Monday, November 29, 2021

Philadelphia Orchestra Cast Change

About five minutes after I received the Met press release with the Nozze cast and conductor updates, I got a very similar press release from Philly. I can imagine the phone call / chat / Zoom call on which one person from the Met's communications department said to a person at Philly's communication department something like "Oh, yes, thanks, I've sent out my press release and now you can send out yours." And also whatever discussions there were deciding on the exact wording from their joint music director, etc.

Philadelphia, November 29, 2021)—Following a busy fall that marked The Philadelphia Orchestra’s highly anticipated return to live concerts with audiences, Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin has withdrawn from the Orchestra’s December 31, 2021, and January 2, 2022, concerts. Conductor Xian Zhang has graciously agreed to lead both concerts. The program will include the world premiere of Composer-in-Residence Gabriela Lena Frank’s Pachamama Meets an Ode, a Philadelphia Orchestra commission, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”), as previously scheduled. (Nézet-Séguin will lead the Carnegie Hall performance of these works on January 11, 2022.)


“We look forward to welcoming Xian Zhang to Verizon Hall for these special concerts and to her subscription debut with the Orchestra in May 2022,” said Matías Tarnopolsky, president and CEO of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc. “We are deeply grateful to Yannick for his leadership, artistry, and perseverance during the last 20 months—during which he and the Orchestra kept music front and center at a time when it was needed most—and for his extraordinary role in reuniting the Orchestra with audiences this fall.”


“I am grateful for the collaborations that led to deeply moving and memorable openings in Philadelphia, at the Met, at Carnegie Hall, and in Montreal, bringing us together again with audiences,” said Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. “This has been a difficult time for so many and I have been, and remain, fully committed to providing much-needed hope and inspiration as we heal from the past year and a half. This short break will allow time for me to reenergize as we return in the new year with more inspiring art.” 

Xian Zhang is currently in her sixth season as music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. She also holds the positions of principal guest conductor of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and conductor emeritus of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi following a successful period from 2009–2016 as their music director.  

Cast Change Announcements: Met Nozze

Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Some changes in the Met's upcoming performances of Le nozze di Figaro:

Conductors Daniele Rustioni and James Gaffigan will lead this season’s performances of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, replacing Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Isabel Leonard will sing Cherubino in the January performances of Le Nozze di Figaro, replacing Anna Stéphany.

Nézet-Séguin, who is taking a brief four-week sabbatical from all conducting duties commencing at the end of December, said, “I am grateful for the collaborations that led to deeply moving and memorable fall openings at the Met, in Philadelphia, at Carnegie Hall, and in Montreal, bringing us together with audiences once again. This has been a difficult time for so many, and I have been, and remain, fully committed to providing much-needed hope and artistic inspiration as we heal from the past year-and-a-half. This short break will allow time for me to reenergize as we return in the new year. I look forward to returning to the Met in February for our new production of Verdi’s Don Carlos.”

Italian maestro Daniele Rustioni, the music director at Lyon Opera and principal conductor at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, made his Met debut conducting Aida in 2017. He has conducted at many international opera houses, including La Scala, Teatro La Fenice, Zurich Opera, and the Royal Opera Covent Garden, where he is currently leading performances of Verdi’s Macbeth. This season at the Met, Maestro Rustioni will also lead the first run of performances of the Met’s new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, which opens on New Year’s Eve.

American mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard has previously sung the role of Cherubino at the Met numerous times, most recently in the 2017–18 season. Also in the 2021–22 season, she will make role debuts as the title character of Massenet’s Cinderella, in a new abridged English-language version, and as the Composer in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Performances are January 8, 12, 15, 20, 23, and 28; Gareth Morrell will conduct the January 28 performance.

American conductor James Gaffigan, who made his Met debut conducting Puccini’s La Bohème in 2018, is currently the Music Director of Valencia's Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia and also holds positions as Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, and Music Director of the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra. He has conducted with many other companies, including Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, and Hamburg State Opera. This season he will lead the Netherlands Radio in Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre, Deutsche Oper Berlin in Don Carlos, Opéra national de Paris in Manon, Valencia's Les Arts in Wozzeck, and Santa Fe Opera in Tristan und Isolde. Later this season at the Met, he will conduct Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, which opens on March 25. 

