Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Upcoming Streams at San Francisco Opera

Janáček’s "The Makropulos Case" with Karita Mattila as Emilia Marty 

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Well. San Francisco Opera will have two superb productions streaming in July:

July 18, 2020: La Cenerentola (Cinderella), Rossini

Cast:  French soprano Karine Deshayes as Angelica (Cenerentola) opposite American tenor René Barbera as her Prince Charming, Don Ramiro. The cast includes baritone Efraín Solís as Dandini, baritone Carlos Chausson as Don Magnifico, bass-baritone Christian Van Horn as Alidoro and soprano Maria Valdes and mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde as Angelica’s stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, respectively. Jesús López-Cobos conducts.

(Regular readers and friends of mine know I'm not a big fan of the Rossini comedies, but for this cast....Deshayes was a wonderful Urbain in the Paris Huguenots, René Barbera is one of the great bel canto tenors of our time, and Efraín Solís stole the show as Golaud in the WEO Pelleas two seasons ago. So I'll be watching!)

July 25, 2020: Vec Makropulos (The Makropulos Case)Janáček

Cast:  Finnish soprano Karita Mattila in her role debut as the enigmatic, renowned singer Emilia Marty. The late Jiří Bělohlávek conducts this 1926 Czech masterpiece full of “restless, sharp-edged, brilliantly scored music” (San Francisco Classical Voice). The cast also features Slovak tenor Miro Dvorsky as Albert Gregor, German bass-baritone Gerd Grochowski as Baron Jaroslav Prus and America bass-baritone Dale Travis as Dr. Kolenatý. 

(Karita Karita Karita. Bělohlávek was superb; the whole cast was excellent, and this was the perfect role for Mattila.)

Monday, June 29, 2020

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sexual Abuse, Classical Music Edition, Part ???

Here are some links that've been floating around open browser tabs for too damn long.
You can look up all of the allegations against Domingo, which came from 20 women who'd worked with him at various opera companies. A least one was a dancer and the rest were singers. I have privately heard some stuff about his behavior - warnings given to singers along the lines of don't be alone with him, don't let him in your dressing room alone, etc. This would have been the whisper network doing its job.

In this NY Times article, we find LAO claiming the following:
Los Angeles Opera, however, said its investigation had “found no evidence that Mr. Domingo ever engaged in a quid pro quo or retaliated against any woman by not casting or otherwise hiring her at L.A. Opera, especially since casting and other hiring decisions are complex, performance-specific and determined by multiple people.” 
Here's an NPR article that quotes the Met saying this:
We take accusations of sexual harassment and abuse of power with extreme seriousness. We will await the results of the investigation into Plácido Domingo's behavior as head of the Los Angeles Opera before making any final decisions about Mr. Domingo's ultimate future at the Met. It should be noted that during his career at the Met as a guest artist, Mr. Domingo has never been in a position to influence casting decisions for anyone other than himself.
A couple of comments:

1. The Met was absolutely craven not to make its own investigation.

2. Re LAO's hiring claim: Yeah, they're complicated, but as General Manager and a big star, Domingo would certainly have had influence on casting. I'd love to see the basis of the claim that there was never any retaliation or quid pro quo.

3. Re the Met, hahahahahahahaha. Of course he was. You don't have to be part of the Met's administration to have influence. It's easy to imagine a conversation between, say, Levine and Domingo in which Domingo says "Oh, if you're thinking about casting for [opera], I recently worked with [soprano] / heard [soprano] elsewhere, and she just wouldn't be right for that role. Have you considered [some other soprano]?" And somehow, [some other soprano] gets the job. I mean, I have heard of at least one singer, a singer who was never GM of even one opera company, putting their foot down about a particular piece of casting and getting their way, not at the Met, and that singer was never a star on level of Domingo.

As you know, San Francisco Opera got out ahead of this by canceling a planned concert celebrating Domingo as soon as the news broke. This suggests a couple of things to me: the company wanted to do the right thing, and perhaps they knew of credible allegations from women who'd worked with Domingo at SFO. Also, ahem, Opera Magazine's "We've heard that..." column mentioned that SFO would open the 2020-21 season with Macbeth, which turned into Rigoletto by the time of the season announcement. One might wonder who was cast in the title role of the Scottish opera.

