Monday, April 29, 2019

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Lieder Alive! 2019-20 Season

Lieder Alive! has a nice season coming up, although I gotta point out that it appears to be an all-dead-white-male season and mostly 19th century. C'mon, singers and presenters. There are lots of great 20th and 21st century art songs too.

Sunday, September 1, 5pm
Artists: Sarah Cambidge, soprano; Peter Grünberg, piano
Program: Schubert, Strauss—Vier Letzte Lieder

Sunday, September 29, 5pm
Artists: Eugene Villanueva, baritone; Peter Grünberg, piano
Program: Settings of poems by Heinrich Heine

Sunday, October 6, 5pm
Artists: Pene Pati, tenor; Ronny Michael Greenberg, piano
Program: StraussTosti

Sunday, November 10, 5pm
Artists: Esther Rayo, soprano; Peter Grünberg, piano
Program: Schumann, Wolf—Spanisches Liederbuch, Obradors, Montsalvatge, Granados, De Falla

Sunday, January 19, 5pm
Artists: Kindra Scharich, mezzo-soprano; Jeffrey LaDeur, piano
Program: Schumann–Liederkreis, Opus 39; Waldszenen, Opus 82

Sunday, March 29, 5pm
Artists: Kirk Eichelberger, bass; Simona Snitkovskaya, piano
Program: Schumann–Dichterliebe, Tchaikovsky

Sunday, May 24, 5pm
Artists: Heidi Moss Erickson, soprano; Peter Grünberg, piano
Program: Schubert, Strauss, Neue Lieder

Sunday, June 28, 5pm
Artists: John Parr, piano; guest artist and program TBA

Ticket Information 
Subscriptions for the eight-concert series are $300 (reserved seating) or $200 (general admission).
Mini-subscriptions to any three concerts are also available for $150/$100. Single tickets for all
concerts are $75 (reserved seating), $35 (general admission) and $20 (students, seniors, and
working artists) in advance; tickets at the door are $40. All tickets include bubbly libations
and reception with the artists. Subscriptions and single tickets may be purchased at 
Eventbrite ( or by calling (415) 561-0100. For more information, 

Venue Information
Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez, between 23rd Street and Elizabeth, San Francisco [map]. 
Doors open a half hour prior to performance time.
Attachments area

Met Casting Update: Die Walküre

No explanation for this, so I'm hoping all is well with Jamie Barton; I liked Schuster a lot in Elektra last year:

April 24, 2019
Michaela Schuster will sing Fricka in tomorrow’s performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre, replacing Jamie Barton.
Schuster makes her Met role debut as Fricka, a role she has sung previously at Vienna State Opera. She made her Met debut last season as Klytämnestra in Strauss’s Elektra, and this season sings Waltraute in Götterdämmerung as a part of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. She sings regularly for all the leading German opera houses and for international companies including Vienna State Opera, Paris Opera, La Scala, the Salzburg Festival, and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Her wide repertory includes many other Wagner roles such as Ortrud in Lohengrin, Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde, and Kundry in Parsifal; 20th-century roles such as Marie in Berg’s Wozzeck and Judith in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, and several roles in operas by Richard Strauss and in Italian repertory, including Amneris in Verdi’s Aida, Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo, and Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
The cast for Die Walküre includes Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde, Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, Greer Grimsley as Wotan, and Günther Groissböck as Hunding. Philippe Jordan conducts.
Performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen run through May 11, 2019.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Joseph Young Named Berkeley Symphony Music Director

Joseph Young
Photo by Jeff Roffman

Cheery news from the Berkeley Symphony: Joseph Young has been named their next music director, succeeding Music Director Emerita Joana Carneiro, who stepped down at the end of the 2017-18 season. Young's first contract runs from the 2019-20 Season through 2021-22. 

He is a former Assistant MD of the Atlanta Symphony, where he conducted many concerts, and was also MD of their youth symphony orchestra; he served in Atlanta from 2014-17.