The spring run of Le Nozze di Figaro opens on April 2, 2022, with Federica Lombardi as the Countess, Aida Garifullina as Susanna, Sasha Cooke as Cherubino, Gerald Finley as the Count, and Christian Van Horn as Figaro.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

SF Symphony Black Friday Sale

Davies Symphony Hall, home of the San Francisco Symphony

You might have gotten an email from SFS about their Black Friday sale, which gives 50% off a bunch of upcoming concerts, from December out to February or March. Here's a tip: as of right now, if you're logged in to the orchestra's web site as a subscriber, you won't see the discount prices. You'll only see subscriber prices, which give you a discount, but not 50%.

Oh, yes, I have reported this directly to the Box Office and Patron Services. Is the IT Department available to fix this? I don't know.

My suggestion if you're buying seats: 

1. Make sure that you are logged out, whether or not you're a subscriber.
2. Find the concerts you want to buy tickets for on the SFS Calendar, or click the links in the email.
3. Select your seats and add them to the cart.
4. Pay without logging in OR log in only after the discounted tickets are in your cart.
5. If you do log in, make sure that the discount sticks.

Yep, somebody didn't adequately test this before the email went out.


Friday, November 26, 2021

Friday Photo


A possibly recognizable orchestra
October, 2021

A possibly recognizable orchestra
October, 2019

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

NY Times Book Review, WHY WHY WHY.

The NY Times Book Review, celebrating its 125th birthday, decided it would be fun to try to choose the best book of the last 125 years. Now, this kind of thing is a total fool's errand, as readers of this blog surely know, especially if you saw Anthony Tommasini's quixotic effort to choose the top 25 (or something) Western classical composers. He excluded every composer before a certain period for reasons that amounted to "I know these composers and my fellow reviewers know these composers and so do musicologists but the average classical music lover has never heard of Dufay, Machaut, or Josquin so fuck everyone born before Bach except maybe Monteverdi."

Okay, I'll take a deep breath and get off that particular hobby horse, especially with Tommasini stepping down from the position of chief classical music critic of the Times. He did get a book out of it, so bully for him. Or something.

ANYWAY. The Times's methodology oh my god had readers nominating books back in October. Today they've got a list of 25 out for people to vote on. And it is just awful, in about 27 different ways. Okay, fewer than that, but bad enough.

Let's start with some statistics. Twenty-five books, of which 7 are by women. Twenty-five books, of which 6 were published before 1950 and the earliest were published in the 1920s. Twenty-five books, of which 7 were published in the last 25 years. Twenty-five books, of which 17 were written by U.S. writers. (I have omitted Nabokov from those 17 because, you know. He is a man of unclassifiable nationality.) Twenty-five books, of which 3 were written by non-white people. (I'm counting Garcia Marquez as white here.) Twenty-five books, and I think only One Hundred Years of Solitude was written in a language other than English.

Let's include a few books that just. don't. belong. on. this. list. Top of the heap, the hideously racist Gone with the Wind. Second, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which isn't a particularly good book! Third, The Catcher in the Rye. DOES ANYONE REALLY LIKE THIS BOOK? 

Let's go into a few of the missing. First, practically everyone who published in a language other than English! So, no Kawabata, no Mishima, no Tanizaki, no Mann, no Proust, Camus, Grass, Singer,....well, list out your favorites here. No Kristen Lavransdottir, which is so very much better than Gone with the fucking Wind. 

After that, my gosh, no poets, although the nomination process was open to poets and memoirists. So just put every great poet of the last 125 years on your list. Never mind giants like Yeats, Eliot, Bishop, and on and on.

And there's a serious recency issue here. Way too many of the books were written since 1980. Among the missing: James, Wharton, Cather, Tolstoy, Faulkner, Conrad, Woolfe. 

Leaving aside the recency issue, no Rushdie! No Lessing! Nothing by any number of great writers.

As I said, it's a fool's errand, and the Times shouldn't be doing this. They could have moderated the utter stupidity of the list they wound up with by, say, inserting themselves between the votes of nostalgia-ridden former teenaged boys and the final list. Or, even better, asking a whole bunch of outstanding living writers and critics to name their views of the best books of the last 125 years and publishing those as opinion pieces.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Media Round-Up and Further Commentary on Così fan tutte at San Francisco Opera

John Brancy as Guglielmo, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Alfonso,
 and Ben Bliss as Ferrando in the opening scene of Mozart's "Così fan tutte."

