
This photo amuses me a great deal, for some reason.

I think that what he wants out of his sets is to have the singers constrained as much as possible so that he does not really have to think about blocking and what might make sense. That works better in this than in the Ring. Still, the moving gantry is something of a distraction; other production of this opera have solved the problem differently. Peter Sellars's production for the Finnish National Opera put the leads in a pair of handsome towers, for example.

Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim and Susanna Phillips as Clémence in Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
That's the gantry. The ends go up and down, and it swivels, and it moves around the stage.

The fake birds and the fake Clémence diving into the waves looked laughable on the broadcast. Maybe they looked better in the house.

The singing was at least solid throughout, though I must say that I found Eric Owens uninteresting without being able to say just why. His French is not great and he seems to have only one facial expression (tortured), which, because of the closeups, you got to see a lot of.

Eric Owens
Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
The sweater does look better at a distance.

On HD, that sweater under his jacket looked like something his grandmother sent him. Did nobody realize that? It was a poor costuming choice.

Tamara Mumford and the jacket.
Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Tamara Mumford's Pelerin (Pilgrim) was beautifully sung and acted; she has a certain austerity of manner and face that suited the character well. She looked almost shockingly like Renee Falconetti in Carl Dreyer's great film The Passion of Joan. (I wish I could steal that jacket she was wearing - it's very beautiful and would look good on me.) 

I liked Susanna Philips's singing a great deal; it's a beautiful voice, although the very top of the part wasn't easy enough for her. I did not like her facial expressions, which seemed too knowing and sometimes too smirky, except at the end. She needed more innocence, or more transcendence, or something. Or maybe she needed fewer close-ups.

The end of the opera is a bit odd: I feel that Saariaho could have ended it in the long silence after Jaufré's death, right before the chorus starts singing, as well as after Clémence's long closing rant. In any event, the ending as it is feels very medieval indeed, with Clémence's dialog with God, her cursing and her acceptance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Robertson to Leave SLSO

Something of a shock in the NY Times: David Robertson will be stepping down as music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at the end of the 2018-19 season.

I'm surprised because it has seemed like a good pairing, with Robertson popular and his programming first-class. This leaves him with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia and no ongoing US appointment, though he has frequent guest engagements with orchestras and the Met.

The big question, of course, is, who will replace him? Will the SLSO be the U.S. orchestra that finally scoops up Susanna Mälkki or Pablo Heras-Casado?

Updated list of open spots:
  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra 
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO)
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Orchestra Nationale de France
  • Vienna Staatsoper / VPO (Dominique Meyer not planning to appoint a WSO MD; his contract expires in 2020.)

And closed:

  • Hong Kong Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden's contract extended through summer of 2022
  • City of Birmingham SO; Mirga Grazintye-Tyla appointed 2/4/2016, succeeding Andris Nelsons
  • New York Philharmonic; Jaap Van Zweden appointed, 1/27/16, succeeding Alan Gilbert
  • National Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda appointed, 1/4/2016, succeeding Christoph Eschenbach.
  • Leipzig Gewandhaus: Andris Nelsons appointed, 9/9/2015
  • LSO: Simon Rattle appointed, 3/2/2015
  • Orchestra de Paris: Daniel Harding, 6/11/2015
  • Berlin Philharmonic: Kirill Petrenko appointed, 6/22/2015
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard succeeds Donald Runnicles in September, 2016

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Musical Reflections of 2016

Apologies for getting this up so late. There will be a free, four-hour concert tomorrow at Oakland's Chapel of the Chimes, "in honor of those we have lost this year," including Pauline Oliveros and those who died in the Ghost Ship fire. It sounds truly lovely. If I'm reading this correctly, it'll be something like Garden of Memory.