Ojai Virtual Festival

Libbey Bowl and audience, 2019 Ojai Festival, photo by Annelies van der Vegt

Libbey Bowl and audience
Ojai Festival, 2019
Photo by Annelies van der Vegt, courtesey of Ojai Festival

The other week, the Ojai Festival had a virtual festival, and various talks and musical excerpts are on line for us to hear and see

Friday, June 26, 2020

Thursday, June 25, 2020

SF Performances, Really?

SF Performances home page, with 2020-21 season announcement link and dates to subscribe or buy single tickets for that season.

Screen shot of SF Performances home page

San Francisco Performances is simultaneously asking for donations and bravely (?) acting as though there is going to be a full 2020-21 season, including the fall, in which no performances are cancelled.

I'd just like to know what SFP knows that San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, Cal Performances, New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan, to name a few organizations, don't know.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Ten Years Ago

Davies Symphony Hall

Ten years ago, I was thinking about who might be the next music director of the San Francisco Symphony. You can read the whole post at the link, but there's this, in which I have crossed off the names of the now-deceased and highlighted the name of our music director designate:
It's easier to make a list of the unavailable than of the available. Not: Muti, Abbado, Gilbert, Levine, Nezhet-Seguin, Dudamel, Salonen (sob), Jurowski, C. Davis, A. Davis, Haitink, Mackerras (double sob), Barenboim, Nelsons, Rattle, Runnicles (sobbing even more)
People we don't want: FW-M (busy with contracts in Vienna and Cleveland, anyway), Mehta, Previn, Schwarz, Ashkenazy, Maazel, Masur. :)
Been there/done that/don't come back except as a guest: Ozawa, de Waart, Blomstedt.
Probably not: Simone Young
Wish We Could: Le formidable Boulez (say it with a French accent), nearly 85 and with regular guest gigs in Chicago and Cleveland
I would look to the frozen north, and I don't mean Canada). One of the Baltic states, Scandinavia, Finland. There's someone there, maybe someone we know: Osmo Vanska? Sakari Oramu? Where are Neeme Jarvi and Mariss Janssons working? How about Marek Janowski? Eschenbach? Dohnanyi? But the latter two are both 70-ish. So is Frubeck de Burgos.
Favorite from the frozen north: Susanna Malkki, who is Finnish, female, young, and made a big splash in NY at Mostly Mozart a year or two ago.
Of course, I was in the camp of "there's no way Salonen will take this job" right up to the moment I saw the announcement.

I note that this post was my first mention of Susanna Mälkki, and also that Blomstedt, while looking a bit frailer as time passes, is still conducting very fine programs here at almost-93 (his birthday is July 11).

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Rubin Institute

Rubin Institute of Music Criticism panel of writers, consisting of eight men and two women, all white-presenting, mostly middle-aged or older

Rubin Panel

This year, especially, the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism panel is way too homogenous: eight white-presenting men and two white-presenting women; eight from the east coast, one from the west, one bicoastal. I'd be curious about the minimum age of the participants. At this historical moment, it's not a good look. I'm seeing a lot of good discussions about white supremacy in classical music on Twitter, and, well.....

I hope that those who run the Rubin Institute are thinking about this, and trying to figure out how to broaden the panel in various ways. I mean, I can certainly think of a few folks who would be great to have on this panel.

Friday, June 19, 2020


Lincoln Center Plaza Fountain

Received from the Metropolitan Opera, a company that still hasn't performed a work by a Black person and has performed two works by women, a century apart:
In honor of Juneteenth, we are showcasing some of the exceptional African American artists who have thrilled audiences and made invaluable contributions to the Met’s legacy since Marian Anderson first broke the company’s color line in 1955. Don’t miss the Nightly Opera Stream of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, featuring the great Leontyne Price (pictured above) in one of her signature roles, available until tomorrow at 6:30PM EDT. You can also enjoy an audio compilation and a collection of video selections on our streaming service, Met Opera on Demand, until next Friday, June 26, as well as an interview with Price from the documentary The Opera House
I also note that, browsing through the gallery of Met Orchestra musicians, there are just two Black-presenting players.

Do better, Met.

