Monday, July 29, 2019

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Free Classes: Intro to Jujitsu

There's a martial artist in all of us, and this is your chance to try Danzan Ryu jujitsu, a beautiful, powerful, practical traditional style.

What: An introduction to the basics of Danzan Ryu jujitsu.
Learn basic rolls, hand arts, strikes/kicks!

When: Tuesday evening, August 27, 2019  8 pm to 9:30 pm
Thursday evening, August 29, 2019, 8 pm to 9:30 pm

Who:   Anyone, age 16 and up. We are LGBTQIA welcoming!

Where: Emeryville Martial Arts
4770 San Pablo Ave B, Emeryville, CA 94608 

To sign up for either or both of the classes and for answers to any questions

  • Call us at 510-842-6243
  • Email   
  • Visit our web site:

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Allan Ulrich

Bay Area critic - of music, dance, and probably other things - Allan Ulrich has died at 78. The cause was cancer.

I knew Allan professionally; we saw each other in the press room at the War Memorial Opera House and at intermissions and press rooms elsewhere. Joshua Kosman's obituary mentions "erudite, acerbic and elegantly crafted writing" and that was quite right. He was enormously knowledgable, had heard or seen everyone, and, like a good critic, he had Opinions.

He also had great confidence in his own writing. During his freelance years, he sometimes wrote for SFCV. I understand that this arrangement ended when one of Bob Commanday's successors had the nerve to edit Allan's review of Doctor Atomic.

Friends of mine remember Allan from the 70s; one mentioned working with  him at Francis Ford Coppola's City Magazine, while the other knew him as "a stalwart volunteer in the Drama and Literature Department" at KPFA.

Allan had...a reputation (see "acerbic" above), but he was always very kind and respectful to me. We talked a fair amount in and out of press rooms, about the performance in progress, favorite performers, etc. I remember one particular exchange a few years ago when he was reading Wesley Stace's Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, a fabulous book about composers, reviewers, and..other things. We were chatting about it and two other reviewers were listening. It was like being in a tiny, secret book club.

RIP, Allan; I'm sorry that you're gone.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Beethoven in America and Orchestral Rep in General

There's a heated Twitter discussion going on in which one person is saying "the repertory sucks, orchestras as organizations suck, too much Beethoven, we need more film & video game music!" and I'm asking a lot of pointed questions about that, because eliminating stale repertory composed from 1760 to 1915 and replacing it with film and video game music would certainly have an effect on the audience, but maybe not the one this individual would like. 

Before I get to the heart of this post, let me reiterate that I think that most orchestras' current repertory and seasons pretty much do suck. There is way too much reliance on the works of a few "central" (perhaps meaning mostly German) composers; way too little new/recent music; way too little music outside the "central" composers; way too little of the excellent composers deemed peripheral or "not great"; way too little music by composers who aren't white men, most of them dead. 

A broader repertory would be good in so many ways; while the occasional conductor has managed to bring the apparently-fringe into the concert hall on a regular basis, those conductors are few and far between, and tend to focus on just a few favorites. For better and for worse, as my readers already know, I'm looking at you, MTT, and your tiny number of American Mavericks.

In the middle of this, another person posted the following:
Can we talk about how the music world needs a well-played Beethoven Cycle? I'm happy to go and really hear the entire catalog by an orchestra who actually understands the power of his Music. American orchestras fall short, and that is why is irrelevant in most cases. 
I replied:
Say more about what you think American orchestras lack, and also which orchestras you mean. 
For myself, Furtwängler back from the dead might get me to a Beethoven [symphony] cycle, but not much more.
And I have gotten answers, which I'm going to summarize as follows:

1. Beethoven is overplayed, but it's not a part of US musical tradition and we can't pull it off compared to European orchestras.

2. They're often underrehearsed and misrepresented.

3. Only NYC and Philly have interesting programming around.

4. In the last couple of years, Beethoven's symphonies have become an important part of the repertoire of American orchestras, because they bring audience.

