Friday, April 20, 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Repertory Madness

The three big presenting organizations in the Bay Area -- Cal Performances, SF Performances, and Stanford Lively Arts -- have announced their 2018-19 seasons. I will try to get some thoughts posted this week, but no promises as I've got a couple of reviews to write.

However, something jumped out at me, because it's unmissable: there are three cellists performing the complete Bach suites this season. Here they are:
  • Yo-Yo Ma - September 30, 2018, Greek Theater (the perfect venue, right?) (Cal Performances)
  • Jean-Guihen Queyras - October 30, 2018, Herbst (SF Performances)
  • Alicia Weilerstein - May 1, 2019, First Congo (Cal Performances)
Yeah, I had to check to see whether Stanford Live had the same program with a fourth cellist. Nope. Maybe it's not too late for them to engage Clemens Hagen, or, for a little novelty, a Baroque cellist such as Pieter Wispelwey.

Does anybody think about the ticket sales implications of this? Especially when Ma is one of the cellists?

SF Opera Annual Meeting

I was able to go to the annual meeting of San Francisco Opera this year. It was held on Wednesday, April 11, at Herbst Theater, just across the courtyard from the opera house.

There were financial and artistic reports, and also some singing. I don't have the program in front of me, so this is largely from memory. I may make some updates when I find the program.

The company's financial condition is improving, in that the endowment has been going up, owing to both contributions to it and the stock market, and the draw on it is going down. After two seasons of 9.5% draw (gulp - that is a big, bad number), the next report will show a 4.5% draw on the endowment. Ticket sales are....as projected, producing about 21% of income. As recently as the 90s, this number was much higher, and there's no denying that everybody would like that number higher.

Someone asked, during the Q&A, about getting younger people into the house, and I was not thrilled by John Gunn's answer, which was along the lines of "Young people are often raising kids, and when their time and money frees up, then they come into the house." Sorry, won't do: young technical people making $150,000/year and up often have the time and disposable income, and really can afford to hire sitters, and many of them are making that kind of salary for years before they have kids.

Matthew Shilvock talked about the artistic side of things. He mentioned three pillars of the company's artistic vision: Community, Total Art, and Cutting Edge, if I have this right. Unfortunately, he picked the company's new Tosca production to introduce how these concepts apply, and, you know, every big company has to have a Tosca production and nobody expects it to be especially visionary. The opera is too damn grounded in specific locations on a particular day in time. Everybody knows what the Castel Sant'Angelo looks like. This was....not very convincing.

Things were a little livelier during the Q&A. I got in line with a question, and I know the poor man was thinking "OMG DO I HAVE TO HEAR ANOTHER BIRTWISTLE QUESTION FROM HER" because I could practically see the sigh of relief when I asked about Opera for All Voices instead. 

No, actually, I couldn't; he has a good poker face. (I sort of regret not asking about Birtwistle. :) In any event, a few people later, Ilana Walder-Biesanz asked about diversifying the repertory and got a non-answer from, I think, John Gunn, who dodged around a bit to mention performers, which was not her question. Shilvock jumped in at this point, without any specific repertory to name, to say that "we're in discussions with a very exciting woman composer," which of course left us guessing. 

Here are some plausible candidates for the composer they're talking to - and bear in mind that Shilvock's phrasing was vague enough that we should presume there's no contract yet. In alphabetical order, and I'm listing these composers because they're all composed well-received operas:
  • Unsuk Chin
  • Jennifer Higdon
  • Laura Kaminsky
  • Missy Mazzoli
  • Meredith Monk
  • Olga Neuwirth
  • Rachel Portman
  • Kaija Saariaho
  • Du Yun
And there are a whole bunch of women out there who've written important or interesting works in other genres that SFO might be willing to commission (remember, Jake Heggie had not written an opera when he got the commission for Dead Man Walking).

In any event, I hope the discussions lead to a finished work, and I'm looking forward to more news about this.