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Reviews of the San Francisco Così  are coming in, so here's the start of a round-up:

It's interesting to see how the reviewers shake out over the liveliness of the production. For me and Joshua, it's an energetic delight, for Christian Ocier, it's "cartoonish farce", "oafish antics", "slapstick", and "cheap laughs."

Steven Winn also likes the production. I tried unsuccessfully to work something into my review about the production skating as close as possible to edge of farce without crossing the line, so I was aware of the risks Cavanagh took. Unlike Ocier, I felt he negotiated this fine line extremely well.

Ocier also points out Cabell's low-register weakness, and that's fair; I would have liked more punch in the low end of "Come scoglio," but otherwise I thought she did fine in the aria.

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Alfonso and Nicole Heaston as Despina in Mozart's "Così fan tutte."
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

My review tries to convey the intelligence of the direction, the virtues of which include the lack of stand-and-sing and ample helpings of well-motivated detail. The above photo puts some of this across: Despina is in the forefront, about to fake-shock Guglielmo and Ferrando back to consciousness after their fake suicides. Instead of standing and watching her, Don Alfonso is examining the magnets. This seems entirely in character for him. 

Nicole Heaston as Despina in Mozart's "Così fan tutte."
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco opera

More evidence of the attention to detail that is typical of the production: you know those two books that Despina pulls out of a piano bench (I think) and hands to the sisters, who are reading magazines? I couldn't make out the titles even with binoculars, so I asked about them. They are Anais Nin's Winter of Artifice (published 1939) and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (published 1934). They just might bear on the subject matter of the opera, and they date the production precisely.

John Brancy as Guglielmo and Ben Bliss as Ferrando in Mozart's "Così fan tutte."
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The fur coats made me wonder whether this is a subtle nod to Mandryka in Arabella, but that's probably wrong. Another line I didn't manage to work in is "these people live in a world where a fake mustache and mussed hair are somehow a convincing disguise...only maybe they're not."

Nicole Cabell as Fiordiligi and Irene Roberts as Dorabella in Mozart's "Così fan tutte."
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Aren't the sisters adorable??

Blasts from the past:
UPDATED: November 27, 2021

Monday, November 22, 2021

Così fan tutte at San Francisco Opera

I'll be filing my Opera News review later tonight or early tomorrow, but just in case you're wondering, go buy tickets right now, because it's one of the best things you will ever see. Cast and conductor superb, direction endlessly inventive and brilliant, adorable costuming, great sets and lighting. I mean, I am bursting out laughing just looking at the gallery of Cory Weaver's photos.

[I'll have more to say, with press photos, tomorrow, now that I have filed.]


Just saying, if you're an organization that someone donates to and you want to show your appreciation with a special offer, be as flexible with it as possible.

Museum Mondays

Glass vessel
Last Dinner at Pompeii
Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, CA
August, 2021


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Coming to San Francisco Opera

The Spoleto Festival has exciting plans for 2022, including two world premiers and a staging of La Boheme by Yuval Sharon. Here is a chunk of their press release, about Rhiannon Giddens (!!!) and Michael Abels' new opera Omar. Make sure that you read as far as the boldfaced text:

World premiere
Music by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels
Libretto by Rhiannon Giddens
Directed by Kaneza Schaal
Conducted by John Kennedy

Principal cast: 
Jamez McCorkle, Omar
Cheryse McLeod Lewis, Omar’s mother
Laquita Mitchell, Julie

By 1808, Charleston’s ports alone recorded more than 100,000 West Africans who had been stolen from their homelands, whose brutal vanishings left families and generations to come wondering of their whereabouts and existences. Omar, a new opera based on the life and 1831 autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, tells one such story.

Opening in Senegal, the opera’s narrative traces Omar Ibn Said’s spiritual journey from his life in West Africa to his enslavement in the Carolinas. A Muslim African scholar, Said was 37 years old when he was captured in Futa Toro and brought to Charleston. His story is one of strength, resistance, and religious conviction, a story of truth and of faith.