Below the cut, here's most of the press release, omitting only a sentence or two from the original.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Grist for the Web Site Basics Page

There's an organization in town whose performances I don't attend very often, but this season, there are a couple I'd like to see. I went to buy my tickets and discovered I hadn't saved my password, presuming I have an account there, and there's no guest purchase option.

So I tried the reset process. I clicked the link to request a password change email; I got the email; I copied the link into my preferred browser. I generated a password and typed it in, twice.

And I got a Token Expired error.

SO I tried again. This time, after I got the email from the organization, I just clicked the link and typed in the password I had generated.

I got a Token Expired error again. This means that the org has a time limit set somewhere that is too short for actually changing your password. There's a note to call the box office if you have a problem changing your password, but if I liked to make phone calls, I wouldn't be trying to order on the web site.

I emailed the box office instead, asking them to pass my email to IT so that the problem could be fixed. It's possible that I never had a password for this organization, but if that is the problem, that should be the error message I get: we can't find an account for you, so click this link to create one.

Le sigh. If I find myself in that neighborhood, I will buy at the box office. If not....well, maybe the org will fix this UX issue before the performance I'd like to see.

SFS Program Change

Received from SFS, not a press release but a program note; press release to follow:
The San Francisco Symphony’s June 27–30 semi-staged production of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde—originally scheduled for performance alongside Ravel’s L'enfant et les sortilèges—has been postponed to a future season. Noye’s Fludde will be performed at a later date as a community event featuring a wide variety of amateur musicians, and additional information will be announced when details are available. The semi-staged production of Ravel’s L'enfant et les sortilèges featuring the dazzling Maestro Arts production<> will remain the headliner of the program; additional first half programming will be announced shortly.
LA Opera has led a number of community-based performances of the Britten over the years; community involvement is generally part of it, with performances at the cathedral, which is a few blocks from WDCH and the Dot. I'm personally disappointed because I've never seen Noye's Fludde, but I guess this might mean an amateur like me might be able to perform with SFS.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Léonin and Pérotin

Music by early masters of polyphony who worked at Notre Dame de Paris:



Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris
October, 2018
Photo by me

Notre Dame de Paris is on fire; the spire has collapsed and it seems that if the roof hasn't collapsed, it will very soon. There were renovations under way and it's possible that something went wrong with an electrical connection or something like that.

Two of the earliest composers for whom we have names, and whose compositions can be identified, worked at Notre Dame, Léonin and Pérotin. Their style is known in the US as Notre Dame polyphony.

On Flickr, I have a full album of photos I took last October of the great church. This is unimaginably sad, a tremendous loss for the world and for me personally.

Museum Mondays

Musée national des Monuments Français 
Paris, February, 2019

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Strike

View from the uppermost balcony
Orchestra Center, Chicago
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Updates, 4/13/2019:

1. I forgot to link to ICSOM's press release supporting the musicians.

2. The CSO has called off concerts through April 23.

I'm late in catching up with the CSO strike, but here goes.

The core issue is the orchestra's retirement plan. At present, the musicians have what's called a defined benefit plan: you receive retirement benefits as a pension, a fixed amount annually based on years of service and perhaps your salary during your employment. I believe that pre-retirement  contributions to the plan are made by the musicians and the orchestra, but maybe don't quote me on this; it could depend on the contract, etc.

The orchestra wants to change this to a defined contribution plan, a 401(K) type plan in which contributions are made by both musicians and orchestra, but what you can draw on during retirement is a crap-shoot because you make decisions about how to invest these contributions, and there is no guaranteed payment. Worst case: you make bad decisions and you have little or nothing. The bad decisions can include not contributing enough (or at all) and making bad investment choices. You can also be the completely innocent victim of a terrible economy and lose a lot of money in a stock market crash, even if you made good investment decisions. An event like that the year before you intend to retire (or after you have retired) will affect your financial position for a long, long time.

