Friday, May 20, 2022

News of the Day, Julia Bullock Edition; Media Round-up of History's Persistent Voice

History's Persistent Voice
Julia Bullock, seated left; Christian Reif, conducting
Photo courtesy of San Francisco Symphony, (c) Kristen Loken

On Tuesday, the soprano Julia Bullock gave a remarkable performance in History's Persistent Voice, a concert of works by Black women composers interspersed with readings from incarcerated people, quilters, and artists. This is a fabulous program, created by Bullock; all of the works were written for her and she make substantive contributions to each, as an editor or curator of the texts. I hope that it will appear on CD or DVD; it's a marvelous program in every way and I would love to see it again.

Reviews here:
And today came the announcement of something I had been wondering about: Bullock has withdrawn from the world premiere performances of John Adams's new opera, Antony & Cleopatra, which will open San Francisco Opera's centennial season in September. You can't tell from the photo above, but Bullock was wearing a jacket with a slight flare at the hips, and, well, I did notice. I especially noticed when she remarked that "...motherhood is on my mind a lot these days." I made some inquiries immediately after the program, putting a member of the SFO publicity department on the spot with questions that the company wasn't ready to answer yet. (Joshua Kosman caught that comment, as did Janos Gereben, so I guess we were all waiting for the shoe to drop. Christine Goerke made her SFO debut while visibly pregnant, but not everyone is in a position to do that!)

Big sigh, but after reading the SFS press release, it does appear that she will be in future bring-ups of the opera, which is co-commissioned by Barcelona’s Liceu Opera, Palermo’s Teatro Massimo, and the Metropolitan Opera. 

Best wishes to Amina Edris, a lovely singer, for a great success as Cleopatra!

Here's most of the press release:





Amina Edris to Perform Cleopatra, Replacing Julia Bullock

San Francisco Opera today announced a cast change for the world premiere of John Adams’ Antony and Cleopatra, opening on September 10, 2022 as the first operatic presentation of the Company’s 2022–23 Centennial Season.


Soprano Amina Edris will create the role of Cleopatra, replacing Julia Bullock, who has withdrawn from the production. Bullock and her husband, conductor Christian Reif, are expecting the birth of their first child this fall. While Bullock will not debut the role in San Francisco, she remains connected with the project for future engagements.


San Francisco Opera Tad and Dianne Taube General Director Matthew Shilvock said: “Julia has been such an inspiration in the creation of John Adams’ Antony and Cleopatra and we will miss her dearly from the premiere, but it is for the happiest of reasons imaginable! We wish Julia and Christian great joy as they begin a family together. We are so grateful to Amina for joining us to create this extraordinary role and excited for the depth of character and beautiful artistry she will bring to Cleopatra. Amina is having such success around the world, and we’re thrilled to welcome her back to San Francisco Opera to help us launch our second century in such a special way.”


Julia Bullock said, “I am deeply grateful to Matthew and San Francisco Opera for being so respectful and supportive as I came to the decision to withdraw from the premiere to prepare for the birth of our first child. Amina will be thrilling in the role of Cleopatra, and I wish the entire cast and crew my very best as they bring this new work to life.”


Born in Egypt and raised in New Zealand, soprano Amina Edris is rapidly establishing herself as one of the most exciting young stars on today’s operatic stage. Following post-graduate studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Edris participated in the Merola Opera Program (2015) and Adler Fellowship Program (2016, 2017). As a San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, she performed roles in CarmenDream of the Red ChamberRigolettoElektra and La Traviata on the War Memorial Opera House stage. In 2019 she returned to the Company, starring as Juliette in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, opposite the Roméo of her husband, tenor Pene Pati.


Edris made her Canadian Opera Company debut last month as Violetta in a starry cast for Verdi’s La Traviata and her performance was hailed as “beautiful of tone throughout her registers, with accurate coloratura and no shortage of power” and “the revelation of the night” (Bachtrack). She has performed Manon in Massenet’s opera to widespread acclaim at Opéra National de Bordeaux and Opéra National de Paris where Opera Forum said of her interpretation: “Amina Edris literally brought the Opéra Bastille to its knees with her superlative incarnation of the title role, both vocally and theatrically.” Recent appearances include Alice in Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable at Bordeaux, Micaëla in Carmen at Opéra du Rhin, Violetta for Opéra de Limoges. This summer, she returns to Europe for engagements with the Paris Opéra as La Folie in Rameau’s Platée and Festival d’Aix-en-Provence as Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma. Next spring, she makes her house debut at Barcelona’s Gran Theatre del Liceu as Manon.