UPDATE: Of course, I'd be happy to see performances at SFO of existing operas by any of the above composers. L'Amour de Loin, Breaking the Waves, Alice in Wonderland, Atlas, Adriana Mater, etc.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Museum Mondays

Head in a Helmet
Gods in Color exhibit
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, December 2017

Friday, April 13, 2018

San Francisco Ring Tickets Available for Cycle 1

A co-worker of mine won't be able to see the Ring this June after all, and he is trying to rehome them. They're for Cycle 1:

Das Rhengold, June 12 7:30 p.m.
Die Walküre, June 13 7 p.m.
Siegfried, June 15, 6 p.m.
Götterdämmerung, June 17, 1 p.m.

The seats are in Balcony 1, which is the frontmost section of the Balcony. The seats are D-115 and 117. Here's a seating chart. I am not sure how easy it is to see the OperaVision screens from there.

I can put you in touch with him. Email me at lhirsch@gmail.com or DM me on Twitter and I'll pass along his email address.

Friday Photo

Bay Bridge from 345 Spear St.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Richard Tucker Foundation Award to Christian Van Horn

Christian Van Horn, from his personal web site

Congratulations to bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, who has appeared in mostly big roles in SF since 2010, on being awarded the Richard Tucker Foundation Award!

Monday, April 09, 2018

Museum Mondays

Gods in Color exhibit
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, December 2017

Friday, April 06, 2018

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Lawrence Brownlee in Recital

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee gave a recital Saturday night, only his second local appearance, following his San Francisco Opera debut the other year in Don Pasquale. He was delightful in that bonbon -- it's pretty silly even as opera plots go -- and was seriously good the other night. Here are the reviews and some further thoughts that wouldn't fit into my review.

We're pretty much on the same page here; Brownlee is new to Dichterliebe and it'll be very different hearing him a couple of years down the road. 

The thoughts I couldn't get into the review: Brownlee is such a consistent vocalist that I would be willing to bet that he sings for a good long time. His comfort in florid music, standards, and contemporary music somewhat puts me in mind of the late Hugues Cuénod, who died at the remarkable age of 108 and performed until his early 90s. Like Cuénod, Brownlee has a light tenor of the sort that seems like it wouldn't change much even with some age-related wear. He is 46, meaning he's been singing professionally for around 20 years, and there is no audible wear at all. 

Here you've got an opera tenor who has a serious interest in contemporary music. New music groups should be falling all over themselves to hire him and commission more work for him. And the Cuénod comparison suggests to me that early music groups should be trying to hire him too; the late tenor sang pretty much everything. I mean, Brownlee would be fabulous in Bach, Monteverdi, Machaut, the troubadours.

Lastly, I hope a recording of Cycles of My Being will be forthcoming.

Upcoming Performances I Can't Attend (Volti, Cowell, John Luther Adams)

I'll be out of town this coming weekend (doing jujitsu) and the first weekend of May (professional conference), and thus I am missing a few events I'd love to attend

  • Bard Music West: The World of Henry Cowell. Once again, they're at Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez at 23rd, SF, CA. Dates are April 6 and 7. I attended one of the concerts last year and wow, it was great.
  • Volti is singing a work by Ruth Crawford (Seeger) at Bard West on Friday night....
  • ....and on Saturday, they're the chorus for John Luther Adams's new orchestral work, "Become Desert," which Seattle Symphony is performing at Zellerbach Hall (Cal Performances).
  • I will be back in time for Sunday's Seattle Symphony program, which includes JLA's "Become Ocean" and oceanic works by Sibelius and Britten.
  • Out into May, Volti has a great program on May 4 and 6, called Bay and Beyond.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Monday Miscellany

Various odd ends I've had floating around.

Museum Mondays

Gods in Color exhibit
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, December 2017

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Olly Wilson

Composer Olly Wilson died on March 12, 2018 at age 80. He was a professor at UC Berkeley for many years, a fine composer, and, from Trevor Weston's article, linked below, a tremendous teacher and great human.

I've heard only one of Wilson's works over the years, a performance of Hold On at Berkeley Symphony some years ago. I wish SFS would champion, and perform, his music.

