Friday, October 15, 2021

San Francisco Opera: Livestreams and the Return of OperaVision


Interior of the War Memorial Opera House
December, 2019

Back in May, 2019, a letter from Matthew Shilvock, general director of San Francisco Opera, to some subscribers included this:

Knowing that you are a subscriber who attends OperaVision-supported performances in the Balcony of the Opera House, it is with great sadness that I share, while we will have OperaVision this June, we will cease this service going forward.

The equipment was past its useful life and would be very expensive to replace, therefore, etc.

So imagine my surprise when I opened an email from SFO the other day and noticed this:

Please note the following performances of Fidelio will have OperaVision in the Balcony: October 14, 17, and 20.

I couldn't recall a press release about this, so I made inquiries, and Jeff McMillan of the company's communications department told me this:

As we announced in May 2019 when San Francisco Opera had to curtail OperaVision, the Media Suite was in need of critical capital upgrades that we were not in a position to make at the time.

During the pandemic, the Company received a generous gift from Dianne and Tad Taube, long-time champions of San Francisco Opera’s innovative work. That gift allowed for the replacement of much of the internal workings of our Media Suite, bringing it up to a contemporary level of operation, and ensuring the stability needed to provide such offerings as the Livestreams. With the advent of Livestreams, we have the chance to bring OperaVision back for select performances. 

This is good news all around. OperaVision sells tickets; there are folks who buy their balcony seats specifically for OperaVision dates. I myself was initially skeptical, but the direction of the OperaVision streaming has ranged from good to superb; the 2017 Elektra was especially great. And the investment in the Media Suite has made livestreams of SFO's productions possible. If you want to see the Fidelio livestream, there's information here. Note that they are really and truly live, taking place during the live performance. They can't be streamed after the fact, only in real time.

Big thanks to Dianne and Tad Taube for making this possible.

 

Friday Photo

Photo of the front page of The NY Times, May 24, 2020, with headline "U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss"

Front Page of The NY Times
May 24, 2020
It didn't have to be this way, and now, 18 months later, we're at 700,000 deaths. 
At this point, 95% or more of deaths are among the unvaccinated.


Monday, October 11, 2021

Museum Mondays


Roman strongbox (arca)
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
August, 2021

 

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Visa Issues

Big sigh over visa issues at the NY Phil....

Alessio Bax To Make His New York Philharmonic Debut Replacing 
Leif Ove Andsnes in Works by Clara and Robert Schumann
October 14–16, 2021, at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center


Pianist Alessio Bax
Photo credit: Marco Borggreve

 

Pianist Alessio Bax will replace Leif Ove Andsnes, who is unable to enter the United States due to visa issues. Bax will make his debut with the New York Philharmonic in these performances led by Music Director Jaap van Zweden, October 14–16, 2021. The program — featuring Clara Schumann’s Romance in A minor for solo piano, Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto, and Brahms’s Serenade No. 2 — is unchanged. 


and at the Boston Symphony:


BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ANNOUNCES ARTIST CHANGE IN PROGRAMS TAKING PLACE AT SYMPHONY HALL OCTOBER 7-12 

 [Christina and Michelle Naughton]With great disappointment, Dutch pianists Lucas and Arthur Jussen have had to withdraw from their BSO performances, October 7, 8, 9, and 12, at Symphony Hall, due to unprecedented delays in the issuing of their travel visas

The program will remain the same with the Philadelphia-based Naughton sisters, Christina and Michelle, making their BSO debuts performing Mozart’s Concerto in E-flat for Two Pianos, K.365. The opening two works on the program are Strauss’s Love Scene from Feuersnot and Death and Transfiguration.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Rolling My Eyes, part 285

Found in The NY Times:

On Monday, for the first time in its 138-year history and as it returned from an 18-month closure, the Metropolitan Opera presented a work by a Black composer: Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” By opening the season with this work, the Met filled a gaping hole in its repertory at a time when the performing arts are rightfully being challenged to become more diverse. 