Sunday, December 18 at 11am
Chapel of the Chimes Oakland | 4499 Piedmont Ave | Oakland, CA

Musicians include Kitka, the Temple of Light Georgian Community Choir, Sharmi Basu, the William Winant Percussion Group, , the Cardew Choir, Samuel Carl Adams, Ellen Fullman, Theresa Wong, Luciano Chessa, Dylan Mattingly, Pamela Z, Edward Schocker and Thingamajigs Performance Collective, Majel Connery, Katabatik, Soriah, Laura Inserra with Suellen Primost and Barbara Eramo, For Now, Maggi Payne, Gino Robair, Diane Grubbe, Phil Gelb, Chris Brown, Tim Perkis, Sarah Cahill, Danny Clay, John Benson, Carletta Sue Kay, Gautam Tejas Ganeshan, Ramon Sender, Zina Bozzay, and many more.

Press release:

Oakland, CA – On Sunday, December 18, 2017 from 11am-3pm, Chapel of the Chimes and New Music Bay Area will host “Musical Reflections of 2016," a free four-hour musical community gathering in honor of those we've lost this year, including the Ghost Ship fire victims and beloved composer Pauline Oliveros. Musicians include survivors of the Ghost Ship community who will play music for their lost friends and bandmates, and close collaborators of Pauline Oliveros, who had deep roots in the Bay Area. Musical Reflections of 2016 gives us all a chance to gather and mourn many events and loved ones from this difficult year. Several of Pauline Oliveros’ works being performed invite audience participation.

Performers are all donating their services and talents and range in age from 25-year-old Dylan Mattingly to 82-year-old Ramon Sender, who founded the San Francisco Tape Music Center with Pauline Oliveros and Terry Riley. Musical Reflections 2016 is curated by Sarah Cahill and Lucy Mattingly, who also curate the annual summer solstice event Garden of Memory at the Chapel of the Chimes each June 21. This event developed from the desire to come together with music to commemorate a challenging year full of loss.

Performances are simultaneous and throughout the beautiful chapels and alcoves and spaces at the Julia Morgan-designed Chapel of the Chimes. Guests are invited to walk through the multilevel maze of internal gardens, cloisters, alcoves, stairwells, fountains and other architectural elements, which rise into vaulted ceilings. The facility’s numerous chapels, columbaria, and mausoleum areas are adorned with antiquities that date back to the 16th century. All architectural and garden areas have excellent acoustics and are illuminated by gentle natural light, often through beautiful arrangements of stained glass.

Musical Reflections of 2016 offers a unique and personal musical experience to every listener as he or she wanders freely through this multilevel maze ingeniously designed by Julia Morgan. Chapel of the Chimes, the largest above-ground cemetery west of the Mississippi, started out as a street car station and became the California Memorial Crematorium and Columbarium in 1909. The property was expanded and transformed by Julia Morgan and later, Aaron Green – a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. The lobby and hallways feature artwork by Diego Rivera, a marble table top from the Medici family crest and a page from the Gutenberg Bible. Everyone is encouraged to take public transportation or carpool, since parking will be limited. 

[I would appreciate it if someone would think briefly of Pierre Boulez for me.]

Thursday, December 15, 2016

You May Have Noticed....

....or you may not have, that in the wake of the election, I've started a page called The Politics Page. It's a list of articles I've found interesting and resources I expect to find very useful in the next four years. I'm a leftist, so you might already have a good idea of the sort of things you'll find there. Read and enjoy (or not).

To anyone thinking of disputing the presence of this material on a music blog:

1. It's my blog and I'll write about whatever I damn well please.
2. Feel free not to read.

For a much longer version of the above, you can read John Scalzi's longer and more strongly-worded commentary on this subject, but they told me in technical writer school to be as concise as possible. Maybe that's why he's a novelist and I'm not.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Allegro con fuoco

It shouldn't be too tough to figure out what work has the following orchestration. Let's just say that some day I'd like to hear it in person with every instrument its composer calls for.  The six to eight harps would be mighty tough to wedge into the pit, I know. For St. Francois, San Francisco Opera built out a couple of platforms on the sides of the theater to house the three Ondes Martenon and the three additional mallet instruments required by that score; such a solution could work here as well.