Do Not Trust Blogger Stats

If you're a Blogger user, you've probably glanced at the Blogger Stats page and admired your numbers. I am sorry to tell you that those statistics clearly include a lot of spam - fake hits on your page by bots - because there is no processing at all done.

I've got Google Analytics installed on this blog, and here are screen shots of Blogger Stats and Analytics, by user and country.

Analytics for the last week (click to enlarge):

Blogger Stats for the last two days (click to enlarge):

It's nice to think I got 8,000 hits in the last two days, but I didn't. The Google Analytics stats are the ones to be trusted because of spam filtering.

KDFC to Broadcast San Francisco Opera's Jenufa, April 1, 2018

From the SF Opera press release, here's what you need to know:


Jiří Bělohlávek Conducts 2016 Performance Starring Karita Mattila,
Malin Byström, William Burden and Scott Quinn

In person, this was one of the greatest performances I've ever seen. The headline doesn't mention Jill Grove, but she was a fantastic and telling Grandmother Burya. Mattila was an absolutely stunning Kostelnicka, Byström a reserved Jenufa with an iron spine.


The press release says it all about a lovely program they're performing:

London, 1845: Gratitude to Haydn

Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)    Quartet in D minor, Op. 9, No. 4 (1771)
Quartet in C, Op. 20, No. 2 (1772)
Quartet in D, Op. 64, No. 5 “The Lark” (1790)
Quartet in Bb, Op. 76, No. 4 “The Sunrise” (1797)

Friday, April 13, 2018, at 8pm, Hillside Club,
2286 Cedar Street (at Arch), Berkeley, 94709
tickets for this Friday concert are $25, and are sold only at the door

Saturday, April 14, 2018, at 4pm, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church,
1111 O’Farrell (at Franklin), San Francisco, 94109

SundayApril 15, 2018, at 4pm, All Saints’ Episcopal Church,
555 Waverley Street (at Hamilton), Palo Alto, 94301

Tickets for Saturday & Sunday are $30 (discounts for seniors and students)

San Francisco, March 21, 2018: In 1845, after performing all the Beethoven Quartets, the Beethoven Quartett Society of London decided it was time for a concert of quartets by Haydn, “the great Father of that refined music.” In recreating that program, The New Esterházy Quartet (Kati Kyme and Lisa Weiss, violin; Anthony Martin, viola; and William Skeen, cello) present the perfect ending to the series of highlights from string quartet history  they have presented this 2017-2018 season.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Bonus Friday Photos, with a Theme

Top five images from the Bavarian National Museum, Munich
August, 2015
Last image, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
February, 2018

(The first image would, I believe, be more appropriate on Sunday than today.)

Friday Photo

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Los Angeles, March, 2017

Monday, March 26, 2018

Tarnopolsky to Philadelphia Orchestra?

Email from a friend this morning alerted me to a report by N***** L******* saying that Matias Tarnopolsky would be the next president of the Philadelphia Orchestra. (I'm not going to link to NL or even mention the name of his blog. Do a web search if you want to see the report.) Now there's an article by Peter Dobrin in The Inquirer, and that I'm happy to link to. Dobrin says there's no contract yet and the Philly board hasn't voted on it, but there is a verbal agreement. It could theoretically still fall through, but who knows who the leaker is? Somebody close to the orchestra.

Joshua Kosman has picked up Dobrin's report. I have email out to Cal Performances but have heard nothing yet.

UPDATE: It's true. He'll have his work cut out for him at Philly. His predecessor might be characterized as union-busting, given her administration at Philly and at Atlanta. She took the orchestra into and out of bankruptcy.

The orchestra has had a problem board that let the organization drift for way too long. Note the five-year tenure of Christoph Eschenbach, followed by four years of acting MD Charles Dutoit (they might be regretting this now) before Yannick Nezet-Seguin was tapped.

This year's season is also notably dull, despite having an energetic young MD, and it's an all-male season. Let's hope Matias Tarnopolsky can turn the ship around.

Other coverage:
Here's the Cal Performances press release about his departure, after the cut.