Upon arrival in the United States, Said was sold to a Charlestonian, but escaped and fled to North Carolina, where he was recaptured, sent to jail, and then resold to James Owen, the brother of one of the state’s governors. Said penned his autobiography in Arabic in 1831. It is considered the only surviving autobiography of an enslaved person in the United States written in Arabic and therefore unedited. According to many scholars, as many as 30 percent of the enslaved Africans who arrived in the colonies, and subsequently the United States, were Muslim, a largely unexplored truth in modern American discussions of slavery.

Rhiannon Giddens, a Grammy Award winner and MacArthur Fellow known for exploring the legacy of African American folk traditions, has created the libretto. Giddens spoke about the opera: “To have the opportunity to craft an opera around Omar Ibn Said is a dream come true that I didn’t even know I had until I was deep in the thick of it. I realized I am a mere shepherd of this work—what is coming through me is truer than anything I could think up on purpose. This is my way, of the possible many, many ways, through the story that Omar represents. He was a remarkable man whose words speak to us beyond generations. Bringing this music to life with the supremely talented and collaborative composer Michael Abels has been nothing short of fantastic. I’ve learned much from Michael and from Omar, and I can only be honored that I have had a hand in bringing this version of his life to the operatic stage.” 

Giddens has co-composed the score with Michael Abels, an American composer perhaps best known for his work in award-winning films including Get Out and Us. Musically, the work incorporates West-African traditions with conventional Western opera instrumentation. It is written for a cast of 8 soloists with a full choir and orchestra. “Omar’s story demonstrates the power religious belief has to nurture and uplift the spirit under the direst circumstances,” says Abels. “The unavoidable postponement of the premiere due to the pandemic provided the opportunity for Rhiannon and me to enhance the storytelling and music even more. I’m excited beyond words to finally be able to share Omar’s journey with Spoleto audiences.”

Acclaimed opera and theater artist Kaneza Schaal leads the work’s direction. “The West has a fantasy of its singularity; it imagines itself as constant and fixed. Opera lost itself to that lie,” says Schaal, a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow. “This new work, about Omar Ibn Said, brings the opera back to its true self—a form built on hundreds of years of cultural exchange, and one that has always been deeply hybrid. It’s a place big enough for the contradiction, violence, and holiness of Said’s journey.”

Omar is co-produced by Spoleto Festival USA and Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Following its world premiere in Charleston, Omar will be presented in future seasons by opera companies including LA Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. The opera is inspired by Dr. Ala Alryyes’s translation of Omar Ibn Said’s autobiography in his book, A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn Said. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2011 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A Few Articles to Read Together

Regular readers know that I have been rolling my eyes at Music@Menlo's programming for the last ten years or so. The festival directors, Wu Han and David Finckel, work pretty much in the dead-white-European-male canon, even when there are obvious opportunities to break out of that particular line of programming.

The pair are also directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Weirdly, the one time I saw them in SF, they played a new song cycle and Amy Beach's piano quintet, the sort of thing various people wish they'd do more of.

CMS's season opener led to the following:

Monday, November 15, 2021

Museum Mondays

Fresco: Siren and Sea Monsters
Last Dinner at Pompeii
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
August, 2021


Friday, November 12, 2021

The Oncoming Concert Pile-Up

Next weekend, there's just too much to choose from:

  • SFS with MTT/Ludovic Merlot
  • Oakland Symphony
  • Ars Minerva's Messalina
  • Cosi fan tutte at San Francisco Opera
I'm teaching Thursday night, so I can't swap my SFS ticket for that night so that I be out at concerts four days in a row. I'm having to settle for SFS, Messalina, and Cosi.

One Does Not Quite Know What to Say.

Photo by Brandon Patoc, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

A San Francisco Symphony press release that gives some cause for concern: Ludovic Merlot to conduct the first half of Michael Tilson Thomas's program next week, with Ma Mere l'Oye replacing William Grant Still's Patterns. As always, wishing the best for MTT.

Morlot conducts Tim Higgins’ Trombone Concerto and Maurice Ravel’sMa Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) Suite (replacing William Grant Still’s Patterns); Tilson Thomas conducts Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Ludovic Morlot joins Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) to conduct part of the November 18–21 San Francisco Symphony concerts at Davies Symphony Hall. Morlot will conduct the first half of the program, including Maurice Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) Suite, which replaces William Grant Still’s Patterns, and the world premiere of San Francisco Symphony Principal Trombone Timothy Higgins’ Trombone Concerto, commissioned by the SF Symphony and performed by Higgins. Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas will lead the orchestra in Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring as planned.