Friday Photo

33 Rue du Champs de Mars
Paris, France
October, 2018

This fabulous building is tall and on a narrow street; I didn't have quite the right lens with me to give a good sense of the facade. More detailed photos on my Flickr pages.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Looking Forward

War Memorial Opera House (left) and Veterans Building (right)

San Francisco Performances and San Francisco Ballet haven't announced cancellations....but...it's inevitable.

Also.....the Los Angeles Philharmonic and LA Opera, too.

The Shape of Things to Come: SFS Cancels

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

As I said the other day, when San Francisco Opera cancelled its fall season, "there's just no way for a big organization, with a big house and big orchestra and big staff, to perform safely this fall." We now have the inevitable documents from San Francisco Symphony cancelling their fall season.

Documents, plural, because as a subscriber, I got a very nice in-advance-of-the-public announcement email, followed by the press release an hour or so later.

I'm just so sad about this. We're losing months of Esa-Pekka Salonen's first season, with some fabulously rich programs never to be heard.
  • Bluebeard's Castle / Bartok Piano Concerto No. 2
  • Rudolph Buchbinder in Beethoven piano concertos
  • Chick Corea/Joshua Weilerstein (Walker / Gershwn / Sibelius)
  • MTT/Mahler 1
  • MTT/Beethoven Missa Solemnis
  • Giancarlo Guerrero (Tower / Price / Wolfe)
Unlike SFO, SFS has reached a "shared sacrifice plan that includes temporary pay reductions for all employees earning more than $75,000 annually." That's the right way to do this. Negotiate first, cancel later. Don't leave the people who work for the organization hanging.

I'm sorry to see that there will be some jobs cut, though.

Below the cut, you'll find the to-our-donors email and the press release.

SF Girls Chorus & Voices of Music in Dido and Aeneas

Screencap from the video described in this article

Received a couple of weeks ago:
The San Francisco Girls Chorus, San Francisco Early Music Society, and Voices of Music invite you to join us for our 4K ultra high definition video premiere of Purcell's Opera Dido and Aeneas, streamed live, and FREE, on the Voices of Music YouTube channel, linked here:
From the award winning performance at the Berkeley Early Music Festival, June, 2018, this concert won the San Francisco Classical Voice "Best of the Bay" award in three categories: Best opera performance, best choral performance and best Early Music performance.
The San Francisco Girls Chorus directed by Valérie Sainte-Agathe; Voices of Music directed by Hanneke van Proosdij and David Tayler.
Dramatis Personae:     Mindy Ella Chu as Dido, Queen of Carthage     Jesse Blumberg as Aeneas     Emma Powell as Belinda     Nia Spaulding as the 2nd Woman     Calla Cra-Caskey as the Sorceress     Lola Miller-Henline as the Spirit of the Sorceress (Mercury)     Allegra Kelly as the Sailor     Audrey Johnson as the First Witch     Marie Johnson as the Second Witch     Caroline Sloan as the Third Witch     Isabel Yang as the Fourth Witch
The performance venue was First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Shape of Things to Come: Cal Performances Cancels

Hertz Hall Organ
UC Berkeley Campus
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I haven't gotten a press release or patron announcement yet, but Joshua Kosman did and he reports on the announcement in the Chron. They're cancelling all in-person performances through the end of the year.

Upcoming at the Elbphilharmonie

Some interesting concerts to be streamed at the Elbphilharmonie, currently the conductorial home of Alan Gilbert. I believe the times are local, so count appropriately for your location,

Klaus Mäkelä and Alan Gilbert conduct the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra (June 17th and 26th). The artist for the »Blind Date« show (June 24thhas still not been revealed.

Hamburg, 16 June 2020: As long as the audience is not allowed to come into the concert halls of the Elbphilharmonie, the Elbphilharmonie will come to the audience. Three new broadcasts of concerts from the Grand Hall will take place over the next few days, in front of empty tiers, but from the core of the musicians’ hearts. The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra performs in a Corona-reduced line-up tomorrow, June 17th, with music by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Lindberg and Schönberg (Pekka Kuusisto, violin)conducted by the 24-year-old Finn Klaus Mäkelä, an up and coming star on the podium. On June 26th, the orchestra plays works by Adès, Shostakovich and Beethoven. Alan Gilbert, chief conductor of the orchestra, is on the podiumIgor Levit is piano soloist.
On June 24th, the Elbphilharmonie presents its popular »Blind Date« series for the first time online. The performing artist remains a secret until the first bars sound. Enjoy the surprise!