Museum Mondays

Gods in Color exhibit
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, December 2017

Friday, March 23, 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Heartening News from the Ojai Festival

This morning's email brings the great news that Chad Smith, chief operating officer of the LAPhil, will succeed Thomas Morris as the artistic director of the Ojai Festival. Great news because Smith has been one of the forces behind the diverse and forward-looking programming at the LA Phil, and was considered a strong candidate to succeed Deborah Borda after her surprise departure. He will continue with the LA Phil, which is good news for them as well.

Press release after the cut.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Museum Mondays

Greek goddess as she would have been
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, CA
December, 2017

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Opera de Paris

If you were attending the opera in Paris, with shows at both the Palais Garnier and Opéra Bastille, where would you sit for good sound and sightlines in each theater? And how comfortable are the seats? (I am broad-beamed.)

Asking for a friend.

Compare & Contrast 34: From the House of the Dead, ROH

Two views of Krzysztof Warlikowski's Royal Opera production of Janacek's From the House of the Dead, with the kind of contract that makes me want to see this bring-up:

NCCO Hires Daniel Hope

Daniel Hope will be New Century Chamber Orchestra's next Music Director, starting in the 2018-19 season, supplanting a previous agreement appointing him to a three-year term as Artistic Partner. He has a five-year contract as Music Director.

The full press release is after the cut.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Popcorn and Lawn Chair Time

Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch
February 28, 2018

Let me all encourage you to read Kalimac's excellent posting about James Levine, which he published earlier today. He took Johanna Fiedler's Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera out of the library and reports on what she had to say about Levine back in 2001. I will say no more; just read his post.

You might have thought that the Met's firing of Levine on Monday was the end of the story. Terry Teachout disagrees with this, as his column in the WSJ said. (I am not a subscriber and haven't read it yet.)

And today, well: James Levine is suing the Met, and that's the reason for my post title. The link is to Michael Cooper's article on the lawsuit.

First off, the lawsuit is for breach of contract and defamation. Items of note: As music director emeritus, Levine was to be paid $400,000/year for ten years, plus $27,000 for every performance he conducts. Usually, you can only get this sort of thing from an institution's 990 form, an IRS form filed by nonprofits that is available to the public. 

Second, the lawsuit states that Levine's contract contains no provision for the Met to fire or suspend him. Well, I'd love to see that contract! It's common for contracts of this type to contain morals clauses, which lay out behaviors for which one party can be fired. If I were the Met, and I had a good lawyer (and you bet they do), and I had heard the rumors about Levine, well, any contracts I had with him would contain such a clause.

Third, of course Levine is denying everything, as he has from the start. 

Fourth, there's this:
The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, states that Mr. Levine “has clearly and unequivocally denied any wrongdoing in connection with those allegations,” and paints his firing as a result of an effort by the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, “to oust Levine from the Met and completely erase his legacy from the organization.”
Let's stipulate that it just isn't possible to erase Levine's legacy from the organization. What could the Met do? Delete 2500 performances from the archive database? Round up every copy of every recording and video Levine made with the company and toss them in the Hudson?  Demand that the Times get rid of every review ever published of his performances?

UPDATE: A friend advises that the Met appears to have updated their website to remove Levine's name from the company history page and administration page. Okay, so he's no longer an administrator, but removing hims from the history page? However much they'd like to wash their hands of him, there he was, for 40+ years.[end update]

Seriously, they can remove his name from plaques and take down any portraits of him, but that's about it. The man's influence on the institution, for better and for worse, cannot be denied or erased.

As far as efforts to oust Levine from the Met: wow, that's going to be a tough one. I mean, it's entirely possible that Gelb wanted to remove Levine long ago. Levine's health problems would have been sufficient reason to move him out of the music directorship, and they have been evident for many years. The truth is that the Met kept him around long past the point when he should have been removed (or gently eased out....although my guess is that Levine fought, or would have fought, any attempts to ease him out).

Really, I hope this goes to trial. I can only imagine what will be turned up in discovery. Because Levine's suit discusses details of his contract with the Met, we might actually get to see the whole thing, and these contracts are super hush-hush. And one can imagine who might be deposed: Levine's victims? His long-time housemate / best friend Suzanne Thompson, a former oboist? 