Here are all of the operas that the Metropolitan Opera has performed that weren't written by white men:

  • Der Wald, Ethel Smyth (2 performances)
  • L'Amour de Loin, Kaija Saariaho (8 performances)
  • The First Emperor, Tan Dun (12 performances)
  • Fire Shut Up in My Bones, by Terence Blanchard (7 performances)
That's 29 performances, total, of four operas. For contrast, looking at the Met's repertory report, La Boheme has gotten a total of 1344 performances, Aida 1175, and, scrolling way down past dozens of works, La Damnation de Faust and Der Freischütz have each gotten 30.

Staging Fire Shut Up in My Bones isn't filling a gaping hole. It is going to take years to do much about those gaping holes.

Museum Mondays (Belated Edition)



Bacchus
Last Supper at Pompeii
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
August, 2021


Monday, September 27, 2021

Museum Mondays


 "Mama Ray" by Wangechi Mutu
Palace of the Legion of Honor
August, 2021
For more information, read this interview with Mutu.




 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Someone's Priorities are Right.


Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch


No sarcasm here: Anthony Tommasini reviewed the NY Philharmonic's opening program for 2021-22, spending three paragraphs on the concert and eleven evaluating Jaap van Zweden's tenure and speculating on the future. 

He raises the important issues: was van Zweden the right conductor at the right time? He doesn't explicitly answer, but he's obviously thinking "no" or maybe the more equivocal "probably not." His evaluation is really interesting, because he found JvZ most persuasive in new music and wanting in "core repertory." I don't think that is what anyone expected when the conductor was appointed to the post.

In any event, this does bring up the question of who will be next in one of the hottest seats for a conductor.  Whoever it is has to take into account these things:

  • The orchestra has a reputation for being difficult to work with. I have no specifics on this; I just know it's been their reputation for as long as I have known they existed. You have to wonder about the social culture of the group if they've managed to stay difficult to work with for forty or fifty years.
  • The orchestra has been playing in a terrible hall, though this might be fixed: it's currently under renovation and should re-open in September, 2022. It's an ill wind, etc., and the lack of performances during the pandemic sped up the renovation process by eighteen months.
  • The orchestra had weak management for decades before Deborah Borda's return.
  • Borda has evidently been hinting that she might step down after the renovation is done. She is 72 and so one can understand that she is considering when to retire. But she's also in a position to be a genuinely transformative CEO for the organization.
So who might be willing to take this very difficult position? Tommasini more-than-hints that he'd like the orchestra to have a woman as its music director. Let's consider some possible candidates, not all of them women; I will note that there are some female candidates I'm not saying anything about because I don't know enough about their careers. Some of the possibilities are conductors suggested by friends. In all cases, you should ask yourself why the NY Phil is a good career move for the possible candidate and whether they already have any kind of working relationship or history with the orchestra.
  • Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. MGT has given notice at a really great post, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The CBSO is an excellent orchestra with a long history of launching the careers of top-notch conductors: going back a ways, we have Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramu, Andres Nelsons, and MGT. Brexit might well have something to do with this; also, her two young children, also, having a partner whose job is in Germany, if I have this right. She is a huge talent who could be hired by any number of orchestras in Europe.
  • Susanna Mälkki. Well, she's music director at the Helsinki Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the LA Phil. Gustavo Dudamel, that orchestra's music director, has a new job at the Paris Opera. He might not want two jobs that are five thousand miles apart, and Mälkki could very well be next in line to be music director of a well-managed, forward-looking, financially-sound orchestra that plays in one of the greatest halls in the world. If you had a choice, would you take the NY Phil over that? I sure wouldn't, although it's true that New York is closer to Helsinki than LA is.
  • Marin Alsop. She'll be out of the Baltimore job at the end of this season. She's a New Yorker with deep NY roots; her parents were both professional musicians in NYC, with each having a long career with the orchestra of the New York City Ballet. The NY Phil has already tried this with Alan Gilbert....and that didn't last.
  • Barbara Hannigan. She conducts, she sings, she's a fantastic musician and was amazing the one time I've seen her live. Does she want to be a full-time music director of a difficult orchestra?
  • Vladimir Jurowski. He has one of the best jobs in the opera world, at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, succeeding Kirill Petrenko. Would he consider adding the NY Phil to that?
  • Jeri Lynne Johnson. Music director of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra. I have never heard her conduct and haven't read much about her; a friend who is familiar with her work said "She has cross-section of skills that fit with what the new music director is going to need in terms of background, key mentors, ability to present new music, while maintaining a schedule with older works, and ability with community outreach."
  • Krzysztof Urbański. Here's another huge talent; anyway, that's my view based on the astonishing concerts he has led with the San Francisco Symphony. He's currently the music director of the Indianapolis Symphony and very likely would be available for a job at a bigger and more important orchestra. I'm counting him as a candidate because Deborah Borda already has a proven record of hiring a young talent who doesn't have a lot of music director experience.
  • Gustavo Dudamel. Well, he does have this big job coming up in Paris, where there are two opera houses and a gigantic budget. Would he leave LA for NY? It's closer to Paris but a much bigger headache than LA. Of course, Deborah Borda is a great administrator, so maybe it will be less of a headache than it has been.
  • Manfred Honeck. Has a great reputation, but just re-upped in Pittsburgh. Presumably not taking the CSO job (see below), maybe not available for NY.
  • Osmo Vänskä. He's the outgoing music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, where he has done great work. I believe that he is generally considered to be demanding, but in adult ways: he isn't a bully, just knows what he wants and how to get it. He is probably tough enough for the NY Phil, but didn't they try this with Masur?
  • Riccardo Muti. They could try again, I guess! His contract at the CSO will be up fairly soon, but he is 80, his programming at the CSO has been incredibly dull, and he's probably not the kind of transformative talent that the NY Phil needs.
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen. Forget it. He made it pretty clear that he didn't want this job, and as you know, he likes California.