  • Offstage:
    • 3 oboes
    • 3 trombones
    • Saxhorns: sopranino in B-flat (petit saxhorn suraigu en si♭), sopranos in E-flat (or valve trumpets in E-flat), altos in B-flat (or valve trumpets in B-flat), tenors in E-flat (or horns in E-flat), contrabasses in E-flat (or tubas in E-flat)
    • Percussion: pairs of timpani, several pairs of cymbals, thunder machine (roulement de tonnerre), antique sistrumstarbuka, tam-tam

New New Nymphet

The Met says:
Kirsten Chambers will make her Met debut in the title role of this evening’s performance of Strauss’s Salome, replacing Patricia Racette, who is ill.
Ms. Chambers, an American soprano, has recently sung the Foreign Princess in Dvořák’s Rusalka at Lyric Opera of Kansas; Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio with New Amsterdam Opera; Nedda in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci with Bronx Opera; and Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin with Opéra de Rennes, the Hong Kong Arts Festival, and the Savonlinna Opera Festival. 
Tonight’s performance of Salome is conducted by Johannes Debus and also stars Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Herodias, Gerhard Siegel as Herod, Kang Wang as Narraboth, and Željko Lučić as Jochanaan.
Parterre Box has a clip of her in Salome. Curious to hear how tonight's performance goes.

Monday, December 12, 2016

San Francisco Symphony Cancels North Carolina Performances

And it's over HB-2. Wow.

I think this is admirable. Would it be a bridge too far to ask organizations of all sorts to consider boycotting states that have gerrymandered election districts and that have passed restrictive voting measures of all kinds?

Here's the press release:

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) today announced the cancellation of two planned performances in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, April 5–6, 2017 in response to that state’sHouse Bill 2 (HB2), a law which overturned protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals earlier this year. Scheduled tour performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall April 7–8featuring Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, John Cage’s The Seasons, and Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 performed by Gautier Capuçon remain unchanged.

Soon after the bill was passed and signed into law, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee issued a statement barring publicly-funded City employees from travelling to North Carolina on business. While the San Francisco Symphony is not a city entity, it honors its role as a cultural ambassador to also include the values of the city whose name it carries. 

“The Symphony today made the decision to cancel its appearances in North Carolina,” stated Executive Director Brent Assink. “In the months after HB2 became law, we have closely watched the fluctuating political landscape in hopes that the law would be overturned. Because that has not yet happened, and due to pressing internal travel deadlines, the San Francisco Symphony has made the decision to cancel its concerts at this time.”

“This decision is not a reflection of our regard for Carolina Performing Arts, which is a valued artistic partner, but a response to the North Carolina state legislature’s decision to enact HB2.  We would have loved to perform at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a community that in many ways is consonant with our own San Francisco Bay Area.  But we also feel we must join our city, our state, the NBA, NCAA, and the many artists, organizations, and businesses who have chosen to not visit or contribute economically to North Carolina until legislation denying protection for the LGBT community has been overturned. The San Francisco Symphony, its Board of Governors, and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas wholeheartedly support this decision, as they support all those striving for equality and inclusiveness in their community and beyond.”

Carolina Performing Arts Executive and Artistic Director and Special Assistant to the Chancellor, Emil J. Kang, stated “I am disappointed that the San Francisco Symphony will not be performing at UNC-Chapel Hill in April, 2017 because of NC House Bill 2 (HB2) but I respect their decision to cancel. UNC-Chapel Hill policies – including protections for sexual orientation and gender identity— remain in effect, and we have never enforced HB2 on our campus. We at Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) will continue to foster inclusion and strive to provide an open, welcoming environment for all patrons.“

“The San Francisco Symphony should be applauded for taking a leadership role in our community,” stated longtime California State Senator and civil rights advocate Mark Leno. “Michael Tilson Thomas and the Orchestra have been active and vocal leaders nationwide in many ways and I am proud to see them taking this stance in the name of equal rights for all.  Both our city and state have restricted official travel to North Carolina in response to HB2, and the Symphony lends its voice in defending San Francisco values.”