Let me start with that last item, about "the last couple of years."

American orchestras have been doing festival presentations of particular composers for decades; my first visits to Davies Symphony Hall, in January, 1981, nearly 40 years ago, were to a Mostly Mozart Festival, at which I heard Claude Frank and Lillian Kallir playing concertos. (She was better than he was, I thought at the time.) It's easy enough to check the repertory and programming of US orchestras by looking at the League of American Orchestras' annual repertory reports. These go back to 1970.

Beethoven has also been present since the very beginnings of symphonic performances in the US. The NY Philharmonic, founded in 1842, started to play Beethoven during the orchestra's first season. For perspective, remember that Beethoven had died only 15 years before and was still in living memory; his death and the composition of his last works was closer to 1842 than the premiere of Nixon in China is to 2019.

The NYPO also has a handy public database of every last work they've performed and when they have performed it. Since 1842, they've performed 149 works by Beethoven. I looked up the first five symphonies, and found the following:

Symphony No. 1: 118 performances starting in the 1854-55 season
Symphony No. 2: 155 performances starting in the 1842-43 season
Symphony No. 3: 375 performances starting in the 1842-43 season
Symphony No. 4: 122 performances starting in the 1849-50 season
Symphony No. 5: 468 performances starting in the 1842-43 season

My understanding is that in the 19th c. and well into the early 20th c., some orchestral musicians were American-born, and some were European-born. European trained musicians and conductors would have brought whatever Beethoven performance traditions existed at that time, whatever those happen to have been.

When you listen to a European orchestra playing Beethoven, you don't really know whether that orchestra's Beethoven tradition started in the 19th c., or how far it was from what the tradition was in 1890 or 1850 or 1830. We know that living players and conductors influence each other, and that the historically-informed performance movement has influenced conductors of orchestras that aren't playing on period instruments. Does anyone think Mahler's Beethoven sounded like Beethoven performances from 1815? Even bearing in mind that we have no recordings of Mahler conducting an orchestra?

We do know that there has been a great homogenization of orchestral sound and playing style since the beginning of the recording era, and especially since the end of World War II. I'm not going to go into any detail about this; read Robert Philip's extremely interesting Performing Music in the Age of Recordings for a superb analysis.

My larger point is simply that there's a long and solid tradition of playing Beethoven in the US. The traditions that developed here started not long after Beethoven's lifetime. They're just as valid as whatever the Bayerischer Rundfunk, a great orchestra, is doing. (The Bayerischer Rundfunke is also a much newer orchestra than the NYPO.) Yes, my numbers are NYPO only, but I think I can get some information about other orchestras with emails to SFS and Philly. I mean, Eugene Ormandy was the music directory at Philly for how many years? And he was trained where?

There are some traditions where I am willing to accept that the orchestras (and solo performers) that are local to a particular composer have more of a connection to a particular style. These are mostly in the Eastern European countries and Russia. Among other things, those performing groups were isolated after WWII and retained more of their early sound; Russian orchestras are still famous for the particular brass sonorities, for example. And yeah, I suspect that Hungarian performers might know something about Bartok that Americans don't, given the language and folk music of Hungary.

I did not ask about the "misrepresentation" of Beethoven by US orchestras. "Underrehearsed" - well, any orchestra can be underrehearsed, especially in music they've played a lot ("they know this so well that we don't need as much rehearsal"), but mostly I think that they are not. I can remember maybe one performance by a major orchestra where I winced at problems with the playing - messy downbeats and entries, mostly, in a work I would have thought very familiar to the particular organization. I also remember a program by a good regional orchestra where there were two biggish pieces on the program and it was very obvious which had gotten more rehearsal time. I am curious whether American orchestras, which are full of incredible players, are more likely to be underrehearsed than European orchestras. I'm not at all sure how you'd figure this out, either.