Michael Tilson Thomas says: “I’m happy to be in San Francisco, making music with my Symphony colleagues once again. I am feeling well, having returned to the stage in New York last week for the first time since my surgery. I now see that I have to conserve my energy as I continue to recover and have made the decision to focus next week on conducting Copland’s Appalachian Spring. I am so happy that Ludovic Morlot can be here to premiere the Higgins Trombone Concerto, which I was hoping to perform with the remarkable Tim Higgins. I look forward to conducting William Grant Still’s Patterns with the San Francisco Symphony at a later date, and to seeing you at Davies Symphony Hall this coming week.”

Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas also conducts the San Francisco Symphony this week in three performances November 12–14 featuring music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, and his own composition, Notturnofeaturing flutist Demarre McGill.

Road Trip!

Christine Goerke as Elektra
San Francisco Opera, 2017
Photo by Corey Weaver, courtesy of SFO

When Houston Grand Opera announced their 2021-22 season, this was the principal cast for Dialogues of the Carmelites:

  • Blanche: Natalya Romaniw 
  • Madame Lidoine: Christine Goerke 
  • Madame Croissy: Anna Caterina Antonacci 
  • Mother Marie: Jennifer Johnson Cano 
  • Sister Constance: Lauren Snouffer 
  • Marquis: Rod Gilfry 
  • Chevalier: Eric Taylor a terrific cast, and Anna Caterina Antonacci is rarely seen on these shores. (I've been lucky to see her four times.)

As it happens, it seems that she won't be appearing in this opera. The current cast is:

  • Blanche: Natalya Romaniw 
  • Madame Lidoine: Christine Goerke 
  • Madame Croissy: Patricia Racette 
  • Mother Marie: Jennifer Johnson Cano 
  • Sister Constance: Lauren Snouffer 
  • Marquis: Rod Gilfry 
  • Chevalier: Eric Taylor
Making her role debut as the Old Prioress, one of my favorite singers, Patricia Racette. The chance to see her and another of my favorite singers - that would be Christine Goerke - as the New Prioress, well.

Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio-San
Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera

Friday Photo

Samuel Lewis Trust Dwellings
Ixworth Place, Chelsea
London, November, 2019

The Samuel Lewis Charitable Trust was established to provide good-quality house to poor people in London.


Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Bychkov Withdraws from NY Phil Program

Dima Slobodeniouk
Photo: Marco Borggreve, courtesy of the NY Philharmonic

Press release this morning:

Dima Slobodeniouk To Make His New York Philharmonic Debut Replacing Semyon Bychkov

November 17–19, 2021, at Alice Tully Hall

Semyon Bychkov will be unavailable to conduct the New York Philharmonic’s performances at Alice Tully Hall, November 17–19. He will be replaced by Dima Slobodeniouk in his New York Philharmonic debut. The program — featuring Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with soloist Karen Gomyo in her Philharmonic subscription debut and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1, Winter Dreams— remains unchanged.

I saw Dima Slobodeniouk at the BSO two years ago conducting Elgar and Nielsen and thought he was excellent, so don't turn in your tickets!

Monday, November 08, 2021

Museum Mondays

Mosaic of skeleton with two wine jugs
Last Dinner at Pompeii
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
August, 2021

Sunday, November 07, 2021

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous and Back Again

Esa-Pekka Salonen
Photo by Minna Hartinen, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

Nobody's perfect, but last week's San Francisco Symphony program (Oct. 28-30, 2021) did leave me wondering what, exactly, Esa-Pekka Salonen was thinking when he made one particular decision: putting Richard Strauss's Symphony for Wind Instruments, known aFröhliche Werkstatt (Happy Workshop), on the program. 