Nominees and the Folly of It All

A friend asked me last year about the five greatest operas written in the last 50 years. Well, in some sense it's folly to even try; on the other hand, it's an entertaining questions to ask.

Here's the big problem with this enterprise, though: Thierry Vagne's attempt at a comprehensive list of all postwar operas is...enormous.

I asked on my blog, I asked on Twitter (more than once), and a fair number of people played. I didn't ask anyone to give me their criteria for "greatest," and that was a mistake, because in some of these cases, I'd really like to know. I mean, for my taste, Dead Man Walking got a shocking number of nominations, and I have never thought it very good, suffering from ostinatoitis and a general lack of memorable music.

Anyway, here is the list of nominees from 2015, with apologies for taking a year to post it:
  • Corigliano, Ghosts of Versailles
  • Heggie 
    • Dead Man Walking
    • Moby-Dick
  • Ligeti, Le Grand Macabre
  • Glass, Satyagraha
  • Adams, Nixon in China
  • Benjamin, Written on Skin
  • Catan, Florencia en el Amazonas 
  • Puts, Silent Night 
  • Rautavaara, Rasputin
  • Escaich, Claude
  • Saariaho, L'Amour de Loin
  • Dean, Bliss
  • Chin, Alice in Wonderland
  • Ades
    • The Tempest
    • Powder Her Face
  • Messiaen, St. Francois
  • Golijov, Aindanamar
  • Adams, Nixon in China
  • Birtwistle 
    • Gawain
    • Mask of Orpheus
  • Glass, Einstein on the Beach
  • Berg, Three-Act Lulu (YES I KNOW THIS IS CHEATING)
  • Stockhausen, Mitwoch
  • Henze, The Bassarids
  • Nono, Al gran sole carico d'amore
  • Britten
    • The Burning Fiery Furnace
    • The Prodigal Son
    • Death in Venice
I'm fascinated that three of the four composers more than one of whose operas was nominated are English. My own favorites of Britten's operas, The Turn of the Screw, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Peter Grimes, don't make the 50 year cut.

My candidates, which were echoed by many others, were St. Francois, Nixon in China, Einstein on the Beach, Gawain, and Le Grand Macabre. Note that I limited my nominees to those operas I've actually seen.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Some Kind of Award is Due

Earlier today, I received an email that deserves some kind of award, perhaps for Worst Press Release of the Year. I'm not going to reprint it, but let me count the problems.
  1. The email is from someone's personal Gmail account.
  2. The press contact is someone entirely different, and that individual's personal Gmail account is in the email. The PR firm has a web site, but somehow hasn't figured out how to set up email addresses. (Oh, wait, here is why: the company web site is very likely on Weebly and it costs money to get Google Apps for Your...oops, G Suite on Weebly. Hint: there are ways to set up an alias so that you can send email that looks like it comes from Ask me how I know this stuff, and by the way, it is not because I work for the Big G.)
  3. There isn't a reply-to set up for the press contact in the original email.
  4. The email is riddled with grammatical errors, logical issues, and poor writing.
  5. It is completely obvious that the PR company and the person sending the email have absolutely no idea of what my blog covers.
  6. I believe that my readership would not be very interested in this product. (This is a corollary to no. 5.)
  7. The pitch for an article is....naive.
  8. The Big Idea in the email is....well, I just don't know too many people who would go for the action the PR company is suggesting.
  9. Those certifications you mention are not "awards."
  10. Featured on TV in 2011 - that's five years ago - isn't all that impressive.