Regarding programming at US orchestras, this is all a matter of the public record. Ask any ten critics, or ask on Music Twitter, about interesting programming and every last one of us will start jumping up and down screaming LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC, with everyone else behind them. I have a public spreadsheet that happens to list the 2019-20 seasons of the San Francisco Symphony and Philly laid out by composer and work. I've even color-coded it by living/dead and male/female. Those seasons seem pretty typical to me, bearing in mind that 19-20 is Michael Tilson Thomas's last season as music director, and so we are getting a lot of MTT's greatest hits, including a couple of works he composed, Mahler, The Flying Dutchman, etc. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Six Orchestral Music Programs

This relates to a somewhat heated discussion on Twitter, following the publication of Anne Midgette's excellent article about what people really want with classical music institutions. There was a challenge from one of the participants to create some programs of your own.

You might consider these the equivalent of my long-ago Fantasy Opera series.

Concert 1

Salonen, Wing on Wing
Lindberg, Clarinet Concerto
Salonen, Violin Concerto

I presume I don't have to tell you who would conduct that concert.

Concert 2

Carter, Flute Concerto
Stravinsky, L'histoire du soldat
Boulez, sur Incises

Concert 3

Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 4
Britten, Violin Concerto

Concert 4

Janacek, Sinfonietta
Debussy, Nocturnes
Martinu, Any of the symphonies

Concert 5

Saariaho, Graal Theatre (either version)
Aho, Insect Symphony

Concert 6

Ginastera, Harp Concerto
Berwald, Sinfonie naive

Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday Photo

Masonic symbol
Elevator, Marciano Foundation Museum
Los Angeles, June, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Jake Heggie Commission at Merola Opera

The Merola Opera program commissioned a new work from Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, and it will be premiered in just a couple of weeks. Here are the details, from the press release:

WHAT:    If I Were You, by distinguished American composer Jake Heggie and noted librettist Gene Scheer, will be the first-ever commissioned work in the Merola Opera Program’s 62-year history. Loosely based on the novel Si j’étais vous by the French-American writer Julien Green, If I Were You is a contemporary story of identity with echoes of classical literature, from Faust to Jekyll and Hyde. The lead character is Fabian Hart, an aspiring writer who yearns for adventure and a way out of his stifling existence. Brittomara, a shape-shifting devil, appears to him in many guises, finally offering Fabian a supernatural power that will allow the writer to transfer his soul into other people’s bodies, taking up the day-to-day existence of each host, while their displaced souls languish in a shadowy netherworld. Thus begins the journey of If I Were You as Fabian moves his increasingly lost soul from person to person in search of a better identity, leaving a trail of human wreckage and hollow shells. It will be conducted by Nicole Paiement, Founder and Artistic Director of Opera Parallèle, and directed by Keturah Stickann, known for bringing to stage new productions of Orphée, Rigoletto, andLa rondine, among many others. If I Were You will be presented August 1-6 (times below) at the Herbst Theatre with two alternating casts.

WHERE:          Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco

7:30pm, Thursday, August 1* – Herbst Theatre
2:00pm, Saturday, August 3** – Herbst Theatre
2:00pm, Sunday, August 4* – Herbst Theatre
7:30pm, Tuesday, August 6** – Herbst Theatre
*Pearl cast
                        **Emerald cast
TICKETS:          $35-$80 

Ticket discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. $15 student tickets available in limited quantity in advance at San Francisco Opera Box Office.

INFO:               For information or to order tickets visit or call the San Francisco Opera Box Office at 415-864-3330. The box office is open Monday, 10:00am-5:00pm, and Tuesday through Friday, 10:00am-6:00pm.

Me, I'm trying to figure out how to see this and get to Cabrillo for one of their programs that weekend.