Lastly, I'm waiting to see Levine file a defamation suit against the Boston Globe, over their story the other week. It sure looked well-sourced and well-reported to me, not like "vague and unsubstantiated accusations in the press."

Pamela Rosenberg was Wrong About This (In a Good Way)

Found in email from the Merola Opera program, in an interview with baritone Lucas Meachem:
Secondly, I’ll never forget walking up to the War Memorial Opera House for the first time. I remember looking up at it, and thinking for the first time in my life, “I’ve made it.” 
However, my bubble quickly burst in our first meeting, where Pamela Rosenberg said to us singers that only one or two of us would make it in this career. Rather than taking that advice negatively, I took it as a personal challenge to succeed. In that moment, I began to work even harder. I thought, “I have to be that one, or that one or two.” I wanted to be that minority of singers who made it. Her talk inspired me not just that summer at Merola, but beyond.
Only one or two? Meachem was in the 2003 summer program, which apparently had 29 singers, stage directors, and coaches. At the very least, the following singers from that year went on to solid professional careers:
  • Jane Archibald
  • Meredith Arwady
  • Joshua Bloom
  • Arturo Chacon-Cruz
  • Nikki Einfeld
  • Thomas Glenn
  • Joseph Kaiser (then a baritone, now a tenor)
  • Lucas Meachem
  • Elza van den Heever
Some of these singers are bigger stars than others, and there may well be other singers with solid local careers, but that's way more than one or two. Perhaps the Merola program was especially good at talent-spotting that year, or perhaps as a group they just worked harder, but that's a pretty impressive group of singers.

Louisville Orchestra 2018-19 Season

Louisville is where SFS/MTT prodigy Teddy Abrams has been music director for a few years. He is a super-talented young man, clarinetist, composer, conductor. And his programming takes after MTT's, except that the two works composed by women are on a much shorter season.

AND one of the two, Cindy McTee's Double Play, is conducted by Mr. McTee, more commonly known as Leonard Slatkin. I liked this piece a lot when I heard it at Cabrillo last year. The other of the two is Bacewicz's Polish Overture, so we know it is a curtain-raiser.

There's one work by Abrams himself and MTT's Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, which is also being done this season or next at SFS.  There are a couple of additional recent works and commissions, plus some standards.

I'm not going to summarize the rest of the season, which includes two bleeding-chunks programs, one of odd ends of Bernstein, for the obvious reason, and one called Art + Music that looks like an hour or more of bits and pieces, followed by the whole of Pictures at an Exhibition.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How to Construct a Press Release

I have in my hot little hands a press release that is making me slightly crazy. It's got the usual copy about how fabulous the organization is, plus various bios and a fair amount of information about the works to be performed.

But - and this is a pretty big but - I had to scroll through about four and a half screens of text to get to the most critical information in the press release: dates and locations of the performances.

Put that stuff at the top! I read performer bios in programs! A mere listing of the performers at the top of the press release is sufficient, with maybe two lines of bio at most! The more I had to scroll, the more I wondered how far I'd have to scroll until I found what I was looking for.

Noting in passing that this is the second time I've blind-itemed this org in the last year, and there was a third post I never wrote, when a press release of theirs let slip information that I hope they had permission to let slip.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Met Fires Levine

Michael Cooper has the story: James Levine's Final Act at the Met Ends in Disgrace.

What a surprise!

Yes, after 40 years of rumors, the Met was able to determine, in just three and a half months, that there's credible evidence that Levine abused young musicians over whom he had authority. They found evidence that this happened both before and during his employment at the Met. "During" is especially interesting, because the published reports are mostly from the late 60s and early 70s, before he joined the Met.