Edris is a featured artist in San Francisco Opera’s 2022 Webby People’s Voice award-winning video portrait series, In Song. Filmed on location in her native Cairo, In Song: Amina Edris follows the soprano’s journey from a childhood infused with Arabic music to her emergence as an operatic soprano. The free, 19-minute episode showcases Edris performing the song “Ghanili Shway Shway,” first performed by iconic Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum, and the French art song “Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe” by Carmen composer Georges Bizet.


Edris joins a notable Antony and Cleopatra cast for San Francisco Opera. Bass-baritone Gerald Finley, an acclaimed Adams role creator for his performances as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Doctor Atomic, is the Roman general and triumvir, Antony. Tenor Paul Appleby, who created the role of Joe Cannon in the Company’s 2017 premiere of Adams’ Girls of the Golden West, is the young Caesar, Octavius. Bass-baritone Alfred Walker is Antony’s confidante Enobarbus and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong portrays Octavia, Caesar’s sister and the wife of Antony. San Francisco Opera Music Director Eun Sun Kimopens the 100th season with this highly anticipated world premiere by the distinguished composer and Bay Area resident.


Created for San Francisco Opera’s centennial, Antony and Cleopatra is a co-commission and co-production with Barcelona’s Liceu Opera, Palermo’s Teatro Massimo and the Metropolitan Opera. With a libretto adapted from Shakespeare’s tragedy with supplementary passages drawn from Plutarch, Virgil and other classical texts, Adams, director Elkhanah Pulitzer and dramaturg Lucia Scheckner blend the mythic imagery of antiquity with the starry glamour of 1930s Hollywood. Pulitzer heads a production team of Tony Award-winning set designer and MacArthur Fellow Mimi Lien, costume designer Constance Hoffman, lighting designer David Finn, projection designer Bill Morrison and sound designer Mark Grey.

Media Round-up of the Past: Dream of the Red Chamber, 2016

I didn't blog about or formally review Bright Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber in September, 2016, so here I am playing catchup on everyone else's reviews. One odd point: I cannot find the SFCV review and there must have been one. Perhaps it disappeared in the same data migration effort that wiped out some of my older reviews.

Related: Amy Qin in The NY Times (2016) and Emily Wilson at SFCV (2022).

Friday Photo

Two palm trees overlooking the sea; in the distance, on the sea, a sailing ship and a rainbow

Palm trees, ship, rainbow
Kauai North Shore
April, 2017


Thursday, May 19, 2022

San Francisco Symphony Cast Change


Davies Symphony Hall

This landed in my mailbox the other day, but I forgot to post about it: Ton Koopman had visa issues and has consequently withdrawn from this week's SFS programs. He is being replaced by Bernard Labadie.

The two Mozart works Koopman planned remain on the program (Serenade No. 6, Serenata Notturna and Symphony No. 36, Linz), but Haydn's Symphony No. 80 is replaced by No. 103. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Oakland Symphony Change of Program

I can't find this on the Oakland Symphony web site, but a well-informed person told me earlier today that the big work on the program, Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time, has been cancelled owing to COVID cases in the chorus. It has been replaced by Elgar's Enigma Variations. Still on the program are Cindy McTee's Circuits and Alan Hovhaness's  Symphony No. 2 , Mysterious Mountain.

San Francisco Opera Cast Change: Don Giovanni

War Memorial Opera House
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Soprano Carmen Giannattasio, recovering from surgery and in need of more time and physical therapy before she will be ready for staged performances, has withdrawn from SFO's new production of Don Giovanni, which opens on June 4. She will be replaced as Donna Elvira by Nicole Car, who was scheduled to make her SFO debut in the end-of-season Verdi concert.

Best wishes to Giannattasio, a memorable Tosca several years ago, for a full and complete recovery.

Here's most of the press release:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (May 18, 2022) — San Francisco Opera today announced a cast change for its new production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni, opening June 4. Soprano Nicole Car will make her San Francisco Opera debut as Donna Elvira, replacing Carmen Giannattasio who has withdrawn from the production.


Giannattasio said: “I am incredibly sad to share that I will not be singing Donna Elvira in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Don Giovanni. I had been postponing a necessary surgery in my abdomen for quite some time. Between my performance schedule and COVID delays at the hospital it was not possible to have this procedure until just weeks ago, and I am facing a more difficult recovery than expected. I had hoped to be completely recovered by the time I started rehearsals, but unfortunately, I am not healed properly and must return home for additional physiotherapy to be able to meet the physical demands of singing in a staged production. I want to thank the San Francisco Opera and my colleagues, as well as my family and friends for their support, especially during these last couple of months. I look forward to returning to the stage this summer to sing Tosca in Macerata, Italy.” 