The programme:

Wednesday, 17th June 2020 at 8.15pm (MET)
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra / Klaus Mäkelä / Pekka Kuusisto
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy String Symphony No. 10
Magnus Lindberg Concert for Violin and Orchestra No. 1
Arnold Schönberg Transfigured Night (Revised version for String Orchestra)

Wednesday, 24th June 2020 at 8pm (MET)
Blind Date
Surprise Artist

Friday, 26th June 2020 at 8pm (MET)
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra / Alan Gilbert / Igor Levit
Thomas Adès Chamber Symphony
Dmitri Schostakowitsch Concerto for Piano No. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 4

All streams can be found here:

Streaming Next at San Francisco Opera

War Memorial Opera House Interior
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Up next in the SF Opera streaming series; all performances start at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on the date indicated. They remain available to the public until 11:59 p.m. the following day; if you're a subscriber, you can log in to the SFO web site and watch the videos there.

No Elektra.....yet....but this is an interesting group. I was shocked at how much I liked Manon. I remember the Salome as sluggishly conducted, but I'll definitely watch. I missed Susannah live, because I'd caught an especially nasty bug that year and was sick for something like six weeks. (My partner inconveniently broke her ankle a couple of weeks into my being sick, sigh. Fun times.) But Patricia Racette and Brandon Jovanovich are a proven pairing at SFO, so you bet I'll watch this.

Salome — June 20

The 2009 presentation of Richard Strauss’ Salome is a co-production with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Opéra de Montréal directed and choreographed by Séan Curran with production designs by Bruno Schwengl and lighting by Christopher Maravich. Strauss’ 1905 one-act opera, featuring Hedwig Lachmann’s German translation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play as the text, is best known for its shocking, intense situations based on Biblical literature and the composer’s extraordinary score, including the sensual “Dance of the Seven Veils.” German dramatic soprano Nadja Michael portrays the title role and bass-baritone Greer Grimsley is the object of her desire, Jokanaan (John the Baptist). The cast also stars tenor Kim Begley as Herod, mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura as Herodias and tenor Garrett Sorenson as Narraboth. San Francisco Opera’s former Music Director Nicola Luisotti leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Salome is performed in German with English subtitles and has an approximate running time of 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Manon — June 27

San Francisco Opera’s most recent staging of Jules Massenet’s Manon in 2017, a new co-production with Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Israeli Opera, features the role debuts of soprano Ellie Dehn as Manon and tenor Michael Fabiano as Chevalier des Grieux. Opera News proclaims Fabiano’s portrayal of Manon’s lover “a powerhouse vocal performance.” The opera’s libretto, by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille based on the novel by Abbé Prévost, tells the story of a young woman whose plans to enter a convent are interrupted by her falling in love with des Grieux and attempting to evade the schemes of Guillot (Robert Brubaker). With stage direction and costume designs by Vincent Boussard, the production’s creative team also includes set designer Vincent Lemaire and lighting designer Gary Marder. French conductor Patrick Fournillier “[leads] the orchestra in a rigorous rendition” of Massenet’s popular 1884 work (San Francisco Classical Voice).  Baritone David Pershall is Manon’s cousin Lescaut, bass James Creswell is Chevalier des Grieux’s father, Comte des Grieux, and baritone Timothy Mix is De Brétigny. The San Francisco Opera Chorus is prepared by Chorus Director Ian Robertson. Manon is performed in French with English subtitles and has an approximate running time of 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Susannah — July 4