Friday Photo


Cactus
Laurel District, Oakland
March, 2018

 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Museum Mondays


 "Crocodylus", 2020, by Wangechi Mutu
Palace of the Legion of Honor
August, 2021
For more information, read this interview with Mutu.


 

Friday, September 17, 2021

This Should Be Fun (For Various Meanings of "Fun")

Opera Philadelphia presents a film of Poulenc's La voix humaine, with Patricia Racette as Elle, Christopher Allen playing the fabulous piano part, directed by James Darrah. Here's the trailer: 



It'll be available for streaming at Opera Philadelphia's streaming channel starting on September 24, 2021. $20 or unlimited viewings with their annual pass.

Friday Photo

 


Artichoke
Laurel District, Oakland
March, 2020

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Big News: Jaap van Zweden to Leave NY Phil


Jaap van Zweden
Photo courtesy of NY Philharmonic
 © Bert Hulselmans

Well, here's a major change: Jaap van Zweden and the NY Phil announced today that he will leave the orchestra at the end of the 2023-24 season. He originally told Deborah Borda that he'd be leaving when his first, five-year contract ran out, at the end of 2022-23, but she talked him into a one-year extension.

From The NY Times article that I linked to above:

Van Zweden, 60, said in an interview that the upheaval of the pandemic had prompted him to reconsider his relationship with the orchestra, which he has led since 2018, as well as with his family, which he rarely got to see during his globe-trotting days before the Covid crisis. He said he felt it would be the right moment to move on, with the orchestra set to return to the newly renovated David Geffen Hall next fall, a year and a half ahead of schedule.

Later in the article:

Freed from an intense performing schedule during lockdown in the Netherlands, van Zweden underwent something of a transformation. At one point, he contracted Covid. He began to focus on his health, losing about 70 pounds. He tried his hand at composing, and listened to more popular music, including Frank Sinatra, Van Halen and Lady Gaga.