This week, the CSO made what it calls its last, best, and final offer, which the musicians voted on and rejected last night. Here's management's statement:

Last night, the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra voted not to accept the CSOA’s last, best and final offer for a new contract and continue their strike. The CSOA shared details of that offer publicly, and we encourage you to read the news release.
We have proposed a long-term agreement that would allow the parties to repair their working relationship, bring stability to the organization, support the musicians in a transition to a new retirement benefit and grow the annual base salary by 12%, retaining a contract that remains at the top of our industry.
The Association now faces the need to review the CSO season schedule and cancel additional concerts as needed due to the musicians’ decision to continue to strike. Today, we regret to inform you that all CSOA-presented concerts and related events scheduled through Tuesday, April 23 are postponed or canceled. For details on affected concerts, please visit We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.
Thank you for your continued support of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, and we look forward to seeing you back at Symphony Center soon.
Helen Zell
Chair, Board of Trustees
                                  Jeff Alexander

By stability, they mean "we are limiting the orchestra's responsibility to the musicians," because defined-contribution plans shift so much retirement responsibility from institutions to individuals. 401(k) plans are pretty well understood to be useful to high-earning individuals who are savvy investors, that is, people who can afford to max out their contributions.

Me, I support the musicians. Most large US orchestras have defined-benefit (pension) plans; in the last decade, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh's musicians agreed to a two-tier system in which musicians already in the orchestras stayed in an existing pension plan, and newcomers get a 401(k). This can cost a huge amount over a player's lifetime and makes those orchestras less attractive than those with traditional pension plans. I understand that orchestra jobs are so rare that the impact on hiring may not be entirely predictable, but in the case of Philly and Pittsburgh, the musicians threw future musicians under the bus.

Now, I am something of an amateur in talking about these issues. You'll want to follow Drew McManus's reports and commentary at Adaptistration for the perspective of a real pro. This link goes to posts tagged Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Before the Pulitzer Announcement

Two excellent articles this week about the Pulitzer Prize for Music:

Friday Photo

At the Grave of Claude Debussy
Cimitiere de Passy
Paris, February, 2019

I was on my way to the Palais de Chaillot and saw a sign for the cemetery, so I went to look for the graves of Debussy and Fauré.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Subscription Woes, San Francisco Symphony Edition, Part the 95th?

Photo by me.

I gave up some years ago on trying to subscribe to SFS before you can roll your own subscription, because the pre-packaged subscriptions 1) never have everything I want 2) always have concerts I would pay to avoid.

This year, the first appalling fact I want to surface publicly is that the only subscription that has both of Esa-Pekka Salonen's concerts on it is the 24-concert package on Friday nights. There are 21 different packages, but it's not obvious to SFS marketing, or whoever designs the subscriptions, that people who aren't ready to pay for a 24-concert sub might be interested in seeing both programs by the orchestra's incoming music director.

Similarly, only two series offer both MTT's semi-staged Flying Dutchman and Antonio Pappano's Act 1 of Die Walküre. Because it's a well-known fact that there just aren't many Wagner fans in the Bay Area.

This is the problem with having subscriptions that are strictly day-of-the-week- and length-based rather than interest-based. If SF Performances and Cal Performances can offer subscriptions for Early Music, New Music, Dance, Chamber Music, Theater, Pianists, and Vocalists, why can't San Francisco Symphony offer some interest-based subscriptions??? There's a handy listing of season highlights by category....which someone developed for the web site...but there aren't subscriptions based on these categories.

Also, I'm ready to buy tickets to 16 concerts, but because they don't fall on a single subscription, I either have to buy two or three short subscriptions to get close to what I want, then swap a bunch of tickets.

One of the principles I've espoused, on my Web Site Basics page, is "Make it easy for people to give you money." Why isn't SFS ready to take my money now rather than in June??

And, because I like to offer free advice, here's how ticketing should work for an organization such as SFS, beyond the fixed subscription packages.

1. You see a page listing the concerts, repertory, performers, and the dates of those concerts.

2. You pick a concert date.

3. You see a new page on which you pick your seat. (This exists already for every theater that uses Tessitura with the pick-your-own-seat module. SFS is one of them.)