James Keller's program notes describe it as a "big-boned piece, about 40 minutes long", and while that's true, my personal characterization would have been more like "40 minutes of completely worthless rambling, best heard outdoors, preferably far away from me." Seriously, about a third of the way into each movement, I wanted to stand up and shout "Make it STOP", the opposite of applause between movements, but I did not want the ushers coming after me, so I held my tongue and regretted that it's much too loud to simply sleep through. About the best I can say about the thing is that it is vague and meandering, and the first movement is so vague that I couldn't find the damn downbeat. And Salonen himself is not a vague conductor. 

I also found it slightly unnerving that the number of instruments in play did not match what was in the program. For one thing, James Button had a second oboe on a stand next to him, though I never caught whether he played it. For another, the instrumentation claimed "3 clarinets, basset horn, and Eb clarinet." What I saw was five players, three clarinets (played by Carey Bell, Jerome Simas, clarinetist whose name I don't know), basset horn, and alto clarinet, with Simas swapping his clarinet for an Eb. I think. (Apologies; I don't know the names of the basset horn and alto clarinet players either.) So there were actually six single reeds up there, not five.

WHATEVER. The rest of the concert was sublime and if I hadn't had a ticket to the last Fidelio at SFO and plans for dinner with friends, I would have gone back and quietly slipped out for the Strauss.

There was a bit of a surprise before the concert started, in that the opening work, Anders Hillborg's neKongsgaard Variations, is for a small string orchestra, but there was a piano sitting at the left rear of the stage, where the piano is generally placed when it's part of the orchestra, for example, in Petrouchka. And lurking in its neighborhood, even playing it occasionally, was Yefim Bronfman, the soloist for Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, which took up the second half of the program.

Hillborg was there for the concert, because these were the first SFS (and I believe United States) performances of the piece. He was quite droll in introducing it, but I did not take notes and can't recall what he said except that he was not going to be giving a piano demonstration in advance of the performance, but Bronfman would. That's because Hillborg's variations are based on the Arietta from the second movement of Beethoven's piano sonata no. 32, Op. 111. This is a most beautiful theme that Beethoven himself builds a monumental set of variations around, and Bronfman gave a mesmerizing account of it, so gorgeous and sensitive that I would have been perfectly happy if he'd played the whole thing. 

The Kongsgaard Variations are necessarily very different, in sonority, in approach, in harmonic language. Hillborg doesn't develop the theme as such; he sets it, or echoes of it, in a variety of styles ranging over the centuries. It is a perfectly lovely piece, played with great poise and an inward quality by Salonen and the orchestra, and featuring solos for the principal violin, viola, and cello. I hope to hear it again and I hope that it will be recorded.

The Beethoven Third Piano Concerto got the kind of performance you just don't hear very often; for me, it was out there in HOLY MOTHER OF GOD territory. Bronfman played with flawless technique, passion, and real intellectual sinew, the kind of performance where you get a sense of the whole structure of the piece and where every last phrase fits in. For contrast, I saw a performance recently of one of the other Beethoven piano concertos where the soloist knew the notes but not really much else about the piece; the phrases were flat and had little connection to each other, and there was no poetry at all. Bronfman was in every way the opposite of this, and he got a completely earned standing ovation; it was a performance for the ages.

He came back for an encore and I'm pretty sure it was the finale of one of the Beethoven piano sonatas, but I couldn't identify it on the spot and my scores are in storage at the moment. I definitely need to ask the press room about it. I understand that he played Chopin for the encore on Thursday; I was at Friday's concert.

If I had been programming this concert, I would have done it differently: substituted Eine Alpensinfonie for the wind thing, because it's shorter and a lot more fun that what they actually played.  Alternatively, I would have doubled Bronfman's fee, and asked him to play the whole of Op. 111. (You bet that I am now regretting that I missed any solo recitals he might have given locally.)

One more thing about this program, personal to me.  I played flute long ago in a performance of the Beethoven 3rd piano concerto. At the time, Russell Sherman, who was a teacher at the New England Conservatory, was developing a national reputation as an interesting Beethoven player, and so he was  getting invitations to play with various orchestras around the country. He tried out all of the concertos with local-to-Boston orchestras, including the Brandeis U. orchestra, where I was a member of the flute section. So there was a time when I knew this concerto from the inside.