He spent more time with his family, including his wife, father, children and grandchildren. He also put new energy into his foundation, which is focused on using music to help families of children with autism.
One can hardly argue with these reasons and with rethinking one's life. I'm sorry to hear that he contracted COVID-19.  (I regret that the Times automatically associated weight loss with "focussing on health" but maybe that's how JvZ put it.)

He's also stepping down from the Hong Kong Philharmonic at the same time. I'm not surprised; it's a long commute from NY or the Netherlands.

I wonder whether the orchestra is having any regrets about whatever it was that led to Alan Gilbert's departure and about not having hired....someone else. Now they'll be doing it again.

Open positions:

  • New York Philharmonic, when Jaap van Zweden leaves in 2024.
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic, when Jaap van Zweden leaves in 2024.
  • Oakland Symphony, owing to the death of Michael Morgan in August, 2021.
  • Royal Opera, when Sir Antonio Pappano leaves for the LSO in September, 2024.
  • Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, when Robert Spano leaves at the end of 2021-22. 
  • Baltimore Symphony, because Marin Alsop did not renew her contract there
  • Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra following the firing of Daniele Gatti
  • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: Stephen Lord resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. OTSL has not named a new music director.
  • Michigan Opera Theater: Stephen Lord resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. MOT has not named a new music director.
  • Teatro Regio Turin: Open now with departure of Gianandrea Noseda. the Teatro Regional's has not named a new music director.
  • Minnesota Opera: Michael Christie has left. MO has not named a new music director. 
  • Virginia Symphony: JoAnn Falletta is now laureate, but nsuccessor has been named.
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • Minnesota Orchestra, when Osmo Vänskä leaves in 2022.
Conductors looking for jobs (that is, as of the near future, or now, they do not have a posting):
  • Jaap van Zweden, who leaves the NY Phil at the end of 2023-24
  • Andrés Orozco-Estrada 
  • Miguel Harth-Bedoya
  • Lionel Bringuier
  • Juanjo Mena
  • Ludovic Morlot
  • Sian Edwards
  • Jun Markl
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • David Robertson
  • Peter Oundjian
  • Philippe Auguin
  • Kwame Ryan
  • Ilan Volkov
  • Aleksandr Markovic
  • Lothar Koenigs
  • Henrik Nanasi
  • Carlos Kalmar
And closed:
  • Opera de Paris: Gustavo Dudamel succeeds Philippe Jordan.
  • Melbourne Symphony: Jaime Martin becomes chief conductor in 2022. Sir Andrew Davis left at the end of 2019. 
  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: Kazuki Yamada replaces MGT when she leaves at the end of 2021-22
  • London Symphony Orchestra: Sir Antonio Pappano becomes Chief Conductor Designate in September, 2023, Chief Conductor the following year.
  • Fort Worth Symphony: Robert Spano to succeed Miguel Harth-Bedoya.
  • Oregon Symphony: David Danzmayr succeeds Carlos Kalmar at the beginning of the 2021-22 season.
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Maxim Emelyanychev has succeeded Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre de Paris, Klaus Mäkelä to succeed Daniel Harding
  • Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Rafael Payare has succeeded Kent Nagano.
  • Richmond Symphony: Valentina Peleggi succeeds Steven Smith.
  • Singapore Symphony: Han Graf succeeded Lan Shui.
  • BBC National Orchestra of Wales: Ryan Bancroft succeeded Thomas Søndergård
  • BRSO hires Sir Simon Rattle to succeed the late Mariss Jansons, effective 2023.
  • Jader Bignamini is now Music Director of the Detroit SO, succeeding Leonard Slatkin.
  • Opera North: Garry Walker is music director designate
  • Sydney Symphony Orchestra names Simone Young their chief conductor; she takes over in two years, succeeding David Roberts.
  • San Francisco Opera appoints Eun Sun Kim its music director, starting August 1, 2021. She succeeds Nicola Luisotti.
  • Philharmonia Orchestra names Santtu-Matias Rouvali as its next Principal Conductor, starting in 2021-22.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Kazuki Yamada to CBSO, Jaime Martín to Melbourne SO, Gustavo Dudamel to Paris Opera

The next chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra will be Kazuki Yamada, in 2023 when Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla leaves the post.