San Francisco Opera’s Tad and Dianne Taube General Director Matthew Shilvock said: “We are deeply saddened that Carmen is having to withdraw from the role of Donna Elvira this summer, but we wish her all good health as she continues her recovery. Carmen is a great friend of San Francisco Opera, having made such an incredible impact on our stage as Tosca in 2018, and both we and our audiences were so eager for her return this summer. We look forward to working with Carmen in the future. We are deeply grateful to Nicole Car for joining this new production, making her house debut a few weeks earlier than planned.”


Nicole Car, who was already scheduled to make her first appearance with San Francisco Opera at the Eun Sun Kim Conducts Verdi concert on June 30, now makes her debut with the Company in the fully staged production of Don Giovanni. Car has performed the role of Donna Elvira on many leading stages, including in March 2022 at the Paris Opera under the baton of Bertrand de Billy, who also conducts San Francisco Opera’s performances. In San Francisco, Car joins a cast headed baritone Etienne Dupuis, her husband and occasional onstage colleague, who is making his Company debut as the title role of Don Giovanni.


Car regularly performs on the stages of the Vienna State Opera, Paris Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Metropolitan Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin. Opera News praised her 2017 appearance in Puccini’s La Bohème at Covent Garden as “the evening’s exceptional vocal performance” and said “Car’s long-breathed, assured Mimì suggested a star in the making.” The Australian soprano’s repertory features leading operatic heroines, such as Mimì, Donna Elvira, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, Marguerite in Faust and Micaëla in Carmen. Her recordings include Andre Messager’s Passionnèment for Palazzetto Bru Zane and two recital discs, Heroines and The Kiss, and Brahms’ A German Requiem for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Speaking of Loud

Eun Sun Kim, San Francisco Opera's Music Director, conducts the National Brass Ensemble at Davies next month, on June 20 at 7 pm. The program isn't very long, but given he personnel, I'd expect it to be loud:

RICHARD STRAUSS Vienna Philharmonic Fanfare

JONATHAN BINGHAM DEIFIED [Emerging Black Composers Project Commission, World Premiere]

ARTURO SANDOVAL Brass Fantasy [World Premiere]

RICHARD WAGNER (Arr. Timothy Higgins) The Ring [World Premiere]

Here's the player list:

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Michael Martin - Fourth/Utility Trumpet
Toby Oft - Principal Trombone
James Markey - Bass Trombone
J. William Hudgins - Principal Percussion
Jessica Zhou - Principal Harp

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Gail Williams - Former Assoc. Principal Horn, Professor of Horn, Northwestern University

The Cleveland Orchestra
Michael Sachs - Principal Trumpet
Nathaniel Silberschlag - Principal Horn
Richard King - Fourth Horn, former Principal Horn
Randy Hawes - Acting Bass Trombone
Yasuhito Sugiyama - Principal Tuba
Marc Damoulakis - Principal Percussion
Paul Yancich - Principal Timpani
Trina Struble - Principal Harp

Indiana University
Demondrae Thurman - Euphonium, Professor of Music

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Conrad Jones - Principal Trumpet

Nashville Symphony 
William Leathers - Principal Trumpet Designate

New York Philharmonic
Christopher Martin - Principal Trumpet
Richard Deane - Assoc. Principal/Acting Principal Horn
Leelanee Sterrett - Third Horn/Acting Assoc. Principal Horn
Joseph Alessi - Principal Trombone

Philadelphia Orchestra
Jeffrey Curnow - Associate Principal Trumpet
Jennifer Montone - Principal Horn

San Francisco Opera & Ballet Orchestras
Adam Luftman - Principal Trumpet

San Francisco Symphony
Mark Inouye - Principal Trumpet
Robert Ward - Principal Horn
Jonathan Ring - Second Horn
Jessica Valeri - Fourth Horn
Timothy Higgins - Principal Trombone
Jeffrey Anderson - Principal Tuba
Jacob Nissly - Principal Percussion
Jonathan Dimmock - Organist

Too Loud

Davies Symphony Hall

Karin Canellakis guest-conducted at San Francisco Symphony last week. Here are the reviews that I'm aware of:

Not in my review, but something I definitely thought: "Guest conductors beware: Davies doesn't respond well to quadruple forte." I was well aware of the general loudness of the program, and I'd noticed the last several guests also tending to go overboard. Of those, Gustavo Dudamel was the worst because his Mahler completely missed the dynamic range from double-piano to mezzo-forte, and the work really suffered as a result.