4. When you accept the seat, the flow loops back to 1.

5. You go through this flow until you have every ticket you want. You click Review.

6. You see a page listing the concerts, seats, and prices, and the total price of your order.

7. You delete any tickets you're having second thoughts about and click Check Out.

8. You pay, make a donation, pay for parking, etc. And you're done!

(Consider this advice not only to SFS, but to Tessitura.)

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

New Philadelphia Orchestra Contract, 2019

The Philadelphia Orchestra has had some tough times in the last 20 years, including an ill-advised relocation, a terrible board, their hiring of a terrible chief executive, and bankruptcy. As I just noted in the previous post, they also have a two-tier contract.

You might expect more troubles, but last year, Matias Tarnopolsky became their President and CEO, and this year, the orchestra and musicians came to an agreement very quietly and without fuss. Here's the press release from last month; it contains a lot of good news:

The Philadelphia Orchestra Association
and the Musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra  
Invest in the Future with New Four-Year Contract

Agreement includes annual wage increase and addition of two members to the Orchestra

Sunday afternoon concerts to increase to 18 per season, in response to community interest

Agreement reached six months before expiration of current contract;
first early agreement in modern history of the Orchestra

(Philadelphia, March 12, 2019)—The Philadelphia Orchestra Association and the Musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra today jointly announce the ratification of a new four-year collective bargaining agreement, effective September 16, 2019, through September 10, 2023. Completed six months prior to the expiration of the current contract—a first in the modern history of the Orchestra—the new agreement represents a joint investment in the organization’s future. 

Under the terms of the new agreement, the Orchestra’s complement will increase by two positions over the course of the four-year term: one in 2020-21 and one in 2022-23. Additionally, musician salaries will increase over the term of the contract: 2% in year one, 2.5% in year two, 2.5% in year three, and 3% in year four. In response to community interest, the number of Sunday concerts will increase from 12 to 18 per season. 

“With this pathbreaking agreement, our intention is to position The Philadelphia Orchestra for an artistically exciting and financially robust future—for all the people of Philadelphia and the many, many fans of the Orchestra across the country and around the world,” said Richard B. Worley, chairman of the Board. “On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to thank all involved for their good faith negotiations and commitment to a strong and healthy institution.”

“This early agreement is the fruit of years of work invested in strengthening relationships among Musicians, the Board of Directors, Administrative Staff, Volunteers, and all of our stakeholders. This allows us to look to the future with confidence,” said William Polk, chair of the Negotiating Committee of the Orchestra. “I would like to thank Chairman Richard B. Worley and the Board of Directors of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association for their wise stewardship of our, and Philadelphia’s, treasured institution. I would also like to offer my thanks to President and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky and his able administrative team for engaging with us in a straightforward and respectful process. The Musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra are proud to represent this great city by continuing to set the highest standards for music performance, both at home and on the world stage.”

“Through this unprecedented early and long-term agreement, the Musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Board of Directors and Administrative Staff of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association send a powerful message to the people of Philadelphia: this is your Orchestra, and together we are focused on creating our brightest future ever,” said Orchestra President and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky. “My sincere thanks to all for moving swiftly and sincerely through the negotiation process, and for supporting fairness and stability. Yannick Nézet-Séguin and The Philadelphia Orchestra are now poised to embrace an ever more exciting future.”

“The spirit of the process that brings us to this new agreement reflects the beauty of the musicians, of the people of the Association, and of The Philadelphia Orchestra as one whole passionate musical body that I have come to know and love, very much, in these seven years together,” said Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. “We are here to engage in the joy of music, to be part of the heart and the soul of the beautiful communities of Philadelphia—and now we have a new, long horizon ahead of us. My deep thanks to all for this, for your generosity and commitment.”