Jaime Martín is now chief conductor designate at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He becomes chief conductor in 2022.

Gustavo Dudamel succeeds Philippe Jordan at the Opéra de Paris.

Open positions:

  • Oakland Symphony, owing to the death of Michael Morgan in August, 2021.
  • Royal Opera, when Sir Antonio Pappano leaves for the LSO in September, 2024.
  • Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, when Robert Spano leaves at the end of 2021-22. 
  • Baltimore Symphony, because Marin Alsop did not renew her contract there
  • Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra following the firing of Daniele Gatti
  • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: Stephen Lord resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. OTSL has not named a new music director.
  • Michigan Opera Theater: Stephen Lord resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. MOT has not named a new music director.
  • Teatro Regio Turin: Open now with departure of Gianandrea Noseda. the Teatro Regional's has not named a new music director.
  • Minnesota Opera: Michael Christie has left. MO has not named a new music director. 
  • Sarasota Orchestra after Anu Tali  left at the end of 2018-2019. Jeffrey Kahane is "artistic advisor" but whether that means he is conducting the orchestra....I do not know.
  • Virginia Symphony: JoAnn Falletta is now laureate, but nsuccessor has been named.
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • Minnesota Orchestra, when Osmo Vänskä leaves in 2022.
Conductors looking for jobs (that is, as of the near future, or now, they do not have a posting):
  • Andrés Orozco-Estrada 
  • Miguel Harth-Bedoya
  • Lionel Bringuier
  • Juanjo Mena
  • Ludovic Morlot
  • Sian Edwards
  • Jun Markl
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • David Robertson
  • Peter Oundjian
  • Philippe Auguin
  • Kwame Ryan
  • Ilan Volkov
  • Aleksandr Markovic
  • Lothar Koenigs
  • Henrik Nanasi
  • Carlos Kalmar
And closed:
  • Opera de Paris: Gustavo Dudamel succeeds Philippe Jordan.
  • Melbourne Symphony: Jaime Martin becomes chief conductor in 2022. Sir Andrew Davis left at the end of 2019. 
  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: Kazuki Yamada replaces MGT when she leaves at the end of 2021-22
  • London Symphony Orchestra: Sir Antonio Pappano becomes Chief Conductor Designate in September, 2023, Chief Conductor the following year.
  • Fort Worth Symphony: Robert Spano to succeed Miguel Harth-Bedoya.
  • Oregon Symphony: David Danzmayr succeeds Carlos Kalmar at the beginning of the 2021-22 season.
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Maxim Emelyanychev has succeeded Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre de Paris, Klaus Mäkelä to succeed Daniel Harding
  • Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Rafael Payare has succeeded Kent Nagano.
  • Richmond Symphony: Valentina Peleggi succeeds Steven Smith.
  • Singapore Symphony: Han Graf succeeded Lan Shui.
  • BBC National Orchestra of Wales: Ryan Bancroft succeeded Thomas Søndergård
  • BRSO hires Sir Simon Rattle to succeed the late Mariss Jansons, effective 2023.
  • Jader Bignamini is now Music Director of the Detroit SO, succeeding Leonard Slatkin.
  • Opera North: Garry Walker is music director designate
  • Sydney Symphony Orchestra names Simone Young their chief conductor; she takes over in two years, succeeding David Roberts.
  • San Francisco Opera appoints Eun Sun Kim its music director, starting August 1, 2021. She succeeds Nicola Luisotti.
  • Philharmonia Orchestra names Santtu-Matias Rouvali as its next Principal Conductor, starting in 2021-22.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Museum Mondays