The Met is not releasing any details beyond saying that their investigation included interviews with more than 70 people. This part of the Times article is....interesting:
But some questions arose early on about how the company had handled the case, including the fact that it began its investigation more than a year after Peter Gelb, its general manager, was first told that the police in Illinois were investigating an accusation that Mr. Levine had sexually abused a teenage boy there in the 1980s.
Mr. Gelb has said he briefed the leadership of the Met’s board about the police investigation and spoke with Mr. Levine, who denied the accusations. But Mr. Gelb said that the company took no further action, waiting to see what the police found.
The Met said that its investigation, which was led by Robert J. Cleary, a partner at the Proskauer Rose law firm who was previously a United States attorney in New Jersey and Illinois, had determined that “any claims or rumors that members of the Met’s management or its board of directors engaged in a cover-up of information relating to these issues are completely unsubstantiated.”
Well, Anthony Bliss knew about the rumors, because of an anonymous letter, and he has to have passed the information along to his immediate successors (Bruce Crawford and Hugh Southern, then Joe Volpe). It's certainly curious that the Met was able to obtain enough information now to declare the accusations credible, but could not back in the day.

Get Well Soon!

A dreaded cast change from the Met; Christine Goerke out sick:
Sabine Hogrefe will perform the title role in Strauss’s Elektra at tonight’s performance, Monday March 12 at 7.30pm, replacing Christine Goerke who is ill.
The German soprano makes her Met debut in tonight’s performance. She has previously sung the role of Elektra at Germany’s Theater Regensburg and Landestheater Detmold. Other engagements include Kostelnicka in Janáček’s Jenufa at the Opera Dijon, Ortrud in Wagner’s Lohengrin at Oper Frankfurt, and Brünnhilde in Wagner’sSiegfried at the Staatsoper Hannover. 
Tonight’s performance of Elektra is conducted by Met Music Director Designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin and includes Elza van den Heever as Chrysothemis, Michaela Schuster as Klytämnestra, Jay Hunter Morris as Aegisth, and Mikhail Petrenko as Orest.
Remaining performances are on March 17 (matinee) and 23, 2018.
 I hope someone reports back about how Ms. Hogrefe does!

Museum Mondays

Bavarian National Museum
Munich, August, 2015

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Women's Self-Defense in El Cerrito!

I've still got openings in my upcoming women's self-defense class!       

Dates:   Two Saturdays, March 24 and March 31, 2018
Time:    1 p.m. to 3 p,m.

Who:    Adult women, cis or trans, age 16 and up. (Will consider mature youth) No athletic
            or martial arts experience required.

Cost:    $90. Class open to all, regardless of ability to pay. If you  need to pay less, just let 
             me know.

Where:  Open Door Jujitsu at Mind Body Dojo
              7512 Fairmount Ave.
              El Cerrito, CA 94530

             (Near BART & Buses)
You'll learn basic kicks and strikes; effective defenses against common attacks; self-protection strategy. It's a fun, energetic, power-building class.

Any questions, email me at sensei@opendoorjujitsu.com or phone me at 510-842-6243.

Friday, March 09, 2018

International Women's Day, 2018, a Bit Late; Includes SFS 2018-19 Season

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Seems like as good a day as any for the following:

1. Remembering that time when a blogger/consultant criticized a concert review of a program of art/concert/classical music by female composers as not really relevant, and pointed to a program of popular music love songs as more relevant, because, you know, everybody falls in love! Really! Because whether concert presenters spend two minutes thinking about what they program, and by whom, is just not important.

2. San Francisco Symphony, still referred to regularly as an "innovative" organization, continues to essentially ignore music composed by men and women of color and white women, with the exception of cringeworthy programs such as "Merry-achi" for the annual Latino-themed Christmas program. Here's what we've got next season that was composed by living composers of all sorts, with the program conductor in parens:
  • Anna Clyne, Masquerade (Macelaru)
  • Kevin Puts, Suite from Silent Night (Macelaru)
  • MTT: From the Dairy of Anne Frank (MTT) 
  • MTT: Street Song (MTT)
  • Andrew Norman, Cello Concerto (Reif)
  • Steven Mackey - new work commission & WP (MTT)
  • Steve Reich, Music for Ensemble and Orchestra, (SFS Co-commission), (MTT)
So, we've got more works composed by the music director than by living women. I should note that there's also an overture by the great Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz, who has been dead for nearly 50 years, so we have two works by white women scheduled, none that I can find by women and men of color. 