With Canellakis, there was an absence of musical layering that blunted the potential effects of the works and made them too much of the same thing. I definitely did a mental compare-and-contrast with Esa-Pekka Salonen, whose conducting always has much more nuance than I heard last week. Well, except for that Strauss thing.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Monday, May 09, 2022

Friday, May 06, 2022

Friday Photo

Hollow heart potato - when cut open, this potato appeared to have somehow had a section shaped like a long vertical part crossed by two horizontal parts hollowed out from inside.

Hollow heart potato.
This happens when there are variations in the water available to a potato.
They are edible.
Oakland, March, 2022


Monday, May 02, 2022

Museum Mondays

Photo of a game where you use a magnet to place magnetic filings in the correct hairdo for each Beatle.

Beatles Magnetic Hair Game
Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood
London, May, 2014


Sunday, May 01, 2022

Women on the Podium

Joshua Kosman had a fine column the other day in the SF Chronicle, about the several upcoming concerts at San Francisco Symphony that are conducted by women, namely, Xian Zhang, Karina Canellakis, Nathalie Stutzmann, and Ruth Reinhardt. 

This reminded me of my response, back in 2007, to a truly godawful profile of Marin Alsop, by Anthony Tommasini. Among other things, he had the nerve to say that "The dearth of leading female conductors is ultimately inexplicable," which, of course, it's not. (This is here to remind you that the NY Times paid him to be their chief classical music critic for quite a few years, years during which the women who were writing regularly for the classical music section failed to be hired as full-time employees and then largely disappeared from its pages. I'm sure that this is inexplicable too.) 

Joshua goes on to write the following about conductor Talia Ilan on the lack of women on the podium:

Ilan subscribes to a mathematical explanation as well. If we assume that conducting talent is evenly distributed throughout the population, she points out, then an all-male profession makes space for the weakest 50% of men, who would be squeezed out of a workforce that was half female. That’s a lot of mediocre men with an incentive to oppose gender equity.

Also: men get appointed to multiple conducting positions, even though there is more than enough talent out there that organizations don't need to do this. Some examples, including one that came to mind reading the biography of this week's SF Symphony guest conductor:

  • Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Metropolitan Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Orchestre Métropolitain of Montreal.
  • Andris Nelsons leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Leipzig Gewandaus Orchestra.
  • Klaus Mäkelä leads the Oslo Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, and Turku Music Festival. He is 25 26 years old.
  • Gustavo Dudamel leads the LA Phil and Paris Opera. (H/T Joshua Kosman for reminding me of this.)
I don't understand why organizations like the BSO, Met, and Philly don't demand the full attention of their music directors. Stopping the practice of multiple appointments would be a great way to open up more opportunities for talented conductors who aren't white guys.

Briefly Answering a Bad Take

John McWhorter, who is a guest columnist at the NY Times, decided last week that it was his turn to decry that awful modern music, meaning serialism, so he wrote a really pretty bad column. It starts with his personal experience with one piece of music that he sang in a chorus, but he doesn't say who wrote it or what it was. He then goes on to condemn serialism, state that melody isn't unsophisticated, and cite a limited number of sources, including Joseph Horowitz's recent book on Dvorak and John Mauceri's book on 20th c. classical music.

Where to start. Well, there is so much that could be said that I'm going to just give you an incomplete bullet list.

  • McWhorter is entitled to like or dislike any music he wants to like or dislike.
  • Some people like serial music, and they also get to like what they like. 
  • He's fighting the style wars of 50 years ago.
  • He's not a musicologist. He is dabbling by reading music writing that fulfills his preconceived notions. It's possible to be better read than he is in current music writing.
  • You'll hear a lot more music in U.S. concert halls by (for example) Adams, Reich, Glass, Harbison, Corigliano, Picker, Adamo, the other John Adams, Riley, Rouse, Holloway, Chin, Adès, Gubaidulina, Golijov, Saariaho, Lindberg, Ligeti, Dessner, Lutoslawski, Montgomery, Sallinen, Rautavara, Paart, Dutilleux, Messiaen, Bates, Stucky, Mackey, Clyne, Yi, Bernstein, Harrison, Feldman, Muhly, Diamond, Copland, Stravinsky, Salonen, and others than you'll hear by serialists or by composers using different compositional techniques whose music is dissonant.
  • It's a bad idea to write about serialism as though all composers who use the technique write similar music. Remember, that means that you're lumping together composers as distinctive as Berg and Webern, to go back to early serialists.
  • Whatever Boulez need to look at the totality of his career. The guy who talked about blowing up opera houses ultimately conducted at a few opera houses.
  • If you're going to read it at all, Horowitz's book must be read in tandem with Douglas Shadle's Antonín Dvořák's New World Symphony. Doug is a musicologist specializing in American music.
There's lots more that could be said, but I don't have all day to write a NY Times-ready column, so that's it for today.