Detail of seafood mosaic
Last Supper at Pompeii
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
August, 2021



 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

San Francisco Opera: The Homecoming


Vase of Roses
War Memorial Opera House
September 10, 2021
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Last night, SFO put on what would, in past years, have been a fancy opening gala. After the horrors of the last 18 months, the company sensibly opted for a less glittery affair. From a musical standpoint, the concert they presented was more satisfying than some opening nights I've been too, where the pre-concert speeches and slightly soused rowdiness of the crowd made the performances less enjoyable than they might have been.

The program showcased the company's new music director, Eun Sun Kim, soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen, and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, and wow, it was quite a showcase. Here's what they performed:

Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry), Franz von Suppé - Overture

La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi - “È strano … Sempre libera”

La Favorite, Gaetano Donizetti - “O mon Fernand”

Louise, Gustave Charpentier - “Depuis le jour”

Don Carlo, Giuseppe Verdi - “O don fatale”

Anna Bolena, Gaetano Donizetti - “Dio che mi vedi in core”

Aida, Giuseppe Verdi - “Fu la sorte”

Rusalka, Antonín Dvořák - Polonaise

Rusalka, Antonín Dvořák - “Song to the Moon”

Samson et Dalila, Camille Saint-Saëns - “Mon Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”

Capriccio, Richard Strauss - Mondschein musik (Moonlight Music)

Norma, Vincenzo Bellini - “Mira, o Norma”


If you think you don't know the Light Cavalry Overture, believe me, you do; there's a section that I think I have never not known. Not only have I never heard it in concert before, unless I played it in the Teaneck summer band long ago, I can't remember seeing it on a program, though von Suppé's overtures used to be staples. That was a fun opening. 


The other orchestral excerpts were well played, though I am not a fan of Capriccio and I wish they'd played the "Royal Hunt and Storm" from Les Troyens instead, although....you do need an offstage chorus for that ("Italie! Italie!). Anyway, Kim's conducting throughout was mighty impressive, in and of itself, for the musicality and beauty of the selections, and for her support of the singers. SFO is so lucky to have her, and I'm looking forward to hearing her in, say, Wagner and Strauss and more recent music, as well as the mostly-19th c. fare on this program.


The vocal excerpts....were uniformly stunning. I mean, is there anything that Willis-Sørensen and Barton can't sing??? Oh, probably, but this selection was great. I had no idea that Willis-Sørensen could move her voice so well; the fioriture in "Sempre Libera" were just fine, and to the other sections of the scene, she brought a world of colors. 


Barton is really a force of nature, spectacular inn "O don fatale" and luscious in "Mon coeur." (Speaking of Les Troyens, if I were hypothetically casting a revival of it, I'd ask her which of the leading mezzo roles she'd like to sing.)


The duets were great, and I was surprised at how well "Fu la sorte" worked for two voices that aren't exactly cut like Italian spinto voices. All in all, it was a very satisfying evening of music making.


Oh, you were wondering what they wore? Kim wore black trousers and a black jacket. Here are photos of the three stars. The sequins don't look as glittery as they should. 




First half of program. 





Second half of program


Friday, September 10, 2021

Friday Photo


Chevy Chase Rose Bush
April, 2016

I bought this for $9, a single stalk in a gallon can, around 1995 or 1996. It's not quite this big today (pruned back some years ago), but it might be the best $9 I ever spent.

 

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Metropolitan Opera Cast Change, Verdi Requiem


Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch


Received from the Met today:

Michelle DeYoung will be the mezzo-soprano soloist in the September 11, 2021, performance of Verdi’s Requiem, replacing Elīna Garanča, who is indisposed.   