The "comparatively recent music" score (music written within my lifetime) is really not very good either: a bit of Britten, the Bacewicz, works by Barber and Ligeti. Some newer music will undoubtedly emerge in SoudBox, but in Davies proper, what we've got is a lot of Stravinsky (because it's around 12 years since the last Stravinsky Festival! and because he's a composer we just never hear), Beethoven, Debussy, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Mahler, etc. etc. 

It's true that there's an attractive lineup of conductors and some visiting orchestras of note, but good grief, we've got the Czech Philharmonic, a great orchestra, and Semyon Bychkov, a great conductor, and they are playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto (zzzz) and Dvorak's Seventh Symphony. Couldn't they play Janacek? Or another interesting 20th or 21st c. composer?

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts a program that includes some tasty Sibelius; Jane Glover has Messiah this year. The brilliant Elkanah Pulitzer directs Noye's Fludde, a work I've never seen and greatly look forward to.

Here's the conductor lineup:

Manfred Honeck                Oct 11–13, 2018
Pablo Heras-Casado           Oct 18–20, 2018
Cristian Măcelaru              Oct 25–27, 2018
Jakub Hrůša                       Nov 8–10, 2018
Jane Glover                        Dec 14–15, 2018
Jaap van Zweden               Jan 11–13, 2019
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla        Jan 18–20, 2019
Christian Reif                     Jan 24–26, 2019
Herbert Blomstedt              Jan 31 – Feb 2, 2019
András Schiff                     Feb 14–15 & 17, 2019
Daniel Harding                  Feb 22–24, 2019
Franҫois-Xavier Roth         Mar 7–9, 2019
Andrey Boreyko                Apr 11–12 & 14, 2019

Fabio Luisi                        Apr 18–20, 2019
James Gaffigan                  Apr 25–27, 2019
Marek Janowski                 May 2–4, 2019
Krzysztof Urbański            May 23–25, 2019
Juraj Valčuha                     May 30–Jun 1, 2019

Michael Tilson Thomas       Presumably everything else

As far as repertory goes, it is just more of the same.

Friday Photo

Garden, Walt Disney Concert Hall
Los Angeles, March, 2017

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Civic Center BART Station and SF Performing Arts Groups

Back in December, 2015, I wrote a post here following a survey I'd received from San Francisco Opera. My contention is that the survey was basically about how patrons felt about safety in and around Civic Center BART. 

I was not exactly mocked, but readers certainly responded skeptically to the post. It was not long after this that SFS and SFO started sponsoring a little shuttle bus running between BART and the corner of Grove and Van Ness.

Now there's an article in the Chronicle that pretty much confirms my contention: local performing arts groups have safety concerns, and they're being exacerbated by BART's plans to close the Market St. entrance in front of the hotel and permanently close the already-blocked-off entrance in front of the Burger King across the street. There's this, from the Chronicle article:
Closing the western entrances to Civic Center BART will force cultural arts attendees to take unfamiliar and less direct routes through those problem areas. 
“We’re sending the message to people ‘Please come, and please use public transportation, but it’s a little scary,’” said Jennifer Norris, who runs the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center.
And this:
Melanie Smith, president of San Francisco Performances, said the arts institutions have talked with BART for years about the need to improve Civic Center Station. She knows the problem extends well beyond the station’s walls but said the conditions inside are far from welcoming.
“They’re disgusting,” she said. “It’s tragic, it’s part of a bigger problem in the city, I understand that. But that said, the stations are filthy, it feels dangerous.”
“We hear from them that they don’t want to drive because parking and traffic are a nightmare,” she said. “So the fact that BART is so unpleasant means they just don’t come.” 

I will stand by what I said about the original survey:
Well, okay. So this survey isn't really about transportation. It's really about the failure of San Francisco's city government to provide adequate housing and mental health care to homeless people living in the Civic Center area, and about the failure of BART to keep its station in decent condition, free of stink and with the escalators all working.
Nominally, that survey was about transportation; in reality, it was about the terrible conditions around the BART stop and patron fears, plus, the city's failure, etc.