Friday, April 29, 2022

There's Runnicles.

Sir Donald Runnicles
Photo by Simon Pauly
Courtesy of San Francisco Opera

A couple of performances to be found on line, conducted by Sir Donald Runnicles, former music director of San Francisco Opera, currently music director of the Deutsch Oper Berlin:
  • Die Walküre, Act I, video, from DOB. Herheim's new production, with Brandon Jovanovich, Elisabeth Teige, Tobias Kehrer
  • Elektra, audio, from Lyric Opera of Chicago. Nina Stemme, Elza van den Heever, Michaela Martens, Iain Paterson, Robert Brubaker.

Friday Photo

Photo of roofs at rooftop level with the pointed top of t he Swiss Re tower (The Gherkin, 30 St Mary Axe), London, in the background

Lurking Gherkin
aka 30 St. Mary Axe, London
May, 2014


Monday, April 25, 2022

Gustavo Dudamel at SFS

Well, that was disappointing, and in some ways also dismaying: the widely-praised music director of a major symphony orchestra, who is also the incoming music director of a major opera company, going rather badly wrong with both Mozart and Mahler. As Joshua Kosman says, everything he did must have been a deliberate choice of some kind; to my ear, on some level Dudamel really doesn't have an organic feel for what Mahler requires. Not that Mozart is easy to conduct; quite the contrary!

Something that neither of us mentioned: he conducted both works from memory. That's...extremely impressive, given the length and complexity of the Mahler.

I had not heard Dudamel live before; the conductors I've heard at the LA Phil in the past were John Adams (conducting Nixon in China), Susanna Mälkki, Pierre Boulez, and, of course, Esa-Pekka Salonen. If you've heard Dudamel on a regular basis, please leave comments about repertory that you've liked him in.

Previously, as in twelve years ago, with thanks to Michael Strickland for pointing me to his blog post:

File under "some things never change."

Museum Mondays

Grassy moat with striped tents, wall of the Tower of London, two of the Tower guards in black uniforms trimmed with red.

Tower of London Moat
May, 2014


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Radu Lupu

The Romanian-born pianist Radu Lupu died earlier this week at 76, on the same day as pianist Nicholas Angelich and Harrison Birtwistle. Lupu retired in 2019, and from the obituaries, I assume the cause was ongoing ill health.

His death has brought forth quite a few admiring memorials; see, for example, David Allen's NY Times obit ("Radu Lupu, a pianist of rare refinement whose ruminative, enigmatic performances and recordings wove spells over his listeners, induced awe among his colleagues and confirmed him as one of the finest musicians ever to have graced his instrument,") and Alex Ross's economium ("For me, Lupu was the supreme living practitioner of his instrument, a musician and artist of the highest order").

My experience of the pianist was rather different. I saw him twice, and while I can agree with ruminative and enigmatic as reasonable descriptions of what I heard, the overall effect was not one of weaving a spell. It was more like putting me to sleep. I remember being extremely puzzled by Lupu's rendition of a Mozart piano concerto at San Francisco Symphony; here's Joshua Kosman's review, in which his judgment was much like mine.

A few years later, I caught a Cincinnati Symphony at Carnegie Hall, a program on which Lupu played Bartók's third piano concerto, which would seem to be the most congenial to his style. Reader, Bartók should never bore you, but this did. Hell, Mozart certainly shouldn't bore you. (Also on the Cincinnati program was the marvelous Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra.) Here's Allan Kozinn's NY Times review. Related, because of Lupu's handling of Janáček and Bartók on a solo recital, Allan Ulrich's review.

I own that I should check out Lupu's Schubert, available on record, and perhaps another composer or two, but I can't say that I love the late Brahms that has gotten lots of links this week. Let's just say that I prefer more muscular and propulsive playing.....for just about every composer.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Harrison Birtwistle

Blurry photo of a stage with a group of people taking bows, including baritone Roderick Williams, composer Harrison Birtwistle, and conductor Baldur Brönnimann.