Set in New Hope Valley, Tennessee, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah is one of the most frequently performed 20th-century works in the American operatic repertoire. Floyd’s libretto, loosely based on the story “Susannah and the Elders” from the biblical Apocrypha, centers on an innocent, teenage girl who is falsely accused as a sinner by her church community. This “brilliant,” “magnificent” (San Francisco Chronicle) 2014 Company premiere is a San Francisco Opera co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera. Director Michael Cavanagh directs the cast starring soprano Patricia Racette in the title role; tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Susannah’s brother, Sam Polk; bass Raymond Aceto as the villain, Reverend Olin Blitch; tenor James Kryshak as Little Bat and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook as Little Bat’s mother, Mrs. McLean. In her Company debut, Karen Kamensek conducts the cast, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus “with superb musical direction” (The Mercury News). The production features set designs by Erhard Rom, costumes by Michael Yeargan, lighting designs by Gary Marder, choreography by Lawrence Pech and fight direction by Dave Maier. Susannah is performed in English with English subtitles and has an approximate running time of 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Shape of Things to Come: San Francisco Opera Cancels Fall Season

War Memorial Opera House, SF
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Sigh. You knew this was coming, right?

After the Met's cancellation, after the LOC cancellation, and after my own little poll, it seemed inevitable that San Francisco Opera would do the same, and now they have. There's just no way for a big organization, with a big house and big orchestra and big staff, to perform safely this fall.

The press release, which is long, is after the cut. The short version: we have to cancel the fall season, we expect to be back for the scheduled April and May performances, the postponement of the seat replacement project might open up more performing opportunities, we'll continue with streaming opera and online performances. We plan to reschedule Fidelio, Cosi fan tutte,  and The Handmaid's Tale.

Alarmingly, the press release has nothing about what's happening with the company's administrative staff, orchestra, chorus, stage pros, and backstage pros. From Joshua Kosman's article:
The cancellation is expected to cost the company $20 million in lost revenue during the coming fiscal year — $10 million in contributed income and $10 million in lost ticket sales — on an annual budget of about $72.5 million, Shilvock said. He added that the company would begin discussions soon with the labor unions representing the company’s performers and technical crews.
And from Janos Gereben's:
Shilvock responded to questions from SF Classical Voice about the lack of specifics in SF Opera’s announcement about salaries, contracts, and staff cutbacks, saying, “All that is being discussed in conversations that begin now.” He did not offer a timeframe for when that information will become available.
At a video-conference staff meeting earlier today, SF Opera employees heard the news about the cancellation but were not told about their future. This approach to the fall season is in contrast to Shilvock’s statement to SF Classical Voice at the time of his cancellation of the summer season in April, when he pledged “full compensation and benefits for employees through the current May 3 shelter-in-place period.”
Oooh. I would not have said a word about cancelling the performances before actually having negotiated with the unions and employees. This is an unforced error.


The Shape of Things to Come: Lyric Opera of Chicago Cancels Fall Performances

Back of the Civic Opera Building
View from Chicago River
November, 2016
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Another fall performance season is canceled in light of the obvious difficulty of safe performances: Lyric Opera of Chicago's season. This would have included the U.S. premiere of George Benhamin's Lessons in Love and Violence, the ROH premiere of which was broadcast in 2018.

One can only wonder which season will be canceled next.

Their email:

As a valued part of Lyric’s audience, we wanted to inform you that Lyric Opera of Chicago’s performances from September through December 2020 have been canceled as a result of public health policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have come to this decision based on the best information currently available. In this uncertain environment, we must put the safety of our guests, artists, and company first, respecting the policies implemented by the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois. As we move through our state’s five-phase plan of reopening, performing arts companies on Lyric’s scale are still slated to be part of the final phase. Operating on anything close to a normal basis until that phase is reached is simply not possible.

Canceling the opening months of the season — which included the operas Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, Lessons in Love and Violence, Tosca, and Attila — is heartbreaking. Our staff continues to work on the productions and special events scheduled from January through June of 2021, which we expect to proceed as planned. The previously announced renovation project for the Ardis Krainik Theatre, including new seats and improved sightlines, is also proceeding under stringent safety and health protocols.

We are so very sorry to be sharing this news — and we have never been more grateful to all of the members of the Lyric community. Live performances will return. In the meantime, we’ll continue to be in touch, not only through our regular emails and social media channels but as we share our plans for exciting new artistic activities we’ll be bringing to you through the fall. We all need music in our lives, now more than ever, and here at Lyric, we will be working hard to make sure the music continues.