P. S. Somebody might alert the Chron to the fact that their headline writer made an error in subject/verb agreement in that headline.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Semiramide at the Met

Angela Meade, center left, in Met Semiramide
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

I'm working on a single long post about my NYC trip, but Alex Ross's current column in The New Yorker discusses both the Parsifal and Semiramide I saw last week, and I've got a few remarks vis-a-vis that article.

I'm mostly in agreement with his comments on the vocal and musical side of the performance I saw, although Gareth Morell, substituting for Maurizio Benini, had plenty of snap in his conducting of the score. And I would have been happy to hear more of the score, of which about 45 minutes got cut. (Why? My guess would be money and rehearsal time.) But I was surprised by the vehemence of Alex's comments on the production.

I do think that the principal singers were somewhat underdirected and needed more help with the drama of the piece, which is full of strong emotions. The production moves the principals around without giving them enough interaction. Whether this would have been any different had John Copley made it through the rehearsal process I do not know; his Traviata at San Francisco Opera, seen last fall, doesn't show a lot of deep insight into the characters either. Both operas deserve better Personenregie than they get in the Copley productions.

Javier Camarena and Ryan Speedo Green in Semiramide
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Here's what Alex said about Parsifal versus Semiramide:
The first offered an austerely hypnotic staging of “Parsifal,” in which singers not only did justice to Wagner’s monumental, cryptic score but brought it to shuddering life. The second unloaded a monstrously tacky version of Rossini’s “Semiramide,” one whose sets and costumes seemed to have been raided from a museum of theatrical kitsch, not excluding souvenirs of Liberace-era Las Vegas. Met No. 1 was cohesive and purposeful; Met No. 2 felt chaotic and hapless.
I did not find the Semiramide at all tacky, or demeaning to Rossini, something Alex says later in the article. I would call it spectacular rather than tacky or kitschy, although I will own that the spectacle skates close to the edge of camp. It is certainly very much of its time: Sonja Frisell's Aida, also still in use, made its debut in 1988, Zeffirelli's Boheme in 1981, the same director's Tosca in 1985. The Semiramide is from 1990. The Frisell Aida will supposedly be supplanted by a new production a couple of years out; that Boheme is a tourist attraction that...is too damn big but works pretty well except for the absurd second act.

General view of the stage
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

It's worth keeping a few things in mind when evaluating a production such as this Semiramide. The Met is staging 25 operas this year; next year they'll have 25 again, including the Ring. They can't do a new production very often of a rarity such as Semiramide, which they will not perform very often, and they're not going to replace a production that looks good and is in good condition.

Another is that the gigantic Met stage and house work in favor of large-scale productions such as this one. I'm not sure where the Met seats people who have press tickets, but undoubtedly a lot closer to the stage than I was. Even from a good seat in the Grand Tier, I had to use my binoculars to see much detail and the singers' facial expressions. Lots of audience members are sitting farther away than I was, and they want to have some idea of what's going on too. All the flashy costumes make it easier to track the stage action. (I was also in the Grand Tier for Parsifal, and I could not tell singers in the smaller solo roles apart without the binoculars because they were wearing the same damn white shirts and black slacks.)

Elizabeth DeShong as Arsace
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Lastly, think for just a minute about those 25 productions a year. The Met, like every other musical institution, serves a diverse audience of people who go to the opera for diverse reasons. There needs to be some variety in the production style; every staging need not be sober-sided and intellectually high-minded in the way of this year's Parsifal and Elektra.

There's room on that huge stage for a little spectacle; moreover, there's plenty of evidence that composers want some spectacle. Consider the range of effects Wagner called for in the Ring; consider what Berlioz asked for in the "Royal Hund and Storm" in Les Troyens; consider the stage directions for Act III of Die Frau ohne Schatten, which I do not expect to ever see realized.

And while you're thinking about these things, take a look at some sketches and paintings from 19th c. opera productions. They look pretty spectacular! If this production were being explicitly represented as an attempt to recreate that type of production, would anyone object? Seriously, there's something to be said for being grateful that we can even see a work like Semiramide with such good singers.