Michelle DeYoung has sung in performances of Verdi’s Requiem with numerous major orchestras, including a concert at the Hollywood Bowl with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which celebrated the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Ms. DeYoung’s roles at the Met include Fricka in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, Brangäne in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Venus in Wagner’sTannhäuser, Dido in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, as well as originating the role of Shaman in Tan Dun’s The First Emperor

 

A special pre-season performance, Verdi’s Requiem: The Met Remembers 9/11 commemorates the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Met Orchestra and Chorus as well as soprano Ailyn Pérez, tenor Matthew Polenzani, and bass-baritone Eric Owens. The concert is the first performance inside the Metropolitan Opera House since the March 2020 closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A live transmission of the concert will be presented by Great Performances on PBS at 8:00pm ET (check local listings), hosted by ballet star Misty Copeland. The live broadcast, a special presentation of the Met as part of The WNET Group’s Great Performances series, is being produced in association with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

 

For further information, please visit www.metopera.org.

 

Monday, September 06, 2021

Museum Mondays


“Shavasana I,” 2019 and “Shavasana II,” 2019, by Wangechi Mutu
Palace of the Legion of Honor
August, 2021
For more information, read this interview with Mutu.

 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Emerson Quartet to Retire

The Emerson String Quartet, among the most famous and honored quartets of the last several decades, has decided that it's time to retire. The members will continue to perform together until the end of the summer of 2023, two years from now.

The group was formed 47 years ago, when the founders were students at the Juilliard School in NYC. The current members are violinist Philip Setzer, 70, a founder; Eugene Drucker, violin, 69, also a founder; Lawrence Dutton, 67, violist, who joined in 1977, and cellist Paul Watkins, who joined in 2013 and replaced David Finckel.

I only heard the Emerson live once, in a stupendous program that included works by Martinu, Saariaho, and Sheng. I loved it all. A string-playing friend later mention to me that their sound - which was huge and definitely scaled to large concert halls - was somewhat controversial, and that the smaller, more intimate sound I heard from another quartet around the same time was often thought to be closer to the ideal for a quartet.

There's a NY Times article with this news, and it includes the following quotation from Setzer:

“At a certain point you think, ‘Let’s end when we’re all really playing our best and the group sounds good.’ And when people are going to be surprised we’re stopping and not, ‘Oh, you’re still playing?’ ”

This is an issue for all performing artists as they age, because humans have physical limits. If you play a string or wind instrument, changes in your hearing might make it harder to tell whether you're in tune. If you're a dancer, your body takes a constant pounding. Singers' voices change over time and perhaps high notes get harder to hit. After a concert in which at least one member of a different string quartet had obvious-to-the-audience technical issues, I blogged about this question. It really, truly, wasn't the Emerson; it was a distinguished, but less-well-known quartet. Still, one commenter guessed that it might have been the Emersons. I was surprised, but I hadn't heard them in several years at that point, and I couldn't speak to how well they were playing.

The group leaves a large recorded legacy of around 50 sets, if I'm reading their web site correctly, and many, many students from master classes, individual teaching, and the Emerson String Quartet Institute at Stony Brook University.  (They will continue their teaching work as a group and individually, as I understand it; their Institute will continue.) I am sure that they will be greatly missed.

UPDATED 27 August 2021: Added NY Times link and clarified the group's continuing activity as teachers.

Michael Morgan


Michael Morgan
Photo courtesy of Oakland Symphony


Truly terrible news; Michael Morgan, music director of the Oakland Symphony for 30 years, has died of an infection at age 63. He was widely respected and deeply loved; he did great work on the podium and in the community.  The Oakland Symphony had great programming throughout his tenure, with an amazing variety of work performed that wasn't from the "core repertory". He was a good opera conductor; I saw him lead The Marriage of Figaro, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Ariadne auf Naxos with Festival Opera. From all accounts, he was also a thoroughly decent and kind human. RIP, Michael Morgan; you were one of the good ones.

Here's the announcement from the orchestra:

It is with a breaking heart that we inform you that Michael Morgan, Music Director and Conductor of Oakland Symphony since 1991, died peacefully today, August 20, 2021 at Oakland Kaiser where he had been admitted last week for an infection. He was 63.