Claire Booth (Hanna), Roderick Williams (Alan), Harrison Birtwistle (composer), Baldur Brönnimann (conductor), Omar Ebrahim  (Caleb Raven)
Curtain calls for Yan Tan Tethera
Barbican Hall, London, May, 2014
Birtwistle at 80

Well, damn. Harrison Birtwistle died this morning, age 87, and another giant passes from the music scene.

His music isn't performed often in the United States. To give you an idea, the NY Philharmonic performed six of his works in six seasons between 1974-75 and 2007-08; the BSO performed 14 works between 1970-71 and 2017-18. A number of those were at Tanglewood. The only music director of those orchestras to have conducted a Birtwistle work was (bet you can guess) Pierre Boulez. Christoph von Dohnanyi led Birtwistle works at both orchestras.

I've managed to see three of his operas and an assortment of his chamber works, but it's mostly been on visits to London. The Eco Ensemble performed Secret Theatre a few years back and that's it for local performances that I've seen. 

In 2014, there was a festival in honor of his 80th birthday, where I saw Earth Dances (LSO), the operas Gawain and Yan Tan Tethera, both semi-staged, and Oliver Knussen conducting the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in chamber music (link is to Mark Berry's review). In my last trip before the pandemic, I caught the ENO's Orpheus series, which included The Mask of Orpheus (link is to my review of the series).

Several years ago, I asked one of Birtwistle's publishers about U.S. performances of his operas, and they had never rented any of his opera scores for an American performance. Birtwistle was one of today's great opera composers, and I am sure that Gawain, Yan Tan Tethera, and The Minotaur could all be successfully produced here. I'm surprised that more choruses haven't taken up his Moth Requiem, a lament for vanishing species; it is extremely beautiful, scored for a women's chorus, harp, and flute. Yan Tan Tethera is an ideal Birtwistle gateway work; it is a charming story involving the right way to count sheep and an encounter with the devil. There's also a chorus of sheep! Gawain is a most serious and powerful work, based on the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Birtwistle was a member of the so-called Manchester school, which also included the late Peter Maxwell Davies and Alexander Goehr, still living at 90 - a varied group! His music is complex, uncompromising, often outrageously loud, and well worth getting to know.

I spotted him across a courtyard on the Festspielhaus grounds during Götterdämmerung at the 2015 Bayreuth Festival, and at the next interval, I was able to get his autograph. Time to find that notebook and finally get it framed.

RIP Sir Harrison Birtwistle, one of the greats.

Obituaries and other useful links:


Museum Mondays

Architectural frieze
Villa Stuck, Munich
August, 2015


Friday, April 15, 2022

Monday, April 11, 2022

Museum Mondays

Interior of a railroad mail car
Museum of Science & Industry
Chicago, IL
November, 2016


Sunday, April 10, 2022

Met HD: Don Carlos

The other week, I went to the encore of the Met Opera HD broadcast of Don Carlos, which was heroically sung and acted on one of the ugliest and most awful sets that I have ever seen. San Francisco Opera has had a mediocre production of the opera for about the last quarter century, but I'll tell you, I longed for it throughout the evening. I'm now having second thoughts about visiting Chicago for Lyric Opera's bring-up in September, because they are using the same damn production.  Chicago is using an older McVicar with sets by Richard Jones, whew. (My 2016 review includes some representative photos of the SFO production, and so does my blog post.)

I have questions for David McVicar! Was he inspired by his own production of Les Troyens, which makes effective use (mostly) of a unit set? See the (not very good) photo in Janos Gereben's 2015 review.

Or maybe he was inspired by the Hall of Faces in the House of Black and White in season 5 of HBO's Game of Thrones?

Regardless, it's amazing to me that no one said to him "This is too ugly to put on our stage! Are you out of your mind???"

Conversely, his direction of the singers was mostly very good: character movement on stage made sense and their interactions were well-motivated. Best of all might have been Matthew Polenzani's Carlos, who disintegrated slowly over the course of the opera, with Etienne Dupuis's Rodrigue close behind. No doubt that Dupuis was the most magnetic person on stage; he is a tremendous singer, handsome, and a great actor. The relationship between Carlos and Rodrigue was intense, intimate, very much the driver of much of the action in the opera.*

Oh, and both sang fabulously. Back in 2009, Polenzani gave one of the most beautiful displays of tenor singing that I've ever heard, in SFO's last bring-up of The Abduction from the Seraglio. His most recent appearance, as Carmen's Don José, did not work so well, but this! My gosh, vocally Don Carlos fits him like a glove, despite the length and difficulty. He said during one of the intermission interviews that it doesn't tire him the way some roles do, and he demonstrated that through a long, long evening. Dupuis has a beautifully expressive voice and a nice trill, and did I mention that he's got that special something? I mean. If you want to see more of him, come to SF in June for our upcoming Don Giovanni, the third in Michael Kavanagh's Mozart-Da Ponte series.