Anthony Freud
General Director, President & CEO
The Women’s Board Endowed Chair

I note two items: their general director's title is less unwieldy than that of Matthew Shilvock, and they've got their seat replacement project scheduled so that it can proceed.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Met Free Streaming Opera This Week

Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I haven't been reporting this week on the Met's free opera streams, but this week....well, the extension of Forza feels like lip service, sort of like performing Porgy during Black History month, because the Met has, let's see, performed zero operas by Black composers.

That said, an opportunity to see Leontyne Price is an opportunity to see one of the very greatest singers of her generation and of the 20th century. Also, the Glass double-header is really something. I saw Aknaten in HD and Satyagraha live at LA Opera a couple of years back. They are both great pieces, with Satyagraha perhaps the composer's finest opera.

Schedule Update: In honor of Juneteenth, the Met will extend this week’s stream of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, starring the great African American soprano Leontyne Price, to 48 hours, so that it will be available on Friday, June 19. The previously scheduled streams of AkhnatenSatyagraha, and La Traviata will all be pushed back a day. Please see the revised schedule below. 
Monday, June 15
Rossini’s Armida
Tuesday, June 16
Rossini’s Semiramide
Wednesday, June 17
Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride
Thursday, June 18, and Friday, June 19
Verdi’s La Forza del Destino 
Saturday, June 20
Philip Glass’s Akhnaten
Sunday, June 21
Philip Glass’s Satyagraha
Monday, June 22
Verdi’s La Traviata

The Shape of Things to Come: More Cancellations & Posrponements

In the last few days:

Museum Mondays

Medicinal Herbs and Medicines
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Attic
London, November, 2019

Friday, June 12, 2020

Upcoming Livestreams

Here are several upcoming livestreams that are awfully close to the don't-miss category for me. First, we've got hot and cold running Trittico performances, then a pair of great works by Philip Glass.

  • In 2009, San Francisco Opera performed a modern-dress Il Trittico with Patricia Racette in the three leading female roles. She was especially great in Suor Angelica, where Ewa Podles was her terrifying aunt, and in Gianni Schicchi, which I think is the funniest hour of opera ever written. Her accomplices included the wonderful Paolo Gavanelli as Michele in Il Tabarro and the title character in Gianni Schicchi, Brandon Jovanovich, David Lomeli, Meredith Arwady, Andrea Silvestrelli, Catherine Cook, and others, many others. The production came from NYCO, so the likelihood is that it is gone gone gone. I loved this production so much I saw it three times. SFO streams this production from their home page on Saturday, June 13, at 10 AM Pacific Time. If you're a subscriber or donor, it will be available to you past the initial window; just log in with your SFO account.
  • The Royal Opera is streaming another modern-dress Il Trittico, this one by Richard Jones, on YouTube. It's running until June 19. Annoyingly, their site doesn't have the full cast list...
  • The Met is streaming Akhnaten and Satyagraha next week, on the 19th and 20th. I saw Akhnaten on the big screen in the HD Live series, and the same Satyagraha production a couple of years ago at LA Opera. Both are Phelim McDermott productions, and they're excellent.

Friday Photo

Chicago Athletic Association
Inspiration for the Facade is the Doge's Palace, Venice
March, 2019

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Allan Evans

Allan Evans died last week at age 64. I don't know what the cause was, but I've seen a reference on line to "a serious illness in recent years."

Allan was the founder of Arbiter Records, a label that had two remits:
  • Publish rare and unknown historical recordings of music from all over the world
  • Publish rare and unknown historical recordings of important pianists and other performers of Western classical music

Allan WAS Arbiter, though. He was vastly knowledgable about the history of pianism and piano style, and wrote biographies of Ignaz Friedman and Moriz Rosenthal, two pianists who lived well into the 20th c. but were very much products of 19th c. pianism.

Allan was amazing, just incredible, at chasing down recordings, befriending pianists and their families, and getting unique recordings  published. One example of this: he became acquainted with Iren Marik, a  Hungarian pianist who moved to the US and spent many years living in comparative isolation. She'd made few commercial recordings, but had about 100 hours of private recordings.. ..and she left them to him when she died. He published a couple of CD sets from these.