Hvorostovsky Withdraws from Scheduled Opera Appearances

Dmitri Hvorostovsky at the curtain call for the September 25 performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

From the Met:
Dmitri Hvorostovsky has withdrawn from his upcoming opera engagements, including this spring’s Met performances as the title character in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, due to illness. In June 2015, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and began treatment. However, balance issues resulting from the illness have made the performance of staged opera difficult, though he plans to continue performing in concerts, recitals, and the recording studio. A statement from Mr. Hvorostovsky is available below.
Mariusz Kwiecien and Peter Mattei will step into the role of Onegin at the Met for this spring’s performances, with Kwiecien singing on March 30, April 3 and 7 and Mattei singing on April 12, 15, 18, and 22 matinee.
Eugene Onegin will be conducted by Robin Ticciati and will also star Anna Netrebko as Tatiana, Elena Maximova as Olga, Alexey Dolgov as Lenski, and Štefan Kocán as Gremin. The April 22 matinee performance will be transmitted worldwide as part of the Met’s Live in HD series, which now reaches more than 2,000 theaters in 70 countries around the globe.
[Given the cast, I had planned to attend the HD broadcast which, to make this explicit, will now have the great Peter Mattei in the title role.]

[Kwiecien and Mattei bios omitted]

Statement from Dmitri Hvorostovsky

To all my friends, fans and colleagues:
It is with great sadness that I must withdraw from opera performances for the foreseeable future.
I have been experiencing balance issues associated with my illness, making it extremely difficult for me to perform in staged productions.
I will continue to give concerts and recitals as well as make recordings. Singing is my life, and I want to continue bringing joy to people worldwide.
With this pause in my operatic career and more rest in between each engagement, I hope to have more time to focus on my health and treatment.
Thank you for all your love, messages and well wishes. Your support is felt and means the world to me.
With love,
Wishing Mr. Hvorostovsky the most successful treatment possible!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Answer: Economics

Buffy Baggott (Countess Geschwitz) and Emma McNairy (Lulu)
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Question, for Jeopardy fans: Why can't San Francisco Opera put on seasons as adventurous as West Edge Opera's??

I heard that one a few times last summer from audience members and friends whose jaws were dropping at the audacity and beauty of West Edge Opera's season of Powder Her Face, Agrippina, and The Cunning Little Vixen, not to mention the 2015 season of Lulu, As One, and Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria.

And the answer is a simple one: money money money, which is directly related to the scale of the two operations.

Take a look at the 990 forms for San Francisco Opera and West Edge Opera.

The West Edge Opera 990 covers the year when the summer productions were at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley. It shows total revenue of about $303,600 and expenses of about $272,000.

The SFO 990 covers the same year. It shows total revenue of around $75 million ($75,800,000) and expenses of almost $74 million ($73,900,000). The company also has assets of $197 million. I believe most of that is funds in the endowment.

Let's try another few measures. West Edge Opera is now firmly housed in the abandoned train station for its summer season. You probably don't know how many audience members the station can seat. I certainly didn't, and I nearly fell over when I found out that it seats around 500. WEO put on three performances each of Vixen and Agrippina this year, and four of Powder Her Face, so they had to sell a total of 5,000 tickets to sell out.

The War Memorial Opera House seats around 3200 and the company puts on 65 to 70 performances a year. San Francisco Opera is trying to sell more than 200,000 tickets each season.

West Edge Opera hires freelance singers, orchestra members, lighting people, directors, stagehands, etc.

SF Opera has a permanent, unionized orchestra and a unionized chorus. The stagehands and other professionals working behind the scenes are unionized. They get paid salaries and have health and other benefits. The stars who sing solo roles get paid up to $17,000 per performance. (I do not know what the low range for soloists is or how it changes by size of the part, etc.)

David Gockley and Nicola Luisotti both got paid higher annual salaries than the entire West Edge Opera annual budget.

We're talking about very different levels of financial risk for a big opera company and an immense difference in the number of tickets that must be sold and funds that must be raised to keep an institution such as SF Opera financially stable. With the decreasing number of subscriptions purchased and the need to sell many more single tickets, it's easy to understand why SF Opera is more conservative in its programming than West Edge Opera.

Griffin Madden

Tragic news received this morning from Cal Performances: their staff member Griffin Madden died in the GhostShip warehouse fire in Oakland this past Friday night.