Destruction of Federal Agencies by Relocation

Here's a clever way for the current administration to dismantle federal agencies by giving career employees a choice of moving or resigning, from the newsletter What the Fuck Just Happened Today:

  • The Department of Agriculture will relocate 547 employees from the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to an office building in Kansas City. Employees called the move an effort to "eviscerate" the agency and "silence" researchers doing work that runs counter to the administration's goals. The Trump administration claimed the move would save taxpayers money by bringing researchers closer to the farmers they serve. (NBC News)
  • The Interior Department will relocate 81% of its headquarters staff to west of the Rockies by 2020. Trump hasn't nominated a permanent director for Bureau of Land Management after more than two-and-a-half years in office. (Washington Post)

You should be concerned, very concerned about this. Career civil servants keep the government going. In this case, T**** wants to get rid of researchers whose findings might support the existence of global, man-made, climate change.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Museum Mondays

There's always a dog in the corner of a Rubens painting (or engraving).

Early Rubens show
Legion of Honor, San Francisco
July, 2019
Photos by Lisa Hirsch

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Because There's a Martial Artist in Each of Us....

Free introduction to Danzan Ryu jujitsu!

You'll learn:

  • How to roll
  • How to strike or kick
  • How to escape from a wrist grab
  • ....and more

You'll also see a demo of some throws and other advanced arts.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019
8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Thursday, August 29, 2019
8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Open Door Jujitsu
Emeryville Martial Arts
4770 San Pablo Ave., Unit B
Emeryville, CA

Sign up (or ask questions) here!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

News from Long Beach Opera

A press release tells us that Andreas Mitisek, artistic and general director (and frequent conductor) at Long Beach Opera, is leaving the company in September 2020. Here's the story:

Long Beach, CA | July 10, 2019 --- Andreas Mitisek announced that he will depart from his position as Long Beach Opera (LBO) Artistic and General Director in September 2020, following LBO’s 2020 season.  Mitisek informed the board of his decision not to renew his contract at a board meeting on June 29.
At that time, Mitisek will have led the company for 17 years.  Following his departure, he will continue his career as a freelance director and conductor, with engagements throughout the United States and Europe.  The Board confirmed that Mitisek will be invited to collaborate on future LBO productions as a freelance artist.
Andreas Mitisek became LBO's principal conductor in 1998 and Artistic and General Director in 2003. Under Mitisek’s leadership, LBO grew from 2 to 5 operas per season, and the supporting operating budget has expanded from $430,000 in 2003, to $1.6M in 2018, and season subscriptions have increased by over 500%. By exploring unorthodox venues, he has been able to attract new audiences for opera and uphold LBO’s artistic vision by presenting 20th century and rare works.
Mitisek said, “My life, my thinking, my work, my relationships have been defined by Long Beach Opera and have also defined LBO.  It’s time now to embark on new adventures, and for LBO to have new artistic leadership as well. I am pleased to be able to leave the company in the very capable and passionate hands of its leadership, including Jennifer Rivera, Executive Director and C.E.O. and Board President Dr. Robert Braun.”
Board President Braun said, “Long Beach Opera has an international reputation for being an unusually innovative arts organization thanks, in large part, to Andreas’ brilliant artistic leadership. We at LBO are so grateful for his years of service to the organization and are also thrilled that in Jennifer Rivera we have an Executive leader with a strong artistic background that will help shepherd us into the next era of excellence for LBO.”
Rivera, Braun and the Long Beach Opera Board have commenced a search to find the next Artistic Director for the company. After a two decade career as a Grammy nominated opera singer, Rivera left her performing career to become an Arts Administrator in May of 2017, first as Development Director and then as Executive Director for Long Beach Opera.
Rivera said, “Andreas Mitisek’s impact on the Long Beach Opera, and the entire opera industry, has been profound. He has worked to push the boundaries of opera, expanding the way people produce opera all around the country with his innovative, bold artistic choices. Long Beach Opera has grown tremendously under his leadership.” 
Mitisek will oversee and be artistically involved in all four of LBO’s 2020 season productions, which include Purcell’s King Arthur, Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse, Gavin Bryars’ Billy the Kid and Robert X Rodriguez’s Frida.
Long Beach Opera just completed its highly successful 2019 season by presenting the world premiere of Anthony Davis’ The Central Park Five, which LBO commissioned and produced to full houses and coast to coast recognition. The season also included Steve Reich’s Three Tales, Bach/Sylvian’s The Black Cat and Philip Glass’ In The Penal Colony.”