I did not know him well. I met Allan at the Reactions to the Record Symposium at Stanford, where he held people completely spellbound telling stories about how he found and published all of these rare recordings. He seems to have known EVERYONE. He was charming and fascinating, just a lovely person; we exchanged email a few times over the years. I'm terribly saddened by his death, as is everyone who knew him or who cares about historical recordings. He is survived by his wife and their son.

I hope that Arbiter will live on; regardless, you can still peruse its fabulous catalogs and perhaps buy a CD or two from them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

NY Philharmonic Cancels Fall Concerts

Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

The NY Philharmonic has taken a hard look at the current state of affairs and canceled its fall concerts:

The New York Philharmonic’s concerts through January 5, 2021, have been cancelled. “While the New York Philharmonic deeply regrets having to cancel our fall concerts, we had no choice,” said President and CEO Deborah Borda. “Our number one concern is the health and safety of our audiences, musicians, and employees. It has become very clear that large groups of people will not be able to safely gather for the remainder of the calendar year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our decision to let the entire Philharmonic family and our public know at this time has been strongly informed by New York State government regulations, along with the advice of medical experts.”
The New York Philharmonic hopes to resume live performances on January 6, 2021. Currently, the Philharmonic is exploring options for concerts in smaller gatherings when possible. Meanwhile, the Orchestra will continue to share broadcasts of past performances and new videos featuring Philharmonic musicians through NY Phil Plays On, offering more than 150 hours of free digital content.
Music Director Jaap van Zweden said: “This has been a challenging time for all of us. My family and I have been at home in Amsterdam and, throughout these very long months, our New York Philharmonic family has been in our thoughts and hearts. I am so looking forward to 2021, when the great musicians of the New York Philharmonic and I can join together through live performances and be reunited with our public.”
Programming for concerts in 2021 is subject to change. For information about donating the value of unused tickets, applying ticket value to a concert that has not been cancelled, or obtaining refunds for the cancelled concerts, ticketholders may visit nyphil.org/health or contact New York Philharmonic Customer Relations at (212) 875-5656 or customerservice@nyphil.org.

Monday, June 08, 2020

The Shape of Things to Come: What 511 Epidemiologists Think

Epidemiologists: they're the experts on what we're going through, along with infectious disease specialists. And now The NY Times has surveyed 511* epidemiologists about when we might resume various mostly-public activities.

You can peruse the full results at the link, but here's the survey result that has arts administrators screaming, fainting, falling over, tearing their hair out, and wondering whether their organizations will survive:

Attend a sporting event, concert, or play

  • This summer: 3%
  • 3 to 12 months: 32%
  • 1 year+: 64%
  • Never again: 1%

That 3% for this summer is not looking at reality (every US musical organization has cancelled its planned in-person summer performances, as far as I know). The never-again group is tiny and I'm rolling my eyes at them. I mean, there are lots of illnesses you might catch by going out in public, and lots of injuries or accidents you might have, says the person who has sprained her ankle walking down the street.

I wish the 3 to 12 month group were broken down further, but it's the one-year-plus majority that kills me. And may kill organizations I care about. I mean, the English National Opera was already on the brink of collapse and is much reduced in the number of productions they do from earlier in their history. I understand that Peter Gelb is already starting to hedge about the Met resuming performances on New Year's Eve.

Folks, it's going to be a long and painful year.

*I can't help it, that looks like a phone number for something or other. If I dial 511, do I get the Department of Hopeless Causes, or what?

Museum Mondays

The Old Operating Theatre
London, November, 2019

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Pipe Dreams

Pipe organ
Royal Chapel, Palace of Versailles
February, 2019
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I have some information about what looks like a very interesting documentary that'll be on PBS later this month. It's called Pipe Dreams and it's about young organists who are entered in an organ competition.

Pipe Dreams will be on PBS on the show Independent Lives on June 22, 2020.