Reflecting a commitment to collaboration and to building a bright future together, Association leadership and the Negotiating Committee of the Orchestra embarked on the negotiation process with goals of early ratification and equitable and responsible increases. The Negotiating Committee consists of chair William Polk, violin; Derek Barnes, cello; Holly Blake, contrabassoon; Gloria dePasquale, cello; David Fay, bass; and Joseph Parente, president of the Philadelphia Musicians’ Union, Local 77, American Federation of Musicians. Participating on behalf of the Association were President and CEO Matías Tarnopolsky, Executive Director Ryan Fleur, and Director of Orchestra Personnel Marilyn Rife.

You Can Bribe Public Officials Legally If You Do It Right

From a newsletter I receive:
The Department of Justice recently adopted a narrow interpretation of the emoluments clause, which would exempt Trump's hotels from a ban on foreign payments or gifts. DOJ filings since June 2017 reveal a new interpretation that allows federal officials "to accept unlimited amounts of money from foreign governments, as long as the money comes through commercial transactions with an entity owned by the federal official." (The Guardian)
Congressional Democrats and Republicans are moving to prevent the IRS from creating a free electronic tax filing system. The makers of TurboTax and H&R Block spent $6.6 million lobbying to block the IRS from ever developing its own online tax filing system. (ProPublica)
 (The latter is everyday lobbying, of course, against the public interest.)

Monday, April 08, 2019

Museum Mondays

Plaster casts of statuary from the Eglise St. Etienne
Musée national des Monuments Français 
Paris, February, 2019

This museum contains 19th c. casts of French artworks, many of them made before the art in question was either restored (whether badly or well) or destroyed during one of the 20th c.'s wars.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Hamilton in Chicago

Grave of Alexander Hamilton
Trinity Church, Manhattan NYC
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Last week in Chicago I finally got to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, the most acclaimed musical of the last several years. 

I liked the show; the songs are good and the words are very clever. There's more music than talk, giving Hamilton a somewhat operatic air, although it's not through composed in the fashion of modern operas (well. most operas since Wagner). The actors were excellent; I liked the staging and choreography and costumes a lot.

I had asked on Twitter whether I should get to know the score before I saw the show, and the responses I got were about evenly divided, so I winged it. This was a mistake: there are a lot of words in the show and they come at you very fast. I probably caught about 75-80%, not nearly enough for a show with complex characters and an intricate story to tell. My error, for sure.

Unlike nearly everyone I know who has seen Hamilton, I was not blown away by it. For one thing, the amplification of the singers and the orchestra of eleven was extremely wearing, even though it was done about as well as it can be (no distortion, volume under control). 

Still, when singers are amplified, you lose directionality and dimensionality: there's a homogenizing, flattening effect and. you can't tell where the voices are coming from. This means that when singers' voices are similar, you can't tell who is singing, a real problem in a show like this. It also sucks when a full-orchestra crescendo is done by turning up the volume, not to mention, why amplify such a tiny ensemble? And...why is the harpsichord effect on the pit keyboard so terrible?

I also think the show has a couple of dramaturgical mistakes:

1. Act I really should end with the Battle of Yorktown number. It's a big number, it's an up number, it sounds like the end of an act....but the show goes on for two more numbers, inexplicably. (A friend tells me that Miranda has commented on why the Act ends when it does.)

2. Act II ends with a quiet number that is one of the weakest numbers in the show, musically and dramatically. It's possible to end a music-theatrical work quietly; I can think of an opera or two that ends like this, but....this only works with a really strong number. The last number isn't that.

So, it was fun to see; I'd see it again on TV or in a theater broadcast or on DVD....but I'd glad I didn't pay Bayreuth prices to see this, as excellent as the cast is and as original as a hip-hop musical about the US Founding Fathers with a multiracial cast is.

Cabrillo Festival, 2019

Well, well, Cabrillo has the tastiest and most interesting season in....I don't know how long. Kudos to music director Cristian Măcelaru for the 2019 programming. I'm so happy to say that I'd like to see all of these programs, so I may have a weekend or two in Santa Cruz ahead of me.

Besides the terrific lineup of works composed by women, note the illustrious guests, including proudly queer mezzo Jamie Barton, the great ensemble Roomful of Teeth, and violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Here's what the festival will be performing this year:

Monday, April 01, 2019