I've seen several productions at LBO in the last ten years, including Glass's Akhnaten, a double bill of Martinu's Tears of a Knife and Poulenc's Les Mammelles de Tiresias, and this year's The Central Park Five. Looking at their repertory list, I wish I'd seen everything they're performed.


News You Can Use, War Memorial Opera House Edition

War Memorial Opera House
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I reported some time ago that the orchestra and other seats in the War Memorial Opera House were scheduled to be replaced in 2021. Now, an article in the San Francisco Chronical about retiring Performing Arts Center Managing Director Beth Murray contains the following paragraph:
Even now, as Murray packs up her office on the ground floor of the Veterans Building, the 64-year-old can look out her window and see a project she’s steered through planning and design. For instance, the original mansard roof of the Opera House, completed in 1932, will soon be replaced and so will all 1,100 seats on the orchestra level. Those jobs will require the San Francisco Opera and Ballet to shorten their seasons by 14 weeks in 2021.
“Those seats were redone, not replaced, when we renovated the Opera House,” Murray says. “Big mistake.”
She knew it was a mistake as soon as she sat down on opening night of the fall 1997 opera season. “Big mistake,” she repeats. “Those are the original frames. Have you sat there?”
Well, THAT's interesting, isn't it. I queried the press departments at SFO and SFB, which responded as follows:
From SFB We are looking into some very good options on the venue/programming side for that time period at the moment, but do not have concrete plans to share just yet. There is still a lot to iron out on all fronts...we have every intention to keep our patrons and media partners informed in the coming months as soon as we have more info. 
From SFO: San Francisco Opera is looking forward to the forthcoming seat replacement project (in the orchestra level) to improve the experience for our patrons in the War Memorial Opera House. 
We are at the beginning stages of this phase of the project and will be sharing updates, including information about the seats and project timeline, later this fall. 
At this time, we do not have further information to share about seat replacements in other levels of the house (seats in the balcony level of the opera house were replaced in summer 2015). 
Note: the project will not cause San Francisco Opera/San Francisco Ballet to shorten seasons by 14 weeks as stated in the San Francisco Chronicle article, as part of the work will be done during the off-season.
I'm under the impression that the Chron article surprised both organizations a bit. I would have expected the Performing Arts Center to give them a heads-up about the forthcoming article.

Thanks to You You Xia and Julia Inouye for their responses! Looking forward to whatever transpires.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Museum Mondays

Mosaic Fox, Millard Sheets
Part of a wall-sized mosaic
Marciano Foundation Museum
Los Angeles, June, 2019
The colors are not quite right, owing to a combination of the lighting and my phone camera.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Goings-On at the Paris Opera

Bastille Opera
February, 2019
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

UPDATE, 7/5/2019:  The COC is denying the report, but the Globe & Mail article is paywalled, so I cannot quote it.

About two months ago,  Definitely the Opera reported on the administrative situation at the Paris Opera (Opéra National de Paris). At the time, the following administrators were under consideration to succeed Stéphane Lissner, who must retire from his post as general director owing to retirement age:
  • Peter de Caluwe (current La Monnaie director) 
  • Dominique Meyer (Wien Staatsoper)
  • Olivier Mantei (Opera-Comique in Paris) 
  • Alexander Neef (Canadian Opera Company; artistic advisor at Santa Fe)
Earlier, Christina Scheppelmann had also been under consideration, but she is succeeding Aidan Lang at Seattle Opera, Lang having accepted the general directorship at the Welsh National Opera.