 I had not heard it for at least ten years, though; I go in cycles of listening to Beethoven and then ignoring him for an extended period. Before the concerto started, I was trying to remember how it goes. Then Salonen lifted his baton to give the downbeat and before it descended, the whole thing flooded back. I must say that while I reasonably expected great things of Salonen in certain repertoire, that didn't include Beethoven, which I'd never heard him conduct before this season. But he did great things in the 7th Symphony and this concerto, so I am even happier to have him with SFS.

Update, May 13, 2023: Joshua Kosman's review, calling the Strauss "an intricate and extravagantly pointless piece".

Friday, November 05, 2021

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Pittance Chamber Music, Los Angeles

Pittance Chamber Music is an organization of members of the LA Opera orchestra and chorus; they have been putting on several chamber music programs a year in the LA area. Their venue is in Pasadena for 2022 and it looks gorgeous in the photo on the web site. 

They're just announced what looks like a lovely 2022 season. I doubt I'll be able to get to any of the concerts, but honestly, this is terrific programming (and I love the Liebeslieder-Walzer. Doesn't every singer??).

These are folks who've been performing for many years under the direction of James Conlon and Grant Gershon, who are superb conductors. Check them out!

Concert 1Theresa Dimond and Friends - Saturday, January 22, 2022; 7:30 p.m.

The first concert of the year takes a deep dive into the pit – landing in the percussion section. Hosted by the LA Opera Orchestra's principal percussionist and UCLA lecturer Dr. Theresa Dimond, the program features a wide variety of repertoire performed by musicians from the percussion, woodwind and string sections of the orchestra.


Ingolf Dahl:  Concerto a Tre for Clarinet, Violin and Cello 

Arvo PärtSpiegel Im Spiegel (Cello and Marimba)

Nathan DaughertyBurn 3 for Flute, Clarinet and Marimba

Barbara KolbHomage to Keith Jarrett and Gary Burton (Flute and Marimba)

Gerard LecointePoint Bak (Mallet ensemble)


Concert 2The Lyric Oboe - Saturday, February 26, 2022; 7:30 p.m.

The second concert features LA Opera Orchestra Principal Oboe Leslie Reed, pianist Edith Orloff and members of the LA Opera Orchestra, in a recital program of favorite works that reflect the lyric side of the oboe, ranging from the pastoral to folk traditions, including works inspired by famous paintings.

Saint-SaensSonata for Oboe and Piano

Gilles SilvestriniEtudes for Oboe, inspired by the paintings of Boudin, Monet, Renoir and Manet)

     1. Scène de plage – Ciel d'orage (Eugène Boudin)

     2. Hotel des Roches noire à Trouville (Claude Monet)

     3. Sentier dan les bois (August Renoir)

     4. Le Ballet Español (Edouard Manet)

Joseph HorovitzQuartet for Oboe and Strings

Gabriel FauréPièce

Jacques IbertEscales

Nino RotaElegia

Gabriel PierneSerenade

Alyssa MorrisCollision Etudes (inspired by the paintings of Cassatt, Mitchell, Thomas and O'Keeffe)

       1. Summertime (Mary Cassatt)

       2. City Landscapes (Joan Mitchell)

       3. Rainbow (Alma Thomas)

       4. Autumn Leaves (Georgia O'Keefe)

Arnold BaxQuintet for Oboe and Strings


Concert 3Liebeslieder! - Saturday, April 23, 2022; 7:30 p.m.

Pittance is pleased to present this special evening featuring the complete Liebeslieder-Walzer of Johannes Brahms, for vocal quartet and piano four hands. Members of the LA Opera Chorus are joined by soprano Elissa Johnston, with LAO conductors Grant Gershon and Jeremy Frank at the keyboard. 

Johannes Brahms:  Liebeslieder-Walzer, Op. 52 and 65*


*This program will be performed without intermission.



First United Methodist Church, 500 East Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91101


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Tickets – General Admission 

- Subscription-Three Concerts: $110

- Senior Subscription-Three Concerts: $60

- Single Ticket: $40

- Senior Ticket: $25

- Student Rush: $10


Covid Safety Protocols
Pittance Chamber Music is committed to the health and safety of its patrons, artists and staff. At this time, we are requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative PCR test within 72 hours at the door, for everyone attending in-person Pittance events. Policies regarding masks will be in compliance with current Los Angeles County/City of Pasadena guidelines. For the most current information on Pittance Chamber Music COVID safety protocols, please visit the website at