Matias Tarnopolsky writes:
It is with incredible sadness that I write to inform you that a beloved member of our staff, Griffin Madden, perished in the fire in Oakland on Friday night. Griffin had been missing since last being seen there, and his death was confirmed yesterday evening.
Griffin was Cal Performances’ Audience Services Associate, recently winning that full-time position after having worked as a student usher throughout his undergraduate career. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 2015 with a double major in Philosophy and Slavic Languages and Literature. He was devoted to Cal Performances and had been an integral member of our staff for five years, starting as a freshman at age 18.  Griffin was 23 years old.
Yesterday, at Cal Performances’ long scheduled staff holiday gathering, Griffin’s father, Mike, and Griffin's girlfriend, Saya, joined us in a spirit of comfort and connection with the people whom Griffin touched every day.  
Their extraordinary example of grace and optimism was truly inspiring to all of us who knew Griffin.
Cal Performances plans to hold a memorial event in the spring. If people would like to send remembrances or condolences to Griffin's family, they may send them to me at the address below and we will forward them.
Our community is heartbroken at this news. We extend our deep condolences to Griffin's family and to his friends.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Grawemeyer Award to Andrew Norman

For his well-received orchestral work Play, of course. Congratulations!

His remarks after the award are quite interesting, too; here's what he said in an interview with Tom Huizenga of NPR:
Huizenga: On a practical level, I suppose it could send more commissions your way.
Norman: If I get more commissions, great, but maybe I can use this moment to talk about things that are important to me. Like to call attention to the fact that there are problems. For instance, this award has been given to three women out of its 30-year history. And to me that's kind of an issue.
And in all honesty, I'm a white man and I get lots of commissions and there are systemic reasons for that, reasons we should all be talking about. There are so many talented composers out there. Rather than giving me another commission, why aren't we giving those people a commission?
The canon is so overwhelmingly white and male, but we can use new music to fix that problem. There are so many voices who should be heard in the concert hall today, of people whose music reflects a wide variety of experiences. That, to me, is the most important issue right now for contemporary classical music and classical music generally — how to get what happens in the concert hall to reflect the diverse society that we are.
I think that orchestras have such an opportunity, especially now in this really conflicted, contentious moment, to say something powerful and meaningful about our own time, with the all of the voices of our own time.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Shocked, Shocked

Last week, it transpired that the Metropolitan Opera won't be performing a new opera by Osvaldo Golijov after all. Neither party is saying much about what happened or why the project is being canceled. From Michael Cooper's article:
The opera house and the composer were circumspect about why the project, which was more than a decade in the making, had been called off. The Met said in a statement this week that it had parted ways with Mr. Golijov because of “conflicting schedules” but would not elaborate. Mr. Golijov declined a request for an interview; his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, cited an unspecified “difference in artistic vision” for the demise of the project.
Let me hazard a guess that Golijov's ongoing creative block is what's responsible; he has been having problems following through on commissions for years now.

However, "more than a decade in the making" does not reflect well on the Met: other composers are able to deliver commissions within a few years, and the company must have given Golijov an unusual degree of latitude to let the project drag on for so long. Consider, for example, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec: he has deliver The Letter (2008), Danse Russe (2011), and The Shining (2016) in less than the time it has taken Golijov to not deliver a score to the Met.

In response to this news, Anne Midgette took a long, hard, look at the Met's commissioning program and concluded that it is boneheaded. Okay, that is not what she says, well, not directly, but she is completely right about how misguided it is. The big problem is that the program doesn't commit the Met to actually staging anything that they commission; they can run workshops until the cows come home, but composers are not guaranteed a performance, although they do get paid for their work.