It now appears that Alexander Neef has been tapped for Paris, which will leave the COC without a director in a couple of years. Lissner's contract will be extended until Neef is able to take over.

This leaves Paris still looking for a music director (or chief conductor, whichever title is correct) to take over from Philippe Jordan, when Jordan departs for Vienna in 2020. 

Here's the thing: after hearing him three times in Paris and reading accounts of his work in the Met Ring, I'm pretty sure that Paris can do better. Of the three I heard him conduct, Bérénice was, at the time and in retrospect, the most impressive. It's a new piece, and, I think, a great one, but what it most called for, and I saw it twice, seems to be extreme precision, rather than sweep or overarching shape.

This is Jordan's metier. Take a look at comments from Christian Van Horn and Brandon Jovanovich in my article Touring the World with Les Troyens; that's a conductor who is perhaps too focussed on the measure-by-measure aspects of a work. I found his pacing and much else in Tristan odd; he seemed to miss the overall structure of the work. As for his Troyens....when I heard Donald Runnicles and Sir Andrew Davis conduct the opera, I was convinced that I was hearing the greatest opera ever written. They gave the work real sweep and power and yes, large-scale structure. Jordan's conducting in the opera was clean, fast (too fast for my taste), and...seemed a little perfunctory. It certainly didn't have the emotional impact that Runnicles and Davis gave it. I don't think this had anything to do with the Tcherniakov production, which I liked a lot, and the singers were uniformly outstanding.

A friend who heard Jordan's Götterdämmerung told me he found it efficient; Joshua Kosman saw the HD broadcast of the Met Die Walküre and questioned something - rhythm and harmonic structure? - about Jordan's conducting. That's in line with what I heard in Paris.

So, also of interest in Paris: who will succeed Jordan?

UPDATE: I found @JoshuaKosman's tweet about that Walküre (and the whole thread is here):

FURTHER UPDATE: I meant to quote Zachary Woolfe on Jordan's conducting in the Met Ring, which matches what I heard in Paris:
If only the orchestra had been nearly so characterful. While Philippe Jordan’s conducting had moment-by-moment fleetness, and agile responsiveness to the singers, there was no sense of long-arching accumulations of intensity, little variety of mood or color. The sound was thin, murky and diffuse, like a cloudy broth; the brasses were inelegant even when not flubbing.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Monday, July 01, 2019

Rising Stars?

The now-annual end-of-season popularity contest Rising Stars vote, to name a favorite Emerging Star, has dropped into my mailbox. As usual, I won't be voting. Here's some commentary on each of the singers.
  • It is said that "Tenor Daniel Johansson delivered a standout performance as the besotted young soldier Matteo in his Company debut." I never finished my blog post about Arabella, but I can't agree with this. His acting was fine, but I was surprised at how dry Johansson's tone was.
  • Hye Jung Lee, who sang the Fiakermilli in Arabella, made her first SFO appearance in 2012's Nixon in China. Arabella was her fourth appearance with the company. She emerged back in 2012 and 2013, when she also appeared in Tales of Hoffman.
  • Golda Schultz, sure. Emerging star!
  • Andriana Chuchman, yes. Emerging star!
  • Christina Gansch, okay. First appearance, so at least locally an emerging star.
  • Sarsha Cooke. Are you kidding me? Sasha Cooke is a Big Star. Her breakthrough was in the Met's Doctor Atomic, back in 2008! She emerged long ago! Also, sorry to mention, she was miscast in Orlando, as fabulous as her acting was.
  • J'Nai Bridges, okay!
  • Rachel Willis-Sorensen, yes, sure, emerging.

Museum Mondays



Marciano Foundation Museum
Los Angeles, 2019

The Marciano Foundation Museum is a recently-opened museum of contemporary art. It's in a fabulous building that used to be a Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, and it's got some wonderful site-specific art as well as retaining a mosaic designed by the architect of the building. 
Thanks to D. Fletcher Dunham for encouraging me to go!