There is nominally a romance in the opera, between the title character and Elisabeth de Valois, who becomes his stepmother instead of his wife about 10 minutes into the opera, after they have met and fallen in love. But the central relationships are really between Carlos and Posa, between Carlos and his father, Philippe II, and between Posa and Philippe. Also between everyone and the church. Also there's Princess Eboli, who is A) a good friend of Elisabeth 2) in love with Carlos 3) having an adulterous affair with Philippe (which you find out about 

somewhere in...uh, I think it's Act IV of this monster, which is five hours long with intermissions).

This production, like so many others, dropped the scene where Elisabeth and Eboli exchange veils. Honestly, why? That scene is critical for three reasons. It establishes their friendship, which you need to know to understand Elisabeth's hurt feelings when she discovers Eboli's betrayals; it's related to Eboli's Veil Song, and it sets up the catastrophic misunderstanding in the later garden scene.

As for the women, I like Sonya Yoncheva, though McVicar didn't give her much to do dramatically; she mostly sang very beautifully. I wondered how well Eboli suited Jamie Barton; both arias seemed slower than usual, and at least for the Veil Song, I thought it was to accommodate the speed with which she could sing the ornaments. McVicar's direction of both had odd moments. Eboli practically sneered at one point; Elisabeth swung her hips in what seemed a modern manner. Folks, these are 16th c. Spanish nobles. Treat them like that on stage.

The remaining men didn't fare as well as one might want. I didn't particularly like Eric Owens as Philippe. He was okay, not great. Ditto John Relyea's Grand Inquisitor; there was a lot of posturing and movement, but...Andrea Silvestrelli was more restrained and scarier in SF. (Okay, I admit that I will be lucky to see another Philippe in Rene Pape's class.)

Then there were McVicar decisions that I found bizarre: I mean, no auto-da-fe is complete without an acrobat made up like Heath Ledger's Joker, right? McVicar likes to throw in acrobatics where the libretto doesn't call for them, like the acrobats during "Gloire à Didon" in Les Troyens. Then there's the very end of the opera, where what usually happens is that Philippe comes to take Carlos in for...torture? questioning? and his father mysteriously appears and spirits Carlos away. That isn't what happens here, and I think I will pass on describing it other than to say, well, that's certainly an interesting fantasy.

Lastly, the orchestra sounded dandy under Patrick Furrer's leadership; YN-S was out sick.

I note that Alex Ross, seeing the opera earlier in its run, found Polenzani wooden, and I also note that good direction can tell quite a different story in the HD broadcast from what you see live. Case in point: Karita Mattila dominated the stage in the 2016 SFO Jenufa, but the balance among the principal singers was much more even in the eventual stream of the opera in the summer of 2021, because the camera didn't focus on her. Live, well, you could not take your eyes off her.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

News from the Other BSO

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has a new president and CEO: Mark Hanson, who resigned from the CEO position at San Francisco Symphony last July. His resignation remains a mystery: it was sudden, without prior indications of issues, and with a brief and rather cool note from the orchestra. He left after only four years with the orchestra and with an apparent record of success: he hired Esa-Pekka Salonen, maintained labor peace with the musicians, and kept the orchestra running during the first year-plus of the pandemic.

There's been a fair amount of past mismanagement at Baltimore and they are searching for a new music director because Marin Alsop has concluded her tenure there.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Museum Mondays

Assumption of the Virgin Mary?
Plaster cast of medieval sculpture
Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine
Paris, France
February, 2019


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

San Francisco Symphony 2022-23

Esa-Pekka Salonen, conducting, in profile, in a black t-shirt against a black background

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

San Francisco Symphony announced its 2022-23 season today. I'm going to start out with the two most jaw-dropping items on the schedule:
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Busoni! Piano! Concerto! with Igor Levit. This program includes the men of the SF Symphony Chorus, because of course no piano concerto is complete without a men's chorus. This will be the SFS premiere of the work. Levit also plays a solo recital, a chamber music program, and LvB piano concerto No. 5 on a program with the Eroica (Salonen conducts).
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater, the composer's second opera, staged by Peter Sellars. I reviewed this opera at its US premiere at Santa Fe Opera in 2008; it's a great piece and Sellars did a fine job directing it then. There's nothing in the press kit about who the singers will be. Note that this means that we'll get a one-two punch of Saariaho's operas in San Francisco, because her most recent opera, Innocence, is a San Francisco Opera co-commission that will be performed in that company's 2023-24 season. We just need someone to stage Saariaho's first, the gorgeous L'amour de loin
We'll have 15 weeks of Salonen conducting, if I'm reading everything right!