This seems very unfortunately to be typical of the Met. Over a long period - their whole damn history, in fact - there's been a very slight degree of commitment to commissioning and performing new music. Here is a list of Met world premieres:
  1. La Fanciulla del West
  2. Koningskinder
  3. Monda (Parker)
  4. Cyrano (Damrosch)
  5. Madeleine
  6. Madame Sens-Gen
  7. Goyescas
  8. The Canterbury Pilgrims
  9. The Robin Woman: Shanewis
  10. The Dance in Place Congo (ballet)
  11. Il Trittico (Il Tabarro, Suoer Angelica, Gianni Schicchi)
  12. The Temple Dancer
  13. The Blue Bird
  14. Cleopatra's Night
  15. Skyscrapers
  16. The King's Henchman
  17. Peter Ibbetson
  18. The Emperor Jones
  19. Merry Mount (world stage premiere)
  20. In the Pasha's Garden
  21. The Man Without a Country
  22. The Island God
  23. The Warrior
  24. Vanessa
  25. Antony & Cleopatra
  26. Mourning Becomes Electra
  27. The Ghosts of Versailles
  28. The Voyage
  29. Babbitt Piano Concerto (Met Orch at Carnegie Hall)
  30. The Great Gatsby
  31. An American Tragedy
  32. The First Emperor
  33. The Enchanted Island (pastiche)
Many of these works have sunk without a trace, although there are a few very bright lights in there....most of them written by Puccini. It's true that the Met has also performed a bunch of recent work not commissioned by the Met, including three operas by John Adams, Thomas Adès's The Tempest, and Nico Muhly's Two Boys

Still, you could wish that the country's most prestigious opera company would taking some kind of lead in recruiting composers to compose operas, matching them with good librettists, and then following through by staging the resulting operas. They are certainly hamstrug by factors somewhat beyond their control: the enormous cost of staging opera in NYC, their gigantic theater, and the lack of a smaller, perhaps nonunion, venue - say a thousand seats? - where they could stage new opera at a lower cost and with much less risk, perhaps drawing on their young singers' program.

You should definitely read Anne's article, which goes into a lot of detail about issues with the Met program; also take a look at Justin Davidson's article about new opera at the Met. He's absolutely right that composers rarely get it right with their first opera (or operas); the exceptions include Mozart, Berg, and Britten, so you see.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Pauline Oliveros

Radical composer Pauline Oliveros, fierce feminist, died last week at 84. The Times obituary is by Steve Smith, who also discussed her on NPR.

Russell Oberlin

The great countertenor Russell Oberlin has died, age 88. He was one of the two most important figures in the countertenor renaissance of the mid-20th century, the other being the English countertenor Alfred Deller.

Of local interest: Oberlin sang the role of Oberon in the US premiere of Britten's marvelous A Midsummer Night's Dream at San Francisco Opera.

Margalit Fox wrote the Times obituary; here's an article from a few years ago about how homebound patients dealt with Hurricane Sandy, in which Oberlin featured prominently.

Joana Carneiro & the Berkeley Symphony

Just noting that Berkeley Symphony music director Joana Carneiro withdrew from the orchestra's October program, which Edwin Outwater conducted, and has now withdrawn from the December program, which Elim Chan will conduct. The public announcement for the December program just said "We proudly present Elim Chan, guest conductor for REVERENCE!", with no mention of the reason for Carneiro's withdrawal. Earlier this fall, she withdrew from a European engagement as well.

I hope she is well and will return soon. She is scheduled to conduct SFS in 2017 in John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary, a work I am greatly looking forward to hearing.

Germany Friday Photo

Office Machines in a Window
Munich, Germany
August 2015

Thursday, December 01, 2016

San Francisco: Want to Perform a Work by Yves Klein?

Andrew Kachel is organizing a performance of Yves Klein's Monotone-Silence Symphony, and he is seeking musicians for the work. The performance is scheduled for January 12, with a rehearsal that morning and performance in the evening.

Andrew writes:

The piece is complex in a way but also fairly straightforward. The conductor leads 30+ vocalists and approximately 30 musicians (mostly strings, some wind) in maintaining a single note for 20 minutes, followed by a 20-minute period of silence. The Klein Archives has a description of the piece on their website, including an audio excerpt from a 1998 staging. 

The performance will be at Grace Cathedral. Andrew is looking for an ensemble of 10 violins, 10 cellos
, 3 contrabasses, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, and 3 horns, plus at least 30 singers.  

You are not required to wear International Klein Blue for the concert, though you can if you want to. The performers will receive a small honorarium.

For further details, contact Andrew at