In May of this year, Michael Morgan underwent successful kidney transplant surgery at UCSF.  He resumed conducting last month for the San Francisco Symphony and Bear Valley Music Festival. 

Micahel was born in Washington, D.C., where he attended public schools and began conducting at the age of 12. While a student at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, he spent a summer at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, studying with Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa. He first worked with Leonard Bernstein during that same summer. His operatic debut was in 1982 at the Vienna State Opera, conducting Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. In 1986, Sir Georg Solti chose him to become the Assistant Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for seven years under both Solti and Daniel Barenboim. In 1986, he was invited by Leonard Bernstein to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic. As guest conductor, Morgan has appeared with most of America’s major orchestras, as well as the New York City Opera, St. Louis Opera Theater, and Washington National Opera.

In addition to his duties with the Oakland Symphony, Maestro Morgan served as Artistic Director of Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, Music Director at Bear Valley Music Festival, and Music Director of Gateways Music Festival. He was Music Director Emeritus of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera and was on the boards of Oaktown Jazz Workshops and the Purple Silk Music Education Foundation.

In 2020, he began an association with the San Francisco Symphony as the first curator of their Currents online series, and he recently led the Orchestra on July 23 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in what the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joshua Kosman said, “Some conductors use a guest appearance with a major orchestra as an opportunity to show what they can do. Michael Morgan uses it to show what the orchestra can do. I like his way better.”

His programming engaged new audiences and many returned for subsequent concerts. Notable personalities like W. Kamau Bell and Dolores Huerta were invited to share the “Playlist” of music that shaped their lives and values.  Michael’s “Notes From…” concerts explored the music and musicians of such specific communities as Vietnam, Korea, Native American and LGBTQ+.  “Lost Romantics” gave deserving, neglected works of the late 19th century a new hearing.   And “American Masterworks” presented performances of such seminal stage works as “West Side Story,” “Candide,” “Street Scene,” “Porgy and Bess,” and “Show Boat.”  The San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed, "In his 30 years as music director of the Oakland Symphony, Morgan has made that orchestra a vibrant hotbed for innovative programming.”

"Our entire organization is grieving a profound loss,” Jim Hasler, the Symphony’s Board Chair said.  “Michael’s impact on our community and the national orchestra field cannot be overstated - and he has left us too soon.  We have been blessed over the past 30 years, as Michael built the foundations of an Oakland Symphony dedicated to diversity, education, artistic collaboration and a celebration of music across genres and cultures.  His vision of orchestras as service organizations was a beacon locally and nationally.  This vision is his legacy, and the Oakland Symphony, Chorus and Youth Orchestra will renew his commitment for years to come.”  

“This is a terribly sad moment for everyone in the Oakland Symphony family.  We have lost our guiding father,” said Executive Director Mieko Hatano.  “Michael’s plans and ambitions were set for several seasons to come.  He made his Orchestra socially authentic, demanded equality, and he made his Orchestra our orchestra.  He fashioned a unique, informed artistic profile that attracted one of the most diverse audiences in the nation. His music reflected his beliefs:  reverence for the past, attuned to the future, rooted in his adopted home of Oakland.  His spirit will always guide the enduring future of the Oakland Symphony.” 

Michael Morgan is survived by his mother Mabel Morgan, and sister Jacquelyn Morgan. A memorial service will be announced in the near future.

UPDATED with various additional remembrances and obits

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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Tosca, SFO, Media Round-Up


Ailyn Pérez as Tosca and Michael Fabiano as Cavaradossi 
in Puccini's Tosca
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


Well, that was a terrific Tosca; bravo to Eun Sun Kim, Ailyn Pérez, Michael Fabiano, Alfred Walker, Solomon Howard, Joel Sorensen, Dale Travis, and more. I've got a review coming out, but not for a while. Here's what everyone else thinks.

 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021