The competition in question is (was?) the 2017 Canadian International Organ Competition, the "Olympics of organ playing," for players under age 35. From the email I received:
Throughout the film, we see the fierce, driven spirit it takes to move up the ranks in the world of competitive organ playing. Featuring personal at-home footage as well as a seat at the bench alongside these competitors at the CIOC, Pipe Dreams highlights the immense mental and physical discipline that the “king of instruments” demands from these young musicians, how their talents and ambitions are reinvigorating the world of competitive organ playing, and ultimately reveals who comes out on top as the winner
 PIPE DREAMS chronicles four young organists as they train for the CIOC in Montreal:
    • Yuan Shen, 31, the daughter of China’s most famous organist, who believes that in order to win, her will must be twice as strong as the strength and stamina of her competition
    • Alcee Chriss III of Texas, 25, whose unique style and joyful playing is influenced by his musical background with gospel and jazz
    • Nick Capozzoli of Pittsburgh, 24,  who is willing to take big risks through performing obscure, modern music
    • Sebastian Heindl of Germany, 19the youngest person to ever compete in the CIOC taught himself to play at age 11 in the same town, Leipzig, Germany, as his idol and namesake Johann Sebastian Bach.

Sounds very interesting to me!

Friday, June 05, 2020

SFS Celebrates MTT, Online Edition

MTT at Google
November, 2008
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

One of the many things we're sighing over here in the Bay Area is the cancellation of so much of Michael Tilson Thomas's last season as music director of the San Francisco Symphony. Over his 25 year tenure, he's conducted a lot of interesting music, some of it new; helped a few careers out; hired a lot of good players. I have complained about plenty, including the fossilization of repertory, with the same five or six composers represented as new and exciting over a long period; the lack of works composed by women, Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color; and the lack of works by local composers (unless you're named Adams or Bates)(former assistant principal violinist Mark Volkert had a couple of pieces performed over the years as well. 

Lots to complain about, lots to celebrate, and some hope that the repertory will change under incoming music director Esa-Pekka Salonen (I still shake my head in amazement at that phrase, yes, I do).

In any event, SFS has put together a nice online tribute that's unfolding one day at a time. It starts with MTT's first season and each day an additional season is highlighted. Start with 1995-96 and keep clicking through.

This Made Me Wince, a Lot.

Before I get started on a tweet from the League of American Orchestras,  I do want to note that they have had a group of Black conductors speaking to them this week and they do seem to be making some efforts in the right direction -- but the cluelessness here is uh I don't know what to say.

The text of the tweet pictured above is: 
CEO Jesse Rosen of the League of American Orchestras: Events of past weeks have changed my own beliefs about the centrality of racism in our society, beyond other forms of discrimination. We have not yet figured out what this means for our org, or how to be good partners w/ respect to equity in resources.
I took a look at Rosen's page on the LAO web site, and gosh. He is a middle-aged white guy, pretty typical of orchestra and opera company executives.*

But he's not uneducated and probably he reads The NY Times and other major newspapers. How....can he have missed how central racism is? There are the basic historical facts that the European colonists started out by stealing the land that's now the United States from the indigenous people and also that a good chunk of the US economy was funded by enslaving African people who were kidnapped from their homes, tortured, raped, abused, bought and sold away from their families.

After that, I bury my head in my hands. The LAO has been collecting and publishing orchestra repertory reports for a long time. If you take some time to look at them - and you hope the organization's CEO would do this - it's pretty obvious that orchestras play hardly any music by Black composers. I mean, 99% of what they play is by white men, who are also 90% or more dead and who are mostly European.

And the LAO has or should have a pretty darned good idea of who is playing in its constituent orchestras (98% white or Asian or of Asian descent) and who the executives and staff of the constituent orchestras are. The CEOs are almost entirely white men, with a smattering of women. Off the top of my head, I know of maybe four orchestras currently led by Black conductors (Edmonton, Berkeley, Oakland, Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra). (Oh, wait, William Eddins is now Emeritus at Edmonton, sorry!)

So this gives you an idea of why you get a lot of denial about the existence and impact of racism: if you're one of those who have the lowest possible difficulty setting, it's pretty easy to not notice the situation of other people. And it might take being hit over the head by an obvious police murder or ten (these go on all the time, people) and a lot of protests to finally realize what a big deal this is.

I'll close by saying: listen to Black people. It's not as if there haven't been plenty of conversations and plenty of attempts by Black individuals to tell musical organizations and individuals at those organizations what's going on with racism in classical music.

Updated: Added a couple of sentences about Black conductors.

* I'm sitting here and quietly contemplating the fact that the first three prominent female executives who crossed my mind - Deborah Borda, Christina Scheppelmann, and Francesca Zambello - are all partnered with women.