Here's what I find particularly interesting on the season.
  • E-PS, Yuja Wang: Nielsen Helios Overture, Magnus Lindberg "New Work for Piano and Orchestra", which must be Lindberg's Third Piano Concerto, which was announced with the same conductor and pianist on the NY Phil's schedule (I have asked about this); Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra.
  • Mirga 
    Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO have a program of Britten, Elgar, Adès, and Debussy, but I am willing to take bets on whether she conducts. The orchestra cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic; she cancelled twice owing to pregnancies, and...she is having her third child some time this year.
  • MTT has four programs, perhaps a partial make-up for the months of his last season as music director lost to the pandemic. There's a Brahms program; Danny Elfman's Cello Concerto, an SFS Commission, with Gautier Capuçon; a mostly-French program including Debussy and Messiaen; 
  • There's a piece on one of the Youth Symphony programs by SFO clarinetist José González Granero.
  • Robin Ticciati's debut program includes Jörg Widmann's Violin Concerto (Alina Ibragimova) and Mahler 4 (Ying Fang).
  • Leif OveAndsnes plays Janáček, Vustin, Beethoven, and Dvorák on a solo recital.
  • Edwin Outwater conducts a program that include a new work by Gabriel Kahane called emergency shelter intake form that includes a Chorus of Inconvenient Statistics.
  • E-PS conducts Sibelius 5, unfortunately the other half of the program doesn't interest me much.
  • E-PS conducts a new work by Samuel Adams, unfortunately on a program with Bruckner 6.
  • Herbert Blomstedt conducts Dvorak 8, which I love, and a symphony by Jan Vaclav Vorisek.
  • E-PS, Yuja Wang; Gabriella Smith Tumblebird Contrails, Salonen Nyx, Rach 3
  • Cristian Macelaru leads a program of Marsalis, Tarkiainen, and Shostakovich, and the soloist is Russ de Luna, English horn. The press release says that the big English horn piece is a world premiere.
  • Dalia Stasevka makes her debut with a program of Anna Meredith, Sibelius 2, and Sibelius Violin Concerto (Joshua Bell)
  • Thomas Wilkins makes his orchestral series debut conducting a program on which Branford Marsalis is the saxophone soloist.
  • Philippe Jordan conducts Britten's War Requiem, with Ian Bostridge and Iain Patterson.
  • Giancarlo Guerrero leads a program with a big new Julia Wolfe piece on it.
  • Manfred Honeck leads a program that includes a work by Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano, Rach Rhapsody with the excellent Beatrice Rana, and the Schubert Great C Major Symphony (compare with the amazing performance by Blomstedt a few years ago).
  • Last of the season, after Busoni and Saariaho, is Salonen conducting a program with a new work by Reena Ismail, some songs with Julia Bullock, and Daphnis et Chloé.
Other notes:
  • No indication of whether and when the Elektra and Bluebeard's Castle from the cancelled season might be rescheduled.
  • The season includes 30 works new to SFS, including four world premieres, three U.S. premieres, and one west coast premiere.
  • Florence Price Violin Concerto No. 2 with Randall Goosby, E-PS conducting.
  • E-PS conducts Mahler 2 and a new work by Trevor Weston.
  • I wished I liked the program with Christopher Purves better; he is hands down the best Alberich I have seen. But it's the Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin; Suite from Psycho; and HK Gruber's Frankenstein!! Even with Purves and E-P, it's a maybe for me.
  • Israel Philharmonic, Lahav Shani, Paul Ben-Haim Symphony No. 1 paired with Mahler 1.
  • The film series include The Godfather and you bet I'll pay to see this great film with its score played by a great orchestra. (Pacino was robbed, twice.)
  • The SoundBox curators include Pekka Kuusisto, Nico Muhly, Conrad Tao.
  • Oedipus Rex this season and Adriana Mater next season are the start of a four-year collaboration with Peter Sellars. This will include a staged version of Messiaen's s La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ in 2024 and Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen featuring Collaborative Partner Julia Bullock in 2025
At the SFS web site: